Trip Coach: June 24, 2008

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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!

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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.

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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?

Thanks,
Joe

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.

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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.

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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.

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Las Vegas, Nev.: Where is the best place to find discounted rates for shows on the strip? How about for locals? —Erika

Rick Garman: Hi, Erika. There are several same-day, half-price ticket outlets in town including Tix4Tonight and Tickets2Nite (there are several locations on and near The Strip and Downtown). You won't get the A-List shows like Cirque or Bette Midler there but you can often find good deals on the smaller shows. Also be sure to check the Las Vegas Review Journal's Neon section where you'll often find discount coupons for some of the smaller shows or the local free magazines like LVM and What's On.

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Miami, Fla.: I'm planning to go to Vegas 9/14-18. What are chances air rates will fall following the summer and with the economy being what it is?

Rick Garman: Unlike many other destinations, summer is the relatively slow time for Vegas and prices on everything start to pick up in September, so while there's no way I can predict what will happen with air rates, my guess is that you won't be seeing a great deal of variation for travel during that time period. But again, that's just a guess.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Hi! I just received an offer from the Imperial Palace and wonder if the deal is as good as it sounds. By staying with them for a minimum of 2 nights, I will receive a citywide food credit and upon check-out, a credit voucher for air fare towards my next trip to Vegas, provided I stay at one of the Harrah's resorts. The amount of the two credits varies with the length of stay. In your opinion, is this a good deal?

Rick Garman: That does sound like a good deal although I'm not sure what a "citywide food credit" means. I mean, you're not going to get comps at McDonald's so I'd explore that a little further. Also, it's worth noting that Imperial Palace, while a fine, clean, and comfortable hotel, is not the nicest on The Strip—rooms are small, often dark, and fairly utilitarian. As long as you're not walking in expecting Bellagio quality you'll be fine.

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Toronto, Canada: We—meaning my wife and 19-year-old daughter—would like to do Las Vegas for 4-5 days at Christmas 2008. Do you have any suggestions regarding hotel packages, what to do, where to go, etc.? Thanks in advance. —Everett

Rick Garman: Hi, Everett. The 2 weeks leading up to Christmas are usually the slowest period in Las Vegas all year long so you can usually get very good deals without having to look very far. If it were me, I'd wait until the fall and then check prices at a variety of hotels often to look for the best deals.

However, be aware that the days right after Christmas leading up to New Year's Eve are among the busiest all year long, so expect high room rates if this is when you are planning on going. There is very little way around it unfortunately.

One trick I recommend to everyone when booking rooms is to find a hotel and a price that suits you and make the reservations, provided they have a no-penalty cancellation policy (most Las Vegas hotels don't). Then, every other week or so, check around on prices including at the hotel you've already booked. If you find something better you can always cancel your existing reservation and rebook at the new place and all it'll cost you is a little bit of time. If rates go up, then you'll already have your existing reservation in place without having to worry about it.

Just don't tell the hotels that I said that.

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Northville, Mich.: I will be spending the week of 9-6-08 in Vegas with my daughter (age 25) and want to pack in as much as possible. Neither of us have been there before so it's all new. Where should we start, besides the obvious? We also want to do a day trip by helicopter to the Canyon—any recommendations? Help me make the trip a total blast for the both of us.

Rick Garman: Besides the obvious of The Strip, which is where you'll want to spend the bulk of your time, I highly recommend renting a car so you can get away from the heavily tourist areas and explore the city. You can go Downtown to the classic Glitter Gulch area of Fremont Street; visit some of the city's best attractions like The Springs Preserve, the Atomic Testing Museum, or the Liberace Museum; check out the less expensive restaurants and gambling options at the "local" casinos like Boulder Station, Green Valley Ranch, and more; do some serious shopping at places like the Las Vegas Premium Outlets; or go exploring the recreation opportunities at Red Rock Canyon, Lake Las Vegas, or Lake Mead.

