For a long time people told me that I needed to see Las Vegas, so many people, that I started to believe that I was one of the few last remaining Las Vegas virgins. Now that I have been to the city, I know that is not true. There are a lot of would-be Vegas first timers out there. I also now know that there is a LOT of important Vegas Know Before You Go, that can save big hassles and frustration, when making that First Trip to Vegas... Things that no one talks about.
For the record, my response used to be NO, I did not need to see Las Vegas. In fact, it was the one place I did NOT want to go. I had heard many times that there was "nothing to do in Vegas but gamble, shop, and go to shows." Not my cup of tea. Now, after reluctantly ending up in the city, through a series of mishaps, I unequivocally say, they were wrong. There are about a million things to do. In fact, what can't you do in Vegas, is the question!
Seriously, there are tons of things to do, including free things, which we will share in our article, Las Vegas 101 Things to Do. We think you will be convinced! It is an amazing city that you really must experience, at least once! But there is information necessary to ensure your first trip to Vegas is a joy, and that you will want to go back.
So, lets bring an end to the Las Vegas Virgins. Lets ensure there are no more Vegas first timers out there. But first, we give you the Vegas Know Before You Go.
There is a lot of information here! If you can't read everything, make sure you read the critical room info. It could make or break your trip!
Las Vegas Know Before You Go!
First Trip to Vegas- When to Go
Las Vegas is hot!
The city sits in a desert valley, about 2,000 feet above sea level. Did I say it gets hot?? I mean plus 100 hot, all summer long. Yes, people say “it’s a dry heat.” Dry heat, wet heat, whatever. Over 100 degrees is sweltering. We visited in late September and it was in the mid-90s.
Unless you are adept to this kind of heat, or plan to stay inside all through your visit, then visit when the temperature drops. Locals say October is a beautiful time to visit. Temperatures are beautiful from October through March, and can offer a reprieve from freezing temperatures elsewhere.
Las Vegas is busy.
The city proper has about 650,000 residents, with more than 2 million living in the metropolitan area. On top of that, there were over 40 million visitors to the city last year. If you average that, it comes to over 3 million visitors a month. You could calculate that as 100,000 visitors a day. Wow! Walking along the strip, or down Fremont street, is crowded.
There is a lull in Las Vegas tourism from mid-November through Christmas. The reasons are probably obvious, since it is the holiday season. However, if you want to visit Las Vegas when the crowds are a bit smaller, this is the time to go! Plus, you get good prices, and decent weather.
Las Vegas may be the convention capital of the world.
Hundreds of groups, companies, and organizations hold conventions in Las Vegas. A handful of conventions or trade shows at any given time means full rooms, and higher prices. Check the Las Vegas Convention Schedule to make sure you will not be competing for a room, or getting a higher price.
The days make a difference.
If you are an experienced traveler you already know that the day of the week can make a big difference in room rates. More people travel on the weekends, and rates go up accordingly. Generally speaking, you get the best rates on stays from Sunday nights to Thursday nights. If you are getting away for the weekend, there is nothing you can do to avoid the higher prices. Otherwise, time your visit accordingly.
Las Vegas First Timer - Critical Room Information
The MOST important thing to know, is that most resorts have a daily resort fee that is not cited in the quoted per night cost of the room reservation! This fee can range from a $4.99 to an over $39 fixed amount per night. This cost will not be quoted in a reservation price through a travel or booking website, and it is not negotiable.
This fee is pretty standard practice, although not every hotel in the city charges. It is crucial that Vegas first timers are aware of the fee, as it can make a HUGE difference in lodging cost, and the total trip budget. Imagine standing at the reception desk to check in, and learning that your week stay costs $200 more than expected! I witnessed this happen more than once!
For basic fee information, check the Resort Fee Guide. If in doubt, call the hotel and inquire. Then you can make the best decision, as to whether to continue the reservation, reduce the number of days, or choose a different lodging.
Check in Time - Avoid the Lines.
The standard check in time in Las Vegas is 3:00 p.m. You do not want to arrive at that time, and you definitely do not want to arrive later in the evening. At check in time, you will be waiting in a line. In the early evening, some lines were amusement park length!
