Frommer's EasyGuide to Las Vegas 2017 (Easy Guides) (2016)
EXPLORING LAS VEGAS
You aren’t going to lack for things to do in Las Vegas. More than likely, you’ve come here for the gambling, which should keep you pretty busy. But you can’t sit at a slot machine forever. After all, you’re going to have to get up to go to the bathroom at some point! When you do, maybe you should look around at some of the other things here that can keep you entertained.
Just walking on the Strip and gazing at the gaudy, garish, absurd wonder of it all can occupy quite a lot of time. This is the number-one activity we recommend in Vegas; at night, it is a mind-boggling sight. Beyond that there are options galore, from popular bits of Vegas silliness like volcanoes and crooning gondoliers, to museums, thrill rides, spas, recreation, and beyond. And, of course, you can engage in those most iconic Vegas traditions, getting married and gambling. All of that and more is covered in this chapter. Don’t forget there are shows and plenty of other nighttime entertainment, which you can read more about in chapter 8. There are also out-of-town sightseeing options, such as Hoover Dam (a major tourist destination), Red Rock Canyon, and excursions to the Grand Canyon. We’ve listed the best of these in chapter 9.
Las Vegas Iconic Sights
Bellagio Conservatory , p. 158
Bellagio Fountains , p. 158
Fremont Street Experience , p. 160
Mirage Volcano , p. 158
The Mob Museum , p. 161
The Neon Museum , p. 161
Stratosphere Tower & Thrill Rides , p. 157
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign , p. 158
Brooklyn Bowl, p. 190
Circus Circus Midway , p. 157
CSI: The Experience , p. 152
Dig This! , p. 163
Fast Lap Indoor Kart Racing , p. 163
Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix , p. 168
Las Vegas Motor Speedway , p. 169
KISS by Monster Mini Golf , p. 163
Pole Position Raceway , p. 170
SkyZone , p. 168
SpeedVegas , p 165
Topgolf , p. 165
Bodies . . . The Exhibition , p. 152
Titanic: The Exhibition , p. 154
Museums & Galleries
The Arts Factory , p. 159
Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art , p. 154
CityCenter Fine Art Collection , p. 152
Clark County Museum , p. 166
Discovery Children’s Museum , p. 159
Emergency Arts , p. 160
Las Vegas Natural History Museum , p. 160
Madame Tussauds Las Vegas , p. 155
The Mob Museum , p. 161
National Atomic Testing Museum , p. 164
The Neon Museum , p. 161
Nevada State Museum , p. 169
Pinball Hall of Fame & Museum , p. 167
Shelby American Heritage Center , p. 167
Theme Parks & Rides
Adventuredome , p. 157
Big Apple Coaster & Arcade , p. 151
Eiffel Tower Experience , p. 154
High Roller Observation Wheel , p. 155
SlotZilla , p. 162
Stratosphere Tower & Thrill Rides , p. 157
Wet ’n Wild , p. 170
Lion Habitat Ranch , p. 167
Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat , p. 156
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay , p. 154
Downtown Container Park , p. 198
Ethel M Chocolates , p. 166
Fremont Street Experience , p. 160
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts , p. 162
Springs Preserve , p. 170
The Park , p. 156
Big Apple Coaster & Arcade THRILL RIDE As if the outside of New York-New York wasn’t busy enough, someone decided to knock it up a few notches by having a roller coaster wind around the whole thing. The whimsically designed cars evoke Manhattan taxi cabs and run at speeds up to 67 mph while going through drops of as much as 144 feet, a full loop, and the “heartline” twist, which simulates a jet-fighter barrel roll. Adrenaline junkies may find it too tame, but the average fun-seeker will do a lot of screaming. If that’s too much for you, try the tamer amusements in the arcade that features carnival and video games.
In New York–New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.newyorknewyork.com. 702/740-6969. Single rides $14 adults, all-day pass $25. Must be 54 in. tall to ride. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 10:30am–midnight. Closed during inclement weather.
Bodies . . . The Exhibition EXHIBIT A stunning and controversial exhibit featuring real live dead bodies (over 200 full and partial specimens, some possibly executed Chinese prisoners who may never have given permission for their bodies to be used in this way—hence the controversy). Utilizing a patented freeze-dry operation, full bodies, artfully dissected body parts, and stripped cadavers are on display not for sensationalism—though it is pretty sensational in nearly all senses of the word—but for visitors to fully appreciate the wonder and mechanics that go into our transient flesh. When a body is positioned in an athletic pose, you can see how the muscles work, and when a cross section of a lung afflicted with cancer is right in front of you, you may be glad Vegas has passed stricter smoking laws. It’s educational and bizarre and not something you’re likely to forget soon. Surprisingly not grotesque, but not for the ultra-squeamish.
In the Luxor, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bodiestheexhibition.com/lasvegas. 702/262-4000. Admission $32 adults, $30 military, seniors 65 and over, $24 ages 4–12, free 3 and under, $29 Nevada residents. Daily 10am–10pm; last admission 9pm.
CityCenter Fine Art Collection ART MUSEUM Art in outdoor public spaces is a relatively new phenomenon to Las Vegas, mostly because the only time people spend outside is by the pool or hustling to get to another casino. But City Center wisely (I think) decided not to confine its works by 15 major artists to a stuffy museum within the resort, opting to make the entire hotel, and its neighbors, the gallery. A free app leads viewers through the casino to such works as the 250-foot LED wall by Jenny Holzer that scrolls “Vegas-isms” hidden at North Valet; or Big Edge, an installation of recycled aluminum canoes. The app will also let you know why you should walk between the Kirins when you enter the casino for energy and good luck. There’s also ephemeral art, like Glacia at The Shops at Crystals, which are ice columns that rise and melt each day; or the Lumia fountain which spouts color-infused water in the circle drive. Remember that the resort and its surroundings are huge—wear comfortable shoes to get you through the art hike.
At CityCenter, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.aria.com. 702/590-7111. Free admission. Most artworks are outdoors or in 24-hr. public spaces.
CSI: The Experience ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX Although spinoffs have moved the sleuthing to Miami and New York, the original CSI television show takes place in Las Vegas, so how apropos is this major attraction, which allows visitors to work a crime scene right on the Strip? Three different crimes have occurred—a car has crashed into a house, a woman has been murdered behind a motel, and a skeleton has been found in the desert—and it’s up to the participants to examine the crime scene, look for clues, take notes, and then run it all through an interactive lab of sorts with help from videos of various stars of the show (we miss you, Gil Grissom!) and real-life CSI technicians. It’s silly, gory fun and highly engrossing if you have an analytical mind (all but the most sullen of teenagers will love this).
In MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. http://lasvegas.csiexhibit.com. 877/660-0660 or 702/891-5738. Admission $32 adults, $25 children 4–11. Daily 9am–9pm (last admission 8pm).
Las Vegas Attractions
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay AQUARIUM Given that watching fish can lower your blood pressure, it’s practically a public service for Mandalay Bay to provide this facility in a city where craps tables and other gaming areas can bring excitement levels to dangerous heights. Although I admire the style (it’s built to look like a sunken temple), and standing in the all-glass tunnel surrounded by sharks is cool, it’s just a giant aquarium, which is disappointing at these prices. Note: It is waaay off in a remote part of Mandalay Bay, which might be a hassle for those with limited mobility.
In Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.sharkreef.com. 702/632-4555. Admission $20 adults, $18 seniors, $14 children 5–12, free for children 4 and under, $17 Nevada residents. Sun–Thurs 10am–8pm; Fri–Sat 10am–10pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing; hours vary seasonally.
Titanic: The Exhibition EXHIBIT It’s too easy to say “you’ve seen the movie, now see the exhibit.” But that is sort of the case; if you were captivated by the Oscar-winning epic, you will definitely want to take in this exhibit on the unsinkable luxury liner that sank on its maiden voyage. While it’s a can’t-miss for buffs, it might still be of some interest for those with only marginal feelings about the massive 1912 disaster. It’s a strangely somber subject for Vegas, featuring displays explaining the ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage; relics salvaged from the sunken liner; and even re-creations of sample cabins from first, second, and third class, including atmospheric conditions, giving one a sense of how it felt to travel aboard what was an incredible vessel. There is even a large chunk of real ice standing in for the culprit berg.
In the Luxor, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.luxor.com. 702/262-4400. Admission $32 adults, $30 military, seniors 65 and over, $24 children 4–12, free for children 3 and under, $29 Nevada residents with ID. Daily 10am–10pm. Last admission 9pm.
Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art ART MUSEUM As if there wasn’t enough to look at in the rest of the resort! Should you tire of the thousands of glass flowers on the lobby ceiling or the real ones in the Conservatory, head here for actual art…in Las Vegas. The exhibits are small (alas, the price of admission isn’t), but the artists showcased are of the highest caliber, running the gamut over the years, from Monet to Faberge to Georgia O’Keefe.
In Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bellagio.com. 702/693-7871. Admission $16 adults; $14 seniors and Nevada residents; $12 teachers, students with ID, military. Daily 10am–7pm. Last admission 5:30pm.
Eiffel Tower Experience OBSERVATION TOWER Whether this is worth the dough depends on how much you like views. The “ride” portion is a glass-enclosed elevator to the top as a guide delivers a few facts (“this is a half-size exact replica, down to the paint color of the original” and more). At the uppermost platform, viewers are welcome to stand around and look out for as long as they want, which probably isn’t 2 hours, the length of the average movie, which costs about what this does. If you’d like a view that’s just as spectacular but a little lower to the ground, opt instead for a cocktail in the lounge of the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, located on the 11th floor of the structure. The price of a drink is about the same as the cost of the ride up to the top, but this is a much more relaxed way to enjoy the view. Plus now you have a cocktail.
In Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.parislv.com. 702/946-7000. Admission $14 adults 9:30am–7:15pm, $19 7:15pm–close; $10 seniors 60 and over and children 12 and under 9:30am–7:15pm, $14 7:15pm–close. Mon–Fri 9:30am–12:30am; Sat–Sun 9:30am–1am; weather permitting.
High Roller Observation Wheel THRILL RIDE The if bigger is better, then biggest is best ethos that Las Vegas loves so much continues here with the world’s tallest observation wheel. Standing at nearly 550 feet high, themassive structure has fundamentally changed the skyline and provides some of the best views of the Strip (and much of southern Nevada). The wheel has 28 fully enclosed, air-conditioned cabs, each capable of holding up to 40 people, although if you get stuck in one that full you will need to fight your way to good snapshot-worthy window space. One full revolution takes about 30 minutes, so it’s less of a thrill ride than a leisurely, albeit really high, walk in the park. Even those with height phobias may find this tolerable. Go at night for the best photo opportunities of the city in its fully lit-up glory—it’s worth the extra few bucks you have to pay for the privilege. Prices are high for this relatively short experience—a pass to the top of the even-taller Stratosphere Tower (see below) is significantly less expensive. Maybe it’s because the tower doesn’t go around in a circle? The good news is that they not only allow drinks on board, they practically encourage it, with a bar on your way to the boarding area, or if you’re willing to pony up a bit more, a cabin with an open bar. Of course, there are no bathrooms on the ride, so drink at your own peril. Note that lines can be long during peak periods, both to get tickets and to queue up for the cabs, so it’s best to buy online beforehand and budget some extra time for standing in line.
3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.thelinq.com. 800/CAESARS. High Roller admission $27 day, $37 night, $32–$47 Happy Half Hour cabins. Daily 10am–2am.
Madame Tussauds Las Vegas MUSEUM Madame T’s has outposts in nearly every major tourist city, and for two centuries it has been the best (borderline creepy) way to get close to celebrities. The figures themselves are quite impressive, both for their meticulous attention to detail and the eerie way they (often) reflect the personalities of their subjects.
RAMBLING THROUGH RESORTS
Las Vegas is unlike most every other place on earth in that you don’t necessarily leave your hotel to sightsee—the hotels themselves are attractions. So when planning your daily itinerary, don’t skip chapter 4, “Where to Stay.” It will introduce you to all of the glorious, and goofy, architectural elements of the Strip resorts (and off-Strip ones, as well), their shopping opportunities and shows, the highlights of their casinos, their over-the-top restaurants, nightlife venues and more. Who knew wandering through hotels could be this fun?
The Vegas-specific exhibits are the star attractions, from the bedazzled, stuck-in-time Liberace to the “Hangover Experience” with Bradley Cooper (that stubble is so perfect) and Zach Galifinakis, complete with his man-satchel. You may have heard of the questionable poses visitors were holding with singer Nicki Minaj, one the most recent additions; not Vegas-specific, but hey, it fits in. Sadly, the tuxedo-clad George Clooney, who visitors used to be able to “marry,” has been replaced with a boring, regular, suit-wearing, already-married Clooney. If you’re a fan of the Avengers franchise, there’s an entire room dedicated to Marvel’s superheroes, complete with a 4-D cinema attraction created just for the museum.
In The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.madametussauds.com/lasvegas. 702/862-7800. Admission $30 adults, $20 children 4–12, free for children 3 and under. Discounts for booking online. Sun–Thurs 10am–9pm; Fri–Sat 10am–10pm; hours vary seasonally.
