January 20th, 2018

Viva Las Vegas!

By Lethbridge Herald on September 30, 2017.

A rookie’s guide
to exploring the famous Strip
Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald
City of Sin. City of Lights. Lost Wages. Whatever you call it, everyone it seems has vacationed in Las Vegas at least once in their lifetimes.
Being among those who hadn’t until three weeks ago, I had no real clue what to expect despite hearing many tales from regular visitors.
Las Vegas is a city people have to experience for themselves to truly understand and appreciate. And for those who have never been, I gladly provide a rookie’s guide to the city that never sleeps.
I was the lone Vegas virgin in our party of four but the other three hadn’t been there for decades so for all intents and purposes, our entire group were newbies.
Two lessons I learned from five nights in Las Vegas were:
1) Uber is cheap, easy to use and handy.
2) Nothing else is cheap.
Take the second point with an asterisk because hotel and air deals abound. But once inside a hotel, prepare to have deep pockets because even bottled water is expensive. And in the 100 F heat — damn hot in Celcius — you will go through a lot of water unless you prefer to buy two-for-$3 beers at liquor stores.
For alcohol users, I would strongly suggest buying at duty-free in Canada if you intend on imbibing a lot. Or failing that, buy from one of the pharmacies along the east side Las Vegas Boulevard. Yes, pharmacies where one can get medicated on multiple levels. A CVS pharmacy near Paris, the only one in the 2,000-store chain to sell booze, is a quick walking distance from many hotels. So is a Walgreens just north of Harrah’s on the the same side. Both carry a wide variety of beers, wines and liquors at reasonable prices.
Newbies will be surprised to see people walking down streets with booze in hand from beer cans to yardstick-long souvenir plastic margarita cups. It’s all part of the Strip experience. And those margaritas, along with daiquiris, are available at countless kiosks in hotels.
Our party stayed at the Flamingo, the oldest still operating hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. The hotel is a true classic, a combination of cool and convenience right in the heart of Las Vegas. Many rooms have been modernized with more to open in October. Ours was spacious, clean, comfortable and from its 23rd floor north-facing vantage point, had a superb view of the Linq promenade directly below and the Strip.
The promenade is a long paved street lined with restaurants and bars on both sides. At the far east end is a giant ferris wheel called the High Roller that takes an hour to do one loop over Las Vegas. Each car can hold numerous visitors.
Centrally located directly across from Caesar’s Palace, the Flamingo is situated in a perfect location for exploring the Strip. Toward the north is Linq, Harrah’s, The Venetian, Palazzo, and Wynn, the latter three high-end luxury hotels where cargo shorts and flip flops are as rare as Bentleys at a trailer park. Much farther north are Circus Circus, Palace Station and the Stratosphere.
Across from Wynn’s on the west side of the strip is Treasure Island, whose evening pyrotechnics we could see in the distance from our room. Walking south of Treasure Island, one comes across hotels such as the modern and sophisticated Mirage, the decadent Caesar’s Palace, Bellagio, the Cosmopolitan, ARIA, New York New York, Excalibur and farther south are Luxor and Mandalay Bay. Due west of New Nork New York is the new T-Mobile arena where the Las Vegas Knights will be playing their first NHL season. Adjacent to the rink is the Monte Carlo.
South of the Flamingo on the east side of the Strip is the upscale Cromwell hotel. After crossing a walkway, one will come across Bally’s, Paris, Planet Hollywood, the MGM Grand and the Tropicana in between various stores including the must-see M and M shop and a mall called the Miracle Mile where sales staff at various kiosks can be extremely smooth.
In fact, at an electronics kiosk called The Source, I was talked by a salesman into purchasing a charging case for my iPhone.
The guy’s pitch was so good I almost didn’t feel the pressure but the product seemed like a good idea, a case that charges the phone instead of carrying a cord and battery pack. After 10 minutes I walked away with my wallet $216 lighter and worrying if I’d been scammed.
That worry worsened when I saw online reviews about a similar kiosk in a nearby hotel but three weeks later, the charging case has turned into an absolute blessing.
That type of sales pitch is prevalent on the Strip where tourists will be handed numerous cards for drinks or hassled to buy tickets for shows.
Several booths offer day-of discounts and we landed four for the “Raiding the Rock Vault” show at Hard Rock Hotel for $50 each, a price well worth paying for this fantastic tribute show featuring the likes of Robin MacAuley, who in the ’80s fronted the MacAuley Schenker Band, one of my favourite metal outfits.
Raiding the Rock Vault honours the biggest acts in rock music whose hits impacted fans in the 1970s and ’80s using a rotating cast.
The cast members not only honour the bands whose work they perform, but also the musicianship, artistry and songwriting of rock.
The cast on our night also included the sensational Paul Shortino of Quiet Riot and other bands on vocals, the gifted Andrew Freeman of Offspring and Lynch Mob — George Lynch’s crew being another of my faves — on vocals and guitars, keyboardist Michael T. Ross of Hardline and Lita Ford — ditto those — guitarist Howard Leese of Heart and drummer Jay Schellen of Hurricane — ditto again. And others whose names I momentarily forgot since there is a rotating cast and it’s easy to get caught up in the moment.
