Las Vegas Guide for First Time Non-Gamblers
Las Vegas is a high energy kaleidoscope of color, neon, concrete, and humanity. It’s known for gambling, but there is much more to do than table games and slots. Our Las Vegas Guide for First-Time-Non-Gamblers will help you hit all of the city’s highlights and choose the right hotel for you.
First time travelers to Las Vegas need a game plan. The 4-mile “Strip” from Mandalay Bay to the Stratosphere is lined with huge casino – hotel complexes.
To draw-in customers, the complexes offer extravagant attractions, pool areas, public spaces, spas, shopping malls, restaurants, lounges, nightclubs, theatres, and concert venues. Some are beautiful, some are luxurious, and some are just plain tacky. The one commonality is everything is over the top!
For more information on Las Vegas travel see our Working Joe Travel posts on:
WHEN TO GO
Temperatures in the cloudy winter average in the 50s and 60s. Spring and fall temperatures hover in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Summer (June, July, and August) average temperatures in the 100s (and there is little shade). This time of year, outdoor activities can feel unbearable.
TIP: Whatever time of year you choose, check the Las Vegas Convention Calendar to see if there is a large convention at the hotel you are booking. An influx of thousands of conventioneers clogging up restaurants and public spaces can considerably alter your experience.
TIP: If you are a theatre or concert lover, check the Las Vegas Concert Calendar well in advance of your trip. Many shows will close down for a week or two each year for vacations/refurbishments. Plan ahead so you are not disappointed.
LENGTH OF STAY
The main draws in Las Vegas are the “Strip” (Las Vegas Boulevard) and the downtown “Freemont Street” area. It is about 8-miles from Mandalay Bay to Freemont Street in downtown. Plan for three days to see the highlights of this area. Add extra days for planned day trips to round out your vacation.
WHAT TO PACK
Day: Summer casual clothing – mostly anything goes. Bring comfortable shoes, you will be doing a lot of walking. Have a light sweater available for blasting air conditioners. Bring a mid-sized crossbody bag for your phone, sweater, personal items, and camera.
Night: If you love to dress up this is your place. In Vegas you can sparkle, bling, and go glam. Or just wear jeans. Like daytime, anything goes for public venues. Nicer restaurant and nightclubs often have dress codes so check ahead. If you love heels and plan on walking, bring a bag large enough to change out your stilettos for flip flops as you travel between locales.
Pack antacid and ibuprofen for late nights and sunscreen for the sun.
WHERE TO STAY
There are three main areas to choose from:
Las Vegas Strip – The hotels between Mandalay Bay and the Stratosphere (roughly Sunset to Sahara Ave). This is where the bulk of the action is located. Here you will find a great concentration of casinos, hotels, attractions, eateries, shopping, spas, concerts and shows all within walking distance (or a short cab/Uber ride). This is generally the most expensive area.
Downtown/Freemont Street – The city of Las Vegas has restored this section of the city into a fun, pedestrian friendly “experience.” The area offers all that the Strip does, generally on a more intimate scale (and cheaper). There are nightly free concerts and tons of attractions.
Surrounding areas – There are hotels, motels, condos, and Air bnbs in the neighborhoods behind the Strip and Downtown immediate areas. These are generally the least expensive accommodations. Many require that you negotiate transportation to the entertainment centers.
Recommendation: Pay the extra expense and stay on Las Vegas Boulevard for your first trip to Vegas. A large part of the experience is walking the Strip day and night. Everything is close, easy to navigate, and safer until you learn the lay of the land.
HOTEL TO BOOK
In Vegas, your hotel room is your oasis from the crowds. Make sure it suits you. The hotels are generally themed; often after countries or locations around the world. Many of the resorts are owned by the same entertainment groups offering higher and lower priced resorts up and down the strip. Some offerings are more luxurious; others livelier and fun.
Here is a description of 10 hotels we like on the strip:
Bellagio: The Bellagio is elegant by any measure or when compared to any other hotel in the world. Modeled after an Italian city, the lobby features a gorgeous ceiling of glass flowers. Its public spaces include a Conservatory, botanical gardens, and art gallery. In front of the hotel there is a lake that features synchronized dancing fountains throughout the day. The hotel offers spectacular restaurants, shopping, pools, and the Cirque du Soleil show “O.” The Bellagio manages to pull you in and remove you somewhat from the strip. This exclusivity comes with a price tag.
