What should I do in Las Vegas?
December 22, 2003 6:48 AM   Subscribe

What should I do in Las Vegas?

I'm going to Vegas tomorrow for a three-night stay. I'm meeting my wife, who's there on business; neither she nor I have been there in a decade, so the whole America's Playground thing is new to both of us.

We have plans to explore some of the big name hotels and hit choice restaurants. We'd like to see the Cirque du Soleil "O" show but it's sold out (suggestions on how to get tickets without paying triple the face value are welcome).

What other don't-miss locations or events do you suggest? And while we're at it, do any hotels have abundant low-stakes tables or nonsmoking areas? (I want my gambling to occur slowly and in clean air.)
posted by werty to Travel & Transportation around Las Vegas, NV (21 answers total)
jesus. speaking as a recent mefivegas attendee, there is nothing, purely nothing to do in vegas.

Unless you like topless magic shows. then it rocks.

seriously, vegas is the primary arrondisement, let's say, for all of middle america's poop and other debris.

vegas sucks. sucks.

and that's coming from me.

however, if you smoke, and/or enjoy drinking heavily, vegas freaking rocks. There was a fucking ashtray in the public restrooms i went in.


did i use it?

hells yes.

will you like that?

oh no, oh no.

in fact, if you don't smoke, you're very likely to leave there with a nasty cough and well, at least 80 bucks less than you came with.

however, most of the mefivegas attendees, including myself, did have a lot of fun at the El Cortez, which, due to most of their table games being dramatically underpriced compared to the rest of vegas, is a fun way to get into the wonderful world of gambling your life away.

also, if it helps, most of us walked away with money there.

i can say this:

if you're going to play, you're going to play to lose your money. You get free drinks, that's the pay-off.

If you're going to lose your money, don't play the slot machines; they're boring, and no-one brings you drinks -- thuis, you're not even losing money for drinks -- you're just straight losing money.

go to the hoover dam. It sucks, but you get to pull the "DAAAAMMMMNNN" joke several times, and hell, when's the next time you're going to be in nevada.

that's right: never.

(but yeah: if it helps; el cortez -- hugely low stakes, but also, massively smokeriffic. Maybe try some of the dingier looking strip casinos. Several of them had low stakes.)
posted by fishfucker at 7:07 AM on December 22, 2003

All of the major Strip casinos have air filtration systems that virtually eliminate smoke (unless you sit right next to a smoker), so that shouldn't bother you too much. Prior to the early 90s, I could barely stand to enter a casino (try some of the seedier downtown casinos for a taste of what it was like). There is one totally non-smoking casino, but it's very small.

Definitely go downtown and see the Fremont Street Experience with the shows on the overhead light canopy. See the Bellagio for its opulence, Caesar's Palace for its shopping, the Venetian and Paris to see the world reduced to Vegas kitsch. Mandalay Bay and the Rio are probably my favorite casinos. You might want to go up to the top of the Stratosphere for the view or to ride the rollercoaster, etc. up there (New York New York and the Sahara also have roller coasters, if that's your thing). Circus Circus is pretty run down, but it has circus acts performing inside every hour. The wedding chapels all along the strip can be fun (to mock, if nothing else). The Peppermill restaurant/bar on the Strip has a neat bar with a fireplace/pool and nifty drinks (I recommend the grasshopper). Nearby Vegas there's Hoover Dam, as mentioned above, Red Rock, the Valley of Fire, and Mt. Charleston (but there's no snow up there at the moment).
posted by rushmc at 7:20 AM on December 22, 2003

If you have or can get access to a car, you might want to head out to Red Rock Canyon for a drive or walk through. The scenery is spectacular, and you can get away from smoking for a bit.

Smoking is one of those things I truly detest about Vegas. The casinos are unbearable because of it. When I last went, the Paris was fairly empty and thus nicely free of smoke for the most part. Of course we were just about to start our war, and people were boycotting all things French including sadly and absurdly a casino in Vegas. I imagine it's back to hordes of people by now though.

You'll probably stumble across them anyway, but the botanical gardens in the lobby of the Bellagio are really nice and worth going out of your way to see.
posted by willnot at 7:28 AM on December 22, 2003

werty, if you haven't been in a decade, you're in for a surprise. The strip looks nothing like it did.

You can get tickets to O by standing in line at the ticket office at the Bellagio a few hours before the shows. You'll probably have better luck at the 1030p show if it's a weekend. The tickets are sold at face value ($150) and are generally the best seats in the house - they're the seats held off to be given to VIPs etc. The annoying thing is that they're nazis about the line - one person per two tickets has to stand in line the entire time (2-2 1/2 hrs), and you're not even allowed to sit down. That being said, the show is absolutely FANTASTIC. I've seen 7 Cirque du Soleil shows and O twice, and it's by far the best and worth the hefty price. Don't even bother with the new adult show, Zumanity - just cheap, titillating stuff that has very little to do with the wonder of CdS.

