The Explorer’s guide to Las Vegas
Helen and I had the privelege of a business trip to Las Vegas recently, and as non-gamblers, we wanted to find fun things to do, and to explore without compromising on personal values. Helen had to be in conferences for most of the days, but we did get one full exploring day together and a few nights out. We were staying at Treasure Island.
What to see
Fortunately, there really is a lot of free stuff to look at in Vegas. It’s best to plan your trip before you set out, and your hotel front desk can help with this by providing a tourist map and a bus pamphlet if you want one. Note that Vegas is dead before 10am and drunk after 2pm. The hotel side of the street (with Mirage, Caesar’s Palace, Luxor etc.) is wider and more friendly than the other side, which is narrower and has more nuisance advertisers.
The free attractions are almost all directly on the strip (a.k.a Las Vegas Boulevard). You can work from your hotel outwards to see:
- The Bellagio fountains (these run periodically throughout the day and every 15 mins after 8pm)
- The Bellagio lobby and conservatory (straight ahead in the lobby) which at time of writing had a pretty amazing Christmas setup created by the Coca Cola company, featuring polar bears made of real carnations and a model train.
- Venetian canals - outdoor, and indoor in the Grand Canal Shoppes
- Caesar’s Palace and Forum Shops - circular escalator, statues, fountains, mall with painted ceilings and “streetmosphere” (people in costume wandering around, but I didn’t see this)
- The Wynn lobby - don’t know if this was just seasonal but it had a full-size carousel with horses made of carnations, along with suspended balls of Christmas flowers and lights, very pretty
- Luxor sphinx and pyramid interior
- Welcome to Las Vegas sign, which is at the Mandalay Bay end of the strip (didn’t actually see this)
- Mandalay Bay approach, lobby, and escalators up to the tram, which are designed in an exotic Incan style (reminded me of the Sun Temple from Avatar: Legend of Aang)
- Mandalay Bay to Excalibur tram - free to ride and an easy way to get back up the strip
- NYNY - outside has a replica Brooklyn Bridge which is a nice photo opportunity; inside has some model New York streets and “Times Square” which was pretty underwhelming (maybe I had been a bit spoiled by this point in the trip). A word to the wise: the “Chrysler Elevator” doesn’t go up to a viewpoint; it’s guest rooms only. Whoops.
- Hershey’s World, if you’re into it
- FashionShow (mall) at Treasure Island has some cool stores including Disney, Lego, and Dick’s Sporting Goods (neat if you’re a US sports fan or if you’ve seen that Adam Sandler movie where he works at DSG… not the same one though) - these are in accord with my nerdy tastes and so Your Mileage May Vary.
La Cantina Salsa in the corner of Forum Shops was a nice breakfast with good service. I can recommend the breakfast meat platter skillet thingy to share between two… you wouldn’t think that tortillas and salsa were good fits at breakfast time but it turns out they are. They do a basic cooked breakfast for under $5.
For Kids (big and small)
If you’re a Treasure Island guest, definitely try Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. It is $5 for hotel guests, and that includes the necessary device rental. If you’re not a guest, it’s more like $40 which is no longer a no brainer. Make sure to take photos on your own phone because it costs a lot to buy the montage they make from whatever pics you take on the rented device.
You can also check out the aforementioned Lego and Disney stores but they basically follow a cookie-cutter pattern from every other Lego and Disney store.
Off the strip (and taking the bus)
Tourists are encouraged to buy bus tickets at the Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) where it is $6 for a 2 hour pass. Avoid this! You can buy tickets on-board the Deuce for much better value.
The strip is served by the Deuce and the SDX. On the Deuce, you can pay the resident price of $5 for an all day ticket but you must have the exact money. You cannot do this on the SDX, which is a tourist bus, and has a mini-TVM installed on board which will charge you the aforementioned $6/2 hours.
You can catch either of these to Sahara Ave. The SDX briefly leaves the strip to go past a nearby conference center, so don’t be alarmed. Both have stops on Sahara Ave which are very close to one another. From Sahara Ave, you can then catch either the SXA or SXB, going west, to get to retail parks with a range of chain restaurants (cheaper than on the strip) and interesting stores. My particular favourites follow:…
Not to be confused with Pavilion Central (the last stop on the route), Sahara Pavilions is a cool retail park with a few hobby stores and normal business-end-of-America stores. Note that you need to leave your bags at the front/with security at any store you go in.
- MeepleVille - this is a shining gem and worth travelling to. MeepleVille is a mind-blowing board game store and cafe, with an enormous library of games which can be played for an entry fee of $5. Timm, the owner, is delightful, and the crowd on the meetup night were really chilled, friendly, normal people. The whole place was amazingly clean, organised, and good-smelling for a board game hub. Timm has demarcated sections for the top 100 BoardGameGeek games, games from Wil Wheaton’s TableTop, games about dragons, space, etc, etc. So you can always find a good recommendation or whatever you’re looking for.
- Dollar Tree - it would seem stupid to a local, but I love visiting shops like Dollar Tree just because they have a different range of products to our pound shops, and everything is 83p! (Conversion rate 1.2 at time of writing) Great for sweets, drinks, toys for nephews and nieces, and just cool cheap stuff.
- HobbyTown - this is a hobby store with tons of materials for model trains, slot cars, tabletop gaming, Gundam, and remote control cars and copters. Worth a look around. I bought some cute little plastic figures to use in D&D for 49 cents each, and when Helen and I went back we each got each other some Gundam Gunpla for Christmas.
- El Super - this is a supermarket aimed at the spanish-speaking market, but since there’s no WalMart anywhere near the strip, you might want to visit to stock up on food or snacks or whatever. Especially if you’re self catering somehow.