travel

Las Vegas: Get Out of the Casinos

In my role as a luxury travel adviser, I currently find myself in the throes of planning a whole bunch of honeymoons, bachelorette parties and trips to Europe. Most recently, I was looking into Vegas packages for two friends who are turning 30 this spring. Vegas has famously not been my favorite of destinations, but that’s because I’m not really into the whole bright lights (I have night vision), smoky casinos (I prefer to spend my hard-earned money on camera equipment and plane tickets) and chaos of the Strip (I’m old and lame). That said there are other things to do in Vegas than just casinos. To name a few:

1) The shows. OK, while technically on the Strip, the grand drama of many Vegas productions is what brings people from far and wide (especially this recovering show choir girl and wannabe performer). Personally, I love every Cirque production I’ve ever seen—well, aside from that trippy holiday Wintuk I caught at Madison Square Gardens a few years ago—and SVV and I went to see the Beatles LOVE at the Mirage a couple years ago (SO GOOD). If I get back to Vegas anytime soon, I plan on catching Zarkana at ARIA, as I hear amazing things. Oh, and naturally I’d pay a visit to my Nashville pals Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at the Venetian, as well.

The Beatles LOVE, Cirque du Soleil

image by Tomas Muscionico

2) A helicopter ride over the skyline. My traveling friend Alex recently got an aerial view of Vegas, and it sounded amazing. I didn’t know neon lights could look so pretty! And I’ve never been in a helicopter, so that would be one to check off the list.

Las Vegas from a helicopter

image by Alex Baackes

3) Off-roading in the desert. If you’re a Vegas fan and not already following Abby’s blog, you should probably get on that. Abby and I worked at In Touch Weekly together back in 2005 and have remained friends since then, having reconvened in San Francisco and Napa a couple of times. She’s the EIC of Vegas magazine, and her blog is what convinces me regularly that I ought to give Vegas another shot. I’m not sure what looks more fun, Abby’s off-roading experience with VORE or her recent adventure in the passenger seat of a race car.

VORE off-roading in Las Vegas

image courtesy of VORE

3) The eating. No big surprise, but I love to eat. (That admission is the reason why I’m now restricted to 1,200 calories a day as I try to get in shape for Kilimanjaro next month!) Vegas is the kind of place where you live to eat and not eat to live. (Hey—there’s nothing wrong with that!) When I interviewed Carrie Underwood last year, she told me that’s her favorite activity when she’s in Vegas for shows. I knew Carrie and I could be fast friends (aside from the whole vegan thing).

5) A side tour to the Grand Canyon. I always forget how close Vegas is to the Grand Canyon, particularly as the two tourist spots seem worlds apart. I have only explored the GC via camping near the North Rim. Then, once again, Abby’s blog one-upped my own experience when she took a private flight to the canyon and explored the floor via motorcycle tour!

Grand CanyonAll that said, I think I should give Vegas another shot and just get off the Strip entirely.

What are your favorite Vegas activities? What should I put on my to-do list next time I’m in Sin City that will further change my opinion of the place?

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Comments ( 37 )

  1. I think it’s time I give Vegas another shot! I think it’s been over a decade since I’ve been there.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Buenos Aires, Argentina: Parque Tres De FebreroMy Profile

    • As much as you like getting glam’d up and hitting the town, I’m surprised you’re not more on board the Vegas train, but I do remember that we have similar viewpoints on the city! Maybe it’s time we both give it another chance…

  2. It’s technically on the Strip, but I love the art gallery at the Bellagio, they have a lot of really great paintings and often get some cool traveling exhibits (hello, Monet & Van Gogh). It’s definitely worth checking out.

    I definitely second getting out of the city and go explore some of the crazy geographic surroundings. I love checking out the Hoover Dam and you can rent watercraft and go zipping around Lake Mead if you want to. They also have helicopters you can charter to take you over the dam or down to the Grand Canyon for what seems to be relatively inexpensive prices.

    Also, there are a lot of great resort and spa places outside of Vegas. Green Valley Ranch in Henderson and Red Rock Resort are the ones that come readily to mind.

    xox
    heidikins recently posted..New Orleans: The French Quarter in PhotosMy Profile

  3. As a brit, I see Vegas in the same light as Florida as a holiday destination from the UK. The people who want to go there are typically not even thinking at the very depths of their minds of having what you and I would class as a genuine travel experience – they just want the alcohol, sunshine, bright lights and fast food. A lot of the appeal is with it seeming somewhat glamorous. I guess the question is HOW do you try to get these types of people to see their trip in a different light?

    • OK, see I LOVE Florida. The beaches are some of the prettiest in the world (if you go to the right spot), and it’s just chill (this is the Panhandle, I’m talking about, NOT Miami!). Vegas is the polar opposite. I think you have to show all sides to both destinations and convince vacationers they can have the best of both worlds: dining and nightlife in Vegas/Miami, and peace and solitude and nature in the desert/the deserted beaches. Especially given that, unlike Americans, Brits have enough vacation time to squeeze both in =)

  4. We are actually heading to Las Vegas for the first time next month and don’t intend to do any gambling at all – I just want to see what all the fuss is about! We intend to see some shows, hopefully enjoy the pools, and check out the sights – I think my 9 year old will get a kick out of seeing the themed hotels like New York, New York, the Luxor, the Venetian and Paris. Then we head to the Grand Canyon for a couple of days with a stop at the Hoover Dam along the way.

