Oh, To Be In Las Vegas

I live in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, which has many benefits.  I’m within a few hours’ drive of the beach, the mountains, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Baltimore, and numerous historical and cultural sites.  I could conceivably ski in the morning and then take a boat out on the ocean in the evening.  Also, after years in Louisiana where Spring and Fall last a few weeks each a couple of days in the upper 30s generally constitutes Winter, it’s nice to get all four seasons for extended periods of time.

That said, I’ve had about enough of this Winter.  I spoke (well, tweeted) with our beloved site mistress, who lives much farther north than I do, the other day, and it was actually colder here than there. 

There’s really only one thing for it.  I need to hop on a plane and head out to Las Vegas.  If only.  Reality won’t allow it at the moment, but that’s where I’d go given the chance.

I love Las Vegas. I really can’t put my finger on why, though. I’m not much of a gambler…or a drinker…or a partier…or a dancer. The people on the Strip that try to hand you cards advertising “escorts” or nightclubs annoy me. I don’t have the disposable income to see a lot of shows. The casinos are smoky and loud.

Yet when I go there, I have a wonderful time just being on the Strip. As an East Coast native, the time difference always hits me. I usually end up awake at the crack of dawn, which I’ve found is a fantastic time to take walks. The Strip is quiet, and you can wander from hotel to hotel without dealing with crowds or the gauntlet of escort card distributors. The casinos are open, of course, and there always seems to be a contingent of elderly folks stationed at the slot machines at that early hour.

And at night, even with the crowds, the lights of the Strip hotels are beautiful. An evening stroll (or hike really, considering the distances involved) will take you past the glowing Eiffel Tower at Paris, illuminated jets of water dancing in time to music at the Bellagio, and bursts of fire from the Mirage volcano. I don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy myself, and I certainly get my exercise in with all the walking.

All right. Just so this post has a point beyond me lamenting that I’m here freezing instead of there, here are my Las Vegas travel tips gathered over my admittedly few visits to the city:

1) Good walking shoes are a necessity. Seriously. NOT OPTIONAL. I don’t care how good those heels look with your outfit, ladies (or some gentlemen), DO NOT WEAR THEM if you plan to walk anywhere. YOU…WILL…SUFFER!

2) Look at your hotel’s location before you book it. Yes, Mandelay Bay is on the Strip, but it’s at the very south end, and you have a looooong walk to get anywhere…even to the monorail, which ends in back of the MGM Grand.

3) Decide what you want to spend your money on. If you plan on being out on the Strip all the time, why spend a fortune on your hotel room? You can get a perfectly clean and functional room in the center of the Strip at the The Quad for far less than you’d pay at Caesar’s Palace, which is right across the street. Spending less than $25 a night on a room at The Quad (which is what rooms were going for this week.) instead of over $100 a night at Caesar’s gives you a lot of extra fun money. If you have the bucks to swing on the fancy room, by all means, go for it. You don’t have to, though.

4) Go in the Winter.  Part of the reason The Quad is so cheap right now is that not many people are going to Vegas.  I’ve been in December and January, and the temperature were quite comfortable (something that can’t really be said for the Summer out there).  Yes, you’ll want a jacket for the evenings, but this really is a great time to visit.

5) Unless you’re seeing a brand new show or a major headline act, don’t bother buying your tickets in advance before your trip. The Strip has several discount ticket stands selling seats for that night’s shows at very reduced prices. I’ve gotten tickets for 50% off for one show and even seen Cirque du Soleil at a substantial discount.  And speaking of…

6) See a Cirque du Soleil show.  I’ll admit that I was a skeptic on this one.  I didn’t think I’d enjoy seeing what I assumed was an overly-pretentious bunch of circus acts.  I was wrong.  Wrong Wrong WRONG!  Ka is one of the most incredible live shows that I have ever witnessed, and Zumanity was just plain fun.  I must thank our beloved site mistress for showing me the error of my ways on this one.

7) The Strip is NOT for children. I always wonder what parents are thinking when I see them walking with kids along the Strip. Now I have to admit that I’m a bit of a hypocrite here, since I took my kids to Vegas a few years ago. I’ll get to that in a second. First, though, I say again, THE STRIP IS NOT FOR KIDS! It’s like taking them to Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. NO! The Strip is an adult playground. Yes, Vegas flirted with being family friendly in the 90s, but it didn’t take. There is almost nothing left for children there. Even the FAO Schwartz that was in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s is long gone.

So why did I take my kids? Well, honestly it was just to show them what little they could see. And my ex-wife and I did it in less than a day. We were in Arizona visiting family and then drove a rental car up to the Grand Canyon, where we spent the night. The next day after leaving the canyon, we drove the 6 hours to Vegas, going over Hoover Dam and arriving around 5PM. I had booked a room at the Excalibur, which is at the south end of the Strip and fairly family-friendly. They have an arcade and game room in the lower level and a food court with restaurants that my kids have heard of. After eating in said foot court, we walked over to MGM Grand, saw the lions (which are no longer there), and then took the monorail up to Paris. We exited Paris just in time to catch the Bellagio fountains and then went through Caesar’s Palace to the Forum Shops, where we took the kids to FAO Schwartz (which, as I said, is also no longer there). We left the shops just in time to see the Mirage volcano. By this time, it was 9PM, and we decided to head into the Venetian to show them the indoor canals and for some dessert at the Haagen-Dazs. My daughter got about five bites of her strawberry ice cream in and then put her head down on the table. She was dead asleep in seconds (So you could say she Haagen-Dozed. Wocka wocka! Thank you, folks. I’m here all week. Be sure to tip your waitress.). We went back to the hotel after this and got up again early the next morning, so we’d have time to show the kids the Luxor and the M&M store before we returned to car and went to the airport. In total, my kids were in Vegas for about 18 hours. My son remembers the lights, the neat hotels, the volcano, and that’s about it.  I don’t think my daughter remembers anything.

If you want to show your kids Vegas without having to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions, that’s one way to do it.  But in general my advice is take them somewhere else.

8) Get up to Freemont Street. It’s the classic Vegas area you’ve seen in old movies and such with casinos like the Golden Nugget that have been there for decades. The entire street has been covered by a massive LED screen canopy, and it’s really just a neat place to see. The local bus, the Deuce, that runs up and down the Strip will get you there cheaply, or you can take a cab if you have more money to spend and/or would rather avoid public transportation.

9) Three nights is enough. Unless you’re there for an event, such as a wedding or conference, that limits your free time, three days is probably all the time you’ll want to spend in Las Vegas. Yes, there’s plenty to do, but a lot of it is pricey and just walking gets old (and painful) after a couple of days. If you’re on vacation, I think you’ll find three nights is all that you’ll need to have a good time and not get sick of the place.

That’s my view anyway. Your mileage may vary.  Meanwhile I shall go back to wishing I was seeing the Strip out my window instead of snowy tundra.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter