Help a Vegas virgin out!
September 13, 2011 2:17 PM   Subscribe

It's going to be my first time in Las Vegas. Help me make my 5 days there awesome and super memorable.

I'm leaving tomorrow morning, and I'm open to any and all suggestions.

Travelers: Please tell me what you did your first time that was good fun?

Locals: Are there any out of the way destinations or tasty food places that are not to be missed and also where should a tourist absolutely not find themselves?

Staying 2 nights at the Bellagio and three nights at Bally's. I'm not much for gambling, but plan to give it at least one shot. There are two of us, and we are open to pretty well everything from the relatively mundane to grand adventures.

Our budget is pretty decent, so let's say admission prices below $50/ea, shows for around $125 or less and the Zero G Plane is sadly out of the question unless the gambling thing works out well.
posted by empatterson to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (29 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Go out to red rocks and go climbing for 5 days.

Don't miss in n' out burger.
posted by TheBones at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I thought Ka was one of the most amazing shows I've ever seen, some truly jaw-dropping stunts and moving set magic. You actually don't want to sit too close to the stage, or you'll miss alot of stuff. Midway back in the center is ideal.

For out-of-the-city stuff, I thought Red Rock Canyon was really pretty.
posted by nomisxid at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2011

I loved Fremont Street, old LA.
posted by Jayed at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2011

Seconding Fremont Street.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 2:32 PM on September 13, 2011

I've eaten at and enjoyed Joel Robuchon, e by Jose Andres, Bouchon for breakfast, Le Cirque and Sage. I don't love LV, but there are amazing places to eat.

I've never eaten at any of the buffets. Chowhound might be a good resource.

I enjoy Penn and Teller's act but it's not exactly fresh. The Las Vegas Springs Preserve museum is interesting.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:43 PM on September 13, 2011

Valley of Fire is similar to Red Rock Canyon for an out-of-the-city trip.

Cultivate and catch up on your people watching, because y'all are going to see some freaky shit. The last time I was in Vegas I was with a friend, and our first night we did nothing but walk around and look at stuff, and that was good enough -- we spent about ten minutes just watching the different rituals the guys at the craps tables went through before tossing their dice.

Some of the casinos have arcades for kids, too -- that may be a cheaper way to have a little fun, catching up on Galaga or Dance Dance Revolution or Skeeball.

Track down the shops in the Caesar's Palace casino, and see if they still have an FAO Schwarz there -- when I was there, their window display was an animatronic display of Steiff teddy bears enacting scenes from Gladiator. Tracking down other window displays is probably going to be equally as wild.

Have a drink in CIRCUS CIRCUS and subtly quote Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas a lot and see if anyone even notices.

There is a water slide park somewhere in Las Vegas, and it will probably still be warm enough to enjoy it.

As for the gambling: The only gambling I did was play slots; I saved up all my pocket change for about a month and just carried that around with me, and used it in the slots. Every so often, as I wandered, I'd drop a few nickles into a slot machine, and if I lost, I shrugged and walked away; if I won anything, even if it was only a dime, I cashed out and walked away. I gradually worked my way through the $7 in change over the course of my trip, and then on my last quarter I made $20. I cashed out, and blew it all on a buffet the next day -- but that means I can honestly say that I doubled my money in Las Vegas. (The moral: set aside a bunch of money as your "gambling money," and you can either take money out or put winnings in. When it's gone, it's gone, and so stop. And don't take it seriously.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:46 PM on September 13, 2011

I loved O which is at Bellagio. And I was dubious that it would be worth the money. It really was!
If you have a car, a ride out to Red Rock (2nding above suggestion) or up to Valley of Fire is worth doing if you want to see some beautiful desert scenery. And youcan also see the Hoover Dam (which also was more enjoyable than I thought).
For food off strip, Thai restaurant Lotus of Siam on E. Sahara is well regarded & very tasty despite being in a run down strip mall.
For cocktails, my current favorite is Vesper in the Cosmopolitan which also has a tasty buffet as well as the Vegas outpost of the awesome Jaleo
Gawking at the over the top casino architecture is lots of fun, too.

