Thursday, January 1, 2015

Some new developments in Las Vegas

So I had almost forgotten this blog until I visited my Google Plus page and thought maybe it was worthwhile sharing a few things I've learned on my last few trips to Las Vegas.

First of all, I have come to love staying and playing downtown.  This might be because I am cheap (or at least cheap when it comes to paying for hotel rooms) but I think it is more than that.  But, getting back to the "cheap" thing, there is now a great way to get from the airport to you Downtown hotel for just a couple of bucks.  The WAX bus will express you from level Zero to 4th and Fremont in just a bit more time than it will take to grab a cab.  It's a great deal.

There have also been some new attractions and some new (or remodeled) casinos to visit.  Have only stayed at the Fremont which is inexpensive but clean, comfortable and very well located, but there are other places to consider.  Two of my favorite places to hang out and gamble are the Golden Gate and the "D" which are both trying to cater to a younger, hipper player.  There is actually a new casino called the Downtown Grand which is pretty nice and may have the best rooms outside the Golden Nugget.  The casino tends to be quiet but is a pleasant place to risk a few dollars.  Even such old-school hotels as the El Cortez and the Plaza have stepped up their games.

While you are staying Downtown, there are a couple of new attractions.  There is a zipline that will "fly" you down Fremont Street in style.  Not sure it is something I'll ever do but you might want to try it.  For the more cerebral, curious or disturbed crowd, I recommend a visit to the "Mob Museum."  I spent close to 3 hours there but most people could probably take in the experience in less than that.  Excellent history of the mafia in America and the law enforcement tactics which (mostly) brought it down.

But it isn't simply about attractions or casinos or museums.  Downtown is much more alive with trendy bars, coffee shops and store fronts.  The "East Fremont" district between the canopy and the El Cortez isn't at all scary anymore and has a number of fun places to check out.

Back on the Strip, there are also some big changes.  What used to be kind of a dreary walk between the Barbary Coast and the Imperial Palace has gotten much more interesting.  What used to be Bill's (or the Barbary Coast) is now a very classy boutique hotel/casino called the Cromwell.  Even so, they were nice enough to little old me when I hung out there one afternoon.  Further north, you will encounter the LInq, an entertainment district that has a number of fun places to hang out.  The best attraction though, is the High Roller.  A ridiculous "Ferris Wheel" like experience that gives you an amazing 30 minute trip to top of Strip, it is a great deal of fun.  If you are a bit nervous, they'll actually let you take your cocktail on board...though there is no bathroom.

Up North, what was the dearly-departed Sahara hotel is now something called the SLS.  Again, more upscale and likely somewhat classier, it is probably worth a peek.  I haven't been there but will check it out when I am in town in a few weeks.  Oh...and what used to be the Las Vegas Hilton (Elvis, anyone?) is now called the Westgate Las Vegas Resort.  They even took down the sign.  :(   And, on the south end of the Strip, the hotel that used to be known as THE HOTEL is now called the Delano.

So there you go.  Vegas keeps getting pricier and "cooler" but I'm sure I can continue to find places where lowlifes like myself can sleep, eat and drink cheap.  I'll update my thoughts in a few weeks.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Vegas with friends

Thought this might be an appropriate time to address the "group trip" as a few of my close friends and I will soon be making one and "touring and travelling" with friends can either be a great deal of fun or a potential disaster.  I'll share my experience and my advice on this matter.

Most all of us have seen movies like "The Hangover," "Very Bad Things" and "Swingers" and so you know that those great trips to Vegas can turn out very good or very bad indeed.  Whether you are visiting for a wedding, bachelor party, birthday or just for the hell of it, the more people involved, the more potential for trouble.

The most important thing to remember is that, even though you may all be going to the same place, you all aren't in the "same place."  Some people may be visiting Vegas for the first time.  Some may be grisly old vets.   Some people may love to drink and gamble.  Others may want to shop, hang out by the pool or see a show.  If you want to enjoy your time together, it may be necessary to spend a fair amount of time apart.

