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Trip Report A skeptic goes to Vegas

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When we began planning our trip to the National Parks of Bryce, GC, and Zion almost a year in advance, and I realized we would need to fly in and out of Vegas I just assumed we’d meet at the airport, pick up the car and never set foot in Vegas itself. Vegas did NOT appeal to me. But my SIL, one of my favorite Traveling companions said – well since we’ll be right there let’s spend a day and check it out. I don’t have a gambling personality (at all), only drink socially, and while I like to eat I would not be called a foodie by anyone. I do love to shop, but not for designer items I can’t afford. But the more research I did the more it looked like it would be fun – like going to the zoo, or at least like Disneyworld. Not a ‘quality’ vacation but something that would be fun to experience once. And that is exactly what it turned out to be. If someone wants to pay me to come back (ie for a work convention, etc) I’d do it, but I certainly wouldn’t spend my precious vacation time or money to repeat it. I really just don’t get the people who make this their destination vacation over and over again. I wish someone could explain that to me. But for a one time ‘experience’, since I was going to fly here anyway, yeah – it was fun.

The Hotel - Harrah’s – if price were no issue I would not have picked Harrah’s – just not as cool or fun as some of the others. But in checking prices Harrah’s had a really good deal -not as cheap as some (Imperial Palace was just too sketchy, Flamingo, Luxor, Excalibur didn’t sound as good for some reason) but so cheap I quickly decided on three days, then found I could get the forth free – so four nights it was. We paid $150 total for four nights – no resort fee. I cannot understand why anyone could fault this place. The room is huge: two queen beds, desk with chair, table with two chairs, closet, 40” flat screen TV, huge bathroom. Everything is spotless – marble floors, plush carpeting, comfy beds, fluffy towels, great AC. I asked for a quiet room and got one – not a noise the whole time. Granted, we are at the end of the hall – it’s about a tenth of a mile to the elevator (not kidding). The hotel itself is pretty boring – just a giant casino, some restaurants, no real shopping, pool is a big rectangle. But other than the pool, all the other things are available to anyone at any hotel – you don’t need to stay somewhere in order to eat, shop, gamble, see shows or anything else. The location is wonderful – directly across from the Forum Shops, almost next door to the Venetian. Mid strip meant walking to other places was not an issue.

“It’s a dry Heat” – actually it does make a difference. I was less uncomfortable here – with 107 degrees but only 4% humidity, than I had been at home where it had been 85 degrees with 95% humidity. Still, you don’t want to be out for hours on end. Fortunately, most of what there is to do is inside where everything is nicely air conditioned.

Getting Around – There are really only two ways to get to Strip hotels from the airport – taxi or ‘airport’ shuttle. There’s a city bus but apparently too complicated, have to change, etc. So exited the airport between baggage claim 10 and 11 and there was the booth selling tickets ($7) and went to wait at #4 which is the waiting area for Harrahs (and a few others). Waited almost a half hour and then got combined with those at area #3.The shuttle bus is air-conditioned and comfortable but it took 45 minutes to go about 3 miles! We stopped at 5 other properties first. And at 7 pm the sun had gone down but the lights hadn’t come on yet and Vegas looked butt-ugly, crowded and not at all fun or pleasant. The shuttle does drop you right at the door to the hotel closest to the registration desk – which is a good thing cause these ‘properties’ are so huge you easily get lost trying to find your way in or out of them.

Free trams – there are free monorails between Mandalay Bay-Luxor-Excalibur, and another between Monte Carlo-City Center-Bellagio and another between TI-Mirage. They do cut down on the walking.

Walking – The strip – Las Vegas Blvd is a 10 lane highway. There are cross walks with traffic lights, but only every few blocks – you can’t just cross where ever you happen to be, so you often need to walk quite a way to get to a cross walk. There are lots of pedestrian overpasses – with escalators going up to them and this helps a lot. The area between Mandalay Bay and TI is only about 2 miles, and Harrahs is right in the middle of it, but I walked well over 10 miles a day. It’s not so much the distance between the hotels as the hotels themselves. So you walk 10 minutes, maybe a quarter mile or so outside in the sun, but then you walk miles once you get inside. However it’s now air conditioned. Even though there are signs all over all the hotels, it’s still amazingly easy to get lost in them and I must have walked in circles a lot. Had to ask ‘how to get out of here’ on several occasions.