The Park ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX The space between Monte Carlo and New York-New York has been developed into the very first outdoor gathering space on the Strip . . . that has nothing to do with a resort pool. There’s certainly water though, thanks to two welcoming 100-footlong waterfalls near the Las Vegas Boulevard entrance of this bona fide park, complete with art installations, live entertainment, and restaurants. The Park combines natural and industrial design to create a comfortable oasis in the desert, including 16 75-foot-tall shade “trees” that line the area, blocking sun by day, casting cool shadows, and lighting up the paths by night. The 40-foot-tall Bliss Dance sculpture made her way from Burning Man to shimmy on the Strip, illuminated by 3,000 colored LED lights. Even if you’re not headed to a show at the T-Mobile Arena, which sits behind The Park, there’s plenty of reasons to take a stroll, including several restaurants which all offer indoor and outdoor space, such as the theatrical sushi spot Sake Rok and the waffle-driven Bruxie, which takes the Belgian specialty and uses it as a vehicle for some great sandwiches.
3784 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.theparkvegas.com. 702/693-7275. Free admission.
Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat ZOO After more than 20 years, this engaging animal habitat remains one of the best antidotes to Las Vegas stress. Spend an hour watching dolphins and tigers and you won’t care how much money you lost on the slots. The bulk of your time will most likely be spent in the well-regarded dolphin habitat, a 2.5-million-gallon home for bottlenose dolphins that were either rescued or born here. This is more than just a SeaWorld–style, sit in bleachers and watch the animals cavort kind of place (although they have that, too). Here you can get up close to the pools and sometimes interact with them (splashing is involved), which is a treat, especially for kids. Pay extra and you can get VIP, behind-the-scenes tours; spend an entire day as a trainer, complete with time in the pool; and even “paint” with them as you hold a canvas and the dolphin holds a special brush in its mouth. The latter is an unmitigated thrill that allows you to connect with these amazing animals, or at least pretend you are.
The Secret Garden part is a small zoo originally designed as an on-site home for the animals used in Siegfried & Roy’s magic show, which ended in 2003 after a disagreement between Roy and a tiger. The animals that remain are mostly of the big cat variety, including some of the illusionists’ famed white tigers. It’s fine, but don’t expect a lot of excitement. On hot Vegas days they mostly (and wisely) just lay in the shade or shallow pools, so don’t expect them to be hunting elk or playing with big balls of yarn.
While it’s easy to have a pang of environmentally conscious guilt over animals in captivity, the entire facility is well run and scrupulously maintained, the trainers are obviously passionate, and the animals seem to thrive here. Several of the dolphins are more than 30 years old, which is more than double their life expectancy in the wild.
In The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.miragehabitat.com. 702/791-7188. Admission $22 adults, $17 children 4–10, free for children 3 and under. Daily 10am–6:30pm; hours vary seasonally.
Adventuredome AMUSEMENT PARK This is a more than okay place to spend a hot afternoon, especially since it’s one of the few family-friendly attractions in town. Plus, unlike most theme parks, it’s indoors! The glass dome that towers overhead lets in natural light so you get the best of both worlds—sunlight and air-conditioning. A double-loop roller coaster careens around the simulated Grand Canyon, and there’s a laser-tag area, some bouncy/twirly/stomach-churning rides, and a modest number of other, tamer rides for kids of all ages. Video games and a carnival-style arcade are separate from the attractions, though it all still feels pretty hectic. The log flume ride closed in 2013 to make way for a cutting-edge roller coaster, El Loco, which is one of only six of its kind in the world. Although it’s a short ride (a little longer than a minute), it’s a scary one, with negative-g drops, reverse barrel rolls, and open cars that seem ready to tip you out.
2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (behind Circus Circus). www.adventuredome.com. 702/794-3939. Free admission; $5–$12 per ride; daily pass $32 adults, $18 children 33–47 in. tall. Mon–Thurs 11am–6pm; Fri–Sat 10am–midnight; Sun 10am–9pm; hours vary seasonally.
Circus Circus Midway ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX First inaugurated in 1968, the big-top action at this family-friendly hotel is billed as the largest permanent circus in the world. High-wire, trapeze, juggling, acrobatics, and more fill the top of the “tent” daily from 11am until late at night, while more than 200 carnival-style midway games get the young ones inured to the joys (and heartache) of risking money for questionable odds of a reward. Note that while the attractions here are definitely kid-friendly, you have to go through the casino to get to them.
In Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.circuscircus.com. 702/734-0410. Free admission. Daily 11am–midnight.
Vegas used to be the land of freebies—or at least, stuff so cheap it seemed free. Those days are an increasingly dim memory, but some hotels still offer free attractions designed to lure you into their casinos, where you might then drop far more than the cost of a day ticket to Disney World. Here’s a handy list of the best of the free bait—er, sights:
Bellagio Conservatory (in Bellagio) PARK/GARDEN A totally preposterous idea, a larger-than-life greenhouse atrium, filled with seasonal living foliage in riotous colors and styles, changed with meticulous regularity. From Easter to Chinese New Year, events are celebrated with carefully designed splashes of flowers, plants, and remarkable decorations—it’s an incredible amount of labor for absolutely no immediate financial payoff. No wonder it’s one of the most popular sights in Vegas. Open 24 hours.
Bellagio Fountains (outside Bellagio) ICON Giant spouts of water shoot up and down and sideways, and dance their little aquatic hearts out to music ranging from show tunes to Chopin. When we tell people about this, they roll their eyes when they think we aren’t looking, and then they go see it for themselves . . . and end up staying for several numbers. Shows are daily every half-hour, starting early afternoon, then every 15 minutes 7pm to midnight. Closed when it’s windy; hours vary seasonally.
Mirage Volcano (outside The Mirage) ICON When it first opened with the hotel in 1989, this erupting “volcano” literally stopped traffic on the Strip. The fact that it’s not quite as spectacular these days—even after a 2008 makeover amped up the fire, lights, sound, and effects to a much more entertaining level—says more about how jaded we’ve become than how cool it is. Get up close to feel the heat of the “lava” blasts and the rumble of the sound system. Eruptions are daily on the hour after dark until 11pm.
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign ICON Erected in 1959, this colorfully lit neon sign is probably the most iconic and most photographed attraction in Las Vegas. Located in the median of Las Vegas Boulevard about a mile south of Mandalay Bay, visiting was made easier a few years back with the addition of a parking lot, which means you no longer need to play chicken with oncoming traffic to get to it. It has no formal address, but GPS users should use 5200 Las Vegas Blvd. S. to get in the vicinity. The lot is open 24 hours, but go at night when it’s all lit up for the best photo opportunities.
Wynn Conservatory (in Wynn Las Vegas) PARK/GARDEN Although not as jaw-dropping as its spiritual cousin, the Bellagio Conservatory (see above), this indoor atrium of floral displays is still worth a gander, if for no other reason than it’s on your way from the front door to the casino. The arrangements change regularly, though they may reflect the striking floral mosaics on the floor below. It’s open 24 hours.
Wynn Lake of Dreams (in Wynn Las Vegas) ICON Masked as it is from the street by a 150-foot-tall “mountain,” this light, laser, fog, and special-effect show can only be seen from select areas inside the hotel, mostly in bars requiring you to buy expensive drinks. Should you bother? Maybe. Basically, twice an hour, a lake lights up with pretty colors, cued to tunes ranging from classical to Louis Armstrong for “interludes.” At the top of the hour are bigger extravaganzas of weird hologram erotic-psychedelic images projected on the wall waterfall, while shapes and puppets pop out for even more weird action, with some rather adult imagery at times. Shows are every 30 minutes, from 6pm to midnight.
Stratosphere Tower & Thrill Rides THRILL RIDE Whether you come for the views or the scary rides, the Stratosphere Tower is a uniquely Vegas experience. Indoor and outdoor decks provide remarkable views of the city, southern Nevada, and perhaps even California on a clear day, from this, the tallest observation tower west of the Mississippi (more than 1,100 ft.). Obviously, acrophobics should avoid the tower at all costs.
Atop the tower are four marvelous thrill rides that will test your mettle and perhaps how strong your stomach is. The Big Shot is a breathtaking free-fall ride that thrusts you 160 feet in the air along a 228-foot spire at the top of the tower, and then plummets back down again. Sitting in an open car, you seem to be dangling in space over Las Vegas. Amping up the terror factor is X-Scream, a giant teeter-totter-style device that propels you in an open car off the side of the 100-story tower and lets you dangle there weightlessly before returning you to relative safety. Then there’s the aptly named Insanity, a spinning whirligig of a contraption that straps you into a seat and twirls you around 1,000 feet or so above terra firma. Insanity is right.
Finally, if whirling and twirling and spinning around at the top of the tower is just not rad enough for you, there’s SkyJump, in which you get to leap off the top of the thing. We wish we were kidding. Jumpers are put into flight suits and harnesses, then taken up to the 108th floor where they get connected to a big cable/winch contraption. Then, they jump. It’s a “controlled” descent, meaning that you don’t just drop the roughly 830 feet to the landing pad, but you are flying down at speeds of up to 40 mph with nothing but a couple of metal wires keeping you in place. There are lots of safety features that they tout and the three other SkyJumps around the world (in New Zealand, China, and South Korea) have sterling safety records. Nevertheless, though they call the other ride Insanity, I think this one is the truly insane option. Note: The rides are shut down in inclement weather and high winds.
Atop Stratosphere Las Vegas, 2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.stratospherehotel.com. 702/380-7777. Tower: Admission $20 adults and hotel guests; $14 seniors, Nevada residents; $12 children 4–12; free for children 3 and under. Rides: Big Shot $25, X-Scream $25, Insanity $25, SkyJump $120. Tower admission waived with ride purchase. Multi-ride and all-day packages available. Sun–Thurs 10am–1am; Fri–Sat 10am–2am; hours vary seasonally. Minimum height 48 in. for Big Shot, 52 in. for X-Scream and Insanity. Maximum weight 275 lb. for SkyJump.
The Arts Factory COMMERCIAL ART GALLERY Believe it or not, Las Vegas has a pretty decent art scene (what some would consider soul-crushing is what others consider inspirational), and this complex, located in the 18b Arts District, is the place to find proof. It features several galleries, boutiques, and a number of workspaces for local artists, plus a bistro and bar.
107 E. Charleston Blvd. www.theartsfactory.com. 702/383-3133. Free admission. Hours vary by gallery.
Discovery Children’s Museum MUSEUM Bringing your little ones to Vegas isn’t as taboo as it used to be, but it can be a drag for them to be dragged around to a bunch of over-stimulating places where they can’t do a thing. Thankfully, there’s this lifesaver, located near the Smith Center of the Performing Arts. Its filled with interactive exhibits, meaning the wee ones can touch and play, all the while learning about science, nutrition, and the environment (even if they might not realize it). There are three floors of hands-on fun where the kids storm a fantasy castle (Excalibur!), discover an ancient city (Luxor!) and scramble around on a 70-foot-tall science-filled jungle gym. You, and they, will definitely be tuckered out afterwards.
360 Promenade Place (at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts). www.discoverykidslv.com. 702/382-5437. Admission $15 ages 1–99. Tue–Fri 9am–4pm; Sat 10am–5pm; Sun noon–5pm.
Emergency Arts COMMERCIAL ART GALLERY The artists in residence here rescued a derelict Downtown building that was once a medical clinic and turned it into a funky, fun, bohemian space dedicated to the creation and conservation of all things art. The first floor has a small cafe (perfect for having a coffee while discussing Sartre), a used record store, and the temporary home of the Burlesque Hall of Fame and Museum. The latter is a small couple of rooms with what is said to be a tiny fraction of photos and memorabilia honoring the peek-a-boo art form. The rest of the first floor and all of the second floor is taken up by small boutiques where local artists show and sell their wares. These include paintings, sculpture, jewelry, clothing, and much more. While the quality obviously varies from artist to artist, it’s all unique, and a much better way to spend your souvenir dollars than on a Las Vegas snow globe.
520 E. Fremont St. www.emergencyartslv.com. 702/686-3164. Free admission. Hours vary by gallery.
Fremont Street Experience ICON The Fremont Street Experience is a five-block, open-air, landscaped strip of outdoor snack shops, vendor carts, and colorful kiosks purveying food and merchandise. Overhead is a 90-foot-high steel-mesh “celestial vault” that at night becomes Viva Vision, a high-tech video-and-sound show (the canopy is equipped with more than 12.5 million lights), enhanced by a concert hall–quality sound system. There are a number of different shows, and there’s music between the light performances as well. It’s really cool, in that Vegas over-the-top way that we love so much. The addition of several hotel bars open to the pedestrian street has upped the “party” quotient, and frequent concerts and events have made it even more popular than ever. Oh, and look up to see people zooming by on a zip line! It’s a great place where you can stroll, eat, or even dance to the music under the lights.
Fremont St. (btw. Main St. and Las Vegas Blvd.), Downtown. www.vegasexperience.com. Free admission. Shows nightly on the hour.
Las Vegas Natural History Museum MUSEUM Like most natural history museums, this one has its share of stuffed-and-posed animals. It’s an often dusty, mangy collection of taxidermy, so I suggest breezing past it quickly to get to the museum’s star attraction: its dinosaur exhibit. It showcases 35-foot long Jurassic World–quality monsters that are able to growl and move (when you push the appropriate buttons). Deductive text next to the exhibits teaches children (and adults) about their habits and the theories surrounding their extinction. Along with the dinos are rooms with live lizards, sharks and stingrays that guests can feed at certain days and times; and interactive displays that allow kids to dig for fossils as paleontologists, or pretend they’re marine biologists in a submarine. Old fashioned? Maybe. An interesting, educational way to spend an afternoon? Absolutely.
