(TBT – This post is a reprint of a journal intro that I wrote (published Feb. 7, 2007) for the now defunct travel web site IGOUGO.com)
For several years, I listened to my Las Vegas-loving in-laws go on and on about how great it was. Their 50th wedding anniversary was the strong incentive to get me to make my “virgin” trip there. I went with a lot of reservations (and not just the hotel or restaurant kind).
My first impressions – flashy, trashy and smoke filled. Yuck! Could I get a breath of fresh air, please! Just a short wait to check in at Bally’s had the clothes I was wearing requiring a good cleaning.
It boggled my mind, the vast numbers of people at the slot machines and gaming tables, who sat mindlessly hour after hour throwing their money away. Surely this has to be one of the biggest legal scams in America.
I did try and actually found some things to like about Las Vegas. The themed hotels were interesting to explore. A number of big name chefs have opened restaurants there, so the food is surprisingly good. By far, my favorite thing is the presence of several Cirque du Soleil shows which are amazing to watch.
Would I go back? Yes, I’ve actually gone back twice – once for a girls’ weekend to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 77th birthday and a second time to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.
Here are some tips to help make your stay easier and more enjoyable:
1. Take advantage of free stuff and discounts. Sign up for the rewards program at your hotel. Even though I didn’t gamble much, I got a great book of coupons for discounts on the hotel shops and other activities. Some reward plans give your credit and allow discounts at all their sister properties (ex: all Harrah’s properties).
2. Free Transportation – Harrah’s runs a free shuttle from Paris Las Vegas over to the Rio and there is a free cable tram that stops at Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay.
3. If there is an activity you really want to do or a restaurant you are dying to dine at, make reservations as much as 3 to 4 months in advance to avoid disappointment.
4. If a restaurant requests confirmation 24 hours in advance, do so both as a courtesy and to verify your reservation hasn’t been lost. If you can’t keep your reservation, call and cancel. The restaurants get a lot of no-shows, so cancelling frees up space for someone else to enjoy a meal there.
5. Dress comfortably, especially shoes if you intend on doing a lot of walking.
6, Dress up for dinner, but save the trashy outfit for the late night clubs. I found Vegas a fun place to play a game of “What NOT to Wear”. It’s amazing what people think is acceptable to wear here on vacation and makes for some really interesting people watching.
7. Get outside once in a while. It’s one of the few places one can get away from all the cigarette smoke. The other smoke-free zones I found were the area of designer shops in the Bellagio and the Fashion Mall.
8. Consider the weather. Summers are hot. September and November have sunny days and cool nights. February is cold and windy. Also, some hotel pools close for the season (October/November) due to lighter weekday guest counts and cooler weather.
9. The Las Vegas monorail system is the best mode of transportation. It will save a lot of time and your feet, especially if you are wearing heels. Buy a pass that fits your stay for unlimited rides over several days to save money.
10. Guard your money and other valuables. Always be aware of your surroundings, including people who seem to be getting too close to you. With the amount of money flowing in this town, it’s just too tempting for crooks. They are prepared and glad to relieve some air-headed distracted tourist of their money or other valuables. Watch how much alcohol you drink for the same reason.
10. Beware of scams! Too many visitors are looking for the quick big payoff. If it seems too good to be true….you know the rest.
12. Don’t limit yourself to eating at cheap all-you-can-eat buffets. That’s what the casinos want your to do so you can spend your money gambling. If you can afford it, enjoy at least meal at one of the many great restaurants Vegas has to offer. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food.
13. If you’re not a fan of crowds, plan your trip for weekdays, departing by Friday afternoon. The weekends are dreadfully crowded, especially with loud obnoxious college kids who have driven in to party all weekend, sleeping several to a room and taking up all the space at the pool. You’ll also find hotel rates a bit cheaper on weeknights.