Save yourself a lot of standing around after your long flight. Arrive a couple of hours early, or arrange for a very late check in. If you opt for the early route, do not expect to get into your room at that time. Check in, and give a number to text when it is available. Check your bags, and find some entertainment until your room is available.
If you decide to go with a very late check in, the lines decrease starting around 9:00 p.m. and gradually taper off the later it gets. I know a few people who prefer to get in about midnight on the day of arrival, and go straight to bed after check in. On the plus side, they are fully rested and ready to go the next morning. On the down side, they still pay full price for the room for that night.
Other Lodging Options are Available.
If you want to experience Las Vegas, but not the buzz of a casino stay, there are resorts that do not have on site casinos. They are less common, but they do exist. Some are located right on the strip. There are also regular chain hotels, with prices similar to those elsewhere in the country. Here are a few non-casino hotels to check out.
If you just want a pillow to lay your head on, while saving dollars for other fun, all of the other standard rooming choices exist in the Las Vegas area as well. There are hostels, bed and breakfasts, and standard motels and hotels. AirBNB has several choices available right in the city.
There are even camp grounds just outside of town. It might be a challenge to glam up for the strip out of a tent, but it is an option. If you are traveling in an RV, using the campground can result in a huge savings on lodging.
Las Vegas Virgins- When You Get to Town
Splurge on the Limousines?
When you get into town and exit the baggage check at the airport, you will walk out to find various ways to get to your hotel. The choices include shuttles, taxis and limousine service. Generally, I am not a big proponent of unnecessary expense for appearances. However, in this case, the frivolous expense for fun and comfort was worth it.
This was the one point in Las Vegas where it appeared each mode of transport charged a flat fee, for going anywhere on the strip. I have read that there are shuttles at this location, for about $6 a trip, and a round trip can be purchased. I did not see this. What I found myself was a sign for shuttles stating $45, cabs $55, limousines $70.
After being cooped up in an airplane for several hours, being able to lean back and stretch out, riding the strip in style, felt great! We were traveling as a group, we split the cost, and rode in comfort.
Las Vegas Know Before You Go- Walking the Strip
Walking the strip is one of the unique experiences of Las Vegas. There are sights that are beautiful, fascinating, and unexpected. There are replicas of monuments and wonders from all around the world, and shiny attractions wherever you look. People watchers will be in heaven. Couple that with a walk down Fremont Street, and it is certain that there will be something you had previously never imagined.
Keep in mind that the strip is over 3 miles long. On your first trip to Vegas, you are going to find many things that catch your attention, and call out for a closer look. Literally every resort has things that are intriguing. This is half the joy of the strip! You may not get very far very fast. It could take 3 or 4 days to completely walk the strip.
In most cities, by-passers walking along a row of resorts or hotels would not enter the establishments. Las Vegas is not set up that way. The resorts are designed to encourage visitors to go in and out freely. It feels weird the first time you are walking along, see an interesting building, and walk in. Go ahead! The owners want you to do so!
Wear comfy shoes. The resorts are huge, and spaced out, even if it does not appear that way. Walking one block, and checking out all of the sights, can constitute thousands of steps.
Also, be aware that the strip is entirely different from day to night. It is beautiful in most sections, and crowded during the day, but this takes on an entirely different persona at night. The crowds get really thick, and the lights go on. The glam and glitz you expect in Las Vegas really comes out at night.
First Trip to Vegas- Getting Around Town
Walking is not really a viable option to get around town.
Even though you will be walking the strip, and you will walk a lot, for most people this is NOT how you will get around town.
However, if you are very fit, and looking to maintain that fitness in Vegas, you may want walking to be your main form transport. Our staff contributor Nancy Lamb fits this bill, and she shares how she does it in Can't Stay Fit in Sin City?? Sure You Can!
Car Rental is always an option.
All of the major players are available. If you are planning to get off the strip, and out of downtown, more than once, this may be the way to go. If you are going to leave the city and get out into some of the amazing nearby attractions, and do not want to go via paid tour, you will need a car.
