2.5 Actual Days in Vegas
October 25, 2017 8:39 AM   Subscribe

What are the can't-miss shows / meals in Vegas? Assume all price-points and styles, please. (Bonus question: tips for a first-timer.)

Fiance and I are going on a "4-day" trip to Vegas in December. We'll get in at 11 PM on Sunday, and leave 11 AM on Wednesday. I've looked at all the great questions about Vegas from the past, and they were super helpful! But I'm really struggling to pick out the wheat from the chaff in terms of entertainment, food, etc. This is one of those "listen to my spiel and get a 'free' trip" things. So our flight is booked, we're staying at the Excalibur, and the rest is up to us! Since it's a short trip, and effectively our first time in Vegas, we plan on staying on the strip. We'll do a little bit of gambling, but not too much (we've only ever done slots).

My general idea of what we'll do is:
Day 1: Uber to Excalibur. Check in. Freshen up. Explore the Excalibur, get some drinks, get a MGM player card, do some light gambling. Sleep.
Day 2: Breakfast. Get a tram day-pass and explore up and down the strip, see the sites, do some gambling, grab lunch, repeat, head back to the room, freshen up, go to dinner / show, do some light gambling/free drinks.
Day 3: ????????? dinner/show
Day 4: Sleep in, breakfast, pack, head to the airport.

My questions:
1) So what are the best shows right now? I have access to a work-based discount site, and I just don't know if what's on there actually represents things I'd like to do.

2) What is the best dinner I can get on the strip? We are open to all foods and like to be adventurous.

2a) Is it worth it to go out when we could do the hotel buffet?

2b) Is the Luxor buffet actually available to us at the Excalibur?

3) Is the MGM tram stop a reasonable distance to walk for us? Or should we just taxi/Uber everywhere?

4) What is the single can't-miss item on the strip in early December?

5) Any tips for a brand spanking new gambler at the tables would be appreciated. Think table etiquette more than gambling strategy.

6) Are there any hidden costs to things I should be aware of? (Other than "tip everybody", which I have seen and will do.)
posted by DoubleLune to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
We've vegetarian, and the best meal we had was at the Wynn.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 8:46 AM on October 25, 2017

I saw "O" (Cirque du Soleil) in December and it was great. Would definitely recommend.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:56 AM on October 25, 2017

Best answer: 2a) Buffets are not adventurous. You’re not going to get a chateaubriand with creamed corn pancetta and a nice red at a buffet. Prime rib with French fries and a healthy salad with a Pepsi is a possibility, though.

2b) Any buffet is available to you at any resort as long as you are present while it’s open. Depending on how you booked your room at Excalibur, though, you may get a discount at that particular buffet. You can of course only charge the Luxor buffet to your room if you stay at the Luxor, even though IIRC Excalibur and Luxor are owned by the same resort group and share the same kitchen.

3) Tram is best when you’ll be taking it a lot. Everything’s a walk in Vegas, but MGM tram stop from Excalibur is a reasonable walk for a couple with no disability issues.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:58 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jubilee! (I think it's at ballys) the variety musical designed by Bob Mackie...it's insane how good the costumes are...it's really spectacular (IIRC, they spent something like 11 million dollars(!) just on feathers)
posted by sexyrobot at 8:59 AM on October 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Any of the Cirque shows are fantastic. We saw Penn & Teller a few years back, which was also very fun.

Seconding the Wynn for a great meal, and Lotus of Siam (short cab ride off-Strip) is supposed to have some of the best Thai in the entire country but they've always been closed for various reasons every time we've been there!
posted by anderjen at 8:59 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) It's not a show, and not on the Strip, but the Hoover Dam is an easy day trip and it's pretty cool. Companies run half-day or full-day package tours and it could be a fun break; all the neon can get a little overwhelming.

