Las Vegas, Nevada. The city that never sleeps, the town where dreams are built and crushed by the roll of the dice. My wife, the Princess of Power and I decided to go to Las Vegas for our honeymoon. We're not high rollers, but we had a lot of fun. This is in no way an end-all guide to Vegas, but I can share with you some things we did as first timers on a budget, and point you in the right direction. There are a load of links at the end. With travel deals these days, you can get to Las Vegas, play some games and have a great time on pretty restrictive budget.
We wanted to pick some place glamorous, over-the-top, and diverse enough in activities to keep us happy even if we blew all our money the first few days. I have a complexion that goes straight from ghost to toast in sunlight, plus it's hurricane season, so we decided against a cruise or someplace tropical. So Las Vegas it was. We decided the safest thing would be to set out a set limit on cash at the beginning, and promise to not hit the ATM once we got there. So I jumped online.
Book 'em Danno
Right now, one of the cheapest ways to get out West (or
East if you're in California I guess) is to book your hotel
and airfare at the same time. The first thing I recommend
is having two separate time blocks to get out there. The
prices on airfare and hotel accommodations can vary by week
depending on holidays and what else is going on. That way
if you happen to want to travel at the same time the 13th
Annual Convention of Hot Wheels Collectors is going on,
the horror, you can quickly research your back-up
week to see if it's cheaper or easier to get a room.
The next thing I did was open up four or five browser windows.
I hit the heavily advertised travel sites, and some Vegas-specific
travel deal pages, and then I had TripAdvisor.com
ready to go in one of them. On the travel sites, you type
in the dates, number of travelers, (and sometimes price
range), and they spit out all the different packages you
can choose from. I would then look at the acceptable prices
and then research the hotels on TripAdvisor. This site was
pretty easy to use. You could either browse through all
of their Las Vegas reviews, or type in a specific hotel
to see what people think. The great thing was that this
site is pretty active, and I found reviews for most of the
hotels that were as new as just two to three days old. If
only people thought to hop on this site while they
were on vacation, we'd be doing alright. But remember
that the dates you choose can play heavily on the price
of hotel and airfare, so click around. However, I
found the exact deal we ended up booking for $100 cheaper
a week before I actually committed to it. I hesitated to
double check we really wanted it, and by the time I had
decided, it was gone at that price. It took awhile to find
it again at that price. So if you see something hard to
pass-up, my recommendation is to grab it.
This was our honeymoon, so the hotel itself was just as
important as actually getting to Vegas. A lot of people
don't care about the hotel they stay at because they want
to be at the gaming tables most of the time, but we
wanted a nice, inclusive hotel casino. My wife's requirement
was that there was a sizeable pool. She can tan quite easier
than I can, and actually enjoys sitting in the sun.
This is something I can't understand. Not only is the sun
a source of pain and misery for me and my freckles, but
just sit there? C'mon, there are craps tables we can be
So my research led me to The Orleans. TripAdvisor users rated it number 7 out of 257 hotels in Vegas. OK, you have my attention. Here's the deal. You can spend $30 or so a night at a dingy shoe-box sized hotel in Vegas, or you can spend $500 a night on something super fancy with in-room jacuzzis and views that make God jealous. The Orleans rated so highly because the rates are affordable ($50-60 a night during the week, $100 on Friday and Saturday nights), but the rooms are spacious, the pool is huge, there's a 70 lane bowling alley, 18 screen movie theatre, a spa, 13 individual restaurants, loads of table games and video poker/slot machines, and there's a free shuttle to the strip.
So we took the gamble and signed up for a short week at the Orleans (and saved a $100 just by checking out early on Friday). We gambled and won, our experience was amazing. The hotel is just off-strip (10 minute ride from their affiliate Barbary Coast, across the street from Bellagio), and because it's off-strip, the pay outs on the machines can be a little better for you. Also the table minimums were a little lower, and the pace was a little bit easier for we first-timers to move at. But it wasn't all wide-eyed naive honeymooners like us, there were plenty of seasoned gamblers, locals, retirees and (apparent) singles. It was also the week the Mrs. United States pageant was going on, so there were these hot ladies walking around with their sashes the whole time. But the emphasis is on Mrs., so that took away some of the fun. Wait this is my honeymoon. Thank God they were married, or else I would have been chased by these sash-wearing honeys all week. Whew!