  5. Dude, all of these alternatives are great. So is the River Mountains Loop trail in the burbs near Boulder City. But seriously…there is some classic Americana stuff in the casinos themselves. Don’t gamble? So what — you can watch whales bet $10k per hand and marvel at the ridiculousness of it all. Not a foodie? Go to bars like The Chandelier inside the Cosmopolitan and check out some of the most cutting edge mixology on Earth. I take one non-work trip to Vegas every March (to bet on the NCAA tournament), and there are always two or three dudes who don’t gamble at all. THEY are the ones who have the most fun.

  6. I would also recommend Qua Spa at Caesar’s Palace! For $35 bucks you can have a great workout and chill in the Snow Steam room, saunas, and whirlpools. Plus there is a tea service and snacks. If you go in the morning you can use all day.
    Alexa Brooks recently posted..Backaches & Toad The Wet SprocketMy Profile

  7. I happen to love Vegas! I’ve lost count how many times I have been, but I think it’s around 15 or 17. I love gambling, but I’ll leave that out. Aside from what you have already mentioned….I like the sing along piano bar at NYNY. Since I’m old and like to sit, I get reservations for a seat at a table ($25) where a waitress comes so I don’t need to push my way thru the crowd to get a drink. Away from the casinos entirely there is the Hoover Dam or hiking at the Valley of Fire and/or Red Rock. Have you tried one of the hotels that are less crowded? Wynn is usually peaceful, except when all people show up at night to line up for the clubs. Or one of the non-gaming hotels like the 4S or Mandarin Oriental might be for you. Other things you can do is visit the Neon graveyard (now called the Neon Museum, I think) or there is a place you can rent and shoot guns of all types (not for everyone, I know).

  8. I’ve been to Vegas eight times and gambled a total of less than a dollar (because you’ve got to try at least one slot machine). One of my favorite perks is the fairly guaranteed nice weather. I used it as a mini-summer layover when traveling to the southern hemisphere stuck me with three winters in a row. I also experienced a strangely deserted Las Vegas when I was stranded by a snowstorm right before Christmas – a good time for cheap rates and hotel upgrades before the mobs descend for New Year’s Eve. I would second your recommendations of indulging in shows and meals, plus a basic stroll down the strip to get some fresh air, popping into the lobbies of each hotel to compare over-the-top architecture and interior design. I could spend half an hour watching the Bellagio fountains alone!

  9. Timely…I’m in Vegas right now :) We’re going street racing later this week – I’ll let you know how it is!
    Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy recently posted..How I Travel: What’s in my Carry-on BagMy Profile

  10. I think the next time we find ourselves there we are going to get into the racing scene. We did the club thing and I find it hard to pay $16 for a watered down cocktail.
    Erica recently posted..Traveling Art: The Exxopolis LuminariumMy Profile

  11. I find myself in Vegas for work and conferences several times a year. I hate the strip but love the food. I love going out to the Valley of Fire which is an hour out and great for photography. One spot that has been on my radar because I have read about it 3(!) travel magazines is the neon museum – I think it would be really cool for photos as well!
    Andi recently posted..Backstage Pass at the San Diego ZooMy Profile

  12. We went to Las Vegas for the first time a couple of years ago and loved it. I was there to write an article about Vegas for no-gamblers and we never gambled a penny. Spent time wandering the incredible hotels – Paris! New York! – took a Pink Jeep tour of Hoover Dam, did a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon and checked out the Skywalk, did a Cirque show (Elvis, it was great!) and had some fabulous food. Holsteins at the Cosmopolitan has the best lobster mac and cheese and all the food at the The Capital Grille was incredible. We also rode the monorail, which most people don’t know about. It’s still the article that gets the most readers on my blog: http://www.wanderlustwonder.com/2011/05/17/the-best-kept-secret-in-vegas-the-las-vegas-monorail/
    Jan Ross recently posted..Dahlonega Spa Resort in Dahlonega, GeorgiaMy Profile

  13. Valley of Fire was a great experience – so very beautiful! Bring water with you though, even in March it was crazy hot!
    Red Rock Canyon was also pretty cool – came across it by accident following the quick route back to Vegas after driving the long route to Death Valley.
    And finally, because I am a NASCAR girl, a trip to the track is in order. The track tours are great, especially the ride along in the van!
    On two trips to Vegas we really spent very little time in the casinos. So many other awesome things to see and do.

