I simply love Vegas. So much, that I went twice in one year and that Jess and I have decided we should make it a yearly trip for September long weekend.
Vegas can be full of adventure if you play your cards right. From lived and learned experience, one of the most crucial pieces of a good Vegas trip is who you go with. You and the people you are there with must be on the same page and have the same expectations for the trip. If two of you want to drink and gamble and the third person does not it creates a divided group dynamic. This is no fun for anyone.
Once you land, don’t stress about transportation from the airport to The Strip. You can literally see The Luxor and Mandalay Bay among others from the runway. There are plenty of cabs and I’ve found that it typically takes about $20 to get to the hotels on the southern edge of the strip.
Choosing a Place to Stay
The Strip is expansive and full of hotels. Choosing a place to stay can be intimidating. The first time we went to Vegas we chose The Monte Carlo because it was affordable while still being located at the newer end of Vegas. The second time we chose New York, New York because of how we met and it was still affordable and in the area that we wanted to be in.
Mandalay Bay and Luxor are at the southernmost tip of The Strip. Along this area you can find a variety of different newer hotels containing the bigger deal clubs. The older hotels that people tend to associate with Vegas, The Golden Nugget or Circus Circus, are actually located fairly far away. Fremont Street, or older Vegas, can be reached by bus. When choosing a hotel try to keep in mind what you are hoping for. If you want the Wet Republic or Hakkasan (MGM Grand), aim for the southern end. If you are there for more of a classic gambling experience and don’t care about the clubs, then Fremont Street might suit you. Word is the gambling odds are better on Fremont Street. However, this area may look dodgy.
Las Vegas in January
The first time I went to Vegas was after my PCH road trip. Jess and I flew to Vegas where we stayed at the Monte Carlo. Another friend of ours flew from her home to meet up with us there. The three of us know each other from New York (much more to come on this).
New York, New York. The roller coaster at night is fun!
We had all been super excited for this reunion and quickly got ready to go out. We started off by gambling in the Monte Carlo. I’ve never even been to a casino in Edmonton before but I like to start strong. We don’t understand craps and lost our money on roulette. We really hit our stride with blackjack.
However, this is one of those instances where we didn’t have group synchronicity. Jess and I were up for shenanigans and our third friend avoided our drinking by playing the VLTs. I cannot stress enough how much you need to want the same thing as your friends.
Shopping in Vegas
Shopping in Vegas is phenomenal. There are stores and distractions everywhere. The strip and hotels are loaded with places that you can stop for the standard souvenirs. You know, the shot glasses, decks of cards, etc.
If you’re like me though, you want so much more than that!
The North Vegas outlet mall can be reached by bus. There is a bus called the SDX that will take you all the way there. A perk to taking this route is it will take you along the entire strip so you can truly see all of Vegas. It runs down Fremont Street too so you can see old Vegas. I’m a sucker for a good outlet mall.
Hungover but still hunting for deals.
If outlet malls aren’t your thing, pop over to The Forum at Caesar’s Palace. Sadly, not the real Caesar’s Palace. This mall is expansive and contains a variety of standard stores that you would mind in a mall such as Victoria’s Secret or H&M. There is also a Fat Tuesday here. Drink one! Higher end shops like Chanel can be found in The Bellagio.
As you walk along The Strip, you will notice it littered with club promoters. I do recommend trying to take advantage of these; they can help you get free entry and drinks. Oftentimes, the bars they are promoting aren’t the bigger ones but if you can grab a few cheap or free drinks, I recommend doing it. The prices in clubs are obscene and who doesn’t love pre-drinking for free? Another option before heading out to a club is to play a few rounds of blackjack or whatever games you prefer. There will be free drinks brought to you as you play and if you strategize it shouldn’t cost you more than a club drink.
Strategizing to maximize clubs.
Going out in Vegas takes strategy. Some clubs have free entry before certain times. I am morally opposed to ever having to pay to get into any sort of club unless there is a popular DJ playing. I recommend figuring out all of the places that you hope to go to in Vegas, and then either through the help of the promoters or your own sleuthing, figure out which clubs have the earliest free entry stop times. Plan to go to these ones first. For example, if Hakassan’s free entry stops at 10:00 pm and TAO’s free entry stops at 12:00 am, go to Hakassan for a few hours and then head to TAO. All of the casinos will have cab lines, they are beyond readily available (Side Note: It is against the law for cabs to pick you up from the street, they are required to do it at a casino, so if you need a cab just walk to the nearest casino). This strategy will help you get into more places free and go to more of the clubs if you only have a short amount of time.
On our first night in Vegas we headed over to Marquee in The Cosmopolitan. We got free entry and the line moved fairly quickly.
Our second night we strategized to visit Hakassan in MGM Grand and TAO in the Venetian. Hakassan was my favourite. It has three floors and a hip-hop room. The main space plays EDM. I did have to pay $20 for a shot, so try to come a little tipsy if anything. I found TAO to be super over crowded.
We tried to play craps but immediately lost our money without even knowing how.
We also tried to play Roulette but never won and didn’t enjoy it. However, if you want to be a baller it does feel nice to go all on black.