Like the users on TripAdvisor gushed, the rooms were pretty
spacious. In fact the room felt a little bit larger than
what we needed, but it was nice having a bit of space since
we'd be there a week, and since we were on the budget, we
needed something comfortable for when we took breaks from
gambling. You know, a place to sprawl on the floor, fists
desperately clenched on the last two dollars you own, sobbing
loudly into a pillow, praying that the when you head back
down, one nickel in the slot machine will yield enough for
dinner for two.
I have about 5 seconds before it's Gremlin in the microwave time
Like I said earlier, the swimming pool was an important
amenity for my wife. In case we ran out of funds early in
the week, she wanted something vacation-y she could
do. The way the hotel was situated, the whole area was in
the shade until about 10:30-11ish. (Who knows in this town)
So that was nice. Because once the sun did arrive straight
above, it was hot, damned hot. So hot the ice in our breakfast
screw drivers melted as I walked back from the pool bar.
They had cabanas you could rent, and they have TVs and tables
and a phone for room service in them. Nice. I'm sure it
depends on when you go, but when we were there, it wasn't
ever overly-crowded. There were plenty of lounge chairs
and space in the pool for everyone. I also liked the hot-tub.
It was almost as big as the wading pool, but donught shaped
with some bubbling rocks and a large palm tree in the middle.
It was a little crazy getting into a hot tub when it was
already 118° out, but it helped ease those dice throwing
elbow cramps we had.
The Gaming Area Before I get into all of this, I do want to say that we came home with $100. We won and played a lot more, but we actually got on the plane ride home with $100. Ok, let me tell you how we got there. Eventually we made it out to some of the other casinos, so we are able to tell you that the Orleans has a pretty sizeable offering when it comes to gaming tables, slot and video poker machines, sports book area, and poker room. The main gaming hall was huge with these gigantic suspended heads looking down on you, laughing silently as your money slips through your fingers one ceramic chip at a time. Make that six chips at a time. The surrounding areas were seeded with blinking, beeping machines of every flavor. And there were many bars and restaurants peppered throughout.
It took us a day before we approached, but we tried to give
most the games a shot to at least entertain us while taking
our money. I tried the Black Jack table, and lost
two $5 hands in about 4 minutes. So I bailed. We tried roulette,
and it was so much fun I want to share the roulette experience
with you. Paypal $5 to me at firstname.lastname@example.org,
and wait by your mailbox for me to maybe mail you
something. There, you just played roulette Good luck!
That brings us to craps. We spent more time leaning on the craps table than anywhere else in Vegas. It quickly became our favorite game, and this is where most of our money was won and lost. It's pretty easy to pick up. Some casinos offer free classes in the mornings so you can learn how to play, but we simply started with an empty table and asked lots of questions. The nicest thing about Las Vegas was that most of the dealers or attendants were very helpful with our questions. They get paid the same amount of money from the casino whether you win or lose. They may get better tips when you win, and they want you to have fun. If nobody had fun because everyone lost their money, then the casinos would shut down in about a day. So we were able to pick up the basics fairly quickly and easily.
To get started rolling, you have to place a minimum bet. We liked sticking to the $3 minimum bet tables.* Put your cash down on the table (you've seen Swingers), the dealer will take it, and hand you back chips. Place your chips in the Pass Line area, and you're ready to roll. (Sorry) You pick out two dice and roll em. This first roll is called your come-out roll, and you want 7 or 11. If you get either of those, you win and roll again. If you roll a 2,3 or 12, you crap out and you lose that initial bet, but it's still your turn at rolling.
If you roll a 4,5,6,8,9, or 10, then that becomes your point. The dealer will slide a two-sided puck onto your number (it'll be white-side up and say "on"). It's now your job to keep rolling the dice until you get that number again. Now when you roll again, you don't want a 7 anymore. At this point, the bets usually start pouring in. People will put money down on the pass line so that they win when you do get your number. But they can also put money down on the other numbers up there, so if you have 5 as your point, I can put down on the 6, and win money every time you roll a 6. Until you roll a 7. You, and everyone with bets on the table, loses when you roll a 7. And that's the basics behind craps. It's easy.
*It was harder to find tables this cheap at a lot of the older/bigger casinos on the night we went out.
That was probably the most nerve-wracking part of the entire trip. It's one
thing to bet money on how well you think you're going to
do at Black Jack or roulette, but at craps, everyone is
winning and losing on your roll of the dice. Once you "seven
out" the dice get passed to the next person. Everyone gets
a turn, and you can pass if you wish.