The Duece Bus – goes up and down the strip and to ‘downtown’ and the Fremont Street/Glitter Gulch area. It’s $5 for 2 hours or $7 for 24 hours. The only way to get to Freemont Street (well you could take a cab) and the day I had the pass I did use it to revisit MGM which is quite a hike from Harrahs. The bus can get really crowded, in fact at least at one stop not all the people who wanted to get on were able to. They come fairly frequently – like every 10-15 minutes.

Gambling – Don’t mean to offend any gamblers out there but my god, I have never seen such bored faces in my life. People looked like they were having more fun waiting to board the plane. They sit there, sometimes in groups of two or three or four, but often alone, and with a blurry eyed stare they hit the button over and over and watch the ‘total’ go down – and occasionally back up, but ultimately down. I spent a lot of time walking through casinos – mostly in order to get to other things I wanted to see – and only once or twice did I hear anyone sounding happy or excited. I had planned to bet $20-$50 just for ‘fun’ (was told this would take about 4 minutes) but once I started watching people it didn’t look like fun. I knew I’d have more fun spending it shopping. Even the employees at the other games (all the casinos were primarily slots) looked bored – and most were middle age and not all that attractive. In fact that describes the gamblers too. The casino experience you see in the movies – it’s the movies.

So what else is there to do if you don’t want to gamble – I just had a good time checking out the hotels/’properties’ – you can’t really just call them hotels, or even just casinos – they all have (in addition to lots of eateries from cheap(ish) food courts to designer restaurants) shopping and pools and ‘atmosphere’. Just fun to wander around and look. Kind of like Disney world (Epcot) or a world’s fair.

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    <Getting Around – There are really only two ways to get to Strip hotels from the airport – taxi or ‘airport’ shuttle>

    Or rental car!

    Enjoying your report isabel.

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    If you go there in the winter,spring or fall rent a car so you can use it as a base for day trips to Valley of Fire, Hoover Dam, Death Valley, and Red Rock Canyon or as a take off point for a loop through the National Parks in southern Utah (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, etc.) and Grand Canyon. It is usually the cheapest place to fly into and rent a car for that area.

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    Thanks for the report. Vegas is not my cup of tea, but I know people who love it and return over and over.

    They love being able to stay in luxurious hotels cheaply; lying out at the pool (but not when it's too hot in the summer); they enjoy gorging at buffets and visiting lots of restaurants. They love the shows (i.e., Cirque du Soleil) and strolling indoors and browsing at the Venetian and Parisian.

    I've had nice times there -- but I'll take the National Parks any day!

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    A lot of people go back again and again because:

    They like to gamble
    They like the idea of getting a hotel room for $49
    They like eating at all you can eat buffets
    They like all of the flashing lights, glitz, "glamour" and getting free drinks from women with incredibly large fake boobs
    They are easily amused

    It's just like Disneyland - for adults.

    Other people prefer reality to fantasy - and spending money to losing it. (I must admit I work way too hard to earn my money to ever be happy losing more than a tiny bit of it. When I go to a casino I set aside a certain amount of money - as if it were the movies - or a broadway show - and when I've spent - lost - that - I'm done. In Las Vegas - and I have been only on business - I set aside $25. At upscale casinos - Monte Carlo - I set aside $100.)

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    Here are my photos of Vegas - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/vegas

    Well actually we were renting a car for the main part of the trip, but at $35 a day I didn't want it just sitting there for three days.

    I'm glad I stayed on the strip because walking to things, and getting back to the hotel in the middle of the day was convenient. At the end of our National Parks part of the trip we did stay at the Comfort Inn Airport for the last night and that was really a very nice hotel but a really long boring walk to the strip (they have a shuttle but still). Also, given the deal I got on Harrahs the Comfort Inn was twice the price (still only $76).

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    oregonmon - it was a little less than 3 hours to Zion, Bryce was about 1 and a half further.

    There are several Free ‘Shows’ that are reasonably entertaining -

    Bellagio Musical Fountains – different music each time so watching it more than once is not really redundant. Better after dark. Better standing in front of the Bellagio and looking toward Paris than the other way around (e.g. standing on the strip facing the Bellagio). 3-midnight, more often after 8 (about every 15 minutes)

    Mirage Erupting Volcano – on the hour from 8-midnight. Cool fountain and (hot) fire show in the lagoon between the strip and the hotel – set to ominous sounding drum music.

    TI – Sirens Show – People dressed as pirates and pirate-esque hookers sing and dance and climb up and down the masts of the two pirate ships in the lagoon. There are cannons fired causing lots of water to splash the audience and fireworks and blasts of flame. It’s free. Four times a night, every hour and a half or so.

