Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stick's Offbeat Las Vegas Travel Tips

It's been a month since I got back from my first extended trip to Las Vegas. I went with the intention of enjoying the spectacle of staying on the the Strip while also playing lots of poker and meeting some online friends from our poker forum. I stayed for a week (which was almost like living there to me) and I learned a few nifty things that I think could help other folks when they go to "Sin City" also. These things dawned on me both during travel and during my stay. It is my impression that these tips I will give aren't widely known. That's why I call them "offbeat". But if you are already aware of something I post here, you are that much more keen IMO. So here we go:

1) Many bags/luggage looks similar and could maybe even be the same model. To make sure someone in a rush at the airport luggage carousel doesn't mistake your bag for theirs and takes it home before noticing it's NOT theirs (happened to me years ago), put something brightly colored and noticeably different on your bags. An odd bag tag, bright yarn tied on the handle, sewn-on patches, or fabric paint all should work. Do it even on your carry-on in case you set it down before boarding.

2) One thing I learned the hard way is to leave enough room in your bags to fit all the crap you wanna bring back with you. I found some good T-shirt deals and was even given a couple for free by associates. With those and the ones I bought as souvenirs for the family, the total was 10 extra t-shirts I had to cram in my bags. It was tough and I learned my lesson.

3) If your ears don't handle pressure fluctuations very well (like mine; bottom of the pool, mountain travel, airplanes), then chew gum during take off. Worked for me.

4) There are a ton of shuttles at McCarran airport in Las Vegas. If you aren't renting a car or have other arrangements, don't waste your money on a cab. You can book a round trip shuttle online or just go to the shuttle window at the airport. Easy stuff and saves money. Remember to tip your driver when you get to your hotel.

5) When you check into your hotel, always ask the clerk if they have any complementary coupon books. They usually give a sheet with just a few on them to everybody, but they may also have a thicker booklet with many, many more coupons (my hotel did). Always worth asking.

6) To anyone who doesn't live in a city with similar water treatment, Las Vegas tap water sucks ass. But the water used to make the ice in the hotel ice machines is usually filtered. So every morning, I took my ice bucket and filled it with ice. Back in my room, I could put a bottle beverage in the ice. But I also learned that by afternoon, I had some nice drinkable ice water in my bucket. Then at night and the next morning, I still had nice filtered water for taking pills or choking down a protein bar before the journey to the buffet.

7) That leads to the next tip: Protein bars. Unless you are a non-drinker and/or are perfectly chipper every morning no matter the strange sleeping conditions, you'll appreciate something on your stomach before you make it downstairs to finally eat. I take enough protein bars to have one per day of my stay. And by "protein bars", I don't mean those gooey, fatty granola or grain bars. Find something with low fat, mid-to-low sugar, and at least 10 grams of protein per bar. They'll digest quicker and give you the correct kind of fuel when you need it.

8) You'll eventually meet "the flickers", as I call them. They are the lowlifes who try to cram the nudie bar flyers in your face while you walk the Strip. Unless you like that kind of thing, the best way to handle them is to ignore them. They won't bite or be offended. I say this because I was amazed at how many people actually tried to be so nice to them while trying to let them down easy while refusing to take a flyer. There's so many of them that you'd waste so much time doing that. Trust me. They won't cry or want to kill you if you just walk by.

9) The latest "fad" I saw in Vegas was oxygen bars. I tried one and I do recommend trying them. They are out in the open in some casinos, malls, and even outside on Fremont Street. The cost is something like $22-$25 as of this posting. Their pitch for the oxygen treatment is that it is supposed give you energy, make you more alert, and even fight the effects of a hangover. You sit down and are given an unused breather tube for your nose (like the hospital ones). The attendant hooks it up to a tube in front of your stool and you breathe in the oxygen for about 15-20 minutes. There are usually little switches in front of you to pick your favorite scent, but I left them all on since you get more oxygen that way. While you are taking it in, the attendant might show you some massage gadgets, scented oils, etc. available for purchase. I bought something. But again, I'm sure they'll be OK if you say "no". So after I was done, the best way to describe the way I felt was that it was like I just woke up from the best night of sleep in my life. No jitters. No side effects. The feeling lasted at least an hour, but probably could have been more if I wasn't drinking later. ;)

10) I recommend that everyone who stays on the Strip and hasn't ever been downtown to Fremont Street go see it once for at least a couple hours. But getting there in a cab can be expensive. Las Vegas has a decent bus system and 2 lines that run from the Strip to downtown. One is called the "Deuce". It's a double decker and stops at nearly every strip hotel. It can get crowded around meal times and on weekends. But if you ride at times like 2 in the afternoon or 11 at night, it's great. Clean and safe. The other line is the "Gold". It is regular size and makes less stops, but is actually quicker to get downtown on. You can get tickets for either bus at machines right on the street (Strip and DT) and they take credit cards too. $3 per ride or $7 daily pass as of this posting.

11) Make sure you check out both of the Strip's main malls, the Fashion Show Mall and the Miracle Mile Shops. It seemed like every clothing store had some really good clearance deals. 50-75% off some really good stuff. I like DC, AlpineStars, and Fox and I didn't pay anywhere near full price for any of that stuff. Look for certain brand's factory stores they have in those malls, too. They might have stuff there that you can't get back home. (And FYI: Most of the malls attached to casinos are more expensive than these 2.)

12) At some intersections on the Strip, they have escalators leading to walking overpasses. But beware later at night when some of the escalators shut down for various reasons. Some are pretty high and long to have to walk up & down. So if you are handicapped, drunk, sick, tired, old, etc., you could be in for a tough time.

13) Best beer pong: O'Shea's Irish Pub & Casino.

14) Best local microbrew deal: Ellis Island Casino & Brewery (1 block behind Bally's), $1.50 for a 22 oz. glass of some really good brew.

15) Best HUGE buffet: The Rio (take the free shuttle from Harrah's or Bally's), it's massive.

That's all I can think of right now. I think I'll be posting some reviews of a few of the specific venues I patronized. Restaurants, poker rooms, my hotel, etc. So watch for those.

I was there for a week and still didn't get to go everywhere and do everything I wanted. So there'll probably be another one of these posts next year. Cheers.

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