Food and overloading in Las Vegas

Preparing for a Vegas trip last month I spent a bit of time online researching restaurant reviews on Yelp and happened to stumble upon the Buffet of Buffets.

What is the Buffet of Buffets, you might ask?

It’s an all-day trip to any of seven buffets at properties owned by Harrah’s: Caesars Palace, Paris, the Rio, the Flamingo, Planet Hollywood, Imperial Palace and Harrah’s itself.

The cost of this culinary expanse? $44.99 for Harrah’s Total Rewards members and $49.99 for non-members. (Membership in Harrah’s Total Rewards is free, by the way.)

An eighth buffet, the Village Seafood Buffet at the Rio, can be added for an additional $15 per visit.

While I didn’t indulge in the Buffet of Buffets back in February (when the price was only $39.99 for Total Rewards members), I returned to Vegas last week and took the plunge.

Follow the jump to see how far I got.

7:43 p.m. Sunday night: Got seated at Rio’s Carnival World Buffet. I haven’t been to the Rio buffet in a long time. It’s been nicely remodeled since the last time I was here.

The Carnival World Buffet is the granddaddy of separate-stations-for-different-cuisines buffets here in Vegas. Everyone else quickly followed suit.

Salad first: Surprisingly, no Spring mix…just iceberg, romaine and spinach.

Prepared salads are very tasty — particularly a really spicy southwestern shrimp salad and a simple but flavorful corn and bean salad.

Surprise…dim sum! Half a dozen types, plus samosas. I get (and go back for several more of) the jian dui, a sesame covered, bean paste-filled pastry…one of my favorites.

Lots of people are loading up on crab legs, but they’re not my thing. I pass.

Margaritas — two for $6, for the next 15 minutes! It’s like a blue light special for alcohol.

8:16 p.m.: Got up intending to seek out some Italian food. Ended up getting everything but.

For dessert, excellent Bananas Foster and bread pudding. Also…gelato! But I’ve had better.

The little girl at the table next to us has a plate full of plain spaghetti and a plate of fries and chicken wings. Nice.

9:04 p.m. Stuffed!

9:30 a.m. Monday morning: Seated at Paris’ Le Village Buffet. I’ve been to Paris’ buffet several times and pretty much knew what to expect.

Dining at Le Village Buffet is surreal, yet relaxing. It’s an approximation of dining in a French village at dusk, complete with unreal trees.

There’s just something about Paris’ buffet makes you want to eat healthier. Lots of fruit, yogurt, turkey sausage and some unfortunate-looking chicken bacon.

Got yogurt, oatmeal and turkey sausage.

Because it’s Paris, French toast! And a pancake.

More French food: Quiche!

5:04 p.m. Monday evening: Arrived at the Planet Hollywood’s Spice Market Buffet.

In perhaps a nod to its former incarnation as the Aladdin, there’s a Middle Eastern station, with kabobs and hummus. Also, excellent tandoori chicken and baklava.

More Dim Sum here, but only a couple of varieties, and they seem like they’ve been sitting there since lunchtime.

The back wall is decorated with food-themed movie posters: Like Water for Chocolate, Fried Green Tomatoes, Delicatessen, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the like. Cute concept, done well.

Two salad stations: Salad bar at one end, prepared salads on the other. Also, two soup stations.

6:44 p.m. Dessert surprise…cotton candy! I indulge my inner child.

And so ends the Buffet of Buffets. A planned trip to Caesars Palace for lunch never materialized, but I still felt I got my money’s worth, and then some.

If you total the regular price of the three meals up: Dinner at the Rio ($24.99), breakfast at Paris ($15.99) and dinner at Planet Hollywood ($24.99), that’s a $65.97 value. Weekend prices are generally higher.

Even if you time it so you only get two dinners out of it, you’re still saving money versus paying for two separate meals.

Some tips

The clock starts ticking when you purchase your first meal. Bear that in mind when choosing your last meal. Sometimes the lines for the buffets can seem endless, so don’t forget to factor in that waiting time so you get in before your time runs out. You don’t want to get to the front of the line after waiting 45 minutes only to find out your time has expired.

Heading to the buffets early helps…we had absolutely no wait for the Spice Market Buffet when we arrived just after 5 p.m., but there was a long line when we left nearly two hours later.

The three buffets we went to were good, but based on past experience, I would take a pass on the Flamingo’s Paradise Garden Buffet. Online reviews for the Emperor’s Buffet at the Imperial Palace are even more dismal than those of the Paradise Garden Buffet. Caesars and Harrah’s are better options. If you’re at the Flamingo, don’t miss the wildlife habitat, though.

Caesars is currently giving two free Buffet of Buffets with a two-night stay at the seven participating Las Vegas properties, plus Bally’s. Click here for details.

Total Rewards membership is free, so unless you’re paranoid about giving out personal information, stop by the Total Rewards booth first, get a card and save yourself $5.

If you’re looking for a quick way to get from one casino to another, there’s a free shuttle that runs between the Rio and Bally’s and another that goes between the Rio and Harrah’s. It operates from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. (Although the buffets all close by 10 p.m.) From Bally’s, you can walk through to Paris and Planet Hollywood is just next door to that. Catty-corner from Bally’s is Caesars. Just north of Bally’s (and across the strip from Caesars) are the Flamingo, Imperial Palace and Harrah’s.

For more on the Buffet of Buffets, click here.