900 Las Vegas Blvd. N. (at Washington Ave.). www.lvnhm.org. 702/384-3466. Admission $10 adults; $8 seniors, students, and military; $5 children 3–11; free for children 2 and under. Daily 9am–4pm. Closed Thanksgiving and Dec 25.
The Mob Museum MUSEUM This three-story former courthouse contains the actual courtroom where Senator Estes Kefauver held his famous syndicated crime hearings in 1950 and 1951. Watched by 30 million people, the most for any televised event of the time, the trials made it incontrovertibly clear that organized crime did exist in the U.S. This famed, and beautifully restored, courtroom is the centerpiece of the museum and gives heft to the idea that a new museum should open here, in a city where the majority of museums last no longer than mob stooges.
To avoid that fate, the designers and founders have added a healthy dose of razzmatazz to the proceedings: a fascinating 10-minute film on mob movies narrated by Nicholas Pileggi, slot machine-like displays of video testimonials, the opportunity to take part in a line up, and fake machine guns to fire.
The museum also makes a gripping case for the idea that mob history may actually be the truest history of the United States. “If you go deep enough, you can see the mob’s fingerprints on everything,” one bit of wall text grimly asserts, followed by exhibits on fixed elections, presidential assassinations, and labor disputes. It’s a dark vision, enhanced by the unrelenting gore that assaults the visitor (this is NOT a museum for kids), with pictures of blood splattered crime scenes adorning at least half the walls in the place. (They start to look like grisly Rorschach Tests after a while.) Though, to its credit, the museum does not glorify crime. You’ll learn not only about the battle for the soul of Las Vegas (and the country) from the mob side, but also from that of law enforcement.
In a town where it’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy that’s spoon-fed to visitors, this is a welcome, must-see attraction that will help you understand exactly what sins this city was built on.
300 Stewart Ave. www.themobmuseum.org. 702/229-2734. Admission $20–$24 adults; $14 children 5–17 and students with ID; $18 seniors, military, law enforcement, and teachers; $14 NV residents with ID. Sun–Thurs 10am–7pm; Fri–Sat 10am–8pm.
The Neon Museum MUSEUM This is where old Las Vegas signs go to retire. Enter through the former La Concha Motel lobby, which was transplanted, then transformed, into a visitor’s center, then follow your guide out to the yard which is crammed full of fabulous old neon signs. But this experience isn’t just about eye candy: the tour guides are freakishly knowledgeable about Las Vegas design history, with lots of great anecdotes to share about not just the neon signs, but also their creators and the city. Some of the 150 signs are familiar from iconic photos of Las Vegas, like those from the Stardust and Algiers casinos, while others are completely new to most visitors, like the splendidly curvaceous Silver Slipper sign and the funky Queen of Hearts. The Neon Museum has restored quite a few back to full function, so try to visit at night to get the full dazzle. Capitalizing on its unique collection, the Boneyard (as it’s affectionately called by locals) lets individuals and professionals book time for private shoots, so the iconic signs have become the backdrop for many a wedding and engagement photo. Tour groups are kept small and intimate, so you must book early, preferably online.
770 Las Vegas Blvd. N. (at McWilliams Ave.). www.neonmuseum.org. 702/387-6366. Admission $18 daytime tours adults; $12 seniors, students, military, NV residents; $25 nighttime tours adults; $22 seniors, students, military, NV residents; children 6 and under free. No kids under 13 allowed on nighttime tours. Daily 9am–9pm; hours vary seasonally.
SlotZilla THRILL RIDE Here it is, the newest Vegas attraction that deserves to take a place in the Pantheon of iconic Sin City silliness alongside the Bellagio Fountains and the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Billed as,and shaped like, the world’s tallest slot machine, it’s really a launching platform for two sets of zip lines that run down Fremont Street. The lower four are traditional, seated lines running from about 6 stories up by Neonopolis about three blocks to Binion’s. The top “zoom” lines feature an opportunity to fly superhero-style, face down, from 12 stories up all the way to a platform next to Main Street some five blocks away. Compared to some zip lines in more adventurous settings, this one is pretty tame, but it’s still not for the faint of heart, especially as you step out over the edge and then come in for the unexpectedly jerky landing. Go at night for the full effect of all the Glitter Gulch neon lights. This thing started out popular and there is no reason to believe it will be anything but that in the future, so rides may be sold out and/or wait times could be epic.
425 Fremont St. www.vegasexperience.com. 702/ZIPVEGAS. Admission $25–$45. Must be over 60 lb. and under 300 lb. to ride. Sun–Thurs noon–midnight; Fri–Sat noon–2am.
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts PERFORMING ARTS VENUE Although Las Vegas has been synonymous with entertainment for decades, filled with showrooms and theaters galore, the one thing the city never had was a true performing arts venue—the kind of place where symphonies and true Broadway shows (not the cut-down versions that happen on the Strip) could spread their wings. The Smith Center changes all that, and should firmly establish Sin City as a cultural center to be reckoned with.
The buildings are stunning, designed with a timeless Art Deco style inspired by the Hoover Dam—notice the chandeliers, which look like an inverted version of the water intake towers. The whole thing is bright, modern, and dramatic, yet comfortable, familiar, and built to last. While many Vegas buildings attempt scope and grandeur, they feel impermanent somehow—as if they are just waiting to be imploded so the next big thing can be built. The Smith Center feels like the kind of place that will be here for centuries.
The main space, Reynolds Hall, is a finely tuned, Carnegie Hall–worthy, 2,050-seat concert venue that hosts philharmonics, headliners, and touring versions of Broadway shows like Hamilton and The Book of Mormon. The 240-seat Cabaret Theater is a classic nightclub-style space with big windows, giving it a sense of airiness missing in most theaters. It features a jazz series, and more intimate concerts from acts that run from swing to doo wop to funk. A third, 200-seat “black box”-style theater holds smaller theater and dance productions. Outside is a beautiful park that can also be used for performances, or just a place to sit and enjoy the view.
361 Symphony Park Ave. (at Grand Central Pkwy.). www.thesmithcenter.com. 702/749-2000. Prices and times vary by show.
JUST OFF THE STRIP
Dig This! ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX Did you have a sandbox that you used to play in when you were a kid? Well, then you’re going to love this: a big kid’s sandbox where you get to play with real bulldozers and excavators. The program starts with classroom instruction where you get the overview on how to operate the big machines. It’s a lot more complicated than you’d think, requiring a level of hand-eye coordination far beyond that of piloting an SUV. Next, you get to climb into the machine out in a big dirt lot and get used to the controls. Then the real fun starts, with a series of games and challenges that include digging holes, moving rocks, and even playing a version of excavator basketball. It isn’t cheap, but fantasy fulfillment rarely is.
3012 Rancho Dr. (btw. Meade and Sirius aves.). www.digthisvegas.com. 888/344-8447 or 702/222-4344. Admission $169 and up. Open daily; hours vary seasonally.
Fast Lap Indoor Kart Racing ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX When NASCAR pro Kurt Busch is in Las Vegas, this is the place he comes to play. Tucked away on a dead-end street in a mostly industrial part of town near the Strip, this is a no-frills go-kart experience, with a short track filling a former warehouse space that still looks like a warehouse. The gasoline-powered karts are equipped with 200cc Honda motors, allowing you to push the little monsters up to 50 mph (if you dare) as you battle in 10-minute-long races (as many laps as you can get) against other drivers. While bumping and other unsportsman-like contact is officially frowned upon, in reality this is a grown-up (mostly testosterone-driven) sport. So put your foot on the gas and see if you can be first to the checkered flag! Note: You must be at least 5 feet tall to participate, and children 17 and under must be accompanied by a guardian.
4288 Polaris Ave. www.fastlaplv.com. 702/736-8113. $26 per race or $65 for 3 races. Mon–Sat 10am–11pm; Sun 10am–10pm.
THE RESURGENCE OF DOWNTOWN LAS VEGAS
For decades, the bulk of the attention, and development dollars, in Las Vegas has gone to the Strip, while the original part of Sin City, the Downtown area, languished and seemed on the verge of extinction.
Credit, at least in part, online retailer Zappos.com for changing all that. Its plan to move its headquarters and a couple of thousand employees into the former city hall building spurred a resurgence in Downtown Las Vegas, with major revamps to old hotels, new restaurants, fun and funky bars, attractions, street festivals, and more, all lending a new sense of life to the area.
The bulk of the action happens on the Fremont Street Experience, the pedestrian-only mall on Fremont Street between Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. That’s where you’ll find most of the casinos, shopping, and restaurants.
The Fremont East Entertainment District takes up several blocks of Fremont Street just east of Las Vegas Boulevard, and has several bars, lounges, and clubs all within a few feet of each other, so no matter how much you may be stumbling, you can probably still make it to the next one in your all-night pub crawl.
This is the area where you’ll find the Downtown Container Park (p. 198), a shopping and dining complex made out of recycled shipping containers and prefabricated metal cubes. In addition to the retail and food options, there’s a giant treehouse-style jungle gym inside for the kids, and a fire-breathing praying mantis sculpture out front for kids of all ages.
The 18b Arts District is a few blocks south of Fremont Street, bounded, more or less, by Las Vegas Boulevard to the east, Commerce Street to the west, Hoover Avenue on the north, and Colorado Avenue on the south. Art galleries, antique and collectible stores, and more than a few pawn shops and bail bonds offices (to give it color, we suppose) are scattered about the neighborhood, giving it a refreshingly bohemian feeling as it sits in the shadow of the overprocessed Strip.
The monthly First Friday Las Vegas street festival happens in the heart of the 18b Arts District on the blocks surrounding the intersection of Casino Center Drive and Colorado Avenue. Local artists hawk their wares while live bands and DJs keep the crowds moving, play areas (complete with a video game truck) keep the kids entertained, and a sea of food vendors and food trucks keep everyone fat and happy. It’s one of the few places where there is a true sense of community in Vegas. It happens, appropriately enough, on the first Friday of every month from 5pm until 11pm. For more information, visit www.firstfridaylasvegas.com.
The area has even qualified for its own big-time music, arts, and food event with the Life is Beautiful Festival, held in the fall. The inaugural event in 2013 drew more than 65,000 people and featured stages with Beck, the Killers, Kings of Leon, Imagine Dragons, and more, while food tents had eats from Cat Cora, Hubert Keller, Todd English, and Paul Bartolotta, among others. For more information, visit www.lifeisbeautifulfestival.com.
KISS by Monster Mini Golf ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX If they had stopped at the indoor, glow-in-the-dark, 18-hole miniature golf course themed to the classic rock band KISS, it probably would’ve been just mildly amusing. But then they went and added a gift shop, a cafe, a wedding chapel (where KISS impersonators will marry you), arcade games, a DJ playing nonstop KISS tunes, and more KISS memorabilia than the members of the band probably have in their garages. The entire package reaches an almost epic level of giddy, grin-worthy silliness. And yes, there is a hole where you have to putt the ball up a giant replica of Gene Simmons’s tongue.
Rio Hotel and Casino, 3700 Flamingo Rd. www.monsterminigolf.com/kiss. 702/558-6256. Free admission; 18 holes of mini-golf $12 ages 7 and up; free for children 6 and under. Daily 10am–midnight.
National Atomic Testing Museum MUSEUM No thrill ride on the Strip will scare the wits out of you as effectively as the Atomic Testing Museum. That’s not its purpose, of course. This is a science and history museum (an affiliate museum of the mighty Smithsonian Institution) covering the 50 years of atomic testing, from 1951 to 1992 (928 nuclear tests in all), that occurred in the desert outside Vegas. But there comes a moment in the exhibit when your heart will race, your stomach will drop down to your knees, and all at once the reality of the power of the nuclear bomb will hit you with the force of a nightmare. The moment comes early in the exhibit. After an effective and dramatic retelling of the history that led up to the invention of the bomb, you’ll be ushered into a small room resembling a concrete bunker for a video about the testing, with shots of actual explosions. As the mushroom cloud rises in front of you, the lights flash a blinding white, subwoofers send vibrations to the center of your sternum, your bench shakes, and air cannons blast you with wind. It’s intense.
After that wrenching start the rest of the exhibit helps visitors put into context what they’ve seen. You’ll learn about the physics behind the bomb; the myriad of innovations, from high-speed photography to bigger drills, that emerged from the scientific work going on at the testing site; and the cultural “fallout,” if you will, of the Cold War, from advertisements glamorizing the bomb to panic-provoking bomb shelters. Iconic items from the test site—a decoupler, a massive drill bit, a farm silo—are interspersed with news clips and state-of-the-art, truly whiz-bang, interactive exhibits. Pull your attention from these, however, if a docent happens by. Many of these volunteers are former employees of the Testing Site; no they don’t glow, but get one talking and they’ll regale you with insider’s tales of what it was like to wrestle with the bomb, live in its shadow, and work for the government.
755 E. Flamingo Rd. www.nationalatomictestingmuseum.org. 702/794-5151. Admission $22 adults; $16 kids 7–14, $18 seniors, military, students with ID, and Nevada residents; free for children 6 and under. Mon–Sat 10am–5pm; Sun noon–5pm.
