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Gary Trask – Top 10 Las Vegas trip tips

First things first: My title is managing editor at Casino City, not Fodors, Travel + Leisure or TripAdvisor.com. I’m not a travel expert, nor do I play one on TV.

I have, however, spent my fair share of time in Las Vegas over the last decade, both for business and pleasure. I’ve made mistakes, stumbled upon some hidden gems, and regretted not getting to a certain area on a certain trip. Like any vacation, local knowledge and past experience are essential, especially when attacking a city as diverse and sprawling as Las Vegas, Nevada.

So, I’m certain that the trip tips found below are well-researched and authentic, and will be valuable in some way the next time you visit Sin City, especially if you are a rookie.

Everyone has different reasons and agendas for booking a trip to Las Vegas, but no matter what your motive may be, these 10 tips will help save you time and money, and may even guide you toward something you didn’t expect to see during your stay.

The Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas is well worth the trip.

The Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas is well worth the trip. (photo by Wiki Creative Commons)

10. Leave the kids home
Look, I love (most) kids. I have three of my own. But they don’t belong in Las Vegas. There’s a reason why it’s called the “Adult Disneyland.” The “real” Disneyland is for kids. Sin City is not. So, do everyone a favor and leave your little blessings home the next time you come to Las Vegas. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did.

9. Wrap your trip around a big event
The event calendar in Las Vegas is packed 365 days a year with concerts, sporting events and shows for people of all shapes and sized. Why not enhance your visit by making one of these events the central part and primary reason for your trip, and add in all of the other shenanigans as an added bonus? And for sports bettors, the “big event” doesn’t even have to be held in Las Vegas, as the city is an ideal destination for the Super Bowl, March Madness, Kentucky Derby or another signature event on the sports calendar.

8. Utilize player’s cards
Even if you aren’t a big player or you don’t plan on spending multiple hours at the tables, you should spend the extra 10 to 15 minutes and get yourself a player’s card at any resort-casino you spend an extended period of time in.

Many of them are preloaded with free offers or free play money, and since the bulk of casinos in Las Vegas are now owned by a short list of operators, one card will work at multiple properties. For instance, your M life Rewards Card is good at all MGM Resorts International casinos, like Bellagio, Aria Resort & Casino, Vdara, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, The Mirage, New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Monte Carlo Las Vegas Resort & Casino, Luxor Hotel and Casino, Excalibur Hotel and Casino and Circus Circus Hotel Casino – Las Vegas, as well as all the restaurants, bars and amenities associated with them.

You’ll get credit for every dollar you spend or gamble, and when you get home, you’ll receive special offers and updates via e-mail.

7. Take advantage of Happy Hours and free attractions
Las Vegas can be expensive, but there are also plenty of entertaining “only-in-Vegas” attractions that are free and conveniently located, and bars and restaurants up and down The Strip offer value-laden deals and Happy Hours.

A few of our favorite attractions include the Bellagio water fountains, which are displayed approximately every half-hour during the day and every 15 minutes at night (best vantage point is the pedestrian bridge at Bally’s, or sitting inside the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas), the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium inside The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, the Conservatory and Lake of Dreams inside Wynn Las Vegas, and The Fremont Street Experience (see No. 4 on this list for more details).

As for Happy Hours and drink specials, The Mirage, one of my favorite casinos, has 2-for-1 cocktails available at The Lobby Bar, Mon.-Thur., from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. Beerhaus, located in The Park — the newly opened outdoor entertainment district just off The Strip featuring the T-Mobile Arena — charges just $4 for brews and selected menu items (the chicken sandwich is excellent) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Casino Royale, located between Harrah’s Las Vegas Casino & Hotel and The Venetian Las Vegas, has $1 beers, 24 hours a day. The good news: It’s the cheapest beer in Vegas. The bad news? It’s Michelob Ultra.

The water show outside the Bellagio is a show-stopper for people walking along the Las Vegas Strip.

The water show outside the Bellagio is a show-stopper for people walking along the Las Vegas Strip. (photo by Wiki Creative Commons)

6. Dress the part
No matter what time of year you visit Las Vegas, it’s crucial to pack the correct clothes and footwear. Just because you’re going in July when it’s going to close to 100 degrees every day, that doesn’t mean you don’t bring a light jacket or sweater. The casinos are typically a bit chilly, and you’ll also need that extra layer during other times of the year (specifically November through April) when the temperature will drop into the 50s or lower at night. And your feet will thank you if you wear comfortable shoes or sneakers at all times. You will do a lot more walking while in Las Vegas than you do at home or while on other vacations (much more on this later in the column), so be prepared.

5. Don’t rent a car
There’s really no need to rent a car for your trip to Vegas, unless you are staying at a resort that’s a good distance off The Strip, like Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa, The M or Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino. Take advantage of Uber and Lyft and the “free ride” deals they offer to new customers. Once you download those apps on your phone, there’s really no reason to ever stand in line for a taxi ever again.