The last day there, we were having a good run at the table. I started rolling and hit a streak and maybe got in 12-15 rolls before sevening out. We ended up giving away most of our money between then and the next time the dice made it around the table to me. When it was my turn, I said I would pass, and a gentleman at the other end of the table really wanted me to roll. I tried to tell him my luck was up, ignoring the fact I couldn't place the $3 minimum on the table. He really wanted me to roll however, because he had made some money off of my last streak. So then I told him I only had $2 left. So he then slides a $5 chip to my end of the table and begged me to roll. I picked the two dice I would throw, gathered them in my lucky left hand, focused, closed my eyes and rolled a 6. The table started clinking with chips and there was a flurry as bets were laid on every available square. I paused, lined the snake-eyes up like I usually do, grabbed the dice and threw. I try not to look at the dice until they land, staring intently at the number I want on the board. I had my eyes burning on that six. I just wanted this man to earn his $5 back, and I could walk away guilt free. Before I can lift my eyes to the opposite side of the table, the dealers started sweeping up all the chips. I sevened out on my second roll. I was crushed.
He told me not to worry about it, and was glad I took the chance. We used our last two chips to tip the cocktail waitress, and we walked away.
We still had our $100 we were saving and weren't going home empty handed.
Even in a situation like this, no one got mad at us for sevening out. The whole point of the game is placing money on something completely random. So there were never any hard feelings when you lose it all for everyone. They're each about to do it to you. Something else I had to keep reminding myself, this was the $3 table at an off-strip casino. Nobody at the table can really call themselves a high-roller. It's like knowing you're not the biggest nerd in the comic book shop. We're all in the same boat here.
There are all kinds of bets you can place besides the simple ones I mentioned. We were on a strict budget for each day, and though we wanted to, we never dipped into the next day's funds when we were out. Actually, we kept pocketing some winnings, so much so we'd have a little bit left over, just in winnings, most nights. But we played it "safe" for the most part. However, that's not how you win a lot of money. You have to gamble and really take a risk to win anything exciting. One of the squares on the craps table was the snake-eyes with 1 to 31 payout. Meaning, I can throw down a $1 chip on that square, and if the next roll yields the two ones (they said "Aces" instead of snake-eyes), then they give me back $32. How sweet is that? However, that square is only good for one roll. Unlike the bets on specific numbers above (that have pretty much even payouts), this is a per-roll bet.
So that's the rub, you can play it safe, and at best, make your money back a few times before the roller sevens out, or you can play it higher, win bigger, but lose bigger in a matter of minutes. At the Orleans, Maggie, Tex, and Michael were extremely helpful as we slowly "came out of our shell" and started handing over more money.
We fell in love with craps so much so that we got our own craps mat off of eBay, and even got a professional craps dice stick for herding the dice around the board. We've hosted some craps nights at our place, and everyone got into it. Right now I'm working on building a table-top set up that has a back bumper, and maybe one day we'll get a full blown table. But for now we'll settle for our big set of chips from Target. Don't worry, we don't gamble with real money. Bring a 12 pack of beer, that gets you some chips. The loser at the end of the night springs for pizza.
Cherry joke omitted
The Slots/Video Poker We got a big kick out of playing on the nickel slot and video poker machines. In fact we kept winning, not a lot mind you. You can win a bunch of times, but on nickel slot machines or nickel bets on video poker, all you're winning is twenty five cents or so. But what we would do is put $2-3 in a video poker machine, play it until it was gone, or we were up to $4 or $5, and then cash out (prints out a bar coded tickets good for cash) and go play craps for awhile. Once the craps table would go "cold" we'd take our ticket back to a slot or poker machine and play a bit longer. If you're a gambler at all, you're probably snickering that this is piddly stuff, but eventually we got a bit more bold and gambled more.
I have become a slots slut
I did win $2 on a penny slot machine. That was kinda fun. Except this was at the Boardwalk casino and I had to wait for an attendant to come over, put in his card, punch in a code, leave, come back, punch in another code, count out, and then hand methe two dollars. The whole thing was kind of fun, but not really thrilling.
The casinos like it when you're drunk. You'll play more,
and have more fun doing so. They have hot cocktail
waitresses walking around constantly, at all hours of the
day, dispensing free cocktails. As long as you're playing
something, you can get yourself a drink. Even though
we tipped at least a dollar for every drink, the free-ness
helped mentally ease the amount we were throwing on the
tables. Not only is it harder to care when you're a bit
drunk, but you add up all the free Jack-n-cokes and Long
Island Iced Tea we had, and I think we came out even. Maybe.
I liked the outfits at the Orleans better than some of the
other casinos too. Hot-cha-cha-cha. My only complaint
that it felt like forever sometimes to get the drink
or place an order. Maybe it was because I was slowly tossing
all of our money on a table which made me long for the maternal
comfort of hard liquor.
