Ah, the City of (Neon) Light. Where to begin? The casinos? The food? Hotels?

It seems logical to start with hotels. If you’re completely new to anything involving Las Vegas, 99% of what you’ll want to see is on a 4 mile part of Las Vegas Boulevard called The Strip. It begins in the south with Luxor, Excalibur, Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand and ends in the north with Stratosphere.

There really is no slow season in Vegas since there are always conventions going on, so when you go is totally dependent on whether or not you can handle the desert in the dead heat of summer. Since it was January when we went, it was actually pretty cold – around 50-60 degrees were the high temperatures. And since 18 of the 25 largest hotels in the world are located on the Strip, there really won’t be a shortage of hotel rooms. So where you stay is dependent on where in the Strip you want to be.

Personally I think anyone’s best option would be to stay somewhere towards the middle of the Strip – around the Las Vegas Boulevard/Flamingo Road intersection. This is where the bulk of the casinos are located anyways, so you can walk to most of them and take a cab to the outliers.

Speaking of cabs, every casino has a taxi stand to pick one up at. They can’t stop and pick you up on the street, so find the closest casino and get one there. There is also the monorail, but it’s not actually on the Strip and is a couple blocks away. I’d just stick with cabs, but that’s me. If you don’t mind the walk, they do offer unlimited 24-hr and 3-day passes on top of single fares.

I’d HIGHLY recommend using the foursquare app on your smartphone. Most, but not all, casinos have specials for checking in. Mostly it’s for free drinks or discounts on the buffets. But if you’re not much of a gambler like myself, cheap or free drinks are a plus. And yes, you can drink as long as you’re playing at a table. Just don’t forget to tip your waitress.

One thing I wish the casinos had more of were low limit tables. Even in old Vegas (Fremont Street) it was hard finding $5 tables. I only budgeted for $100 in case I was unlucky at the tables, and sticking to the low limit tables was my plan to keeping to that budget.

I’d also highly recommend learning about the games before you go if you’re a newbie to gambling. I was looking for a poker table and there are so many different versions of poker! And of course the one version I was looking for – Texas Hold ‘Em – was hard to locate and usually full. We mostly stuck to blackjack, roulette and the occasional slot machine.

One of the few things I had to do in Vegas was the rides at the top of the Stratosphere. I bummed I missed out on the roller coaster they had a few years ago, but the 3 rides they have now are still a lot of fun. It costs $16 to get up to the observation deck, then $12-$13 per ride, or they have packages for both the tower admission and rides. We got the 3 rides and tower admission for $31, so it’s a pretty good bargain. One spins you around on a pendulum off the side of the tower, one is a see-saw/roller coaster hybrid and the third shoots you up into the air. They also have a free-fall/zip-line ride that’s an extra $110. Also, as an aside, the Stratosphere observation deck is a great place to enjoy an evening because it has a great view of the Strip and the sun setting.

My friend that went with me had gotten there the previous evening and he was up $100 at that point, so he wanted to treat us to a really nice dinner. We decided on steaks, since if there’s one kind of food Vegas is famous for, it was steak. After a quick google search, we decided on Delmonico at The Venetian. Whoa baby was that some good steak. The only bummer to the nice restaurants, especially if you’ve never been to one of that caliber before, is that it’s all pretty much á-la-carte. If you want any kind of side to go with your big hunk of delicious beef, you gotta pay for it. My friend who had been there previously said we should get the potato gratin, and I would recommend the same to anyone eating there. We also got the sauteed mushrooms, which were quite yummy as well. Top it all with an excellent wine (we got a Malbec), and it was a very delicious dinner.

While at The Venetian, we did do the gondola ride. It was a fun trip through the shopping area of the casino. I have yet to go to Venice, so I can’t make any comparisons with the real deal, but the “scenery” along the Grand Canal is actually quite nice. The gondoliers enjoy a good song and try to keep things romantic for the couples. Kinda awkward since my travel buddy was a guy, but we weathered it. It was getting late at this point, so we called it a night.

The next day was our grand adventure. We started at the south end with the Luxor and slowly made our way north, stopping at Excalibur and New York New York. We got the buffet at Luxor just to get the experience. I mean, who goes to Vegas without going to a buffet? I’m sure there are bigger and better buffets, but we went with Luxor because it was lunchtime and we were hungry. We played a bit of roulette and moved on to Excalibur. We couldn’t find any tables that struck our fancy so we moved on to New York New York. Now here is where we blew a few hours on blackjack. We were successful finding a table!

I do admit I don’t see the thrill in gambling. To me I just see my money going down the drain, not the thrill of potentially winning more. Call me a realist, I suppose. But if I had to pick a game, it would be blackjack. It’s easy to figure out. I was bummed because we missed out on the roller coaster at New York New York, but there’s always next time.

We walked through almost all of the casinos and played at a few tables as we worked our way up the strip. The day is a wee bit of a blur thanks to those free drinks, but I do remember the show at Treasure Island, the fountain at the Bellagio and finding a pay phone at Caesar’s Palace. Yes, we found the pay-phone “bank” at Caesar’s so we could pretend to be Alan from The Hangover. It’s only one phone and we had to ask a few employees where it was. We finally found one that knew about it and he was just smiling when we asked. He knew what we were up to. The Strip kind of stops abruptly after Treasure Island and The Venetian. You’ve got the Wynn right there, but the next big casino is the last one – Stratosphere.

The next day was our day trip to the Grand Canyon. We purchased our tour from Grand Canyon Tours for $80. It’s pretty much an all-day thing. They have a shuttle that picks you up at your hotel and takes you to Planet Hollywood where the buses leave from. You pick up a breakfast item and a drink then board your bus. There a few tours that the company offers and we took the longest – the South Rim tour. After much deliberation on my behalf we went with the South Rim because I had heard that the South Rim has prettier views than the West Rim tour. With the West Rim tour, you’re not gone as long, but it only takes you to the Hualapai reservation and Skywalk, which is an additional $30 on top of what you paid to get out there. Anyways, the South Rim is absolutely gorgeous. And the bus ride out there isn’t too bad. You make a couple of pit stops for lunch and for gas, you take Route 66 for a bit and there’s lots of pretty scenery to look at along the way. You only spend 2 hours at the canyon, but it’s enough to whet your appetite if you’ve never been. And I learned a valuable tip for when I go back during the summer – the donkey rides are impossible to book. You need to call ahead 2 years before you want to go for reservations.

On the return trip from the canyon we did slow down for a view of the Hoover Dam. Alas, it was dark so you really only saw the lights. If you book through this company I would recommend getting something to eat when you stop for gas on the way back – there is a Subway in the gas station. You do get back into town at a decent hour, though. It was a little after 9, so the night was still young. Seeing as this was our last night in Vegas we hit up the last few casinos that we hadn’t been to yet, like the Flamingo. We also went to Fremont Street to check out “old” Las Vegas and tracked down the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign (hint: it’s south of Luxor). Just a tip – Fremont Street is way out of the way of the Strip. It was $30 one way to get out there!

Will I go back? Of course! I need to ride that roller coaster, after all. The City of Sin may not be as sinful as it was, but it is still a city of decadence. Whether it’s the hotel casinos, the gambling or the food, there is plenty of Vegas to go around. Pick what strikes you as fun and interesting and lose yourself in the City of Neon Lights.

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