I decided to take my girlfriend Kim to Vegas for her xxth birthday (Editor’s note: Never reveal your girlfriend’s age, especially in print). Neither of us had been before, so we headed to them interwebz to get some advice on Vegas for first timers. We found a lot of useful and useless information. But after a five-day jaunt to Sin City, I realized some crucial tips were missing to ensure a successful Las Vegas visit.
Vegas is a place where you can totally wing it. But only if you aren’t trying to see any shows (they routinely sell out), eat in any five star Michelin rated restaurants (reservations go fast), or do a little sightseeing.
Even if you’ve never been to Vegas, you know the basics, so I don’t have to tell you to cool it on the booze. A day spent hunched over the toilet is a day wasted in Vegas, nor am I going to tell you to have in your head a dollar amount that you’re okay to lose.
(Did you catch how I said I wasn’t going to tell you those things, but then I told you them anyway? Slick.)
So here are my ten most important tips to survive Sin City.
Convenience stores in your hotel will charge you an arm and a leg for a midnight snack and a bottle of water. Invest in a Vapur water bottle (they’re collapsible—easy to pack and carry) and save a section of your suitcase for snacks. Stock up on some almonds (Blue Diamond’s Habanero BBQ will change your life) and some beef jerky (Krave’s pork teriyaki will double change change your your life life).
#2: Choose Your Hotel Wisely
Some hotels (The Rio) are not on the Vegas strip. In fact, it’s across the interstate. So if you want to see Penn & Teller (totally worth it), you’ll have to take a taxi. And if you stay at Trump, where there is no casino, you’ll have to go elsewhere to gamble. If you’re budget conscious, you should note that some hotels provide fast food restaurants (New York, New York) whereas fancier hotels (The Bellagio) do not. But don’t worry—you can visit any hotel to eat, gamble, or take vapid photos.
Reserve your tickets in advance for shows you want to see because most are sold out far in advance. If you’re a Celine Dion fan, check the theater for tickets before you book your trip. The same can be said for fine dining. If you go to Vegas during their busy season and you want to land a seat at Spago (arrive before your reservation, grab a seat at the bar and tell Pete I sent you), reserve your table at the same time you reserve your trip. Don’t wait until you arrive or the only sure thing you’ll experience is disappointment.
The Internet says taxi drivers in Vegas take advantage of you, so take a shuttle. I fell for that one. A shuttle to the Bellagio is $18, whereas a taxi is … $18. We took the Shuttle to “avoid the long lines” for taxis. But there were no long lines for the taxis. There was, oddly enough, a long line for the shuttle. A two-hour long line. Yup.
I’m sure people have horror stories of being taken “the long way” to rack up a higher meter fee. But that happens in DC and New York. Here’s a tip: Get in your taxi cab at the airport and tell the driver you’re excited to be back in Vegas, even if it’s your first trip. Or pull up directions from the airport on your phone and ask him to go a specific route.
Here’s another reason you’ll want to take a taxi: Coupons! Every taxi in Vegas has a supply of coupon books hanging off the back of the drivers seat. Inside, you’ll find coupons for restaurants, shows, nightclubs, etc.
A lot of folks might think you have to take a taxi if you want to get from one hotel to another. But don’t forget the free tram that takes you from the Bellagio to the Monte Carlo, and the monorail ($12 for a day pass) that takes you up and down the entire strip. They’re convenient, fast, and reliable.
#5: Wear What You Want
Some websites state that no one dresses up in Vegas anymore. That’s not necessarily true. The bottom line is that you can wear whatever you want. No one cares if you’re in a suit or cargo shorts and a tank top. If you want to get all spiffy, go for it. If you wear a suit every day in your 9-5 job and Vegas is your one chance a year to dress like a total man-whore, go for it. Put on that metallic button up t-shirt with your neon pink tie and booty shorts!
However, if you’re making reservations at a fancy restaurant, inquire about the dress code so you can pack accordingly.
A bottle of water will run you around $8.50. If you’re sitting poolside, a pina colada will run you close to $13. Know where you can get those same exact drinks for free? At a table. So if you’re gambling, or even if you’re not, sit at a table, put $5 in a penny slot and wait for the cocktail waitress to walk by.
You don’t have to order booze. You can ask for a bottle of water or a cup of coffee. Just be sure to tip the waitress.
So you want to do a little gambling? First things first, get a member card. You don’t have to stay at the hotel you’re gambling in to get one, but if you are gambling in the same hotel, make sure you use that card for every purchase: gambling, room service, buying a novelty t-shirt, etc. You rack up points for discounts on future visits. And there will be future visits.
Now let’s say you want to play Roulette, but you’re a little afraid because you’re not a high roller and the minimum bid is $20. Walk around. There will be other Roulette tables with smaller minimums. And if you don’t see them at your hotel, go elsewhere. Bally’s has $5 roulette tables. Don’t forget to tip your dealer. Especially if you win big. A few one-dollar chips are enough.
#8: The Buffet
You’ve probably heard a lot about the Bellagio Buffet and how it’s “totally epic” and all that. Well, it is. Go. Endless crab legs.
There are some rules to the buffet, though: Don’t fill up on soda, beer, or bread. You’re there to eat as much pot roast, sushi, and shrimp as you can shove into your mouth hole, not bread. If you take a bite of something you don’t like, stop eating immediately! The goal is to save room for the stuff that really matters.
#9: Pace Yourself
Develop a sleep schedule. There’s a lot to do in Vegas, and it can be pretty exhausting, especially if you’re coming from the East Coast (whoop whoop!). You’ll want to stay up late and wake up early to take advantage of everything.
But that schedule will catch up with you. When you’re gambling, you need to pick a dollar amount that you’re okay to lose. Try to do the same with sleep. Pick a time and stick with it. Oh, it’s three in the morning? Time to head up to your room.
You’re on vacation, so you don’t necessarily want to set an alarm. I get it. But I still suggest you do because the activities are numerous and a typical Vegas trip is just three or four days. Be generous with your alarm and set it to go off at noon.
Most of the big stuff goes down at night. But if you want to book a day trip to the Hoover Dam or relax by the pool, you’ll be upset if you kill half a day sleeping.
You should wake up early to get a good spot by the pool. Lounge chairs fill up quickly in the morning before the brutal afternoon sun kicks in. You can nap poolside or head up to your room later for an afternoon nap. Kim says cool kids call them “disco naps.”
#10: Before You Leave
There was an article published recently in the New York Times about how tourism is up in Vegas, but gambling revenues are down. People our age are mostly visiting nightclubs nowadays. Yeah, it’s fine to go to a nightclub, but don’t forget that Vegas is a gambling city. You should gamble just for the sake of saying you did.
Before your trip ends, you have to place your Last Bet in Vegas. I don’t know why I capitalized it. It’s not an actual thing. But the best gambling stories are those that start like this, “We were just leaving and I decided to put a dollar in a slot machine and …”
I booked our flight to leave at 11:40 pm, which gave us an entire last day in Vegas before we had to leave. We spent the afternoon by the pool and about two hours gambling before we said farewell to Vegas. Before I invented the Last Bet in Vegas, my “last bet” was a loser. I was determined to win one last time before we left.
And so as Kim and I exited the casino, I stopped at a Roulette wheel, slammed thirty bucks on the table and said, “Thirty on black!”