We have slots/VLTs in bars in Canada but I’ve never paid much attention to them. A good strategy is to find the penny machines and bet low while you get free drinks. This would be good if you are going out. I find these less enjoyable because I am a social gambler. I love the thrill of meeting new people.
Blackjack is our ultimate favourite. Look for free bet tables. These allow you to gamble with the dealer’s money. Jess and I have worked out a system where we buy each other back in if one of us runs out of chips and the other one has more. We love to play blackjack and naturally we love to win but we don’t take it too seriously and typically stay within our budgets. They key to blackjack is to find a good table. This is a great game for socializing; you can meet people from everywhere. Make sure that the dealer has a good vibe.
Winning in the Monte Carlo.
I’ve found that the dealers aren’t typically against you. They do offer subtle guidance if you don’t quite seem to know what you are doing. We even had a dealer tell us to talk away while we were ahead. When Jess and I were there in July, we tried to play some game with a $25 buy-in that looked misleadingly like blackjack. We were wrong but couldn’t back out and didn’t know how to play. The dealer essentially told us what we should do and we won! We took our fresh $25 chip and left Caesar’s Palace.
With all gambling, be responsible, it is not a way of getting rich quick. It loses its fun when you are chasing wins and spending more to try keeping up. That is the trick behind gambling. All of the odds are against you but trick you into thinking you will win.
Gambling Tip: Bring cash with you! There are no bank ATMs to be found anywhere and the fees in the casino ATMs are excruciatingly painful.
Other Noteworthy Points:
White Castle was building a location in the Casino Royale when we visited. It was not technically open, they were just practicing making burgers for the opening, but we begged them to let us have a sample anyway. They let us have free White Castle! Goes to show you, sometimes all you have do is ask.
Thank-you White Castle Las Vegas
The Monte Carlo offers no in-room Wi-Fi. I realize that they aim to keep me in the casino but still so frustrating.
The visit to the Las Vegas sign was a $50 round trip cab ride from Casino Royale. We had our cab wait as it is a bit out of the city and we weren’t sure we could easily get a cab back and the walk was too far. This is a place where it might be helpful to offer to take a picture for the person next to you in line if they will take one for you. From experience people are wiling to help out.
Fat Tuesdays are a classic Vegas drink. You can walk through the streets with them. Check out Casino Royale or The Forum for one!
On our bus ride back from the outlet mall, a man on the bus harassed me. He basically cornered me and was determined to talk to me about life and where I was from. He told me that there are two things he knows about Canadian women, “We like our weed and we are freaky.” I told him that I must not have gotten the memo. Since Jess and I were on our way back to our hotel, we lied about where we were staying and got off at the wrong stop to avoid him finding out where we were staying. Honestly, I highly recommend this if someone on public transit is ever bothering you. Especially if you are on your way back to where you are staying. It is easier to disappear into a crowd than avoid someone outside your door.
Las Vegas in July
Jess and I believed that we did not live up to our potential during our January trip. This prompted us to make another trip for Fourth of July weekend. I swear us foreigners get more excited than Americans. This time we stayed in New York, New York as a tribute to where we met. They messed up our check-in, I had called ahead to change the name on the reservation because Jess was arriving first, but they still wouldn’t let her check-in. Ultimately, she was able to get in and score a room upgrade.
Vegas is always crazy fun and being there for Fourth of July weekend was no exception. This trip we decided to get $1 chips from as many casinos as possible, we ended up with ten. On our first night we headed out to casino hop rather than drink. New York, New York is conveniently located across the street from the MGM Grand. We walked across the street to start out in their casino.
Our collection of Casino $1 chips.
As I mentioned before, the table that you play at is crucial! We met some guys from South America who said that they were in town for the World Series of Poker. While Jess and I tried our usual strategy to buy each other back in, we were barely hanging on. One of the guys kept giving me his chips to buy me back in to keep playing! Eventually we both lost too much and had to walk over to Planet Hollywood after dodging the guys. Our asses got kicked at gambling our first night.
The reason we decided to skip clubbing on our first night was because we had scheduled a visit to the Grand Canyon the next morning. We booked through Comedy on Deck Tours. We were able to find a Groupon online. I highly recommend that for any Canadian or American cities you look for a Groupon before booking things. This site is a very handy way of getting deals and I have never had a bad experience.
The Grand Canyon is beautiful, but so hot, especially in July. Make sure to bring water! Our tour had water on board as well. The bus ride itself is nice, with a stop to view the Hoover Dam before crossing state lines to Arizona. I opted to do the West Rim glass rim while Jess had done this before and chose not to. It was a nice photo op.
Jess and I in the Grand Canyon. Don’t be shy, recruit a stranger to help with pictures.
After our Grand Canyon we went back to the gambling. This was our only successful day of gambling. We had great luck in the Casino Royale and even better luck at The Mirage. We had a great blackjack table at the Mirage and gained back so much of what we had lost the day before. Sadly, Vegas never lets you stay ahead for long.
Winning in the Mirage, too bad it only happened once.