As far as helicopter to the Grand Canyon, check out Gray Line Tours or Papillon tours, the latter of which has some options that you can't find anywhere else.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Its on my Dad's "bucket list" to go to Vegas and my mom won't fly so I (his single daughter) am bringing him. He has seizures sometimes so I would prefer to share hotel space with him, but not a room (he snores like he's in a contest)! Any suggestions on good suites or condo's WITH WALLS AND DOORS that don't cost 700 bucks a night? Also, the best one day trip to the Grand Canyon would be great to know.

Thanks,
Jennifer

Rick Garman: Hello, Jennifer! If you want to stay on The Strip there are really only a couple of options that won't cost you a fortune. THEhotel at Mandalay Bay has one bedroom suites (with walls and doors) so your dad could stay in the bedroom and you could be on the couch. Also the new Trump International has very nice one bedroom suites with kitchens. Both are expensive—figure at least $300 per night and sometimes higher depending on when you are traveling but they usually don't get up to $700 a night unless something really big is happening in town.

But really your better option is to get off The Strip. Within a mile or so of The Strip in just about any direction are a host of moderately priced chain hotels that offer suite accommodations. Amerisuites, Candlewood, and Embassy Suites are just a few of the recognizeable names.

For the Grand Canyon, check with Gray Line Tours—they're probably the best and most realiable.

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Danbury, Conn.: Which hotels have the best pools?

Rick Garman: It really depends on what you want out of a pool. If you're looking for lots of places to lounge and relax, big pools to swim in, and hopefully a little shade if it gets too hot then the lush pool decks at The Mirage and Flamingo are probably the best in town.

The pools at Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand are more theme-park style, with lazy river rafting and even a wave pool.

Or if you want something more energetic, the pools at The Palms and The Hard Rock are destinations for the young, pretty, party crowd.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hello. We are planning a trip to Las Vegas from October 9-14, 2008 to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary by renewing our vows. We're staying just off the strip at the Wyndham Grand Desert. Most of our original wedding party and spouses (and some with kids) are coming out for the celebration and we're trying to find a nice mix of planned group events with free time. Can you suggest options for daytime as well as nighttime activities suited for a group of 15-20 late 30-somethings? We'd like to do one girls/guys night out as well, if you have any ideas for places that are fun but where we could still talk a little! We're especially interested in places with outdoor bars or seating. Finally, we're total foodies, so any restaurant suggestions that won't completely break the bank would be helpful.

Thank you,
Shelley

Rick Garman: First off, Happy Anniversary, Shelley!

The first part of your question is tough to answer since I really don't know your taste or your budget, but if it were up to me I'd suggest daytime outings to things like the Atomic Testing Museum, the Neon Museum, the Liberace Museum, or the Springs Preserve all of which offer really interesting experiences for pretty much all tastes.

Daytime shows like the magic of Mac King at Harrah's or the ventriloquist act of Ronn Lucas at Exaclibur are also good options.

For nighttime, you could try out some of the nightclubs although depending on your crowd you may want to stay away from the really "hot" clubs, which cater to a 20-something party crowd. Places like Polly Esther's at the Stratosphere, Prive at Planet Hollywood, and Tryst at Wynn Las Vegas are fantastic clubs in their own ways but tend to draw a slightly more mature crowd.

For your gender specific nights out, the ladies should head to the male exotic dancers of Thunder From Down Under at Excalibur (much better than Chippendales) and the guys pretty much have their pick. It's that kind of town.

And restaurants... wow... there are way too many to list but my new current favorite is Table 10 at Palazzo. It's Emeril Lagasse's new restaurant and the meal I had there recently is probably the best I have ever eaten in my entire life.

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Somers, N.Y.: What is a really good place/attraction to visit in the Vegas area that is not traditionally "Vegas-y" (in case you are feeling casino'ed out)?

Rick Garman: My favorite non-Vegas thing to do in Vegas is visit the Mirage Dolphin Habitat. It's a garden of Zen oasis in the middle of a lot of insanity. And who doesn't like dolphins?

