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If you think Las Vegas is nothing more than windowless casinos and dated lounge acts, we’ve got news for you. Sin City left most of its tawdry roots behind years ago, embracing a new philosophy of fun and entertainment for all ages that translates into an entity more like a high-class amusement park than a topless revue. Even families love Las Vegas for the rare opportunity to indulge the whole clan in one location.
Sure, gambling and shows are at the centre of most people’s itinerary. But the diversity of attractions and activities now on offer allows visitors to craft a Vegas holiday with much greater depth and dimension. Best of all, this Las Vegas guide will prove that a getaway to Sin City doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
The Strip remains, as always, the nexus and lifeblood of the Vegas scene. Although development has slowed somewhat in the wake of the global recession, the US$11 billion City Center complex recently opened with fanfare and rave reviews. Other attractions including new restaurants from the likes of Nobu and superlative in-the-works endeavours like the High Roller, a massive observation wheel even taller than the London Eye, ensure Las Vegas has something fresh with each passing season.
Take your pick of mega-resorts along the Strip, from the absolute luxury of Wynn Las Vegas to the Big Tent whimsy of Circus Circus. Cliché aside, in terms of accommodation, there really is something for everyone, whether you’re a group of friends looking to tear it up or a family with kids. Best of all, there has never been a better time to plan a travel Las Vegas holiday.
There’s no chance of Las Vegas reverting to a ghost town, even with the recession still gripping the American economy. Sin City is holding its own, with plenty of big name entertainment headlining the hotels. But the top resorts know these are thrifty times for tourists and have made it common practice to keep a selection of discounted package deals on offer. From golf and spa packages to multiple-night room rate bargains, there are savings everywhere you look.
As any Las Vegas tourist guide will tell you, there’s simply no better place to stay than the Strip. This is particularly true if you plan to spend a lot of time in the casinos or want to stay at the coolest resorts. The vast majority of attractions are located within the seven kilometres of this bustling street. But that’s a long stretch of pavement, so location is something to consider carefully when booking your room.
Circus Circus may have the lowest rates on the Strip, but it’s a very long walk from the far northern end to where most of the action is in the south. Factor in the blazing Nevada sun, the annoying sidewalk crowds and the late-night prowling, and this proves a real obstacle, especially for the elderly and families with kids.
The resorts are like little thematic universes in themselves, so you’ll probably want to spend a fair amount of time hanging out where you sleep. Families like Mandalay Bay, Excalibur and Circus Circus for their fun atmospheres and range of kid-friendly activities on site. If you stay at a resort in the central or southern section of the Strip, it’s a (relative) breeze to walk to about a dozen other popular resorts for a change of scenery.
The Bellagio, the Cosmopolitan, the Venetian and the Palazzo are great choices for a serious dose of luxury with your surroundings. Their restaurants are run by famous chefs, their spas look like a rendition of Nirvana and their swimming pools the stuff of travel brochures. Whether you stay at one of these hot spots or not, the facilities are open to the general public for a fee. The same holds true for Vegas nightlife, which doesn’t even kick off until after midnight. The hottest bars and clubs are in the nicest resorts. From the watery drinks in the Golden Nugget to the unbelievable style and class of the Cosmopolitan’s Vesper Bar, the drink prices reflect the surroundings in Vegas.
There is a ton of enjoyable free entertainment along the Strip to help stretch your budget. The resorts are each worth a thorough exploration, as their themes range from Paris and New York City replicas to Egyptian pyramids, Venice and ancient Rome. You’ll want to be sure to catch the dancing fountains at the Bellagio that go off every half hour and the Mirage’s exploding volcano after dark. The Mardi Gras theme of the Show in the sky at Rio and the lions at MGM Grand keep visitors impressed.
Set aside plenty of cash for the attractions that charge admission because these are the coolest ones. A gondola ride at the Venetian or a cruise on the roller coaster at New York New York are great ways to break up the window shopping, which by the way, is absolutely amazing at the luxurious arcades of the Palazzo, the Venetian and Caesar’s.
If you just want to hang out in the casinos and soak in the relentless jingle jangle of gambling, most casinos have brought back penny slots to cater to punters on a budget. Whether you win or lose, don’t blow your ticket fund for at least one quality show while in Vegas. There are some world-class talents on display, from the mind-boggling acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil to illusionist Criss Angel, comedians like Penn and Teller, and even Broadway musicals like Jersey Boys and the Lion King.
After years of playing second fiddle to the glamour and glitz of the Strip, Las Vegas’ historic Downtown district is making a welcome return to favour. Glitter Gulch, as it’s known, was where it all started back in the 1940s. If you want to step back in time to a different version of Vegas, the dozen casinos and hotels along Fremont Street are quirky and cool. They’re also all within an easy five-minute walk of each other, a welcome change of pace from the exhausting slog along the Strip.
Of course, there’s a whole world to explore outside of the Strip. Rent a car and spend an afternoon among the magical red rocks of the Valley of Fire State Park or take a helicopter tour of Hoover Dam, a marvel of engineering. Even the wonderful Grand Canyon is doable as an overnight trip from Las Vegas. The options are endless. Only time and money can hold you back.