Tourists can also expect to be hounded mercilessly in hotels to listen to timeshare pitches. After a day, this becomes annoying but you will quickly learn to ignore them. Your wallet will probably thank you.
And on the subject of wallets, veteran Vegas goers will often say the days of cheap eating are over. They’re right. Meals at restaurants are about as pricey as similar ones here in Canada but there are a couple of ways to keep costs down. One is to do a breakfast buffet and fill up enough to get you through to supper with maybe a snack, liquid or otherwise. I don’t do breakfast often so to me, the buffet wasn’t worth the money. For me a coffee and a muffin from a stand in the Flamingo sufficed — Starbucks locations nearby are expensive and crowded — until lunchtime when a quick, cheap burger at In-N-Out did the trick. A huge mistake was succumbing to the temptation of a legendary Nathan’s hot dog. Lunch for two, including two weiners, fries and drinks was a whopping $33.
At dinner our party tended to splurge and we ate well. Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville at the Flamingo not only offered great food but a fun atmosphere. Guy Fieri’s in neighbouring Linq was worth a visit for a decadent burger and Gilleys at Treasure Island has fried chicken and grits to die for. Not to mention Moscow Mules that pack a wicked kick.
On my next trip, I’m definitely checking out Gordon Ramsay’s fish and chip place on the Linq promenade and Virgil’s Barbecue, which smokes its meat in-house every day.
For those who tire of walking, and you will walk endlessly, the air-conditioned Deuce bus system offers 24-hour transportation from the Freemont Street Experience to Mandalay Bay for a mere $8. Kiosks are located outside various hotels and while packed, the buses do give tired legs a break. Two of us used the bus to hit the shop featured in Pawn Stars at the far north end of the strip which was OK for what it is. We made the mistake of getting on a regular city bus — manned by two unsmiling transit cops— on the way back which took a bit of a detour through some rundown areas and dropped us off south of Bellagio, making for a long walk back to the hotel.
For those concerned about safety, there is a strong police presence — often undercover — on the Strip. As one friend said whose mother-in-law runs a hair salon here, you’ll see more hookers in downtown Lethbridge than on the Las Vegas Strip. Which is not an understatement at all. Granted, on the Strip you’ll also see the odd dude in a dress flashing leg and other things which can ruin an appetite in a hurry — unless you like nuts at breakfast.
While taxis are always at hand, Uber is the way to go when exploring Vegas. Download the app, find the appointed pickup spot at hotels and book a ride. Because of all the tourist traffic in Las Vegas, you will wait maybe three or four minutes at the most before your car comes. And with Uber drivers having only a five-minute window before being allowed to go to their next call, you’d better be on time or you’ll be paying a partial fare which comes off your credit card. Uber vehicles are available in three sizes and I would definitely recommend ordering the largest for a party of four despite its slightly higher cost. Cramming four adult passengers into a Dodge Dart, as we had to one night, is not fun.
Both Uber user and driver rate each other so be courteous. Drivers have no obligation to accept a customer. And we were given an earful by one after my bud from Ontario barely got us to our ride on time.
Despite having one driver who didn’t speak English, I had to give him a five-star rating because the two female passengers in our party thought the young Cuban was cute. Even with the language barrier, he did get us to our destination quickly and inexpensively. Our Uber experience started when I thought I saw the Hard Rock just east of the Tropicana and figured we could walk to pick up our reserved concert tickets. The hotel I saw — and I was sober — was actually Hooters, the Hard Rock being a hike the others absolutely were not willing to make.
Each traveller will have different tastes in hotels and most of them deserve a look. I say most because there were a couple that just didn’t appeal to me for various reasons. With its location, clean rooms and great service, the Flamingo is a hotel I’d book again. it’s also next to the Linq promenade, a strip of shops and restaurants that is a destination unto itself. It also has a stop for a tram that takes visitors to various hotels and the Las Vegas Convention Center.
We found by mid-week the throngs filling the sidwalks had diminished somewhat and we never had to wait getting into a restaurant. Lineups at area Starbucks locations were another matter entirely.
Veteran Vegas fans have told me a day at the pool is necessary to unwind and revive. They’re right. The Flamingo’s is absolutely gorgeous and offers day beds for a fee. Reserve in advance and get food and bar service from poolside. We didn’t but it’s something I would definitely consider next time and hit the pools early because in the heat of a Las Vegas day, they will get packed early.
Our party never made it off the Strip except for the show at Hard Rock Hotel; there is just too much to see and experience in a five-day span. And being a gambler isn’t a prerequisite for fun. I spent a whopping $33 at gaming machines, a small price to pay for the experience of hanging out in Bugsy Siegel’s legendary hotel.
Viva las Vegas? Oh yeah!
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