Las Vegas is taking itself too seriously.
Remember the old days, when you could get cheap flights or bus transportation to Sin City? When you got there, hotel rooms were cheap, food was cheap, entertainment could be cheap. Transportation along the famed Strip was free or nearly so. All to lure you into the casinos to lose your money gambling?
Not any more.
Everybody in Vegas has their hand out now. From street vendors selling water to bus transportation to airport shuttles to food. Losers built all those giant casinos and at one time those same casinos were willing to soften the blow with low-cost buffets and restaurants, reasonable room rates, and subsidized cost to get those selfsame gamblers to this desert, uh, location.
We just got back from a week-long trip to Las Vegas. It was a combination family reunion with our daughter and her husband and our son; a graduation ceremony (our son just graduated from high school), and a combination birthday/Father’s day for moi.
We stayed at our WorldMark timeshare resort on Las Vegas Boulevard a few miles South of the famed Strip. We enjoyed a clean, comfortable two-bedroom two-bath condo with a full kitchen, a patio with barbecue with resort amenities that included a large swimming pool, a lazy river, numerous spas (one of which had three heated waterfalls). The resort offered a gaming room with pool tables, ping pong table and electronic games. We had a free shuttle to the Strip.
We flew from Seattle to Vegas (with a stop in San Francisco) via Virgin America, which seemed to have a bit more leg room than the average flying cattle car. Each seat back featured a video screen that offered television, movies, games, music, shopping and more.
We reserved a stretch limo to take us from the airport to the resort because four of the five of us had never ridden in a limo before. To our surprise, when we arrived the stretch limos were all in use, so we got the super-stretch Hummer limo. We definitely made an impression on our arrival at the WorldMark resort. The driver was almost unable to navigate the entry to the resort, but made it. I still don’t know how in the world he got that thing in and out of there.
We arrived at our condo that first night and settled in, then took a quick tour of the resort grounds. The next day, it was off to the Strip.
I soon discovered one thing: These days, a little Las Vegas goes a long way.
You have to remember that Las Vegas is in a desert. In mid-June, it’s hot. Any green stuff is there artificially. Bodies of water are there artificially. Otherwise, it’s brown, dry, empty. There is a certain beauty to the dry, barren mountains in the distance. You can tour Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Lake Meade, fly over the Grand Canyon. These are things I enjoy seeing and doing, but I wouldn’t want to live here.
Two things I noticed right away when we hopped on the shuttle and arrived at the Strip: The streets were packed with tourists, and very few people were actually inside the casinos gambling. Another thing: The major casinos are huge! Most of them have a shopping district (or an entire shopping mall), numerous restaurants, one or more attractions and/or shows, conference centers and, of course, the casino floors. This doesn’t even include the multiple towers that house the thousands of hotel rooms.
A search can often locate discount tickets for shows, tours, and attractions. Even so, they are expensive. Our kids visited a shark experience aquarium in one casino and a dolphin experience in another. Sean and Jake rode roller coasters at New York New York and the indoor amusement park at Circus Circus (the first one was great, the second was okay). None of us had the courage/stupidity to journey to the top of the Stratosphere and get on the rides way up there.
There is an elevator ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris casino; in Venice you can ride the gondolas and get sung to. These cost money. The Bellagio has its free outdoor water fountain show; the Mirage has a free outdoor volcano show; Treasure Island conducts a free show involving sailing ships and live actors. These shows are usually done in the afternoon or evening.
Many Casinos have food courts for those who prefer to eat cheap. In-house eateries are often very expensive even with discount coupons. Vegas was once famous for low-cost, high-quality buffets. Don’t know about the latter, but the former have passed on. Buffets are now very expensive so you’d better show up hungry.
On my birthday, I searched several casinos for a moderately-priced steak and as I didn’t want to pay for the entire cow, we finally ended up walking back to an Outback Steakhouse on an area of the Strip that was between huge casinos.
Not only are these casinos huge, most of them are very impressively built. One night we walked from Mandalay Bay to the Luxor. Coming upon the giant black pyramid at night was an awesome experience. Inside the Luxor is equally awesome and if you go to Vegas you need to experience it.
In fact, most of our entertainment consisted of walking through the casinos, enjoying looking in the shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.
When Alice and I visited Vegas a dozen or so years ago, each casino seemed to have a Krispy Kreme outlet near each entrance. Those are all gone now, replaced by Starbucks coffee shops, which appear, seemingly, every time you turn a corner in a casino.
Outside, the streets are packed, traffic is unrelenting, and you are pestered every few feet by people peddling women of the evening or discount show tickets. There are so many sex sellers (which includes trucks driving up and down the Strip with “Hot Babes Want to Meet You!” signs) that it makes one wonder how many of these working women are actually in Vegas.
Unknown to many, there is a free tram from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay (with a sometimes stop at Luxor) and another one from Monte Carlo to Bellagio (with a couple of stops along the way). This can save you a ton of walking. On the other side of the street, there is a monorail from MGM Grand with stops all the way to Fremont Street, but this one costs money; quite a bit of it if there are five of you.
Our attempts to reach Circus Circus on the North end of the Strip without walking were thwarted until we finally broke down and bought day passes to the Strip double-decker bus at $8 a pop (5×8=40). Of course, one could also take a taxi. There are thousands of taxis in Las Vegas and they do not sit idle for long. They charge by the one-thirteenth of a mile and by time, with a fuel surcharge and an extra fee if you use a credit card.
Probably the best thing that happened to us in Vegas was the exercise we got walking the Strip and inside the casinos. For those who don’t gamble, there is plenty to see and do, but you’re still going to end up with a flat wallet and a lighter purse.
Which, I guess, is what Vegas is all about.