Don't over plan.  If you are going to be in town for 2 or 3 days, that might be difficult.  Everyone is going to be excited about spending time together and having a great time.  But not everyone is going to define a "great time" the same way.  And the more people involved, the more different ideas people will have.  I recommend planning no more than one group activity a day.  Whether it's going to a show, checking out the hottest restaurant or club or visiting a particular location together, it is going to take a few hours out of your day and it is going to involve some compromise on the part of each person.  A little bit of compromise is part of any group outing but if you try and insist on everyone staying together all the time, you are going to frustrate most everyone in a short time.

Beyond that, you might want to poll the people going on the trip to see if they might have some common interests.  If half of your group really wants to spend an afternoon shopping at the Forum Shops, then why not let them figure it out in advance and use some of the "free time" to make that happen.

And, for me, that's the key:  Everyone needs some "free time" to do what they want to do.  It might be one person or ten but be flexible enough to let it happen that way.  So just as every day should have a "group activity," every day should also have free time or flex time where everyone can do as they please, either individually or as a group.  Don't feel bad about it.  Even the closest relationships allow for some "alone time" and you should too.

On the other hand, try not to let anyone feel "left out."  In large groups, some people won't know each other as well.  The host, if there is one, should try and make sure that everyone is included if they want.
Also, keep in mind what I'll call the "hangover variable."   If you all are planning on a big night of partying, you might want to reconsider that early morning trip to Laughlin.   It may seem like a good idea at the time but do you really want to spend all day hanging out with a bunch or green people?   Besides, I hear they frown on vomiting on the bus.  If you are planning an early activity, take it easy the night before.

You can learn an awful lot about your friends by spending time with them in Las Vegas.  It won't always be good.  Don't hold it against them.  They're just as messed up as you are but in a different way.  And, of course, the most important thing to remember is that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fun facts

Las Vegas is not a place full of those lovely 1970's Chevrolet "supercars" but actually means "the meadows."  Sounds so peaceful.

Actually, many of you may have never actually been to the City of Las Vegas, NV.  Even if you stood next to that cute little sign near the airport.  The southern city limits are Sahara Avenue so, unless you've been downtown or at least out to the Stratosphere, you are likely out of luck.

Where you probably have been is Paradise, a township of Clark County Nevada that comprises almost all the major hotel/casinos.  I don't know.  Some days it may feel like Paradise but not all.

With all those hotels, you'd think there was a lot of competition in Las Vegas.  But, with the exception of the Tropicana, Cosmopolitan, Treasure Island, Casino Royale and the Riviera, every hotel on the Strip is owned by one of 4 major companies.  If you take out  the Wynn/Encore and the Venetian/Palazzo, the rest are owned by 2 major companies.   (MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment)

Almost 40 million people visit Las Vegas each year.  Most are repeat visitors.  Only 16% of Vegas Visitors are "virgins."


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When You are Sick of the Strip

Most of my posts so far have catered to the infamous "Las Vegas virgin" and that's probably as it should be, but, based on my experience, most people who go to Las Vegas once will go back again....and again.  It's an addiction.

The Las Vegas Strip is one of the most exciting and energizing places I've ever visited but it can also be exhausting.  There's a reason most people only last 2 or 3 days here.  It will just wear you out and come close to killing you if you aren't careful.  But, if you want to really relax and enjoy your vacation, then maybe you want to get off the Strip a bit.  That's usually what I do and I have a great time doing it.

One option is to stay "downtown" and there is quite a bit to do there if you chose to do that.  All of the casinos are within easy walking distance of one another and there is usually a party atmosphere.   That being said, it is a long ways from anything else you might want to see.  Most of the hotels are pretty small and, at best, middle of the road sorts of places to stay.  The casinos are small and the crowd is not what you are going to find at the Wynn or the Bellagio.  Still, free drinks are easy to come by, the rooms are usually comfortable and you can gamble at lower stakes.