    Light show at Glitter Gulch – if you like neon this is the place to go. Tons of neon lights plus huge overhead thing with millions of lights flashing and whirling and lots of loud music and street performers.

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    I had almost three full days in Vegas. I like to check out places and just take pictures and look around. So I ended up going into most of the major "properties" as the hotel/casinos are called. So here's my take on them, in order of preference:

    *****The Venetian – now this is a classy place. One guide book calls it “an outright adult Disneyland experience” and they are right. Same or even better quality as Epcot. My favorite- by quite a long shot. Really extensive repros of the Campanile, Rialto, Doges Palace, Bridge of Sighs, several Grand Canal Palazzos. The canals are too clean and turquoise but other than that they are great. Inside the main entrance is a ceiling fresco that, at least at first glance, is as nice as many in Italy. The theme continues inside where a very extensive canal runs through several streets of shops – all with Venetian shop fronts, a blue sky ceiling, nicely lit, Italian music in the background. The St Marks Square is also nicely done. It’s not the same as being there, but a great reminder for those who have and a decent taste for those who haven’t. Shopping is mostly upscale designer but a few stores more moderate and the food court is surprisingly pedestrian. Never actually went down to the casino but it looked like your average nice enough casino.

    ****Paris – Reasonably classy. The minute I walked in the door I could feel the difference from Harrah's. Quiet, calm, luxurious, attention to detail everywhere – signs were all in French. Lots of repo art nouveau metro entrances, the ‘legs’ of the Eiffel Tower are the four corners of the casino. The restaurants look like actual Parisian ones with outdoor (well it’s inside the building, but outside the ‘restaurant’) seating. There’s a very long ‘street’ made to look and feel like a French street, fountains scattered about – upper stories look like Parisian apartments from the outside. Definitely Disney quality here. No mistaking I wasn’t actually IN Paris, but it was a quality repro. Ceiling looks like sky just before dark. Outside are also quality reproductions of Arc d’Triomphe, Opera, etc and the tower is pretty big, I believe they say it’s half the size of the real one.

    **** Bellagio Very luxurious and does feel like a European high class hotel. Not at all like the actual town on Lake Como, but you could think you were at least in Italy. The pool area, which you can see from inside, looks really cool – several small pools with old European style fountains in the middle that you can swim around, Cypress Trees. Could be a movie set. Looked inviting. The lobby has the blown glass flower sculpture that really is beautiful. The conservatory is also great – I think they change the theme but this time it had mini hot air balloons, a carousel and a mini Ferris wheel. Also a huge Liberty Bell with a tacky eagle on top. That they could have taken out. But it was a nice place, lots of flowers. The shopping area, past the casino (big and boring like the others but higher minimums on lots of the games) is all under glass and iron roof and does feel like a European arcade. All high end designer shops. Saw Elvis on the escalator. The lake outside is more turquoise than the real Lake Como.

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    ***NYNY – well the outside is definitely kind of cool – Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, SOL, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station, several other landmarks. Not as ‘realistic’ as Paris’s rendition of a French city but still pretty well done. The smaller scale (about 1/3 real size) makes it seem a little more tacky and less realistic. Inside there were a few areas that looked like the lobby’s of the Empire State and Rockefeller Center – art deco. And a Nathan’s hot dog (
    $5 for one dog!). The casino is just a big dark casino with a mural on one wall made to look like the UWS from CP. But there’s a little area supposed to be Greenwich Village that does look like it – small scale of course but kind of well done. I’d say this one equals Universal/Disney quality. Had some decent pizza and a Starbucks Frappachino. They did get that right, Starbucks on the corner.

    **MGM Grand – Outside just a big blue glass high-rise – there is a nice big statue (gold) of the MGM lion out front. Inside is also calm, dark, quality – It’s supposed to be 1930s LA and the theme is films and there are lots of art deco touches. Not sure why there is a rain forest café/shop but the animatronics snake and alligator were nice touches and the floor to ceiling aquariums had some nice big fish. Lion habitat is a big glass cage in the middle of the lobby/casino – lions are only there 11-7 and they have lots of signs telling you how nice they are to the lions.
    ** Tropicana – very Miami Beach. Inside not so much although it smells like coconuts when you walk in and all the chairs in the casino are white leather upholstery. But there is a very nice pool area with wooden walkways with huge white canvas awnings and misting fans and the walls are white and the seating is white and there are little white teepees (cabanas). Very bright. Greece wasn’t so bright. Inside there is a frozen yougurt bar where I had a coconut/mango/strawberry frozen yougurt with fresh kiwi, pineapple and cantaloupe. “Only” 49 cents an ounce but even a smallish dish comes to $5.