SpeedVegas RACECOURSE Those who feel the need for speed don’t necessarily need to haul themselves all the way out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway anymore. The latest fast and furious addition to the Strip is located 10 minutes from the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, with a full arsenal of exotic muscle and supercars ready to be taken around the track. After a quick peek around the 100-acre complex, which includes a 2-story welcome center, peel around the 1.5 mile Formula One-inspired racetrack (the longest in Las Vegas); it features 12 20-degree banked turns and a half-mile straightaway. The only thing more fun than driving the track is choosing which car you’ll take for a spin: feel flashy with the Lamborghini? Experience the German precision of the Porsche? Or ride the horsepower of American muscle with the Mustang? You’re paying per lap, so why not all three?
14200 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.speedvegas.com. 702/874-8888. $49–$89 per lap. Daily 10am–6pm.
Topgolf ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX Some days you just want to hit a few balls, but a trip to Topgolf is a far cry from a day at the driving range. Opened in May 2016, the four-level, 105,000-square-foot venue not only holds 102 hitting bays, but also a live performance stage, multiple kitchens and bars and VIP areas with water features and cabanas. Even if you consider yourself a “non-golfer,” you’ll find a way to work on your swing. Rent out a hitting bay with some friends and take your best shot, scoring points by hitting at targets located across the 215-yard outfield. Microchip technology in the balls and the targets lets you know how accurate and far (or not) you’ve launched that projectile with your club. Various games coded into the experience will help you with your competitive spirit.
4627 Koval Ln. www.topgolf.com/us/lasvegas. 702/963-0000. Admission $5 one-time fee for membership card, $25–$45/hr. per bay, up to 6 players. Sun–Thurs 8am–2am; Fri–Sat 8am–4am.
SOUTH & EAST OF THE STRIP
Clark County Museum MUSEUM It’s telling, I think, that the history of a doomed ocean liner is center stage on the Strip, but a history museum that actually details the story of Sin City itself is relegated to the side of the highway, about 10 miles southeast of the center. (This is a city after all with a penchant for bulldozing over its history and for imploding anything that gets in the way of bigger profits.) Which is a shame because the Clark County Heritage Museum is a real gem, chockablock with richly evocative artifacts and interactive exhibits detailing the story of the area, from Native Americans through gangsters through the pack of corporate thieves who control the Strip today. And for a museum set this far off the Strip, and so cheap to visit, it’s startlingly high tech: Sensors turn on narration, sound effects, and even visual effects whenever a visitor enters a gallery, and many of the exhibits are interactive. Highlights are half a dozen actual houses that you wander through, hearing about the lives of the real people who lived in them at different times in the area’s history, from a Paiute twig hut village to a house lived in by men involved in the construction of the Hoover dam, to a gold miner’s house and a 1960s abode from the Atomic Testing Site. Back outside is a garden with native plants, all well marked along winding trails. The downside: Because it is a good, long drive from the Strip, you’ll need a rental car to get here. A taxi really isn’t practical.
1830 S. Boulder Hwy., Henderson. www.clarkcountynv.gov. 702/455-7955. Admission $2 adults, $1 seniors and children 3–15, free for children 2 and under. Daily 9am–4:30pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Dec 25, and Jan 1.
Ethel M Chocolates FACTORY TOUR Ethel Mars began making fine chocolates in a little candy kitchen in the early 20th century. Her small enterprise evolved to produce not only dozens of varieties of superb boxed chocolates, but also some of the world’s most famous candies: M&Ms, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, Snickers, and Mars bars. Alas, the tour lasts only about 10 minutes and consists entirely of viewing stations with an audiotape explaining the chocolate-baking process. Even more sadly, you get only one small chocolate as a sample—delicious, but hardly satisfying. Of course, there is a fully stocked gift shop if you want to buy more. Note: Come before 2:30pm, which is when the workers start to pack up and go home.
What’s really worth seeing is outside: a lovely and extensive 4-acre garden displaying over 300 species of rare and exotic cacti with signs provided for self-guided tours. It’s best appreciated in spring when the cacti are in full bloom, or in December when the garden is bedecked with holiday lights.
2 Cactus Garden Dr. (just off Mountain Vista and Sunset Way, in the Green Valley Business Park). www.ethelschocolate.com. 702/435-2655 or 702/435-2608. Free admission. Daily 8:30am–6pm. Self-guided chocolate factory tours Mon–Thurs 8:30am–4:30pm. Holiday hours may vary.
Lion Habitat Ranch ZOO Longtime Vegas visitors roared with displeasure when the MGM Grand closed their signature lion habitat after nearly 20 years of amusing tourists. The big secret, however, was that populating those casino-facing digs was merely the lions’ day job, and their “main office” is now open for tours that are significantly more satisfying. More than two dozen lions, from infant to ancient, are in residence at the facility run by Keith and Bev Evans for more than 20 years. All of the animals are either rescues or born here, and while it always gives one pause to see these kinds of majestic creatures in captivity instead of running wild, the digs are plush and the animals are obviously well taken care of. Visitation programs vary from simple do-it-yourself tours to “Trainer for a Day” options that will put you in direct contact with the lions. Note: Finding the place can be challenging; it’s in the middle of a scrub brush desert, close to the M Resort on the southernmost edge of Las Vegas. Consult a map or GPS before you go.
382 Bruner Ave. (near St. Rose Pkwy.). www.lionhabitatranch.com. 702/595-6666. Admission $25 and up adults; 1 child per adult free, $10 extra child. Fri–Mon 11am–3pm; hours vary seasonally.
Pinball Hall of Fame & Museum MUSEUM And you thought only children’s museums could be interactive. Arguably the most fun museum in Las Vegas, this is 10,000 square feet of hands-on entertainment and history for a bargain. A nice departure from the slot machines in casinos, there are more than 150 pinball machines lined up wall-to-wall for visitors to play. Some of them go as far back as the 1940s and are still fully operational (though with the older ones you may need a lighter touch) and are maintained on a daily basis. The games are actual works of art in themselves. Consider Elton John’s costumes on the 1975 Captain Fantastic machine, or the campy cartoons of the Star Trek machine from 1979. You can even nerd-out on the non-pinball games, like when you sit in the cabin for the Star Trek arcade game direct from the ’80s. You still have to pop in a quarter to play (two if the game is from 1990 or after), but it’s money well spent, as proceeds go towards maintenance of the machines and to charity. In a modern twist, scan the QR bar code found on many of the machines with your smartphone to learn more about these old school relics.
1610 E. Tropicana Ave. www.pinballmuseum.org. 702/597-2627. Free admission; game costs vary. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–midnight.
Shelby American Heritage Center MUSEUM That’s Shelby as in Carroll Shelby, who in the 1960s helped shape the American muscle car as we know it. Now that the museum has moved from its original location near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to across from Town Square on Las Vegas Boulevard, gear heads don’t have to go as far to get their Shelby fix. On display is the first Cobra roadster CSX2000 that Shelby ever built, along with cherry Mustangs and the Shelby Series 1 prototype, and about 20 more rides, all with spiffy racing stripes. The space also features the modification shop where fast cars become even faster, but you can’t get near those. The guided tour takes about 90 minutes and is comprehensive, complete with anecdotes and a complete history of Shelby and his craft. Admission and tours are free, but consider donating to the Carroll Shelby Foundation, dedicated to organ transplant education, as Shelby was a heart transplant recipient in 1990. The museum offers a round trip from select resorts for only $7.
6405 Ensworth St. (at Sunset Rd.) www.shelbyamerican.com. 702/942-7325. Free admission. Mon–Sat 9:30am–6pm, Sun 10am–4pm; guided tours Mon–Fri 10:30am and 1:30pm, and Sat 10:30am.
SkyZone ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX So you brought the kids to Vegas and they’re bouncing off the walls with boredom. How about giving them a chance to bounce off the walls with glee instead? This indoor facility features several trampoline arenas; some are used for organized games and activities such as dodgeball, and others are open for random bouncing about. There are other amusements here as well, including a foam-block pit that kids can jump into, games, and a small snack shop, plus a much-needed quiet area for parents. Adults are allowed, but this is mainly a place for children, so if you’re hoping to practice your Cirque du Soleil skills you may want to find someplace else to do it.
7440 Dean Martin Dr. (at Warm Springs Rd.) www.skyzone.com/lasvegas. 702/560-5900. Admission $13–$26. Mon–Thurs 3pm–8pm; Fri 3pm–10pm; Sat 11am–11pm; Sun 11am–8pm.
NORTH & WEST OF THE STRIP
Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX Finally, after all our yammering about how Vegas isn’t for families and how most of the kid-friendly options are really overpriced tourist traps, we can wholeheartedly recommend an actual family-appropriate entertainment option. Part arcade, part go-kart racetrack, this is exactly what you want to help your kids (and maybe yourselves) work their ya-yas out. The arcade is well stocked, with a better quality of prizes than one often finds, but we suggest not spending too much time in there and instead hustling outside to the slide, the little roller coaster, and best of all, the four go-kart tracks. Each offers a different thrill, from the longest track in Vegas, full of twists and turns as you try to outrace other drivers (be a sport, let the little kids win occasionally), to a high-banked oval built just so you can try to make other drivers take spills onto the grass, to, best of all, a timed course. The last requires a driver’s license, so it’s for you rather than your kids (but the wee ones will find the fourth course is just for them), and here you can live out your Le Mans or police-chase fantasies as you blast through twisting runs one kart at a time, trying to beat your personal best. The staff is friendly, and the pizzas at the food court are triple the size and half the price of those found in your hotel. The one drawback: It’s far from the Strip, so you’ll need a rental car. Note: Kids have to be at least 36 inches tall to ride any of the attractions.
1401 N. Rainbow Rd. (just off U.S. 95 N.). www.lvmgp.com. 702/259-7000. Ride tickets $8 each, $7.50 each for 5 or more; ride wristbands $23 per hr. Sun–Fri 10am–10pm; Sat 10am–11pm; hours vary seasonally.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway RACECOURSE This impressive facility is widely considered to be the premiere racing venue in the Southwest United States, and rivals fabled speedways in Talladega, Charlotte, and Daytona for its scope and the deep catalogue of year-round events. The main oval hosts a major NASCAR race weekend in March, packing pretty much every one of the 135,000 seats, but there are happenings on it and the other tracks more than 260 days a year. There is an NHRA-sanctioned drag strip that runs high-octane funny cars and motorcycles, two road courses, a dirt track, a short oval “bullring,” and more.
Of the many unique features (how many raceways have a view of the Strip?), one of the most interesting for race fans is the Neon Garage, an infield facility where the drivers and their teams set up camp for the major races. Big windows and overhead galleries allow people to watch the cars being worked on and give up-close access to the men and women behind the wheel. You pay a premium, obviously, but true speed freaks should get their tickets early.
If watching the action is not enough for you, there are several programs available to put you behind the wheel for some adrenaline junkie action. The Richard Petty Driving Experience (www.drivepetty.com; 800/237-3889)offers both NASCAR-style vehicles and new American muscle cars (Camaro, Mustang, Challenger, and the like) that are raced on the superspeedway; Dream Racing (www.dreamracing.com; 702/605-3000) has specially modified Ferrari race cars running the inside road track; and Exotics Racing (www.exoticsracing.com; 702/405-7223) has a full fleet of Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis, McLarens, and more that run on their proprietary 1.2-mile course. All give you classroom instruction and time behind the wheel, and while they are not cheap, there are few things more thrilling than going down the back straightaway in a race car doing 140 miles per hour, or trying to find the perfect path out of tight curve you are taking in a 430 Scuderia at stupid grin-worthy speeds.
7000 Las Vegas Blvd. N. (directly across from Nellis Air Force Base). www.lvms.com. 702/644-4443. Tickets $10–$75 (higher for major events). Race days vary. Take I-15 north to exit 54.
Nevada State Museum MUSEUM Part nature museum, part Native American museum, part Las Vegas museum, there’s certainly a lot of history jam packed into 13,000 square feet; too bad none of it is particularly in-depth. But it’s worth a stop if you want to learn about the entire Silver State from soup to nuts, without committing much time to the endeavor. Sundays offer a few interactive activities geared towards kids. If your time is limited, skip this place in favor of the far more interesting Springs Preserve (p. 170).
309 S. Valley View Blvd. (at Meadows Lane). museums.nevadaculture.org. 702/486-5205. Tickets $20 adults, $10 for NV residents, free for children 17 and under. Admission includes neighboring Springs Preserve. Thurs–Mon 10am–6pm.
Pole Position Raceway ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX Similar in concept to the Fast Lap facility (p. 163), Pole Position is a more polished go-kart racing venue owing to its sleek, modern facility, and electric-powered racers. The indoor course is short but satisfying, and the lack of gas-powered engines doesn’t mean you sacrifice any of the speed. You may retain your hearing for longer, which is definitely a good thing. It’s worth noting that the karts are small and the mandatory helmets are tight, so claustrophobics may want to seek alternative fun. The facility also has a small video and virtual-reality game arcade, and a gift shop.
4175 S. Arville Rd. www.polepositionraceway.com. 702/227-7223. Adults 56 in. or taller $26, kids 17 and under or 48 in. and taller $22; multi-race packages available. Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm; Fri–Sat 11am–midnight.
Springs Preserve NATURAL RESERVE By now, perhaps you’ve learned that Las Vegas is Spanish for “the meadows.” This facility is set on the 180-acre site of the original springs that fed Las Vegas until it dried in the 1960s (told you that Hoover Dam comes in handy). These days, Las Vegas is an environmental nightmare, along with much of the rest of this planet, and this remarkable attraction educates visitors about the possibilities of reversing some of the damage.
