At four thirty a.m. last night I finished wolfing down my table-side omelet, racked up my chips, cashed in, left Bellagio's poker room, and headed to the airport for a red-eye back to San Francisco. I've been to Las Vegas more times than I can possibly count, and absolutely love it. When people tell me that they hate Vegas, my knee-jerk response is to tell them that they're doing the wrong things in Vegas.
So this is my quick and dirty guide to Vegas. And let's be honest. what other sort of guide to Vegas could possibly exist?
You should stay on the strip, preferably in the middle or South. I like the Bellagio hotel because it has a great location and is where I spend most of my time anyway. If you're going to stay there, call and ask for the "poker rate". It should be around $110 a night (they don't check to make sure you play poker, but you should live up to your end of the bargain and play). Another top choice is The Signature at MGM. Every room has a jacuzzi and a full kitchen (with pots and pans), so you can actually cook your own food. Healthy food is VERY hard to come by in Las Vegas, so this is a good option.
I would also gladly stay at the following hotels: MGM, New York New York, Treasure Island, Ceasar's Palace, Paris, Venetian, Wynn, Encore, anything in City Center, Luxor, or the Mirage. I may be forgetting a couple places. On any given night, you should be able to get a room for $60 or so at one of those hotels.
When you check in, do the "20 dollar trick", which has an 80%+ success rate in Las Vegas. Put a $20 bill in between your license and credit card, and hand it over to the checkin person. Ask if there are any complimentary upgrades. Many people get lucky and get upgraded to huge suites for free.
If you're staying for a week or longer, try renting a condo. There are a lot of them very close to the strip. Check craigslist.
There is no better city in the US to rent a car than Las Vegas. Rates are around $15 a day after taxes, and it will save you a $12 round-trip shuttle fare to and from the airport. Every casino has free parking, both valet and self-park. Distances are deceptive in Las Vegas-walking from one casino to its neighbor might take 15-20 minutes. There is a monorail as well, but it's expensive, doesn't go everywhere, and stops running at 2 or 3am. Stick with a rental car and self park it.
As a former professional gambler, take it from me: you probably shouldn't gamble. You can't expect to win at any game other than poker against other players (side note: there is actually a Hold'Em machine now that is beatable if you're a GREAT poker player).
If you do want to play poker, I recommend playing the $4-8 limit game at Bellagio or the $3-6 at the Mirage. The best book on the subject is Winning Low Limit Hold'Em by Lee Jones. If you can fully digest and commit to memory the information in that book, you will be better than 95% of players you'll run up against. I'm a break-even player and I don't have the whole book down, yet.
I think learning Poker is a really valuable skill. It has a lot of parallels in real life and is very rewarding because of how much concentration and thought it requires to win. I also have this theory that if you spent a college-tuition equivalent on a poker bankroll, you would probably be making a lot more in four years of independent poker study than you would at a crappy entry-level job.
By the way, you get free drinks while playing poker. There's a much larger selection than they let on. Besides the usual alcoholic drinks and sodas, you can get orange or strawberry juliuses, hot chocolate, or tea. The Bellagio has a really solid green tea, which really shocked me. It's perfect for staying up late for that red-eye. You can also have food delivered to you at the table. It's expensive enough that you may as well just go to the buffet (ask for a line pass from the poker room to cut the whole line), but in a pinch it's a good way to eat without getting up from the table.
The best thing to do in Vegas is to see shows. Particularly Cirque Du Soleil shows. See "O" and/or "Mystere" first. Always get a discount on your tickets. Check online or with the front desk at the hosting hotel. It is very common to be able to get two-for-one tickets to shows. You can even call the box office and tell them you have a two for one coupon, and they'll probably book it without asking for any details. Vegas is a city built on comps and discounts.
I don't recommend Blue Man Group. I did really enjoy the Penn and Teller show. I haven't seen Zumanity. Love, or Viva Elvis. The Chris Angel Cirque show is supposed to be terrible.
There are also really cool exhibits in Vegas. Bodies at the Luxor is one of the best. The shark aquarium at Mandalay Bay is worth seeing. The Secret Garden at Mirage is surprisingly good.
