A week in Vegas

Sin City. I’ve personally visited Las Vegas at least a dozen times, always for business except for one family trip years ago when I was in my early 20’s.

Asides from my family trip when I was younger, my trips to Vegas are usually about attending trade-shows (CES being the big one!) during the day and taking out clients at night. I wanted the chance to enjoy Vegas as a tourist, and for Sophia, to experience it for the first time.

You can find online a million websites that offer tips and tricks for Vegas – slip the concierge a $20 at the hotel desk for an upgrade, enlist in some “magic” system to improve your odds at the tables, or how to score free/cheap dinners. I’m sure some of them work (and some don’t), but I never tried any of them – and yet, we still had fantastic deals throughout the whole trip that I will share in this post.

First, we went to Vegas the last week of February, when there were no major tradeshows or events (prices spike during big events in Vegas – a cheap $30/night room at Circus Circus can go up to $200/night during the second week of January during CES for example!).

Secondly, we wanted to be on the Las Vegas Blvd (The Strip), but decided on booking a hotel just slightly off strip – The Carriage House. Located right next to Planet Hollywood, it’s was so close to the strip you could almost consider it “on strip”).

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These two decisions saved us a ton of money from the get-go without sacrificing……well, anything! We ended up with a beautiful suite at The Carriage House with a King bedroom, living room and full kitchen – all for the price of a regular 1 bedroom room! Why? I didn’t slip the concierge a $20 (which may have worked), but I showed up in February in cool weather, when less tourists were in town, and they had a surplus of rooms. Then…I just asked if they had anything nicer, and that was it! It was an incredible, quiet hotel that was just slightly off strip. No Casino downstairs in the hotel which also meant no disturbances. What a perfect Las Vegas base of operations for us!

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If you do end up at the Miracle Mile Shops, I’d suggest stopping by Madness Cup (permanently closed 2019). If anything, look for a place that serves Dragon’s Breath (frozen liquid nitrogen ice).

Dragon’s breath demo

Before I get into the week spent at The Strip, I need to fill you in on our first night spent downtown on Fremont Street, with a room at the Plaza Hotel & Casino. While I’ve personally stayed and been on Fremont Street at night, Sophia had not, and she had to experience it. That’s why we literally got off our plane at 11pm, hopped into an Uber to the hotel, checked-in, and went out for our first night in town!

Fremont Street

If you’ve never been to Fremont Street and have only been on the Strip, well, you’re missing out on a great time! Fremont Street deserves a night with its lit up overhead light show (called the Viva Vision Light Show), activities ranging from Zip-lining, numerous casinos such as the famous Golden Nugget, piano bars, live bands playing on stage at numerous intersections, and much more; there’s so much to do in the compact street of Fremont.

Better yet, it’s a different atmosphere. Gambling (overall) will cost you less, with better odds on certain games, the food and alcohol is (somewhat) cheaper, and it certainly feels like an all night party… not a Vegas Nightclub party, but a party where everyone is on the streets coming in and out of casinos and bars, singing and dancing and just having a good time.

Walking “The Strip” in the day

After a great night in Fremont, we took an Uber to the Carriage House, which as I mentioned earlier, is a fantastic deal of a hotel, and is in such close proximity from the famous Las Vegas Blvd.

Our days on The Strip were filled with sightseeing in the daytime, and watching a show almost every night. For the daytime sightseeing, there was no set itinerary. I just wanted to show Sophia all the highlights, which meant hitting all the big casinos and seeing the “free attractions”, including….

  • VISIT THE BELLAGIO – CONSERVATORY, FOUNTAINS (every 30 minutes 3-8pm, every 15 minutes 8pm-midnight), & GRAB ICE CREAM
  • WATCH THE MIRAGE VOLCANO (every night at 7pm and 8pm)

The above is just the free things you can do on The Strip day or night. Yet there’s so much more (most of which require payment), such as the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay

going up the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel and Casino

the CSI Experience at MGM Grand (which we did!), and much more.

You can’t probably (actually – almost certainly) fit all of this into one day because the strip is extremely long! It’s 4.2 miles (6.8km), and each Casino is huge! The first time in Vegas I was taken back by how large everything was! If you have a week though, you will have time to walk around, take stand-in pictures (as shown below), and have no problem visiting all the attractions and casinos I listed above.

“The Strip” at night

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While we spent most of the daytime with the free attractions, our nights were not so “free”. We ate well at restaurants and went to a show every night, except for the Grand Canyon day trip! It was fantastic, and it was even better due to the Groupon App.

While I’ve used deal websites like Groupon before, for Vegas it really saved money! Almost every restaurant and show we went to had a Groupon deal – ✓ 2 for 1 Brazillian Steakhouse buffet at Pampas Brazillian Grille

✓ 3 shows for the price of 1 at the V Theater at Planet Hollywood

✓ 2 for 1 drinks at MGM

Almost everything we wanted to do had a either a Groupon discount attached to it or given the time of year, we were upgraded to fill up the empty front seats at every show. Combining discounts with the winter lows is a great way to get deals on everything.

So what exactly did we manage to do with 4 full days? We saw….

