In early February – less than three weeks after returning from Honduras (you can see those photos here and here) – I was packing my bags once again for one of my favourite places: Las Vegas!
This was my second trip to Vegas. I remember before going the first time I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it all that much. I figured I’d go once, check it off my list and never think about it again. Las Vegas is obviously not the most culturally significant of travel destinations, if we’re being completely honest. I wilt in extreme heat (unless I’m lounging 10 feet from the ocean), and I’m not the biggest fan of gambling. I’m also nervous around the obnoxiously drunk. See? It seemed like Las Vegas was not going to be my thing.
Turns out, I kind of love it.
Like, a lot.
I may have cried a little when I left. Both tunes.
Vegas is just plain fun. It’s like Disneyland for adults. I suspect I could go 10 times and discover something new each time. And you can drink a beer while trying on clothes. I dare you to find a more enjoyable shopping experience. I dare you. You may – completely hypothetically, of course – find yourself trying on a jumpsuit while slightly day drunk on margaritas, and you may – again, completely hypothetically – purchase said jumpsuit. Hypothetically.
On our first trip to LV we stayed at the MGM Grand. It’s on the South-ish end of The Strip. This time around we stayed at The Mirage, which is more central. Both are beautiful hotels with great service. I slightly prefer the MGM, due to the layout. Navigating the casino floor to find the proper elevator bank to get to our room proved a daily challenge. Most of the hotels are MASSIVE and set up like this – where you have to walk past restaurants, bars, stores, and through the casino floor to get to your room – but the MGM was easier to traverse. As far as location though, The Mirage is central so it is closer to more shopping and some of my favourite hotels to wander through/shop in while in Las Vegas (like Caesars Palace and The Venetian).
My Vegas tips and must-do’s:
- When to go. Depends on how hot you like it. My friend K has been three times. Her first trip was during August and she has told me it was almost unbearably hot. We went together on my first trip there in early October and it was very hot but cooler at night and the hotel pools were still open. This most recent trip was early February and it was a bit cool (we reached about 13 degrees on our last day, but the following weekend it was 20). I would venture that September is a perfect month to visit – likely less busy (though Vegas is hopping all year long) and still hot weather.
- Flight and hotel. On both of my trips we booked our flight and hotel together on Expedia, and I have zero complaints. Keep an eye out for direct flights, which weren’t an option on my first visit. That involved two stopovers and, due to an issue on one of our flights (the toilet was broken, not even kidding), we missed a connecting flight and almost had to stay overnight in Los Angeles. It wouldn’t have been the worst thing, but when you pay to be somewhere you want to be there, you know? This time we had a direct flight both ways out of Pearson Airport in Toronto.
- What to eat. Las Vegas has an incredible mix of cheap and cheerful, mid-range and fancy pants restaurants. Every hotel on the strip will have at least one high-end restaurant (French, Japanese, or ‘American’, typically), a mid-range place (typically a burger, Mexican or pizza restaurant) and at least one cheaper option if not an entire food court plus at least one coffee place. Pretty much every major chef has a restaurant in Las Vegas. For reals. Honestly, I got overwhelmed trying to narrow down food options. We typically like to book one reservation at a higher-end place for dinner (this time it was André’s restaurant at the Monte Carlo, and it was phenomenal). I highly recommend making a reservation at least two weeks in advance. On our first trip we ate dinner at LAVO and I would’ve happily gone back there, but was excited to try something new. Shortly after arriving we popped into one of the numerous Walgreens on The Strip to stock up on water, beers, and snacks. We typically do this whenever we travel to the US, as Walgreens is significantly less expensive than the shops inside hotels and please god do NOT succumb to the mini bar. The mark-ups are astronomical, and you’re never more than a 5 minute walk from a Walgreens or food of some sort. Believe me, you can never go hungry in Las Vegas. We had an amazing brunch at Mon Ami Gabi and ate at Margaritaville twice. For reals. Ordinarily, I abhor theme-y chain restaurants but the Margaritaville in Las Vegas is a favourite of ours. Don’t forget to grab a to-go margarita on your way out, and hit up the gift shop too. It’s a blast.