For gambling are you looking at slots, table games, or poker?
posted by pointystick at 2:47 PM on September 13, 2011

I would say don't miss the water show that happens in front of the Bellagio Hotel. There are about 4 or 5 different music shows choreographed to water, and it is amazing. They run on about a 20 or 30 minute schedule after it gets dark. Even better, it is free!!!!
posted by snoelle at 2:47 PM on September 13, 2011

I loved all the glitz and glimmer, but I woke up around six during my stay. I got out shortly before sunrise in the chilly dawn looking for coffee and when the sun creeped up and suddenly kicked me in the face, I realized I was in the middle of a fucking desert!
That was my favorite Las Vegas moment.

And yeah, In-N-Out Burger. And the toilets in Ceasar's palace.
posted by ouke at 2:53 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I have notorious bad luck at gambling. It always seems that both I and the people with me are destined to lose if I even so much as set foot on the casino floor. My boyfriend enjoys slots and blackjack casually, so he'll probably nip down to the casino at the hotels.
posted by empatterson at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2011

Grab up all your quarters and head to the Pinball Hall of Fame on 1610 E Tropicana Ave. It's an easy bus ride. They have pinball machines dating back to the 50s, and all the machines on the floor are operable. You will find an occasional loose flipper or flabby bumper, but generally the machines are kept in not-quite-excellent condition. Certainly competition-level condition. Most of the staff are former slot machine technicians from the pre-electronic days.

All the major Strip resorts have shopping areas, and some are quite huge. I am not a huge shopper but the shopping circle in Planet Hollywood could occupy me for 3 or 4 hours every few weeks. The Shoppes at Caesars is so massive that I can still get lost in it.

If you take the bus to Fremont Street downtown, do not get off anywhere between the Stratosphere and downtown. Only a couple really bad pockets along that corridor, but for the most part, you won't find anything of interest in there anyway. It is the old residential/commercial zone of Vegas.

Like most anywhere, thai or phillipine restaurants are run by actual thai or phillipine families. (The same cannot be said of other ethnic restaurants, especially in LV.) I mention this because Las Vegas now has a phillipine food wholesaler in town that imports a lot of fresh island and southeast asian seafood and produce as well as other SEA foods. This is as close to authentic as you can get in the US, and you can find a number of places just off the Strip.
posted by Ardiril at 3:18 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you haven't been to the Grand Canyon, the helicopter rides from Vegas would be well worth your while. They fly you over the Hoover Dam in a bubble-glass type helicopter, then fly you over and down into the Grand Canyon. You land on a plateau well below the edge (and well above the bottom.) You walk around on the plateau for a bit and then they take you back.

By far the best thing I've done on three trips to Vegas--but I haven't been to Red Rock or Valley of Fire.
posted by lockedroomguy at 3:36 PM on September 13, 2011

A lot of the casinos offer free gambling lessons on weekday mornings- poker, roulette, craps. Check around for schedules, this can be helpful.

Freemont Street is a ball (we were in Vegas a few weeks ago and they added a freakin' ZIPLINE, which I regret not doing), particularly if you enjoy cheap gambling. We found a $2 blackjack table (for where) that kept us occupied for sometime.

Pick up any tourist attraction coupon books you can and flip through them- you might get ideas you hadn't thought of, or find coupons for something you were already planning to do. Vegas also has a half-price ticket booth with many locations on the strip.

There are club promoters who can get you on the guest list for clubs if you're willing to go early. We used this guy and found his services very helpful. You feel like a baller walking past everybody in the General Admission line.

Gotta eat at the Peppermill! The food is great and reasonably priced, too.

You know what I felt wasn't really worth our time? The "Pawn Stars" pawn shop. It's in a weird location, between the Strip and Downtown, and we had to walk a few blocks after getting off the bus in the hot, hot sun. It was so crowded inside you could barely see.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:02 PM on September 13, 2011

Seconding KA. I've seen O as well and both are great shows, but KA knocked my socks off.
posted by ajackson at 5:00 PM on September 13, 2011

I've never eaten at any of the buffets. Chowhound might be a good resource.