Vegas The Show at Planet Hollywood. Got a fantastic Groupon discount on this show, and we saw it on our first night. It was fantastic and I would highly recommend seeing it. It goes through all the classic Vegas greats from the Rat Pack to Elvis to Sonny and Cher. Being discounted didn’t take away from it being an incredible show, impressive and a great debut to what Vegas is all about.

TIP: The Planet Hollywood shows are typically much cheaper than other grandiose shows), but no less impressive.

Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood. Another great show that had us laughing the entire time. I walked in thinking it would be a “meh” show (despite stellar reviews), but it ended up being one of the top shows we saw! Plus, it was one of the few that allowed us to take pictures and capture the incredible talent of the artists.

Cirque du Soleil – “O” at the Bellagio. A water based Cirque du Soleil show. It was the top attraction Sophia wanted to attend while in Vegas, despite the cost. Both of us love Cirque du Soleil and found the production top notch! But we didn’t fall in love with it for the value (no discounts on this one!). We thought the touring Cirque du Soleil shows that we’ve seen across the GTA regions and in Montreal were presented in a more intimate tent setting and were better in terms of daring feats and acrobatics. However, the water effects were very well done and unique to this show.

Baz – The Musical at the Palazzo. A mashup of Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge. As mentioned earlier, the time of year allowed us to get a free upgrade and pick any seat as wished. It was very well done, but it wasn’t my favorite. Sophia, however, loved the show and found it to be one of her favourite. So I guess it depends on your taste!

V – The Ultimate Variety Show at Planet Hollywood. A really good variety show with juggling, knife throwing, and more. Really well done and fun! We saw it on our last day in Vegas so it was a good way to end it!

When we weren’t at a show, we visited the Piano Bar at Harrah’s for a few late night drinks, or walked The Strip for a late night slice of pizza. We never ran out of things to do, and we were happy with great food and shows each night!

Wise Guys Are Rye’s Guys and The Skara Brae

The food

Asides from activities, we didn’t want to spend tons of money on food (which is quite easy in Vegas!). Not only that, but we don’t like to eat out every night on a trip, as it’s nice to cook once in a while. So armed with a full kitchen in our suite, we got some groceries and made a few intimate dinners before the Vegas shows we went to.

But when we did go out, we relied on Uber and Lyft to get us around, especially on the outskirts of town. This way, we could pick great places near the strip that wouldn’t break the bank!

Le Village Buffet at Paris Hotel and Casino. This is a standard buffet, the quality of the food is so-so at best, but we went because of the medieval French village atmosphere of the Buffet. It was decent food, fairly priced, and was a fun place to eat. Be ready to stand for at least 30 minutes before paying and getting seated.

Firefly Restaurant (off-strip). Sophia and I missed Spain a bit too much (where we travelled 7 months prior), so we had a short 20 minute walk to the Firefly Tapas restaurant just off-strip. With great food, and good prices (especially for Vegas), it’s a nice restaurant if you’re in the mood for tapas.

Pampas Brazilian Grille at Planet Hollywood. We had a 2 for 1 deal from Groupon, but didn’t get our hopes up due to the ratings on Google and TripAdvisor. I must say that we both thought it was a fantastic restaurant, with a great buffet selection and a healthy choice of succulent meats – even better than the Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse we went to in Rio! Perhaps, again, being there during the winter season, the staff was more attentive to their guests.

Tuscany Gardens (off-strip). A short walk from our hotel, this Italian Restaurant had excellent food and good value. I’ve eaten on strip many, many times before, and I must say the only difference between eating at Tuscany Gardens vs. a more expensive Italian Restaurant on the strip is the price. I highly recommend coming here if you want a nice dinner with a good wine selection, but don’t want to pay Las Vegas Blvd prices.

Cuba Cafe Tapas & Bar Restaurant (off-strip). We went out to Lake Las Vegas to check out the area, and on our way back, we stopped off here for a bit of Cuban food. Quaint spot, great portions, amazing mojitos!

Secret Pizza at the Cosmopolitan. This pizzeria is hidden on the third floor in one of the hallways. Really good Pizza, awesome pricing.

Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. I’ve heard about this buffet from many friends, colleagues, and online reviews. I thought it would be good, but I wasn’t prepared for how incredible it actually would be. Each station of the buffet didn’t taste like some rolled out frozen dish, but as if it was individually created with time and quality ingredients. I was blown away about how right everyone that had mentioned it really was. It really is a fantastic buffet and probably the best one I’ve ever been to. A bit on the high priced end as far as Vegas buffets go, but well worth it!

What else?

The other thing we did that deserved its own blog post was our trip to the Grand Canyon. It was surreal, fantastic, and 100% worth the trip! For more on this day trip, read Flying through the Grand Canyon.

In addition to all the Vegas attractions, we took the time to enjoy the Chinese New Year Celebrations and the beautiful decorations across different hotels.

Finally, we didn’t really gamble much (as you can tell by the lack of pictures posted). We’re not big gamblers, and personally, I’ve been around it so much during trade-shows that I’m desensitized to it all. The only thing we did was try our hand at a few slot machines here and there, when we had time to spare. It was quite fun! The one thing we regret is not having had the time to go dancing at any clubs and that’s something we will have to plan for our next trip out!

Even without gambling, there’s so much to do in Vegas that we need to come again soon! More shows, more drinks, more food, and more fun!

[02-17-2018 to 02-24-2018]

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