- Night life. Obviously Las Vegas is known for its night life. And really, its day life. To be honest, it’s almost impossible to find a clock in any of the hotels/casinos/restaurants so you may not know the difference. There are always a ton of options for night time including musical acts (we booked this trip around a Britney Spears concert!), comedians, Cirque du Soleil, illusionists and more. And of course, pretty much every hotel boasts its own club and likely a more laid back lounge/bar too. Here’s my tip if you’re looking to check out a club: do your research. I make a note whenever I read or hear about a club in Vegas that’s getting some attention. At some point throughout the day, make sure to pop into the hotel where your club of choice for the night is located. I can pretty much guarantee that you will be approached by an eager promoter to get you on the guest list and they’ll probs throw in free drink tickets or alert you to a free drinks window of time (typically between 10 pm and 11 pm). Never EVER give anyone money for a club entry wristband, especially someone you meet walking on The Strip. Only deal with the promoters who work within the hotel or have a ‘desk’ just outside the hotel that is clearly marked as being the concierge for that club. If you’re a woman and you plan it out right, you will likely never (or rarely) have to pay for a drink at a club. Which is good because they’re damn expensive (think $15+ for a vodka and soda).
- Set a gambling budget. I’d rather spend my money on food and clothes, so gambling is low on my list of financial priorities in Las Vegas. But I get that gambling is a big (if not the biggest) lure for people, so set a budget and stick with it. Mine was $40, and I had no problem sticking to it.
- Take the bus. On this trip I was eager to check out Fremont Street. There’s a bus called The Deuce that runs along The Strip and up to Fremont. It was $8 for a 24-hour pass and had several stops along The Strip (we boarded it at the Paris Hotel). Tickets could be purchased at machines at those stops. It took us about 25-30 minutes to get there, and we passed those famous wedding chapels and saw the ‘other’ side of Vegas. We took the bus all the way north to Container Park first. There, we did some shopping and had a drink. I loved this place! From there it was a short walk to the Fremont Street experience. We wandered the casinos with our drinks and bought some touristy crap. One doesn’t need to spend more than an afternoon on Fremont, but it’s worth a visit. During the day and at night we mostly walked everywhere along The Strip except when we were in a rush to get to the Britney concert and then we took a surprisingly cheap cab ride.
- Get off The Strip. If you have a whole day to spare, go to the Grand Canyon. If a 3 hour excursion is more your thing, try Red Rock Canyon. My pal A and I did it on this last trip and had a blast. We booked in advance online and grabbed the shuttle at the Paris Hotel. After a short 20ish minute drive (very early in the morning) in an air conditioned van we arrived at Red Rock Canyon. Our tour guide led a group of about 15 of us through the beautiful canyon. A word of warning: this is a hike and the terrain is mostly smooth but there are some rocky slopes to navigate. If there is an older person in your group or someone with mobility issues, this isn’t the ideal excursion. Wear sturdy shoes (no flip flops or open toed shoes). Water is provided, but you can’t bring any food in with you; however, our guide did have some snacks available when we hit the mid-way point. I loved this tour and would highly recommend it. I got some incredible pictures and felt invigorated for the rest of the day. It was great to get outside!
- The shopping. If you can’t find a store you want to shop at in Las Vegas, you are probably headless (good luck with that). LV is my new #1 shopping destination (yes, it has edged out New York City/Brooklyn). There’s something for everyone at every price point. My favourite spots are the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood and the Forum Shops at Caesars. We bought everything. Everything.
Here are some photos from the trip. Sigh, I miss you Las Vegas.
Poncho-ing. My friend A and I on the Red Rock Canyon Tour.
On The Strip.
My new Minion friends, The Strip at dusk and inside the belly of the beast (aka a casino floor).
- The Britney Spears concert at Planet Hollywood. OHMYGODSOGOOD.
Container Park and the Fremont Street Experience.