By K.C. Summers
Sunday, March 21, 2010;
Who: Yana Lashkova, 22, of Arlington, and her friend Olga Fetisova, 23
Where: Las Vegas
Why: Looking for fun
When: Five days in late April
Budget: $1,000 per person
"We want to go Vegas for the fashion outlets, cool clubs and pools, shows, dancing, sky diving and so on. We also want to see the Grand Canyon. We just want to have as much fun as possible."
This week's Going Our Way participants are notable not only for their sense of fun, but also because they didn't once mention the word "casinos" when asking about Las Vegas. As someone whose Sin City highlights were, in this order, shooting an AK-47, visiting the Elvis museum, dining at Le Cirque and humiliating myself at an improv show, I'm all in favor of thinking outside the slots.
With a $1,000-per-person budget for five days, having fun will not be a problem. You'll be able to afford a decent hotel on the Strip -- the four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard with the biggest, baddest hotels, casinos and resorts -- and have enough money left over for clubs, a show and sky diving. Maybe even food. But you'll probably have to pass on the Grand Canyon side trip.
First, airfare and lodging. The conventional advice when visiting Vegas is to buy a flight-hotel package for the best deal, but make sure you shop around. Using the Excalibur Hotel, a medieval-themed three-star on the Strip, as my control, I plugged your travel dates into half a dozen Web sites. For a package that bundles round-trip airfare from Washington in late April with four nights in a double-occupancy room at the Excalibur, including all taxes, Expedia was charging $427 per person; Travelocity, $434; Vegas.com, $442; Orbitz, $444; Southwest Vacations, $510; and Priceline Vacations, $516.
Booking the components separately yielded a room rate of $284 at Excalibur and $334 each for airfare (Continental out of BWI), for a total of $476 apiece. Kids, do try this at home, but know that airfares and Vegas hotel rates are extremely volatile and subject to change, so if you see a good deal, grab it. Also, as always, be sure to read the fine print.
None of the above sites included the hotel's mandatory resort fee of $10 per day in their price quotes, so add $40 to each package price when budgeting.
Also, note that you can lower these rates considerably if you time your visit to avoid the weekend. Vegas hotels are much cheaper from Sundays to Thursdays, and airfares are lower on certain weekdays as well. Use Kayak.com's flexible fare tool to find the most economical dates.
Now for the fun stuff:
-- Indoor sky diving starts at $75 (Vegas Indoor Skydiving, 702-731-4768, http://www.vegasindoorskydiving.com).
-- Cover charges at dance clubs vary, but expect to pay $20 to get into the city's hottest venues, such as Haze in the Aria Hotel in the new CityCenter, rumjungle at Mandalay Bay, Pure in Caesars Palace and Body English in the Hard Rock Hotel.
-- Top-of-the-line show tickets will run about $100 apiece. Check sites such as BestofVegas.com and Vegas.com for deals.
-- I've got to throw this in: A machine gun session at the Gun Store's indoor shooting range starts at $50 (2900 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-454-1110, http://www.thegunstorelasvegas.com). Trust me.
As for the Grand Canyon, a 13-hour motor-coach tour of the South Rim costs $84 (Grand Canyon Coaches, 702-577-9056, http://www.grandcanyoncoaches.com). You could rent a car (about $22 a day on Priceline) and make the drive yourself, but it's about 4 1/2 hours each way, so to have any time at all to explore, you'd need to spend the night. You could visit the closer West Rim, a three-hour drive, but it doesn't have the visitor services of the more scenic South Rim.
Maybe save this one for another time.
Cost: With air and hotel running $467 and activities/entertainment about $275, you'll have a little over $250 each for food and incidentals. That doesn't leave much for shopping -- but if I were going, I'd skip the buffets and head for the outlet mall (Premium Outlets, 875 S. Grand Central Pkwy., 702-474-7500).
Interested in having us help plan your trip? Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/goingourway.