There are also other forms of public transportation that are handy, reliable, clean and free of charge when trying to get around The Strip area. The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino has two shuttles that run every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. to sister properties Paris Las Vegas/Bally’s – Las Vegas and Harrah’s Las Vegas. There is also a monorail that runs between Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and Excalibur and The Mirage and Treasure Island that can save you time and money.

4. Hit Downtown Las Vegas
Downtown Las Vegas is definitely worth making a visit to during your stay. Whether it’s staying a night or two, or just heading down there for a night, you’ll enjoy the “old school” feel of old haunts like Binion’s Gambling Hall & Hotel, Four Queens Hotel and Casino and California Hotel & Casino, and the newly upgraded restaurants and amenities at The D Las Vegas, Golden Nugget – Las Vegas, Plaza Hotel and Casino and Downtown Grand Las Vegas.

The entire Fremont Experience is like a big party every night with live music, open air bars and street performers, and the Viva Vision light show will absolutely stop you in your tracks. The 1,500-foot long, 90-foot wide video screen is suspended 90 feet above the pedestrian mall on Fremont Street and, using 12.5 million LED lamps, the six-minute shows run every hour, every day from around 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Each show features a different iconic musical act, such as The Who, Kiss, Bon Jovi or Imagine Dragons, and they are mesmerizing.

3. Don’t underestimate distance
While the use of public transportation is encouraged, we also urge you to do some walking when in Las Vegas (as you’ll see in tip No. 2), but when doing so, be sure to be aware of just how far apart the casinos are and just how vast the resorts are. You can easily get lost inside Caesars or Bellagio because they are so massive, and it will likely take you much longer to get from your room to the Uber pick-up spot than you think.

And although it may seem like you can reach out and touch the top of the red and blue illuminated Rio when you come out of The Palazzo, that walk is treacherous and will take you close to 40 minutes. Don’t do it.

Wynn Las Vegas is one of the "must-visits" during a stroll down The Strip.

Wynn Las Vegas is one of the “must-visits” during a stroll down The Strip. (photo by Wiki Creative Commons)

2. Learn how to “walk” The Strip, and then go ahead and walk it
This may sound crazy, but there’s an art to maneuvering the Las Vegas Strip — certain “do’s and don’ts” that are absolutely vital.

First off, pay no attention to the “porn panderers” that incessantly try to hand you cards for escort services or strip clubs. No need to be rude to them, but also you shouldn’t feel bad for just blowing by the dude wearing a fluorescent t-shirt that says “Orgasm Clinic” on it, without providing an explanation for why you don’t need or desire the services his employer is offering.

In addition to these fine people promoting the adult industry, there will also be numerous spots along The Strip where people dressed as everything from Elvis to Las Vegas Showgirls and Batman to The Smurfs will try to entice you to take pictures with them. But before doing so, be forewarned they are going to ask for a fee, or at least a $5 to $10 tip. These folks aren’t out there out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re trying to make a living.

Also, the actual road is for vehicles and vehicles only. So don’t jaywalk (you could get fined or, even worse, hit and/or killed), and stay away any areas that look sketchy, especially after dark (you won’t get fined, but the other alternative is a possibility).

Now, after you’ve mastered the above rules, here is the most efficient way to cover the Las Vegas Strip and experience one of the best “people-watching” destinations on the world. Start at one end of The Strip, grab an adult beverage and make your way into as many casinos as you can, sitting down for a drink, an appetizer or a spin of the roulette wheel. Hit up some of the attractions or deals highlighted in tip No. 7. Take in the scenery. While out on the sidewalks, marvel at and appreciate the crazies that you won’t see once you get home. Buy yourself (or those kids you left home via my friendly advice) a corny Las Vegas souvenir. Stroll through the two newest entertainment districts — The Park and The Linq Hotel & Casino Promenade — that are just off The Strip.

See how far you can go, and then the next day start at the ending point and do it all over again until you’ve covered the entire stretch from Mandalay Bay to Encore Resort. (And this fall, there will be reason to extend that walk to the far north end of The Strip when the Asian-themed Lucky Dragon opens).

This exercise provides a great “feel” for the city, where each casino is located and how they all differ in décor, amenities offered and elaborate (and not-so-elaborate) design. When you get back to the office next week, you’ll be a Las Vegas expert and you’ll know exactly where you want to spend an extended period of time the next time you visit.

1. Do more than just gamble
There is more to Las Vegas than simply gambling. In fact, Strip casinos now collect more than 60% of their revenue from nongaming sources.

Yes, your main objective for coming to town may be to play hours upon hours of blackjack, sit down at a poker table and pull an all-nighter, or spend sunup to sundown inside a sportsbook on an NFL Sunday (been there, done that). But make sure you work some time into your schedule to do other things. Las Vegas is home to some of the best restaurants, pools and spas in the world. There are shows of all flavors for every person. There are roller coaster rides, sky jumps and zip lines. Watch a stunning Las Vegas sunset atop The Stratosphere. My new favorite nongaming activity is Topgolf Las Vegas, which just opened behind MGM Grand in May.

The choices are endless. Make a plan and put it into action. You won’t regret it, and your bankroll (and liver) may thank you.

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