Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guide to a Better Las Vegas Vacation

First post! It just so happens I have a great trip to share with you all -- my visit to Sin City last week.

Timeframe: One can always debate how much time is really necessary in Las Vegas.  If you're not a gambler, 3-4 days is probably enough.  If you are a big gambler, perhaps you should limit yourself to no more than 3-4 as well since you can get yourself into a lot of trouble in Vegas in a very short amount of time.  If you're feeling particularly lucky, then certainly spring for the extra few days!  I found my 5 nights and 4 days to be the perfect timeframe.   One thing to keep in mind when you're deciding how long to spend is just how close (relatively speaking) you will be to the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon.  The Hoover Dam is a ~45 minute drive from Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon takes about 5 hours.  Most of the major hotels on the strip will have car rental kiosks in the lobby and you shouldn't have any issue snagging one for the day.   On my last trip to Vegas in 2006, this is exactly what my friends and I decided to do.  We left early in the morning, stopped at Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam for about an hour and continued onward to the Grand Canyon.  We got back pretty late (around 10pm), but it was a day well spent!  These places are so spectacular that even the pictures below truly do not capture the magnitude of their greatness.

Flight options: You should have your choice of airlines that offer non-stop service to Vegas from Boston, including Delta, JetBlue and United/US Airways (often code share).  For those of you Southwest lovers, there are not yet any direct flights offered from Boston Logan.  Also, you should be aware that the return flights from Vegas to Boston are not particularly great from a time perspective.  I'm not exactly sure why but most direct flights from Vegas tend to be the dreaded red-eye.  We took the red-eye flight home on Delta this trip and, although the flight was uneventful, leaving at 11pm (Pacific time) and arriving at 7am (Eastern time) is a rough trip for anyone that doesn't sleep well on planes (e.g. me).  I would advise giving yourself an extra day to recover so that you don't find yourself leaving Vegas on Sunday night, arriving home on Monday morning and heading off to work on essentially zero sleep.

Hotel options: This is where the fun starts.  There are so many places to choose from right on the strip (Las Vegas Blvd).  I've now stayed at three (i) Excalibur, (ii) The Westin Casuarina and (iii) Flamingo.  The Excalibur is where I stayed in 2006.  It is on the end of the strip near NY, NY, MGM and the Luxor.  It isn't a particularly high-end hotel, especially relative to some of its lavish neighbors such as the Bellagio, Caesars and Venetian, but it's a well situated, clean value hotel.  The Westin is one in which I would stay away.  It is located right behind the Flamingo but just the block and a half behind the main strip is too far.  It gets fairly seedy fairly quickly the further you get from Las Vegas Blvd.  The Flamingo is one of the original hotels on the strip, along with the Sahara and the Riviera.  Obviously remodeled since it opened in the 1940s, the Flamingo still competes well with the strips newest additions such as Aria, Mandarian Oriental and Encore.  It offers over 3,600 rooms on 25+ floors, as well as a small wildlife habitat out back and a pretty awesome pool.  Most hotels on the strip will ask you to pre-pay for at least one night's rate when you make your reservation.  Since we only stayed at the Flamingo one night, I was prepaid and was very excited to discover that my boyfriend (Dave) and I had been upgraded to a suite that was seriously larger than my first apartment in Boston.  I wish I knew how to tell you I managed the upgrade, but I think I can chalk this one up to good luck.

Flamingo, 1940s

Flamingo, Present Day (as you can see the main act is Donnie and Marie Osmond)

Room 25087, 25th floor

Animals in habitat (includes flamingos, huge koi fish, black-necked swan and many ducks)

Free shows: Starting at 7pm, a few hotels offer some attractions that will cost you exactly $0 dollars.  For instance, you'll want to check out the Fountains at the Bellagio, the Volcano Eruption at the Mirage and the Sirens of TI show outside of Treasure Island.


  • At the Sirens of TI show stand near the big pirate ship on the left because most of the action takes place there
  • If you can manage, I would arrive about 15 minutes early at each spot because people flock there quickly in anticipation
  • Start at one end (either Bellagio or TI) and walk up to the rest sequentially.  The timing is designed to allow viewers time to make it to the next spot.
Fountains at Bellagio

Shows:  I got the chance to see 4 shows this past trip (i) Cirque du Soleil: Mystere, (ii) Cirque du Soleil: Beatles LOVE, (iii) Phantom of the Opera and (iv) Peepshow starring Holly Madison.  For the non-gambler in Vegas, these shows are an absolute dream.  There are many more not included on my list that are also known to be amazing.  My biggest tip for all of you is to NEVER PAY FULL PRICE.  Go to Vegas without pre-purchasing tickets to any shows.  Instead, visit any discount ticket location, such as Tix4Tonight, on the day-of or day-before your showtime and see what is available.  You can get discounts up to 50% off and, in my experience, tickets are available to almost every show.  Tix4Tonight locations can be found in very central locations, such as at the front of Bill's Gamblin' Hall, Casino Royale and Circus Circus.  I used this approach to buy tickets to each of these four shows.  At the kiosks you'll purchase a voucher for your desired number of tickets within a certain pricing tier.  This voucher guarantees you entry, but you will need to visit the box office of the casino/hotel hosting the show to pick up your actual tickets.  I would suggest you go pick them up well in advance of the show time because that will guarantee you two things (i) better seats within the pricing tier purchased and (ii) no significant wait in line.  I will have to share my thoughts on each of these shows in a separate post to come!

Shopping:  There is a LOT of shopping all around you on the strip.  What's new -- there are new high-end stores located in the recently constructed City Center near Aria.  Old faithfuls -- Forum Shops at Caesars, Grand Canal Shops at the Venetian and the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.  Keep in mind that there are always a multitude of shops at most of the main hotels/casinos as well.

Restaurants & Nightlife: It isn't called Sin City for nothing, so it comes to no surprise that there are as many nightclubs as there are poker chips.  Celebrity sightings are also fairly common at certain clubs, such as Jet, Blush, LAX and Tao.  I feel more than slightly sorry to admit that I didn't get a chance to explore any of these famous venues.  Since Dave had training from 9-5 each day, staying out until the early hours of the morning wasn't really in the cards.  We did get a chance to check out Tao for dinner.  Although I felt the food was very good, Dave did not 100% agree and the bill was a small fortune.  I enjoyed the ambiance but would likely take a pass next time.  We also popped into a few "island" themed bar & grills, such as Kahunaville at TI and Margaritaville at the Flamingo.  Although they are clearly not going win any culinary awards, they were still fun.  Would it really be vacation if you didn't stop in to witness Buffett's infamous volcano erupt into the giant "Booze in the Blender"?  Also worth a mention is of course the many buffets.  When appropriately starving, pop into one of the buffets at one of the higher-end hotels.  I have heard very good things.



Open Container Law: You can count the number of US cities that have open container laws on just one hand.  Las Vegas is one of them, so make sure to grab a tall frozen drink as you wander up and down the strip taking in the scene.  There is no shortage of people-watching, hotel exploring and general debauchery on the strip, so do yourself a favor and enhance with a nice cold one of choice.

Hope you enjoyed the guide as much as we enjoyed our trip!

Tao Asian Bistro


  1. eeeeeeeeee I want to go to Vegas! I never knew much about Sin City but I feel this tip on paying less for popular shows is HUGE! Looking forward to your recap of Love!

  2. I never knew that about shows! I did purchase my hoover damn tour the night prior though! For the next bachelorette party, we'll hit up all the clubs mentioned ;)