So you're going to Las Vegas, but gambling leaves you cold. Never fear, the Vegas has so much more to offer than just casinos. There's something in this town for everyone. Even the most jaded of visitors will be dazzled by the sheer number and variety of its attractions and activities.
Walk the strip
Driving down the main drag in Las Vegas is a sight to behold, especially at night, but to get the best out of the city of sin, throw on your cheesiest T-shirt and shorts and hit the strip by foot. The hoteliers' obsessive one-upmanship is best viewed close up: the New York City skyline, the fountains and sculptures of Ancient Rome, Venetian canals complete with gondolas, a pyramid of Egyptian proportions, a modern day Camelot and the Eiffel Tower. Be sure to explore further, as the massive attention to detail is not limited to the outside alone.
Take advantage of the freebies
Contrary to popular opinion, you don't have to sell your grandmother to have a good time in this city. The Bellagio fountain display is always popular; water dances in time to music as diverse as the Beatles and Mozart. Even the most cynical of viewers are entranced. You can spot lions, lionesses and cubs at the MGM Lion's Habitat, which are regularly rotated from an 8.5 acre-ranch twelve miles from the accommodation. The Bellagio and the Wynn boast conservatories that are worth a look. For giggles, The Forum Shops show at Caesar's Palace involves animatronic Roman statues delivering jerky moves and intelligible speeches. The overall result is a touch creepy – and utterly hilarious.
Go crazy at the buffets
Buffets are a long-standing Vegas tradition, but you may have been put off by previous buffet hells, namely congealed, lukewarm food usually made up of leftovers. Happily, Vegas has enjoyed a gourmet revolution over the last few years. Such places as the Bellagio, the Wynn and Mandalay Bay offer a fantastic array of food: crab legs, game hens, prime ribs, scallops and sushi bars. Half of the fun is sampling dishes that you've always wanted to try, but were too afraid to order in a restaurant for fear of disappointment. The other half is seeing the sheer amount of food you can put away. You’ll pay a similar price for a main meal at a good restaurant. If you’re on a strict budget, go at lunchtime when it’s cheaper.
Sample some cocktails and dance until you drop
Every casino has several bars dotted around the casino floor; the MGM Grand has six bars alone, each catering to different tastes and prices. You can sit at the bar and split your attention between Video Poker and a football game, or recline in an ultra lounge while being served by waiters and waitresses wearing their skimpies. It wouldn’t be Las Vegas if there wasn’t something for everyone. There are nightclubs galore too, many so fashionable that you may relive the familiar gamut of fear and hope while waiting behind the velvet ropes. For further information click here.
See how the other half eat…
Some of the top chefs in the world have been lured to Vegas with the promise of multi-million dollar contracts. As a result, they have built and maintained some of the most prized restaurants in the U.S. If you're in Las Vegas for a special occasion, or just enjoy fabulous food, you could do worse than to sample the food at Aureole, Fleur de Lys and Joel Robuchon, to name a few top restaurants in the city. Make sure to book well in advance as these places are extremely popular.
…Or just slum it in style
If you don’t fancy taking out a second mortgage for a meal, but still want to sample these uber-chefs’ creations, many have more affordable eateries dotted around the strip. Wolfgang Puck has put his name to many cuisines in Las Vegas. My favourite is his self-named Bar and Grill at MGM Grand, where I enjoyed a perfect burger cooked to the temperature of my choice. If you love Italian food, Osteria del Circo is Le Cirque’s less expensive offering, and Hubert Keller's Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay offers a large selection of ingredients, sauces and breads for you to build your ideal burger. (The desert burger with a donut bun is not bad either).
See a show
Circuses have never appealed to me; think of clowns going through the motions and bored looking animals. Luckily Cirque du Soleil has cut the chaff and concentrates on the feats of daring-do and spectacular acrobatics. Not content to push the boundaries of their physical abilities, they have achieved incredible feats of technology and design too; stages that swivel 360 degrees which seem to change texture and shape at the blink of an eye (KA), and seemingly impossible stunts choreographed around a 1.5 million gallon pool which drains and fills within seconds (O), to name just two. If you don't fancy catching a Cirque show, they haven't taken over the entire strip yet. You can still choose from Broadway musicals, singers in residence, magicians, lounge singers, show girl revues, variety acts and one off shows – there's something to suit everyone. If you haven't booked in advance, the Tickets2Nite booths on the strip are worth a try for cut price tickets.
Be a (non)-beach bum
For visitors from colder climates, Las Vegas' desert heat can be a god-send. The city makes up for its lack of beaches by offering exquisitely landscaped pool areas where you are waited on hand and foot. Pools are for visitors only, so it's worth doing your research before you book your room. If you burn easily, you might prefer the spa’s fake tanning service, or a luxurious massage.
Shop 'til you drop without breaking the bank
Finally an outlet centre that lives up to its promise of quality shopping at slashed prices. The Fashion Outlet in Primm is roughly a 40-minute drive from Las Vegas. It boasts shops such as Gap, Banana Republic, Guess, Nine West and Williams Sonoma. If you don't have a car, the centre offers a shuttle service where you can pick up a voucher book that has even more discounts. Well worth a visit.
Casinos are the lifeblood of Vegas hotels; to get anywhere in a hotel, you need to cross the casino floor. The bewildering array of rules for each table game can be off putting for the uninitiated. Keen to have you gambling in no time, each hotel offers lessons in poker, craps, roulette and blackjack. My teacher was a veteran dealer of twenty years with unlimited patience for questions such as "How much is an ace worth?" and "How the hell do you keep up with 15 people's bets at the craps table?" You don't have to place a bet, the lessons are free, and as a result, you can watch a craps or poker game on the casino floor, or on television and know what's going on.
Finally – visit M&M World
When America has long gone the way of Ancient Greece, archaeologists and historians will unearth this shrine of tat and declare it an example of consumerism at its highest – four floors of T-shirts, can openers, throw pillows and postmodern artwork, all dedicated to the chocolate treat. It is always packed with people holding shopping carriers under the M&M dispensers (including silver coloured M&Ms). They'll be regretting their purchase of M&M Christmas baubles and business card holders when they get home, but isn't that the fun of Vegas?
Yvonne Reilly is a freelance writer based in Dublin, Ireland.
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