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Las Vegas – It doesn’t Have to Stay There

Posted By Jay On February 11, 2010 @ 10:00 am In Featured Articles,US Travel Reviews | No Comments

Las Vegas is the Wild Wild West in more ways than one. From prevalent gambling, quasi-legal prostitution, legalized rental of automatic weapons, and the lights on the strip never go out – Las Vegas still holds its reputation as “Sin City”.

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Destination at a Glance

Date of Trip Nov-2006 through Dec-2009
Destination Good for Partying, Gambling, Outdoor activities
Best Time to Go
Most of the year except Dec-Feb. Avoid conventions
Currency/Conv. Rate NA
Good Way to Get Around Own Car: No Public: Yes Taxi: Yes Walking: Yes
Appox. Trip Cost Moderate to Expensive
Speaks English? NA
Entry Requirements NA
Do it
  • The Gun Store
  • Dune Buggy Rental
  • Indoor Skydiving
Skip it
  • Food – with a few exceptions
  • Circus Circus Manor rooms
Didn’t get to do Outdoor Skydiving
Would I Recommend Yes
Overall Trip Rating Trip RatingTrip RatingTrip RatingTrip RatingTrip Rating

Trip Review

When I was a kid, Las Vegas was one of the few places you could legally gamble in a casino.  Sure, Atlantic City, NJ also offered gambling and a beach front to boot – but NJ doesn’t have the allure of quasi-legal prostitution, that beach isn’t of any value in the winter and  – hey, it’s New Jersey (sorry).  Since I don’t care for games of chance and don’t pay for naa-naa, I have to say Vegas was never a place that really excited me.  If you don’t participate in what the city is known for – is there anything to do?  Is there a reason to go??

Turns out Las Vegas has changed a great deal since the days of my youth.  In the past, an overwhelmingly majority of all revenues were generated from Gambling.  The entire town was setup to entice you to gamble.  Rooms right on the strip could be had for very little money, full steak buffets only cost a few bucks and as long as you continued to gamble – all of the drinks were on the house.

As other states and municipalities began passing laws allowing gambling, Las Vegas’ revenues started to slip.  Why travel hundreds of miles to play the slots or poker when you can stay in your own community and do so was the theory.  As state lottery pots grew larger, fewer and fewer people felt the need to make the trip to Vegas to try their luck.  13 states currently allow full fledged gambling and over 90% of the country allows some form of the lottery.  In order to stay relevant, Las Vegas had to change.

Welcome to the New Las Vegas

Las Vegas has transformed itself from somewhat seedy town that catered to gamblers and those looking for a little female companionship.  To make up for the loss in gambling revenues, Vegas has almost turned into a family environment.  It’s not that gambling and escorts are gone, they are simply no longer the focus.

In the late 80s, several high-end hotels (those that included golf courses, marble bathrooms, etc.) started to spring up along the strip – like the Winn and the Bellagio.  In addition, several theme properties sprung up all across the strip – including Caesars Palace (ancient Rome), the Luxor (ancient Egypt) and Treasure Island dotted the strip.  Superstar musical acts (Celine Dion, Toni Braxton), Broadway style plays (Cirque du Soleil, Jersey Boys) and interactive entertainment (Boxing, Zoos, and Amusement Parks) all displaced gambling as the primary methods of luring customers into Vegas.

Recent reports state that non-gambling revenue (rooms, shows, etc.) account for over 60% of each hotels revenues.  This means the policies designed to keep you gambling – cheap eats and cheap rooms are gone (though free drinks while gambling are still in play).  Big spending gamblers will always taken care of – just don’t expect grandma to get a room comp after spending an hour playing dollar slots.

The Las Vegas Strip

The strip itself is a 4 miles stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that spans from the south end’s Mandalay Bay Hotel to the north end’s Stratosphere Hotel (Russell Road and Sahara Avenue respectively).  I wished someone had taken the time to give me the lay of the land prior to my first visit to Vegas.   Since I didn’t know any better, I ended up staying in the Circus Circus hotel on the nearly desolate north side of the strip (thought the hotel had something to do with the show).  Not sure how a hotel can be a family oriented and extremely seedy and smoky all at the same time – but the Circus Circus pulled it off.  Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of the strip sections to aid with your bookings.

