The key to having fun in Vegas, as with any other vacation, is to have some ideas in advance about what you want to do and how much time and money you're willing to spend. Vegas is big with many different casinos and shopping venues, and you'll have to make some choices about what you want to see and be realistic about getting up and down the Strip (Las Vegas Blvd.) and downtown to Fremont Street.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes for walking and standing. I saw a lot of women carrying their beautiful spiky heels in the evenings and walking barefoot down the street. Also carry a shirt or shawl to cover up in the air conditioned casinos, even in July. If you're arriving earlier than 3:00 or 4:00 PM, your room might not be ready; so be prepared to check your luggage with the bell desk and begin your vacation.
Check out the Viator airport shuttle here. For a roundtrip transfer in July to any hotel on the Las Vegas Blvd. Strip, the fee is $11.99, and no reservation is required for arrivals. You do need to book a pickup from your hotel though, when you leave. A taxi from the airport to a Strip hotel will run in the range of $20 to $30 including tip depending on traffic. Don't let the taxi driver take you on the freeway, because it adds distance and cost. The airport is very close to the Strip.
Cab fares can add up, but the bus at $3 per ride or $7 for a 24-hour pass is a good deal for getting around the Strip and going to downtown Fremont Street. The monorail that takes you up and down the Strip has limited stops and costs $4 a ride, but be warned that you have to walk all the way through very large casinos to get to the monorail stops.
There is a free shuttle that runs until 1:00 AM between the off-Strip Rio Casino Hotel and Bally's on the Strip. There are also free monorails between the Excalibur - Luxor - Mandalay Bay Casino Hotels; the Bellagio - Aria - Crystals; and the Mirage and Treasure Island.
If you like to do any gaming at all, it's a good idea to know in advance what your gaming budget is going to be and to take the appropriate amount of cash with you. I like to travel with some small bills, too, like $1's and $5's for tips. Be sure to set aside enough cash to pay for your transportation to the airport when you leave and parking when you get back to your departure city.
I am always saddened when I am standing in line at the ticket redemption center (machine) and see a young person or couple in front of me taking an expensive cash advance on a credit card, because they are seduced by the gaming and hadn't planned ahead. Herb and I know we're going to lose money if we gamble, and we factor that into our vacation planning. It's a lot like playing video games or pinball; you put a lot of (figurative) coins into the (slot) machines.
Whether you choose to play a table game or slot machines, be sure that you're alert and paying attention. It's easy to get confused amidst the lights, loud music and noise and make a mistake about what you're betting (and losing).
If you're going to try the different casinos, two Players Cards worth getting are the Total Rewards card good at Paris, Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Imperial, Rio, Harrah's, Flamingo and Bally's and the MGM-Mirage card good at the MGM Grand, the Mirage, Bellagio, Aria, Monte Carlo, New York New York, Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay. Players Cards are like frequent flyer cards; they award you points based on how much you play and you earn comps like free meals, free play and free future rooms.
The reason Herb and I have been to Vegas several times recently is because we have earned enough points to qualify for comped rooms at Paris, Planet Hollywood, Bellagio and Caesars Palace. We play slot machines, and it's the thru-put that counts, not the amount you actually lose or win, for earning points.
When you sign up for a new Players Card, if you haven't had one before, most casinos will give you $5 or $10 in free slot machine play. The Winn's Red Card awards a free buffet after you earn your first 55 points on their players card, which isn't hard to do, and the dinner buffet is a fabulous $39.90 value, definitely worth taking advantage of.
Meals in casino restaurants, even the 24-hour coffee shops, will add up quickly, but there are some alternatives that are good and inexpensive. Most casinos now have a cafeteria style sandwich shop where you can buy soup, salad and sandwiches for under $10. Some of the smaller, older casinos also have beer and hot dog deals for $2 and $3. Coffee shop and restaurant portions are typically huge, so sharing a meal is a good idea, not just to save money, but to avoid throwing food away. Herb and I often order an entree and an appetizer, or two appetizers and share.
In April and May, the Harrah hotels had a special 24-hour buffet deal that allowed you to visit any of their seven buffets in seven properties for $34.95 with a Total Rewards Players Card ($39.95 without). We bought our buffet deal at Planet Hollywood at noon and ate lunch, then returned for dinner that evening and breakfast the next morning. Had we not been so tired from walking around so much, we would have ventured off to another hotel's buffet. The Village Buffet at Paris has great French food, cooked at different stations representing cuisine from different parts of France. The Planet Hollywood Market Buffet had especially good Mediterranean food with couscous, hummus, baba ghanoush and dolmades.
Some of our favorite not-too-expensive eateries include:
- Hash House a Go Go - The fried chicken and waffles entree was amazing and plenty for two. They only charge a $1 plate charge.
- Carnegie Deli - A trip to Vegas wouldn't be complete without a trip to this fantastic 24-hr deli. It's impossible to eat a sandwich by yourself; it's just too much food, even for two sometimes. Their plate charge is $3, but you can always order an appetizer or a dessert, and share everything.
- Todd English P.U.B - A new restaurant in Crystals with many beers on tap and a unique menu. We liked the dirty chips which were fried chicken livers and homemade potato chips. The small portion of the corned beef sandwich was more than two people could eat, and the meat was very lean.
- Victorian Room at Bill's Gamblin Hall & Saloon on the Strip - We liked the Chinese meals with their good quality meats, large portions and accompaniments like soup, rice and fortune cookie at $9.95. Definitely to be shared, even for a hungry person.
- Earl of Sandwich at Planet Hollywood - Really good sandwiches for under $10, and it's open 24 hrs.
- Pink's outside of Planet Hollywood - You sit outside on the patio, and the hot dogs come in wild combinations such as two hot dogs plus pastrami in a tortilla. It's inexpensive, under $10, and you can order a beer.
- For crepes, dessert or savory, try Paris or the walkway that connects the Mandalay Bay and Luxor. They're large enough to share, especially as a snack and not a main meal.
- Food Courts exist in the shopping malls as well as in some of the casino hotels now. We like the one at New York New York for its variety.
If you're into drinking bottled water, the cheapest ways to buy bottled water are either to tip the cocktail waitress a $1 on the gaming floor or to buy it from the street vendors who are selling out of ice chests. Otherwise, the hotel shops charge $3 and $4 for a 20 oz. bottle. If you're willing to walk a bit, there are stores like Walgreens, CVS and the ABC shops were the prices are more reasonable.
There is lots of shopping in Vegas, both upscale and for us regular folks. The big malls are The Forum Shops next to Casears Palace, The Miracle Mile next to Planet Hollywood, the Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian, and Fashion Mall. There is also shopping in some of the walkways that connect various hotels as well as on the second floor of Excalibur.
Herb and I can't tell you much about clubs, because we don't frequent them. But here are some Web sites that might be helpful.
List of clubs and their cover charges:http://www.lasvegas-how-to.
Right in Vegas there are a number of sights and casinos worth taking the time to see. The themed casinos are really like an adult fantasyland with over the top decor and free entertainment. Our favorites include:
- The Conservatory and the dancing water fountains at the Bellagio.
- The Forum Shops next to Caesars Palace.
- The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian.
- The Paris Casino and the walkway heading into Bally's.
- The Miracle Mile next to Planet Hollywood.
- The Fremont Street Experience downtown - Not to be missed. Free video shows on the hour at 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00 PM on the huge screens covering the pedestrian mall.
- The volcanos at the Mirage.