Most casinos have free shows. None of them are real standouts except for the fountains at Bellagio.
I would have called this section "Food", but the truth is that 95% of my meals in Vegas have been at buffets. Nowhere in the world have I encountered such awesome buffets. They're expensive, but worth it.
Most buffets are truly awful, but the Bellagio and Wynn buffets are exceptional and about on par with each other. Wynn labels things as vegan, which is nice. At both you can expect high end items like crab legs, kobe beef, rack of lamb, and an assortment of fish and good vegetables. Neither consistently provides beans, which is disappointing.
The secret to buffets is to get there half an hour before the lunch-dinner switch. Pay the cheaper lunch rate, eat one plate of lunch food, and then for your second round, enjoy the more expensive dinner items. More variety, cheaper price.
At the Bellagio, you have to try the pesto mashed potatoes. I don't eat potatoes generally, but I always treat myself to a small glop of these suckers. Even the most skeptic of friends have been won over by the pesto mashed potatoes. Mmm.
That's about all I have to say about Vegas. It's such a cheap flight from almost anywhere in the US that it's a great place to meet friends from othter cities, or just go for a few days with your friends. Most people seem to agree that three days is the right amount of time in Vegas. I stayed for three weeks once and had a good time, but it's a different experience.
I took the header photo in 2000 on what was probably my second or third trip to Vegas. It doesn't seem as though I've taken many pictures there since then.
I'm back in SF for a while, planning on working, riding my motorcycle, and playing poker. Awesome.
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I live in Vegas (Henderson actually) and have stayed at a number of the hotels and seen a lot of the shows on the strip. It's pretty common for people living here to have a "staycation" on the strip for anniversary/birthday/etc.
I've tried the $20 trick and the best I've gotten is the resort fee taken off (which they usually do if you're a local anyways) and offered an "upgraded view" or "upgraded floor". Didn't get the double door, two floor suite I was hoping for!
I'm not a big fan of any of the Cirque shows. I always leave saying, what did I just watch? I find it very abstract.
My favorite show, by far, has been Phantom at Venetian. The girlfriend dragged me to it, but I thought it was great. The special effects are amazing, but the story and acting don't disappoint either.
Bodies, Titanic, and Shark Reef are also favorites of mine. You can buy them at a good discount in a 3 pack, I think it's around $60 for all three.
If you have extra time, I highly recommend visiting Red Rock. It's not that far (45 mins to get there from the strip) and it's beautiful scenery.
Many of the locals use house seats (google it) to get tickets to local shows for free. You pay a year subscription and are able to get tickets to shows where they need to fill seats. Probably wouldn't work for visitors unless you came a lot.
Completely off-topic question, but, Tynan, did you teach yourself how to program or learn it through classes? I would love to hear about how you learned it.
Man I love your site but if you can't post 2 per week I will probably just forget about it. Give us something. Anything. I don't care how many words you write, just keep me here. Please.
Nice post Tynan. This is some good info for those that haven't spent much time in Vegas. We (my wife and 2 dogs) are currently living in our RV here in Vegas behind the Venetian (I play poker there almost every day). It's our first stop on our indefinite travel adventure.
Here's a few more tips.
1. They now have 24 hour buffet tickets where you buy in and you can eat at the member buffets for a 24hr period. Get it at dinner time and you can get 4 meals in (including 2 dinners) if you time it right. It's a good value if you like to eat a lot.
2. If you don't really like to gamble or risk money and still want to get free drinks, go the bars inside the casinos that have video poker machines mounted in the bar. Wait for the bartender to come over, put $20 into the machine and order your drink. Drinks are comped if you're playing. Set the limit to 25 cents and slowly play a few hands of video blackjack. Some will require you to play 5 credit max but they almost never police this. We just did this last night the entire way down the strip starting at New York New York and ending at Bellagio hitting every place on the West side of the strip. You'll lose a few bucks sometimes but others you'll win and it almost always evens out and you get $5-$15 drinks for free. Note. Always leave a few bucks for the bartender.