However, if you intend to drive the strip that traffic is dense, and pedestrian traffic is even denser. Not only will the going be slow, there is an inherent risk. Huge crowds cross the streets, some mindful of signs and rules, and others more distracted by lights and conversations. Las Vegas has one of the highest pedestrian death rates, due to being hit by vehicles, in the US. Consider other options.
To rent a car in Nevada, you must be 21 years old. A valid driver's license and credit card are required. Drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 will generally be assessed an extra charge. Surcharges and taxes will apply and may not be part of the originally quoted price.
The Las Vegas Monorail.
The Vegas Monorail is a good option for moving up and down the strip, on the south side. The monorail has 7 stations, starting at MGM Grand and ending at SLS. This covers a large portion of the strip. The trains are clean, and air conditioned.
The Monorail starts running at 7:00 in the morning, and runs through 2:00 or 3:00 most days, and trains run every 4 to 8 minutes. Tickets begin at $5 for a single ride, and $12 for a 24 hour pass. Passes can be purchased for up to 7 consecutive days. Purchase can be made in advance online, or at Ticket Vending Machines available at each of the 7 stations. For an unlimited ride pass, the time begins when the ticket is scanned for the first ride. Children under 5 ride free.
The Regional Transit Company.
The RTC buses in Las Vegas are the most economic means of getting around the city. The two buses that run the full strip to downtown route are the Deuce and the SDX Express run. These buses run every 15 minutes, from 7:00 to 2:00, a.m., and every 20 minutes during the wee hours. The difference between the two is that the Deuce makes every stop, and the SDX a lesser number, so the total route is faster. When making a partial run at any point, the difference is minimal.
A cool thing is that RTC has residential routes, which are included with a pass for the Deuce or SDX. If your cousin’s son has a high school basketball game in town, it may take a few minutes research to find your route and transfer points, but you can get there with your RTC pass.
Passes start at $2 for a 2 hour pass, and $8 for a 24 hour pass. Since the buses run 24 hours a day, this is a great deal! You can also get a 3 day pass for $20. Children under 5 ride free when accompanied by an adult. Passes can be purchased upon boarding for exact change, or at Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) at many downtown and strip stops, or at the Transit Centers and Transfer Centers.
Remember this is public transportation. At times, and in certain places, buses will get crowded, or jovial. Consider it part of the overall Vegas experience, and take it in stride. The drivers and crew maintain pretty good control of their vehicles and riders. Some appear to really enjoy their jobs, taking time to announce interesting facts along the routes.
Other Ways to Get Around.
Of course the other standard means of transport in and around the city are available in Las Vegas as well, including taxis, Uber, and Lyft. Obviously these modes will cost more than the Monorail or the RTC, but you can have them where you want them, when you want them there. Sometimes that may be more important.
A nice thing about Las Vegas taxi services is that the charge is only for the drive. There is no per person cost, or increased rate for additional riders, so it is most cost effective when there are 3 or more riders. A cab can carry a maximum of 5 people, with no more than 2 people in the front seat. Be aware that there is a time lapse factor that accounts for traffic though, so if you are stuck at a light, the meter may still occasionally creep up, at a slower rate than when moving.
Check with your resort concierge for options as well. Several resorts provide free tram service to sister casinos, and others provide shuttle service to the Monorail.
One final option we did not get t experience is the new free Downtown Loop offered by the city. Maybe you can try it out, and give us the scoop. Downtown Loop.
Las Vegas First Timer - When Not to Splurge
I cannot recommend the hop-on hop-off bus in Las Vegas. This was a serious disappointment to me! After a few European hop-on, hop-offs, I became a big advocate of them as a means to get to the key stops for a good price, learn about the locations, and have a bit of time to hop off at each. This was not the case in Vegas. I was the one who suggested the tour, and when it was said and done, I felt that I led the group to throw away money.
I will not go into details about all of the issues we had with these bus tours. I am aware some people like them and review them well on Trip Advisor. In my opinion though, the only way you could possibly get your money's worth is to get the full 3 day pass, ride all 3 days, and utilize all of the corresponding discounts.
When compared, the RTC busses were far more convenient, economical, and reliable.
Vegas Know Before You Go- If You Are Going to Gamble
Many people come to gamble, even on their first trip to Vegas. It can be a LOT of fun, and many people dream of being a BIG winner. Just remember: "The house always wins."
