Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas
Vegas baby, Vegas!
What is it about Las Vegas that makes people light up when you tell them that you are
going? Is it the gambling, the showgirls, the lights?
I recently took my first trip to Vegas, and let me tell you, it's a different world
Flying into Vegas is a surreal experience, especially at night. If you have a choice,
you'll want to be on the right side of the airplane to get the best view as you land (or
As I'm sure you've heard, there are slot machines at the airport...in fact the first
one I saw coming off of my flight was a big row of "ELVIS" slot machines. No table games,
but the slots get plenty of play by people who just can't wait to get started, and by those
who are leaving needing one last chance to get themselves out of the hole for the trip.
Transportation to and from the airport is plentiful. If you are staying on the strip,
and have no plans for leaving the strip (for a trip to Hoover Dam, or the Grand Canyon)
do not rent a car. With enough planning ahead, you can get a car for 13 bucks a day, the
hassle of driving the strip and parking isn't worth it. There are shuttle busses (about
$5 a person), and cabs cost about $10 to get to near part of the strip (like Mandalay Bay).
In my case I was staying at a resort that was 17 miles outside of town, so renting
a car made sense for me, but even I just did it for a day...just long enough to drive
to the Hoover Dam.
Yes yes... I know... going to Hoover Dam is a waste of a trip to Vegas...but I was
going to be in Vegas for 6 days, I am not a big gambler, I'm not a fan of big crowds,
and I'm a big geek, so there you go.
With that being said, if you are going to be in Vegas for more than a few days, rent a
car and head to the Hoover Dam. It's a nice short drive, there is a cute little historic
town along the way where all the workers from the Hoover Dam lived (and is the only city
in Nevada where gambling is illegal), and the Dam (and tour) is impressive. Also the
buffets at the casinos along the way have the best prices you'll see. $2.95 for NY Strip
Steak? You won't find those deals on the strip!
Contrary to popular belief (like the $3 steak), eating on the strip isn't cheap. If you
go to some of the smaller and skuzzier casinos you can get better prices, but the buffets
at the big casino/hotels are $20 and up for dinner. The restaurants are even more expensive.
Drinks...pricey, and unless you are playing the dollar slots, cocktail waitresses are few
and far between. This idea of "free drinks while gambling" is not as prevalent as
one would like.
A tip you'll find in just about any Vegas book is that the "Station" casinos are where
the locals gamble. Friendly staff, cheap food, cheap drinks. The catch is that none
of them are on the strip. If you have a car, definitely check the nearest one out. I would
also recommend the buffet at the Fiesta casino. $4.99 for lunch, and it's a big buffet with
several stations, even a Mongolian BBQ station!
Walking the strip...not fun. It's interesting. The casinos on the strip are deceptively
far apart. While walking on the strip you can see the next casino, it's right there, so
you start walking, and walking, and walking. A quarter mile later you get there. Along the
way you are constantly attacked by people handing out porn. Well, at least naked girls on
cards with numbers to call on the back, or the address of a strip club. If you are
Minnesota nice like I am you start saying "no thank you" to each person...but after a
quarter mile you've said "no thank you" to about 50 people. Just don't take anything they
are handing out. They won't be offended if you ignore them completely. More than anything
else it's just sad.
Anyway, it is literally a quarter mile inbetween casinos and you'll spend most of your
time wading through mobs of people, fighting off porn peddlers, avoiding bicycle rickshaws,
and trying not get run over by cars. Also, as any local will tell you, do not walk
north of the Stratosphere (i.e. big giant tower), especially at night (more on that later).
Other options: Some of the casinos have free trams that run between them, even those that
aren't owned by the same company. There is a tram that runs from Mandalay Bay to the Luxor
then to the Excalibur. There is a tram the runs between The Mirage and Treasure Island.
There also seems to be a long tram under construction on the other side of the strip running
from the Tropicana all the way up to the Hilton or something; but that's not going to be
done until next year. There are "complimentary" bicycle rickshaws all over the place. The
catch is that they are only going to certain casinos, and if you aren't going to that
particular casino, they'll charge you, and either way you are supposed to tip them. They
also spend half their time on the sidewalks, and half on Las Vegas Blvd (i.e. The Strip).
If you enjoy putting your life in the hands of a stranger on a bike, then go for it! The
best choice in my opinion is the bus. You can get a 24-hour pass for $5 and the 301 (local)
and 302 (express) run up and down the strip 24 hours a day. It's simple, relatively cheap,
much faster than walking, and the best way to get down to Freemont Street, which
is the original strip.
If you take the bus to Freemont Street you'll head north of the Stratosphere and you'll
see why the locals tell you not to walk there. First off you'll notice that no one is
walking there. There are no crowds, because all that is there are the hotels that proudly
advertise hourly rates (and they offer free Triple-X movies in the rooms), nearly all of the
wedding chapels, pawn shops, and "checks cashed" shops. Seems like a great neighborhood,
fun for the kids!