  14. I think I am one of the last people in the world who has not been to Vegas. And I’ve never been in a helicopter. That solves it, Vegas helicopter ride it is ASAP
    Pete recently posted..Lake Atitlan in PhotosMy Profile

  15. I’ve heard such great things about helicopter rides over LV
    Hogga. recently posted..Folk on the Rocks, Yellowknife: Music FestivalMy Profile

  16. Skydiving is another option ( i recall you said you were scared of heights though…could be making this up); Visiting the hoover dam; havent seen Zarkana but seen all the other circus shows. Favorite is Le Reve at The Wynn. Check er out too

  17. People are always surprised to hear that we enjoy Vegas. The food alone is incredible!

    Last year, we used Vegas as a jumping-off point for some camping/exploring in Nevada and Utah – one of our best adventures ever.
    Kent @NVR recently posted..The Lottery of LifeMy Profile

  18. I LOVE Vegas, and I’m not a gambler either! As you mentioned, Cirque is always a winner (Mystere was amazing!), and you can’t go wrong with the food (I went to a wedding reception at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio which was divine). As for things further off the beaten track, some friends and I took a side trip to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead which was pretty cool too!
    Kavi recently posted..Photo ShootMy Profile

  19. I’ve never been to Vegas, and the number one reason was because I didn’t want to sit inside a casino all day….. this post was very eye-opening!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Million dollar toilet paper folding.My Profile

  20. You’re so right! I love Vegas and I never even gamble. I really love the day trips to Death Valley- such an amazing place in the US!
    Danee Sarman recently posted..An Egyptian Obelisk in IstanbulMy Profile

  21. Okay, confessions time: I’ve never been to Vegas. And while part of me is disgusted by this fact and feels as if we should be attempting to render it as quickly as possible, (we make plans every time we get drunk, but somehow they never pan out,) part of me isn’t really in any hurry. Due to above shows, there’s an excellent chance that we’ll end up living/working there at some point in our careers, (we actually have a decent amount of connections out there,) so I’ve been kinda just waiting for life to take us out there. But the whole off-roading thing sounds like wicked fun, and the eating is definitely something I can get behind.
    Monster recently posted..The Kindness Inside a Box Inside a Paper BagMy Profile

  22. You have got to get yourself into a helicopter. I’ve only flown in them for military purposes, but it’s incredible. It’s not at all like flying in a helicopter and it’s amazing to skim just above the tree tops and be level with the birds for incredible views.
    terra recently posted..{5 Points} The coolest parts about being on duty for the Presidential InaugurationMy Profile

  23. YAY!! I love this post. As you know, I am a HUGE proponent of getting people off the Strip. And thank you sooo much for the shout-out!!

  24. I have yet to visit Vegas yet, should be interesting :)

  25. Roos n More Zoo! It’s a little less than an hour north of town, it’s pretty cheap to get into, and they’re really hands-on. it’s an exotic animal petting zoo.

  26. Ugh… I LOVE LAS VEGAS! Thanks for including me here :) Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure and I wouldn’t trade my weekends there for my multi-month jaunts to Southeast Asia, but come on… there is so much to love!
    Alex recently posted..My Home Away from Home: Back to Southeast AsiaMy Profile

  27. So many people don’t seem to realize just how much there is to Las Vegas.You need to either become a local, or befriend one so that you can experience all we have to offer.

  28. The first time I bothered to do anything in Vegas outside of the casinos was when my friend and I had to check out of our hotel but our flight wasn’t until midnight. W went to see a Cirque du Soleil show, and it was incredible. I figured I would have lost more money in that time gambling :-)
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..I finally went to a futbol match in ArgentinaMy Profile

  29. Sign me up for the eating! Actually, all of this sounds really fun…someday I will get there for myself.
    Emily in Chile recently posted..Vines of Mendoza: your guide to Mendoza wineMy Profile

  30. Las Vegas is my stomping grounds and I love it (and I’m also not a gambler or nightlife person). This city is fabulous for so many reasons, and I could go on and on about all the things you should do and see next time you’re here. Instead, I would recommend giving me a call and I’ll take you out to drinks so we can talk about it all. Don’t discount Sin City until you’ve given it another try!
    JoAnna recently posted..There She Blows!! | Whale Watching in IcelandMy Profile

  31. I am not a big Vegas person either and I HAVE been off The Strip and out of the Casinos since I travel there for work quite often. I have done some of the “non-touristy” things, but in the end, it still has not grown on me. Sure, there are other things to do, Red Rocks, biking, other neighborhoods, etc. But in the end, it is still a desert without trees. And gambling is everywhere, even away from The Strip. Just my opinion and everyone has one. =0)
    Julie recently posted..Friday Infographic – What Type of Traveler are You?My Profile

    • And I very well could still share an opinion with you even after getting out of the city! I’m just not one for so much chaos. That said, I DO like the desert a whole lot…

  32. I’m actually heading to Vegas for my first time in a couple of weeks! I already planned that the lights will get old for me quickly so we’re headed to Zion National Park since the North Rim of GC is closed for the winter. So I get my couple of glitzy days for the true Vegas strip experience and then I get to go and experience nature’s glitz. :) Thanks for posting!

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  1. […] Nevada’s desert oasis isn’t just for gamblers. If you’re sick of the slots and blinded by the flashing lights and neon glare, take a bet on another side of Las Vegas. @LunaticAtLarge […]

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