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The first chance I had to visit Vegas was 15 years ago when I worked as live-in nanny, looking after twin girls. The family went to Los Angeles and Las Vegas on holiday over Christmas one year and I had a chance to go, all paid for as long as I shared the children's room and be on duty virtually all the time. I declined and it took until January last year when I finally set foot on Las Vegas soil - not Nevada, I went to Reno a few years ago. I was so impressed I went back for more later in the year.
Very few airlines fly direct to Las Vegas from the UK or Europe. Virgin have a scheduled flight from Gatwick to Las Vegas but other airlines take you to a gateway city first where you clear customs and immigration and then you fly on to Las Vegas. Depending on airline and possibly gateway city, flight take anything from 10 hours (direct) to 15 hours. Average I would say is about 13 hours flight time.
For all you individual tourists out there, it's often cheaper to book a package holiday with an online travel agent like Expedia as flights are often expensive but in combination with room the trip becomes affordable.
McCarran Airport is very close to the city (between 3 and 5 miles to Strip hotels) so don't worry too much about transfer time and cost from one of the two terminals. The airport was so close to the south end of the strip that I wondered out loud if it was possible to walk across the tarmac to the other side and get to the hotel that way.
Transfer times are short and pretty cheap. A single ride on one of the many shuttle busses will set you back about $4.50-$5.50 per person. If there are more than two of you, or you want to arrive in style you can get a cab. Our cab was $15 to the south end of the Strip but we hit traffic on the way. Price, depending on where your hotel is on the Strip is between $12-$16 they say but more if you get stuck in traffic. And don't forget to tip the driver, plus a little extra when they help you with your luggage.
WHAT TO PACK?
Las Vegas is located in the Mohave Desert and gives it moderate winter temperatures (when we were there in January it was about 15ºC by day and of course a lot cooler by night, some nights close to freezing). The mountain ranges all around Las Vegas show snowy peaks.
Summers are generally very hot (around 35ºC or more during the day) with very dry air due to the desert location, temperatures will drip during the night, so take a light jumper or jacket. You may also need the extra layer when the air conditioning is cranked up high and the inside of the building feels like a freezer compared to the outside temperatures.
Clothe wise, virtually anything goes in Las Vegas and as long as you are dressed appropriately - tops and shoes must be worn - you won't find anyone objecting to jeans, t-shirt or even flip-flops. If you are planning a nice dinner in a fancy restaurant I suggest you pack a nice evening outfit. But don't go overboard, smart-casual is absolutely fine.
Clubs will not allow jeans and trainer so have 'proper' shoes and slacks for those occasions.
Most importantly, make sure you pack a pair or two of REALLY comfortable shoes. You will be walking loads every day and it's essential that the shoes are comfortable. I used a pedometer while I was in Vegas and the average I walked was between 10 and 12 miles a day, plus we did a lot of trips on the bus.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotels are, sort of, split into groups. There are the "Off Strip" hotels, away from Las Vegas Boulevard, "Strip Hotels" are located directly on the famous Las Vegas Boulevard but prices vary tremendously depending where on The Strip you decide to stay, as well as hotels in Downtown Las Vegas or the Fremont District (Old Las Vegas)
There are hotels for every taste and budget. If you can afford a resort hotel, there are plenty to choose from. And they are not as expensive as you might think. Most of the resort hotels are themed: Mandalay Bay - Polynesian, Luxor - Egyptian, Excalibur - Old English/Medieval, Bellagio - Italian Village or The Venetian - well, Venice. Each hotel has it's own individual charm and draws in a different crowd of people. Most Strip hotels are either 3* or higher.
There are two very family orientated hotels, not that the others aren't, they are the Excalibur at the south end of the Strip with its medieval theme and the Circus Circus at the north end with a distinct feel of circus and acrobats. The Circus Circus also boasts the largest indoor theme park in the USA, the Adventuredome. I'd say, only ever stay at these hotels if you either travel with children or don't mind children running around all over the place. Adult only travellers should try and avoid these hotels if possible.
