Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How the Love Birds Do Vegas - 11 Things to Know Before You Go!

Six years ago Mr. Love Bird and I made our first trip to Las Vegas for his 25th birthday and we've been hooked ever since. In a few short hours we'll be leaving to head there (sans Lil Love Bird) for Blogalicious. We booked a day after the conference so we can spend some time together and act like we're 21 again!

Besides his birthday, Las Vegas has been the location of many other important occasions for us:

Basketball tryouts - when Mr. Love Bird was playing professionally tryouts were often in Las Vegas

Taking a break from basketball try-outs to eat at Bellagio's steakhouse Prime

Girlfriends getaway/my birthday

With my friend Mildred

Mr. Love Bird downtown Las Vegas on our engagement trip

Babymoon - We were too exhausted to take pics and just wanted to chill for the weekend.

Guys getaway - Remember this post last year when I sent Mr. Love Bird to Las Vegas with his BFF? No pictures exist from that trip. Hmmmmm...

Just to relax

Our room at the MGM Signature - this was a low-key off-strip weekend
Sometimes we go together and sometimes we leave each other behind to go with friends either way our number one reason for visiting Vegas is that we can create a completely different experience each time we go - Vegas is a chameleon! 

After nearly 10 trips combined to Vegas in the past 6 years, here's my top tips for how to do Las Vegas:

1. Stay on the strip your first time 

Our upgraded view in 2006 - the cables are from construction during the conversion of the Aladdin to Planet Hollywood
We stayed at the then-Aladdin, now Planet Hollywood, our first time, and it was hands down the best way to get the complete Las Vegas experience. It was Mr. Love Bird's 25th birthday, and we were upgraded to a view of the Bellagio fountains. The best way to get upgrades (and other free stuff) is simply to ask!

2. Consider getting a rental car

After our first trip we realized we were spending way too much time (and money) in line for taxis so on subsequent trips we bid on rental cars via Priceline, and it's been great. Now when we visit we always get rental cars. There's tons of free parking, valet service is free, if we need it, and we barely move the gas needle since the Las Vegas landscape is flat and traffic off-strip tends to flow smoothly (we love to take backroads and explore a bit to get around faster!). This trip we'll have a rental car and will be using quite a bit of gas since Blogalicious is about 30 minutes off-strip at Red Rock Resort and Casino and we're staying comped (i.e. FREE!) at the Hard Rock which is closer to the strip but a bit behind it. 

3. Eat for cheap 
Our #1 favorite Las Vegas restaurant - surprising, right?
Pretty much any big chef that's in LA or NYC has an outpost in Las Vegas. I've eaten at some of the more fancier restaurants (Bellagio's buffet, Hugo's Cellar, Mon Ami Gabi etc.), but hands down it's places like Ellis Island and Terrible's that have the best food. Sure these places look seedy when you walk in but thanks to tips on forums (more on that below) we know to go there for the food and nothing else. I dream of Ellis Island's sourdough bread and homemade root beer year round, and Terrible's half chicken special tastes like something my grandma would have made. The best part is Mr. Love Bird and I can both eat per day for under $50 TOTAL! We love going to In-N-Out Burger (although we agree Shake Shack is better) and our favorite restaurant is Lotus of Siam, a Thai restaurant in an unassuming strip mall off strip (yet another bonus of having a rental car!). Overall you get so much food for so little that at first I thought it was some type of scam but that's just how things are in Las Vegas - a bit over the top!

4. Shows 

The changing seasonal displays at the Bellagio - Mr. Love Bird is not a fan but indulges me every visit!
Similar to the restaurants, there are big time shows in Vegas. Our favorite shows are Cirque du Soleil and it is a MUST to at least see one. We have paid full price for tickets (about $150 on average), but I've heard good things about discount tickets via Tiks 4 Tonight and have seen both Mystere and O (we found Mystere more exciting while O put us to sleep). This time around we're hoping to fit in Ka. There are also many free performances in theaters and just on the strip as well. From TI's pirate show to Mirage's volcano and Bellagio's fountains you can get plenty of entertainment without having to pay a dime. And although it's not technically a show, a must-see for me is Bellagio's changing seasonal lobby display. It's stunning! 