Think of it this way: all of the luxury that surrounds you in Las Vegas, was paid for by the money visitors lost gambling. I am not saying you shouldn't do it. I am saying to remember it is a form of entertainment, and you need to be responsible.
We had so much information on what a Vegas first timer should know about gaming that we had to put it in a separate article! Not every Las Vegas Virgin wants to gamble. We wanted to keep this information limited to things every Vegas first timer needs to know.
If you are an inexperienced gambler, and you really want to try it out on your first trip to Vegas, read Your First Vegas Gaming Experience.
Drinks, including cocktails, are free.
If you are just planning to drop in a $10, and make a few spins, you should be aware that if a waitress comes by asking if you would like a drink, they are free while you are on the machine. This includes bottled water, pop, and alcoholic beverages. If you leave your machine and go to the bar, you will be charged full price. Flag the server down if necessary. The cocktail server is covering a lot of area, so your tips will encourage more visits to where you are playing.
First trip to Vegas - Other Food and Drink
Las Vegas can be an amazing place to eat, and experience all kinds of different foods. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of restaurants, featuring foods of numerous different regions and ethnicities. You can find anything from fast food and chain restaurants, to extravagant buffets and celebrity chef restaurants. The temptation to eat, and eat a lot, is everywhere.
The Infamous Vegas Buffet.
The city is known for its array of incredible buffets. For many visitors on their first trip to Vegas, the buffet experience is something they anticipate highly. Not every resort features a buffet, but a majority do. Some afford a plethora of stations and performances as part of the eating experience. Others offer a number of options cooked to order. And some, are similar to the run of the mill buffet you can get in your own home town.
Buffets are not cheap! On the strip you can expect to pay an average of $30 to $40 for a buffet meal. There are a few at lower prices, and a few that are priced as much as $55. Make sure you are HUNGRY when you show up. You can get a bit of a better price at the downtown buffets, and some of them are high quality. You can find dinner buffet on a weeknight for as low as $12, and the Golden Nugget has a highly reputed buffet for $21.
Eating is not cheap!
Las Vegas is also known for its gourmet and upscale restaurants. Zagat rated the cities restaurants and ranked 9 of them to be in the top 100 gourmet restaurants in the US. In addition, there are a number of celebrity, and celebrity chef restaurants in town. These all come with a price. You can expect to pay near $100 per person at some. However, many people look forward to treating themselves to that one special meal. If that includes you, reservations will be needed. Plan ahead, and plan it into your budget.
If you are going to find your food on the fly, generally speaking, Italian restaurants had the best prices of full sit down specialty meals, ranging from about $25 to $35 per dinner. Pubs and chain restaurants are a cheaper option as well, but honestly, your options there are going to be the same as your options at home, in many cases.
Saving money- Find the coupons.
There are also numerous coupon books and discounts available from various sources. You can get a start by checking the city website for offers.
If you purchase tickets for an event or tour, sometimes you will be given a coupon book as part of your purchase. Be sure to check them out. We received free appetizers, and a 25% off coupon with the purchase of our Grayline Tour. We also received free drinks and a 25% off coupon with our Mob Museum tickets. Also, check Groupon before your visit. There are always deals available.
Check the in-house restaurants if you do stay at a resort. Sometimes a discount is included in the resort fee. Also, if you do join a rewards program, be sure and find out if any meal offers are included. During my recent Tuesday through Saturday visit, I ate 3 free buffets, because of the points accumulated on my cards
Ask for "Off Menu Specials."
You should always ask your server about off menu specials in Vegas. Sometimes these will be a special course or recipe the chef prepared. Other times, they are especially good deals. A few of those we know about are the $7.99 steak special, at Ellis Island, the "Gamblers Special" at Mr. Lucky in the Hard Rock Cafe, and the $1.99 shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate Casino. Many locations also offer Happy Hour specials.
Get your timing right.
If you are planning on hitting the clubs, keep in mind this is a night time activity, and NOT an evening activity. You definitely do not want to show up before 10:00 p.m. or you will likely end up broke and tipsy before a crowd even comes in. Truthfully, 11:00 is probably the right time in most places. You can get in befor eht eline is huge, and not wait around for hours for the excitement.