Other good options are the nature and history experience at The Springs Preserve and the fascinating exhibits at the Atomic Testing Museum, the Neon Museum, and the Liberace Museum, each of which specializes in telling a special part of Vegas history without being "Vegas."

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Huntington Beach, Calif.: My niece is turning 21 and my husband and I are taking her and a few of her friends to Las Vegas to celebrate. Naturally, none of them have gambled much, if at all, before. We've given them some of the basics of 21 at home but it's different once you're at a real table. We want to take them somewhere where they can have some fun, not lose too much (low stakes) and it isn't intimidating for some first timers. Any suggestions?

Rick Garman: Your best bet (pun intended) is to get off The Strip where the tables are usually expensive, crowded, and sometimes intimidating.

Downtown Las Vegas is a good place to start, with gaming tables that offer lower buy-ins and dealers that can be very friendly and helpful (not all, but more than the average).

Local casinos like Orleans, Boulder Station, Sunset Station, Green Valley Ranch, and others can offer similar experiences.

My best advice on this is to scope out the tables before you sit down. Watch the players and the interactions they are having with the dealer. If everyone is sitting there dour faced and concentrating on their cards it might not be the best place for you, but if there is a lot of conversation and kibitzing, that could be the spot to start.

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Overland Park, Kans.: What are the best places with the best odds to play Video Poker? I've been told to avoid "The Strip" if I want the best chance to win and to go to the outlying casinos. "It's where the locals go to play."

Rick Garman: The casinos on The Strip have historically lower payback than any other part of the city when it comes to slots and video poker. Plus, you'll find fewer video poker machines in the casinos on The Strip.

So yes, get off The Strip for better odds and more options. Casinos at places like Palace Station, Boulder Station, Red Rock Resort, Green Valley Ranch, Orleans, Fiesta, and others have tons of video poker machines of all denominations and they often pay out higher than what you'll get on The Strip.

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Southborough, Mass.: We're ending a trip west in Las Vegas on September 23rd and 24th. There will be four travelers. How can we find a good deal on hotel rooms for two nights? And if we want to see the Bette Midler show, is it better to try to get tickets through our hotel than from Ticketron?

Rick Garman: As with any destination you have to do your work to find the best deal. Check the hotel website reservations systems (where you will usually find the best prices) or make phone calls. It can be time consuming but it's really the only way to ensure that you're finding the best rate.

Better Midler tickets are only available through Ticketmaster—you can't get tickets directly through the hotel unless they are making special arrangements for a favored guest. And in general I recommend avoiding the ticket resellers—they usually hike up the rates and add on a lot of additional fees that make the tickets even more expensive than they already are.

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Hollywood, Calif.: I'm going to Vegas with some friends, but can't afford much. Forget about gambling or expensive meals and shows. And I don't drink. Is there anything else to do? Or will I be totally bored?

Rick Garman: Ask your friends to pay! What are friends for?

But seriously... One of the greatest things about Las Vegas is that it can be just about any type of vacation destination you want it to be. So you can't afford to gamble or eat at expensive restaurants or see high priced shows? That's okay because there are plenty of cheap but terrific restaurants like Lotus of Siam (probably one of the best Thai restaurants in the country) or M&M Soul Food (gravy—that's all I'm saying). There are also some inexpensive entertainment options like Mac King at Harrah's—a terrific afternoon comedic magic show that will only set you back about $25. And then there are the interesting attractions like The Springs Preserve, the Neon Museum, the Atomic Museum, and the Liberace Museum just to name a few. And even though you may not be able to afford to buy, you can do a lot of window shopping at some of the most entertaining malls in the country, from the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian to the Las Vegas Premium Outlet mall near Downtown.

And as far as gambling... they have lots of penny slots these days. You can afford a penny, can't you?

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Los Angeles, Calif.: I'm planning a trip to Vegas but not sure when.... So in helping me decide, taking all things into consideration, including ticket availability: Elton, Bette or Cher? Which one should I try to see?