Set amid nature and hiking trails, plus man-made wetlands (which is an interesting concept), the focal point is a large interpretive center that gives the history of Las Vegas from a land- and water-use perspective. The displays are creative and interactive, including a room with a reproduction flash flood that uses 5,000 gallons of water; and one with a simulation of the experience of working on Hoover Dam. The other buildings are all built according to standards that have the least environmental impact, using modern construction versions of adobe and other green concepts. Each building tackles an aspect of desert living and the environment, including one that instructs kids on the glories of recycling, complete with a compost tunnel to crawl through! Other displays focus on environmentally friendly kitchens and bathrooms, while the gardens demonstrate “green” gardening.
The outdoor kids’ play area is made from recycled materials, and has big fake animals to climb on and real live ones to look at, in case the kiddies have grown tired of learning responsible stuff. Given the care, knowledge, and urgency of the issues addressed, this is an extraordinary facility for any town, but particularly for this one.
Note: Admission includes entrance to the adjacent Nevada State Museum reviewed above.
333 S. Valley View Blvd. www.springspreserve.org. 702/822-8344. Admission $19 adults, $17 seniors and students with ID, $11 children 5–17, free for children 4 and under, $10 Nevada residents. Free admission to trails and gardens. Daily 10am–6pm.
Wet ’n Wild AMUSEMENT PARK This is the city’s only (for now) water amusement park. A descendant of the Wet ’n Wild that was on the Strip for 2 decades, this state-of-the-art facility is located on the far west side of town at the foothills of the famous Red Rock National Conservancy Area. It has more than 20 slides, rides, and attractions, from scary dropping, looping things to lazy, play-around-in-the-water–type features. Adrenaline junkies should try the Constrictor, featuring what are billed as the tightest, highest banked curves in the world; and the Tornado, a multi-person raft ride that shoots you 36 feet in the air before blasting you through a tunnel and into a whirlpool funnel. Shade is at a premium and the crowds make the lines long, but if you want something fun to do with your kids, this is one of your few good Vegas options.
7055 S. Fort Apache Rd. (at Arby Ave.). www.wetnwildlasvegas.com. 702/800-7474. Admission $40 adults, $30 kids under 42 in. tall. Discounts available online. Season passes available. Sun–Thurs 10am–6pm; Fri–Sat 10am–10pm.
Las Vegas is no longer the gambling capital of the world. That title belongs to Macau, China, where casinos with familiar names like MGM Grand, the Venetian, and Wynn pull in more money in 2 months than the casinos on the Strip generate all year. Even in the United States, the proliferation of legal gambling in other areas is eclipsing Las Vegas in terms of revenue and scope. As of this writing, there are more than two dozen states that have Indian or riverboat casinos, and nearly that many that have commercial casinos, with more on the way. And in Las Vegas, gambling is no longer the biggest revenue generator, earning less than half of most resorts’ revenue (the rest comes from hotel rates, dining, nightclubs, and the like).
But strip away all the facts and figures, and what you are left with is the undeniable lure of Las Vegas as a gambling mecca. It is, in no small part, what built this city and what continues to drive it, as evidenced by the fact that you can find gaming almost everywhere. There are slot machines at the airport, waiting for you to get off the plane or giving you something to do while you wait for your baggage. Convenience stores and gas stations have video poker so you can play a few hands while filling up. And the average Strip casino has literally dozens of blackjack, craps, roulette, and other gaming tables.
People come here to play, and although they may lose more often than they win, it doesn’t stop anyone from trying to win the Big One. You know, like that woman in 2010 who won $2.9 million on a “Wizard of Oz” penny slot (whose name was Dorothy, by the way). That only a few ever do win big doesn’t stop people from trying again and again and again. That’s how the casinos make their money.
As you walk through the labyrinthine twists and turns of a casino floor, your attention will likely be dragged to the various games and, your interest piqued, your fingers may begin to twitch in anticipation of hitting it big. Before you put your money on the line, it’s imperative to know the rules of the game you want to play. Most casinos offer free gambling lessons at scheduled times on weekdays and occasionally on weekends. This provides a risk-free environment for you to learn the games that tickle your fancy. Some casinos follow their lessons with low-stakes game play, enabling you to put your newfound knowledge to the test at small risk. During those instructional sessions, and even when playing on your own, dealers in most casinos will be more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Remember, the casino doesn’t need to trick you into losing your money . . . the odds are already in their favor across the board; that’s why it’s called gambling. Another rule of thumb: Take a few minutes to watch a game being played in order to familiarize yourself with the motions and lingo.
And of course, the Internet has revolutionized gambling in more ways than one, not the least of which is that you can find a free, online version of just about every casino game imaginable. Spend a few hours online betting virtual bucks before you haul out your wallet to try the real deal.
If you are planning on gambling at all, it pays to join a players’ club. These so-called clubs are designed to attract and keep customers in a given casino by providing incentives: meals, shows, discounts on rooms, gifts, tournament invitations, discounts at hotel shops, VIP treatment, and (more and more) cash rebates. Join a players’ club (it doesn’t cost a cent to sign up), and soon you too will be getting those great hotel-rate offers—$20-a-night rooms, affordable rooms at the luxury resorts, and even free rooms.
These days, players’ clubs go beyond the casino as well. Many of them track your overall spending at participating casinos, including what you pay for meals, shopping, rooms, spa treatments, and more. This means you can earn points toward rewards pretty much anytime you pull out your wallet.
The ancient game of baccarat, or chemin de fer, is played with eight decks of cards. Firm rules apply, and there is no skill involved other than deciding whether to bet on the bank or the player. No, really—that’s all you have to do. The dealer does all the other work. You can essentially stop reading here. Oh, all right, carry on.
Any beginner can play, but check the betting minimum before you sit down, as baccarat tends to be a high-stakes game. The cards are shuffled by the croupier and then placed in a box called the “shoe.” Players may wager on “bank” or “player” at any time. Two cards are dealt from the shoe and given to the player who has the largest wager against the bank, and two cards are dealt to the croupier, acting as banker. If the rules call for a third card, the player or banker, or both, must take the third card. In the event of a tie, the hand is dealt over. Note: The guidelines that determine whether a third card must be drawn (by the player or banker) are provided at the baccarat table upon request.
The object of the game is to come as close as possible to the number 9. To score the hands, the cards of each hand are totaled and the last digit is used. All cards have face value. For example: 10 plus 5 equals 15 (score is 5); 10 plus 4 plus 9 equals 23 (score is 3); 4 plus 3 plus 3 equals 10 (score is 0); and 4 plus 3 plus 2 equals 9 (score is 9). The closest hand to 9 wins.
Each player has a chance to deal the cards. The shoe passes to the player on the right each time the bank loses. If the player wishes, he may pass the shoe at any time.
Note: When you bet on the bank and the bank wins, you’re charged a 5% commission. This must be paid at the start of a new game or when you leave the table.
In this, the most popular casino card game, the dealer starts by dealing each player two cards. In some casinos, they’re dealt to the player face up, in others face down, but the dealer always gets one card up and one card down. Everybody plays against the dealer. The object is to get a total that is higher than that of the dealer without exceeding 21. All face cards count as 10; all other number cards, except aces, are counted at their face value. An ace may be counted as 1 or 11, whichever you choose it to be.
Starting at her left, the dealer gives additional cards to the players who wish to draw (be “hit”) or none to a player who wishes to “stand” or “hold.” If your count is nearer to 21 than the dealer’s, you win. If it’s under the dealer’s, you lose. Ties are a “push” (standoff) and nobody wins. After all the players are satisfied with their counts, the dealer exposes her face-down card. If her two cards total 16 or less, the dealer must hit until reaching 17 or over. If the dealer’s total exceeds 21, she must pay all the players whose hands have not gone “bust.” It is important to note here that the blackjack dealer has no choice as to whether she should stay or draw. A dealer’s decisions are predetermined and known to all the players at the table.
If you’re a novice or just rusty, do yourself a favor and buy one of the small laminated cards available in shops all over town that illustrate proper play for every possible hand in blackjack. Even longtime players have been known to pull them out, and they can save you from making costly errors.
The most exciting casino action is usually found at the craps tables. Betting is frenetic, play is fast-paced, and groups quickly bond while yelling and screaming in response to the action.
While it can be intimidating, it’s very easy to play a basic game of craps, but figuring out the various bets and the odds associated with the advanced bets is sort of like learning rocket science, only with dice. Entire books are written about the game and so it would be impossible to explain it all in a couple of paragraphs, but here is enough to at least get you started.
The table is divided into marked areas (Pass, Come, Field, Big Six, Big Eight, and so on), where you place your chips to bet. Novices should stick with the “Pass Line” or “Come” bets until they get used to the rhythm of the game.
PASS LINE A “Pass Line” bet pays even money. If the first roll of the dice adds up to 7 or 11, you win your bet; if the first roll adds up to 2, 3, or 12, you lose your bet. If any other number comes up, it becomes your “point.” If you roll your point again, you win, but if a 7 comes up again before your point is rolled, you lose.
DON’T PASS LINE Betting on the “Don’t Pass Line” is the opposite of betting on the Pass Line. This time, you lose if a 7 or an 11 is thrown on the first roll, and you win if a 2 or a 3 is thrown on the first roll.
If the first roll is 12, however, it’s a “push” (standoff), and nobody wins. If none of these numbers is thrown and you have a point instead, in order to win, a 7 will have to be thrown before the point comes up again. A Don’t Pass bet also pays even money.
COME Betting on “Come” is the same as betting on the Pass Line, but you must bet after the first roll or on any following roll. Again, you’ll win on 7 or 11 and lose on 2, 3, or 12. Any other number is your point, and you win if your point comes up again before a 7.
DON’T COME This is the opposite of a Come bet. Again, you wait until after the first roll to bet. A 7 or an 11 means you lose; a 2 or a 3 means you win; 12 is a push, and nobody wins. You win if 7 comes up before the point. (The point, you’ll recall, was the first number rolled if it was none of the above.)
For most of the new millennium, poker was just about the biggest thing going, thanks to the popularity of celebrity poker TV shows, poker tours, books, and magazines. Just about every casino had a poker room and those that didn’t wanted one.
That popularity has waned a bit in the last few years with several of the poker rooms getting smaller, offering fewer games, or closing altogether. What’s behind the trend? Nothing more than the cooling of a hot fad, really. The game is still played by lots of people and you can easily find a table, but these days you probably won’t have to wait as long to get a seat.
There are lots of variations on the basic game, but one of the most popular is Texas Hold ’Em. Two cards are dealt, face down, to the players. After a betting round, five community cards (everyone can use them) are dealt face up on the table. Players make the best five-card hand, using their own cards and the “board” (the community cards), and the best hand wins. The house dealer takes care of the shuffling and the dealing, and moves a marker around the table to alternate the start of the deal. The house usually rakes around 10% (it depends on the casino) from each pot. Most casinos also provide tables for playing Seven-Card Stud, Omaha High, and Omaha Hi-Lo. A few even have Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo split. To learn how these variations are played, either read a book or take lessons.
Pai Gow is a variation on poker that has become popular. The game is played with a traditional deck plus one joker. The joker is a wild card that can be used as an ace or to complete a straight, a flush, a straight flush, or a royal flush. Each player is dealt seven cards to arrange into two hands: a two-card hand and a five-card hand. As in standard poker, the highest two-card hand is two aces, and the highest five-card hand is a royal flush. The five-card hand must be higher than the two-card hand (if the two-card hand is a pair of 6s, for example, the five-card hand must be a pair of 7s or better). Any player’s hand that is set incorrectly is an automatic loser. The object of the game is for both of the players’ hands to rank higher than both of the banker’s hands. Should one hand rank exactly the same as the banker’s hand, this is a tie (called a “copy”), and the banker wins all tie hands. If the player wins one hand but loses the other, this is a “push,” and no money changes hands. The house dealer or any player may be the banker. The bank is offered to each player, and each player may accept or pass. Winning hands are paid even money, less a 5% commission.
LET IT RIDE
Let It Ride is another popular game that involves poker hands. You place three bets at the outset and are dealt three cards. The dealer is dealt two cards that act as community cards (you’re not playing against the dealer). Once you’ve seen your cards, you can choose to pull the first of your three bets back or “let it ride.” The object of this game is to get a pair of 10s or better by combining your cards with the community cards. If you’re holding a pair of 10s or better in your first three cards (called a “no-brainer”), you want to let your bets ride the entire way through. Once you’ve decided whether or not to let your first bet ride, the dealer exposes one of his two cards. Once again, you must make a decision to take back your middle bet or keep on going. Then the dealer exposes the last of his cards; your third bet must stay. The dealer then turns over the hands of the players and determines whether you’ve won. Winning bets are paid on a scale, ranging from even money for a single pair up to 1,000 to 1 for a royal flush. These payouts are for each bet you have in play. Similar to Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride has a bonus that you can win for high hands if you cough up an additional $1 per hand, but be advised that the house advantage on that $1 is obscene. But hey, that’s why it’s called gambling.
Three-Card Poker has become one of the most popular table games in Las Vegas, with gamblers appreciating the relatively low mental input requirements and relatively high payout possibilities. It’s actually more difficult to explain than to play. For this reason, we recommend watching a table for a while. You should grasp it pretty quickly.
Basically, players are dealt three cards with no draw and have to make the best poker hand out of those three cards. Possible combinations include a straight flush (three sequential cards of the same suit), three of a kind (three queens, for example), a straight (three sequential cards of any suit), a flush (three cards of the same suit), and a pair (two queens, for example). Even if you don’t have one of the favored combinations, you can still win if you have cards higher than the dealer’s.
