You Don't Have to Be a High-Roller in Las Vegas
by Leon Schwarzbaum
If you want to live like a "high roller" on a "penny ante" budget, go to Las Vegas. Impossible, you say? Not in Las Vegas, a once-small desert town that has grown into an internationally acclaimed playground. Yes, the main appeal is gambling (or "gaming," as the law books call it), but an individual, a couple or a group can enjoy one of the most exciting vacations at low cost - if gambling is not on the agenda.
For much less than a vacation at a Disney resort, you (and your family) can delight in free (or almost free) shows, rides and visual enchantment. No longer small, Las Vegas has seen a boom never imagined by the gamblers who made or lost fortunes since the first casino opened. This year alone, more than $5 billion worth of new hotels will open, adding thousands of rooms to the already mind-boggling capacity of the city. Recently opened hotels have integrated some of the most imaginative entertainment centers and exciting architecture around.
Whether you drive to Las Vegas or fly into McCarran Airport, less than 10 minutes away sits Las Vegas Boulevard, or "the strip," which has become the dominant feature of the city. Lined with luxury hotels and casinos, the strip runs north and south, parallel to US15. Auto rentals are reasonable ($25 per day gets you an "economy" car) and airport shuttles and taxis are also reasonably priced.
From its south end, where the newest hotels are now clustered to the north end (downtown), bargains are available to visitors. Steady customers (gamblers) are offered "comps" - complimentary rooms and meals - by casinos hopeful of recouping their costs at the gaming tables. But just off Las Vegas Boulevard, one or two blocks at most, motels and smaller hotels offer accommodations for less than $40 per night.
Smart shoppers who read the local advertising flyers can get almost the same rates during the week in the larger hotels. Using free guest parking and dining at the sumptuous buffets, tourists can spend exciting days and nights in Las Vegas at surprisingly low costs. "All you can eat" breakfasts, including eggs, meats, cereal, fruit, pastries and beverages, cost as little as $4 in some hotels. Buffet lunches for less than $6 and dinners for less than $8, in pleasant dining rooms, offer more high-quality food than one can eat. And children usually receive a special rate.
Starting at the south end of the strip, which intersects with Tropicana Avenue, the current blockbuster hotels are clustered. Mandalay Bay*, Luxor* and Excalibur* rise south of Tropicana Avenue. Each offers a dazzling show, with entertainment competing with decor for the attention of visitors. Mandalay Bay, expected to open in March, will mimic the exotic Far East for its visitors. For a small fee, vacationers at Luxor can take a boat ride down the "Nile," within the pyramid that was constructed to house the hotel. Crossing the moat to Excalibur, which resembles a group of fairy-tale castle towers, visitors find themselves in mediaeval splendor.
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at New York New York*, you can see Paris* and a replica of the famous Eiffel Tower. With the skyline of New York City behind you, MGM Grand*, presenting a world of movie magic, gleams from across the street. On your right, the pyramid of Luxor almost blocks your view of the moon over Mandalay Bay. To your left, a volcano erupts on schedule at the Mirage*, where you can walk through a tropical rain forest and watch the sharks in a huge aquarium. A few steps away, a pirate ship duels with a British Navy man-of-war several times a day at Treasure Island*, a tableau made more realistic by live crewmen abandoning their burning ship by diving into the harbor where the engagement takes place.
And if you think Monte Carlo* is beautiful, with its marble facade and luxurious lobbies and shops, take the free aerial tram to Bellagio*. There, no expense seems to have been spared installing marble mosaic floors, an interior garden featuring thousands of orchids and other exotic plants. A world-famous art collection also can be viewed for a fee.
To enhance the feeling of affluence in this sector of the strip, the shopping mall at nearby "top-of-the-line" Caesar's* offers high-priced merchandise, and is reputed to produce the highest dollar sales per square foot in the U.S.
By now, the kids may be getting restless. So head on over to Circus Circus*, where headline circus acts are performed free all day every day. Park those kids old enough to be left alone or with siblings in a seat in the bleachers and walk through the casino where the die-hards feed the "one armed bandits" (slot machines) or compete against computers playing poker or blackjack. You may have tried the roller coaster at New York New York, but you will not forgive yourself if you decline to ride the one at Stratosphere*, where the ride is perched on an awe-inspiring tower.
Although its days as the premier showplace have passed, the newly refurbished Sahara* offers you (and the kids) an opportunity to race a virtual reality competition car and see a 3-D show in the only such theater in Las Vegas. The Sahara's buffet is known for some of the lowest-priced outstanding meals in Vegas - as the locals call it.
There is much more to offer as you stroll down the strip. Don't overlook the cultural opportunities in Vegas, home of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). Concerts, dance and live theater are available. At the Rio*, the "treasures of Russia" are on display, advertised as "the largest display of Russian historic objects ever shown in the U.S."
Local museums and places of interest can be found by reading the free literature at any hotel concierge's desk.
Check out the weather before you go - the high desert climate ranges from very hot in the summer to cold in the winter. You may want to include a swimsuit, or alternatively, a heavy outer jacket. Most tourists don't seem to care, and the activities continue throughout the year.
Note: * designates the name of a hotel.