Five Things I Learned In Fabulous Las Vegas.
I just returned from a week long trip to Las Vegas. This was my 3rd trip to Las Vegas, but my first time there on vacation. Well, pseudo-vacation. I was a bridesmaid in one of my best friend’s wedding, and so I was “on duty” much of the week, but most of the stuff we did was fun stuff. My first trip was half-vacation, half-business trip. I had a day and a half of work meetings, but a full day “on the ground” checking out the Strip and visiting with my friend. My second trip was three days at the AADE conference in August where I didn’t leave the Luxor or Mandalay Bay (the two are connected through a shopping promenade). I’m not kidding. It was August and it was Vegas and so I didn’t see sunlight for almost 72 hours.
This was so much better.
The Strip is an interesting place. I don’t hate Las Vegas, but I also don’t love it. I’m not big on gambling, but you know, it’s fun to push the buttons and see the machine spin a few times before it takes all your money. The buildings are big and pretty. The interpretations of Ancient Rome, the Italian Renaissance and old world Paris are gorgeous, although the shops are quite ostentatious and a bit intimidating. I have stayed at three of the casinos, first at the Palazzo (love!), then at the Luxor (do not love), and this time at Treasure Island (mixed bag).
I think the fact I’ve lived in / around New York City for almost 5 years makes the adjustment to Vegas prices a little easier. Las Vegas is the only place in the United States that I can think of that is more expensive than NYC, if you can believe that. So if you go to Vegas but are worried about how expensive NYC is, never fear!
Anyway, on this trip, I spent loads of time on the Strip, but also loads of time off the Strip so I learned quite a bit more about the crazy world that is Las Vegas. Enjoy!
Lesson #1: There are other places to gamble and to drink than the Strip.
Yes, it’s true! Most people think that most of the casinos are on the Strip, but actually, they’re everywhere. No, really. Everywhere. Even on the two lane highway ten miles outside of Las Vegas on your way to Arizona. That kind of everywhere. You do not need to stay on the Strip to gamble or drink because the entire town are filled with places to go.
For J’s bachelorette party, the plan was to hit Fremont Street, which is in downtown Las Vegas. Yes, Vegas has an actual downtown. It doesn’t look like much, and certainly can’t compete with the Strip, but it does exist. Fremont is about fifteen minutes from the Strip, and so it’s easy to get to, but you have to drive or take a cab. Not exactly ideal for people who don’t have a DD, because cabs are kind of expensive in Vegas (everything is kind of expensive in Vegas, have I mentioned that?).
Fremont Street is kind of adorable. It’s like stepping into another decade. Most of the signs are flashy and neon, but it feels older. Probably why they call it “Old Las Vegas.” Most of the folks you see in the casinos and bars here are the locals. The bars we went to were filled with twentysomethings in jeans and sweatshirts, although a few ladies were decked out in short dresses and high heels. The drink prices were also not outrageously inflated, so if you’re looking for a more reasonable place to hang out and give your wallet a rest, I’d say Fremont is a good place to take a break from the Strip.
Lesson #2: There are other places to get married than the Strip. (But don’t worry — Elvis can still pronounce you “husband & wife”)
As I mentioned, I was in Vegas for a wedding. And every time I told someone I was going to Vegas for a wedding, I got this knowing “Ahhhh…” and a nod of the head. Listen, folks, just because Vegas is the elopement capital of the world does not mean everyone gets married at The Little White Wedding Chapel.
My friend J picked a lovely little estate in the southern part of Las Vegas called Griffin Mansion. Like most places in Vegas, it came fairly stocked with everything you needed — caterer, photographer, florist. But it was, you know, a real place to get married. It wasn’t sketchy. It was lovely.
Of course, that doesn’t stop anyone from hiring an Elvis impersonator to come down to perform the ceremony. Which is exactly what my Elvis-loving friend did.
I have to admit, it was pretty awesome.
Lesson #3: There are more things to do on the Strip than gamble, drink and get married. (Or hiring expensive call girls.)
Gambling is fun for all of 10 minutes when you’re broke newlyweds struggling to pay off credit card debt. So, no, we didn’t spend that much time in the casino. Erik spent an evening playing poker, which required just a $50 buy-in to play (sadly, he did not win — but he had fun!). I think altogether we spent about thirty minutes in the casino. I happened to win $30, but then lost $10 of it when I kept going. Sigh.
