5 Things to Expect in Las Vegas
Summary: You might be expecting a lavish getaway during your visit to Las Vegas, but the real thing might not be the desert romp you had in mind. Here’s a heads-up on what a trip to Vegas is really like.
Lights! Glamour! Adventure! Rivers of cash!
If you’ve ever seen a movie set in Las Vegas, you probably have a pretty glitzy image of what the city is like. Movie stars sail about the desert, throwing caution to the wind and having life-changing escapades. Even the “normal” people don’t seem to have any worries. After all, they’re living in paradise, right? Unfortunately, the real Las Vegas isn’t quite what Hollywood has constructed in our collective imagination. Don’t get me wrong, Vegas is an impressive place. But there are a few things you might want a heads-up about before you get on the plane.
1. Everything’s expensive.
Ever seen Ocean’s Eleven? Where they lounge in swank hotels and snack on cocktail shrimp while plotting to steal millions of dollars? Well, if they pulled that off in the real Vegas, they’d probably make just enough money to pay for room service. Excluding tips.
You expect to spend money when you go on vacation. But you might not expect food to cost twice what it does at home. And if you want to buy some souvenirs, go ahead and double your budget for that, unless you’re partial to shabby fridge magnets.
The biggest entertainment expense by far will be any show you decide to see. You might be able to stumble upon a cheap performance, but if you want to see any of the big names, like Penn & Teller ($75) or the Blue Man Group ($71-$132), start saving your pennies now. Find out what’s going on during your visit and decide what you want to pay to see ahead of time.
Avoid spending more than you have to. Pack some snacks or meals and keep them at the hotel (check to see if your room has a fridge). If you have to buy something, avoid the hotel lobby shops and head to Walgreen’s. Pick up any of the free visitors’ guides; they usually have some coupons inside for shows or restaurants. And ask the hotel’s front desk about specials for guests. You probably won’t get much from them unless you’re a high roller, but it won’t hurt to ask.
2. It takes money to make money.
Speaking of high-rollers, be sure to have plenty of money to burn if you plan on doing any gambling. Of course, you can pull some slots for a penny, but the table games might require an investment. Walking around on a Saturday night, I wasn’t able to find a poker table in three casinos that had less than a $25 minimum bet. I’m sure they are there somewhere, but they aren’t easy to find.
If you want to put your money down without breaking the bank, try playing during the week, especially while the sun is up. Casinos generally raise their minimums and maximums on weekend nights. You could also try a casino off the Strip. Downtown Vegas, while not the part of desert oasis most visitors are familiar with, has more options for slim wallets.
3. The best things in life are free.
If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, there’s still plenty to see and do. In fact, my favorite things didn’t cost me a cent. I was lucky enough to visit while the Guggenheim museum had a free showing in the Venetian. The museum ended its time at the hotel in 2008, but that type of free exhibit is common. Be sure to check what’s available during your visit.
At night, you can experience Fremont Street in downtown Vegas. At the top of every hour from sundown to midnight, there’s an elaborate audio-video show on the 1,500-foot, 12.5 million-LED screen above the center of Fremont Street. There’s also usually live music and lots of shopping.
You Ocean’s Eleven fans will be familiar with the Bellagio fountains. It’s a choreographed water show that plays every 30 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes at night. There are several songs, and each is an impressive display. This was my favorite part of Vegas, and all I had to do was stand on the sidewalk.
Some other things aren’t free but are worth the price. Madame Toussauds Wax Museum is a must-see, and you can get 10% off your ticket if you order online. Off the strip, the Art Museum is $3 for students, and the Natural History Museum is $7—be sure to have your student I.D.
4. Get ready to walk. A lot.
The Strip is a little over 4 miles long, and you’ll probably want to visit several places on it. You could take a taxi straight to your destination. However, between the fare and tip, it’s common to pay $10-$20 for a single ride. That adds up quickly over a few days. Luckily, there are a few pedestrian bridges to cross the street safely, and at least there’s plenty to see along the way. Wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget that you are in the desert. Use that sun block!
The most popular alternative to walking is The Deuce, a double-decker bus. You can ride one way for $2 or buy a 24-hour pass for $5 (correct change, please). The downside is that they can become very crowded, and they stop every couple of blocks. During high traffic times, the ride can be painfully slow. We rode from the Excalibur to Fremont Street (about 12 miles) on a Saturday night and it took us nearly an hour.
5. There’s lots of shopping.
Many of the hotel/casinos are pretty standard: slots and tables downstairs, rooms with a view up above. What you might not expect, though, is the number of shops and boutiques you’ll find. Some of the larger hotels (such as the Venetian) have a shopping mall available for visitors to peruse everything from fine art to movie memorabilia to designer purses. I even tried some exotic sweets in Caesar’s Palace (if you’ve ever dreamed of chocolate speckled with bacon, you’re in luck).
Las Vegas is not as glamorous as Hollywood tells us. It’s big lights and sweaty tourists. It’s sore feet and empty wallets. If you’ve got the cash to spend, it could be the adventure you’ve been craving. Otherwise, don’t get your Brad-Pitt-lifestyle hopes up. Of course, you could just pack some swanky threads and pretend. We won’t tell. After all, what happens in Vegas… well, you know.
By Jarrod Taylor