My dad lives there, and have been there recently. The Chowhound research on buffets did not yield any advice. Your best bet is to try to contact a local foodie since buffet information gets stale fast in town. (The Chowhound recommendation for my last trip to the buffet had me paying for food that I considered inedible.)

Red Rock Canyon gets a +1 if that's your thing. It's wonderful, especially in the early morning.

If firearms are an interest, you can spend some time plinking... with HK MP5s, Uzis, and other submachine guns.
posted by Hylas at 5:07 PM on September 13, 2011

The buffet of the moment is the Cosmopolitan's Wicked Spoon.
posted by zepheria at 5:30 PM on September 13, 2011

Two "non standard" things that I really enjoy are the Thai restaurant Lotus of Siam (seemingly a MeFi favorite) and the Double Down Saloon (not for everyone).
posted by outlaw of averages at 5:38 PM on September 13, 2011

Another vote for the Pinball Hall of Fame. They do have change machines there, so you don't actually have to bring a sack of quarters.
posted by tomboko at 6:25 PM on September 13, 2011

I love the Cosmopolitan, and second the advice that Vesper is the best quality cocktail bar in town right now. Also seconding the recommendation for Bouchon, but I'd go there for brunch...the chicken and waffles are out of this world. Hell, everything there is out of this world.

Play some blackjack, play some slots, but don't chase your money. If you stick to a budget and realize that you'll lose it all (but have fun doing it) you'll be fine on the gambling front.
posted by griffey at 7:04 PM on September 13, 2011

I'm not a big fan of Thai (or Vegas, really), and I have to enthusiastically nth Lotus of Siam. Oh. My. Gawd. Their drunken noodle sea bass is heaven.
posted by moira at 7:27 PM on September 13, 2011

Yes on Lotus of Siam... though I think it's gone downhill a little bit since it expanded.

An even more enthusiastic yes for Firefly on Paradise, which is fantastic, has amazing sangria, is relatively inexpensive, and always full of locals.

I've been meaning to check out Todd's Unique Dining (warning, autoplay sounds), too. It tends to be well regarded by people who know.

I was also going to recommend Rosemary's, but it turns out, they closed this summer, which is terrible news. If you can find out where chef Michael Jordan wound up (obviously, his name makes him difficult to search for), you'd do well to go there.

I rather like Craftsteak as well, but it will hurt the wallet.
posted by toxic at 8:11 PM on September 13, 2011

I recommend the Beatles Love show. Also the Bouchon Bakery in the Venetian is a quick and cheaper way to experience some very good food instead of the full-blown Bouchon restaurant.
posted by calgirl at 8:21 PM on September 13, 2011

Neon museum / boneyard tour was pretty cool.

Nthing the Pinball Museum and Fremont Street Experience.

Hoover Dam is a nice short trip that won't take up the whole day.

There is an all day bus tour that goes to the Grand Canyon, offers a helicopter ride to the base, a quick float on the river, and then off to the Skywalk. It's a long day, but fun.

I also liked the Cirque shows La Reve, Zumanity and Love.

If you can, definitely get tickets for Absinthe, which is playing in a tent in front of Caesars. Try to get in the front row if you can! The show is really fun.
posted by Raymond Marble at 8:26 PM on September 13, 2011

Best answer: A lot of this advice is dependent on your activity levels and goals, but here are my recommendations:

