What can be said? Well you know what you see in the movies? All the Elvis’, the tacky weddings, all those devastated by the loss of their entire worldly possessions because they gambled it away? Well forget that, forget all that and any other preconception you had about Vegas because my experience was NOTHING like that. It is, absolutely, the ultimate adult playground but there is a family element to it too (though if I ever have a family of my own it would never be a family destination I’d pick- you’ll see why shortly) with a lot of hotels allocating activities, pools, suites and atmospheres to draw in a different crowd than the one I had previously perceived their only clientele. I actually found Vegas to be quite luxuries and can honestly see I did not see one tacky wedding (there were a LOT of weddings, just did not seem tacky; all of the brides I saw were stunning) and I didn’t get to see a single Elvis until the very last night (and even then he was a holiday maker dressed up!).
Where to start? How about the first place you start in any destination! The hotel. As this was for a special occasion (the boys 30th birthday) he literally had his pick of anywhere along the strip; being a poker and UFC fan we ended up at the MGM grand. As an extra treat, I did upgrade us to the signature complex for our entire stay. It wasn’t a costly upgrade (I think about £140 for 5 nights) but well worth the money. The Signature at MGM is made up of three towers with shared facilities, they also share facilities with the MGM grand as well; this is the pools (there are 4 pools), restaurants, Starbucks and bars. The towers are isolated in that, unlike any other Vegas hotel, they do not have casinos, food courts and shops; these can be found in the MGM grand. I found this quite nice as it meant that we were unlikely to see external visitors and gave a feeling of still in any otherwise chaotic environment.
It’s worth noting the pools in detail. Each tower had its own pool and pool access, the largest with the greatest facilities is the one located in the MGM grand. Here, you will find 4 pool areas, 3 whirlpools, waterfalls and a quarter of a mile lazy river. Complimentary towels are available in all pool areas, additional services are available and include; hiring cabanas, bar service to the poolside (you can actually take your drinks in the pool) and inflatable rings. There is also an over 18s only pool too which can be found in tower one. I found the pool at the MGM grand to be quite full with many revelers taking up entry spaces; the fullest area being the lazy river which made feel quite self conscious but no other area of the complex did. There is also music playing throughout the pool complex so you don’t need to worry about taking any valuables with you.
Our suite was large and incredibly inviting; think studio apartment in terms of size but with a two person shower and Jacuzzi bath tub. Our rooms amenities included: small kitchenette with sink, microwave and fridge with complimentary water, coffee machine, Wi-Fi and daily maid service. It was tempting to spend all out time here but of course there is SO much to do in and around the strip that unless you’ve a good 5 days there, rest is pretty much out of the question.
One thing they don’t get wrong in the movies is the casinos; you pretty much can’t escape them (even in the airport!). Whether an entrance or an exit to any of the hotels, you’ll generally have to pass through them. There are some things of note here; if your trying to find your way out, look for an exit sign or directions to the lobby. Their objectives, once your in the casino is to ensure you don’t leave so bear this in mind and you’ll find your way out (one way or other) every time. However, as they don’t want you to leave, complimentary drinks (including alcohol) are available as long as your gambling (always tip your waitress, a minimum of $1 is customary. If you tip, your waitress she is likely to come back to you). There is also a prospect of free buffet but you’d have to be a serious gambler to be invited for this perk! A further note of wisdom is the Mlife guest card. If you’re staying at, or visiting an MGM hotel (of which there are many: the Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio and New York, New York to name but a few), it is well worth signing up to the Mlife card scheme; it’s free to join and you build points for any transaction (you even put them into the slot machines before gambling), but make sure you sign up as soon as you arrive so you can start collecting points immediately (so many will give you money off or even free buffet!). When it comes to gambling, if your interested in playing the tables (like black jack, roulette, poker) but are not sure what your doing, don’t let that stop you. The ‘dealers’ are more than willing to show you the ropes. Although the casinos is not the only thing available in the hotels, it does take up a significant proportion of all of their offerings.
On the note of hotels in general, you’ve probably heard that each hotel is different, generally themed, so the advice we had is ‘you’ll spend your time going around the hotels’, which is true, you could but I don’t recommend that. The best thing? Do your research! Everyone’s tastes are different and of course below I’ll offer my highlights but decoration of hotel might not appeal to you like it does to me; take the Bellagio Autumn display for example. Moreover, some hotels aren’t worth visiting (in my opinion) and could mean you end up missing out on a hidden gem because you’d run out of time. You’re better off having time left over and then exploring the other hotels/relaxing than saying what if.
- Bellagio fountains, every 30 minutes in the day, every 15minutes at night
- Mirage volcano, every 30 minutes from 8pm
- New York, New York Coyote Ugly bar; happy hour is 6-9pm. Happy hour is free admission and $5 a cocktail or beer.
- Stratosphere tower open until 1am, it’s $20 to go to the viewing tower and $25 for view + one ride. There are 3 rides on top of the Stratosphere so price increase upwards from this
- Hard Rock Cafe- 2nd best restaurant in Vegas (apparently), look out in booklets for. $5 off a $25 food/drink spend.
- Grand Canyon- see post for details on this amazing trip
- Venetian hotel- very beautiful
- Paris hotel- as above
- Vegas sign- for the iconic photo.
Shows in Vegas is a must, surely! But only if there is something you want to see. The shows can be expensive (we saw David Copperfield for $150, which was with a 40% discount), more so than seeing an A list pop star perform in England, and can eat into your budget considerably. Your best bet is to take a chance on the day, there are so many discounted ticket stalls on the street and if there are tickets available, they can’t be beaten on price (not by the venue, your hotel concierge, no-one!). BUT, again, you’ll need to your research before hand; find out if/when (what days) the act you want to see is performing as you may need to plan your stay around that (originally wanted to see Penn and Teller but we looked into it the night before we wanted to go and turned out they wouldn’t be performing for the remainder of our stay). The time of year and days of the week are also important. For example, some of the bigger acts play only weekends (proper party life) and the residents (like Celine Dion, who I really wanted to see!) will take time out around this time of year for respite.