We liked that there was a diverse offering of restaurants at the Orleans. The prices were reasonable, and the taste was alright. I can't tell you how many beer-steamed hot dogs we had. We also tried:
Terrible Mike'sserving burgers and chicken fingers (and a sweet fixin's bar). The funniest thing was that the cashiers were wearing standard issue fast-food shirts and visors, but the grill chefs were wearing full-on fancy chef outfits.
Courtyard CafeHad all kinds of cafe food and sandwiches, steak, etc. The coolest part was the $2 plate of eggs, bacon (or sausage), hash browns, and toast that was available from midnight to 7am. They had steak and eggs for $3. This hit the spot numerous times.
Koji'sserving sushi and chinese cuisine. Use your coupon book to get the free sake. Sweet!
French Market Buffetwe had their breakfast buffet a few times, and were comped the dinner buffet. Lots of choices, decent prices... even $5 bottles of wine.
SazioPretty impressive Italian dining. They even had brick oven pizza, but we had chicken
There's also a Subway, Prime Rib Loft, Oyster Bar, ice cream, Seattle's Best coffee, and more.
Other Fun Stuff to do
We kept meaning to get up to the 70 lane bowling alley, but we never got around to it. We did go to the movies however. Before we left, I checked out the show listings for the theater online and low and behold they had a contest for two free passes to Must Love Dogs. We emailed in and were drawn among the winners. So we got to do that for free. That was nice. The movie is alright. Yes, it's a chick flick, date movie, but it was palatable.
We also walked a bit of the strip. The "strip" is actually a couple miles long and you can't really walk the whole thing. We took the free shuttle over to Barbary Coast, and just walked as far as we could. We were right across from the Bellagio, the one famous for it's fountains. We stuck around for one of the shows (every 15 minutes after dark) and it was actually quite amazing. I hadn't seen many things man-made that impressive before. It's absolutely worth sticking around for.
We wanted to go into some of the other casinos just to say we visited them (and left the hotel, which we didn't do until our fourth night). Before we even got into the Aladdin we were "grabbed" and were pitched this "to-good-to-be-true" package that included $80 to use on the Black Jack table, a couple of free dinners and more. Well of course it was in exchange for a two-hour time share presentation, but we didn't know about that until I had asked about any time committment. So look out for that.
Free Stuff Though I just mentioned almost getting roped into a time-share thing, there are lots of freebies you can participate in. But you should know how it all works to get the most out of it and avoid the things you don't want to. First off, the casinos know that you have lots of choices on where to gamble (give them money), so a lot of them will give you legitimate things for free just to get you in the door. I did a Google search for Vegas Coupons, and found many "buy one get one free"s on buffets, comedy clubs and other shows. Not something like Tom Jones, but some decent entertainment. There's even a few topless shows (oooh ladies) that are free in the afternoon. For those, there is a two drink minimum, but c'mon, it is free boobs. More information can be found in the free magazine OnLine available in most hotels and casinos.
There are also tons of night clubs, big production shows, bars, and comedy clubs you can hit. We were mainly interested in gaming, so we didn't spend any money on other forms of entertainment, but if you want to, you can get great recommendations from people who are in Vegas all the time.
We're Cashin' Out We had an incredible time in Las Vegas at the Orleans, mainly gambling and drinking. If I were to do it again, and I definately will, I will either have a little bit more money for gambling, or the same amount of money, but go for a day or two less. Either way, I'll be staying at the Orleans. I had fun learning, but now that I'm more confident in my gaming, I'd like to bring a little bit more to play with, but that's going to be up to me. If you are thinking of trying out Vegas on your own for the first time, I can safely recommend the Orleans as far as getting your money's worth, and having a great time. It appeared to us that was a large spectrum of gamblers, first timers to high rollers, to people that had been doing this for years, so there's something for everyone.
I was initially anxious that Las Vegas would "eat me alive" and that I'd either come back owing my house to somebody, or be heavily addicted to gambling. Not us! We're doing great! (Says the guy who spent 40 hours designing a paper craps table and setting up Casino Night at his house).
Comps You shouldn't leave without getting something for free, so I've made this scale model miniature craps table that you can print out and assemble for your action figures. All you need is some plain cardstock, and a little bit of glue. Check it out.
We also have a Las Vegas inspired MPb logo t-shirt design you can print out and iron on to a black t-shirt. Wear it while in Vegas for good luck. This is a PDF, so download and print onto Dark T-shirt Iron Transfer paper, and iron onto a black t-shirt.