3. If you're an RV'er and boondocking (as we are) there's a Flying J just up the 15 freeway exit Cheyenne - has FREE dump station, cheap gas, cheap propane, and water fill. And a Robertos taco shop inside. Win win win.
4. Always get a players card and use it at every property you go to. Sometimes you will get on a great marketing list and you'll get ridiculous deals on rooms, shows, etc.
5. Befriend a local. Locals get discounts on virtually everything in this city. Our friend here bought $149 La Reve tickets for us at $50 off each, just because she lives here. Yay.
6. Take a spa day. Spas at nice hotels (Aria, Venetian, Green Valley) are rad and if you just pay the entry fee and don't get any special services you get access to all sorts of great stuff. Beverages, fruit, hot teas, steam rooms, sauna, hot tub, salt rooms, gym, herbal rooms, all sorts of stuff. You can stay in there all day and eat and drink and relax. It's amazing, super relaxing, and an amazing value. The entry fees are really reasonable (we just went to Canyon Ranch at the Venetian and it cost us $20 each... awesome).
I couldn't agree more on learning to play poker and second the recommendation that Winning Low Limit Poker by Lee Jones is the hands down best book on the subject.
Hope this has been helpful.
From the back of the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, Cheers.
KA is really good. If you stay at MGM and you will get a good discount since KA is located at MGM. KA is an action type Cirque du Soleil with solid plot.
Being a California boy, Vegas is like our back yard. I used to go 3-5 times a year.
Reading your article makes me realize that I haven't been there in over 5 years
Vegas to me was drinking, gambling and women.
I've never done vegas like you suggest, playing a little poker, taking in the sites etc-- sounds cool.
Zumanity, Viva Elvis, and Ka are also fantastic! We just saw Mystere, and last year we saw "O" - which really can;t be beat.
We were just there last week and saw Penn and Teller from the front row - we actually saw Penn, his kids Moxie & Zoltan, Teller, and Gilbert Godfried all hanging out looking at the lobsters in the restaurant tanks before dinner before their show. The Lion King was pretty good if you have to take kids along (or not), and The Mirage's Secret Garden was interesting- you get much closer to those cats than you would at a zoo.
We've stayed at New York New York, MGM, Paris, and the Flamingo - all were good, the Flamingo is a bit dated, but all we used the room for was to sleep. (I wouldn't stay in the Hilton - I've known two people who got pneumonia after staying there for a conference!)
Yet another great article Tynan! I didn't know about the poker rates - I may be going there this summer, so I'll have to try that.
And about Blue Man Group - may just be a preference, but when I saw them in New York, I had a blast. I don't know if the Vegas one is different, and who knows - maybe I enjoy blue painted men banging on PVC pipes more than the next person :P
I'm going to check out that poker book. I've never understood the game - maybe I can now.
Last night I played poker at Bellagio in Las Vegas. At one point I got pocket queens, a tremendously good hand. The hand played as expected until the last card. I got raised by a mediocre player which meant that I could be assured that he had made his hand. I had hundreds of dollars in the pot, but I folded. The money was spent, and chasing after it wouldn't do me any good.
When I got home, I cleaned up my place and packed for my trip the next morning. Several months earlier I had used some airline points to book a round trip flight to Hong Kong. I stayed up late to get myself tired for the flight, and went to sleep.
The next morning I woke up to my alarm. I packed up my laptop, brushed my teeth, got dressed, and began to dial the number for the taxi company to take me to the airport. I paused for a minute and then put down the phone.
Why was I going to Hong Kong? I like Hong Kong a lot, especially this one teahouse in the park. And I had twelve hours in Seoul, which I was looking forward to. But beyond that, there was no reason to go. I was going by myself and had nothing planned. On the other hand, I had tons to do in Las Vegas. I'd finally gotten a stove, so I could complete the kitchen remodel I was working on. I had lots of regular work to do, too.
To me, this is part of what being an entrepreneur is all about. Turning around in the taxi line, embarrassing yourself in front of hundreds of people, and seeing what happens. Often times, it's something good, because nobody else is willing to try it.
Here is a trasnscript of the video: