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Vegas: the Good
Having lived in Vegas for a while now, I thought I'd share my observations with all. Let me mention that I have lived in Ohio, Chicago, and Los Angeles, so I have a good basis of comparison..
I love the Las Vegas area. No other town has so much to offer. I do more unique things here in a month than I typically did in a year in Chicago. This town has the highest "bang for the buck" of any place in the country. Additionally, it is extremely "hassle-free". No parking hassles or costs. Despite some traffic complaints, one can typically go from anywhere in the valley to anywhere else in 30 minutes or less. Entertainment is basically free. One can get good food 24/7; in fact the best food specials are late night. As an example of how to spend a week off, here is what I did with friends:
Summerlin Excursion: Head West on Charleston to Red Rock Canyon. Bring Branch Whitney's book on hiking with you. You will be amazed at how majestic the views are in the 13 mile circular Red Rock drive. But that's not where the real play is. Bring your backpack and lots of water and take two hours to climb one of the striking Calico Hills peaks (600 feet elevation gain from 4000 to 4600) for a majestic far off view of Downtown Vegas and most of the Strip. It's easy to get temporarily lost in the Sandstone mounds, and the hike does require you to be in decent shape, but it's a great way to spend a stress-free half day. For a full day excursion go further on the trail to White Rock Creek, and hike the 6.5 mile loop around the mountain and see a green valley behind with pine trees. Or trek into Pine Creek Canyon, Ice Box Canyon, or towards the Rainbow Wall. Warning: You will want to do this before June, since it heats up too much in the summer. Upon finishing, drive back to the Suncoast and play half an hour of blackjack to get a buffet for two (comps are easy there). The buffet is inexpensive and excellent. Basic Strategy for buffets: Two plates only, and the first plate should be fruits and veggies. Then go get the good stuff, but one plate only. Top off the meal by driving down the street to Angel Park golf facility and play the super fun 18-hole desert putting course. If you can score in the 40s you are a better player than me. It's lighted, and the best time is at sunset as you can see Vegas lit up. Go home and clean up, and if you are lucky enough to have tickets, go see "O" at Bellagio. I've seen many of the other major shows, and I almost always say "overrated". Not so here. This is a brilliant show that you will remember for the rest of your life. Most of the seats are good, but I do suggest you get seats not in the far back. Basic Strategy for the ticketless: Go to the O box office at 9:30 and have one in your party wait in line for the 10:30 show hoping for cancellations. Rotate your party so only one person has to wait at a time. Others can wong into blackjack games.
Golf Day. Basic Strategy is to find the best course with reasonable rates. My vote is for Badlands twilight rate. This is a GREAT course that you will remember playing forever. Just be sure you can keep the ball reasonably in play. If you are a hack, this target course will eat dozens of your balls. For residents, the Paiute courses are great, but they are too expensive for non-residents. For breakfast, the best unhealthy food in town is, IMO, the Original Pancake House in Green Valley Ranch. Basic Strategy? Split one omelet. Believe me, it serves two. Park on the top floor of the garage and check out the view of the valley. Need to practice your game the day before? Go just south of Mandalay Bay on Las Vegas Boulevard, and hit off the grass practice tee area at Callaway Golf. Want some good cheap eats that night? Take in Terrible’s 4.99 Steak special (yum), Gold Coast's 7.99 Texas T-Bone (great), Ellis Island's 4.95 Steak (Warning: Karaoke starts at 9pm!). Avoid the temptation to eat at the "famous" Vegas eateries. IMO, they are overrated. You will get the same value from the expensive eateries back home.
Best Non-Casino Happy Hour: Go to McCormick and Schmick’s on Flamingo, just four blocks East of Las Vegas Blvd. $1.99 for a big cheeseburger and fries, and many other great appetizers 3:30 to 6:30.
