Vegas… We can’t help but have mixed emotions about the place. Where else can you watch one person piss their money away for hours, then pass homeless guy on the street pissing his beer away on a sidewalk belonging to a hotel costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Still… this city draws people from all around like moths to a flame, lured by legalized vices not allowed at home, bright lights, over-the-top gaudy hotels, and entertainment.
So long as you go in understanding that Vegas is a city designed with one purpose in mind… to relieve you of your money… you can still have a good time. Back in the day, hotels would offer cheap food and entertainment, all with the hopes you’ll stay gamble your money away in the casino. (I can recall Cindy & I eating at huge buffets for around $5 a decade ago.) Nowadays everything is expensive; buffets begin around $15, and go as high as $180. Every shopping venue along the strip seems designed to make you feel like a 3rd class citizen… lots of nice high-end stuff you can’t afford. The “help” in the hotels can be condescending too, Cindy and I asked a guy in the Bellagio (Who had the temperament of Andy Garcia’s character in Ocean’s Eleven) where we could get some ice-cream, and his response was: “We don’t sell ice-cream, we sell gelato… try Caesar’s Palace.” Why he didn’t tell us gelato was basically ice-cream, and was located right at the bottom of the stairs, we don’t know. We also found many people who went out of their way to make us feel welcome, regardless of what we spent. (Thanks, Oasis RV Park for the free stay, hospitality, and fresh water… even when we weren’t staying at your park at the time!)
Just like the many different types of casino games, designed to lure prospective gamblers… there’s a wide variety of activities designed to extract money from people looking for a memorable experience on vacation. Like cars? For $400 you can take a tour of the area in a “Super car” like a Ferrari. (Sorry, but for $400, I’m driving.) Want a helicopter ride over the strip… $150. For $150 or more, you can even get behind the controls of your own piece of heavy construction equipment on a giant dirt pile. (Tonka toys for grown-ups?). For a fee, you can even fire off some rounds at the gun range, on the weapon of your choice… even a machine gun! If you can imagine it, it’s probably here… hell, you can even jump off the Stratosphere tower if you like, and live to tell about it.
If you’re looking for the “other” kind of action… you need only walk two steps in any direction, and pick up one of thousands of cards off the ground advertising “Hot Babes” who can’t wait to come to your room! (Looking for coins on the ground was never this much fun! “Ooooh, a dime.” “Heeey… BOOBIES!”) You can’t walk from one corner to another without a 5ft tall immigrant attempting to hand you one of these cards with full color porn on both sides. (Cindy started a game where she’d take the cards from one guy, and hand them to the next guy with his hand out). Often it’s a female making the pitch, and I wonder to myself how awkward that must be for her. (It’s a little like a steer handing out McDonalds flyers, isn’t it?) I imagine it’s rough on all the couples walking down the strip as well. The guys pretend not to look at the barrage of T&A, and girls get more insecure about their anatomy with each step. Sure, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas… but whatever you catch, goes home with you!
It is possible to enjoy this town on a budget… with some research, we found a special at the Circus-Circus RV park on the strip for “stay Friday, get Saturday free”… and it’s right on the strip. While driving around looking for a place to fill the water tanks, we found a nice RV resort called, of all things, “Oasis Las Vegas”. We found that if we listened to a 1.5 hour presentation, we’d get 3 nights free! So we stayed in Vegas for $10 a night for 5 nights.
For entertainment, you only need walk the strip, check out all the hotels and shopping, and look for coupon books handed out at information desks. Many hotels have free entertainment right out front; dancing fountains tuned to classical music, erupting volcanoes, and pirate ship battles come to mind. There are also inexpensive attractions within the hotels and casinos. Mandalay Bay has a great shark reef aquarium with exhibits including over 2000 animals for $18, (Who needs Sea World?) New York New York sports a roller coaster that swerves in and out of its sky scraper replicas (Although it’s a neck-breaker). The Stratosphere has rides costing only $15 or so at the top of its 2000ft tower. Circus-Circus is the most family-oriented place, (which is both strength and a weakness) and houses “Adventuredome”… a mixture of inexpensive food court, shops, and small to mid-sized rides. There are free tickets to some stage shows; others range from $30 to $130. We paid $53 to see “Defending the Caveman” at Harrah’s, on a “buy one get one free” coupon. The barrage of reps attempting to sucker us into “presentations” to get these free tickets got so annoying… I started telling them Cindy was blind.
Food’s not cheap, on the strip, but we found a buy one-get one free at a nice place ($26 a plate!)… Then took half the meals home for the next day. (That’s four $6 meals for those keeping track.) The rest of our meals were in the camper. Our advice is to ask people who live and work in the area, there’s a wealth of info out there. For example, the ‘Flightlinez’ shuttle driver told us the best place to get “normally priced” food is on a side street just past Bally’s casino. There you’ll find everything from Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and American food all within walking distance, but off the strip. We did splurge on a couple of things, however… Cindy wanted to do a zip line tour, and I was determined to skydive, since I’d missed my chance in San Marcos due to “airplane maintenance” scheduling. Cindy refuses to jump, but will go along as an “observer”. Overall we spent about $500 during our week in Vegas… but I’m proud to say not a dime went to the casinos, and only $50 went on accommodations. (I sure miss those cheap buffets, though!)
We ran into a couple of snags when we got to Vegas. Our DVD’s didn’t show up where we mailed them, seems of all the post offices in Vegas, only one takes “general delivery” mail. (We couldn’t get anyone on the phone to confirm where to mail them, so we gambled and lost. Pun intended.) We had to make two trips all the way across town for 4 DVDS LOL! We also took issue with the design of the shopping centers in Vegas. These things are little cities within themselves, with names like “The District”, and “Town Square”. They resemble huge apartment complexes more than strip malls… and this makes them impossible to navigate. Looking for a particular shop, or in our case, a movie theater… is like looking for specific item in Home Depot, or Wal-Mart. (Get out your map and compass!) I’m sure women LOVE these places… but men will be clinically insane within minutes, guaranteed. In other cities we’ve been in, theaters stand alone and can often be seen from the freeway. Here, they’re buried within these communities of consumption, and locating one is like finding the lost Ark of the Covenant.
We probably won’t be back to Vegas anytime soon… it’s expensive, gratuitous, and there’s little value for your money to be found anywhere. If you’ve got money to throw away on gambling, or a unique experience, there’s plenty here for you... just bring your wallet, your will power, a good pair of walking shoes, and some saline nasal spray. (The air’s so dry, you’ll be blowing ‘cornflakes’ out of your nose for days.)