Las Vegas is seen by some as a monument to tack – but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. You might just have the time of your life, especially with my seven tips for getting the most out of Sin City
Granted, the exchange rate isn't that fantastic at the moment – but Vegas needs you! Whether you want to play blackjack until dawn, spa away your stay, catch the latest show or marvel at the sights, this location has it all. Las Vegas can be whatever you want it to be… and nowhere else in the world is quite like it. Here are my seven tips for getting the most out of Sin City:
1 Pre-gambling prep
You can read hundreds of books on gambling, but look across any casino floor in Vegas and it tells you all you need to know – there are lots of gamblers, but not many winners. In terms of odds, some experts say it is better to play the tables at the weekend and the slot machines during the week.
Don't get carried away. Some slot machines take 25 cents, some go up to $50 a bet. Stick to the cheapest possible. Statistically, you have the same chance of hitting the jackpot with a small stake as a larger one.
If you keep losing, don't take it personally. If someone goes on a slot machine after you and wins big, it is simply down to luck – so try not to be disheartened. Don't play to win, play to have fun.
2 Planet Hollywood
For the Vegas virgin, Planet Hollywood (www.planethollywood.com) makes a good first stop. Sexy, hip and fun, it's located slap bang in the middle of the Strip and is one of its newest hotels. For those with a strong nerve, community gaming slots are best – especially the ebay and Monopoly ones.
Both machines have eight chairs, four each side, with a large central screen. The more people who play, the more the machine pays out. If eight of you play at once, bonus rounds mean bonus dollars. Try to stick it out for at least $40-worth; and hit as much as you can, as often as you can, to get as high a multiplier as possible. Bear in mind that, as long as you are gambling, your drinks are free – but the cocktail waitresses won't linger long in the slots areas, so it's worth doubling on drinks when they pass by. Do tip generously; they have a hard job to do, and it's pretty thankless.
3 The Bellagio
The Bellagio (www.bellagio.com) remains a must-go, must-see experience. First, the famous dancing fountains are beautiful and definitely worth stopping by to see (with a show on every 15 minutes, there is no excuse). Smaller gems include the hotel's lobby, where the ceiling has artificial flowers that grow in size and bloom during the day, before returning to buds in the evening. The service is uniformly excellent across the majority of hotels in Vegas, but it is especially so at The Bellagio. Another, less well-known aspect of this hotel is the amazing buffet. Again, many hotels have similar types of gargantuan "all you can eat" affairs – but this one is particularly good, with a phenomenal range of cuisine and options to suit every diet and appetite.
4 Mandalay Bay
Visit the Shark Reef Aquarium (www.sharkreef.com) at Mandalay Bay (www.mandalaybay.com). It is claimed to be the only predator-based aquarium and exhibit in North America, with more than 2,000 animals. There are sharks aplenty, as well as sawfish, giant rays, green sea turtles (cutest, no contest), piranha, moon jellies and golden crocodiles – all in a stonking 1.6 million gallons of seawater.
Away from the creatures of the deep, The House of Blues live-music venue is also within Mandalay Bay. It has played host to a list of musicians that reads like a Who’s Who of rock and jazz headliners. Pre-booking of tickets is advisable for bigger-name nights. Alternatively, just book a table for the regular blues night – also excellent.
5 All you need is...
If you splurge on one thing, go and watch Love at the MGM Mirage (www.mgmmirage.com). It’s the Cirque du Soleil at its jaw-dropping, vertiginous best. Buy the best tickets (in terms of view) that you can possibly afford – you won't regret it. Pure Beatles brilliance. If you’re more of a Stones fan, try 'O' – another Cirque du Soleil show – at The Bellagio. It's a close second.
If you're heading for the MGM Mirage, go a bit earlier and visit the zoo – complete with lions, tigers and dolphins. At the other end of the Strip, the MGM Grand (www.mgmgrand.com) has a reinforced, glass-enclosed walkway that allows you to walk underneath the lions as they pad around above you – quite amazing.
6 The Golden Nugget
To get into the spirit of Vegas, spend an evening downtown in the "real" part of the city. Drop in at the Golden Nugget casino hotel (www.goldennugget.com) on Fremont Street for a taste of Rat Pack-era Vegas. Built in 1946, it is one of the oldest casinos in the city. If you’re a novice and want to try your hand at the card tables, do it here. Blackjack is probably the easiest entry card game to try. Pick a low denomination table and let the dealer know you are new to the game (many are extremely patient and, if you're confused, are more than happy to hint subtly at what you should do). One of the best books on basic blackjack methodology is Avery Cardoza’s Quick Guide to Winning Blackjack. If you’re British and have ever played cards with your grandad, 21s or Pontoon is your best bet – with slightly higher stakes than 2p a go.
7 The Venetian and Caesars Palace
Wander round the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian (www.venetian.com). This is the place where, famously, canals run through the entire lower floor and gondola rides are offered. The latter may seem like a good idea, but are best avoided: they go terminally slowly, and you can end up feeling like a moving exhibit.
Sales time, around June, offers some great bargains – especially at the Barneys New York department store. If you win big, take your pick from Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Marc Jacobs, Chloé and Prada. Upstairs at The Venetian, the Asian-influenced Tao nightclub is a celeb magnet, with a huge Buddha statue dominating proceedings.
Situated at the top of Caesars Palace, the cavernous Qua Baths and Spa (www.harrahs.com/qua) has 51 treatment rooms and USPs including an Arctic Ice Room, where snow falls from the ceiling, and a tea sommelier to pair your tea with your spa experience. After all, anything is possible in Vegas…