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How to do Las Vegas if you don’t gamble

I did not think Las Vegas was for me. I don’t gamble, I don’t like flying long distances and I thought Vegas could be really tacky. Well that goes to show what I know - let me blow a few Vegas myths out of the water. Firstly, don’t think of Las Vegas as a city break. Its not like a normal city. Think of it as a holiday destination, the same way you would if you were travelling on a summer holiday. The heat is… well its hot! It was touching 100 degrees when we were there. To describe it is like having a hair dryer blown in your face constantly. Of course, it’s not an issue as the hotels know what good air con looks like. I like the heat so didn’t mind it so much.

This is the only place I’ve travelled to where I could see my hotel from the airport! That’s how big the Mandalay Bay hotel is and it is stunning. Despite being the eighth biggest hotel in the world (Vegas boasts three of the top ten largest hotels in the world), but we were treated as if we were VIP guests. They even sent us a greeting and some truffles for our anniversary. The hotels really do have everything you need, restaurants, café, nightclubs, shows and a venue for live gigs. Mandalay Bay hosts Michael Jackson One and during our stay Santana played at House of Blues. It’s really that big. It has a conference suite; a place to get married (much better than tacky chapels) and it has the most amazing swimming pool including a lazy river. I’d never seen anything like it. The opposite end of tacky. It was glitzy, high-quality and stunning with no expense spared on décor. Even the door handles were beautifully designed.

Travelling from the UK, the first thing to note is that Vegas is several hours behind so it took a few days for my body clock to adjust. On our first day I woke up at 4am so hubby suggested we go out – as this is Vegas and there are places open 24 hours a day. We got some breakfast and then headed down to Caesar’s palace and this was the first time I was stunned at the décor. (It was not to be the last). It was like the outside but inside. Full scale fountains and shops with a sky above that changed as daylight arrived. Being here this time of day was perfect. No crowds. No people at all. It was like it was open just for us.

Most of the modern hotels allow you a walkway around the casino’s rather than have to walk through them. I was pleased with this as I am not interested in gambling and have no desire to watch others gamble. Sadly, some of the older ones means you do need to walk through them to get to your destination. The good news is there is an abundance of restrooms where ever you may be. Many of the hotels have a theme. Mandalay Bay seemed to be tropical with elephants and waterfalls and is spectacular. It took me three days to find the front entrance which is well worth your time. The hotels are a tourist attraction in Vegas. My personal favourites were The Venetian, Mandalay Bay and Caesar’s Place. They all really did take my breath away. The Cosmopolitan and Wynn also have very high standards. I didn’t go inside every hotel so cannot comment on each. The two I would personally avoid is Circus Circus – its very old and grubby looking and very smoky inside despite it being an attraction for children. (Free circus acts inside) and Rio. Rio was very smoky and crowded. Its slightly off the strip and walking to it is not a nice route. The Penn and Teller theatre was lovely, clean and spacious but the rest of it was disappointing. We had hoped to have a meal for our anniversary there before the show but ended up in Smashburger. Not very romantic.

My top five hotels to visit:

  1. The Venetian. You can have a gondola ride or sit on the piazza, listening to people singing opera. It’s truly a wonderful experience and a sight to behold. The detail of the buildings is amazing. It’s really just like Venice – only cleaner!

  2. The Fountain Of The Gods at Caesars Palace. It’s a full fountain in a street with a sky that changes with the day. It feels like you are outside even though you are inside.

  3. The Bellagio fountains. They are free to watch and stunning to see. Dancing water to music. What more can you ask?!

  4. The Mirage exploding volcano. You can feel the heat and it certainly has impact.

  5. The top of the Stratosphere. It’s the best view of the strip. We had a cocktail in the bar while enjoying the view. There is also free Wi-Fi up there.

Other musts to do while in Vegas.

  1. Freemont Street. During the day its most definitely the tacky and old Vegas you expect. However, at night it’s the most fun place on earth. It has DJ’s, Bands, dancers, street performers, and sights you are unlikely to see anywhere else! It has people zip-lining across your head, a canopy with an interactive music and imagery known as the Freemont Street Experience. Further down the street it’s an artier area. Check out container park, which is full of small artisan shops. All very different from the strip.

  2. Day trips. Why travel this far and not go to see one of the seven wonders of the world? The Grand Canyon is the most fabulous thing I have ever seen in my life. I cannot explain how vast it is. My brain cannot fathom it either. It’s one of the seven wonders of the world for a reason! I also visited Red Rock but there are lots of places to choose from. Day trips take you out of the craziest city in the world and give you a sense of gravity.

  3. Shop! There are some great malls and we went south past Mandalay Bay on the bus to a massive discounted shopping centre. Of course, there are also shops in most of the hotels too and shops along the strip. If you want tacky cheap tourist tack – there is a massive shop downtown but the cheapest was on Freemont Street where I got a Vegas nail file for 97c!

  4. Shows! You are truly spoilt for choice. During our stay we did two shows; Penn and Teller and Tournament Of Kings. However, there is something for everyone including famous singers such as Mariah Carey and Rod Stewart, Circus Du Soleil and even Magic Mike.

Travelling by foot is the cheapest way around but it’s hot on the strip and going in and out of the hotels can be rather convoluted. The next best option is the tram which is free but only runs between Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur. Bus is the best option to get downtown and its only $8 for 24 hours bus travel – worth it. Our tour guide told us the reason there is no tram running up and down the whole of the strip is due to the Taxi Mafia. Yes, that’s really what he said. People on the strip are dressed up to have their photo taken with you ‘For tips’. I didn’t do this but walking past Deadpool and Spiderman and Spiderman says hello to me felt a bit surreal. I also saw Star Wars characters and many showgirls. You are really spoilt for choice. My advice here would be to secure an agreed payment before having the photo taken. My husband made this mistake in Rome a few years back and a photo on our own camera ended up costing us 40 euros! Being an 80’s girl at heart I couldn’t help but sing Club Tropicana every time I passed the Tropicana and Duran Duran’s Rio when we visited that hotel. It always made me smile. Food is everywhere and for every pocket. If you are looking for cheap eats, Denny’s offer a discounted voucher each time you eat there which can tempt you to go back. IHOP is always best for pancakes for breakfast but I personally couldn’t get over the amazing buffet that we ate at; Bayside Buffet in the Mandalay Bay, where you can have a full dinner for breakfast if you wish. For a good steak try Outback Steakhouse which does very good steaks.

For me, the biggest negative is the Smoking that is allowed almost everywhere. It feels so old fashioned and downright stupid to continue to allow this. Smoking is not in vogue any longer and the fact that passive smoking has been proven to kill – I just find it incredulous that it is still allowed. If they only took a step back and realised most people don’t smoke and it could attract more people in without it – it would be a revelation. It was certainly a big negative for Vegas. The other negative is the music. It seems the trend to pump out modern music everywhere. There seems to be no avoiding it. In the Mandalay Bay it was even in the elevators as well as on the main floor. It is also true as you walk down the strip. I think firstly it doesn’t need to be so loud, this makes everyone have to shout to communicate which makes the volume of noise in general very loud. I also think it alienates anyone over 30 and anyone who isn’t into this particular style of music. If Vegas is only trying to attract the young; this would be a massive marketing error on their part as all ages can enjoy Vegas.

Vegas is an experience like nowhere else on earth. Everyone should try it once. This is a destination where hotels come and go regularly. Where nothing is safe and everything is constantly changing. It’s really the craziest place on earth – and I had a blast!

(First published in 2018)


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