You know what Vegas looks like 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 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, as a side note, if I ever have a family of my own it would never be a ‘family destination’ I’d pick (you’ll see why shortly). However, there are a lot of hotels allocating activities, pools, suites and atmospheres to draw in a different crowd to the one I had previously perceived their only clientele. I actually found Vegas to be quite luxurious and can honestly see I did not see one tacky wedding. I mean there were a lot of weddings, they just didn’t seem tacky. In fact, all of the brides I saw were stunning. I also didn’t see a single Elvis impersonator until the very last night (and even then he was a holiday maker dressed up!).
Where to stay in Las Vegas
Where to start? How about the first place you start in any destination? The hotel. As this was for a special occasion 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 too. These include the pools (there are 4 pools in total), restaurants, Starbucks and bars. The towers are isolated in that, unlike any other Vegas hotel, they do not have casinos, food courts and shops. But 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 seclusion in an 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 include; hiring cabanas, bar service to the poolside (you can actually take your drinks in the pool) and inflatable rings. There is an over 18s pool too which can be found in tower one. I found the pool at the MGM grand to be quite packed with many revelers taking up entry spaces; the fullest area being the lazy river. There is also music playing throughout the pool complex so you don’t need to worry about taking any speakers 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, WiFi 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.
Finding your way out
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. Top tip: if you’re trying to find your way out, look for an exit sign or directions to the lobby. Once you’re in the hotel/casino, it can be tricky to find a way out. 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 and your waitress is likely to come back to you time and time again.
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 reward 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. Rewards include money off vouchers or even that 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.
The hotels are themed!
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. Below I’ll offer my highlights but decoration of hotel might not appeal to you like it does to me. 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.
Hotel highlights in Las Vegas:
- Bellagio fountains, every 30 minutes in the day, every 15minutes at night
- Mirage volcano, every 30 minutes from 8pm
- New York, New York- The 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 increases 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.
Catching a show in Vegas
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. This 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!
Again, you’ll need to do your research beforehand. Find out if/when (what days) the act you want to see is performing as you may need to plan your stay around that. This is from personal experience. We 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, like the fountains at The Bellagio, Volcano at the Mirage or performance acts found 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 pre-loaded 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. Bear in mind, that ATMs are not free in Vegas, you’re looking at $5.95 for a 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 taking a helicopter trip, 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 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- one 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 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 (there about), 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 and travels the strip and into this downtown area. Tell your concierge where you’d like to go and they can recommend the best route.
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. You’re looking at around 15 minutes and will cost you about $18 including tip each way.
When it comes to getting your picture at the ‘Welcome to the fabulous Las Vegas’ sign, you may want to hop in a taxi. We walked, on an extremely hot October day, via the hotels. But even when you reach the final hotel (Mandalay Bay), you’re still looking at a 15-20 minute walk. If you’re outside for any length of time (including the Grand Canyon, even on a seemingly cloudy day), wear a hat and layer on the sunscreen. Additionally, there was someone, in an unofficial capacity, offering to take photos for you. Although they claim to do it for free, they do expect to be paid a tip (we gave $5).
Tip when it comes to interacting with street performers
All along the strip you’ll see a number of performers, beggars and ‘distributors’. It could be anything from handing out demo CDs to cards for girls, girls, girls. Mostly they don’t get in your way and you 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 interacting with them. If you are interested in getting a photo with them, perhaps watch them for a bit first.
There was a statue performer who moved when you put money in his jar. He would make whopping noises and proceeded to gyrate against you in the street. Just be cautious. At night, it ramps up with more those garishly dressed. 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. Tips are therefore, essentially, their only real form of income. Tipping roles include: taxis, bell boys, waiting, maid service, casino dealers, cashiers and beauty services. 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 waitresses and waiters if the service was outstanding. In these roles they have to share their tips with assisted staff like busboys and bar staff. We’d tip $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. I would wake up several times and sleep early because I’d feel too exhausted. Thankfully, I had 3 full days in Vegas so managed to do everything I wanted to.