General Fitness. It seems the average American is getting bigger and bigger even without comped meals. If you are going to take advantage of Vegas's good deals, it is important you also get real exercise. Stay somewhere with a gym, and use it in the am. Or, if you can get in, visit Club Sport on Sunset Road, near Barley’s, just behind the TGIF. IMO, this is the best gym in the city. Stay in a hotel which has a pool with a few roped off swim lanes. Hit the pool, but don't just sit out there. Jump in and do some laps. The Mirage is a great spot, since they have aqua aerobics as well. Don't laugh......you can get a good workout from it! For those who enjoyed Red Rock Canyon, head out to Mount Charleston. Park at 7600 feet, and hike an hour and 1000 feet up to Cathedral Peak for a great view. Or for the really fit, head up the South Loop Trail that goes all the way to 11,900 foot Mt. Charleston (not fully passable until as late as July. What's great is that Mt. Charleston hikes at 8000+ feet become viable just when Red Rock is too hot at 4500 feet.
Basic Fitness Strategy: Avoid the "Spa Fitness Treatments" that are typically too expensive and purport to be huge stress reducers. Spend the day hiking or working out, and it will do more good than any trumped up Spa Treatment or Massage. After working out, be sure your hotel pool has a Jacuzzi, and take advantage of it for free.
Where to Gamble (for show comps): I'm not going to give the SCORE of every game, but it's a good idea to play at Rio/Harrah’s enough to become a Platinum member. Why? Well it gets you a short preferred line and 15% discount to the Rio Buffet (good), and admission into the Rio Club (good). Also, the Rio gives away its shows to good customers and they are all good. Also, the Rio has a GREAT view of Vegas at the Voodoo Lounge. BASIC STRATEGY: No cover/No line up to 8:00. Go up, and head right outside to the view from the platform on the 51st floor. Dining Basic Strategy: The Rio's restaurants are good and expensive, but a good play is the Voodoo Cafe (50th floor) with its great views. Go before 8:00, and have soup and salad (both reasonable.....avoid the sucker entrees at $25 for small portions). Eat 8-9, and then just walk up to the club one floor (no cover on the stairway). Another thing I like about the Rio is its large suite-only rooms that three can stay in, and the fact one can walk over to the Gold Coast to eat in its coffee shop for a relaxed meal.
A vote for the Palms: They have a great view from their Ghost Bar; the place is pretty cool with a neat central bar, and the Mexican restaurant, Gardunos, is good. One order of Fajitas serves two, and is delicious.
Downtown Stuff: See the downtown Fremont Street show while you are there, grab a .99 shrimp cocktail at Golden Gate, and have a meal in the elegant Golden Nugget Coffee Shop. For a great romantic dinner be sure to get to Hugo's in the Four Queens.
Best Place for a Bachelor Party? Spearmint Rhino. Basic Strategy: Say "no" to at least the first three ladies that ask to talk to you, and say "no" at all times to any lady that either 1) Leads with, "Want a dance?" or 2) Asks, "Can I interest you in going into the back room?"
Best casinos to just stroll around late at night? I vote for Mandalay Bay and Bellagio. What a collection of interesting people! The one negative....if she is pretty, smiles at you and says hello, you are likely playing at a $300 minimum table, even if you are not near any blackjack game.
Funnest Casino Comp? I like getting comped to the theatres. Go to the Palms or the Orleans or Suncoast, and play a little and get comped to the movies. Only in Vegas!
Fezzik's Warning to frequent Vegas Visitors: Many (most) Vegas residents are in terrible shape and health. Wander through the locals' joints like Arizona Charlie’s and check out the people. I'm not sure if I can prove any causality, but it is terrifying to see the general fitness/health level of the average gambler. The one part of Vegas that I don't like, interestingly, are the gamblers. The good news is that these customers are what are subsidizing advantage players, and they serve as an excellent warning to avoid a life style that is fraught with negative expectation. Don't ignore them. Study them. Then go buy some swim trunks, a workout outfit, some hiking gear, and cut your blackjack time down from twelve to six hours a day and make a play to get into the long run.....your body, not your blackjack winnings!