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Las Vegas is a city that feels familiar even to first-time visitors. Before the plane lands, folks have a fairly vivid idea of what the streets and skyline look like. But there’s a lot to know beyond two dimensions or a TV screen. When you and your wheelie bag roll off of the plane at McCarran International Airport, you’ll be one of the millions taking a trip to Sin City. Whether you’re a conventioneer or a bachelorette, a bank-breaking mogul or a budget-pinching student, there are a few things every Vegas visitor should know.
Major conventions, such as the CES in January or G2E in October, often put the city close to capacity. Flights and hotel rooms will be more expensive and restaurant reservations or show tickets will be harder to come by. The same goes for major sporting events like the NFR and PBR rodeos, as well as the Super Bowl (even if the teams aren’t playing here, the fans are watching and betting here).
The days of $29 Las Vegas hotel rooms are long gone — and even if you do find one that costs that much, it probably doesn’t. Most hotel-casinos have added “resort fees,” which can run from $10-$39 a day — be sure to check how much the fee is and what it includes. Additionally, Strip and Downtown hotels usually charge for parking and there’s a hotel tax of about 12%. So read the fine print, do the math, and know how much that room actually costs before you book.
The days of Sinatra’s custom suits and Marlene Dietrich swatched in mink are behind us. Las Vegas visitors of today dress casually — very casually. Even dressing for “the club” tends toward untucked shirttails and get used to the sight of women stepping gingerly across the casino floor after midnight with stiletto heels (and sometimes Spanx) in hand. So bring something relaxed, but also pack your finest threads. Stepping out in a leopard print coat, movie star shades, and a wiggle dress will earn appreciation, if not, outright applause, and a man in a suit is liable to get a better table (and possibly a higher credit limit).
This is the desert, and even if you don’t drink or sweat, you will wake up thirsty. Keep a bottle of water on your hotel nightstand — you don’t want to pay $4 for a bottle from the minibar and what comes from Vegas taps is best suited for brushing teeth. Just pick up a few bottles at one of the many chain drugstores that have attached themselves to casinos like plankton to whales.
Las Vegas Boulevard from Spring Mountain to Russell — that’s from the Fashion Show Mall to Mandalay Bay — is often mired in traffic. Steer clear of the parking lot by taking Paradise or Koval on the east side of the Strip and Industrial Road aka Dean Martin Drive on the west side. Koval has direct entrances into the Venetian, Harrah’s, the Linq, and MGM, while Dino’s way boasts easy access to Caesars Palace, the T-Mobile Arena, Cosmopolitan, Excalibur, and Mandalay Bay.
While Las Vegas, on the whole, suffers from a dearth of public transportation, the Strip, at least, is well-served. The double-decker Deuce buses run from the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard to Downtown 24 hours a day — the top level offers a great view but be sure to watch your head, as ceilings are low. The fastest means of travel is likely the Las Vegas Monorail, which runs along the Strip from Sahara to Tropicana, with a detour to the Las Vegas Convention Center.
In a town where people come to blast through a wild weekend, sometimes good behavior gets overlooked. Don’t be that tourist who treats the people of Las Vegas like flunkies or a sitcom audience and the town itself as a tissue to be used and tossed away. Would you want someone to do that in your hometown? So, be nice to the locals, mind your manners, and drop a tip every now and then. It’s not just high rollers that get the better seat, stiffer pour, extra appetizer, and genuinely warm greeting — it’s also the average folks that know how to treat other average folks.
You might catch the lead singer from Nickelback at the Paris or a second-string Kardashian at the Venetian — but, of course, you could also witness Kareem Abdul-Jabbar walking across the lobby of the MGM Grand. And let us not disregard the magic of seeing “Elvis” everywhere, from outside wedding chapels to sitting in traffic to buying kitty litter at the supermarket.
The vastness of the Strip properties can become overwhelming. Downtown’s cluster of older casinos, such as the Golden Nugget and The D, offer gaming on a smaller scale. The Rio, the Palms, and the Gold Coast are all adjacent on West Flamingo Rd., while the Hard Rock on Paradise is another smaller casino with a cluster of bars and restaurants nearby.
Need to escape the jingle of the slots and the rattle of dice entirely? The Arts District is an assortment of vintage shops, indie performance spaces, and hip bars with nary a playing card in sight — head for Main Street and Charleston Boulevard. Springs Preserve is located at Rancho and the I-15 and offers a nature hike, a block-long reconstruction of “old Vegas,” and the Nevada State Museum. If you can wander a bit further, the quaint village of Boulder City and the engineering marvel that is the Hoover Dam are 30 minutes out of town, as is the Lake Mead National Recreational Area.
Everyone has their Vegas threshold. Some people can spend a lifetime here, others have to bail after 48 hours lest they jeopardize their sanity, liver, bank account, or all three. Much as a blackjack table has limits, so does Las Vegas itself — know yours.