2) If you are omnivores, you will also have a good meal at the Wynn. The steakhouse is excellent.
2a) You may get tired of the hotel buffet. Also, there are a fair number of places to eat which may be cheaper or more interesting or both. Do the buffet once for the experience, see how you feel.
2b)You can get an all-day buffet wristband which gives you access to both Excalibur and Luxor buffets; it's $40/pp ($50/pp on weekends, when the buffet is fancier). So, not a bad deal, but you might get bored doing it more than one day.

6) You may be paying a daily resort fee even if your room is covered. Ask about this at check-in to avoid surprises. That resort fee gets you internet access, but that access is going to be terrible; they don't want you up in your room using the internet, they want you out gambling on the floor. It also covers pool access, and the pools are actually pretty fun, so bring your bathing suits.

Avoid using your debit card. If you have to use an ATM, try to use a bank ATM. Assume your credit card might get skimmed.
posted by halation at 9:03 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lotus of Siam is currently closed due to their roof collapsing.
posted by cruelfood at 9:08 AM on October 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

If your a casual/beginner gambler, you'll find it much more fun to gamble in downtown Vegas. You'll be able to play $5 - $10 tables with players and dealers that are much more forgiving and entertaining. Also, you get more free drinks.
posted by dripdripdrop at 9:16 AM on October 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Penn and Teller show at the Rio is really worth considering, even if you don't like magic. Because Penn and Teller kinda don't like magic either, at least in the way it's usually presented.
posted by The Deej at 9:38 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As said, anyone can go to any buffet. Just got back from staying at the Excalibur, and the Luxor's breakfast buffet was better but at the same price point (I didn't try lunch or dinner). There is an indoor walkway to Luxor from Excalibur through the back of the Excalibur food court (I didn't realise this at first so we went the long way round outside a few times instead). Breakfast buffet filled me up until dinner or beyond...however we ate like that on purpose to save money! If you want multiple varied dining experiences, buffet once during your trip is probably enough!

Let It Ride is a fun beginner table game. I had a great night with friendly players and dealers playing that at the Excalibur. I watched how the other players acted/tipped and also asked the dealer/other players any questions. I was too intimidated to play any other table games but I'm sure it would have been fine! $150 lasted me about 3 hours before I was out completely, and this is without any major wins.

In some people, even those who don't usually gamble, the gambling bug can hit hard so be aware of that and keep to a pre-determined gambling budget. (I know from experience!).

I didn't use the tram (monorail) and just walked everywhere, but I live in a city and I'm used to walking a lot already. We did probably 8-12 miles a day total. Furthest we got was the Stratosphere. I think the Deuce bus is probably better for exploring the Strip than the monorail, but opinion is divided on that.

We were there for 5 days and didn't see any shows or do any trips or do much gambling and were thoroughly entertained.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 9:47 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have a specific destination in mind, a taxi is a better option than the monorail. If you just want to wander up the strip, the monorail will work. The monorail is at the way back of the MGM Grand. We walked over there once from Luxor, and it probably took us 20-30 minutes just to find the station and get through the MGM. It will drop you off at the back of the properties, and it's not a sight-seeing vehicle by any means, but it gets you from point A to point B. From the monorail, the Venetian Hotel is pretty neat to see if you're wandering around, as is Paris.

As far as food, you can get whatever level of food you want to pay for. There are amazing restaurants that will set you back a few hundred per person, or McDonalds which will set you back $15/person. It's all expensive, so figure out what you want to spend. Each casino will have a few or more options. The nicer the hotel, the more expensive the food.

You could spend your entire trip on the south end of the strip and still not see everything. I've done that a few times. Between Tropicana/MGM/Luxor/NY NY/Excalibur/Mandalay Bay, there's plenty to see, do, and eat. You can walk up to Monte Carlo too, and even to the city center/Aria and Bellagio if you're feeling adventurous. There's a free tram between Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Excalibur. Use that.

Entertainment: There's a dueling piano bar that my friends love, I think it's in NY NY. There's a roller coaster at NY NY too, if you like that sort of thing. I saw an exhibit at Luxor that was interesting. There's an aquarium at Mandalay Bay. The artwork and fountains at Bellagio are neat to see, and free to see as well.