Caesars Palace: This hotel and casino has it all. Themed with replicas of Greek and Roman statues the atmosphere is impressive and fun. The Forum Shops are extensive. There is a three-level nightclub and tons of trendy restaurants. The adult circus show Absinthe is based here as well as the 4000 seat Colosseum theatre. There a 7 Romanesque style pools with popular bars and add-ons. This is Vegas on the slightly upscale, but attainable side.
Circus Circus: Welcome to the world’s largest permanent circus. At the main entrance to this hotel and casino, there is a big tent. Acrobats and other acts perform throughout the grounds. There is an indoor amusement park with a giant roller coaster, mini-golf, arcades, and clown shows.
Mandalay Bay: The Four Seasons and Delano hotels sit next to the Mandalay Bay Casino. The Delano features a spectacular lounging area with connecting pools and a lazy river (can get very crowded). The Four Season (a non-gambling property) has a much smaller, but very nice pool area. The Mandalay Bay Casino offers the Shark Tunnel at the Shark Reef Aquarium, Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE show, wedding chapels, and the House of Blues Music Show. Many large conventions are held here.
MGM Grand: One of several MGM hotels on the Strip, the Grand is the largest. It is busy, crowded, and happening. In keeping with its entertainment theme, the resort is known for having big name performers in first class venues. Here you will find the CFI experience, Cirque du Soleil “KA” show, and golfing attractions. There are many great restaurants and 6-acre pool area with lazy river.
The Mirage: The Mirage Hotel and Casino sits behind a massive volcano which regularly erupts with a music and fire show (so fun!). Attractions include the Cirque du Soleil Beatle’s LOVE show, Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat where you can view large white cats and bottlenose dolphins. The Mirage also features a great pool area. The Mirage exudes a feeling of old world Vegas.
New York New York: This complex was modeled after the skyline and other iconic locations in New York City (complete with the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty). There are pizzerias, bars, and Hershey’s Chocolate World. “Zumanity” by Cirque du Soleil is based here.
Paris Las Vegas: Behind a reproduction of the Eiffel Tower, sits the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. You can visit Paris landmarks and get a 360’ view from the Tower’s observation deck. There a number of French themed boutiques, restaurants, lounges, and a rooftop nightclub.
Venetian & Palazzo: Built reminiscent of famous Venetian landmarks this hotel and resort complex feature replicas of the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square, and the Grand Canal (with gondolas rides). The effect is so amazing you will have to remind yourself you are not actually in Italy. The indoor public piazzas and enormous shopping malls make you feel far away from the Vegas strip. There is a nice mix of high and mid-range shops and specialty restaurants. There is also a large, luxurious spa onsite.
Wynn & Encore: This hotel and casino complex is exclusive, expensive, and sophisticated. Security is tight. It is beautifully landscaped throughout. There are lagoons, a large waterfall, and nightly shows with music, light, and puppetry. There is luxury shopping and first class eateries. The nightclubs, pools, and lounge areas rock day and night.
PROMOTIONS & DISCOUNTS
Many vendors will try to sell you discounted tickets to attractions and shows. Beware. Depending on the activities and attractions you plan to visit there are legit discounts. Check them out at home and decide what might be cost saving for you.
Vegas is real and raw. Be prepared to see people from all walks of life. There are folks with different races, ethnicities, income status, and religions. You will see wild get-ups, scantily clothed performers, aggressive vendors, homeless people, and panhandlers along the strip. There are beautiful people; shocking people; and shady-looking people. Keep your valuables secure, stay on the strip in public places, and enjoy!
FIRST VISIT MUST DO ACTIVITIES
Stroll the Vegas Strip – You’ll never forget it. By far the most interesting thing to do
See the “Old Vegas” at Freemont Street
Discover the spectacular Bellagio, Venetian, and Caesars Palace hotels – Walk the lobbies, public spaces, attractions, and shopping malls
See a show
Spend an afternoon at a spectacular pool oasis
Treat yourself to a spa day
Do a bar/night club crawl
Pick your top 3 casino/hotel attractions and complete
Splurge on a specialty eatery
Shop till you drop
Take a day trip to any of these nearby locations:
Red Rock Canyon
Zion National Park
Biking at Lake Meade
Four Wheeling at the Las Vegas Dunes
Take a helicopter tour over any of the above
The best way to get around on the Las Vegas Strip and Freemont Street is to walk. Taxis and ride share vehicles are plentiful if you tire. There is a hop on hop off bus tour that can be both economical and fun. There is a bus system that runs between the Strip and Downtown areas as well as an elevated monorail that runs along the Strip (between the Sahara and MGM Grand). Limousine and rental car offices are found at every large hotel.
For more information on Las Vegas travel see our Working Joe Travel posts on:
May all your Vegas dreams come true, Laura and Randy