Bang for the buck in Las Vegas
Can Sin City be worth it?
Some people hate Las Vegas, some can't live without it. Count me somewhere in between. I've visited many times over the past 20 years, both for work and pleasure, and never fail to enjoy myself.
I try to visit during the twice-yearly retail sales in late July and January for some amazing price reductions. And even if you visit for just a night or two, Vegas is the ideal base to explore the natural wonders of the Southwest.
Everything – the shopping, the nightclubs, the shows, the restaurants, the museums – are within an easy walk of each other, and except in high summer, the weather is pleasant. Plus, unless there's a big convention in town, airfares remain more than reasonable almost any time of year.
1. They're practically giving away luxury hotel rooms. Check this: Published weekday rates of $169 at Wynn Las Vegas, $129 at Bellagio. And where else can you stay at a Four Seasons Resort for $200 per night plus tax, plus get a $100 resort credit? Only in Vegas, baby.
2. You deserve some pampering. The home of the groaning buffet is also a major spa capital. Sophisticated facilities such as the Qua Baths at Caesars and the Bathhouse at Mandalay Bay's THEhotel are a must. Many resorts are discounting spa experiences.
3. Retail therapy. Although Vegas is supposedly all about "gaming," for many it's really all about shopping. Six Louis Vuitton stores within a few blocks of each other? Only in Vegas. The malls attached to the major casinos are a draw but so are the outlet malls, such as the Las Vegas Premium Outlets South and North. If you don't mind leaving the Strip, visit the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas in Primm, Nev. Major price reductions at the end of July and during holiday markdowns. Leave room in your suitcase.
4. It's cheaper than living at home. Did you know that it may be cheaper to move into a Las Vegas hotel than continue paying rent? Based on published rates that start at $24.95 at the Tropicana or $23 per night at Circus Circus (found via hotels.com recently), you're looking at a bill for, say, the month of June, of about $1,350 before taxes. Just think, though – that includes utilities. And daily maid service! A nice pool! 5. Asia without flying to Asia. It seems weird calling Spring Mountain Road – just off the Strip – "Chinatown," seeing as it's really "Asiatown." Name a country or a type of cooking and you should be able to find it. Strong suits are regional Chinese, Japanese (Raku at 5030 Spring Mountain is a must), Korean and Vietnamese, but don't stop there – Las Vegas is packed with Thai restaurants, many of them better than you might be used to back home, unless home is, say, Thailand. Make your first stop Lotus of Siam, for its tasty Northern specialties menu.
6. You'll feel better about not finishing that home-improvement project. You remember how that last trip to, say, Puerto Vallarta, you noticed construction projects at a dead halt, due to lack of funding? My, you said to yourself – that's so strange that they just leave it sitting there. Well, that's Las Vegas these days, both on and off the strip. Check out Echelon at Las Vegas Boulevard and Desert Inn Road, where work stopped months ago on a project that was to include four hotels, including a Delano and a Mondrian, iconic brands dreamed up by Ian Schrager a couple of decades ago. Oh, and what's that construction project towering over the Doge's Palace at The Venetian? Nothing to see here – just a half-finished St. Regis Hotel. Whoops, maybe later!
7. 99-cent 'ritas. The Vegas so many of us grew up loving is back in full force, with the craziest drink deals and some pretty terrific happy hours. Of course, at Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon, at Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, happy hour runs all day, and the margaritas really are just 99 cents. Need something slightly more highbrow? Hit Las Horas Loca at Agave, a classy Mexican restaurant out by the Red Rock Resort. Every day, from precisely 4:05 p.m. to 6:27 p.m., they've got 25-cent tacos and $1 Coronitas (10820 W. Charleston Ave.).
8. It's naturally beautiful. Maybe not Vegas itself, but minutes from town, you can be hiking in Red Rock Canyon, which hasn't cut back on its beauty in these tough times, while just north of the city, there's cool, green Mount Charleston, towering 12,000 feet above the valley floor. Don't forget Death Valley. Or the Grand Canyon. In fact, Vegas is the perfect jumping-off point for a tour of the Southwest's most memorable natural attractions.
9. Don't gamble? See some museums! Such as the Atomic Testing museum, the Erotic Heritage Museum, the Neon Museum, and the recently opened Mob Museum.
10. The shows must go on. The best ones are still going to cost you – the acclaimed Cirque du Soleil show "LOVE" just recently started offering discounts to locals, while for the rest of us, tickets are still running $99 and up. Discounts to "O" at Bellagio? Don't even ask (yet). Still, how about 35 percent off "Criss Angel's Believe" at Luxor? Not shabby. Get the discount at his website – crissangel.com. Also check out one of the Tix4Tonight booths, scattered around town. So maybe Nathan Burton at the Flamingo isn't your first pick, but for 50 percent off the $34 ticket price, you can't fail.
George Hobica is founder of the low-airfare listing site airfarewatchdog.com.