I am definitely the last person Las Vegas would ever want to have for a visit. The worst. In fact, if you cloned a hundred thousand of me and we all came for a vacation at the same time, they’d probably have to close the place down. I don’t drink very often ( I drank my lifetime quota of alcohol in my first ten years of adulthood). I don’t party much, and I am way too risk-averse to gamble. I would appear to be the antithesis of someone who would be the Las Vegas demographic. And yet, I had a great time on my visit and found a lot of things to do. Many of them for little or no cost.
From its very inception as a gambling mecca, the savvy casino owners knew people would come for the gambling and stay for the shows, They added glamour and helped provide those who have cleaned out in the gambling halls a pleasant diversion from misery. While not free the shows were usually at a reduced price since the lion’s share of revenue was coming from gaming. That all changed in the 1990s when the Mirage hotel opened its free volcano show outside the building. It helped usher in a new era of free curbside entertainment.
Other hotels soon followed. The fountains of the Bellagio hotel had dancing waters, Treasure Island had a sinking pirate ship. And while the many of the casinos had always carried a theme, in the late ’90s and early 00’s the hotels themselves became a show unto themselves. Today, you can go from Egypt to a medieval castle in New York City, Paris, and Venice just up the street. Las Vegas was making the segue from an adult playground to a more family-friendly destination a la Disney.
While the changes may be to the chagrin of many for non-gamblers like myself, it gives us plenty to do. I was there for three days and found more than enough to do. Here’s a list of my Top 10.
Number 10) The lobby, grand canal and street performers of The Venetian Hotel. The interior of the Venetian is a replica of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy. Street performers, musicians, jugglers, and moving statues amaze and entertain. The shows are often improvised and always enjoyable.
9) The Dancing Waters of the Bellagio and The Planet Hollywood Hotels. Located right next to the Strip, the fountains are so marvelous they often create their own traffic jams. Many drivers including some locals will just let their car stall and watch the show from the road. The waters are choreographed to colored lights and music that runs the gamut from Elvis, to classical. The Planet Hollywood Hotel also has a fountain show but it is much smaller and usually plays more contemporary music.
8) The Conservatory and the Chihuly glass sculpture in the Bellagio Hotel Once you’ve seen the fountains head inside of the Bellagio and see the conservatory. The conservatory is an inside botanical garden, The theme is always changing when I was there it was a sunken garden with flower sculpted jellyfish. The lobby of the Bellagio has a glass sculpture by renowned artist Dale Chihuly. The sculpture consists of over two thousand multi-colored glass flowers. Like a glass Monet painting, you can get lost in thought just staring at it.
7) The iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas sign.” The Las Vegas version of getting your passport stamped, getting your picture by the sign, is the bonafide way of confirming you’ve been here. The symbol a bit out of the way from the center of the strip but is within easy walking distance.
6) The Fremont Street Experience The two main hubs for the casinos is the strip and downtown along Fremont street. Many people like downtown better because it is more reminiscent of the older Las Vegas. A bit more gritty and less flashy than it’s neighbor the more modern Strip, The street is covered in a canopy that explodes nightly with music and color. There’s a zip line called “Slotzilla’ which allows the more daring to fly above the heads of their fellow denizens. The street is probably the best place to people watch and has free entertainment of both intentional and often unintentional varieties.
5) Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam actually gave birth to modern Las Vegas. The workers who built the Hoover dam would descend on nearby Las Vegas to spend their hard-earned money. The barrier helps provide the electricity that keeps the neon signs bright. The dam is fascinating and is sure to shock the first time visitor with its sheer enormity. The dam is free to visit. There is a fee for parking, but if you park on the Arizona side of the dam, it is free.
4) The Mob Museum Billionaire tycoons may have replaced the organized crime families as the kingpins of Las Vegas, but their legacy lives on at the Mob Museum. The history of the mob is told in a very forthright and entertaining manner.
3)The Neon Boneyard Liberace, Sinatra, and the casinos that featured them may be long gone, but their neon signs live on at the Neon Boneyard. The Boneyard, part of the more celebrated neon Museum contains outdoor neon signs from many of the iconic hotels of the past such as The sands and Stardust Hotels. The neon offers a two for one ticket with The Mob Museum which will save you a nice chunk of change.
2) The Pinball Hall of Fame At over 10,000 square feet, this is the most extensive collection of pinball machines in one place, The devices; all of which are playable, cover the last fifty years. Since the HoF is a nonprofit organization, the money you spend playing goes to a local charity.
1) The Shows! I can’t get away with not naming the shows as the number one non-gambling attraction in Las Vegas. There is indeed something for everyone. Every type of music, variety acts, magic and comedy are available every night of the week. The Cirque Du Soleil currently rules the roost with six different shows all running simultaneously, including “Love” which features newly remixed music by the Beatles. There’s also Penn and Teller’s long-running show, Celine Dion and the direct from Broadway shows like “The Jersey Boys.” Plus a lot of smaller sized shows where you may just get to see “the next big thing.”
While it is the highest priced option on the list, there are a few hacks I’d like to share to help lower the expense. There’s an online site tix4tonight.com that has same-day tickets available. They also have a couple kiosks right on the strip. I have another trick that worked for me: just go right up to the ticket office and ask for a half-priced ticket. If the show isn’t sold out and it’s a few hours before the show, ticket sellers would instead fill a seat for less than keep it early. Also, ask the usher if the show is sold out. If it isn’t asking the usher to seat you close to the stage. I was never turned down doing this.
Even for the non-gambler, I think Las Vegas is somewhere everyone should visit at least once. There’s plenty to do outside of the casinos. If a square like me can still have a ball, then anyone can.