Harrah's Cherokee: Only 2,059 Miles To Las Vegas
When most people hear the word "Cherokee," they likely think of a favorite stripper or porn star or maybe the most coif-flopping song by the seminal synth metal hair band, Europe or all three together while driving in a Jeep.
In western North Carolina though, the name is synonymous with the proud and good people who settled in the mountains thousands of years before people from Europe (not the band) showed up to write one of the saddest chapters in American history with the blood and tears of the peaceful tribe.
In the mid-1990s, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee decided to hop on the tribal gaming bandwagon, which was a good move for the tribe and its community. Caesars Entertainment, then-Harrah's Entertainment, was chosen to run the hotel and casino operation.
By 2007, the demand for hotel space and other amenities justified an ambitious $633-million expansion plan, intended to add a new hotel tower, several restaurants, an event center, a new performing arts venue and a spa. There is also new carpet (right) to compliment the old carpet (left).
The hotel tower went online a few months ago as did the casino expansion. A restaurant by Mrs. Paula Butter and Mayonnaise Deen, has already soft opened. If you like steakhouses that were trendy in the late-80s, Ruth's Chris will open an outlet later this year. The anachronistic-because-of-the-talent event center made its debut in the fall of 2010. Hank Williams, Jr., Larry the Cable Guy and Crosby, Stills and Nash already played there. And, look out, this year will bring appearances by Michael Bolton, REO Speedwagon and Huey Lewis and the News.
So anyway, Mrs. Hoss and I decided to join one of the couples with whom we regularly travel to Las Vegas for a quick overnight trip to check out the improvements.
A quick overview of the casino is necessary, because there are several relatively unique aspects. First, there are no live games. There are slots, VP and a section of blackjack and mini-baccarat tables where dealers push buttons to reveal "cards" on in-table monitors. The slots, without the benefit of any Dr. Dave-like analysis, seem tighter than any place on the Strip. The VP paytables are not very good at all, ie: mostly stuff like 6/5 JoB. The minimums at the pseudo-tables are $15 and up.
The new additions are a poker room with similar electronic table setups and a virtual craps game. I'm not a poker player, so I can't really comment on that. I do like the dice though.
Despite my skepticism the first time I played the ShuffleMaster Vegas Star Craps game, I must admit the silly thing is pretty fun. The minimum bet is $2. The shooter picks out the dice on a touchscreen and throws them by sliding fingers across the screen. This can also be accomplished with a push of the button. You can only put down 2x free odds so there's a lot of room for come bets if that's how you play it. Anyway, I first played it on a quick visit back in the fall -- Twenty bucks in and had a blast for two hours before cashing out $120. So I was looking forward to playing on it this visit. It turns out that they were taking the machine apart to move it to another area of the floor when I got there and they didn't expect it to be back online for several days. Bummer.
Another vast improvement in the casino is the addition of alcohol. Cherokee was dry for years. The first time I visited in the late 90s, I got so confused. "I'll have a gin and tonic, sweetie." "You'll have to go somewhere else, honey." Say what? You could get a Coke or a Sprite or a Dr. Pepper, basically anything except what you wanted as you watched the house edge grind you out.
So about a year ago, the tribe voted to allow alcohol in the casino. That's the good thing. The bad thing is that you have to pay for it. Domestic beers are $3, microbrews and imports are $4 and up. There's a full bar in the new section with plenty of television screens and bartop VP. It would be a fun spot if there were a sportsbook.
Checking in was a breeze, even on the relatively crowded Sunday afternoon before the MLK Holiday. The friendly woman at the desk told us they were expecting about 700 people to check in that afternoon. Our friends who play a little more at CET properties than we do got a comped room in the nicer of the two old towers. Thanks to my somewhat idealistic boycott of the company's LV properties, my Total Rewards number only scored a discounted $39 room wherever they put us. I asked the attendant if there was a room available in the new tower. She smiled broadly and said one had just opened up. I half-expected her to tell me there was some upcharge and was pleasantly surprised there wasn't.
During the short walk to the elevators and on to the room, we spoke with two members of the housekeeping staff – both friendly, smiling and eager to greet us. It was a very positive first impression.
Upon entering the room, it took at least 30 seconds to figure out how to tun on the lights. There's a master switch near the door that's not all that apparent or self-explanatory like the card-operated lights at M Resort. Anyway, we figured out the lights and were greeted by a generously sized room.
The bed was your standard semi-plush pillowtop. The flatscreen LCD TV had a good selection of HD channels and Spank-ter-vision.
The loveseat was pretty comfortable.
Probably the best two features of he room were the coffeemaker perched atop a cabinet with a mini-fridge in it. I can't state that the coffeemaker was pee-free. But I didn't see any Canadians around, so I felt pretty safe. The mini-fridge was handy for a few cold beverages that didn't cost $3 or $4 apiece.
The bathroom had a one-sink vanity area...
...and a nice tile shower.
The commode had its own separate little room with no shat phone. The bonus here was that we got three pubic hairs that we didn't bring with us, four if you count that thing that may be an eyelash.
Mrs. Hoss was anxious to see the view from our third-floor room, though I suspected we might only be able to see the roof of the casino. It turns out we were both wrong. Our windows opened out on a sweeping view of a block retaining wall, painted black and two-feet from the glass. The only positive thing I could take from this is that it didn't get too bright, too early the next morning. Mrs. Hoss was rather annoyed.
Paula Deen's Kitchen
I won't really dwell on this one too much. We went for breakfast. We got there and I wouldn't have been surprised to see some kind of all-you-can eat butter, bacon and mayonnaise bar with something annoying piercing your eardrums. In all fairness, we were there a week before the restaurant's grand opening and they were still working out some major operational kinks. Despite the presence of a la carte menus on the resort's website, we were told that our only option was to have the buffet. The facility is not the property's main buffet and it is clearly not set up to handle the number of people trying to eat there that morning. I won't go in to detail about what a mess the line situation was. Our waitress was clearly disgusted with the whole thing and said twice that the system "sucked." She also told my wife that the slots in the casino were too tight.
All that said, the food that we finally did get was pretty good. The link sausage was delicious as was the tasso in the omelet, which would have been much better if the cook would have waited for me to say "Pepper Jack" before slopping a big handful of cheddar on it. I'll reserve full judgment until a second visit when hopefully the wrinkles will have been ironed out.
All in all, Harrah's Cherokee is not a bad place to visit on occasion. More than anything, it just makes you more anxious for your next trip to Las Vegas.
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