For me, I'd prefer a more full-service hotel somewhere off the Strip.  And, when I say off the Strip, I don't mean that you are way off in the middle of nowhere.   Now, if you want to be off in the middle of nowhere, there are several hotel/casinos that are great places.  Red Rock Station is an awesome place, I absolutely love The "M Resort" and the South Pointe is a great place to stay.  Even Sam's Town is very nice and I'd have no problem spending a fair amount of time there.   But all of these places are a very long cab ride from the action you expected when you booked your vacation.

For me, I like to stay somewhere close enough to the action that I can easily get there but far enough away that I can spend as much time as I want just relaxing in a comfortable place.  My recommendations are to look at hotels near the Strip.  I really like the Orleans, the Palms, The Gold Coast, the Rio and Palace Station.  Pretty much all of these places can give you a full-service casino/hotel experience but are within easy walking/driving/shuttling distance from the Strip.

There are other decent options you can also choose from.  Just make sure that you realize that you won't be in the middle of the action.  The Stratosphere and the LVH (old Las Vegas Hilton) are good options as well.  Just keep in mind that you can gamble and sleep most anywhere.  Only you can decide how important is to you to be on the Strip.  But, if you've decided you'd rather not, than most any of these places can be a good (and inexpensive) option.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gambling for fun and profit

Haven't posted on here for a while but decided to share my insights on gambling.  Let's be honest.  Most of you can gamble at the local convenience store and most of you probably have a casino within an hours drive, so going to Las Vegas just because you can gamble is not the attraction it was 30 years ago.  Now, you do have a lot more places to do it and a lot of different games that you can play, but, if you haven't at least bought a lottery ticket lately, you are in the minority.

That being said, there are more ways to lose money in Vegas than almost any other place you can visit. And most of those "smart gambling" websites aren't going to do you much good if you aren't a pro or semi-pro gambler.  So I'm just going to tell you the truth and the truth is that you are a degenerate drunken tourist.  The only reason you are gambling is to get free drinks and to hit it big.  And, sadly, you are probably going to crawl (or hopefully fly) home when it's all over.  So...think it through.

First of all, you probably aren't going to win a damned thing.  Repeat that over and over until you believe it because you should.  I have probably won money gambling 3 times in 25 trips.  Now maybe you're luckier than I am but I'd be willing to bet (I've got problems) that most people's experiences are closer to mine.  But, you definitely won't win any money if you don't have a goal in mine.  At some point, an awful lot of people are at least a little bit ahead, whether they are playing the table games or the slots but they keep playing.   Why?  Because they haven't won enough to stop.

So here's the first thing you need to decide:  how much is enough?  However unrealistic your goal may be, you need to know what it is.  Now, I'm not going to lie:  if your goal is to win a $1 Million, you aren't going to have very many good days.  But that is the most important thing you need to know when you sit down:  What do I have to win to walk away and get a hooker or something?

If you want to win a thousand dollars, then you need to find a game that could conceivably pay you a thousand dollars.  Quarter video poker is not a bad choice because, if you hit the Royal Flush, you've hit your goal.  You could also look for a slot machine that has a reasonable chance to hit that spot.  If you think are going to win that much playing most table games, you had better be prepared to be wagering black chips.  ($100 chips if you are scoring at home)

So, find the right game and have a goal.  You probably won't reach that goal but at least you'll know what it is.  Decide how many $$$ you are willing to spend before you give up and call it a day.  If you want to have a realistic chance to post that Facebook picture of your winning ticket, set you goals at a more reasonable level.  Find a machine with a fairly low jackpot or one that gives you multiple chances to reach your goal.

