Grab your tiaras and sashes and catch the 2009 Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas—without paying top dollar.
For the first time in 88 years, the Miss America Pageant will give audience members a partial say in picking the finalists. Viewers of TLC's new reality series, Countdown to the Crown, will vote to pick four of the top 15 finalists. The contestants will compete in preliminary contests aboard a cruise ship during the four-part series, which starts January 2, 2009, at 10 p.m. (ET).
On January 24, the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas will host the pageant's finale—TLC will televise it live at 8 p.m., (ET). The winner of the Miss America title collects more than $50,000 in scholarship money and has opportunities to earn money for public appearances for the rest of the year.
The crowning moment
If you want to see it for yourself when the winner is announced and a crooner belts out, "There she is...Miss America," expect to pay $150 a seat (866/448-7849, ticketmaster.com). Book the first day tickets go on sale (December 13) because scalpers may snap up tickets and resell them for up to 40 percent more at a resale website like eBay or StubHub.
The Budget Travel tip
If the finale is less important to you than having a chance to see all the contestants compete, watch the preliminary competitions instead. During the prelims, the field of 52 contestants (representing all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands) is narrowed down to the final 15. The ladies compete in a different event each night: the talent portion, the swimwear/evening wear competition, and the on-stage question, which is typically on current affairs. The tentative schedule for January 20-22 is posted at onlineselection.missamerica.org. Tickets will be $75 a night, which is half the price of seats to the finale (on sale December 13, 866/448-7849, ticketmaster.com).
If you're in Vegas the weekend before the pageant, you'll have a chance to see the beauties practice their pageant walks at a public fashion show on Las Vegas Boulevard. No tickets are required, and contestants will happily sign autographs and be photographed. Says a spokeswoman: "From our previous experience, we can tell you it will not be a mob scene." It's tentatively scheduled for January 17 at 4 p.m. (PT). For more details, check the Miss America website closer to the event.
Lodging and other activities
The pageant is held at Planet Hollywood Resort, where doubles on pageant weekend recently started at $199 a night. But you may find a better value if you stay instead at the Stratosphere Hotel and Resort, where doubles recently started as low as $57 a night. Stroll along concourses bursting with shops, lounges, gaming tables, restaurants, fitness centers, spas, and amusement-park-style rides. Next door to the hotel is the Stratosphere Tower; from its observation deck, you'll have a 360-degree view of Las Vegas. (Tickets for hotel guests are $10.) One downside: The hotel is at the northern end of the Strip, a little over a mile from Planet Hollywood and the pageant events.