Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Great Place To Visit, Las Vegas, Nevada Is An Oasis In The Desert!

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The Good: Lots to do, Inexpensive food/lodging
The Bad: Well, there's truly just one thing to do (with a lot of variations).
The Basics: A lot of fun with a lot of affordable dining and hotel options, Las Vegas is a great place to visit!

For those who might not read my many travel reviews, the last few years, I have made an annual pilgrimage to a place that is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places on Earth. Yes, I've discovered Las Vegas, Nevada and I love it. Truth be told, it is not a perfect city by any means, but it is a place I would recommend traveling to and enjoying, even if I could not see living there. The thing about Las Vegas is that it truly is exciting, awake all night and there is a ton to do; the flipsides are that it’s in the desert and it doesn’t take long before one realizes that there is only so much time they may spend awake before they actually get tired.

So, the short of it is that Las Vegas might well be the perfect vacation spot, but as an overall city, it is not the best in the world. It is fun, but it lacks a sense of substance and reality to it that makes one tire of it either after they run out of money or spend about a week seeing the sights and sounds of it. That said, it is a fun place and for a week each year, I now regularly return to it to enjoy all it has to offer: cheap food, exciting games and shows, and heat enough to kill the blues. This is not a great center of education or culture, but it has a lot going on constantly, it is easy to get around and everywhere is air conditioned!


Las Vegas, Nevada is located in the southeastern corner of Nevada, just over the Arizona/Nevada border. This is in the Southwestern United States in the middle of the desert. It is basically set in a valley surrounded by mountains and the sun pounds down on it like a lab light onto a petri dish! It has a very dry heat, though. Fortunately, virtually everywhere in Las Vegas has air conditioning to compensate for the arid, hot climate.

Las Vegas is located next to nothing else. It is very much its own city in the middle of nowhere and over the years, it has sprawled out so it has effectively merged with or overrun Henderson, Nevada. Because it is very much in the middle of nowhere, those driving have very few options for how to get into and out of the city. Las Vegas, Nevada is accessible via the Interstate 15 from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City (it makes an odd turn in Las Vegas), Interstate 515 and 93 which enter Las Vegas from the south, and 95, which is the northeastern access road into the city.

Las Vegas has a blistering desert climate and as one who loathes the heat, it is somewhat astonishing that I have only visited it in the summer. In five years of visiting Las Vegas, I have only seen it cloudy (it did not actually rain) once. The rest of the time it is hot, open and dry. Las Vegas has impressive mountains visible from almost any vantage point in the city, but otherwise is flat and sandy . . . where it is not crowded with manmade structures. And Las Vegas packs the buildings in; in addition to being sprawled out, the hotel and resort structures rise high above the desert floor.

Ease Of Local Transport/Parking

Las Vegas is easy for drivers to get around, though there is little rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the city. To its credit, street signs are almost all labeled with compass directions (i.e. EAST Las Vegas Blvd.) and there are portions which are arranged in an ideal grid pattern that city developers used to love. However, as one who once got lost for over an hour looking for the Barnes & Noble in Las Vegas, I can write with some authority that the grid system breaks down on the outskirts and visitors are left in a confusing mishmash of strip malls and residential areas. To be fair to most visitors, this is very much on the outskirts and most people visiting Las Vegas for fun will not end up in the confusing area of the city unless they purposely want to get lost.

That said, the streets are wide enough to make transit easy. There are very easy to see traffic signals and plenty of crosswalks so pedestrians are hardly ever running out randomly into traffic. Street signs are generally marked well and there are several large casinos downtown which act as wonderful markers for those coming off the Interstates to help them connect with the Strip. Much of the excitement and attractions is located within three parallel streets in downtown Las Vegas (The Strip and the two adjacent parallel streets).

On-street parking is almost impossible to find, but virtually every hotel and casino in Las Vegas has free parking, so parking is actually surprisingly easy to find in Las Vegas. Las Vegas’s many casinos want people to come in and lose money gambling, so most have free parking without any strings attached. This is a great big city in the U.S. where it is very easy to go and not pay for parking anywhere!


By and large, Las Vegas is a gambling city and it is built on the gimmicks of hotels and casinos. The casinos tend to be how everywhere in Las Vegas makes truckloads of money, so hotels are often very inexpensive. At the same time, there are also a plethora of luxury hotels in Las Vegas which are insanely expensive and quite elegant. The differences are very much based on where one stays and what type of experience they want to have in Las Vegas.