Anyway, aside from gambling, drinking and getting married, there are many other things to do on the Strip. Not that they’re cheap things.
- Restaurants and Buffets. These things are pricey! But tasty, especially if you find a good buffet with a nice selection. I only went out to eat a handful of times, since I was usually being fed by bridal party activities. Erik and I went to a Mexican restaurant called Isla in Treasure Island, and we went to the buffets at TI and the Bellagio. We also had delicious crepes at Paris Las Vegas, and yummy gelato at the Palazzo and the Bellagio. There are so many restaurants on the Strip! Pretty much something of everything.
- Shows and Concerts. I have never been to a concert in Las Vegas, but Erik and I did go to a show on the Strip. I decided that I just had to see a Cirque du Soleil show, and so we bought tickets to see O! at the Bellagio for Friday night. What a wonderful show! It was magical, awe-inspiring, and even a bit humorous with some of their comic relief. The show involved quite a bit of water, so it a bit like a combination of acrobatics, gymnastics and synchronized swimming. But not in a cheesy way. We couldn’t really detect a plot in the show, unlike the Cirque show Wintuk that I saw in NYC a couple years ago, but it was delightful. Highly recommended.
- Gondola ride at the Venetian. Possibly my favorite thing of the trip. It’s hella expensive for 15 minutes. It’s $32 and you risk sharing it with another couple. But for $64 you can guarantee a private boat! It’s really not worth it though. We paid $32 and got a private ride because there were enough boats available. Might be trickier in warmer months. There are two routes, one inside and one outside. We did the indoor one. It was lovely, and I really like how the Venetian is painted and designed. Our gondola driver sang to us twice. People took our picture. It was really fun!
- Fountain shows. Ah, that fountain shows! The Bellagio has the absolute best fountain show on the Strip. Caesar’s Palace has one, and TI also has a pirate show, which we sadly kept missing. The best thing is that they run regularly and are completely free! It’s pretty much the only free entertainment you’ll find on the Strip!
- Shopping. There are tons of shopping opportunities on the Strip, but I have to warn you, these stores are ridiculously expensive. Come with either a fully stocked bank account or pray you win big! The window-shopping is quite fun though, especially since Vegas is so extravagant. It’s kind of fun to pretend to be rich and famous, so long as you don’t feel bad walking out of the store empty-handed.
Lesson #4: There is more to Las Vegas than the Strip.
As previously mentioned, Fremont Street exists, which is in Las Vegas but off the strip. As does Griffin Mansion. We also explored more of the Vegas area by going to the Hoover Dam. Which technically is outside of Vegas but whatever. Metro area-ish, right?
We decided spur of the moment to rent a car and drive to the Hoover Dam, which took about forty minutes to get to. Casinos have rental car companies inside, so it’s easy and you can pick up one just for the day! I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to go, because, it’s a dam. They hold back water. I don’t really find them that interesting. But the area around the Hoover Dam is lovely, in that desolate please-don’t-leave-me-here-to-die desert kind of way. So, you know, if you’re into dirt, shrubs and big rocks, it’s perfect.
It was actually a little complicated to get to and we ended up driving past the exit we needed and straight into Arizona. The Hoover Dam is on part of Lake Mead that separates Nevada from Arizona. We turned around and came back, but ended up parking on the Arizona side of the Hoover Dam. So within ten minutes I crossed time zones twice. Kinda cool. Kinda weird. One couple we saw took a photo of themselves kissing over the boundary line of the Pacific and Mountain Time Zones. It was cute and we thought about doing it, but we didn’t have anyone to take our picture.
We were at the Hoover Dam until sunset, and it was lovely watching the sky change colors. If you have a free afternoon, I definitely recommend taking a drive out to the Hoover Dam.
Lesson #5: Parking on the Strip is free.
Ha, I don’t really have anything to say about this, other than the fact that this and the fountain shows are the only two free things I can think of when it comes to Vegas. As one friend said, they like to make it easy for you to come to the casinos. But try to get out? Well, let’s just say they don’t make it easy to leave.
Viva Las Vegas!