Sunday, January 4, 2009
GETTING THERE: Flights from Washington to Las Vegas fluctuate in price, depending on the season and special events. I traveled during the holidays, one of the busiest times, and found fares starting at $350 round trip. In January, however, fares drop: United is offering round-trip connecting service for $163 and nonstop flights for $227. Other major airlines, including Delta and US Airways, have similar fares. To save on flights (and hotel), consider booking a package (see below).
WHERE TO STAY: There are accommodations for every type of budget, even on the Strip. Rates can start as low as $23 a night (Sahara and Stratosphere, for instance) and soar into the hundreds (Wynn, Venetian, Bellagio). To streamline the process and save some cash, research packages. A variety of online travel sites, including Orbitz, Expedia and CheapTickets, offer air-and-hotel deals. Over Christmas, for example, I booked through Orbitz a nonstop flight from Reagan National and two nights at the MGM Grand, on the southern end of the Strip. The $484.17 total included a $25 food credit at the resort, two-for-one spa pass and 10 percent off spa treatments. For a weekend in late January, packages include $366 per person for two nights at Excalibur, $469 for the Mirage and $559 for Bellagio. Before booking, check the hotel's location to be sure it's on the Strip.
GETTING AROUND: From the airport to a Strip resort, a shuttle costs $6 one way. Sign up outside at Ground Transportation. You can also hire a limo or grab a bus from the airport.
If you are sticking to the Strip, you can hoof it (it's about four miles one way) or catch the Deuce, a double-decker bus that picks up and drops off along the route. Fare: $3 one way or $7 for a 24-hour pass. For sites off the Strip, take a CAT bus for $1.75 per ride or $4 for a 24-hour pass. Just be warned that you might have to wait 20 minutes or so for a bus. (These rates reflect a fare increase going into effect Jan. 11.) Info: 800-228-3911, http://www.rtcsouthernnevada.com.
WHERE TO EAT: You will never go hungry in Vegas. Over the years, the city has become a top culinary destination, attracting celebrity chefs. At the MGM Grand, for example, Joël Robuchon, Michael Mina, Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck all have restaurants. However, I chose the cuisine over the chef and had an amazing meal at Shibuya (MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-891-3001). The Japanese eatery excels with the traditional dishes -- sushi, sashimi, Wagyu beef, miso soup, etc. -- but also surprises diners with its presentation, such as the chilled tofu in ginger-infused broth ($22), served in a misty rock garden.
For all-you-can-eat, drop into any of the casino buffets, which usually feature multiple cuisines, carving stations, salad bars, etc. I ate at the Riviera Hotel and Casino's World's Fare Buffet (2901 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 800-634-3420), which charges $12.99 for lunch. However, I dined free by signing up for the Club Riviera, a casino club.
WHAT TO DO: Escape the lights and clatter of the Strip at the Springs Preserve (702-822-7700, http://www.springspreserve.org), a serene 180-acre nature site with environmental exhibits (many interactive), desert hiking trails, gardens and cuddly-cute wildlife. The center also has classes and special events, a gift shop selling unusual recycled items and a Wolfgang Puck cafe. Gardens and trails are free; general admission is $18.95. To save money, check for coupons in the visitor guides available at hotels and the airport.
The MGM Grand features a free lion habitat, but to see A-list cats (Siegfried and Roy's four-legged assistants), visit the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage (702-791-7111, http://www.mirage.com/attractions/secret-garden.aspx; $15). In addition to the white tigers, the facility houses Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (not trained, but part of a research project), white lions, a jaguar, alpacas and more.
If you are tight on cash, Vegas is rife with free activities. CBS Television City (Studio Walk in the MGM Grand, 702-891-1111), for one, invites visitors to watch a TV show (I saw "Rules of Engagement"), then complete a survey about the program. An employee said that our opinions could help make or break a show, so don't hold back. For other gratis attractions, see Vegas.com's list at http://www.vegas.com/attractions/freeattractions.html.
Vegas is becoming the Broadway of the West. The in-demand shows, such as Criss Angel, Cirque du Soleil ("Love," "KÀ," "O," etc.) and Bette Midler, are pricey, with triple-digit tickets. If you don't mind lines and a gamble, stop by Tix4Tonight (877-849-4868, http://www.tix4tonight.com), a discount ticket outlet with four locations on the Strip. For the best pickings, arrive at 9:30 a.m. to review the listings, then get in line to wait for the box office to open at 10. I snagged David Copperfield tickets for $64.45, about $35 less than the going price.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 877-847-4858, http://www.visitlasvegas.com.