Belt-tightening tourists can let loose with Harrah's buffet pass

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The 180-degree, economically driven refocus in Las Vegas hospitality marketing -- a move from ostentatious luxury toward ultimate value -- is nowhere more evident than in Harrah's new Buffet of Buffets promotion. Priced at $39.99 for Harrah's Total Rewards players club members and $45.99 for all others, the offer allows unlimited visits to any or all of seven buffets at select Las Vegas Harrah's properties in a 24-hour period.

The seven buffets included in the promotion are: Lago Buffet at Caesars Palace; Carnival World Buffet at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino; Le Village Buffet at Paris Las Vegas; Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino; Flavors, the Buffet at Harrah's Las Vegas; Emperor's Buffet at the Imperial Palace; and Paradise Buffet at the Flamingo.

The pass, linked to either a Total Rewards card or wristband, expires 24 hours from issuance; line passes are not included, which means guests must plan to wait at most venues during peak mealtimes; guests are welcome to patronize as many of the seven buffets as frequently as they wish within the 24-hour period; passes are nontransferable and must be presented with picture ID; and the pass is available for purchase at any of the seven participating properties.

Buffet junkie's dream come true

As a confirmed Las Vegas buffet junkie, and having fantasized about this eventuality for years, I was ready to hit the ground running. My decision to use PH Towers Westgate, the newest property in Harrah's Vegas portfolio, as my base hotel was strategic: By staying in this nongaming timeshare/hotel tower, I benefited both from the ease of slipping in and out in my rental car with the superquick valet parking service and from the short walk from suite to garage.

So with the seemingly attainable goal of maximizing dollar value and caloric intake while surviving to write this article, I executed a carefully planned Buffet of Buffets 24-hour itinerary, with my friend Matt serving dual roles as assistant and untrained emergency medical technician. Here's how it unfolded:

• Thursday, 7:05 p.m.: Lago Buffet (Caesars Palace). At this compact but classy spread, we feasted on quality, carved roasted meats and perfectly spiced side dishes. But it's the serene and comfortably elegant room along with sweeping views of the new Garden of the Gods pool complex through floor-to-ceiling windows that best define this buffet experience.

• Thursday, 9:45 p.m.: Paradise Garden Buffet (Flamingo). We needed a little dessert and coffee to cap off the night, so we breezed in just before the 10 p.m. closing time. The highlight here, not seen at any another buffet in this promotion, is the free-flowing chocolate fountain. Skewering a selection of fresh fruit and bathing it in warm milk chocolate is a sinfully decadent act second only to consuming it. By day, guests here enjoy views of the Flamingo's lush wildlife habitat; by night, the room shows its age.

Le Village at Paris Las Vegas• Friday, 9:20 a.m.: Le Village Buffet (Paris Las Vegas). Francophiles will salivate at the myriad options available at this petit dejeuner, all authentic and appropriately offered at action stations representing five French provinces. The sweet and savory selection includes flaky croissants, crusty baguettes, quiche Lorraine, made-to-order crepes, delicious egg dishes and sauteed cherries, peaches and apricots.

• Friday, 11:30 a.m.: Emperor's Buffet (Imperial Palace). Knowing that I would have to somehow account for every calorie consumed, I purposely omitted Emperor's Buffet at the Imperial Palace from my consumption itinerary. A quick inspection, however, confirmed that my instincts were correct: This budget spread, served in a tired-looking room, doesn't hold up to its siblings' scope or quality.

If it ain't broke

• Friday, 1:10 p.m.: Spice Market Buffet (Planet Hollywood). When the Aladdin was rebranded as Planet Hollywood in 2007, the lone legacy carryover was the Spice Market Buffet -- and for good reason. A previous winner of the Best Buffet award from the Las Vegas Review-Journal's "Best of Las Vegas" annual review, Spice Market is still the only Strip buffet to offer a Middle Eastern station featuring dishes such as lamb-stuffed tomatoes, Moroccan couscous, baba ghanoush and baklava.

• Friday, 4 p.m.: Flavors, the Buffet (Harrah's). Just looking for an afternoon snack, we popped into Flavors for a quick hit. The Brazilian churrasco barbecue meats are tasty, as is the pizza from the wood-fired oven. The perfect kicker here, though, is the gelato bar, providing cool comfort on a 105-degree day.

Spice Market buffet at Planet Hollywood• Friday, 6:45 p.m.: Carnival World Buffet (Rio). It's only appropriate that we finished up our Buffet of Buffets odyssey at the granddaddy of Las Vegas buffets. The Rio was the first to introduce multiple ethnic action stations when Carnival World Buffet debuted in the early '90s, and it still claims title to the largest buffet spread in the city. While the choices here are seemingly endless, the quality really ratchets up at the Chinese station. The Cantonese chef turns out authentically delicious dim sum, barbecue pork and roast duck that is comparable to some of Los Angeles' best Chinatown restaurants.

• Friday, 8:45 p.m.: Sated, tired and reasonably sure that I'd clogged multiple arteries, I was nonetheless proud of my seven-buffets-in-24-hours achievement. Lessons learned were numerous, including: Guests can expect to wait anywhere from five minutes to an hour or more at the most popular buffets; the best of breed here are, in no particular order, Le Village Buffet, Cafe Lago Buffet and Spice Market Buffet; and, diners should plan accordingly for the distances between hotels, as walking isn't always viable due to distance and temperature.

Since launching the promotion in mid-April, Harrah's has sold an average of 2,600 Buffet of Buffets passes per day.

After some price-tweaking to balance supply and demand -- the original $29.99 price resulted in overwhelming and unmanageable waits -- Buffet of Buffets has proven to be one Vegas product that seems to have no trouble living up to its own hype.

Harrah's is also offering buffet and room packages starting at $45.99 per night, per person.

For more on Buffet of Buffets, see www.harrahs.com/buffets.

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