On our walk back we decided to put our names down for 1 Oak. We chose this because the night that we wanted to go the New York location it was closed for a private party. Overall, we had a great day. After 1 Oak, Jess ran into a fellow Aussie who we ended up sharing a cab with. He paid for us to get back to our hotel. Sometimes it pays to talk to strangers. We stopped by The Monte Carlo for a tribute to our last trip. We sat at a $10 minimum but the people next to us were betting $100 and winning. I mean, we did okay but $10 is nothing on that.
Fourth of July started with Denny’s and drinking cider, then we embarked on a mission to find tacky American Flag clothes. Much harder than you might think! We searched through many clothing stores along The Strip before finding gold in a souvenir shop.
Fourth of July started out so promising.
Paris Hilton was playing a Beach Party at TAO Day Club and we thought it would be hilarious to go. We went in briefly so that we could get wristbands for re-entry and then left to The Venetian Casino to get free drinks while waiting for Paris to start (Strategy!). We went up in time to see Paris, her opening line was, “I’m sorry, I need to start that again.” Between the drinking and the dancing in the 40 degree weather the alcohol hit hard. Jess and I left Paris, I ran full force into a beach chair and cut my leg, I vaguely remember turning down a security guys offer of getting someone down to help. I was silly and had no traveller’s insurance but he told me I could have a Band-Aid for free. Since I was too drunk to even notice that I had injured myself until someone pointed it out to me, I decided to forage on. Waiting for medical attention would only delay me drinking more and that would be unacceptable.
Paris Hilton at TAO Beach Club.
As we staggered out of The Venetian we passed by the White Castle at Casino Royale. Obviously, White Castle was exactly what we needed. Inside, all of the employees were wearing amazing tacky American Flag hats. We demanded to know where they came from, “Our manager bought them they said.” Naturally, we needed to have a word with this manager to see if there were any extras. After some pleading and pulling the foreigner card, she happily gave us two! White Castle Las Vegas is seriously so good to us. With our new fancy hats to match our shirts we enjoyed some food.
There is a Fat Tuesday location at Casino Royale too. Post White Castle, we needed a slushie drink. So we stopped and just generally were the drunkest people in North America. On our walk back we met some friends in the street that claimed to be Canadian. Mistakenly, they lied and said they were from Quebec but could speak no French. This gave them away; Quebec is entirely French. They followed to The Bellagio but wanted us to join them at Circus Circus. Jess and I refused; we were set on blackjack at The Bellagio. Meeting friends in the street sounds risky, but sometimes can pay off. You might get tips for doing things that they have done or find out about other adventures to be had. Inside The Bellagio, I unsuccessfully tried to convince a security guard that Utah has a two for one wife special and that he can have my friend and I as long as we move to New York. He remained unconvinced. We found a blackjack table, but at this point we were too drunk to be gambling. I insisted on telling Jess how to play blackjack following all of the rules meanwhile I followed none. The blackjack dealer actually asked me what was going on with me. Giving up we trudged home. Since we were seeing Calvin Harris that night and the fireworks we decided to nap it off a bit.
The Fourth of July fireworks on Vegas shoot off the casinos and are a fantastic display. So we hear. We slept through our alarm and tragically missed them. So much disappointment. We did wake up in time for Calvin Harris at Omnia in Caesar’s Palace. We played some blackjack to get our alcohol levels back up before heading over. Omnia is a cool place; don’t make the mistake that we did in thinking it is smaller than it is. There is one part patio, with a smaller DJ stage and we spent much of our time here before realizing that it was huge inside and that is where Calvin actually was. In its defense, the Omnia patio overlooks Vegas and is quite beautiful. The real club was packed. This made for a sad event. I was carrying a handheld clutch; Jess had a cross-body purse. Someone pickpocketed her stealing her ID and all of her cash. So we ended up leaving early. On our way back I kissed a 20 year old to help him win a bachelor party scavenger hunt. Finally, we decided to gamble a little more. I’m certain that I have never looked more haggard in my life than I did dragging myself through the New York, New York casino looking for a blackjack table.
Fourth of July ends in pain. Vegas wins again.
Making it up for our 11 am check out was the ultimate struggle. Since we no longer had our hotel room to base ourselves we headed out for some super hung-over shopping.
On both of our trips Jess and I tended to not eat any of the food. We live off of chips and Cheetos in our hotel. Maybe on the third trip I will have more to add about food.
Las Vegas Pointers:
- Be on the same page with your friends! So much emphasis.
- Take direct flights whenever possible. There is nothing worse than waiting in two airports with a hangover.
- Drink so much water. The desert + alcohol= dehydration
- Try to eat the food
- Bring cash to the casinos. This helps with budgeting but also not getting attacked by ATM fees.
- Check Groupon if you want to go to the Grand Canyon or any other event in the city.
- No naps unless you can do so responsibly.
- Sunglasses can be used as a tool to disguise how drunk you are for photos. My lack of pictures likely speaks to drunkenness on this journey.
- Strategize to maximize time. We have managed to do so much in just weekend trips because of strategy.
- All hope was not lost; Omnia retrieved my friend’s ID from the floor and mailed it to her. The people only wanted her cash.