Posts Tagged ‘Las Vegas’


Viva Las Vegas: Student Travel at Its Cheesiest (and Most Fun)

May 26, 2009
Yar! Vegas is a great place to shiver your timbers. Whatever that means.

Yar! Vegas is a great place to shiver your timbers. Whatever that means.

My favorite travel writers are the ones who get off the beaten path and come upon unexpected adventures. I aspire to be a more flexible, spontaneous traveler, even though it means trying to tame the ultra-organized planner side of myself.

It’s because I want to avoid predictable experiences that when I travel, I try to avoid American fast food and eat what the locals eat. I try to see the historical sights and pass on the really gimmicky tourist traps.

But what happens when what the locals eat is American fast food? Or when a whole city is nothing but gimmicky tourist traps?

That’s what I had to think about on my last trip to Las Vegas, where my friend, Canadian Chris, and I celebrated his birthday. It’s not a city with a deep, rich history. Sure, the gangster stuff is interesting, but it’s no Istanbul or Cuzco. And there is no unbeaten path in Vegas, there’s just the Strip. But what a Strip it is.

The whole point of Vegas is to overindulge in everything – food, gambling, entertainment – and go home broke and bloated. In other words, there’s really no classy way to do Vegas, and even if there is, why would you?

Vegas left me with no choice: I was going to be a tourist instead of a traveler for once.

We started with the buffet at the Wynn and I ate about seven desserts. (Good, but I think the Bellagio is better.) We shopped in Planet Hollywood, gambled in Paris and grabbed a snack at the MGM.

Spike meets Sinatra.

Spike meets Sinatra.

We went to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum at the Venetian and I took pictures with Johnny Depp and Elvis. I got out Spike the Rhino and took pictures of him with almost everybody. He really likes to have new things to add to his photo album.

We watched the fountains in front of the Bellagio, had drinks and enjoyed some live music at the Nine Fine Irishmen in New York, New York and caught the trashy pirate show at Treasure Island / TI.

Most importantly, we had fun. Without having a guidebook and a must-see list, we were able to wander around and enjoy being in Vegas, instead of worrying about what we might be missing out on. It’s the kind of travel attitude that I think I need more of, and hope to practice soon.

Viva Las Vegas!


Romantic Travel… With Carrot Top?

January 30, 2009

This ad from the Luxor Las Vegas showed up in my inbox this morning and gave my whole office a laugh.

Luxor Las Vegas

For those who can’t see the image, the copy reads:

A Seductive Offer from Luxor Las Vegas
Plan a romantic getaway with this sexy offer:

  • Rates Starting at $69
  • 6 Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
  • Romance Kit
  • 25% Off Carrot Top Tickets

What do you think? Romantic or ridiculous?


Las Vegas Wrap-Up

January 26, 2009

casino-enteanceLas Vegas is a weird travel experience. It’s cheap enough (and if you’re on the West Coast, close enough) that doing a weekend there is pretty easy to pull off. But it also feels like another planet, so that even after just two days away from home, coming back is like returning from a weeks-long journey in a far off land.

My friend, Chris, met me in Vegas from London. This was his first trip to the States, and what a way to start off. As we walked around, I tried to make note of what things we saw were American, and what you would only see in Las Vegas.

For example: A Starbucks every 50 feet? American. But guys handing out flyers for escort services on every street corner? Vegas.

caesarsI spent far more than I expected to, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do Vegas on the cheap, or at least within a budget.  A few tips:

See all the free shows and attractions. Not all of them will blow you away, but they’re fun, and the fountains at Bellagio are probably more entertaining than any Elvis impersonator you’ll find. The aquariums and flower gardens offer a peaceful break from the casino floors.

If you’re flexible about what shows you want to see, wait until you get there to book your tickets. Visit one of the half price ticket booths to see what they have available and you could save $50 or more from what you would pay online in advance. We saw Blue Man Group and loved it. (I’ll never look at a marshmallow the same way again.)

Don’t assume the buffet is the cheapest place to eat. If you want to consume mass quantities, then yes, it’s probably a good value per pound. But even some of the nicer restaurants on the Strip, like Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Caesar’s Palace, have lunch prices that are cheaper than the bigger buffets.

McDonald'sIf you really want to save on food, pack your own snacks to bring from home (trail mix, nuts, granola bars), grab bottled water or soda from one of the cheap souvenir stores that are scattered between casinos (sometimes sold 2 for $1), and stick to the fast food options, where prices are low and no tipping is required.

The Strip is very long, and your feet will get very tired. Ladies, leave the cute footwear for the evenings, and wear your most comfortable shoes during the day. I would put a picture here of my poor, blistered, danced-off, cut up feet, but then you would never come back.

When you get tired of walking, take the bus. Taxis are much faster because they don’t stop every block or so to let people on and off, but they can cost you $12-$20 a ride, whereas the Deuce, the double decker bus that goes up and down the Strip, is only $3 a ride, or $7 for a 24-hour pass.

And the best way to save money? Leave your credit and ATM cards somewhere safe – like not in your wallet. Give yourself a set amount of cash to play with and when you run out, stick to the freebies.


Notes From a Weekend in Vegas

January 26, 2009

I’ve just finished a quick 48 hour trip to Vegas. Actually, I’m at the Vegas airport now, waiting for my delayed flight. How am I blogging from the airport? My adorable new mini laptop picked up the wifi here with no problem. I can email while I wait, which is really nice, although I do enjoy sitting quietly with a book or magazine too.

The other thing I love about this laptop is that the memory card from my new digital SLR (yes, I bought myself a couple of nice Christmas gifts) slides right in the side, so I can show you pictures too.

Jean-Philippe Patisserie - The Bellagio
Jean-Philippe Patisserie – The Bellagio

For example, here’s the most beautiful fountain in all of Las Vegas: 27 feet of chocolate at the Bellagio.

There are plenty of other fountains in town, but they’re all the regular water kind and aren’t nearly as exciting.
I’m off to my gate now, but hope everyone had a great weekend and I’ll have more details about my trip tomorrow.


My Favorite Way to Travel? Spontaneously.

January 20, 2009

I’ve read a lot about ecotravel, voluntourism, staycations and flashpacking. All of those terms identify you as a member of a niche market. You want to travel sustainably, or for the greater good, or without going too far from home, or with the ability to capture and blog every moment.

Rather than focusing on how I travel though, I like to think more about why, and when. Ideally, the answers to those questions are “to enrich myself”, and “whenever possible”, respectively.

mandm_vegasAnd so, when a friend I haven’t seen in a while gives me a week’s notice that he’s coming to the States, I feel it’s my duty to myself, my desire for powerful life experiences and my need for a little fun that I hurry up and book a flight to Las Vegas.

Yep. Endless buffets, dancing on tables and free drinks are just some of the sacrifices that a true traveler must make.

The problem with spontaneous travel is that it’s not always cheap, and the logistics can be difficult to work out. Luckily, I had some extra days off to use, and getting from San Francisco to Vegas is never very expensive. So, I’m headed to the Strip this weekend to show an Englishman a good time.

Some of my favorite free things to do in Vegas:

  • Watch the fountains at the Bellagio
  • Look for pirates at Treasure Island
  • Ogle the displays of multi-colored candy at M&M World
  • Walk along the canals of the Venetian and listen to the gondoliers sing
  • People watch

One of the great things about Vegas is you don’t really have to look for student deals because the regular deals are just as good. In the winter months you can find affordable rooms in many casinos, you can eat really well for $10 or less almost anywhere, and there’s no shortage of things to walk around and look at.

Viva Las Vegas!