Rick Garman: I have been a fan of Bette Midler's for a long time so I'm a little biased here but taking all three shows into account, I'd really have to say that the Divine Miss M's is the most entertaining of the three. She sings, she dances, she tells bawdy jokes, and delivers a level of showmanship that is hard to match. Don't get me wrong, Cher delivers an over-the-top extravaganza like she always has and it's a lot of fun and Elton... well, he's Elton John! But for my money, I'd go see Bette every time.

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New Orleans, La.: Now that Celine's finished her run, where will I find the best Celine impersonator?

Rick Garman: I can't guarantee a Celine impersonator since their rosters change often, but you're going to have your best chances at the long-running impersonator shows like Legends in Concert at the Imperial Palace, La Cage aux Folles at The Riviera, or American Superstars at The Stratosphere. Although since Celine is Canadian, maybe not the latter.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: The Killers and a few other big rock bands have come from Las Vegas in recent years. Where would I go if I wanted to see the next generation of up-and-coming Vegas rockers?

Rick Garman: There are a bunch of small bar and concert hall venues around that draw the best of the local band scene. The Double Down Saloon and the Bunkhouse Saloon are a couple of examples as is Zia Records, one of the few remaining independent record stores—they have regular in-store concerts and a big section of CDs from local bands.

Check online with the Las Vegas Weekly for the best rundown of concert listings around town.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: If you could only go to one of the high-end celebrity chef restaurants, which one would it be, and why?

Rick Garman: My new favorite restaurant in the entire city is Emeril Lagasse's Table 10 at The Palazzo. Here's the story I like to tell about the place: They make their own bacon. They get the best pork they can find, cure it for a week in a mixture of Granny Smith apples (ground up) and spices then smoke it over hickory wood. The kicker is that they do this to be able to put homemade bacon bits on salads. That's the kind of attention to detail the place offers. It has a very diverse menu, with plenty of fresh seafood, prime Angus beef dishes, many of Emeril's favorites with the New Orleans flavors he's famous for, and more. I can't say enough good things about it.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Can you mention one or two good restaurants that are OFF the strip and don't cost a fortune? Where do locals go out to eat and avoid the hordes of tourists? Thanks!

Rick Garman: I can mention dozens of restaurants off The Strip that are great and affordable—that really is the key if you want to find good food at prices that won't max out your credit cards. But for the purposes of this discussion I'll pick a couple of my favorites. Austins at Texas Station on the north side of town is probably the best steakhouse in the entire city, with steaks that melt in your mouth, a warm ambience, impeccable service, and costs that while not exactly cheap are a solid $10-20 less than what you'll pay at comparable and sometimes inferior steakhouses on The Strip.

I also love M&M Soul Food on Charleston just west of Downtown, with terrific down home southern cooking at affordable prices; Hash House a Go Go on Sahara a few miles west of The Strip and their "twisted" farm food; and any location of the local favorite sandwich shop Capriotti's, which offers up fresh Italian and traditional subs that will make you forget about those nationwide chain places forever.

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Key West, Fla.: Where is the cheapest place to get tickets for Las Vegas shows?

Rick Garman: Tickets2Nite and Tix4Tonight have multiple locations around Las Vegas that offer same day, half-price show tickets. You'll never find the high-end shows like Cirque du Soleil there but you can get seats to a lot of the "B" list productions. Obviously you have to be flexible with your schedule and can't be terribly picky about what you want to see, but if budget is your main concern this is the route to go.

If you don't have that kind of flexibility or have a specific show you MUST see then the best route is to book directly through the showroom box office. Avoid online ticket resellers—they'll tack on a lot of additional fees that you shouldn't have to pay.

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Siloam Springs, Ariz.: Our Collette Canyonland Tour ends in Las Vegas at 3 pm on Oct. 8, 2008, staying at Planet Hollywood Hotel for 2 nights and flying home on Oct 10 at 6 pm. We are free 10/8 from 3 pm on until 8/10 late afternoon. What local tour can you suggest—like to visit Hoover Dam and other attractions in area—not gamblers. Also interested in 1 or 2 night shows—suggestions. We could rent a car for a day—suggestions?

