Sin City: A Guide for the First Time Visitor

You come in from points south, right outside of Henderson and Boulder City, onto the interstate and then picking up speed and coming over that fantastic hill, and BAM, there’s Vegas , a veritable Sea of Lights across the horizon! They call it Sin-City, and the name is apropos of nearly every activity involved in the over all experience, and why not indulge. Yes, my friend, put on your dancing shoes and come on down to the most hedonistic town in the USA. You’re bound to find what you’re looking for if you’ve got the right set of eyes and a big enough bank account, but be careful this place has a habit of grinding people up. So keep your car gassed-up, and come along with me while I show you the ins and outs of America’s most decadent city, and maybe, just maybe we’ll cash out before the chips get too low.

Getting Here

Cruising down the highway, now! The radio is blasting out some amazing sound, and the panorama is pure Americana. We’ve crossed nearly the entire width of the US, and entering Arizona we’re getting that first real taste of dry desert air, a definite clue we’re getting close now. On this journey we’ve had broken windows, flat tires. It’s only now after all the trouble; the flats, the car trouble, the hotel bills, and the sleeping at rest areas, that I realize the truth to what so many have told me. Driving across the country is an amazing feeling. It’s an almost nostalgic connection to all those poor souls who did it 180 years ago with a horse and wagon in search of gold. Are we so different? We are going to Vegas with that same dream of striking it big. Finding that mother lode, and cashing out before something bigger gets us (the house). Although some don’t have the time to pack up, and drive across the country, I recommend it. An amazing perspective about this country is gained.

If you’re unable to get the time to take a road trip of this kind then flying is probably your style. Just make sure you get a window seat and are lucky enough to fly over the city at night. It’s beautiful. Although during the day Lake Mead is nearly majestic from the air.
Another way to get here is to “Go Greyhound,” as they say. Although riding the bus is inconvenient and uncomfortable, for a few hundred dollars you can get from Maine or New Hampshire all the way to Vegas one-way. It’s not a bad way to get here as long as you don’t mind the cramped seats, the crying babies, high food prices, and rude people in general.

Regardless of how you decide to get here just make sure you can take care of your lodging before hand. I prefer, but there are a thousand and one ways to book a room. Do some research just to make sure there are no large events happening here before you come, or you’ll be paying an arm and a leg just for one night at any hotel here.

New York, New York, and The Grand from my Hotel window. You’ve Made It

Las Vegas! Sin City! Final destination for dreamers, and bleary eyed tourists who marvel at the Strip’s artificial precipices, and cheesy re-creations of better men’s work. The empire state building at the New York, New York, or the Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel and Casino are good examples of the faux in Las Vegas. Some might say another example of the fake in Vegas are some of the people you’ll meet. Me, I’m just here for the pretty lights. Though I will admit there is a strange draw to Vegas. It’s the allure of riches, or that obscure memory of hearing about someone hitting it big. That’s what we’re after isn’t it; that million dollar jackpot, and to be instantly recognized once for doing hardly anything at all?

So here I am sitting in my hotel room at the Motel 6 off of Tropicana Ave and Dean Martin Dr. I chose this place because of it’s low prices, clean rooms, and close proximity to the strip. The chair I’m sitting in is vaguely comfortable, and staring out the window, with my legs up on the a/c, I can see the New York, New York, and the MGM Grand , and I’m thinking about the city in general. Pondering about how Vegas is a city of such extremes that somewhere out there some lucky guy or gal is winning 500 grand, and elsewhere some bum is passing out in the street. You either win it big in Vegas, or lose it all. Very few ever break even. Which is why it is important to have a gambling budget set aside for your night out, and stick to it. It’s really easy to get into a winning streak, and suddenly you’re up $200.00, but the deck begins to cool or your slot machine stops paying out, and then in a fever to get it back you begin pumping the whole of your winnings, your gambling budget, and the rest of your wallet into the coffers of the casino just a fast as you won it.

I prefer the downtown Casinos off of The Fremont Street Experience . A lot of the time these Casinos will run promotions such as free slot play just for signing up for their players club card. The Four Queens is one example. The Fitzgerald is another. Usually these Casinos have lower table minimums than the casinos on the Strip, and the items on the menus are more affordable. If you’re looking on venturing down this way from uptown it’s better to take the bus.

Bus passes are available from 24 hours to up to a years pass. If you’re staying for a few days I recommend spending the extra $20.00 for a 3-day pass. You’ll save loads on cab fares, and it’s a lot safer than walking the side streets downtown.
The Monorail in Vegas is also a great way to ride along the strip. There’s 7 stops that include some of the big name places you’ll want to see especially if it’s you’re first time in Vegas; The MGM Grand, Paris, and The Flamingo just to name a few. It costs $5 per ride, $12 for a whole day, or $28 for a 3-day pass. There are several kiosks near the main entrances to the Monorail where you can purchase what ever passe you need. I recommend it if you’re staying on the strip. It is after all the fastest way to travel in Vegas.