On the table are three betting areas—Ante, Play, and Pair Plus. There are actually two games in one on a Three-Card Poker table—“Pair Plus” and “Ante and Play.” You can play only Pair Plus or only Ante, or both. You place your chips in the areas in which you want to bet.
In Pair Plus, you are betting only on your hand, not competing against anyone else at the table or the dealer. If you get a pair or better, depending on your hand, the payoff can be pretty fab—straight flush: 40 to 1; three of a kind: 30 to 1; straight: 6 to 1; flush: 3 to 1; and pair: 1 to 1.
In Ante and Play, you are betting that your hand will be better than the dealer’s, but you’re not competing against anyone else at the table. You place an Ante bet, view your cards, and then, if you decide you like your hand, you place a bet in the Play area equal to your Ante bet. If you get lousy cards and don’t want to go forward, you can fold, losing only your Ante bet and your Pair Plus bet, if you made one. Once all bets are made, the dealer’s hand is revealed—he must have at least a single queen for the bet to count; if not, your Ante and Play bets are returned. If you beat the dealer’s hand, you get a 1 to 1 payoff, but there is a bonus for a particularly good winning hand: straight flush, 5 to 1; three of a kind, 4 to 1; straight, 1 to 1.
Your three cards are dealt. If you play only Pair Plus, it doesn’t matter what the dealer has—you get paid if you have a pair or better. If you don’t, you lose your bet. If you play the Ante bet, you must then either fold and lose the Ante bet or match the Ante bet by placing the same amount on the Play area. The dealer’s hand is revealed, and payouts happen accordingly. Each hand consists of one fresh 52-card deck.
There are several variants to this game, including a bonus bet that can win a progressive jackpot (usually $1) and a six-card version where your cards are combined with the dealer’s cards to come up with the best five- or six-card hand. Caesars Entertainment casinos are even offering a million-dollar top prize in their six-card games if, between you and the dealer, you come up with the 9-10-J-Q-K-A of diamonds. Don’t scoff—several people have actually won it already!
OTHER POKER VARIANTS
Meanwhile, as if all this weren’t enough, new variations on poker games keep popping up. There’s Crazy 4 Poker, similar to Three-Card Poker, only with five cards dealt, no draw, and make your best four-card poker hand out of it; a version of Texas Hold ’Em, where you are not competing against other players; several riffs on Three-Card poker that include secondary bonus bets, progressive jackpots, and multiple betting strategies; and more. All of them follow the basic tenets of poker (highest hand wins), but each has its own set of rules, betting strategies, and payouts; if you see one of these games, look for an instructional pamphlet at the table or ask the dealer for a quick lesson.
Roulette is an easy game to play, and it’s really quite colorful and exciting to watch. The wheel spins and the little ball bounces around, finally dropping into one of the slots, numbered 1 to 36, plus 0 and 00. You can place bets “Inside” the table and “Outside” the table. Inside bets are bets placed on a particular number or a set of numbers. Outside bets are those placed in the boxes surrounding the number table. If you bet on a specific number and it comes up, you are paid 35 to 1 on your bet. Bear in mind, however, that the odds of a particular number coming up are actually 38 to 1 (don’t forget the 0 and 00!), so the house has an advantage the moment you place an inside bet. The methods of placing single-number bets, column bets, and others are fairly obvious. The dealer will be happy to show you how to make many interesting betting combinations, such as betting on six numbers at once. Each player is given different-colored chips so that it’s easy to follow the numbers you’ve bet on.
You put the coin in the slot and pull the handle. What, you thought there was a trick to this?
Actually, there is a bit more to it. But first, some background. Old-timers will tell you slots were invented to give wives something to do while their husbands gambled. Slots used to be stuck at the edges of the casino and could be counted on one hand, maybe two. But now they are the casino. The casinos make more from slots than from craps, blackjack, and roulette combined. There are more than 150,000 slot machines (not including video poker) in the county. Some of these are at the airport, steps away from you as you deplane. It’s just a matter of time before the planes flying into Vegas feature slots that pop up as soon as you cross the state line.
But to keep up with the increasing competition, the plain old machine, where reels just spin, has become nearly obsolete. Now they are all computerized and have buttons to push so you can avoid getting carpal tunnel syndrome from yanking the handle all night (though the handles are still there on some of them). Many don’t even have reels anymore but are entirely video screens, which offer a number of little extras that have nothing to do with actual play. The idea is still simple: Get 3 (or 4, or 10) cherries (clowns, sevens, dinosaurs, whatever) in a row, and you win something. Each machine has its own combination. Some will pay you something with just one symbol showing; on most, the more combinations there are, the more opportunities for loot. Some will even pay if you get three blanks. Study each machine to learn what it does. Note: The payback goes up considerably if you bet the limit (from 2 to hundreds of coins on penny slots, for instance).
Progressive slots are groups of linked machines (sometimes spread over several casinos) where the jackpot gets bigger every few moments (just as lottery jackpots build up). Some machines have their own progressive jackpot, which can be slightly less stressful because you’re not competing with other players to win the top prize.
Themes and interactivity are the watchwords these days. Pick a pop culture reference and there’s probably a slot machine dedicated to it. Wizard of Oz, The Walking Dead, Airplane! (“Don’t call me Shirley!”), Sex and the City, Michael Jackson, and The Hangover are just a few of the familiar titles you’ll see on casino floors. Each of them features bonus rounds and side games that have animations, video clips, music, competitions between other players, and, in some cases, even motion-activated seats.
Penny and nickel slots, which for a long time had been overlooked, relegated to a lonely spot somewhere by a back wall because they were not as profitable for the casinos as quarter and dollar slots, have made a comeback. You can bet just a penny or nickel, but maximum bets for the bigger jackpots are usually in the $2 to $3 range, sometimes even more. As a result, more cash is pocketed by the casino (which keeps a higher percentage of cash off of lower-denomination slots than it does off of higher ones), which is happy to accommodate this trend by offering up more and more cheaper slots. See how this all works? Are you paying attention?
When it comes right down to it, all casinos are basically the same—they all have slot machines, table games, too many people (often), lots of cigarette smoke (usually), and a general sense of hullaballoo that is completely unlike anyplace else on Earth.
But not all casinos are created equally. Some are big and feel like it, some are big and don’t feel like it, some are loud, some are bright, some are light, some are cheap, some are overwhelming, and on and on it goes. Where you decide to gamble away little Billy’s college fund really is a matter of taste, budget, and timing, but here are a few of our favorites, and not just because we have won money in them. Well, not entirely because we have won money in them.
If you are looking for a classic Las Vegas casino, go no further than Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.caesarspalace.com; 702/731-7110). The domed ceiling over the main pit just off the lobby dates all the way back to 1966, but has been kept up-to-date and sparkling. Plus, you might still see a toga-clad wench or an armor-plated gladiator wandering around posing for pictures.
If you prefer modern, try either Aria Las Vegas, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.arialasvegas.com; 702/590-7111) or the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com; 702/698-7000). Both offer dramatic, art-inspired rooms bursting with eye-candy, with Aria’s dramatic sculptures and natural lighting and the Cosmo’s three-story chandelier and evocative decor.
The themed madness has been toned down at most casinos, but you can still get a geo-location giggle with the Big Apple silliness at New York-New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.newyorknewyork.com; 702/740-6969), complete with the facades of famous Gotham landmarks looming around you; the walk-like-an-Egyptian madness of Luxor Las Vegas, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.luxor.com; 702/262-4444), which is still there if you look hard enough for it; or the Gallic-inspired romance of Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.parislasvegas.com; 702/946-7000), including legs of the Eiffel Tower replica sticking down into the casino.
If luxury and high limits are your thing, go to the fraternal twin casinos at Wynn Las Vegas/Encore Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.wynnlasvegas.com; 800/320-7125). The former is a large garden-inspired space with luxurious seating and fabrics, while the latter is a more intimate, European-gambling-parlor–style room infused with natural light.
If you prefer your gambling more down-to-earth and affordable, check out one of the Downtown or locals’ casinos. Our personal favorites are the lovely earth-toned space at The Golden Nugget, 129 Fremont St. (www.goldennugget.com; 702/385-7111); the retro-modern industrial chic at The Downtown Grand, 206 N. 3rd St. (www.downtowngrand.com; 702/719-5100); the richly textured stunner at Red Rock Resort, 10973 W. Charleston Ave. (www.redrocklasvegas.com; 702/767-7773); and the warm Mediterranean-inspired space at Green Valley Ranch, 2300 Paseo Verde Dr., Henderson (www.greenvalleyranchresort.com; 702/617-7777).
Cashless machines are the standard these days. Now when gambling, players insert their money, they play, and when they cash out, they get—instead of the clanging sound of coins cascading out into the tray—a little paper ticket with their total winnings on it. Hand in your ticket at a cashier’s window (or use the omnipresent ATM-style redemption machines), and you get your winnings. Purists howl, bemoaning the loss of the auditory and tactile thrill of dealing with coins, but most of them are the type of people who would put $5 in a machine, lose it, and then be done with gambling for the rest of the trip. Those who are more than just casual players love the convenience and simplicity of the tickets and wouldn’t go back to the days of having to lug big buckets of change around if you promised them better payoff odds.
Are there surefire ways to win on a slot machine? No. But you can lose more slowly. The slot machines use minicomputers known as random number generators (RNGs) to determine the winning combinations on a machine, and though each spin may indeed be random, individual machines are programmed to pay back different percentages over the long haul. As a result, a machine programmed to return a higher percentage might be “looser” than others. A bank of empty slots probably (but not certainly) means the machines are tight. Go find a line where lots of people are sitting around with lots of credits on their meters. A good rule of thumb is that if your slot doesn’t hit something in four or five pulls, leave it and go find another. Also, each casino has a bank of slots that they advertise as more loose or with a bigger payback. Try these. It’s what they want you to do, but what the heck.
Most of the larger hotels in Las Vegas have sports-book operations, which look a lot like commodities-futures trading boards. In some, almost as large as theaters, you can sit comfortably, occasionally in recliners, and sometimes with your own video screen, and watch ball games, fights, and, at some casinos, horse races on huge TV screens. To add to your enjoyment, there’s usually a deli/bar nearby that serves sandwiches, hot dogs, soft drinks, and beer. As a matter of fact, some of the best sandwiches in Las Vegas are served next to the sports books. Sports books take bets on virtually every sport (and not just who’ll win, but what the final score will be, who’ll be first to hit a home run, who’ll be MVP, who’ll wear red shoes, you name it). They are best during important playoff games or big horse races, when everyone in the place is watching the same event—shrieking, shouting, and moaning, sometimes in unison. Joining in with a cheap bet (so you feel like you, too, have a personal stake in the matter) makes for bargain entertainment.
Speaking of the future, in early 2010, the Nevada Gaming Commission approved rules that would allow casino sports books to take wagers on the outcomes of nonsporting events such as the Academy Awards, American Idol, and even presidential elections. In the past, you couldn’t bet on these types of events because in many of them the outcome is known by someone before the results are announced (those Oscar accountants get all the luck!) or there was too high a risk that the outcomes could be influenced. At press time, no major casino in Vegas was offering these types of wagers because of all of the restrictions the commission put on them to guard against the concerns that made them illegal before, but it is only a matter of time—the casinos smell big money here and they’ll figure out a way to make it work. So who do you think is going to win Dancing With the Stars? Wanna bet?
Video poker works the same way as regular poker, except you play against the machine. You are dealt a hand, you pick which cards to keep and which to discard, and then you get your new hand. And, it is hoped, you collect your winnings. This is somewhat more of a challenge than slots because you have some control (or at least the illusion of control) over your fate, and it’s easier than playing actual poker with a table full of serious poker players.
There are a number of varieties of video poker machines, including Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, and so forth. Be sure to study your machine before you play. (The best returns are offered on the Bonus Poker machines; the payback for a pair of jacks or better is two times your bet, and three times for three of a kind.) The Holy Grail of video-poker machines is the 9/6 (it pays nine coins for a full house, six coins for a flush), but you’ll need to pray a lot before you find one in town. Some machines offer double down: After you have won, you get a chance to draw cards against the machine, with the higher card the winner. If you win, your money is doubled, and you are offered a chance to go again. Your money can increase nicely during this time, and you can also lose it all very quickly, which is most annoying.
Other options include multi-hand video poker, where you play anywhere from 3 to 100 hands at the same time; bonus spin poker, allowing you to spin a wheel for extra credits when you get certain hands; and progressive jackpots for things like royal flushes or four aces.
Getting hitched is one of the most popular things to do in Las Vegas. Just ask Britney Spears—as she rather infamously revealed, it’s all too easy to get married here. See that total stranger/childhood friend standing next to you? Grab him or her and head down to the Clark County Marriage License Bureau, 201 Clark Ave. ( 702/761-0600; daily, including holidays, 8am–midnight), to get your license. Find a wedding chapel (not hard, as there are about 50 of them; they line the north end of the Strip, and most hotels have them) and tie the knot. Just like that. No blood test, no waiting period—heck, not even an awkward dating period . . . though you may have a potentially very awkward time explaining it afterward to your mother, your manager, and the press.
