Las Vegas for first timers

Upwards of 1,000 people per day head out to the bright lights of Las Vegas every day from the UK, so we figured we’d start a series of posts about how to get there, what to do and generally how to get the best out of a trip. I don’t pretend to be the world authority on the place, but I have been there 19 times …


Getting there’s half the fun


That’s a blatant lie, nobody ever had fun on a 10 hour flight.  That’s what you want, too, of your two options.  The alternative is to get a connecting flight through somewhere like Detroit or Dallas. While the cost savings is appealing – maybe £200 or more – my advice would be not to go this way, it makes it a hugely long day, US customs and airport people don’t have a lot of sympathy if it’s a tight connection, and you’ll be so tired that it pretty much takes a day out of your trip. If you’re on a budget, think about travelling for one less day in total and flying direct, I promise it’s a better option. Virgin and BA fly direct.


VEgasOne of the better skylines in the world to be taking a look at.


Another pointer on the flight over is to get the right seat.  Las Vegas airport is one of the busiest in the world, but the international terminal handles a small minority of the incoming passengers, and they don’t always load up with immigration staff. There are few things more guaranteed to take the shine off your eventual arrival than getting to the border check  and finding there are 300 people ahead of you in the queue, and 6 bored border agents taking their time to process everyone.  You can still get stuck behind a large flight landing ten minutes ahead of you, but give yourself the best chance – get a seat as close to the exit as you can.


You should also be aware that while Vegas is a party city, the guys on the border don’t mess around. I have seen people pulled out of the immigration queue and spirited away to who knows where if they’re too drunk – granted the last time I saw this it was a girl who’d been sick on her own shoes – but in any case keep the serious partying until you get to your hotel.


AirportThis is the best moment of your flight – the first view of the casinos from the ground as you taxi into Party Central.


Head for your hotel


The taxi queue system is awesomely well organised, but unfortunately the taxi business in general in Vegas is not. The story goes that the TA (Taxicab Authority) is mostly run by ex-executives of the taxi companies (of which there are about 13 running a cartel – no independent drivers in Vegas) and therefore they have historically taken advantage of the situation. It’s getting better now, but a tourist – especially one with a UK accent – is prone to “long hauling” – ie being taken the wrong way to boost the fare. The classic is to long haul you from the airport to your Strip hotel, and there’s a tell tale sign – if you leave the airport and go through a subterranean tunnel, you’re 90% certain to be getting long hauled.


I always just say “no tunnel” after I have said where I’m going, they generally understand that you know the score. If you think you have or are being long hauled, either make a note of the cab number and call the TA, or for the brave (or slightly boozed), threaten to do the same and argue it out with the driver.  Some of whom carry weapons.  Your choice ….


By the way, there are shuttle buses, but after a long flight, just get in a cab for around $20, depending on where you are staying (downtown is a bit more) and relax. And don’t forget to tip your driver, and not in coins either : 15% or thereabouts is normal. Don’t be a cliched Brit bad tipper !


So, where do you want to stay?  If you’re going for a week of carnage, you have to bear in mind that Vegas is a 24 hour party city, and even the most mental of party animals will not make it a week at full speed. I’ve seen youngsters arrive in town with the will to drink all the beer, win all the money and service all the local women, only to appear five days later, broke, crushed and with major intestinal issues …. PACE YOURSELF! With this in mind, even an old guy like myself needs to take a sensible approach, so if I’m there for a week I always do the same thing. There are some amazing hotels in Vegas, but if you’re on it all night and sleeping all day, you don’t really get the best out of your surroundings – the trick is to switch half way.  I always go from cheap to expensive, so that in the first few days while you’re out every night, you just have a comfy bed, while once you need to chill out (and dry out) you can enjoy the more opulent surroundings of nicer accommodation.


Where to stay?


Well, different strokes for different folks – and budgets – and the situation in Vegas changes all the time with new openings, new attractions and so on. If you like the sound of our two hotel plan as above, there are some great budget options – although even at the bottom end, these are perfectly good hotels with amazing facilities. Our favourite cheaper – but still well located – options are Bally’s and, at the really cheap end, Hooters. Ballys is right in the middle of the Strip, it’s huge, and the rooms are perfectly acceptable.  Hooters, while obviously painfully cliched, is incredibly cheap and a short walk to all the casinos on the Tropicana / Strip corner, so New York New York, MGM Grand, Excalibur and the Tropicana are all within reach. If you can get past the cheesy decor and some interestingly attired staff, it’s a handy spot with, obviously, awesome chicken wings.


BallysBallys, a less expensive but still awesome, centrally located, Vegas favourite


Once you’re into spending a little more money, options abound. Bellagio is a classic spot, although now it’s a bit older it may have even more charm, and actually isn’t super premium priced.  The most expensive – and awesome – spots are Wynn and the almost brand new Cosmopolitan. To be honest, at this level you are looking at some of the best hotel facilities in the world, so you can’t go too far wrong.

BellagioIf you don’t like the Bellagio and its fountains, then we just can’t be friends. Sorry.


Next time we’ll start looking in detail at what you can do, what you shouldn’t do, what you shouldn’t really do but might as well since you’re in Vegas, and what you definitely shouldn’t do despite being in Vegas as you’ll get arrested / murdered ….