1. When exiting LAS, take a real cab from the real cab line. Don't take any rides from anyone else. Find the real cab line with the cab line attendant. You're going to Bellagio, so simply say "Bellagio. No tunnel." Ignore any protests and claims that the tunnel is better/faster/cheaper/etc. Depending on time of day and construction, you might get stuck in some traffic. Whatever. "Bellagio, no tunnel." End of story.
2. Alternatively, you could take the shuttle, which is cheaper. Shuttles take an ordered route, and I believe Bellagio is in the middle of it. Take the cab.
3. Walk into Bellagio with your luggage, stop and pause to look up at the Chihuly glass above you. Get in line. You could ask for a complimentary room upgrade (some people will "sandwich" a $20 between their driver's license and credit card), but it's hit-or-miss. For two nights, mid-week, you might get an upgrade with some ease, even without the sandwich. Just be friendly, let the desk clerk know it's your first time in Vegas, and ask if there are any upgrades. "It's our first time in Vegas, and we'd like to make it memorable. Do you have any complimentary upgrades?"
4. Bring your stuff up to the room, unpack. Look over the binder for hotel services. Find the in-room safe, which may or may not be secure. Use it to store soap.
5. Explore the property, and take your time. This is vacation! Slow down! Go to the front desk, ask for change and get some $1 and $5 bills for tips, if you feel like it, for the doorman, cab attendant, etc. Bellagio has a LOT of stuff to see, like their arboretum.
6. Check out the spa. Make an appointment. Consider a pedicure.
7. Get tickets for Cirque's O. After the show, proceed with Bellini-Fountain protocol.
8. Plan a day to walk the strip, visiting the different properties. It's amusing to see the differences between them. Everything is farther away than it seems: walk the strip, get some booze, stop by the Walgreen's right next to Venetian/Palazzo for stuff you might need. Like Motrin. Warning: Motrin, like any NSAID, can cause bleeding. Take with caution if drinking booze.
9. Walk the strip at night. Consider popping into properties that seemed interesting during your walk. I'd check out, in no particular order: Planet Hollywood (interesting casino, crowd), Palazzo (nice shops, large spaces, gelato place, and an open casino design), Wynn/Encore (Encore's casino is pretty nice, and both properties are nice to walk through), City Center/Aria/etc. (very short walk from Bellagio if you take interior route-- ask for directions). I have an especially fond memory of sitting in front of the Venetian, where there's a large space and some water, relatively few people, close to midnight, with whisky brought outside from inside the casino. It's nice to sit and relax.
10. Lotus of Siam, as people have mentioned above. It's very, very worth it. Plan for dinner at 5. It gets packed, and lines and waiting times only increase. Write down cab service numbers for your ride back.
11. I know this might not be a popular suggestion, but I'd actually recommend NOT going off-strip. There's more than enough to see and do for your five days, and you can save a lot of adventures for another trip. eg: Red Rock canyon is great, but you'd need to rent a car, and you'll want to take a lot of time to explore it, hike trails, etc.
12. Take your time. Wake up when you feel like it. Do whatever you want to do at the pace you'd like to do it at. Don't cram your days with activities or hyper-plan. The point is to relaaaax.
13. If you like clubs, ask the hotel concierge or desk clerk as to which clubs are best for whichever night you'd like to go. Some nights are better/more fun/etc. than others for different clubs.
14. Eat. Lots. Stay hydrated. "Detox" in the sauna daily (if you're getting spa service, you have access to spa facilities through the day. Use of spa facilities such as the showers, steam room, etc., independent of other services, is nominal). Retox at night.