  • North – The least congested section of the strip that spans from about the Winn hotel up to the Stratosphere.  Except for the attractions and restaurants within the hotel properties, there’s little else to do on the North end.  In fact, because there’s gaps in properties due to older hotels being demolished – it can get very dark at night on the north end.  Hotels include the Circus Circus, Sahara, Riviera and Encore.
  • South – Some of the popular but older properties are on the southern end of the strip that spans from the Mandalay Bay to the Aria (part of City Center complex).  This section generally hosts the many boxing and MMA fights (MGM and Mandalay) as well as several on-strip restaurants and bars.  Hotels on the south end include the Luxor, Excalibur, Tropicana, New York-New York and the Monte Carlo.   The famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign is also on the south end – about half a mile south of the Mandalay Bay
  • Center StripThis is essentially were all the ‘action’ is.  Most of the restaurants, clubs and people tend to congregate in this 3 block section that spans Planet Hollywood up to the Palazzo.  Whether it’s the Bellagio’s magnificent water fountain show, Treasure Island’s pirate battle or the mob of folks eating and trying to get into Margaritavillle – there’s always something going on in this section.  If not the most luxurious – certainly the best ‘looking’ hotels litter the center strip section.  Hotels include the massive City Centre complex, Caesars Palace, the Paris, Ballys, the Flamingo, Imperial Palace, Casino Royale, the Mirage and the Venetian.

Technically there’s another category called ‘off-strip’ reserved for hotels just off of the strip.  If you were reading the hotel’s literature, it may tell you our hotel is just 1 block off of the strip.  Well, the block on the strip is sometimes half a mile square – sometimes even more.  The Hilton for example is on the north end “just off the strip” – which translated means a mile walk.  My suggestion is, unless there’s a deal at these types of hotels – don’t stay there, just take a cab to the attraction.  The Palms and the Rio are off-strip but have excellent shows and/or clubs.

Finally, no article about Vegas would be complete without at least a cursory discussion about escorts and prostitution.  To be perfectly clear – prostitution is illegal in the city of Las Vegas.  There are only 8 counties in Nevada that allow prostitution – and all of them are far away from Las Vegas.  Now that I’ve gotten the legal stuff out of the way – I can positively say Las Vegas is the easiest city in the country (perhaps the world) to obtain an illegal prostitute.  Under the euphemism of “entertainment”, flocks of Mexican immigrants litter the strip with little color flyers offering a specific escort or an escort service.  Since many of these immigrants don’t speak English, they simply smack the pile of flyers in their hand to get your attention.  At first it’s pretty funny to walk down the strip and see 5-6 funny little mean all wearing “For a good time – Call Sunshine” – each making  smacking sound with their hands.  After about the 350th time – it’s no longer funny – just annoying.

…Continued

Beyond Better the Usual

As I said earlier, I don’t gamble or use prostitutes, so I had to find something else to do in Vegas.  Luckily for me, there are a number of things to do in Vegas that’s beyond the usual casinos and clubs on the strip.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Indoor Sky DivingIf jumping out of a real airplane at 10,000ft isn’t your idea of fun, you can simulate the experience in the safely of an indoor facility.   Right off the strip, you walk into the facility, watch a short movie and put on your skydiving gear.  From there, you walk into the air chamber – which is essentially a padded room with a huge fan in the bottom of the floor.  Once the room is sealed, they turn on the massive fan and anyone sanding in the middle of the netted room will float up to 10 feet off the floor.  The instructor will spin you around and take photos and video.  Pretty Cool!  $75 – Vegas Indoor Skydiving
  • Dune Buggy AdventureIf there’s a silver lining to being in the middle of the desert, it’s that Las Vegas is a perfect place to participate in a Dunn Buggy adventure.  A Dune Buggy is an off-road vehicle (similar to an ATV) but designed specifically for driving in the desert sand.  I have to say this was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my life.  I went on a “Mini-Baja Chase” – which is a guided tour in the Nevada sand dunes where you attempt to keep up with the course instructors.  Let me tell you – this is no joke – we were going over 60mph in twisting and winding caverns – several times getting air.  Expensive – but soooo damn fun.  $300 – Sun Buggy Fun Rentals
  • The Gun StoreAbout 5 minutes from the strip, the Las Vegas Gun Store is a gun range that allows anyone 18 years and older to fire fully automatic assault rifles.  That’s right, you pull the trigger for a second and 10 bullets fly out faster than you can think to yourself – holy shit that was fun!  Pull and hold and empty an entire clip (25 or 50 bullets, depending on rifle) in less than 4 seconds.   You can choose to shoot from 20 different assault rifles, including the M16, MP5, AK-47, UZI, SAWs and a few others.  They even have shotguns and exotic pistols – like the .50 caliber Desert Eagle.  Seriously – how many opportunities will ordinary law-biding citizens get to empty an entire clip form an AK-47???  Highly Recommended – Las Vegas Gun Store
  • The Freemont Experience – A section of downtown Las Vegas off of Freemont Street which is essentially the ‘old strip’.  Originally the section of the city where most of the hotels and gambling took place, it is now an outdoor pedestrian mall covered by a large canopy.  Still the most ‘neon’ section of the city, the ‘experience’ offers nightly concerts, light shows and the Viva Vision (sights projected onto the canopy).  Free
  • Las Vegas Motor Speedway – This is where Nascar holds several races during the summer months.  Though I’ve never been to a Nascar race – it is a big deal in Vegas.  More interesting (to me at least) is the Richard Petty Driving school which is stationed at the motor speedway.  For about $100, you can take a ride (as a passenger) in a real Nascar vehicle driven up to 160 mph by a professional around the speedway.  Wanna drive a real-life Nascar vehicle by yourself?  No problem, just cough up over $500 for 3 whole laps.  Seriously fun, sorta scary and very expensive.  Richard Petty Driving Experience
  • Sky TourSome of the best pictures of Las Vegas are those taken from an overhead vantage point.  Luckily, there are several relatively cheap ways to get these shots.  To get ariel views of the both ends of the strip, visit the top of the Stratosphere hotel.  For about $20, you can stand on the platform about 1,200 ft in the air with excellent views of the strip – especially at night.  To get an ariel view of the South end of the strip – take the new Hot Air Balloon ride across the street from the Mandalay Bay.  Though tethered to the ground, it still rises 500ft off the ground for pretty good views of the strip.  Finally, you can take the more exciting (if not more expensive) helicopter tour – which covers the strip, downtown Vegas and even the Grand Canyon.