Fremont Street Experience The Sights

If it’s your first time here you’ll want to see the sights. Vegas offers top notch entertainment, and sometimes it comes at the right price: free. There’s a lot to see if you walk up and down the south strip. It’s best to pick up an information packet in your hotel’s lobby and decide what’s for you. For a full list you can run a general search for Vegas Attractions on Google, but I’ll list my favorites here. The first would be The Fountains of Bellagio. It’s a beautiful water show set to some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. It’s starts as a fog rolls in over the water, the music begins to play softly, suddenly the crescendo, and in amazing synchronization to the score, jets of water shoot up from the pool. They sway, they spray, and dance to the orchestra, or to Sinatra. It’s really quite pretty.

The shows occur Monday through Friday 3 pm to 8 pm, every half hour, and 8 pm to 12 am, every fifteen minutes. Saturday, Sunday, and on holidays shows start at 12 pm and occur every half hour until 8 pm when they occur every fifteen minutes until midnight.

Second on my list is the Sirens of Ti. It’s what basically amounts to a musical set on life like pirate ships. There’s singing , dancing, fireworks, scantily dressed sirens for the men, and brawny pirates for the ladies. It’s actually a very impressive show. The sirens lure the pirates in with there song, enticing them with their dance. A battle commences and cannons are fired, water splashes the audience, and eventually a boat is sank. I’m not saying which one. You’ll have to come and see for yourself.

Third on my list is the Fremont Experience. Imagine, you’re walking down the pedestrian mall of the Experience, gawking at the street performers, or maybe getting your caricature drawn, and suddenly the lights go out. You begin hearing the faint voice of Jim Morrison, and suddenly from the giant LED screen 90 feet above you there’s an assault of color, and as you look up the music booms from speakers, the screen begins to show you some of the most trippy visions you now wish you had experienced for real in some corner of San Francisco, 40 years ago. Visions of Ken Kesey, or Tim Leary dance before your eyes, and you begin to think maybe, just maybe the hippies had it right, but only for a few minutes, I promise. Words cannot describe how entrancing it is. Well worth the visit.

Fourth on my list is the volcano at The Mirage which erupts in an amazing display every ten minutes, after dark. You can feel the warmth of the fire balls from the sidewalk. Again get a brochure and decide for yourself.

Rain Night Club Night Life

Do you like to party or go clubbing? Vegas is the city for that, but beware, it gets expensive. My favorite club on a Saturday night is Rain at The Palms. It’s something like $40 or $60 to get in, but it’s well worth it. They have some of the best DJ’s in the world, and it has never been a let down for me.

If you’re planning a trip to Vegas well in advance I recommend getting on facebook, and liking the casinos and nightclubs you’re interested in attending. It’s the easiest way to learn about special promotions, and upcoming events. This past month I saw Paul Oakenfold (world famous DJ) for free. That means NO cover charge. It was great.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino is also a great place to spend a Saturday night. They have many bars where live music is played into the dawn, and it’s all free. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it: Please Drink and Game Responsibly. There’s no worse feeling than waking up on Sunday and checking your account balance to find out that you, my friend, have caught two very bad habits in Vegas: drinking and gambling.

Safety First

The biggest mistake people make with Vegas is getting caught up in the bells and whistles of the place, and yes it is a beautiful city with lots of things to do, but let’s face it, they don’t call it Sin City for nothing. Vegas is a city of fun and decadent pleasures, but Vegas is also a city of beggars and thieves. It is a city of cheats and liars, and if you walk around here long enough you’ll notice that it also a city of full of craziness. Almost everywhere you look there are wolves looking for naïve lambs to fleece, but if you’re careful you’ll make it out unscathed.

On my first trip here I was 18 years old, and came with a thousand dollars in travelers checks. One late night I was leaving the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino, and decided that before I got on the bus to head on up the Strip I’d dip down a side street where I knew was an all night check cashing place. I cashed a $250.00 dollar check, and along with my winnings had about $450.00 on me. When I came out and was making my way up the street I felt it…cold steel pressed against the nape of my neck, and a voice in my ear saying quite directly that I should “…hand me that cash, or I’ll slit your throat!” It was the first time I was ever robbed, and I’ll admit I was terrified. That cold knife against my neck was chilling. Of course I gave him most of the cash, and he just knocked me to the ground and ran off, but it taught me a lesson I’d follow for years: stick to the Strip. Of course I’m older now, and have been through a lot since then, but I still recommend following a few rules especially if it’s your first time:

Stick to the Strip, and well lit, well populated areas.

Never flash your money around.

Keep your cash in your wallet in your front pants pocket with a rubber band wrapped around it. Ladies should keep their purse draped over their neck and shoulder and to the front, always buttoned or zipped up.

If it’s a long walk take the bus, or a cab. If you take a cab, map out your route first. Some hacks will take advantage to your naivety about the city and take the long way around.

Sin City is all about having a good time, and just maybe getting away from and with all that you cant at home. Take your wins and losses with a grain of salt, tip your waitress, be safe, and have a great time! Good luck, and have a great time.

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