The prices for hotels on at the north end of the Strip are generally lower than the ones on central or south Strip. I reckon it has to do with the fact that the hotels are older than the big corporate monstrosities further down. The Sands, Riviera and Stardust still have the 'air' of old Vegas surrounding them and the price for staying there is more affordable than for example the MGM Grand or New York New York.
There are always offers for hotels and prices are reasonably low because what the hotels lose in revenue by cheap rooms they make up tenfold in the casino. Also remember that room prices will almost double Friday and Saturday nights when there's an influx of tourists only staying for the weekend.
GETTING AROUND LAS VEGAS
Unless you have a driving holiday planned and Vegas is on your route to somewhere else, it is not necessary to hire a car. The main roads in Las Vegas, Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip), Tropicana Avenue and Flamingo Road are very busy at any time but in particular at night. If you have a car, leave it in the hotel car park, unless you leave the city you will not need it.
It is much easier
to walk everywhere or take public transport. You may be surprised that places that look ever so close are actually a few miles away, but if you get tired just hop on a bus.
There are two types of transport. There's the trolley bus (each trip is $2.00) and it stops at most Strip hotels right at the entrance.
Then there is the official Las Vegas public transport. Two systems are in place, the CAT (Citizens Area Transit) and the Deuce. For most of the time all you will need is the Deuce. These double-decker busses have one main purpose, to go up and down the Strip 24/7. Individual trips cost $2.00 and a 24 Hour All Access Pass is available for $5.00 - exact fare only, no change is given. The pass is valid 24 hours, so if you buy it at 12 Noon it will expire the next day at noon.
If you have a 24-hour pass you can use it on both the Deuce and CAT busses. And every bus driver on the Deuce seems to be a comedian of sorts and entertains the passengers with bad jokes ("Two men walk into a bar - one ducked") or running commentary on where the bus is, was and will be.
THE LAS VEGAS STRIP
Las Vegas Boulevard, a.k.a. The Strip, is the main street that divides Las Vegas into east and west. It may or may not surprise you but most of the world famous hotels are located here and it looks like the only high-rise area for many miles around. The rest of Las Vegas is mainly single level houses with pretty gardens and swimming pools.
The Strip starts more or less at the 'Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas' sign south of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and stretches as far north as the Stratosphere Tower. The area after that leads you to Downtown Las Vegas but be very careful and if you are a single woman traveller, don't go there after dark, not on foot anyway.
You will find most of the big resort hotels and casinos along The Strip; the Hilton Hotel is off Strip if you want to go there. While you may not stay at the hotel, it boasts a permanent Star Trek Exhibition and if you are a fan, it's a must-see while in town. You can even get married on the Enterprise with Klingons and Borg as your witnesses.
There is so much to do in Las Vegas, even if you do not gamble, or only gamble for a little while at night, there is plenty to see and do during the day. Almost all resort hotels have some special exhibition or boasts shows with big stars the like of Celine Dion or Elton John. There are also half a dozen different versions of Cirque de Soleil to keep you busy. It will be difficult to get bored while you are out there.
It would be too much to actually mention every single hotel with all its attractions so I will limit myself to the ones I feel are very popular, easy to get to and good value for money. But remember that you will have to pay extra for each and every attraction, nothing is included. There are booklets where you get money off coupons when you buy tickets for certain attractions but make sure you really want to do it. I will mention it if an attraction is free.
Check out the outside of a lot of the hotels, they are works of art in themselves. The NEW YORK NEW YORK depicts the city's skyline with 1:27 scale replicas of the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty and more. And to round it off, they built a roller coaster, the Manhattan Express, to keep people happy. It was a shame that the coaster was not working while we were there otherwise I would have spent the $13 to get on and enjoy the 65 mph ride.
If you are into aquariums, why not visit the MANDALAY BAY Shark Reef. You can walk through a tunnel and watch the fish above you. Whether it's worth the expense is down to you.
There are free shows every day at various hotels and if you are lucky you don't need to spend any money.