Gambling: Don't be intimidated by the table games. The dealers are always willing to teach you, and they're usually quite helpful and friendly, especially if you go during the day when it's quieter. Craps is a great fun game. You may have no idea what you're doing, but stand there a while, place money on the line when they tell you to, and you'll win if it's a hot table. You can start learning the rules as you see what other people are bettting on. If you like poker, there are lots of bars with video poker. If you play slowly enough, you can get free drinks and not lose too much. Put your money in, get a drink. Play a hand. Take a break, sip your drink, then play another hand. Tip your bartender for each drink, in cash or with a chip.
posted by hydra77 at 10:06 AM on October 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've been to Vegas twice in 20 years and it frankly seems like two times too many. I'm sorry to see Lotus of Siam closed...we ate there about a month before the roof collapse and it was indeed delicious.

I think the Strip shows better at night when all the lights are on. The wall of water at Aria is pretty cool and it is fun to wander into Bellagio after catching one of the fountain shows (all the marble!), Paris, the Venetian, etc. Surprisingly, the gambling floors are pretty much exactly alike in every casino, down to the awful carpet (must be some kind of psychological research behind that), so IMO seen one, seen them all (at least on the Strip). I'm not at all into gambling, although I was willing to spend my quarter in a slot machine but sadly it seems you can't do that anymore. :( [I was in Vegas for work, btw]

I think it is worth it on your second day to do something other than the Strip. I'd suggest going into downtown Vegas (Fremont Street area) for the "historic" Vegas experience. There's a place called the Market on Fremont Street that is excellent for lunch. Or, as mentioned above, take the half day trip to Hoover Dam.

We had a decent meal at Cucina by Wolfgang Puck in the Crystals mall (next to Aria).
posted by Preserver at 10:09 AM on October 25, 2017

Best answer: Etiquitte at the casino tables: If you win big, tip your dealer, especially if they were helping you. You'll see others do this. Your dealer will leave on break if you sit there a while. If you haven't tipped her before she leaves, you can do so when she's taking her break.

Another game to not be intimidated by: Roulette. It's acutally quite easy, and if you play conservatively, you can sit at the table for quite a while. BUT don't be like me and walk off with roulette chips. Those are different than the regular chips the casinos use. They need to stay at the roulette table!
posted by hydra77 at 10:11 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd highly recommend booking a tour at the Neon Museum for your free day. There are also great restaurants downtown that are much more reasonably priced, and Container Park is a nice place to walk around and check out the shops/bars/restaurants.

I like the fancy casinos on the strip (Wynn, Encore, Aria, those sorts of places) for learning to gamble but highly recommend switching to downtown for better prices and more advantageous rules once you feel comfortable with the basics. At the high-end places, the dealers will walk you through each step, give you advice if you ask for it and are usually super nice. Downtown, the dealers are typically pleasant and efficient but won't go out of their way to hold your hand through learning (though other players are usually happy to give advice). Most of the fancy casinos have $15 dollar tables in the afternoons and generally move those up to $25 at night (if you're there before they up the minimum bet, you can continue playing at the lower bet for as long as you stay at the table). Downtown, you can find $5 games with good rules during the day (I like the El Cortez, but I'm sure there are lots of options).

