Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Las Vegas Vacation: The Strip

Las Vegas is a place that I have visited many times.  There is one thing that is certain to me - it is ever changing!!!  There's always construction!  I have seen the "strip" through many stages and it always amazes me how different it is from year to year.  This rapid change makes it hard to blog on Las Vegas and keep it accurate but I will try my best.  Just keep in mind that what I tell you about now may not be the same when you visit.  It's always a good thing to do your research to see what is still around and whats new.

You can't do a tourist visit to Las Vegas and not get a picture in front of the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign!!  This is at the beginning of the strip.  It is in the median of a busy street with a very small parking lot (free parking).  You may have to stop by a couple of times before you find an opportunity to park.  I took my try-pod to get a family picture but thankfully there was another tourist that offered to take a few for us (setting up my camera was taking a long time).  

The back side of the sign.
My son wasn't happy by this point but I really wanted it for a photo book.

The red line is the "strip"

Excalibur is the first attraction that we usually spot while starting our drive down the strip.  I have never stayed there but it's an amazing place that you have to see inside.  

We usually park at Excalibur (picture shown later in this post) because they have free outdoor parking that is close to all the most desired sites.  You can take a free tram from Excalibur, past Luxor, to Mandalay Bay.  From Mandalay Bay you can catch the free tram to Luxor and then back to Excalibur.  There are two trams but only one stops at Luxor.  The trams arrive approximately every 5 minutes so it's a great option!  I used it often one trip when I stayed at Excalibur but attended a work conference at Mandalay Bay.

This was taken in October 2011.

A great picture opportunity at the Luxor tram drop-off.

The interior of Luxor is hollow so there is plenty of room for a unique shopping and gambling experience.  The rooms are only on the exterior walls of the pyramid and the elevators actually incline (up, over, up, over - for every floor).

Interior view of Luxor - looking up to center.

Interior view of Luxor.

One of the reasons I have been to Las Vegas many times is the price.  If you do your research, you can eat, sleep and have fun in Las Vegas without spending much at all.  It's not as easy now but airline tickets used to be cheap too.  

Excalibur is one of the locations that I have stayed at often.  They generally offer great rates for rooms (especially in the spring) and it's in a great location on the strip (the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Tropicana).  Not only do they offer the tram to help you get to other casino's but it's on a main corner of the strip.  A location that offers walkways to to the casinos on all four corners.  
An older picture but still the same look of Excalibur.

New York, New York is another main casino/hotel on the corner of Las Vegas Blvd & Tropicana.  All casinos have a ton to offer but one of the main attractions of this one is the roller coaster that runs around the exterior of the building.  

New York, New York
You can get a great picture of this from Tropicana on the opposite corner.
MGM Grand is on another corner.  We love that they have a Rainforest Cafe inside!  I have stayed there once but I avoid it now.  They have a lot to offer but I was put off by the location of our room.  It has been a few years but when we stayed there we had to walk a very long distance to get to our room from the elevator.  You can tell by the picture.  Imagine that the elevator is in the middle and your room is at an end of a wing.  It's much bigger than it appears in the picture and we were hauling our luggage with us.  If I stay there again I will ask an employee to bring our luggage!

During our last trip to Las Vegas we caught the lion feeding in MGM.   They have the days and times posted on their website.  My kids really enjoyed seeing this.  

While walking on the strip you will encounter a wide variety of entertainers.  Of course we had to stop for pictures with many of the character.  It was like being at Disney and Universal again!  Of course we tipped $1 to each character.

The Coca-Cola store is very interesting and worth checking out - especially if you like Coke memorabilia!

On the top floor of the Coca-Cola store there is a small restaurant where you can eat.  What I thought was interesting is an "Around the World Tray" that they offer.  For $7 you get a tray of coke samples from around the world.  I would have taken a picture of the tray but adding it to the blog wasn't something I thought of at the time.  

Picture of the Coca-Cola restaurant menu
Next is the M&M store.  Another store that you have to visit.  There are four floors packed with everything M&M that you could imagine.  You can even purchase personalized M&M's at the store.  Don't miss the free 3D show on the 3rd floor.  Even as an adult I enjoyed it. 