Even if you have actually known your intended for some time, Las Vegas is a great place to get married. The ease is the primary attraction, but there are a number of other appealing reasons. You can have any kind of wedding you want, from a big, traditional production number to a small, intimate affair; from a spur-of-the-moment “just-the-happy-couple-in-blue-jeans” kind of thing to an “Elvis-in-a-pink-Cadillac-at-a-drive-thru-window” kind of thing (see the box “Vows with a Wow,” on p. 185). The wedding chapels take care of everything; usually they’ll even provide a limo to take you to the license bureau and back. Most offer all the accessories, from rings to flowers to a videotaped record of the event.
More than 100,000 couples who yearly take advantage of all this can’t be wrong. If you want to follow in the footsteps of Elvis and Priscilla (at the first incarnation of the Aladdin Hotel); Michael Jordan; Jon Bon Jovi; Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford; Pamela Anderson and ill-fated husband no. 3; Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob; and, of course, Britney and What’s-His-Name; you’ll want to peruse the following list of the most notable wedding chapels on or near the Strip.
You can also call Las Vegas Weddings (www.lasvegasweddings.com; 800/322-8697), which offers one-stop shopping for wedding services.
Weddings can be very inexpensive in Vegas: A license is $77 and a basic service not much more. Even a full-blown shebang package—photos, music, flowers, video, cake, and other doodads—will run only about $500 total. We haven’t quoted any prices here because the ultimate cost depends entirely on how much you want to spend. Go cheap, and the whole thing will set you back maybe $150, including the license; go elaborate, and the price is still reasonable by today’s wedding-price standards. Be sure to remember that there are often hidden charges, such as expected gratuities for the minister (about $25 should do; no real need to tip anyone else), and so forth. If you’re penny-pinching, you’ll want to keep those in mind.
Same-sex marriage is legal across the United States.
Be aware that Valentine’s Day is a very popular day to get married in Vegas. Some of the chapels perform as many as 80 services on February 14. But remember, you also don’t have to plan ahead. Just show up, get your paperwork, close your eyes, and pick a chapel. And above all, have fun. Good luck and best wishes to you both.
Chapel of the Bells Sporting the largest and gaudiest wedding chapel sign on the Strip, this is one of the longest-running chapels, operating since 1957. This combination of classic Vegas “style” and “tradition” is most of what this place has going for it. The chapel is pretty, garnished with swaths of white material and light green accents, seating 25 to 35, but nothing dazzling. It’s not particularly distinctive, but Kelly Ripa got married here, so there is that. The chapel prefers advance booking but can do same-day ceremonies.
2233 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Sahara Ave.). www.chapelofthebellslasvegas.com. 800/233-2391 or 702/735-6803. Sun–Thurs 9am–9pm; Fri–Sat 9am–midnight.
AN ELVIS IMPERSONATOR’S TOP 10 REASONS TO GET MARRIED IN LAS VEGAS
Jesse Garon has appeared in numerous Las Vegas productions as “Young Elvis.” He arrives at any special event in a 1955 pink, neon-lit Cadillac, and does weddings, receptions, birthdays, conventions, grand openings, and so on. For all your Elvis impersonator needs, call 702/588-8188, or visit his website at www.vegaselvis.com.
1.It’s the only place in the world where Elvis will marry you, at a drive-up window, in a pink Cadillac—24 hours a day.
2.Chances are, you’ll never forget your anniversary.
3.Where else can you treat all your guests to a wedding buffet for only 99¢ a head?
4.Four words: One helluva bachelor party.
5.On your wedding night, show your spouse that new “watch me disappear” act you learned from Siegfried & Roy.
6.Show your parents who’s boss—have your wedding your way.
7.Wedding bells ring for you everywhere you go. They just sound like slot machines.
8.You can throw dice instead of rice.
9.It’s easy to lie about your age on the marriage certificate—just like Joan Collins did!
10. With all the money you save, it’s dice clocks for everyone!
Chapel of the Flowers This chapel’s claim to fame is that Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra exchanged their deathless vows here—but don’t hold it against the place. They offer full services from photos to flowers, and more, with three chapels to choose from. The La Capella Chapel fits 50 and has a rustic Tuscan feel, with wood pews and frosted-glass sconces. The Victorian chapel, which holds only 30, has white walls and dark-wood pews and doesn’t look very Victorian at all—but as the plainest, it’s also the nicest. The smallest is the Magnolia Chapel, done in simple white marble with a free-standing arch. If you want an outdoor vow exchange, you might choose the gazebo by a running stream and waterfall that nearly drowns out the Strip noise. There’s also a medium-size reception room and live organ music upon request, plus Internet streaming of services is available for those of you who have second thoughts about not inviting the family to your vows. It’s a pretty, friendly place, owned by the same family for more than 50 years. It does not allow rice or confetti throwing.
1717 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at E. Oakey Blvd.). www.littlechapel.com. 800/843-2410 or 702/735-4331. Mon–Thurs 7am–8pm; Fri–Sat 7am–9pm.
Graceland Wedding Chapel Housed in a landmark building that’s one of the oldest wedding chapels in Vegas, the Graceland bills itself as “the proverbial mom and pop outfit.” No, Elvis never slept here, but one of the owners was friends with Elvis and asked his permission to use the name. This is a tiny New England church building with a small bridge and white picket fence out front. Inside is a 30-seat chapel; the walls are off-white, with a large, modern, stained-glass window of doves and roses behind the pulpit. It’s not the nicest of the chapels, but Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Ray Cyrus got married here (though not to each other). Naturally, an Elvis package is available.
619 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at E. Bonneville Ave.). www.gracelandchapel.com. 800/824-5732 or 702/382-0091. Daily 9am–11pm.
Little Church of the West Built in 1942 on the grounds of the Frontier, this gorgeous traditional chapel has been moved three times in its history and has hosted weddings for everyone from Judy Garland to Angelina Jolie. Elvis even got married here, at least on film—the building played the backdrop for his nuptials to Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas. There are rich wood walls, ceiling, and pews; stained-glass windows; and a traditional steeple amongst the well-landscaped grounds, making it a really lovely option for those looking to walk down the aisle.
4617 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Russell Rd.). www.littlechurchlv.com. 800/821-2452 or 702/739-7971. Daily 8am–11pm.
Little White Wedding Chapel This is arguably the most famous of the chapels on the Strip, maybe because there is a big sign saying Michael Jordan and Joan Collins were married here (again, not to each other), maybe because they were the first to do the drive-up window, or maybe because this is where Britney and what’s-his-name began their 51 hours of wedded bliss (no, we will never, ever get tired of mocking that bit of bad decision making). There are four separate chapels plus a drive-thru (allegedly the first of its kind), and an outdoor gazebo. It’s all fine, but it has a factory-line atmosphere, processing wedding after wedding all day. Move ’em in and move ’em out. If you want something special, there are probably better choices.
1301 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. E. Oakey and Charleston blvds). www.alittlewhitechapel.com. 800/545-8111 or 702/382-5943. Daily 8am–midnight.
A Special Memory Wedding Chapel This is absolutely the place to go if you want a traditional, big-production wedding; you won’t feel it the least bit tacky. It’s a New England church–style building, complete with steeple. The interior looks like a proper church (well, a plain one—don’t think ornate Gothic cathedral), with a peaked roof, pews with padded red seats, modern stained-glass windows of doves and flowers, and lots of dark wood. It’s all very clean and new and seats about 87 comfortably. There is a short staircase leading to an actual bride’s room; she can make an entrance coming down it or through the double doors at the back. The area outside the chapel is like a mini-mall of bridal paraphernalia stores. Should all this just be too darned nice and proper for you, they also offer a drive-up window. They have a photo studio on-site and will do receptions featuring a small cake, cold cuts, and champagne. There’s a gazebo for outside weddings, and they sell T-shirts!
800 S. 4th St. (at Gass Ave.). www.aspecialmemory.com. 800/962-7798 or 702/384-2211. Sun–Thurs 8am–10pm; Fri–Sat 8am–midnight.
Viva Las Vegas Weddings Yes, you could come to Las Vegas and have a traditional wedding in a tasteful chapel where you walk down the aisle to a kindly minister. But wouldn’t you rather literally ride into the chapel in the back of a pink Cadillac and get married by Elvis? Or wade in through dry ice fog while Dracula performs your ceremony? Or float in from the ceiling a la Cirque du Soleil? This is the mecca of the wacky-themed Vegas wedding, complete with indoor and outdoor spaces, tux and costume rentals, florists, theme rooms for receptions, and a staff of former stage performers who love to put on a show. This is what a Vegas wedding should be like.
1205 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. Charleston and Oakey blvds.). www.vivalasvegasweddings.com. 800/574-4450 or 702/384-0771. Sun–Thurs 9am–9pm; Fri–Sat 8am–10pm.
Wee Kirk O’ the Heather The oldest wedding chapel in Las Vegas (it’s been here since 1940; ah, Vegas, and its mixed-up view of age) it’s the one at the very end of the Strip, right before Downtown (and thus close to the license bureau). It was originally built as a house in 1925 for a local minister, but marriage bureau officials kept sending couples there to get married, and they eventually just gave up and turned it into a chapel. The decor is entirely fresh, and while that means gold-satin-patterned wallpaper in the chapel, we like it a great deal. Just the right balance between kitsch and classic, and that’s what you want in a Vegas wedding chapel. Plus, if there were a competition for the friendliest chapel in town, this one would win hands down.
231 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. Bridger and Carson aves.). www.weekirk.com. 800/843-5266 or 702/382-9830. Daily 10am–8pm.
Bicycle rentals can be arranged through the concierge at most of the major hotels in town. If you’d prefer to do it on your own, check out Las Vegas Cyclery (www.lasvegascyclery.com; 702/596-2953), a rental and tour operator offering everything from street to mountain to tandem bikes and the necessary safety equipment and accessories. Guided tours of Red Rock Canyon, Mount Charleston, and more are also offered. Prices for mountain bike rentals start at around $40 for a half-day and guided tours at around $130.
Boating & Fishing
The bulk of the water-based activities in the area take place at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, located about 20 miles east of Las Vegas. Several harbors offer rentals of power, fishing, and houseboats and personal watercraft. They can also help you with fishing licenses and equipment. For more information, see chapter 9.
See “Fore! Great Desert Golf” on p. 187.
All of the major hotels (and many of the minor ones) have fully stocked gyms on the premises. The size and quality varies, of course, but the bigger resorts have facilities that would make most commercial fitness centers green with envy. Entrance to most is covered by the nightly resort fee, but if the hotel you are staying in doesn’t have one, expect a charge of anywhere from $15 to $35 per day. Several national chains, including 24 Hour Fitness, have outlets in Las Vegas, and your membership may allow you to use the local branch.
VOWS WITH A WOW
Simply getting married is not a big enough deal for some people. No, they can’t trust that the exchange of vows with the person they love will create memories that will last forever, they have to make sure it is truly memorable by throwing in a volcano, a giant fountain, or maybe even a roller coaster. If you are such a person, Las Vegas has plenty of places to put a little wow into your vows.
If you want to have the iconic dancing waters as a backdrop, you can get married on a balcony overlooking the Bellagio Fountains at Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.bellagio.com/weddings; 702/693-7700). As you might expect, it ain’t cheap, but you can time your “I do” to the fountains’ big climax.
An almost aerial view of the fountains is available across the street from the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.parislv.com; 877/650-5021). You can get married on the observation deck at the top of the tower replica. Similar wow-worthy vistas are available at the world’s tallest observation wheel, High Roller, 3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S. ( 800/CAESARS).
An even higher view is available at the top of the Stratosphere Las Vegas, 2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.chapelintheclouds.com; 800/789-9436). Their chapels overlook the city from more than 100 stories up, or you can get married on the indoor or outdoor observation decks. They even have packages that will include the thrill rides, so you can take the plunge both metaphorically and literally.
Adrenaline junkies can also join in holy matrimony while zooming along at nearly 70 mph on the roller coaster at New York–New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.newyorknewyork.com; 702/740-6616).
If you want to add a little fire to the festivities, try getting married in front of the volcano at The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (www.mirage.com; 702/791-7155). You can have the ceremony during the day, or at night when the thing is all lava-riffic.
Finally, several of the city’s most popular museums offer themed wedding packages with very interesting backdrops, including The Mob Museum (p. 161) and The Neon Museum (p. 161).
We consider the length you have to walk between hotels on the Strip, or from your room to the front door enough of a hike, but if you are looking for something more traditional, the Red Rock Canyon and Mount Charleston areas have numerous hiking trails. For more information, see chapter 9.
Looking to indulge your inner cowboy/girl? There are several stables and horseback-tour companies in town, most of which are located near Red Rock Canyon and Mount Charleston. For more information, see chapter 9.
The SoBe Ice Arena at the Fiesta Rancho, 2400 N. Rancho Rd. (http://fiestarancho.sclv.com; 702/631-7000), features an NHL regulation–size rink and offers daily open skating hours, lessons, and equipment rental. Public skating times vary from week to week based on the schedules of the various hockey leagues that use the facility; usually the rink is open for at least a couple of hours every afternoon and after 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights, which is when a DJ and nightclub-worthy lighting may help mask the sound and sight of you falling down a lot.
During the holiday season, the Cosmopolitan transforms its pool into an outdoor skating rink, complete with faux snow, hot cocoa vendors (with an option to add a little booze for extra warmth) and occasional Olympic skaters, like U.S. Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton.
Skiing & Snowboarding
See information about the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort in the Mt. Charleston section of chapter 9.