As for me, I tend to like to stay cheap and spend my money in other ways. Over the last five years, I’ve stayed at:
Comfort Inn Las Vegas (near Strip)
Terrible’s Hotel
Comfort Inn North Las Vegas
Palace Station Hotel
Rather than rehash my entire, thorough reviews, it is worth noting that I’ve had rooms for less than $20 a night at both Terrible’s and Palace Station and they were adequate accommodations for a business traveler. Las Vegas is a great place to find deals on hotels as there are ALWAYS deals because no matter what is going on in the city, there are rooms available (that’s how many hotels there are in this city!).


Las Vegas is a one-horse town in many ways, but it has a great horse. The way visitors get easily confused or convinced it has more to offer than casinos is that the casinos are dressed up different, each and every one. Before I started going to Las Vegas, I thought it would be like giant, simple buildings inside which were the casinos and each one would be the same. Not so! The Strip is slathered in casinos, but almost no two are identical. There is a giant castle (the Excalibur), one where serving staff puts on shows of dancing or karaoke at unscheduled intervals (The Rio), another where they trade on their movie memorabilia, another on the exclusive Playboy club and so forth. Virtually every casino has shows – theater and comedy shows, “theater” in Las Vegas usually being a dance revue of one sort or another – and each casino has a “gimmick.”

But largely, Las Vegas derives its entertainment and originality from the casinos and as such, those who do not gamble (most of Las Vegas is now on video slot machines) are likely to find it hard to find things to do in obvious ways. For sure, there are movie theaters, but most of the ones in Las Vegas proper are embedded in the casinos!

Because I continue going back, it seems like I keep finding different casinos and to have a decent hub for those (and my future reviews of casinos), there’s no place more appropriate than this. To read about each casino’s gimmick and the overall experience at them, please check out:
The Rio
The Excalibur
Palace Station
The Stratosphere
Terrible's Casino
Eureka Casino
Las Vegas Hilton
Hard Rock Café Casino
The MGM Grand Casino
The Tuscany
New York New York Casino
The Sahara

For those not looking for casino experiences, Las Vegas is often the home to big events; I go there each year for the biggest Star Trek convention of the year. There is also a huge toy show and DVD/Blu-Ray convention each year in the convention center. Las Vegas makes an ideal place for things like conventions because of the accommodation options as well as the entertainment options. If you want to see Cirque du Solie, after whatever event you’re there for there is likely a show you could get tickets for!


I’ve never been one for trendy places to eat, so when it comes to Las Vegas, all I can truly speak to is the delightful and inexpensive buffets that are virtually everywhere. A week in Las Vegas would cause me to gain at least ten pounds, were it not for the fact that I am constantly drinking water and exerting myself (my part at the convention means lugging heavy boxes under the desert sun into buildings and out of them). That said, Terrible’s has an inexpensive buffet and there are often coupons around which make it even less expensive.

But every casino in Las Vegas has at least two dining options and those looking for upscale can even find upscale buffets (the one at the Las Vegas Hilton, for example, is more expensive and higher quality). But for those coming to spend time in Las Vegas, there’s no reason to go hungry. Last summer, my partner and I spent a week in Las Vegas and we spent $93.28. $93.28 for seven days of gorging ourselves silly (and that includes tips!). One need only look around for good deals on buffets, but truth be told, they are everywhere, so it is easy to get inexpensive (and tasty) meals in Las Vegas.

I tend to steer clear of the expensive cafes when I go (two years ago, I paid almost $5.00 for a bag of M&M’s at one such café and that encouraged me to avoid them in the future). For the thrifty traveler, every style and type of cuisine is available, inexpensively, if one just knows where to look (so, for example, there is always a casino buffet that is having a seafood night, no matter what night of the week one is in Las Vegas).


Las Vegas is a very expensive place to shop, at least in the city proper. The casinos which have their own malls tend to be trading more on the style and reputation of the places they are trying to emulate. Prices on the Miracle Mile – a mile of shops on the Strip – are drastically overpriced, like some sadistic interpretation of New York City shopping. In fact, it was only when I left the city proper I found good deals. The short of shopping in Las Vegas is, if you want overpriced and stylish, stay in Las Vegas to shop. If you want affordable, leave the main city. That said, there is at least one massive souvenir (and liquor) store at the top of The Strip which offers cheap knickknack souvenirs and t-shirts.


Las Vegas, Nevada is a fun place to visit if you don’t mind heat, have money to gamble and like options. This is arguably one of the most fun places for adults to visit and my only real gripe with it (other than never seeming to leave as a multimillion dollar James Bond-like winner) is that it does seem to be targeting family travel more and there are just some places (like when you’re watching dancers at the Rio) where you just don’t want to see children at all. That said, this is a great place for couples and a wonderful place to get away from life and always find something to do.

For other cities reviewed by me, please check out my takes on:
New York City, NY
Rochester, NY
Salem, MA


For other travel reviews, be sure to visit my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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