A Trip to New Orleans

A Trip to New Orleans

This year, Caesars Entertainment merged with Eldorado. I have Seven Stars status at Caesars and haven’t played at any Eldorado property for several years. 

Because of the pandemic, I played not at all at Caesars in 2020. My Seven Stars status was extended to January 1, 2022, and any Seven Stars unused benefits that would usually expire in 2020 could be used in 2021. This was very generous of Caesars/Eldorado.  

I think because they found my name in the Eldorado system, I was awarded many of my Seven Stars benefits twice — once for my Caesars account and once for my Eldorado account, even though my Eldorado status had never been very high and any unused benefits from there had long since expired.

The double benefits of most interest to me are a Seven Stars trip (a four night stay at almost any property in the system, including up to $1200 in airfare and $500 in food credit), and my usual five $100 Seven Stars Celebration dinners became 10 such dinners. 

Bonnie and I had already taken one Seven Stars trip (and played enough to maintain Seven Stars status through January 2023) when I discovered I had the additional Seven Stars trip in my offers. Since we enjoy New Orleans, but haven’t played there in quite a while, we decided to take our trip to that particular Harrah’s from Thursday through Monday of Halloween weekend. 

There are a number of different ways a property can award $500 in food for the Seven Stars trip. Usually, it’s a matter of charging food to your room and they take off those charges at the end. At Harrah’s New Orleans, it’s quite a bit different, and has been for several years. They simply add 50,000 Reward Credits to your account, and you can spend them wherever you want. If you don’t spend them all at New Orleans, no problem. They stay on your account as normal Reward Credits to be redeemed whenever you like.

I always liked this feature of Harrah’s New Orleans. They used to have a really nice Diamond Lounge in the High Limit area where you could eat and drink for free every evening. It wasn’t gourmet food, but each night the selection was different and it was acceptable, plentiful, and free. Each night there was a line to get in at 4 p.m. (or whenever it was that they opened), but if you were Seven Stars, the line wasn’t too bad.

The Diamond Lounge, renamed the Laurel Lounge, is gone now — along with the buffet. The property looks a lot different than it did five years ago. Still, we had $500 to spend on meals over four days — along with several $100 Celebration dinners if we decided to go that route.

Sort of. 

We had $500 in food if we went to the Steakhouse, which is where the John Besh restaurant used to be. Along with a Starbucks-like coffee shop in the hotel lobby, these are the only places where 50,000 Reward Credits are worth $500 because they charge 100 RCs per $1 in food. And, as is fairly typical, but nowhere near universal in casino restaurants, the tax goes away when you pay with your points.

For about 30 other restaurants in the casino or relatively nearby, you can spend your Reward Credits at a rate of 200 RCs per $1, meaning our $500 food credit is only worth $250 if we spend it at those places. And at many of these, the tax does not go away. Some of the off-property restaurants would accept your Caesars card for payment, but others insisted you get a voucher from Harrah’s beforehand. No change is given if you get a $100 voucher (spending $200 worth of RCs) and the bill only comes to $87.

Should you be a fan of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in the hotel lobby, the rate is 300 RCs per $1, so our $500 food credit would only be worth $167 if we used it there.

So to me, the strategy was easy. Find something at the Steakhouse to eat. It’s a bit pricey, but since a $50 food item there costs as many RCs as a $23 food item at one of the other restaurants that include tax in the bill, it’s by far the most economical meal. It’s only open at dinner time, so we’d need to eat elsewhere earlier in the day, but for dinners I made reservations for all four nights.

Unfortunately, Bonnie wasn’t crazy about their food on the first night. She found the gumbo much too spicy. (I enjoyed it. Eating the food is a big reason I enjoy New Orleans.) She wanted to eat elsewhere where she could get “regular American food” rather than New Orleans cuisine. I suggested a few other items on the Steakhouse menu that would probably be quite good for her, but she was not interested in going back.

We’re not short on funds. We can afford to eat anywhere and pay retail. But still. Paraphrasing ol’ Ben Franklin, an RC saved is an RC earned! I didn’t want to make a Federal case out of this. In any marriage, it is necessary to pick your battles, and this one was relatively small change. 

So we first looked at nearby Gordon Biersch, Manning’s, and the Grand Isle. These are all on Fulton Street, less than 100 yards from a hotel exit. Manning’s was closed when we checked at 3 p.m. Friday. We didn’t find out until the next day that it opens at 5 p.m. on Fridays. Most of the food at Grand Isle was fried (which is a no-no for us). So, Gordon Biersch it was. 

Bonnie suggested that she eat there, and I eat at the Steakhouse. This is an unusual way for us to eat, but it worked fine. We traipsed all through the French Quarter during the days there. We danced to several of the various jazz bands found throughout the Quarter. So we still had a vacation together, even though we ate separately on Friday night. She tried Saturday night again at the Steakhouse, but wasn’t any more thrilled with it than she had been on Thursday. So, Sunday night, we ate together at Gordon Biersch.

It was a strange way to do things, but it worked for us.

Other features that were different from what we were used to were masking and proof of vaccination. The mayor of New Orleans lifted the mask-wearing requirement on Friday, October 29, but Harrah’s casino (not the hotel) and many of the establishments in the French Quarter required proof of vaccination (or a recent PCR test) just to get in the door. Perhaps other places do the same in New Orleans, but we didn’t venture out beyond the French Quarter. Fortunately, I have a copy of our vaccination records on my cell phone. It was not a problem for us, but it could have been for certain people not prepared for this.

Another interesting part of the trip was we took the St. Charles street trolley (which is a bus for part of the journey now because of road construction) west from Canal Street. This set us back 60 cents apiece each way because we’re seniors and wandered for miles throughout a large swath of the city. One message that was clear is that Halloween is a holiday well-celebrated in New Orleans. A high percentage of the porches and lawns had pumpkins, scarecrows, and other holiday paraphernalia. Pretty cool!