Blackjack is fun, but take a quick peek at a basic strategy chart first or some people may be jerks to you if you hit/stay when you shouldn't and "ruin" a hand for them (note: those people are in fact jerks, but it is a good idea to learn at least the very basic strategy rules). Pai gow poker is also fun and, since you tie with the dealer something like 40% of the time, it's a pretty good game for hanging onto your money for a while if you don't make the rip-off side bets. It's easy to learn and the dealers are happy to help you since it's a rarer game that not everyone knows how to play.
posted by snaw at 10:16 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are not much of a gambler and need to get away from the Strip for a bit, I recommend the Neon Museum unreservedly. Old casino signs, restored, out in a lot. Guided tours. Get the night-time tickets because, well, they light the signs up at night. Gorgeous.
posted by rachelpapers at 10:17 AM on October 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was at LV in late August for a work thing in Mandalay Bay and my room was in the Aria, so after a few days of feeling trapped indoors, I decided to travel on foot between the two. There is a free tram with stops in Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur. From there you can walk across an elevated walkway to New York, New York. Walking through the casino floor of NY/NY is really neat, the set design was done really well. At the north end of NY NY, exit outside and walk through their recreation of a NY sidewalk, then cross the street to Monte Carlo. The MC is under renovation so speed-walk through there, go up to their 2nd floor and catch the free monorail that stops at Aria and Bellagio. There is a Veblen goods mall at the Aria stop if you want to window shop luxury goods. From there, take the elevated sideway from Aria to Cosmopolitan to Planet Hollywood, which fronts the Miracle Mile mall. The notable thing about this later mall is it has an ABC Store, which means it carries tasty tasty snacks from Hawaii that are otherwise not available on mainland US.

TBH, I didn't really like the food I had on the Strip (and work was picking up the tab/sparing no expense) but really enjoyed a fine bowl of ramen at a place well off the strip.

Sightseeing-wise, my favorite thing was the National Atomic Testing Museum.
posted by jamaro at 10:43 AM on October 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you happen to be fans of pinball, head over to the Pinball Hall of Fame. It's run by a local hobbyist association, as I recall, and it's a museum in that it's got a huge collection of machines from the entire timespan of pinball, but in every other way, it's a pinball arcade: it's practically all playable, and it's mostly quarter machines. It's off strip on E. Tropicana.

It's nice enough to walk on the Strip, much of the time, but don't walk to get anywhere, because it takes a long time. Last I checked, you can't flag down cabs in Vegas, legally; you have to go through a dispatcher. Uber's a good option, as is the Deuce, a double-decker bus service that goes up the strip and then heads to Downtown/Fremont.

Table gaming at the strip casinos, and probably everywhere else, is cheaper in the morning/midday. Table games raise their limits in the evening, so if you're looking to learn to play a game do it in the morning when there are fewer gamblers and the dealer/boxman/croupier will have more time to walk you through the game, and be more patient with your mistakes.

Vegas is about experiences. You can drive construction equipment to satisfy the kid inside who really loves a bulldozer. You can shoot guns that're hilariously expensive to own and heavily regulated. You can visit clubs of the sort you've only seen in movies. Pick a deep desire and see if Las Vegas will let you do that for money-- unless you desire to kill someone, you can probably do what you want in Vegas. That said, it'll all be there on your next trip. Just... never plan a long trip to Vegas. That place can be exhausting, too.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:48 AM on October 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Buffet: Wicked Spoon - it is one of the more expensive ones and a long (indoor) hike back from the strip. I think it was worth it for a brunch, but plan for a very small dinner.
Lunch/Snack: NYNY has a decent fish and chips place and several other good value places for a small plate
Dinner: $$$ Stripsteak at Mandalay Bay - have the potato side dish.
posted by soelo at 10:49 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can of course only charge the Luxor buffet to your room if you stay at the Luxor

This is incorrect. If you are staying at any MGM property you can charge anything at any other MGM property to your room, and in fact the general guideline for comps is to do just that. Then you go by the player services desk before you check out (on a trip where you're paying your own money at least) and if they see bigger spending on your portfolio they can retroactively apply, say, a 20% discount to literally all your dining within the group (I say 20% because that's what they gave us; YMMV). They can't do that if you haven't tied everything together using both your room number for charges and your Mlife (FKA Player's Club) card for all your gambling.

For table games: get a basic strategy card for blackjack, avoid 6:5 payouts because the house edge is terrible, and move to another table if you run into the people who think you've ruined their hands with a bad bet (although those people may themselves move first). There are ways to play for a while at a craps table without losing too much money, but you do need to learn the strategy for that before you get to Vegas.