There are many picture opportunities with M&M character statues.

Near the Coca-Cola and M&M stores you will see a cart set up where you can buy last minute show tickets for a very discounted price.  I highly recommend checking it out if you have a free night and your looking for something fun to do.  I know that they also have one of these locations inside Circus Circus near the hotel check-in.  Sorry but I don't have a picture.

Fortunately my little ones didn't see "Mickey Mouse" counting his tips!!!

The Mirage is another great spot on the strip.  Their volcano erupts on a schedule and is very entertaining.  

This picture was taken a few years ago when I was VERY pregnant.

Picture taken October 2011
One of my favorite free shows is at Treasure Island (TI).  They have a nightly schedule where the ships in the exterior waters of the casino "come to life" with actors that are sure to entertain you.  They have revamped the show since I first started visiting Las Vegas but it's always fun.  You will want to get there early because there is barely standing room when the show starts.  Also, if you have little ones it will be hard for them to see if they are not near the edges.  I haven't really found the "best spot" to stand at but I would probably recommend the center walk-way (leading into the casino) but next to the ropes facing the red ship (the red ship moves to that location).  Both ships have action but at least you can see the majority there.  Also, while in that spot, if you have a young ones you could hold them up without really getting in others way.  If you stay at Treasure Island there is a small area you can stand in that is raised and gives a great view of the entire show.  

The picture below will give you an idea of when the show runs.  We found out the hard way that the hours change in the "winter months" since it gets dark earlier.  We almost missed seeing the show all together but we squeezed it in our last night.  It was the one main thing my son was looking forward to so we couldn't miss it.  Also, we park at the mall next to Treasure Island.  Parking is free and there is a raised walk over the street to get to Treasure Island.

Picture taken October 2011.
Another "TI" picture opportunity
Another fun stop for us is Caesars Palace and the Forum Shops.  The first time I visited there we joked about how there are a million ways to get in but it's hard to figure out how to get out of the casino ;-)

I have many family pictures in front of this statue over the years!  

There are two sets of statues that come to life to entertain shoppers.  It is amazing!!!  One is the "Fall of Atlantis" near Planet Hollywood and the other is "Festival Fountain" on the other end of the Forum Shops near the Cheesecake Factory.  The shows run every hour on the hour.  Check out their website for start and end times.  There are also signs listed at those two locations.

They look like regular statues but during show time they move & talk!
There's fire and water action!

The beautiful view you will see while walking through the Forum Shops
Circus Circus is further down the strip.  It's not in a great location if you want to walk around in the popular areas of the strip (at least not yet - there was a lot of construction around that area in October 2011).  It is an older casino/hotel but they have expanded some.  You can usually get the best room rates there and it is very kid friendly.  A tip - I do not recommend staying in the motor lodge rooms.  They are separate from the casino/hotel and they are really dated.  In the big top there are free circus acts every half hour (check website for start & end times) and many carnival style games.  They also have an indoor theme park for an additional fee.

Picture taken from behind the circus stage looking at bleachers 

As you move further down Las Vegas Blvd you will pass many wedding chapels and liquor stores.  You will also come to the "Gold & Silver Pawn Shop".  Which is more famously known as "Pawn Stars".  Of course we had to stop and check it out.  

We didn't see any of the stars of the show.  I was told ahead of time that there are usually lines waiting to get in so we got there at opening in the middle of the week.  There weren't lines but is was very busy!  Most of the customers seemed to be like us - views of the show.  I didn't see anyone trying to pawn anything.  The store was much smaller than I had expected and at least half of it was product promoting the show.  

Other sites on the strip that I feel are worth mentioning:

The Stratosphere reaches high in the air.  You can pay to take the elevator to the top where the observation deck is.  It's worth doing at least once.  They also have many thrill rides at the top.  

There is also a mini Eiffel Tower at Paris.  I haven't been in it but I've heard you can pay to go to the top.  

The fountain show at Bellagio are worth checking out.  You can visit their website for times.  

Every casino has a gimmick to get you in the door and hopefully gambling.  Keep an eye out for specials and unique opportunities.

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