Rick Garman: Gray Line offers a bunch of local tours, from Hoover Dam to Red Rock and even the Grand Canyon if you have the time. They are a very dependable and well-regarded company so they are probably your best bet if you want to go with an organized tour.

If you want to rent a car then the sky is the limit. Hoover Dam, Red Rock Conservancy Area, Lake Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Valley of Fire... all are well within driving distance and offer some great scenery and/or recreation or entertainment offerings.

In terms of shows that's a tough one to answer since I don't know your taste or budget but if I could only see one show while I was in Vegas I would want it to be a show I couldn't see anywhere else like one of the Cirque du Soleil productions or a headliner such as Bette Midler or Cher.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Rick, we're planning a trip to Las Vegas this August, and we're thinking of bringing our kids—an 11-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. Other than Circus Circus, are there any other hotels that have kid-friendly attractions? And what restaurants are best for our finicky eaters? Thanks.

Rick Garman: Circus Circus is the only casino hotel on The Strip that is appropriate for kids these days. All of the other hotels that used to be "kid-friendly" like Excalibur and MGM Grand now have adult-themed shows or nightclubs that will probably cause you more grief than it is worth.

If you want to stay at a casino hotel but don't have to be on The Strip then places like Orleans, South Point, Green Valley Ranch, Sunset Station, or any of the other "local" hotels have a lot offerings that can be more entertaining for kids such as bowling, movie theaters, video game arcades, and in the case of Fiesta Rancho, even an ice skating rink.

And if you don't have to be in a casino hotel then there are plenty of brand name national chain hotels around the city, many of which are very close to The Strip (especially along Paradise Road).

As far as restaurants... the best bet is always a buffet. With so many choices they'll have a hard time saying they can't find anything to eat! The best moderately priced ones are at Harrah's and Rio or at the off-Strip hotels like Santa Fe Station or Red Rock Resort.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: I'm traveling to Vegas with my family (2 adults plus 2 young children, ages 3 and 5) and another family (2 adults plus 2 teens). We are looking for a fun place to eat—something unusual, quirky, different, and definitely not stuffy—for dinner. Food quality is important, and service should be at least somewhat decent. On the strip is a plus, but not necessary. The experience should be something that everyone talks about after the trip and when you tell your friends, they say, "Wow, where is that?!?" Can you suggest something?

Rick Garman: Interesting question... I have a couple of things in mind here. Pampas Brazilian Grille at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood is definitely interesting and different. It's a traditional Brazilian grill with servers who wander the room serving various cuts of meat on skewers and a small buffet portion. The food is terrific and the experience is unique.

I also really like Café Ba Ba Reeba at the Fashion Show Mall—it's a tapas restaurant so great for sharing and lively conversation. The food is great and since it's all small portions it would probably be really good for the small kids in your group.

Lastly I would recommend Fellini's at The Stratosphere. It's one of the best kept secrets on The Strip, tucked away into an almost hidden corner of the casino and serving up some of the best Italian food in the city with traditional "old world" service.

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Brigantine, N.J.: I have such a desire to visit Las Vegas. I live on a little island next to Atlantic City, and I don't go the casinos, but Vegas just seems so fascinating to me. Could you please tell me what is the best time of year to visit there?

Thanks,
Sally

Rick Garman: Hello, Sally! It depends on if you want the best weather and the most options of things to do or if you want the cheapest rates—the two are usually mutually exclusive.

The summer months of late June through August and then parts of December, January, and February are the slowest times in Vegas and therefore provide (usually) the lowest room rates. However the weather isn't great (hot in the summer, chilly in winter), there are fewer headliner shows, and some regular shows, restaurants, and pools (winter) shut down.

Late spring and early fall are the best times of the year for great weather and lots of stuff to do but they are also usually more expensive than you'll find at other times of the year.