Shows: I'd probably see "Love" or "O." In addition to being all the cool Cirque stuff, "Love" is an interesting and surprisingly good remix of Beatles music (I usually don't love remixes so I did not have high hopes, but I was wrong) and it has the best amplification system I've ever heard in a big space. "O" has the water thing which is better seen than explained.

My fine dining experience in Vegas is too old to be useful, but Lotus of Siam was actually a little underwhelming for us if that helps your FOMO. (The food was good, but it wasn't better than what we can get in DC at places like Little Serow or Baan Thai, and when we asked for wine recommendations to match our food order our waiter literally just pointed to the most expensive bottle and stopped there, showing no interest at all in the vaunted wine collection).

Our favorite off-strip sights (Neon Museum and Boneyard, Atomic Testing Museum, Pinball Hall of Fame) have been mentioned already, but note the last one seems to have two "official" web sites for some reason.
posted by fedward at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We've vegetarian, and the best meal we had was at the Wynn.

I too have had a great meal at Wynn. Also, the steakhouse (Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak) in The Mirage.
The Fremont Street Experience was something I didn't know about until I stayed at The Golden Nugget, different than the Strip.

5) Any tips for a brand spanking new gambler at the tables would be appreciated.

Tip, say thank you. The dealers don't care if you win, and will often help - it's not their money, after all. You can find a slow, cheap area of the casino often in the mornings or early afternoon and spend a few dollars to learn the game (craps, blackjack, etc.) at an otherwise empty table.
Don't play poker.
As for gambling, I like to set a loss limit for myself and stick to it, and also have set points for winnings to walk away at.

Steven Wynn has said that the mistake he made with Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio was to put the show attractions (respectively the volcano show, the pirate show - since ended-, and the dancing fountains) out front, instead of deep inside the buildings. I found it worthwhile to just wander and look, especially at Caesar's, Wynn, Encore, Luxor. I've never been to the Vdara / Aria complex (aka City Center).

There's a fuckton of good art in the casinos too, if you like that.

I'm the sort of madman who does things like stay at the Stratosphere and walk to Hard Rock for dinner, so I won't give you transit advice.

LV, the Strip, is strangely not built to scale - the visual cues on the buildings are much different than expected because they would otherwise appear oppressively large, so looking at things is not necessarily a good indicator of how far away they are.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Shows - depends on what appeals to you tbh. The Cirque ones can be fun, lots of people enjoy Penn and Teller or Blue Man Group and all have their relative merits. I'd go up the Eiffel Tower for the views, maybe at sunset one day. B&B was good last time I was there, and I've had more casual but tasty meals at Mon Ami Gabi, both not far off the beaten path. I'll try Chica next time. The aquarium at Mandalay Bay can be a nice escape. Conservatory of flowers and fountains at Bellagio are worth a wander - and the Chihuly ceiling installation - there is indeed lots to just take in when walking.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:54 AM on October 25, 2017

This is a great resource to check out delicious food options, with photos:


Also, some casinos offer free Craps instruction during the day. Craps is super fun and, in my experience, can have some real beginners' luck mojo. Learning with one of the nice croupiers is a fun activity and also gets the jitters of not knowing what you are doing out of the way.
posted by crazy sniffable at 11:45 AM on October 25, 2017

Best answer:
Shows: I'd probably see "Love" or "O." In addition to being all the cool Cirque stuff, "Love" is an interesting and surprisingly good remix of Beatles music (I usually don't love remixes so I did not have high hopes, but I was wrong) and it has the best amplification system I've ever heard in a big space.
"Love" was a fantastic show that my whole family absolutely loved (heh), but if you're not a Beatles fan, what's wrong with you it may not be the best Cirque show to go to. It's certainly not the most acrobatic show they do. If you are a Beatles fan, though, it's really a wonderful experience. And the sound is amazing.
posted by curiousgene at 11:56 AM on October 25, 2017

fedward, thanks for the correction: I remembered that was the case in the past, but at least a few of the resorts have changed ownership and/or policies since then, so I erred on the side of caution.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:24 PM on October 25, 2017

Best answer: In terms of shows, I'd go and see "O".