Part of the delight of the Vegas resort complexes is the gorgeous pools—what could be better for beating the summer heat? But there are pools and there are pools, so you’ll need to keep several things in mind when searching for the right one for you.
During the winter, it’s often too cold or windy to do much lounging, and even if the weather is amenable, the hotels often close part of their pool areas during winter and early spring. Also, the pools are not heated, for the most part—but in fairness, they largely don’t need to be.
Most hotel pools are shallow, chest-high at best, only about 3 feet deep in many spots (the hotels want you gambling, not swimming). Diving is impossible—not that a single pool allows it anyway.
And finally, during those hot days, be warned that sitting by pools next to heavily windowed buildings such as the Mirage and Treasure Island allows you to experience the same thing a bug does under a magnifying glass with a sun ray directed on it. Regardless of time of year, be sure to slather on the sunscreen; there’s a reason you see so many unhappy lobster-red people roaming the streets. Many pool areas don’t offer much in the way of shade.
At any of the pools, you can rent a cabana (which often includes a TV, special lounge chairs, and even better—poolside service), but these should be reserved as far in advance as possible, and, with the exception of the Four Seasons’ complimentary shaded lounging area, most cost a hefty fee. If you are staying at a chain hotel, you will most likely find an average pool, but if you want to spend some time at a better one, be aware that most of the casino-hotel pool attendants will ask to see your room key. If they are busy, you might be able to sneak in, or at least blend in with a group ahead of you.
Tennis used to be a popular pastime in Vegas, but these days, buffs only have a couple of choices at hotels in town that have courts. Bally’s ( 702/967-4598) has eight night-lit hard courts. Fees start at $20 per hour per court for guests of Bally’s or Paris Las Vegas and $25 per hour for nonguests, with rackets available for rental. Facilities include a pro shop. Hours vary seasonally. Reservations are advised. The Westgate Las Vegas ( 702/732-5009) has six outdoor hard courts (four night-lit) and a pro shop. It’s open to the public but hours vary seasonally. Rates are $20 per hour for guests and $25 per hour for nonguests. Lessons are available. Reservations required.
FORE! GREAT DESERT GOLF
In addition to the listings below, there are dozens of local courses, including some very challenging ones that have hosted PGA tournaments. Note: Greens fees vary radically depending on time of day and year. Also, call for opening and closing times, because these change frequently. Because of the heat, you will want to take advantage of the cart that in most cases is included in the greens fee.
Angel Park Golf Club This 36-hole, par-70/71 public course is a local favorite. Arnold Palmer originally designed the Mountain and Palm courses. (The Palm Course was redesigned several years later by Bob Cupp.) Players call this a great escape from the casinos, claiming that no matter how many times they play it, they never get tired of it. The Palm Course has gently rolling fairways that offer golfers of all abilities a challenging yet forgiving layout. The Mountain Course has rolling natural terrain and gorgeous panoramic views. Facilities include a pro shop, night-lit driving range, 18-hole putting course, restaurant, cocktail bar, snack bar, and more.
100 S. Rampart Blvd. (btw. Summerlin Pkwy. and Alta St., 20 min. NW of the Strip). www.angelpark.com. 888/446-5358 or 702/254-4653. Greens fees $65–$125. Internet specials available.
Arroyo Golf Club Also designed by Arnold Palmer, this 18-hole, par-72 course is one of the more scenic in town owing to its location nestled along Red Rock Canyon. Stunning mountains on one side and Las Vegas in the distance on the other side; what more could you want? Well, you get a challenging (but not insanity-inducing) course that will keep all but the most competitive of golfers entertained. Facilities include a pro shop, night-lit driving range, 18-hole putting course, restaurant, cocktail bar, snack bar, and more.
2250 C Red Springs Dr. (just west of the 215, 25 min. NW of the Strip). www.thearroyogolfclub.com. 866/934-4653 or 702/258-3200. Greens fees $77–$189.
Bali Hai Golf Club One of the most exclusive golf addresses belongs to this multimillion-dollar course on the Strip, just south of Mandalay Bay. Done in a wild South Seas theme, the par-72 course has over 7 acres of water features, including an island green, palm trees, and tropical foliage everywhere you look. Not impressed yet? How about the fact that all their golf carts are equipped with GPS? Okay, if that doesn’t convince you of the upscale nature of the joint, check out the greens fees. Even at those prices, premium tee times are often booked months in advance. Among the many facilities are a pro shop, putting green, gourmet restaurant, grill, and lounge.
5150 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.balihaigolfclub.com. 888/427-6678. Greens fees $99–$395.
Just about every hotel in town has a tour desk offering a seemingly infinite number of sightseeing opportunities in and around Las Vegas. You’re sure to find a tour company that will take you where you want to go. For example, Gray Line (www.grayline.com; 800/634-6579) offers a rather comprehensive roster, including the following:
A pair of 5- to 6-hour city tours (day or night) with various itineraries, including visits to Ethel M Chocolates and the Fremont Street Experience
Half-day excursions to Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon
A half-day tour to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam
Several full-day Grand Canyon excursions
Call for details or inquire at your hotel’s tour desk, where you’ll also find free magazines with coupons for discounts on these tours.
Bear’s Best Las Vegas Golf legend Jack Nicklaus has designed hundreds of courses around the world, but here he has taken 18 of his favorite holes and put them all together in one delightfully challenging package. From courses in Mexico to Montana and back again, the bunkers, water features, and traps have all been faithfully re-created, giving you an opportunity to try the best of “The Bear.” Facilities include a pro shop, putting green, restaurant (with Nicklaus memorabilia), and clubhouse.
11111 W. Flamingo Rd. www.clubcorp.com. 702/804-8500. Greens fees $79–$259.
Las Vegas National Golf Club This 18-hole, par-71 public course is one of the most historic in town. Built in 1961, it was at various times associated with, or run by, the Stardust, Sahara, and the Las Vegas Hilton. Yes, the Rat Pack played here, and you can, too. The course itself is classically designed (not the desert layout that most in Vegas have), and although it’s not the most challenging in town, it will keep you entertained. Facilities include a pro shop, driving range, restaurant, cocktail lounge, and golf school.
1911 Desert Inn Rd. (btw. Maryland Pkwy. and Eastern Ave.). www.lasvegasnational.com. 866/695-1961. Greens fees $39–$129.
Rio Secco Golf Club You don’t have to be staying at the Rio Suites (or another Caesars Entertainment property) to play this gorgeous 18-hole course, but you get preferred tee times and discounts if you do. Set in the foothills of the mountains overlooking Las Vegas, the views are incredible and the course, designed by Rees Jones, is one of the most in demand in town. Facilities include a pro shop, driving range, restaurant, and bar.
2851 Grand Hills Dr., Henderson. www.riosecco.net. 702/777-2400. Greens fees $79–$219.
TPC Las Vegas Justin Timberlake has held his charity golf tournament at this course, so if it’s good enough for him, it should be good enough for you, right? Luckily the sexy-back guy has good taste, as this scenic course, which follows the arroyos and plateaus of the terrain, is also a favorite of the PGA. That should tell you there are no windmills or clown’s mouths here. It’s a very challenging course, so bring your A game. Facilities include a pro shop, driving range, restaurant, clubhouse, and golf school.
9851 Canyon Run Dr. www.tpc.com. 702/256-2500. Greens fees $69–$249.
Wynn Las Vegas Golf Club Before Mr. Wynn came along and bulldozed the legendary Desert Inn Golf Club, he rescued a bunch of the landscaping and then reinstalled it here on his elegant 18-hole, par-70 course behind Wynn Las Vegas. The facility is as gorgeous as you would expect it to be, with waterfalls, lush foliage, and stunning greens designed by the acclaimed Thomas Fazio. It ain’t cheap, but many golfers say it is totally worth it. Note that it is only open to guests of Wynn or Encore. Facilities include a pro shop, driving range, putting green, and food service.
At Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.wynnlasvegas.com. 888/320-7122. Greens fees $300 and up.
Most of the major resorts in Las Vegas have spa facilities that range from pretty basic (sauna, Jacuzzi, some treatment rooms for massages) to extravagant (is that a rock climbing wall?), but many are only available to guests of the hotels in which they are located.
The spas that follow all have hours during which they are open to the general public. Those hours change seasonally and sometimes even weekly based on hotel guest demand, so call ahead or visit the websites.
Aquae Sulis Spa The centerpiece here is the “Ritual,” a series of dunks and soaks in cold, warm, hydrotherapy, and floating pools, some of which are outside in a gorgeously landscaped grotto. It’s totally unique and worth the 20-minute drive from the Strip.
At the JW Marriott, 221 N. Rampart Blvd. (at Summerlin Pkwy.). www.jwlasvegasresort.com. 877/869-8777. Massage and treatments $70–$215.
Canyon Ranch SpaClub The largest spa in Las Vegas has more than 130,000-square-feet worth of treatment rooms, workout facilities, and even a rock climbing wall. Although they do a good job of keeping things relatively peaceful, the sheer size of the place and the number of people who visit may inhibit your relaxation efforts. Note that prices are more expensive on the weekends, so go on a weekday if you can.
At The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.canyonranch.com/lasvegas. 877/220-2688. Massage and treatments $50–$355.
Las Vegas is one of the favorite cities in the world for bowlers of all levels, with several huge alleys offering everything from regular bowling to rock-’n’-roll-style action.
The Strip got its first serious bowling alley in 2014 at Brooklyn Bowl, 3545 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at the LINQ; 702/862-2695). The 32-lane facility has two floors of state-of-the-art scoring from Brunswick, swank couches at the lanes instead of hard plastic seats, and high-definition projection screens over the alleys. Be warned that the nice surroundings come with a high price ($25 and up per lane per hour). It’s open Sunday through Thursday from 11am until 2am and Friday and Saturday until 4am.
Gold Coast Bowling Center, 4000 W. Flamingo Rd. (at Valley View; 702/367-7111), has a 70-lane bowling center; open daily 24 hours.
The Orleans Bowling Center, 4500 W. Tropicana Ave. ( 702/365-7400), has 70 lanes, a pro shop, lockers, meeting rooms, and more; open daily 24 hours.
Red Rock Lanes, 11011 W. Charleston Ave. ( 702/797-7467), is a luxury bowling center with 72 lanes, plasma TVs, and VIP suites where you can pick your own music and get bottle service. It’s open Monday through Thursday from 8am until 2am, and 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays.
Santa Fe Station Bowling Center, 4949 N. Rancho Rd. ( 702/658-4995), has a 60-lane alley with the most modern scoring equipment, new furnishings, a fun and funky bar, a small cafe, and much more. Open Sunday through Thursday 7am until midnight, and Friday and Saturday 7am until 1am.
Sam’s Town Bowling Center, 5111 Boulder Hwy. ( 702/456-7777), offers 56 lanes plus a snack shop, cocktail lounge, video arcade, day-care center, pro shop, and more. It’s open daily 24 hours.
South Point Bowling Center, 9777 Las Vegas Blvd. ( 702/797-8080), has a 64-lane facility with a similar divided layout to its sister at Suncoast (see below). It has all the latest gee-whiz scoring and automation, plus the usual facilities, and is open 24 hours. A separate $30-million, 60-lane facility designed to host pro-bowling tournaments should be open by the time you read this.
Strike Zone at Sunset Station, 1301 W. Sunset Rd., in Henderson ( 702/547-7467), has a high-tech, 72-lane facility with all the latest automated scoring gizmos, giant video screens, a full bar, a snack shop, a pro shop, a video arcade, and more. It’s open daily 24 hours.
Suncoast Bowling Center, 9090 Alta Dr., in Summerlin ( 702/636-7111), offers 64 lanes divided by a center aisle. The high-tech center with touch-screen scoring has become a regular stop on the Pro Bowlers tours. It’s open daily 24 hours.
Texas Star Lanes, 2101 Texas Star Lane ( 702/631-8128), offers a 60-lane alley, video arcade, billiards, a snack bar and lounge, and more. It’s open daily 24 hours.
Qua Baths & Spa Check out the Environment rooms at this lavishly designed spa, which include the Arctic Ice room complete with snow showers and a Roman Baths section that would make Caesar proud. Treatments and massages are not cheap, but the spa faithful say this is one of the best in town.
At Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.caesarspalace.com. 866/782-0655. Massage and treatments $185–$650.
Red Rock Resort Adventure Spa The facility has the requisite spa accoutrement—a Zen-like space, massages, facials, sauna, and so on—but it’s the “Adventure” part of the program that makes it truly unique. Capitalizing on the hotel’s location on the edge of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservancy Area, the spa offers horseback riding, river rafting, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, biking, and more. Go get a great outdoors workout and then come back for a massage to soothe your aches and pains.
At Red Rock Resort, 11011 W. Charleston Ave. (at I-215). www.redrocklasvegas.com. 866/328-9270. Massage and treatments $90–$285.
Spa at Bellagio The surroundings are luxe and the staff is so soothingly attentive that you just know it’s going to cost you a fortune to get worked on here—but it’s totally worth it. Few other spas in town will make you feel so richly pampered.
At Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.bellagio.com. 702/693-7472. Massage and treatments $95–$350.
Spa at Encore By far the most beautifully designed spa in Las Vegas, the Moroccan garden decor is at once breathtaking and calming. Your bill can get shocking really fast, but one walk down the lantern-lit treatment room hallway will make all your cares melt away.
At Encore Las Vegas, 3121 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.encorelasvegas.com. 702/770-4772. Massage and treatments $85–$750.