Friday, January 14, 2011

Monthly Getaway: Las Vegas

This is a new series I'm starting on the blog and will feature a new city each month. For tips you should use on every trip, visit the TRAVEL section.

What better way to start this series off than with my frequent haunt: Vegas! I'm a little hesitant to admit that I go to Vegas about 3-4 times a year. It's only a 4.5 hour drive to LA and the perfect weekend getaway. The problem with this is hotels hike up their prices Friday and Saturday night up to 40%. However, follow my suggestions below and you'll be able to enjoy the same fun as everyone else at a fraction of the price.

Flights to Vegas are incredibly cheap right now flying out of LAX through Southwest. Otherwise, if you're within driving distance and it makes sense gas-wise make a road trip out of it! The upside of having your car there is you can get yourself around during the day. This is assuming, of course, that you don't start your consumption of adult beverages early in the day - it's Vegas, no one will judge you.

HOTEL - Location, Location, Location
In Vegas, all of the action is on The Strip so getting a room on it or very close to it is key. The ideal is to get a room near all the action and hotels you want to visit. Traffic on The Strip is horrible, especially at night and taking cabs will only eat away at your trip money.

Find a room that is walking distance from all the places you want to hit at night (on that note - do not try and conquer the entire strip in one visit. I've made the mistake of saying to myself, "The MGM is right there, let's just walk". No, it's not right there. Ok, maybe I had a couple of drinks but the hotel signs and monuments are so huge that they double as an optical illusion that will taunt you on your 2 hour walk - and no the MGM sign never gets any closer.

Some of the "best" (for your money) rooms can be found at:
  • Imperial Palace - Located at the heart of the center strip. The rooms are what you would expect from a Motel 6 stuck in the 1970s.
  • Palace Station - Located off the strip. They have amazing tower rooms for half the price anywhere on the strip. They have a complimentary shuttle that drops you off at the Fashion Mall (next door to the T.I. - Treasure Island). A downside to this hotel is that they have a resort fee of 16.99 per day.
Free Shows/Attractions:
  • Big Elvis at Bill's Gambling Hall
  • Water Show at Bellagio
  • Treasure Island Pirate Show
  • Big Tent Show at Circus Circus
  • White Tigers at the Mirage
  • Outdoor Concerts at the Harrah's Mardi Gras outdoor plaza
  • Nightly Laser Show and Cover Bands at the Downtown Freemont Experience
Use Groupon and as much as possible! A couple of weeks before your trip, do some research and check out the deals that are being offered in the city you plan to visit.

Also, if you're staying at a Harrah's hotel (includes The Flamingo, Imperial Palace and Planet Hollywood, among others) get a coupon booklet from the front desk at registration. These booklets include discounts on everything from food to even 2 for 1 draft beers. Ask the concierge about Happy Hour specials at some of the hotels and casinos you'll be visiting.

Ok, let's face it. The #1 reason most people go to Las Vegas is to hit the casinos. I don't judge you. In fact, I'm the one at the roulette or craps table at 2 in the morning. However, the most important thing to remember is that gambling is not a way to make money. Assume going into it that you are going to lose that money. So only play with what you're comfortable (and can afford) losing.

My favorite cheap gambling spots on the strip are Bill's Gambling Hall, O'Shea's, Casino Royale and Slots of Fun. They all have table minimums starting at $5 (some even lower!) Downtown Freemont Street is also a great place to get some cheap gambling in. Note: if you are not staying in downtown, the cab will cost you about $17 + tip each way.

My budget for a weekend is usually around $100. That $100 lasts me from Friday night until Sunday morning. It also covers all of my alcoholic beverages since you get them for "free" when you're playing at the tables (etiquette is to tip the waitress $1 per drink you order).

It's very easy to spend a lot of money in Vegas, but it's also easy to find ways to save. Just plan ahead and you'll have the time of your life and not blow your budget! I once did an overnight trip to Vegas for - and I'm not kidding - $50 a person. Hope this helps in your planning!

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