Reason being is that the whole thing is done with a massive tank of water so there is absolutely no way you're likely to see it anywhere else.
posted by mr_silver at 12:52 PM on October 25, 2017

Nthing 'O'.

A coworker swears by the variety of great seafood at the Caesars Palace buffet, and she uses a Groupon for it for 50% off, I believe.

My favorite thing about being Vegas is proximity to Seven Magic Mountains. It's about a 25-minute drive outside the city, but IMO, fully worth the drive if you can make it. My friends and I basically stayed up all night when we were there for a fight and then drove to the installation at sunrise. it was MAGICAL.
posted by Everydayville at 1:05 PM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Be sure to check out the giant flower display just past the bell desk at the Bellagio. It's different every season and I bet will be particularly pretty in December. And seconding the suggestion above to try roulette. It's fun because you can take your 10-dollar bet (or whatever the minimum is) and scatter it across different numbers and combinations of numbers and more often than not you'll win something. Much more social and fun and longer-lasting than slots.
posted by Clustercuss at 1:21 PM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just plain peoplewatching is fantastic. I spent a mind-blowing few hours wandering around the Caesar's Palace, New York, and Paris casinos, watching people and studying the level of set dressing that went into designing the places. (The New York Casino had some in-jokes that maybe only 5% of actual New Yorkers would have caught, let alone anyone else, and yet it was still there.)

As for gambling - if you're into trying your hand at the tables, then fair play. I know I suck, though, so I just spent a month saving up all my loose change and made that my "gambling money", and then just stuck to slots - I'd carry a handful of that change around with me, and then just every once in a blue moon I'd drop a coin or two into a slot machine and see what happened. If I won anything, I cashed out and added it to my bag and walked away, and if I lost, I shrugged and walked away. When I ran out of the change for the day, I couldn't gamble any more.

Actually, that's a good tip - separate your "gambling money" from your other money, in a separate wallet if necessary, and accept in advance that your gambling money is money you will lose. Do not under any circumstances add money from your regular wallet to your gambling wallet; your gambling money is the only money you will gamble with, period. If you win anything while gambling, great - add that to your gambling wallet. But otherwise, if you run out of money in the gambling wallet, then that's it for gambling for you.

(As it turns out - on my very last quarter, I cashed in big at a slot - "big" meaning I won $20 off that quarter. I cashed out, and since it was my last day, I just blew it all on the breakfast buffet the next day. But since I'd shown up with probably $7 in change, that means I can honestly say I tripled my money in Vegas.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:22 PM on October 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i was just a first timer in vegas this past weekend. it was great!

my tips: drink so much water. use sunscreen. use lip balm. it is SO MUCH DRIER than i expected, even though i knew it would be dry.

we went to see penn & teller, which was really great. we also saw zoomanity (cause i wanted to see the sexy one) and it was ok. i think i would have been more blown away by a different cirque.

we also took a 3 hour pink jeep tour to red rocks, which was my absolute favorite part of the trip. they pick you up and drop you off at your hotel, which was very convenient.

have fun!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:42 PM on October 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding The Wicked Spoon!
posted by Calzephyr at 4:06 PM on October 25, 2017

Seconding the Pink Jeep tours. Very fun.
posted by Lescha at 7:46 PM on October 25, 2017

According to the restaurant's Facebook page, Lotus of Siam is set to re-open in a new location at 620 E. Flamingo Rd. in November. It's not on the strip but assuming it's anywhere near as good in the new place as it was in the old location, it will almost certainly be the best-bang-for-your-buck meal in all of Vegas. I'm in Vegas at least once a year on business, and I try not to miss it. It is the exquisite highlight of the city, in my estimation, but then again I'm not much of a Vegas fan.
posted by Mothlight at 9:40 PM on October 25, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I appreciate all the advice and recommendations - definitely adding a few of these to the trip!
posted by DoubleLune at 10:42 AM on October 26, 2017

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