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August 2010

Top 5 Stupid Mistakes Travelers Make When Visiting Las Vegas

Preface

In my efforts to help out for a campaign at a particular Vegas resort, I put together an article for them to use with their mailing list. However, when I was writing the article I found myself actually thinking more in personal terms as to how I wish my own friends could / would / should experience this incredible city.

So I’ve gone ahead and attached below the article I made for them. Enjoy..

After living in Las Vegas for a while (and having worked in the Travel & Resort industry), there are so many things that I find I take for granted.

Having had friends come for vacation or business (or both) – I keep finding out (too late) that they’ve already ruined their chances of really getting the best out of their “Vegasperience”.

I wouldn’t say that they don’t have a good time (far from it!) – however, they definitely could’ve enjoyed their time more  (and far more cheaply) if they had just asked me or done a little research on their own.

Let’s do a quick-over on these common mistakes:

  1. Not Planning Ahead of Time
  2. Staying at a Hotel instead of a Resort
  3. Going to Familiar, Popular, or Fast-Food Restaurants Instead of the Hidden Treats.
  4. Not Taking Advantage of the Deals
  5. Missing Out on the (Unique) Vegas Offerings

Let’s go over exactly what I am talking about…

#1 Not Planning Ahead of Time

This includes all of the essentials that you have control over. Some things may not apply if you are going for scheduled event like a convention or birthday or bachelor(ette) party, etc. Or, if for example, your trip is paid for by your company or a friend. What you do have control over, however, you should take control of.

When Are You Traveling?

The summer months can be brutal if you aren’t used to the desert heat, likewise it can actually get surprisingly nippy during the winter. However, the best shopping on the strip happens during the cold season (Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve). We’re not talking about 40% savings at Kohl’s either. We’re talking about 50%-80% off of items that usually sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars. I remember buying a jacket that I had wanted badly for years, but cost $6000. No waaaaay I was going to spend that. Then, they had an 80% off sale on Thanksgiving Day and I walked out of there wearing it for a little over a grand. Awesome, right?

How Are You Getting There?

Like most people you are likely traveling by ground or air. If you are renting a car, consider looking for special programs, codes, offers that give you an upgrade. A good example is Hertz. If you just go straight to the site and sign-up – you’ll end up with a standard membership. If you want to upgrade to Gold Membership for example, it’ll cost you. If you do a little research however, you should be able to find yourself a FREE Gold Membership. (I just googled: free hertz gold membership and got several usable results.)

For Air, check non-major airports and airlines. They not only may be closer than the major airport (or not much further away), but offer cheaper parking, cheaper flights, and more options. One of my personal favorites is Allegiant Air. Sometimes even their last minute deals are hundreds of dollars cheaper than normal flight reservations. Once I flew from Arizona to Chicago and booked a (one-way) flight for only $53 that was flying out the following weekend. If that isn’t a great deal, I don’t know what is.

Where Are You Staying?

Nothing could be worse than staying at normal hotel or run down resort when you stay here. Las Vegas has some of the best accommodations in the entire world, and they dry up fast too. Why would you come here and stay in the same kind of place you’d stay at in your home town? Which leads us to #2…

#2 Staying at a Hotel Instead of a Resort

If you spend time looking at the resorts, you’ll find deals where you can stay at actual Resorts for the price that you would pay for a regular Hotel. People always tell me “Israel, I don’t care about where I’m going to sleep – I’m going to spend all my time out enjoying the city“. Believe me, where you stay in Vegas can make the difference between a good stay and an amazing one. It just doesn’t make sense to stay at a hotel when you can stay at a Resort for the same prices.

Hotel VS Resort
Nawww who cares where you sleep at night, right?

Lets look at the Hooters Resort. I just checked their online site (mind you getting prices directly from a resort’s site is usually the worst price you can possibly get). So, when you see that their site shows that you can stay in one of their nice bungalows for only $29 per night, or if you want to get nuts and stay in the tower where you are decked out for $53 per night.. that Holiday Inn for $89 or that weird resort that has a weird name that sounds familiar but its not right on the strip and charges over $120 per night for one room and two beds starts to sound pretty silly. Scratch that. It sounds downright stupid.

I’d love it if you contacted me directly so I could hook you up with an awesome stay for on the super cheap – but even if you decide to go with someone else, please, please.. don’t stay at some horrible (and usually more expensive)  hotel or *shudder* motel. When you stop at your place to relax, sleep, wake up, whatever: you’ll be happy you’re staying in a place that really makes you feel like you’re on a vacation and not couch-surfing at some distant, estranged relative’s who, for some reason, is charging you money for the (dis)pleasure of having a roof over your head.

#3 Going to Normal Restaurants Instead of the Hidden Treats.

This probably makes me angrier than anything else. Why are you going to McDonalds when you are in Vegas? Or even the Hard Rock Cafe and other restaurants that you can go to anytime in any major city? It’s just so inane. Let’s check out a few places.