Side rant: speaking of kids, I saw way too many damn kids walking around the strip with
their families, at all times of day. From noon to midnight. The strip isn't a place for
kids at any time of day. The porn peddlers are out 24/7, and even if they aren't, the
ground is littered with their handouts. ("Don't look up little Jimmy...don't look down
either!!!). Listen parents, don't be selfish. If you want to go to Vegas, leave the kids
at home. Haven't you noticed that even the Vegas tourism board has moved away from trying
push Vegas as a family destination? It's sin city, plain and simple.
Ok, so once you get through the scary area, you hit the old downtown of Vegas. Remember
in old movies and TV shows (like Vega$) the shots of the strip with all the lights, and the
Horseshoe casino, and the Golden Nugget? This is where they are. But now, they've turned
Freemont Street into a pedestrian mall, and put a 300 yard long canopy over the length of
the street that has about a million colored lights on it. From 7-11 PM each night (on the
hour) there is a light show on the canopy. This is the other place you can find cheap drinks,
cheap tables (I even saw a $3 blackjack table), and cheap food. Also a great place to find
people with their kids...especially with jumbotrons advertising showgirls, and the Girls Of
Glitter Gulch advertising their topless dancers. It's fun to see the older casinos and
really see what Vegas was really like back in the day...outside of the pedestrian mall and
and lighted canopy.
Old school baby.
Casinos/hotels/shopping: Since I was in Vegas for 6 days, I spent a lot of time at my
resort, and didn't get a chance to see all the casinos I wanted, but checked out quite a few.
Mandalay Bay: Kind of seemed like a Club Med-ish kind of place. It's at the south end
of the strip, and seems isolated. Also seemed pretty high-end. Nice, but doubt it is worth
the money. The casino was...well, a casino. Nothing special. Shopping, again, nothing
Luxor: this is the one that is a big black pyramid. I thought that the Luxor would
definitely be my favorite place. How cool is it to have made a giant pyramid hotel! Well,
"giant" is a bit of an overstatement. I was really disappointed in its size. It's not
small mind you, but I expected bigger. The inside is wide open up to the top, which is
pretty cool, but for the most part is pretty sterile. A lot of wasted space, at least they
could suspend something, or put something really tall inside to show off all that space.
Also, I totally missed out on their shopping...didn't see it.
Giant Sphinx, much cooler than pyramid.
Excalibur: Ok, it is kind of cool that there is a big castle between the two hotel towers,
but there isn't anything in the castle...it's just purely for show. Now if they had rooms,
or restaurants with views inside the castle, that'd be cool. As for the hotel, it just
looks like they took a standard hotel, and put some hokey towers, and stone molding around
the windows to make it look castle-ish. Just terrible. The good side is that their
shopping/restaurant level is pretty decent, and they have a Cold Stone Creamery! You gotta
try their new cake batter ice cream...soooo good!
Sweet castle, stupid looking hotel.
New York, New York: Easily my favorite. The energy as soon as you step inside is just so
much better than any of the other casinos. The outside is really cool because they designed
it to look like the New York skyline, complete with a Statue of Liberty and a roller
coaster running around the whole thing. The inside is such a different vibe than most of
the other casinos (probably because it is newer), but it has a high ceiling, and the walls
are all made to look like old New York neighborhoods. The shopping/eating area is the same
way with everything down small side streets. I can't begin to say enough. Rumor has it that
the rooms are sub-par. So don't stay there, but definitely go there. One other thumbs down,
the roller coaster (which starts inside and goes out) is $12. For one ride. Although I've
heard it's great, I have a hard time paying that much for one roller coaster ride. Which
also explains why there wasn't much of a line for it each time we walked by.
Kinda dark, but you get the idea
Bellagio: The fountains in front of Bellagio are amazing, and can bring you to tears.
They are a must see for any trip to Vegas. However, the casino and shopping area aren't
anything special, and in fact, with the snooty clientele, it isn't even worth your time.
Caesar's Palace: One word: Huge! It's not the biggest hotel/casino in Vegas, but it
sure feels like it. The shopping is top of the line, and the Fat Tuesdays there will
put some Everclear in your drink for a modest fee. Whooooo! Ahem. The casino is alright,
but the shopping/restaurant area is great, and they have a Cheesecake Factory. 'Nuff said.
The Mirage: We didn't see the volcano out front go off, but we did see a White Tiger!
The charge for seeing Siegfried and Roy's secret garden is a little much...I'd rather spend
that money on going to a real zoo. Speaking of Roy...several of the light boards of
competing casinos had occasional "get well" message flash across them for Roy. Ah Vegas,
it's like a big little town, isn't it?