One of the loveliest places to go, if there's just the two of you, are the Bellagio Fountains. The show is free and the fountains start every 30 minutes during the day, every 15 minutes at night and at weekends. Depending on the music played, the fountains will dance a different way each and every time. It is beautiful to watch and I must have seen a different show at least 6 times, different songs each time. On a sunny day the fountains will show beautiful rainbows, at night the Bellagio in the background will change colours to give it a much more romantic atmosphere. Certainly something to make you stop in your tracks.
The lions at the MGM GRAND are on show for a limited time during the day. There is no need to actually pay to see them and the easiest way to find them is to enter the casino level via the bridge/overpass from the Tropicana. You will automatically get to the lion habitat from here.
The MIRAGE has a nice area for their white tiger habitat when you first enter the casino level via the moving walkway. You will find at least one of the white tigers there, either asleep or walk around the room. You can spend a few moments, take your photos without having pay for Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden to see more animals. After dark, the volcano outside the Mirage hotel erupts and it is a bit of a spectacle for tourists. The exact times the volcano erupts will be posted and depending on weather you can expect it to be at least once every hours between sundown and midnight.
Next door to the Mirage is the TREASURE ISLAND Hotel, or the TI as it calls itself now. The new, free attraction outside the hotel is now a battle of the sirens. Exact show times are posted and the last show, weather permitting is about 10pm. The TI used to have pirate ships and battles but it was replaced with scantily clad women, something for the guys I suspect. At least it's free, just make sure you get there in plenty of time or the best viewing platform places are gone.
If you are seriously into thrill rides, Las Vegas is the place to go. Just go to the top en of the Strip, to the STRATOSPHERE TOWER. The towers the largest US structure west of the Mississippi river. Not only do you have a viewing platform with some of the best views over the city, it also had three very scary thrill rides. All rides are on top of the tower. There is the Big Shot where you get shot up 160 feet (49 metres) into the air along a pole, remember you are already 850 feet (264 metres) up at this point.
Then there is the High Roller, a roller coaster that runs around the outside of the tower, not for the faint hearted. There is one more ride now, the latest and newest one up there, the X Scream is a ride where you have to have a death wish as the ride will dangle you over the edge of the tower and you will look all the way down. I love thrill rides but thanks, not this time. You can buy single tickets for each ride, a pack that includes one, two or all three rides or an all day pass. But be aware that you still have to pay admission to the tower. I had an argument with the people at the ticket office because they offered the Big Shot ticket for $8.50 but asked me for $15.60. When I complained they told me that I have to pay tower admission, too. I told them it was false advertising if they offer the rides at a lower price but still make you buy the tower admission. They weren't going to budge so you either pay the tower admission and ride or don't ride at all.
GAMBLING or how to get totally legless for four dollars
Gambling is illegal for anyone under 21 years of age. The rule is enforced very strictly and it is always a good idea to have some form of photo ID on you if you are lucky enough to look younger than you are; a UK photo driving licence will be perfect.
Anyone under 21 is asked to leave, even if the parents are with them, not even babies in buggies are allowed - not that you would want to subject babies and children to the smoke in the casino anyway.
The majority of casinos are very samey; there is not much difference between them apart from the size and costumes of the cocktail waitresses - and the speed with which they serve you. Don't forget to tip the waitress if you want to see her again and order more drinks.
Slot machines are very varied and you will find all sorts of different games you can play, they even had poker, blackjack and keno machines if you don't want to play at the tables. Slots are the cheapest way to gamble but watch out, each machine has a different minimum and to be in with a chance it is always best to gamble a little more than just the minimum. The big cumulative prices or cars that you often see announced above the machines will only get paid when you play the maximum every time, and that can be quite expensive.
My partner and I played at a number of Strip casinos, I play slots, he plays poker, not just at the Luxor and Bally's where we stayed. Slots players are generally ignored when it comes to free drinks but when a cocktail waitress is in your vicinity and calls out 'cocktails' just be vocal. Only gamblers drink free, if there's a group of you with one player and the rest just ogling, only the gambler will get the drink. Everyone else has to buy overpriced drinks at the bar.