On the other hand, if you are a night owl, keep in mind that food options are very limited after midnight. Yes, Las Vegas is definitely a 24 hour city, but chefs go home and go to bed. If you are looking for a bite to eat at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, you may be limited to burgers or pancakes.
Vegas First Timers - Souvenirs
Hundreds of Souvenir Shops.
You may be compelled to stop at a souvenir shop to get your Las Vegas logo items for friends and family back home. These shops are the low-cost stores where you get shot glasses, tee shirts, ashtrays, key-chains, and other logo items, to show everyone that you really made your first trip to Vegas. And, even better, that you thought of them during your visit. Hey, I am not criticizing. I do it too.
There are lots of these souvenir stores all over town. I visited several, in different locations. Trust me. 85% of the available items, if not more, are the same in every store. You do not need to visit all of them. Do this shopping one time, at one store, whichever it is. Get what you need for everyone on your list. Save the time of multiple stops for more interesting activities.
Las Vegas Virgins- Odd and Surprising Sights..
Public smoking is legal in Nevada. If you are a non-smoker, or someone from a non-smoking state, this may seem weird. There will be smokers around, and they may be on the machine right next to you.
Public drinking is actually not legal outdoors on the strip, or downtown. However, the laws against it are seldom enforced, and you will see lots of people carrying their drinks with them as they go along. Generally speaking there are only issues when someone is clearly intoxicated and behaving obnoxiously.
Marijuana can be legally purchased in Las Vegas now, but it cannot legally be smoked anywhere on the strip. Smoking it is only legal in private residences.
Prostitution is NOT legal in Las Vegas. State law prohibits it in counties of certain populations densities. If you are hoping to find a brothel, you will have to drive a ways out of the city.
There are many homeless citizens in Las Vegas. If you are from a smaller city or town, they may be a bit shocking. Some areas, you will not be so surprised, but in other locations it will strike a strange chord. It is an odd juxtaposition between the luxury resorts, and the homeless person on the strip in front.
There will be many buskers, or street performers on both the strip and in the downtown area. The variety of what you will see is endless, from the barely dressed, to the costumed characters, to the magicians, and musicians. You are not required to tip. However, if you do stop for a picture with someone, or to enjoy the entertainment, remember that they are generally doing this to pay their bills, and not become one of the homeless.
Dress codes include any and everything in Las Vegas. Don’t be surprised by anything you come across or see. At some point you will probably see more skin than you would have liked to see. It happens.
Locals like to name drop, and dollar drop. If you get involved in a long conversation, you will probably hear about several celebrities who did this or that somewhere nearby, and most assuredly you will learn the cost of several exclusive casinos. Or you may gain an understanding of "how much better things were" when the mob ran the show. Okay, it was annoying at first, but it became a part of the local charm. We all do it, we just don't all have so many celebrities to talk about.
Las Vegas Know Before You Go - How to Get Out of Town
At some point you are going to need to get back to the airport from your hotel. The airport shuttle from your hotel is the most wallet friendly, starting around $9 per person from most resorts. However, at many resorts the shuttle MUST be arranged 24 hours in advance through your concierge, or bell hop. If the advance arrangements are not made, you will have no alternative but to take a more expensive means.
If you forget to make your arrangements, there are taxis in line at the departure area of every major hotel and resort, almost 24 hours a day. They will cost significantly more. The one insider tip to cut this price in half is to tell the driver that you wish to go via Paradise Road, and not via the strip. This will cut $10 to $15 off of your taxi fare if you are coming from the center of the strip, or downtown.
Keep that $15, and start saving for your next trip. You will want to come back!
Go Ahead, Plan that First Trip to Vegas
Pick a date, schedule a flight, and make a room reservation.
When you start lining up your days, be sure to check out Las Vegas 101 Things to Do, to find awesome activities for everyone in your group. You will probably be surprised at the multitude of options!
For now, we hope we have given you all the necessary Vegas Know Before You Go, to make the best decisions for your planning. If you are an experienced Vegas traveler, and know of anything we missed, please share it in the comments to help the Vegas first timers!