Speaking of cost. Vegas is bloody expensive! But there are ways to stretch your money further. As we’ve highlighted, you can wander in and out of the hotels and simply explore how they differ from each other in theme/decoration. Each hotel also has very different experiences that come with a cost, e.g. Aquarium at Mandalay Bay or a Secret Garden at the Mirage or the Titanic exhibition at the Luxor. So plan, plan, plan. But you can explore other shows and entertainment for free in other places, e.g. The fountains at The Bellagio, Volcano at the Mirage or performance acts like in Paris. When it comes to meal times, you’ve got food courts, takeaway locations and even a Walgreens for cheaper groceries, water and snacks. When we travel to America we use a cash passport which is essentially a preloaded credit card, it’s perhaps the safest way to carry your money and can also be used to make your purchases and withdraw cash from ATMs. Note though that ATMs are not free in Vegas, you’re looking at $5.95 for your withdrawal. Take cash for tipping, gambling (if your going to do a small amount, you can use your card in the machines but that’s pretty deadly and harder to keep track of), taxis (you again will have a charge for using cards) and any other small purchases.
For views of the city/strip (without flight- you can do helicopter trips) then take a visit to Paris and go up the Eiffel Tower or head towards downtown Vegas (the old strip) and head up the 150 floors to the top of the Stratosphere Tower for a spectacular viewpoint and even hop on a roller coaster off the edge! If you do head to the stratosphere, do not walk it! Everything looks closer than it is. Your better off catching the monorail to the SLS hotel and even when you reach that, grab a taxi for the rest of the way (monorail is $12pp for 24 hours, the taxi to the Stratosphere- on way, is approx $10).
- SLS if you want cheaper, more modern and younger Vegas scene
- MGM Signature or the Bellagio for traditional, ultimate luxury
- Planet Hollywood or The Cosmopolitan for a feminine, glamorous vibe
- Excalibur for family fun
Everything you could possibly want or need is within accessible reach. We’ve already touched on the use of the monorail but we can still look at that in some more detail. The monorail travels from the MGM Grand at one end of the strip (or there abouts, the furthest hotel this end is in fact Mandalay Bay but isn’t that far) right to the SLS at the other end. If you want to access the Stratosphere, downtown, old Vegas or the north mall (supposedly the best of the two), you’ll need to consider other forms of transportation. Public buses are available (at a cost, though don’t know what this is) and travels the strip and into this downtown area. Tell your concierge where your going and what’s the best way to get there and they can point you in the right direction. When it comes to getting from the airport to your hotel/resort, taxi is highly recommended. When you come out of the terminal, look for the taxi rank and queue. It might seem like a long wait but believe me, you’ll be at the front before you know it. It’s an extremely short cab ride as the airport runs pretty much adjacent to the strip, your looking at around 15 minute journey and will cost you $18 including tip each way.
When it comes to getting your iconic picture at the ‘welcome to the fabulous Las Vegas sign’, depending on time of year, time of day, weather conditions; you may want to hop in a taxi (I really only recommend a taxi from any hotel, quite easy to do). We walked it in an extremely hot October day, accessing it by travelling through several hotels from ours but when your each the final hotel (Mandalay Bay) your still looking at a 15-20 minute walk. If you are outside like that for any length of time (including the Grand Canyon, even on a seemingly cloudy day), wear a hat and layer on the suntan lotion. There was someone there on the day offering to take photos for you (so you could get your couple ones where you otherwise might not), with your camera and although they claim to do it for free, they do expect to be paid a tip (we paid $5) for their service.
All along the strip you’ll see a number of performers, beggars and ‘distributors’ (offering demo CDs for a donation and cards for girls, girls, girls). Mostly they don’t get in your way and can easily walk by. The ‘performers’ are not there for nothing, this is how they make their living so if your not tipping, I don’t recommend having your photo with them or even interacting with them. If you are interested in getting a photo with them, perhaps watch them for a bit first; there was one guy who was a statue performer who moved when you out money in his jar, he would then make whopping noises and proceeded to gyrate against you in the street- if you don’t like that kind of interaction, you won’t like that. Just be cautious. At night, it ramps up with more garishly dressed people, some with very little. The strip is also at its busiest so keep your purses close. It has to be said there was no trouble at all, these are just things to be weary of.
As you might be aware salaries in roles where tips are available are very, very low (I know from my experience working in America last year) and so tips are essentially their only, real form of income. Tipping roles include; taxi service, bell boys, waiters/waitresses, maid service, casino dealers, cashiers, beauty services, street performers (you stop at) and even the guy taking your photo at the Las Vegas sign. How much to tip? Well, that’s your discretion, you generally don’t even have to tip (unless your a party of 6 or more) but it is seen as customary, like a cultural expectation. Our policy was; 20%+ for waitress/waiter service for outstanding service (like the Hard Rock); in these roles they have to share their tips with assisted staff like busboys and bar staff, $1 per drink for casino waitresses, $2 a night for maid service and about 15-18% for taxi service.
A final thought? Consider the duration of your journey and time differences. As I really struggle to sleep on planes it does take me quite awhile to adjust. As a consequence, I would wake up several times a night and need to sleep early at night (mostly because I’d just feel exhausted and could not carry on). Thankfully, I had 3 full days at Vegas so managed to do everything I wanted to but sadly no night time reveling; guess that’s something for next time!