5. Spas and Shopping 

You can make an entire trip to Las Vegas centered around these two things. In addition to all the high end, 5th Avenue stores, there are tons of outlets and fantastic spas abound. Fashion Show Mall is a must-see too! Between the shopping and the spas there's not even a reason to step foot into a casino when you visit Las Vegas. Even with the chain stores in Las Vegas I've found the inventory is very different from what we have in NYC and I like that! Our stay at the Hard Rock includes buy one get one spa treatments so I'm hoping to fit in a facial on this trip as well.

6. Clubs and Gambling 

These are the two things that everyone thinks of when they think of Las Vegas and these are two completely optional things IMO. You can engage if you want to but you can also avoid them altogether if you so choose. I've had a lot of fun at many clubs in Las Vegas with and without Mr. Love Bird, but I do have to say going with your girlfriends is a completely different experience! Guys will try to wine and dine ladies who they see traveling with other ladies and you will get into places easily and for free. The best part vs. my club experience on the east coast is that the guys actually DANCE - guys of all races too; they have rhythm! I think this is a west coast thing ;-) For my birthday my friend and I were invited to Entourage's Kevin Connelly's party at the Mirage's villas and let's just say that was a very interesting experience. I may or may not have had an alias . . . ("What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" is a true statement!). If you are interested in gambling there are tons of free classes and free play that you can get to try your hand at slots, craps blackjack or pretty much anything else. If you do play make sure you get a players card (that's how we get our free/deeply discounted stays each time we go).

7. The People 

All of these things are so much more fun because of the people in Las Vegas. I've met some of the coolest people there! Being so close to LA, Las Vegas has a definite West Coast chill vibe to it that I love. The weather's great, people are relaxed and love to talk, talk, talk. And pretty much every trip we've seen celebrities so keep your eyes peeled! 

8. Getting Off Strip 

While we've stayed on the strip before we've also stayed downtown at the Golden Nugget for a different vibe and really enjoyed ourselves. We've also stayed at MGM Signature, a non-gambling resort, which was a great experience. We just wanted to have a getaway in a comfy suite and it fit the bill! Also, we love bowling and Orleans has a great 24 hour bowling alley and we go in the wee hours to bowl for $1 per game. It's usually empty too! 

9. Resources 

We're huge fans of Trip Advsior and love the forums and trip reports (TRs) that people post there. One of the most epic ones I've ever read is this one from May 2012 (beware this guy loves his escort!), but it offers some non-traditional ideas when visiting Vegas such as visiting the Hoover Dam, visiting the Grand Canyon, skydiving and museums of interest (thanks to this trip report I think I'm going to check out the Mob Museum or Mob Experience on this visit!). We've also loved the features that the Travel Channel usually runs on Las Vegas. We're cable free now over 2 years so I haven't seen them in a long time but check your local listings especially as some run on-demand as well.

10. Going it Alone 

I've considered it but have never done it however you totally can! I know this is especially true for those attending Blogalacious. Not everyone is coming with their partner or kids. One of the best reasons it's great to go alone is all the security. There are cameras everywhere and people are around all the time! Even so it's important to be smart and safe. Here's a great post on going to Las Vegas alone and another on taking yourself on a vacation in general. 

11. When to Go/Being Safe in the Heat 
We've gone to Las Vegas pretty much every season and hands down spring and fall are our favorite times to go. With Mr. Love Bird's birthday in May and mine in September this works out perfectly! July is just way too, too hot, but you can save money going during this time. Everything's air conditioned year round anyway, but it can get intense walking on the strip in the heat especially. Sunscreen (even for us brown folks!) is important as is staying hydrated. I down water like crazy leading into my visits, throughout and after. Additionally with the heat and walking you are bound to get blisters so take along some Liquid Bandage and blister guards as a precaution. Comfy shoes are a must most times but those sexy shoes are great for nights out of course!

So that's it! I'm off to finish packing now and can't wait to share all the things I learn at Blogalicious, fun people I'll meet and generally typical Las Vegas experiences that happen to me and Mr. Love Bird every time we go. It's definitely an adult playground and a place Mr. Love Bird and I will be going to well into our old age! 

Have you been to Las Vegas? Have any tips to share? If you haven't been, what would be your top reason for going - shopping, shows, spas, a bit of adventure, hitting the jackpot?