For an amazing lunch (actually, the best in the entire city) I used to go to the Vintner Grill. The name doesn’t say much. From the outside it looks like an office building. The inside, makes it look like a high-end place from the 60′s. This place is never empty, but being a secret of Vegas, also never too full. The food is so good, you’ll be shocked when you see the bill. I used to eat here every day for lunch. Instead of paying $60 – $100 (as you would expect from meals with this high a quality), you’ll be paying the same as if you had gone to a Chile’s or TGIF.

The Vintner Grill is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars if you wont take my word for it and can be found at 10100 West Charleston Boulevard Las Vegas, Nevada 89135 and can be reached at (702) 214-5590. (You probably will never need to reserve a table, but just in case you do…)

For seafood the best place in possibly the entire world (and I’d be willing to bet everything I own that nothing in Louisiana would be able to touch it) is the world famous Oyster Bar at the Palace Station.

A Bowl of the House Gumbo
Ambrosia, thy name is Oyster Bar Gumbo

Now before you skip reading if you don’t like seafood – let me be blunt. I don’t enjoy eating seafood – I do eat the occasional fish or lobster or crab cakes, Spanish tapas, and various sushi rolls and fried fish sandwiches or sticks – however, I don’t really enjoy eating that kind of food at all. Notwithstanding all that, even I was unable to deny the amazing savory flavour of their world famous combo pan. A roast which has lobster, shrimp, crab in a cream based sauce and put on two different scales of spice and hot that range from 1 – 10. Personally I always order an 8 / 10 respectively. Everyone I know, seafood lovers and haters alike agree that this dish is ambrosia itself. They only have like 5-8 seats though, so you can expect to wait up to an hour or more if you go during the wrong time of day. However, it is worth the wait.

The Palace Station is located at 2411 W Sahara Ave. Las Vegas, NV – it is located downstairs by the machines in the casino area.. it can actually be easy to miss – so if you cant spot the stand with little round stools with a large green sign above that says “Oyster Bar”, then I suggest you ask one of the staff to direct you. (Or just look for the like, crazy long line if you come during the busy part of the day)

For Mexican food, prepare to be impressed on authenticity and you can’t beat the fact that its a 24-hour establishment. I’m talking about Tacos Mexico. Now it may not appear like much from the outside (white building with peeling paint and red reliefs) – and it doesn’t appear like much from the inside either – but the food is anything but totally authentic and totally awesome.

A Street View of the Tacos Mexico Restaurant
Eat like a Mexican Drug Lord but affordable by even the poorest Mariachi

The broths, the tacos, the burritos, the chile’s relleno’s.. wow. There’s not much seating space, so maybe be prepared to eat in your car if its lunchtime. However, late at night you can usually nab a table. I recommend anything really (especially what I listed above if you like it authentic), however, I really, truly do recommend you try out their orange salsa. That right I said orange. It’s actually a Roasted Chimichurri Salsa. They usually have 2 or 3 salsas (the regular red or green), but their Chimichurri is the absolute best I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Its even better than many homemade authentic versions and you are definitely in for a treat when you use that with some lime juice on your tacos. (Al pastor por favor!)

Tacos Mexico is located on 3820 W Sahara Ave near the S Valley View Blvd intersection in Las Vegas, NV – If you can speak Spanish and would want to call ahead of time the number is (702) 444-1171 . It can be easy to miss, however, it has a large white sign – a terrible and scarily small drive-thru.

If you absolutely must try a fast-food restaurant.. then look no further

Jollibee is considered the Filipino McDonalds
Jollibee is Dangerously Popular

than the world famous “Jollibee”. It not that famous in the United States (hence why you’ve probably never heard of it) .. but think of it as the Filipino version of McDonalds. It’s very well known abroad (particularly in the Philippines of course) – but be prepared for a surprisingly delicious and different tasting fast food meal in a cute package.Now my father was a man who loved his corn beef hash. Everyone else in my house dreaded the moment he would cook it as we hated the smell and would lock ourselves into our rooms whenever you ate the wretched stuff. I vowed to never eat or taste that vile concoction. A vow I broke when I came across their delicious corn beef hash burger that came with mayo. As for their cute little bit of spaghetti or cheeseburgers, etc. etc. Well, I sure wouldn’t turn it away.

There are two Jollibee’s so far as I know in the Las Vegas area, the one I used to live close to on 3890 S Maryland Parkway and another one on 9430 W Sahara Ave.

Sure, there’s a lot of great restaurants with great food on the Strip. However, the one I particularly like, that happens to be Italian and has what I consider to be the coolest show / experience while eating lunch or dinner, is Olive’s at the Bellagio. The coffee’s and unique dipping breads are good, the food is great, but the water show you will enjoy on the outside terrace (you have to get a table outside on the terrace) is one of the quintessential moments in your life that you will recall decades after you go, even if you never return to Vegas again. I won’t say anything more other than, to not go would be very sad. I diddn’t go often, but I remember every single time I went.