During our visit I played at The Mirage where I won $40 but drinks' service was really bad, I didn't get a single drink, MGM Grand and Excalibur were okay to play slots and cocktail service was okay, they came by but not very often. The Luxor, one of our hotels had by far the snootiest waitresses - MGM Grand were only slightly better - and getting a drink was almost impossible. I ordered a 'vodka & orange' at our hotel and the girl looked at me blank, only when I said 'screwdriver' did she understand. I still wonder what the difficult bit in vodka & orange was, you can't get much more descriptive. But I won $70 at the Luxor so it made up for the bad service
By far the best cocktail service was at the Bellagio and of course the Wynn. I had barely parked my behind on a chair in front of a machine when the waitress asked me what I wanted. She understood what a 'vodka & orange' was, and about an hour later, I had moved machines a couple of times in the same area, she was back and asked me if I wanted "another screwdriver". Not only did she remember she served me, she remembered what I had and I left the glass out of view. The drinks at the Bellagio are really big and strong, too so be careful how many you have. The waitresses at the Wynn are courteous, fast and sneak up on you so you might get a surprise when they suddenly appear next to you. They are very good and tipping them at least £1.00 is essential if you want to see them again for another drink or two.
With all these free drinks (of course you can stick to water, colas or coffee if you don't drink but where's the fun in that?) it doesn't take long to get you sozzled, after all, it's the main reason they give you the drinks. They want you to lose all inhibitions and gamble away all your money, the few dollars they spend on the drinks is nothing compared to all the beautiful dosh they get from you when you lose, lose, lose.
I am not normally a gambler and Las Vegas was the first time I played the slots but it can be very addictive. Still at home here in England I had set myself an amount of money I was willing to lose and I was not prepared to go over. I wore mainly cargo pants while we were out in Vegas, so much easier, loads of pockets for purse, camera and other small bits and pieces needing a handbag. I always had a few single dollar bills for drinks lose in one of my pockets and four $5 bills; it hurts less to lose $5.00 compared to $20. And any money I won went straight into my purse so I wasn't tempted to gamble it away again.
As long as I don't mix my drinks it takes a while for me to feel the effect of the drinks I had or even feel drunk but there was just that one Friday night where I had 4 drinks, all my usual tipple - but used the tiny straws that come with the drink - and by the time we got back to our hotel and finished gambling at 5 in the morning I was absolutely legless. They really shouldn't have served me that last drink because I was
Pictures of Las Vegas
Hotel New York New York with roller-coaster
already seeing double at that time but they did. Maybe I appeared sober (casinos do not serve people who clearly had too much and are about to fall of their chairs). No hangover the next day but I didn't get up until lunchtime.
DOWNTOWN LAS VEGAS
There is only one real reason for tourists to venture into the downtown area of Las Vegas and that is the Fremont Street Experience. Fremont Street is named after the founder father of Las Vegas and is now completely pedestrianized. Here you will find some of the oldest casinos in Las Vegas, the ones that you see in old movies, the Golden Nugget or Four Queens being just a couple of examples.
Apart from the history this place how, what Fremont Street is now famous for are the illuminations. After dark, thee canopy will light up, music will start blaring and a 5-minute light spectacular will start. Well, that's the idea anyway. I was very disappointed and had actually expected more.
I also expected the lightshow to be on more than once an hour, like every 30 minutes or so because unless you want to gamble in the casinos, there's not really much to do in the area. And it's not a place you want to hang out after dark anyway. It doesn't look too safe and tourists are advised not to wander off into the side street and stay in well-lit areas of the Fremont district.
We took the bus to Fremont Street and headed straight back after the light show finished. It all sounded a little bit too good to be true and while it will remain one of Las Vegas' big attractions I will not volunteer to go there again.