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    ** Cesears –Roman colonnades, Roman pillars, giant faux marble Roman statues: the Piazza out front is full of this. The main entrance is a long reflecting pool with more statues, lined with Cyprus trees. Nicely done – doesn’t really make you feel you are in Rome, but it’s pretty. The ‘piazza’ has a big restaurant (awning with misting fans) and a show area out there. Inside it’s got some more statuary around what is otherwise just a casino, albeit a nice one. The Garden of the Gods pool area though is very nice, and no one checking room keys, I could have even gone swimming if I wanted. There are several pools in the giant courtyard formed by the high rises. Lots of statues, massive fountains inside the main pool, inviting lounge chairs surrounding the pool, more shrubbery and more statues. Very inviting.

    The Forum Shops – it’s a mall, never for a second would you doubt you were in a mall (that is NOT the feeling you get at Venetian and Paris) but it’s a nice mall, with the second story over the shop fronts made to look like an Italian city. And three large fountains in ‘piazzas’ throughout the mall, one in the middle and one at each end. One does an animatronics show every hour with fountains, lights, fire and noise. Fun to watch for 10 min. The main entrance to the shops is a multi story atrium with glass ceiling over a reflecting pool with yes, more statuary. There is a cool spirals escalator that was interesting and the whole area is peaceful and nice to sit for a while. Outside in front is a rather decent replica of the Trevi Fountain. And around the side is a replica of the Barbarini Fountain – I’ll bet that while a number of people could recognize the Trevi I doubt many could identify the Barbari – it’s not even mentioned in the guidebooks.

    South End of the Strip
    From Tropicana to Mandalay bay is a pretty long walk even it looks like it’s right there. And there is nothing on the east side of the strip down there – a couple of old 60s style motels, now deserted and a lot of construction equipment – I wonder what will replace them. I think they should just fix up the old motel exactly as it was. It would only have about 20 rooms but I bet they could charge a fortune for the ‘experience’ of staying in an old fashioned Vegas motel.

    *Mandalay Bay – gold and glittery glass high-rise. Really nice fountain/waterfall entrance. Inside it’s ‘nice’ – very high quality but can’t say I had any feeling of being in the South Pacific. I guess the ‘beach’ is the big draw but you need a room key to get near it.

    Free monorail to Luxor
    *Luxor – interesting that it’s in the shape of a pyramid –a 30 story onyx hued glass one – with a very pretty gigantic sphinx and a Cleopatra’s needle out front. But inside it’s so dark and just a huge space – but kind of chopped up. And the longest line I’ve ever seen to check into a hotel. Boring casino.
    Free monorail to Excalibur (these rides last about I minute)

    *Excalibur – tacky but mildly interesting exterior looks vaguely like a turreted medieval Kind Arthur style castle – like a kids coloring book rendition of one. But not at all inside – huge multi roomed casino downstairs (had to ask how to get out) and upstairs are shops but clearly kid oriented – candy and plastic swords were big. Not even any feel of a medieval town (maybe one very poorly done storefront). Clearly this is where lots of families go. But why, take your kids to Disney it’s so much better quality.

    *Monte Carlo – supposed to feel like a European Casino Hotel - well there are a few statues on the outside – other than that, no. Inside it’s just a casino and shops. Nice enough but no sense of being in France/Monaco at all. Boring. Bland
    Took another free monorail past the new glass high-rises that are City Center/Aria to the Bellagio.

    *Flamingo – It’s PINK. Even the chairs in the casino, lots of the lighting, touches. But overall darker than Harrah’s which is very bright. There’s an outdoor area called ‘Habitat’ which is several ponds with waterfalls, with coi fish in them – really huge ones. And there are pink flamingos (real ones). Nice enough place to sit in the shade. There’s a little wedding chapel (pink fence) and a pool. People in the casino were just as unattractive and bored as at Harrahs, being early in the morning there were less of them.

    North End of the Strip
    *Treasure Island (TI) Their lagoon, called Siren’s Cove, has two pirate ships and several times a night (7, 8:30, 10, 11:30 ) they have a show: The Sirens of TI. As it was only 20 min to seven I stayed for it. I hope most of Vegas shows are considerable better than this. The signing and dancing are lame – they do shoot a couple of cannon causing splashes of water and some fire and fireworks and the one boat ‘sinks’. Not quite Disney standards. But it was free. I guess I got my money’s worth.