Olive’s Restaurant is located in the Bellagio on the Vegas Strip.

I could go on and on, but I could not stop this list without mentioning the Thanksgiving Buffet at the Valle Verde Casino Resort. Available obviously only on Thanksgiving – it the considered to be the best Thanksgiving Buffet experience in the world. A secret all the locals in the area (the southern part of Vegas known as Henderson) descend on like a mad house.

The inside of the Casino Area at the Valle Verde Resort
Otherwise known as the Green Valley Casino

The line stretches through the bottom floor of the casino so far, that your party can expect to wait more than 4 hours just to to the “waiting area”. Now, if you are even lucky enough to know about this – what many people dont know and you are very lucky now that I am going to tell you is that you can cut 3 or 4 hours easily out of your wait (so you wait maybe 20-40 minutes instead) is if you stay at the Resort as a guest, you can get a speed pass to cut straight to the purchase line. Viola. Even if you do decide to wait – do so.. it is definitely worth the wait.

The Casino Valle Verde is located just southeast of the Strip at 697 North Valle Verde Drive Henderson, Nevada 89014 and you can call them at (702) 454-9200.

#4 Not Taking Advantage of the Deals

Vegas has casinos right? Did you know you can get hundreds and hundreds of free dollars (worth of slot / play) ? Most people apparently do not. In a land where even when I walk into a gas station or Walgreens at night to buy myself a handle of Jim Beam and a 2-liter of cherry cola – I inevitably always see some poor misfit just sitting there at some poker machine dropping their last 20-dollar bills from their weekend paycheck. Well, all of the major casinos offer Casino Memberships or Membership Cards. You don’t have to sign a bunch of forms or get a background check or anything. You just present any legal form of identification, sign your name, pay nothing, and get a free card printed out – with money already on it! These range anywhere from places like the Red Rock Casino where you get $5 initially and a $5 bump just randomly every few weeks or months. If that isn’t exciting enough for you – Hooters gives you $100 right off the bat. If you win big on this free money – you keep it all.

There’s also the coupon books, discount cards, Internet offers & discounts for shows like the Cirque du Soleil. Why pay full price when you can pay so much less so easily? Now instead of just hearing about the show thats hundreds of dollars, you can see it and know its less than you’re going to blow on cocktails afterwards.

Remember too, open containers (of alcohol) in public is a commonplace thing. Why spend $6 on that beer inside the club you passed by, when you can stop at the liquor store and walk around with a beer-filled camelbak? Or pint of hard liquor.. or whatever your poison may be.

#5 Missing Out on the (Unique) Vegas Offerings

I was recently on a flight going from Chicago to Phoenix and ended up having a great conversation with the gentleman in the seat next to mine. (Hit or miss, I know, thank goodness) While we were talking, we ended up talking about Sin City. In particular, he told me he had gone to Vegas many times, but I was shocked to find that he apparently knew nothing about some of the best experiences.

Red Rock Mountain Canyon

Sure there are mountains. Sure there are lots of mountains in Nevada. However, the Red Rock National Park which is in the western outskirts of Las Vegas (just find the Red Rock Casino, which by the way is an awesome place to stay &/or eat at, and head west from there) is really one of the most amazing and exciting places to go mountain hiking / climbing.

On the Road towards the Red Rock Canyon Range
Impressive in the distance, even moreso at the Peak

You can go to the park, pay $3 for a day pass (one per vehicle) and really see some of the greatest mountain range sights in the United States. Second, if you are into climbing like me (not the hardcore rappelling kind) then be prepared for not just an awesome workout and climb, but some truly breathtaking sights. Even better (and free) for climbing purposes (not hiking) is the Calico Canyon which lies just east (or before) the Red Rock Park.

Mount Charleston

Lying on the northern skirts of Las Vegas, this mountain range reaches higher than 3,500 meters. That means snowlots of it. I don’t like to Ski or Snowboard myself – but I really did enjoy being able to quickly shoot up to one of the Ski Lodges during lunchtime and enjoy a few cocktails before heading back down into the warm bowels of Las Vegas. Hiking, camping, picnic grounds. Wonderful place to visit.

Let’s not forget the Grand Canyon or the Hoover Dam either!


I’d like to finish by pointing out that I understand that you can’t enjoy or see it all in one trip (or two or three or etc. ..) However, I hope you can see why it really boggles me when I see hear from a buddy that all they did was go to the Bellagio, look at some shops, drink at a few clubs, and end up eating chicken wings from room service. I believe them when they say they had fun – but they could’ve done the same thing at their local city for the same or possibly less.

If you have anything to add yourself – please feel free to comment!