On the final approach to McCarran International, the neon oasis of Las Vegas washes over the pitch-black desert like an orange ocean. Extravagance passes my window in single file. There’s the Stratosphere tower, lit up like a 350-meter-tall candy cane. Then there are the peacock-fan colors of Bally’s and the simple elegance of the Wynn. For a moment, Las Vegas is a manageable size.
It’s easy to forget who you are in Las Vegas. The city doesn’t care about your past, only your future. And a lucky roll is always just around the corner.
Las Vegas is a state of mind. Las Vegas is biting off more than you can chew. Las Vegas is turning up your car stereo until the windows rattle. Las Vegas is staring at the sun, with binoculars.Las Vegas is also a huge money-suck. It is a city built to separate you from your money. But with a little guidance, and a suitcase full of restraint, your wallet may survive the time of your life.
First of all, you need to time your trip to Las Vegas right. Since you’re probably not a high roller yet, off-season is your best bet. Think about heading there as a treat after finishing up your fall semester. Flight and hotel rates are considerably lower in mid-to-late December, but if you want a swanky Las Vegas New Year’s trip, be prepared to spend a little more.
Once you hit the ground, you’ll need somewhere to leave your stuff while you’re out all night. That’s right, a hotel room. Each hotel has its own character, but a few stand out for cost-conscious travel-ers, also known as students. The Stratosphere, the Luxor, and the Sahara are particularly thrifty. The gaming industry has taken a big hit over the last year, which means most hotels offer substantial incentives to get you into their beds. These deals change often, so you’ll need to do some home-work. With just a few clicks on Vegas.com, I pretty much found you a flight plus hotel package for less than $450. Beat that!
If you want to go home with enough dough to buy breakfast the next day, do something other than gamble, and switching to slots doesn’t count. Here’s a rundown of what else there is to do in vegas, so you can stave off that developing gambling addiction just a little longer:
Eat At Capriotti’s
To say capriotti’s makes the best sandwich I’ve ever had is a dis-service to the Vegas institution. The “Bobbie,” a Thanksgiving tribute of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and—yes—mayo, was a revelation. Even their Italian sub, a sandwich-shop staple, blew my expectations out of the water. There are several locations around Vegas, but their closest spot to the strip is at 322 W. Sahara Ave., just half a block from the Sahara.
Ride The Monorail
With the strip measuring four miles in length, transportation should not be an afterthought. The monorail is probably your best option, as cabs are expensive and Las Vegas Boule-vard is often snarled with traffic. The one-day pass is quite affordable at $9. The monorail also features—for better or worse—a nonstop narration of the sights of the strip. Though initially informative, a few days of monorail use may leave the narra-tion permanently imprinted on your psyche.
The Fountains of The Bellagio
The dancing fountains outside the Bellagio are world-famous, and, most importantly, free. Watch as they rise out of the sprawling man-made lake in front of the Bellagio. But that’s not all. The Bellagio itself has perhaps the most glamorous atmosphere of all Vegas casinos. Even James Bond would probably dress up for this classy casino. The entrance is adorned with hundreds of glass flowers suspended from the ceiling. Straight ahead, you’ll find the conservatory, full of the Bellagio’s opulent seasonal gardens. There isn’t a single dull square foot here.
Inside The Venetian
There is no better example of seeing the world through Vegas-colored glasses than the Venetian. It recreates Venice, as though it were actually a mall. Despite the obvious kitsch factor, the place is truly en-chanting. It is one of several hotels that attempts to recreate another time or place, and is arguably the most successful. The cloud-painted ceilings play merciless tricks on your eyes, and the canals evoke centuries of Venetian history.
Cirque Du Soleil
cirque du Soleil is the kind of stuff you see only in dreams. Sure, it might not make a lot of sense, but it will probably make you question your perception of reality. There are five different permanent shows in Las Vegas: O, Ka, Mystere, Zumanity and Love. The shows’ stages really set them apart. O’s stage submerges to turn into a massive pool, while Ka’s comes completely off the ground and can rotate 360 degrees. O and Ka are among the hardest tickets to get, and also among the most expensive. Translation: if you don’t have tickets before you hit the ground in Vegas, you won’t see either of these shows.
Blue Man Group
There is no other show like the Blue Man Group. Not in Vegas, not anywhere. Unless you’re at one of the dozen-or-so other Blue Man Group shows around the world. Their unique blend of music, thought-provoking voice-overs and gallons of paint is truly entertaining. Best of all, there’s actually a decent chance of getting steeply discounted tickets from the discount ticket broker Tix 4 Tonight (tix4tonight.com).
A Word on Buffets
The legend of great food on the cheap at Vegas buffets is little more than a legend these days. Though low prices have remained, the food is terrible. Just terrible. Save yourself the disappointment and stomach-ache— eat elsewhere if at all possible.
Lisa Cleary > Graduate Student > Professional Writing > Towson University.
*Originally published in College Magazine’s print publication, Fall 2008 D.C. issue.