There are plenty of shopping malls in and around Las Vegas. My favourite place to hang out and just window shop were the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. You will find a lot of Italian designer gear under ceiling with its fake blue sky and puffy white clouds. I had a lot of fun trying on clothes even if I had no intention of buying anything. Although I did buy stuff at the GAP and Bath & Body Works (the American Body Shop but waaaay better). Once every hour the statues will come to life and perform. It's certainly interesting to see at least once but I didn't hang around for too long. Once of the hidden gems is FAO Schwarz and their toy store. It's a fun place to visit, you can't miss the Trojan horse outside and it's next door to AX - Armani Exchange.
Other Hotels that boast large malls are The Venetian and The Aladdin. I must say I was very disappointed about the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes. I had expected so much more - just watch out for Luciano Pavarotti. He seems to be on loan from Madame Tussaud's just outside. The shopping area was very dark and dingy due to the fake blue-sky ceiling. Even the canals and the gondolas were disappointing. But maybe it's just me. One thing that did make me go "wow" was the ceiling after you first enter the building. It is marvellous; replicas of the Italian grand masters are breathtaking.
The Aladdin is much more affordable when it comes to shops in their desert passage. You will find more shops the likes of GAP at prices you can afford. The Aladdin is undergoing refurbishment and will be rebranded and become the 'Planet Hollywood'.
If you are interested in outlet shopping then there are a few outlet malls just outside Las Vegas. You can reach Las Vegas Outlet Mall (formerly Beltz Outlet Center) by bus, just take the Deuce to the terminal and change into the Mall bus. But don't expect too much, I was disappointed. The Fashion Show Mall has stores such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's.
For all chocolate lovers out there, or rather those who love M&M's, there's a whole store dedicated to everything M&M. You can buy anything your heart desires, mini M&S, shirts, t-shirts, toys and more. I had a look but went out again buying nothing. It was just too much for my taste. The M&M Store is next to the MGM Grand, you can't miss it, there's a big sign outside.
FOOD & DRINK
As you can imagine, each and every hotel will have a number of restaurants and coffee shops for all tastes. Very popular are the buffets, they are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, are at a set price and you can eat as much as you like. The most popular and best buffet is at the Bellagio. Depending on when you eat it will set you back around $14 -$20 plus tax and gratuity - and drinks, as they are not included.
But if you don't fancy posh nosh in a fancy pants restaurant, just do what we did and grab a bite to eat on the go. There are plenty of McDonald's, Krispy Donut, KFC, Nathan's and Subway around to keep you fed and watered for ages. We normally picked up a Subway sub on the way back to the hotel, stopped off at New York New York for a Starbuck's coffee and Krispy Donut at the Excalibur and finished it off in out rooms at the Luxor or Bally's before hitting the town again for the night.
Wherever you go, there are plenty of opportunities to spend your hard earned cash.
Las Vegas is a great place to visit, even if you have children with you. Just be aware that smoking is the norm, although a lot of restaurants are non-smoking, and if you want to gamble, make sure that you book a baby-sitter as your children aren't allowed in the casinos. But there is plenty to keep them amused during the day. But to be honest, personally I wouldn't travel to Las Vegas with children, as you will be limited in what you can do and where you can go.
And of course, you can get married in Las Vegas but be very careful, you may get swept away in the moment and make a decision you will regret for the rest of your life. Remember, while it's only $55 for the licence, if you go ahead with the marriage, it's legal and valid worldwide. Of course you can always 'do a Britney' and get it annulled the next day.
This review is not complete but there is so much to do, you just won't have the time to squeeze it all in, in particular if you also want to visit the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.
Whatever you do, have a great time, enjoy but whatever you do, rest assured, I will be sitting at home, green with envy that you are in Las Vegas while I am here. I had one of the best holidays ever and I'm looking forward to going again very soon.
Please be aware that exchange rates fluctuate and the rate can go up as well as down. All prices quoted were correct at the time of writing.
Websites to check out: www.visitlasvegas.com www.vegas.com www.weather.com to find out what you need to pack
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