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    Almost forgot the Mirage

    **Mirage - A city block of obviously fake but nice nonetheless cascading waterfalls and tropical foliage surrounded pools surround the entrance to what is basically a boring high rise. The middle of the waterfalls area is the volcano which erupts nightly. Inside is one of the more boring properties. There’s a big long aquarium behind the main desk in the lobby, and a tall atrium with palm trees, waterfall and flowers – but something like that is much more interesting in the middle of Manhattan in February than. in Vegas in August – where there are palm trees all over outside – even if they aren’t indigenous to the desert any more than they are to NY. The swimming pool at the Mirage is quite nice though – surrounded by lush tropical landscaping several pools interconnect and there’s a nice waterfall you can swim under.
    Just past the pool is the Siegfried and Roy Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. It’s $17 admission. Nicely done, and they keep telling you how animal and environmentally friendly it is. But it’s really just three big pools with about 11dolphins swimming around. They say do educational things, and they do breed them but I kind of felt sorry for them as it’s not all that large (compared to say Sea World). There are no ‘shows’ but at random times the trainers go play with them and you can pay (big bucks) to have your photo taken with one. It makes it look like you were a ‘trainer’ but the people were only with the dolphins for about 1 minute and they didn’t do anything but stand there. There is an underwater viewing area, and educational signs and recordings. Then there is the Secret Garden - several chain link cages, with vegetation and little waterfalls/pools and one has two handsome large male lions (who, unlike those at MGM, were awake and occasionally got up and walked around and growled at each other), and several tigers. Interesting enough to watch for a few minutes. Not sure what they are getting for zoos these days but I suspect $17 is a bit overpriced for what is there. But hey, it’s Vegas and if you love watching animals (I do) it was fun.

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    Glitter Gulch is a several block long street (Freemont Street) lined with old time casinos/hotels and cheap souvenir shops (advertising 97 cent souvenirs and tee shirts 4/$10. Overhead is a 90 foot high steel-mesh ‘celestial vault’ – provides shade during the day and at night several million lights provide a light show. A couple of stages have dancers (hip hop, etc), lots of street performers and people dressed in costumes from show girls to star trek to spider man to big bird – all quite up front about the fact you need to tip them if you want to pose with them. Music, neon, flashing lights above – the ‘roof’ is so high there is a zip line under it, so screaming flying bodies adds to the atmosphere. Of course lots of booths selling drinks – a lot like a state fair on steroids. This is where the old Las Vegas was sent when Hollywood/Disney world took over the strip. A blast from the past (only they didn’t have a zip line under a metal roof lined with millions of light bulbs in the past.). It’s bright, noisy and quite a bit of fun.

    Prices here are a third what they are on the strip – can get bottled water for under a dollar here (it’s over $3 on average on the strip – except for the guys selling it for $1 at night on the overpasses). Adds for steak or prime rib for $15. Hot dogs are $2 (some places on the strip had hot dogs for $6.99 – although at least one place did have them for $2.99). I had a hamburger at Binions Café – nice little sit down place, with a coke, tax and tip it came to $10 and was very ‘American’ – even came with pickles and potato salad. I did see adds for the famous 99 cent shrimp cocktail but couldn’t find where they actually sold them – every place I looked they were $4.99.

    Glitter Gulch is an experience, much better after dark – wouldn’t go every night but it’s like a show – something to see.

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    In summary My TOP 10 Things to do in Vegas if you don’t gamble

    1. – Walk around the Venetian, I could spend hours here, a little bit of Italy for those of us who can’t get there this year. Also by far the best inexpensive yet decent food.

    2. – Bellagio – The conservatory, the arcade of shops, the blown glass flower in the lobby – and the water fountain ballet in the ‘lake’ out front.

    3. Walk around Paris – not quite as good as the Venetian, but close

    4. Erupting volcano at the Mirage

    5. Glitter Gulch

    6. NYNY – pizza in Greenwich Village and see what people think NY looks like

    7. Siren’s of the TI

    8. Caesars Pool (even if you don’t swim there) and grounds and the Forum shops (with the animatronics fountain show)

    9. Mirage’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat – this would be higher except everything else listed is free and this is overpriced.

    10. Tropicana – check out their pool area and have a tropical fruit and frozen yogurt.

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