Trip Coach: June 24, 2008
Rick Garman, author of "Moon Handbooks Las Vegas" and head writer for Vegas4Visitors.com, answered your questions on Las Vegas.
Rick Garman: Hello, everyone! My name is Rick Garman, travel author and general Sin City know-it-all. I hope I'll be able to answer your questions about the city and give you some helpful advice about planning the best trip to Las Vegas. Let's get started!
Camden, Maine: What activities do you recommend for a family trip with children (ages 12 and 15) on a budget? We have no interest in casinos, but the boys love sports, adventure, amusement parks, and anything where they can be active. Any shows they might like—I was thinking maybe Cirque du Soleil?
Rick Garman: Back in the early '90s, Las Vegas experimented with the idea of turning it into a family-friendly destination with lots of theme parks, attractions, and entertainment that were designed to lure parents with their kids. It didn't work very well and now the primary tourist areas are very adult-focused. As a result, there are fewer things for families to do. On The Strip, the best family attractions are the Mirage Dolphin Habitat and the Secret Garden of Siegfried and Roy (a small zoo-like facility); the Shark Reef—a large aquarium at Mandalay Bay; and the indoor theme-park at Circus Circus called Adventuredome, which has a roller coaster, log flume, and more. Get off The Strip and you have more opportunities such as the games and rides at the Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix; recreation opportunities at Lake Mead and Lake Las Vegas; and things like movies, bowling, and ice skating you can find at many of the "local" casinos such as Red Rock Resort, Sunset Station, and Fiesta Rancho.
As far as shows, I highly recommend the magic and illusions of both Mac King at Harrah's and Lance Burton at Monte Carlo; the Blue Man Group at Venetian; and Stomp Out Loud at Planet Hollywood, all of which are appropriate for families. The Cirque shows contain some imagery that may be objectionable to some parents, but Mystere at Treasure Island is fine for teenagers.
Raleigh, N.C.: Rick, I am planning to visit the Grand Canyon with my friends in August. I am thinking of flying to Las Vegas and then taking a trip from there to the Grand Canyon. What is the best option that you would suggest that is cheap and worthwhile?
Rick Garman: Hi, Joe. To be really honest, I've never considered the Grand Canyon as being a very good side trip from Las Vegas although I know a lot of people do it. It's about 300 miles from the city to the South Rim and a lot of it is on smaller highways that can be very congested with traffic so a trip there can take upwards of 6 hours. That means you'll spend a big chunk of your time just getting there, whether you're driving or taking a charter. Having said that, if you're determined to do it, I recommend Gray Line Tours—they offer a variety of coach and air tours at competitive prices and have been doing it for a long time so they are dependable.
Lexington, N.C.: I haven't been to Vegas in 3 years. What's new that won't break my pocketbook in Vegas? Can you mention your favorite buffet? (I always do the Rio or Paris.) Thanks!
Rick Garman: Most of the new stuff in Las Vegas is very expensive, but the new hotels that have opened in the last few years are Wynn Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, and Palazzo, all of which are worth a walk through and have many restaurants and shows to go along with them. The next wave of new hotel openings will start later this year with Encore (a sister hotel to the Wynn), CityCenter, the massive project under construction between Bellagio and Monte Carlo and Fontainebleau near The Sahara, both of which will open in 2009, and Echelon, the big new hotel and casino that replaces The Stardust, due in 2010.
My favorite buffet... Rio and Paris have very good buffets but The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas is amazing. It's expensive, although not much more than Rio or Paris. If you want something cheaper but still terrific, get off The Strip to Santa Fe Station's Feast Buffet or Red Rock Resort's Feast Buffet.
Swansboro, N.C.: I'm traveling to Las Vegas for the first time from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, 2008, with my 73-year-old mother (who has visited there already). What are the absolutely MUST-SEE attractions/unusual hotels in and near Las Vegas?
Rick Garman: The Strip is where you'll want to spend the bulk of your time, of course. For a trip of that duration, I usually recommend focusing each day on a specific area and really exploring. So your first day could be spent around the South Strip where you can see hotels like New York-New York, Luxor, and MGM Grand. The second day could be on the Center Strip for hotels like Bellagio, Caesars, and Mirage. The third day could be the North Strip for Wynn Las Vegas, the Fashion Show Mall, and Stratosphere, among others. Another day for Downtown and another to get away from The Strip to the locals areas or the recreation centers of Lake Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon, or Lake Mead. By devoting extra time to each area you can really explore and find the things that will appeal to you in terms of attractions, restaurants, shops, and stores.