On gambling:
1. Get a player's card. Bellagio is part of the MGM properties, which include a bunch of other casinos. This enrolls you in what's now called M Life, and you might get some comps. Use this card every time you play a game. It doesn't matter how much or how little you gamble-- you'll be sure to get stuff in the mail with offers for cheaper rooms/free nights, etc. for the various MGM properties. If you're really going bananas, remember that the rule of thumb is $250 average bet * 4 hrs/night = RFB comps (Room, Food, Beverages).
2. DO NOT CHASE COMPS. Do not, for one second, gamble just to try to reach a certain average bet or playing time. This is foolish.
3. DON'T BLOW YOUR WAD. You might have a lot of fun gambling and want to try it more than once. Set aside a fixed amount of money you're willing to part with for gambling losses, per day. Never exceed that.
4. Daytime minimum bets for gambling is lower than in the evening. You may be hard pressed to find table games for under $25 at Bellagio during the night. Don't go looking around and waiting for the lower-limit games-- you're wasting your time, and you'll just get annoyed with waiting, especially if you end up losing dough.
5. Tip your cocktail waitress. You can tip in chips or cash. $1 is the standard. Tip for every drink.
6. Venetian/Palazzo had, and may still have, a player's club card where if you sign up, they'll give you ten or so bucks in free slot play, usable on specially marked slot machines. Give it a shot. I did, got $20 or so from a marked machine, then cashed out and went to a regular machine. All I remember is that the machine had jewels, three reels, and a 4th video reel, somehow hit jackpot, the 4th video reel landed on "3x", the reels spun again and hit jackpot again, and basically walked away with winnings enough to have attracted a crowd, a slots attendant who hand-paid me in cash, and a completed W-2G tax form. Your results may vary.
7. Booze or gamble. Never both. See #3 above.
8. Gambling is fun. Having a good time is more fun. The two are not guaranteed to occur at the same time. Never feel pressured to gamble, never hesitate in getting up to walk away. And never, ever, make your friends or partner wait and watch you gamble. It gets terribly boring.

Have fun, good luck, and write a trip report for yourself or for MeFi!
posted by herrdoktor at 9:58 PM on September 13, 2011 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Forgot food recommendations, all on the strip except for Lotus of Siam:
- Lotus of Siam, 'nuff said.
- Prime steakhouse, in Bellagio. Get the giant seafood platter as an appetizer. It's giant. It's amazing. If you win big, get some big wines: Grace Family, Screaming Eagle, Masetto-- they've got em all. Honestly, though, I stand by with my belief that the best wine in the world is dictated by the company you keep, and some of my favorite wines were supercheap and enjoyed with awesome friends.
- Michael Mina, Bellagio. Worthwhile. Expensive.
- Noodles in Bellagio ain't too shabby, and you'll get some electrolytes with the broth which will aid in recovering from booze-laden nights. Cheap.
- Sushisamba, in Ventian/Palazzo. Also pretty cheap. Easy eats. Fun.
- Bouchon, Venetian. Expensive. Worthwhile.
- Mix, top of Mandalay Bay. Amazing view. I'm not sure what the women's restrooms are like, but the men's restrooms have glass walls and make it difficult to urinate if you're afraid of heights. Amazing view. Amazing view. Amazing view.

Really, most places are pretty good. They have to be, to attract certain clientele. I've never eaten at a buffet, but it might be fun. Probably worth trying at Bellagio.

One last piece of advice: never, ever accept a cab driver's recommendation to take the interstate to any property because it'll be faster. Also: taking a cab into City Center/Aria is weird and will seem like you're heading out to the interstate. Do not panic. It is a weird route.
posted by herrdoktor at 10:18 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]
posted by bardic at 11:32 PM on September 13, 2011

CRAFTSteak at MGM had the most glorious braised beef short ribs that I've ever tasted.
I'll nth Bouchon and note that they have a little coffee stand downstairs that sells very well done French macaroons.
posted by mmascolino at 7:34 AM on September 14, 2011

As for buffets, my rule of thumb now is not to eat at one that is less than $20. This excludes breakfast buffets, but at those too, you get what you pay for. Overall, I think Las Vegas visitors now will not miss anything by skipping over the buffets.

Do not eat at any of the Circus Circus buffets at all. Steam-tabled canned and frozen food with too many kids running around with no other energy outlet. Oddly though, the steak house across the corridor for years had the best Sunday brunch going. Expensive as hell, but worth it.
posted by Ardiril at 1:46 PM on September 14, 2011

We hit the Bellagio buffet, but we went at about 1:30 or so. Because it's the lunch buffet, it has about 90% of the stuff the dinner one has, but it's significantly cheaper. And, it was quite good.

Madame Tussaud's House of Wax is only worth it if you find cheap tickets.

If you're a Beatles fan, the "Love" show at the Mirage is amazing. No bad seats in the house.
posted by liquado at 1:42 PM on September 15, 2011

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