Good ole’ Las Vegas. There really is no city quite like it. The best way to bluntly sum it up is body parts in your face, everyone has an alcoholic beverage in their hands no matter where they are, and the entire city is blanketed in a thin fog of cigarette smoke. Oh, and the buffets all cost $513 plus tax.
Nonetheless, in my opinion, Vegas is a great “once-in-awhile” kind of experience, simply because it’s too freaking expensive to make it a regular thing. If you want to spend a week there (and actually do things like museums, shows, buffets/pricey restaurants, and other various attractions and excursions) plan on spending anywhere from $3000 to $7000, particularly if you have a family. There’s also all the pricey hotels with resort fees (good luck finding a decent one near the strip without it), overpriced parking fees, overpriced souvenirs and gifts, and of course the succubus that is gambling – Vegas is simply an endless money pit.
Albeit kinda fun one.
Speaking of gambling, Vegas casinos really know how to draw in – and keep – people. It’s a fine art, really. Alcoholic beverages are complimentary while you gamble (even if you’re not staying at that hotel), for the sole purpose of getting and keeping you tipsy or drunk, so you keep throwing money into the machines. The atmosphere is very noisy, colorful, and stimulating to the senses, and you can chain smoke your cigs like you’ll die tomorrow. It’s a hopeful gambler’s paradise.
I’ve been to Vegas three times; the first time I stayed at the Plaza Hotel right next to Fremont Street, the second time on the strip at the Luxor, and the third time off the strip at the Westgate. I recommend all three, as none were better or worse than the other. One gave us access to the strip, one to Fremont Street, and the other was away from the madness but close enough if you wanted to experience it. All were relatively priced the same (about $130/$140 per night). However, there was one glaring difference – the check-in lines. Oh. My. God. I have never in my life encountered a check in like that of the Luxor or Westgate. Both took at least one-hour to get through. This was not the case at the Plaza.
The line at both the Luxor and Westgate were akin to a TSA security line at LAX, and there were no less than 10 receptionists to check people in. Call me naïve, but I’ve stayed at many hotels during my travels, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. At the Plaza, this did not occur. It was a normal receptionist’s desk with 3 or so receptionists, and it was easy and fast. The Luxor is the only hotel I’ve stayed at on the strip, so I don’t know if this is a regular occurrence for strip-located hotels or not. We walked past the lobby numerous times during our 2-day stay and the line was like this around 80% of the time. As for the Westgate, to be fair, there was a pool tournament going on, so a lot of the check-ins were part of that. I’m adding this part to warn people in case they think they can arrive at their hotel late, quickly check in, and then dash to a show with tickets they’ve bought, or a dinner reservation, or something like that. Events are regularly occurring at any given Vegas hotel and can seriously impact the process. It took us roughly 45 minutes to check in at the Luxor, and we arrived around 8:30 p.m. At the Westgate, it was almost an hour, after arriving around 2pm.
There is a TON of things to do in Vegas. There are countless pricey shows, such as The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil, David Copperfield, the Blue Man Group, Penn and Teller, Mindfreak by Cris Angel, Magic Mike Live, Thunder from Down Under, and Zombie Burlesque. Or you can walk the strip, check out the Bellagio fountain, and get alcohol while dipping in and out of the various hotels to gamble, shop in their overpriced shops, or enjoy their overpriced buffets. All the hotels have various overpriced exhibits inside, including Bodies at the Luxor, Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, Madame Tussaud’s in the Venetian, and the Titanic Artifact Exhibit at the Luxor.
For more educational purposes, there are countless museums located on or near the strip: The Mob Museum, Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum (shout out to Ghost Adventures), the Clark County Museum, Children’s Discovery Museum, Nevada State Museum, Neon Museum and Boneyard, National Atomic Testing Museum, Erotic Heritage Museum, the Marjorie Barrick Museum…the list goes on and on. You will never run out of museums in this town.
One place that is pretty cool to visit during Christmas time is Ethel M Chocolates Holiday Cactus Garden. It is exactly what it sounds like. Located at 2 Cactus Garden Dr., Henderson, NV 89014, the hours are 8am to 10pm, Monday through Friday (although hours may differ during the holidays, so best to Google beforehand). Ethel M Chocolates is a chocolate factory/store and they have a huge cactus garden out front, where they drape hundreds of Christmas lights during December. It’s quite beautiful and serene. It’s also a hot bed for tourists and locals alike, so be advised.
Finally, there is Fremont Street, which is one of my favorite places to go, especially at night. Located at E Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV 89101, it is open 24 hours, and Fremont during the day vs. Fremont during the night really does encompass the cliché saying of “night and day”. During the day it’s quiet, rather empty, and feels more like an outdoor shopping mall than anything else. During the night it becomes a loud, colorful, rambunctious giant outdoor party with performers everywhere, artists peddling their crafts, people flying above you on ziplines, beggars circling, live music coming from multiple stages, and more. There are restaurants and hotels located on Fremont, so you can stop into any number of casinos or restaurants.
One last thing you can do is drive to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. It’s not exactly a short day-drive, however; it’s about 4 ½ hours away. I believe Vegas is the closest large city in proximity to the North Rim. You can even take an expensive helicopter ride from Vegas to the Rim.
There isn’t much else to say about Vegas other than it’s loud, deserty, and overpriced. Once you venture past the downtown area/strip/Fremont, it becomes any other desert town that you’d encounter in that part of the country. The craziness of the strip or Fremont seeming like a mere memory. I may be biased about this city because I’m not a fan of alcohol or drunk people, but Vegas is just whatever to me. Like I said, it’s a nice “once-in-a-while” trip, but it’s not somewhere I’m dying to go all the time. There’s a list of at least 25 other places I’d rather go to, than overpriced Sin City.