It's worth spending some time checking out the Bellagio. Besides the glass-flower ceiling in the lobby, the gardens change seasonally and are quite pretty. The outside fountain watershow is a must - I believe it's every hour on the hour and the show changes throughout the day - try to catch a daytime show and a nighttime show w/the lights. The Bellagio also has what's commonly acknowledged to be the best all-you-can-eat buffet on the strip. If I remember correctly, it's about $25, but the food really is exceptional, whatever your dietary preference.

The Venetian also has lots of neat stuff - the gondola canals (don't bother w/the ride, it's a ripoff), the shopping, and excellent restaurants. If you want a cheap place to gamble on the strip, Showboat is always good.

It's easy to get overloaded in Vegas, so I usually pick a few places to explore rather than racing up and down the strip trying to fit everything in. Have fun and good luck!
posted by widdershins at 8:20 AM on December 22, 2003

Depending on how much you enjoy peoplewatching the trainwreck that is the cross-section of America -- I do -- there's much pleasure to be had over a few cups of coffee in the middle of the Caesar's Palace Forum Shops area, which is pretty much a mall with a thin, peeling veneer of a grimacingly forced sort of "classiness" to it. This was a source of much entertainment for my honeymoon a few years back. Hey, you have to leave the hotel room some time, right?

Try some of these fun activities:

Spend 10 minutes counting how many women you see in jeans and high heels, the classic fashion no-no. You'll be surprised at the result.

Play "Spot the Sugar Daddy." After a while this gets a lot easier.

Try a game "Spot the Trophy Wife," which is an easy game to start off with, but don't play it like slugbug or you'll be deeply bruised in a few minutes.

Try to guess how much money each person has lost today.

Super challenge: See if you can find someone wearing a cowboy hat who also has probably touched a horse at some point in their life.
posted by majick at 8:23 AM on December 22, 2003

Go for a hike (or better yet, climb) at Red Rock Canyon. You can see the strip from five pitches up - surreal. But still gorgeous.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:48 AM on December 22, 2003

The thing to keep in mind about Vegas is that is really really tacky and outrageous. But they do it this way on purpose. To enjoy it you need to embrace the ridiculous. It's fun. I go several times a year and always have a great time.

1) Walk through some of the casinos just for the spectacle. Mandalay Bay is interesting for the entrance (you should walk in the front) and the restaurant section. The Venetian has a fantastic lobby and a mall that has a wonderful canal running through it, including singing gondoliers. The Bellagio has a wonderful lobby and atrium. It's well worth the 15 minutes you'll stand and stare. Paris has the tower, which is a must if you want to good view of the strip. Time it so that you're at the top when the Bellagio fountains go off. The Luxor is fun to go inside, but again, just for the 15 minutes of staring open mouth at how outragious it is.

2) Free events. Rio has a wild New Orleans style parade that proceeds suspended from cables in the ceiling. Very........ something...... The Bellagio fountains are the most regular event and are worth several viewing. See them at night for best results. The volcano, pirateship battle, and Freemont experience are also fun. The pirate ship battle is *very* crowded.

3) Food. You wouldn't think it, but Vegas has some of the best food anywhere. Not the best in any category, but pretty darn close. But you'll pay. Two of the best meal experiences I've ever had were in Vegas, and we paid around $125 per person for each. Mandalay Bay, The Venetian, the Bellagio, and the MGM Grand have some top drawer restaurants. The Bellagio buffet is one of my favorites. Stay well clear of any buffet under $15.

4) Close by. Depending on where you're coming from: Hoover dam, Red Rocks at sunrise, Zion/Bryce, Death Valley, Grand Canyon.

In short, go for the spectacle and remember that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Bring a tourist guide that has times and phone numbers for everything. Don't get taken in by the bargains unless they are recommended by someone you trust. The cheap food in Vegas is the worst cheap food anywhere.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:02 AM on December 22, 2003

Before I get mocked, let me point out that I'm not including the Bellagio buffet in the "top drawer" restaurant list. But it's a damn nice buffet. To save $10 go for lunch rather than dinner since they have almost the exact same items. And get there a few minutes before they open to avoid the line.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:07 AM on December 22, 2003

Speaking of buffets, while I don't consider myself anything but inexperienced with them these might be a useful data points: I found the Excalibur's dinner buffet to be utterly horrifying, and ate only a couple of little desserts. I enjoyed the breakfast buffet at Caesars, but it didn't amaze me, it was just a sort of pedestrian tasty.
posted by majick at 9:14 AM on December 22, 2003