The title of this post is "Gambling for fun and profit" but, at the very least, I hope that you will do the former.  Las Vegas is the best place I know of to lose money, so, if you do, just make sure that you can afford what you are losing.  Besides, you can always enjoy your time just walking around, watching people and taking in the many sites that the city has to offer.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Staying Safe

Vegas has a reputation for being some sort of scary place where you will get mugged and you have to watch your back 24/7 but that's not really true.  Why?  Because the Las Vegas Strip just might be the most heavily patrolled stretch of real estate in the world.  It is very unlikely that someone will hold you up and take all your money as long as you are careful.  So...you rarely have to worry about being safe in Las Vegas.  But....if you want to be super careful, follow this advice.

The Las Vegas Strip, day or night, between at least the Wynn and the Mandalay Bay is arguably the safest street in the world.  Not only are there LVPD wandering around everywhere, not only are their casino security guys looking for trouble at all hours of the day and night, but there are just so many people walking around that it is just a terrible place to try and commit a violent crime.  That doesn't mean that someone couldn't pick your pocket while you are staring out on some casino or attraction but there are ways to deal with that.  For one, stay aware.  If you are going to get "wasted drunk," don't do it in the middle of the Strip.  Just do it at your hotel or at a club and then take a cab "home."  If you are carrying a fair amount of cash, maybe keep it in a money belt or in your front pocket or just keep one hand on your wallet at all times.

Downtown Las Vegas is also pretty safe, as long as you stay on Fremont Street under the canopy.  But just don't be wandering off more than a block or two off the tourist areas.   And, for God's sake, don't be trying to find hookers or drugs....that's how people end up arrested or dead.  

Now, I'm a bit of a thrillseeker and I've probably wandered around to places I shouldn't over the years.  But that doesn't mean that you should.  If you want to be really careful, don't walk the Strip between the Stratosphere and downtown.  You might be tempted but the people you will encounter are not usually tourists.  You also might think that wandering up and down streets close the the Strip like Paradise or Industrial is OK.  You will likely be fine but you are taking a bit of a risk.  Most anywhere on Tropicana is sketchy and once you get east of Bally's on Flamingo, you might feel a little uncomfortable.  Honestly, you should be just fine but, if you feel funny, it won't matter.

The other safety tip is to follow the same rules that you would follow anywhere else.  Wandering around at 2 or 3 in the morning is going to increase your risk, whether it's in Las Vegas or Lawrence, KS.  Honestly, if you keep your wits about you, you don't have much to worry about.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Quick tip on flying out of Las Vegas

Las Vegas has a pretty nice airport.  And it's one of the busiest in the country.  Overall, though, it is usually not a place that you are going to get stuck with long lines at check-in or at the TSA checkpoints.  Even if it looks like a long line, it will likely move pretty quickly.  That being said, I would generally take the advice of most experts and try to arrive at least 2 hours before your flight leaves.  That will be doubly important if you are flying out at a particularly busy time like Sunday afternoon or evening as that is when the weekend crowd will be heading home.  Even if you've heard that your flight might be delayed, unless the weather conditions are pretty dire, you might still want to arrive a few hours before your scheduled departure, as a predicted delay may not come to pass.

Of course, there are plenty of distractions to keep you amused should you find yourself waiting on your departure.  Yes...you can actually play slots at the airport.  They are everywhere.  Now, I've heard that these particular machines don't pay off so well and I'm inclined to believe it, but it is something to do.  I usually plan to eat something before I leave and there are quite a few places to do that too.  And, if you promised someone a souvenir but totally forgot to actually get it, you can still do so before you leave.

There is actually a a pretty good little exhibit of sorts on the history of air travel to Las Vegas on display in Terminal 1 and you can easily kill 10 or 15 minutes looking at the displays.  If your portable electronic device is starting to die on you, there are charging stations everywhere so you can plug in and recharge while you entertain yourself on your iPhone or Kindle as well.

I'll just say one more thing about the fabulous McCarran International Airport.  The people watching can be spectacular.  Just wander around and watch the different expressions on people's faces who are arriving and those that are departing.  And, if you're really lucky, you'll be able to catch all the strippers flying into town Friday night.