But room rates vary wildly in Las Vegas so just because you try to book a trip during one of the peak times doesn't mean you won't get a good rate somewhere.

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Houston, Tex.: Is there any way to score great last minute 4th of July air & hotel packages?

Rick Garman: Airline travel is going to be difficult at this point but you could get some good hotel rates. You just have to do the work of calling and/or visiting the hotel websites to check what they have available. There is no magic bullet for getting great deals in Vegas—you just have to go and look for them.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Any Las Vegas off-the-beaten-path ideas? We are not gamblers and have done the strip millions of times. We are looking for something different.

Rick Garman: The Neon Museum is probably one of my favorite little known tourist options. It's the big dusty lot where they keep all of the old signs from classic Las Vegas casinos—you've probably seen it in movies and television shows. It's now available to tour by the general public and it's a great way to connect with Las Vegas history.

The Springs Preserve is a brand new attraction in Las Vegas. It's only a couple of miles from The Strip and focuses on the land and nature around Las Vegas and how it helped form the city. There's an interpretive center (complete with a faux flash flood using thousands of gallons of water), nature trails, live animal exhibits, outdoor concert venues, a Wolfgang Puck cafe, information on sustainable building and energy options, and much, much more. Fascinating.

Another good option is to go where the locals go—visit hotels and casinos like Green Valley Ranch, Red Rock Resort, South Point, Texas Station, and others where they offer lots of lower cost gambling options, affordable restaurants, and lots of other entertainment options like bowling, movies, and more.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I'm looking for an air excursion to the Grand Canyon as part of my vacation in Las Vegas. What I want is a plane ride to the canyon (and possibly over it) and time on the ground at the canyon itself. What should I be looking for to find the best deal? Is it better to book in advance for an August 10 trip or will I find bargains waiting until I am actually in Vegas? Your comments would be greatly appreciated. —Michael

Rick Garman: Hi, Michael. The one tour airline that I usually recommend is Scenic Airlines. They offer a number of tour options at reasonable prices and have a sterling reputation and safety record. They aren't the only one around but they are considered to be among the best.

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Redlands, Calif.: My husband and I are foodies on a budget. Any recommendations on your favorite low-key dining spots close to the strip? We are staying at Paris.

Rick Garman: There is so much great food in this town, it's hard to know where to begin.

I mentioned Lotus of Siam in another posting above. Gourmet Magazine called it the best Thai restaurant in North America and they were not exagerrating. Wonderful flavors, a huge menu of options, and very affordable prices. Just make sure to make reservations—even though it's in a rundown strip mall and doesn't look like much, it isn't easy to get into. It's about a mile east of The Strip on Sahara.

True foodies can appreciate a good sandwich and you'll find some of the best of the breed at Capriotti's, a local chain of shops that specialize in Italian subs. Bursting with flavor and very affordable. There is one on Sahara about a block just west of The Strip.

I have already raved about Table 10 here but I want to mention again that while it isn't cheap, it isn't as shockingly expensive as you might expect a celebrity chef restaurant on The Strip to be. It's at Palazzo.

Ming is a great little Chinese restaurant at Imperial Palace. It's only a few tables and it's not easy to find in the hotel but they serve up some fantastic, authentic, and very inexpensive dishes.

And lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't direct you to the great desserts at the Chocolate Swan at Mandalay Bay and The Cupcakery in Henderson. The Chocolate Swan does handmade everything, including my favorite chocolate covered caramels and they are absolutely amazing. I'm a chocolate snob and I consider them to be the best I've eaten.

I'm also a cupcake snob and The Cupcakery does them better than any other place I've tried—and I've tried a lot!

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Rick Garman: It looks like that's it. Thank you to everyone who took part in today's chat—I appreciate you taking the time. If you want to know more about Las Vegas, be sure to check out the new edition of my guidebook, the Moon Handbooks Las Vegas or visit me online at Vegas4Visitors.com. Have a great day, everyone! See you in Vegas!

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