I suggest Mt. Charleston. Near the top (as far as is drivable), there's a little restaurant with a good view and a nice fireplace. Go outside and see if you can get all the dogs howling, it's fun. On the way back down, there's a lookout point where families used to go to view the Nevada test site - eerily fascinating.
posted by ferociouskitty at 9:34 AM on December 22, 2003

Blue Man Group

And if you're going to gamble, craps and blackjack have the best odds (although still in favor of the house).
posted by kirkaracha at 9:55 AM on December 22, 2003

I made my first visit to Vegas this past spring, and logistics (mainly the number of people gathered in Vegas, it was an online community gathering that just happened to be in Vegas) prevented me from doing a lot of the things I wanted to do--but as a result, I did take a bit of a detour out of metro Vegas and visited the Valley of Fire state park, and that was well worth the trip all by itself, and any future visits I make to Vegas will include visits to the park.
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:31 AM on December 22, 2003

The one recommendation I have is to consider dining at Andre's. http://www.andrelv.com/

The place is a wonderful French Resteraunt outside the bell ringing clatter of the casinos. It's in a quiet neighborhood.

Superb food, great wine selection, and the best souffle west of the Hudson. Be sure to order the souffle well in advance.
posted by Argyle at 10:49 AM on December 22, 2003

Chuq recommends Vegas restaurants on his blog.
posted by Vidiot at 11:22 AM on December 22, 2003

kirkaracha is right about the better odds for craps and blackjack. A lot of my friends think that craps is a difficult game to learn, which is absolutely not true. It is quite a simple game and if you have any problems, the other players or the dealers should be happy to explain things to you. Definitely worth a try if you go to a casino.
posted by adrianhon at 12:20 PM on December 22, 2003

Mmmm... Vegas! I love Las Vegas.

A couple of quick tips: If you don't like the smoke, you're best off sticking with the larger casinos on the Strip, as they usually have the best ventilation. I would recommend going up the Eiffel Tower at Paris -- it's a fantastic view and much more civilized than the trip to the top of the Stratosphere. My favourite cheap Vegas meal is the steak deal at Ellis Island (just behind Bally's): $4.95 gets you salad, baked potato, green beans, and a surprisingly yummy steak. It's not on the menu, but just ask for the sirloin special.

(Blatant self-promotion: I have a little reviews and resources site for low-rollin' Las Vegas visitors.)
posted by jess at 1:37 PM on December 22, 2003

As a non-smoker, I found the casino at the Venetian to have a better-than-most ventilation system. You might want to check it out.

There's a great bar at the Bellagio with an outdoor patio overlooking the Lake and fountains in the front. Do what you can to get a table out there, the view of the fountain show is beautiful. (I'm sorry, I can't remember the precise name, but it's off the main casino).
posted by JollyWanker at 2:12 PM on December 22, 2003

The pirate ship battle is *very* crowded.

This has been removed.
posted by rushmc at 3:41 PM on December 22, 2003

Liberace Museum and if you need to flee, either Red Rock Canyon or the Hoover Dam (it might be closed due to the elevated caratine of our "terror" watch).
posted by heather at 3:54 PM on December 22, 2003

Vegas...the place I hope to retire to someday. There's lots of things to do:

Shows: Definitely see "O" at the Bellagio if you can. If not, try to see Mystere (another Cirque show) at Treasure Island. Zumanity, which is Cirque's newest show, is okay, and definitely the lesser of the three shows. It was a lot of fun to see, but definitely not on the same level of the other two. I found the Danny Gans show to be outright awful, but the audience seemed to like it.

Casinos: On the strip, most of the big casinos have some kind of attraction to sucker you in. The rollercoaster at New York New York is fun. The Bellagio is nice to see and the watershow in front is also quite nice. You can take a ride on a gondola at the Venetian, and you can go to the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris.

Food: The buffet at the Bellagio is nice; I concur with the recommendation to check it out at lunch, though the dinner buffet is good. The Forum Shops at Caesers has some good places to eat like The Palm and Spagos. Bellagio also has some very upscale restaurants as well. I also enjoyed eating at 808 in Caesers, which is considered Pacific Rim cuisine.

Other sights: Red Rock Canyon is relatively close to the strip and is a nice drive. Hoover Dam is about a 45 minute drive and is quite impressive to tour. Ethel M's chocolate factory and cactus garden is okay if you like chocolate and cacti. The Liberace Museum is fine to see just to say you went there. If you want, you can get in one of those 6 seater planes and do a day trip to the Grand Canyon.

Downtown: If you have time, definitely go to Fremont Street and check out the light shows, which start at dusk. The shows alternate, so if you stick around long enough you can see a couple of different shows.

I would avoid going to Laughlin. I didn't see too much to do there.
posted by Raymond Marble at 5:16 PM on December 22, 2003

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