Wednesday, April 13, 2011

(No.145) Pt.2 of Las Vegas travel tips

In Part 1 of this series of columns presenting some "Las Vegas travel tips" (column No.144 on RickardsRead.com, posted April 9,2011) we offered some tips on visiting Las Vegas based on the experiences my wife Pat and I have had. This column is a continuation.

**********
"What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas", the marketing slogan for Las Vegas tourism, is merely a trope, a device to imply secrecy for 'naughty' activity while the punter is away from home. But to the extent that it is anchored in at least a modest slice of reality, "what happens in Vegas" is most likely to have happened on 'the Strip'.

What is commonly referred to as the Las Vegas 'Strip' or merely 'the Strip' is actually Las Vegas Boulevard which, for practical purposes of interest to a visitor, runs for 7.2 kms north from the McCarran airport (not far from the runways of which are several hotels) to the actual city of Las Vegas, up to the 'old' Las Vegas symbolized these days for visitors by the covered Fremont Street.

The Strip is actually outside the city of Las Vegas proper and the process of it becoming what it is today began in the late 1940s when the gangster Bugsy Siegel used mob money to build the original Flamingo Hotel, a much later and larger version of which still stands complete with a plaque recognizing Bugsy's founding role.

Fronting on both sides of the Strip are 30+ mostly quite large hotels, from the Mandalay Bay in the south to the Stratosphere in the north. Collectively they cater to every imaginable taste and budget: from architecturally garish (Caesar's Palace) to the ultra-modern in appearance (the Wynn); from the high end market (Encore) to the large but lower end (Imperial Palace); from the theme hotel (Treasure Island) to the non-casino hotel (Trump).

Unless visitors to the Strip intend to spend alot of time in their rooms and within the confines of their hotels, two important factors in picking a hotel in which to stay on the Strip are location and room price.

Most of the hotels on the Strip are owned and operated by one or other of two big companies. As a visitor to Las Vegas you are always free to visit, tour, dine, visit attractions or attend entertainment at any of them. A centrally located hotel on the Strip provides a more convenient 'home base' for the visitor to use for moving around by foot or otherwise, far easier than staying for example at either end of the Strip.

The busiest crossroads on the Strip are the points at which Flamingo Road crosses Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip) followed by the intersection of Sands/Twain Ave. from the east of the Strip and Spring Mountain Road from the west. So heavy is the pedestrian and auto traffic at these points that to facilitate both types of traffic and defend one from the other the pedestrian at these intersections can only cross in any direction using elevated crosswalks.

In our experience the best central location on the strip in terms of walking either north or south or making use of the monorail is a hotel on or very near the intersection of the Strip and Flamingo Road. The four corners are occupied by four major hotels (with others very near): the Bellagio, Caesar's Palace, Bally's and the Flamingo (although the fourth corner is actually occupied by a much smaller hotel/casino called Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon, beside which is the Flamingo).

Because of the combination of advantageous location, competitive room prices and better than adequate in-hotel facilities we have become regular customers of the Flamingo. It also retains a unique feature: a garden and pool area shielded from the noise and traffic on the Strip by the hotel itself. It is populated by pink flamingoes and other wildlife. Visitors can request a room overlooking this area -- and we do.

Traffic on the Strip is heavy at the best of times. Taxis, while readily available at the hotels, can be expensive especially if caught up in heavy traffic taking you from one part of the Strip to another. Walking to a show at another hotel is often a much easier and quicker way to reach your destination -- hence the relevance for visitors of convenience of hotel location (as well as room price) to those who intend to be moving up and down the Strip.

Another factor to consider is whether or not your hotel has direct access or indeed any access to the Las Vegas monorail. It is a curious, privately built modern system which runs north-south ONLY on the east side of the Strip behind the hotels located on the east side, in some cases a considerable distance behind. The monorail runs from the MGM Grand in the south only as far north as the Sahara Hotel. The original version of the Sahara, the sixth of the Strip hotels, was built ca. 1952 not long after the opening of the Flamingo; it's closing has been announced for May 16, 2011.

The reality of the monorail system is that only a few hotels on the east side of the Strip have their own stations. To use the monorail to reach any of the other hotels, especially on the west side of the Strip, requires a considerable amount of walking -- often far more than it takes to walk to that hotel from a centrally located hotel on the Strip.

Those hotels on the east side of the Strip with their own monorail stations are the MGM Grand, Bally's (which also provides fairly easy access to the adjacent and connected Paris hotel), the Flamingo, Harrah's/Imperial Palace and the Hilton (although the Hilton, located beside the Las Vegas Convention Centre on Paradise Road, does not actually front on the Strip).

While you can ride the monorail and get off at any station and walk to any hotel, the distance -- depending on the hotel -- can be daunting. Among the hotels with their own stations, those with the best[shortest] access are the MGM Grand, Flamingo and the Hilton although the others with their own stations are still fairly convenient in terms of distance to the station from within the hotel.

With these qualifications we can say that the monorail is a clean, efficient, safe and automated system (no drivers) which runs every few minutes in both directions ($5 per trip or passes for 1 or 3 days, all available from ticket machines; 3 day pass @ $26). To travel from, say, the Flamingo to one of the attractions or theatres at the MGM Grand or in the other direction to the Hilton is ease itself, only a matter of a few minutes lobby to lobby; great service at a reasonable price (comparatively).

If on the other hand you are staying at, say, the MGM Grand and are going to a performance of "Le Reve" at a theatre in the Wynn hotel or "Jersey Boys" at the Palazzo and you want to use the monorail, you will ride north only as far as the station serving the Imperial Palace and Harrah's, then walk from back to front all the way through one or other of these hotels and their casinos out to the Strip and then walk north along the Strip to Wynn or the Palazzo.

If you like walking and leave plenty of time to arrive before the show starts, fine. But understand that it will be a far longer process than, for example, walking from the Flamingo or Harrah's for example up the Strip to Wynn. Easy access to the monorail (or the lack of it) is another factor to consider in connection with choosing a hotel/location on the Strip when planning a trip to Las Vegas.

There is also public transportation on the Strip in the form of a bus route nicknamed "the Deuce" (so called because the bus fare was originally $2; it is now at least $3). The buses run up and down the Strip stopping at designated points to pick up passengers. As transportation the Deuce is often neither timely nor convenient. So many Vegas visitors wait at its stops in order to ride up and down the Strip for sightseeing purposes that the buses are often too full to board and therefore one waits to see if the next bus or the one after that has space to board.

As with other aspects of taking a trip to Las Vegas, do your homework on hotels and their locations. For this purpose, among others, the best of the many guides to Las Vegas we have looked at is one of the "Unofficial Guide" series: the latest annual edition of The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas by Bob Sehlinger.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

**************************
by Alastair Rickard

blog: RickardsRead.com

email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

for previous columns: links are provided in the margin of every column posted on RickardsRead.com