Note: Not the tiger that bit Roy
Treasure Island: Was ok inside. So many of the casinos just look the same. Sure the
walls are a different color, or the decor is themed one way or the other, but for the most
part many of the casinos are large rooms with low ceilings. Anyway the pirate show is
currently being retooled to include Sirens. They were doing some tests while we were
outside though. Sounds like it'll pit pirates against a boat load of hot ladies.
Me likey already!
Aladdin: This was where our hotel's shuttle into the city dropped us off at, so we had
a lot of time to hang out here. The casino is pretty decent, a bit more open than most
places. Desert Passage, the shopping area is big, and holds some good stores, just not
the high end stuff you'll find at Caesar's and Bellagio. The indoor rainstorm in Desert
Passage is not worth waiting for. Basically there are about 8 sprinklers that go off over
a small pool, and there is some thunder and lightning effects. Pretty lame really.
Paris: The half-scale Eiffel Tower is yet another surreal feature of the strip. A
couple of the tower's legs go right into the casino area where they have tried to pull a
New York New York and make it feel like you are actually in Paris. Faux facades of
buildings and so on. Not quite as successful as New York, but pretty good.
Just like Paris...really!
Bally's: Directly connected to Paris. One minute you are in the shopping area of Paris,
the next you are in Bally's. Nothing too exciting at Bally's. Big minus points for the
annoying announcer voice out front of Bally's that keeps talking and talking and
talking 24/7. Got annoying real fast.
Venetian: We were told that the gondola rides were not worth it. They seem to have
a separate ride inside and outside. The inside one I can see why. Why would you bother
spending money on a gondola ride inside a mall? But the outside one seemed like it might
be fun. Have no idea where it all goes, but may have to check that out on my next trip.
The shopping area wasn't particularly big, but was kind of cool have a canal running
through the middle of it. There was also a plaza area which felt like what being
in the town square of a small Italian city might feel like. As for the casino, it
was nicer than most, but was no New York.
Smells like Venice too! ;-D
Shows: I was fortunate enough to hit a couple shows while in Vegas. We made reservations
for the Cirque Du Soleil show "O" about 3 months in advance, and were able to get obstructed
view tickets. The seats were great, the "obstruction" is the railing for the stairs that
were in front of the section we sat in. Considering we paid about $25-$30 less for our seats
than that people who sat a couple seats over from us, I was definitely fine with it.
The show has the most amazing opening moment I've ever seen. Instead of the curtain
opening, it tears loose and is sucked backstage. It's like something out of a cartoon.
It's hard to explain, but it's breathtaking. I won't ruin the show for you, and I'm
sure you can find a better review somewhere else, but I would recommend not going to the
late show if you are still jet-lagged. There is a good 15 min. of the show that I missed
from nodding off. As we left the theatre that night, we overheard other people commenting
that they had a hard time staying awake. It's not a boring show, just very relaxing.
I might buy the CD just for that reason.
The other show we saw was Zumanity, another Cirque Du Soleil show. Basically, it's
acrobatics with no clothes on. It's a very sensual, sexual, erotic show. It's also
very funny. You can't beat naked midgets flying over the audience! Seriously though,
I would highly recommend this show. Based on the relative price of tickets, I'd recommend
it over "O"...as long as you are comfortable with sexuality. Not the place for prudes.
The last thing we did was to take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. If you have
the time and money when you visit Vegas, definitely do this. It's a short helicopter ride
out to the western rim of the Grand Canyon (less than an hour), and you'll get a great flyby
of the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. With most of the companies, you land, get a picnic lunch,
and have about 30 minutes to walk around and explore. There isn't much to explore, but
a half hour is barely enough time to take all the pictures you'll want to take. On the
way back you'll get a great flyby of the strip, right before landing back at the airport.
Oh man, look at the canyon...that sucker's huuuuge!
All in all, the trip was fun. Keep in mind that Vegas is still a trashy desert town that
just happens to slap on a fresh coat of paint to keep it looking nice. It's seedy, dirty,
and sometimes sad. But it's fast becoming the World's adult playground.
One last story. I think my favorite Vegas moment was while riding the tram between the
Mirage and Treasure Island. An older man in a nice suit hopped on with a young girl (I'm
guessing no older than 22) who was dressed very trendy. My initial thought was sugar-daddy,
but then I started to hear their conversation. I couldn't quite catch the first part, but
it sounded like something happened at the Mirage that forced them to leave. I'm guessing
she got carded and was forced to leave, but he asked her if "that happens often", and
mentioned how it was a "buzzkill". This seems like odd questions for people who know
each other...maybe they were on a first or second date. But then the conversation changed
to where they were going to eat and it became obvious that he was not from Vegas, and she
lived there. Ohhhh, heyyyy... So I spent the rest of the tram trip trying to figure out
how much he paid for her, and watching him ogle her with a shit-eating grin on his face.
Vegas baby, Vegas!