Food

To sum it up – food in Las Vegas is nothing special.  Sure, there are a few restaurants scattered on the strip that boast celebrity chefs – a wanna be LA if you will.  Still, there isn’t any quintessential “Las Vegas” food.  Las Vegas restaurants aren’t any different than what you’d find in Cleveland – the same old restaurant chains that exist throughout the country.

One thing Vegas has a lot of is All-You-Can-Eat buffets – and almost all of them are awful.  As I said earlier, the days of the really cheap good food are over.  If you are willing to shell out $30-$45 per person, the Bellagio and Winn have excellent buffets.  Frommers lists a few places that still offer good steak dinners relatively cheaply – but I cannot vouch for them.  At least you’ll have more time to drink ;o)

Few Las Vegas Travel Tips

Few things I’ve noticed form my trips to Las Vegas – your mileage may vary.

  1. If you want to party, stay in the central strip area.  There’s nothing worse than leaving the club drunk and sleepy and having to wait on the cab to drive though 5 mph traffic.  Staying in the central section also ensures there’s something going on no matter the time of day.  If you want piece and quite – stay on the north strip; luxury Bellagio, Venetian, Winn or the Paris.  Kiddie time – Excalibur or Treasure Island. And no matter what – avoid the Circus Circus’ motor home rooms like the plague!!
  2. I know it’s in the desert, but it actually gets pretty cold in Vegas in the winter.  Temperatures frequently get down to the 40s in December and January – even to the 30s.  Dress appropriately.
  3. Don’t rent a car unless you plan on driving outside of the strip.  While most hotels do offer free parking, the free lots are usually in the back somewhere and the traffic on the strip can make it more hassle than it’s worth.  Take the bus or the monorail.
  4. Want to get into the hot club, you will have to pay big or wait in line.  Tip – bring a hot girl – preferably 3 or 4 of them to improve your chances.
  5. Vegas.com is an excellent resource to find cheap hotels, discount tickets to shows and even cheap eats.  Often you will find deals specifically targeting locals (locals rarely go to the strip except for work) – which can be 20-30% discount.  In my experience, operators never check your id when using promos designed for locals – it has worked for me on several occasions.

In Closing

Las Vegas is absolutely the Wild Wild West – in more ways than one.  From prevalent gambling, quasi-legal prostitution, legalized rental of automatic weapons, and the lights on the strip never go out – Las Vegas still holds its reputation as “Sin City”.  That said, it has done a great deal to rid itself of a seedy outlaw outpost and now caters to families and corporations.  It’s actually one the few places that has something for everyone.  In an upcoming article, I’ll talk about me trip to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon launched from Las Vegas.  Until then….

Happy Travels!!

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