Frugal travel, over the years, has become more of a way of discovering a city rather than an induced necessity. When you have a constraint on those green bills, you are forced to think outside the tours and it instills in a natural radar for the tourist traps. There is a reason why Las Vegas is called the Sin City. In 1931, gambling was legalised here and well, the rest is history. For a glimpse of old Vegas head over to Fremont Street, where lies the world’s largest mechanical sign, Vegas Vic. If however, your interest is in understanding the real depths of this city and doing the usual touristy thing is not your way of traveling, this frugal guide is the place to start. There’s certainly more to Vegas than dabbling in the indulgences at the Morgue Casino or Wynn Las Vegas.
Get a feel of the place
It’s actually much longer than it gives away on first look, and certainly hotter than Hades, but chances are that you will find yourself starting your Las Vegas visit looking down the strip. It’s worth it even if it is to only appreciate its absurdity. Start your walk at the Fabulous Las Vegas sign, in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard, near the Mandalay Bay. Get a feel of the place. Las Vegas is ever the chameleon and each new visit is special by itself. New restaurants, shows, clubs and hotels constantly reinvent Sin City. For now, the change can be seen working on two Ferris wheels that are under construction. Traffic is still as bad but the new terminal at McCarran International Airport felt like it has eased some congestion for fliers. You haven’t really seen Las Vegas until you’ve seen it at night and it is recommended you catch an evening flight. As often as you have seen it on TV or in a movie, nothing can prepare you for your first sight of Las Vegas.
The Fermont alternative
Make it to Fermont Street. Downtown Las Vegas is really a gem that is dwarfed by the shiner side of the city. If you are looking for a place to stay, try Lady Luck (no nonsense but clean and crisp) which is just about a block away from Fremont Street. This section of the city is still packed with all the clubs, food and games if you are in for it, minus the volcanoes and the fine art galleries.
The Market Street Cafe at the California sits next to the Main Street Station. Its 24 hour cafe offers one of the best prime rib specials in town. $7.95 for a cut of prime rib, potato and vegetables, soup or salad bar, and cherries jubilee for dessert. It’s served from 4 in the afternoon to eleven in the night. Of course, the lines get ridiculously long but certainly worth it.
The $1 specials and the most under-rated buffet
For some plain old American beer, $1 for Michelob Bottles, but with the usual second-string games, there’s Casino Royal. There’s also the 1$ frozen margaritas on the deck. While I am not sure if there’s any tequila in them, there’s no limit on the number you can buy and it’s a pretty good deal if you are not too fussy about your drink.
Walked over to Main Street Station to try out their buffet. It is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated buffets in Vegas. Sure, you will find the same Vegas styled “world” theme. The “Pacific Rim” has some authentic Asian and Hawaiian mixed influences. Try out the oyster tofu. The southwest, south, and italian sections were equally as good. While I can’t say that the meat cuts were the best ever, they are certainly very good for the money you shell out. Price: around $10 and add to that about a dollar for tip.
Own a casino
Walk into Gambler’s General Store – located at 800 S. Main Street, just about a two miles south of the Plaza Hotel. I have heard of the Bootlegger Bistro and the Pinball Hall of Fame but this place beats them all as far was the quirky index goes. And it’s free to visit. What is it all about? Owning your own casino of course!
They sell everything, and I do mean everything you could ever need to open and run your own casino. Slot machines, to table games, hand made podiums, gaming pits, “dealer” buttons and cut cards, chips, chip trays, dice, you get the picture. The best part? They don’t charge you for playing with them all. Deal some blackjack, break down a stack of chips, have a go at the dice.
The perfect steak and shrimp dinner
One of the best food deals in Las Vegas is the “Surf and Turf” special served at Mr. Lucky’s inside the Hard Rock casino. It’s a steak and shrimp dinner for $7.77. The shrimp you get are nice and big. Note that the specials stay off the menu and are offered only on the table (to give you the feeling that you are “on the inside”). While you are here, check out the rock and roll memorabilia that they have around the casino.
The Sunbelt Classic and Antique Auto Museum
For whetting that geeky side, Sunbelt Classic and Antique Auto Museum is a must-see. Las Vegas has always been home to some classy rides. From the very beginning, being the playground of the rich and famous, the city has seen the very best of shiny, new, top-of-the-line and even strange automobiles. In his car barn, the owner of Sunbelt Communications, Jim Rogers, has on display above 300 restored vehicles. Tourists are allowed to see these mementos of past glorious times only by appointment or as part of scheduled tours. Call the curator to arrange a visit. Hours: Opens at 6 a.m. on weekdays, except holidays. Cost: Free.
Sirens of TI
When Kenny Ortega wanted to revamp Battle of Buccaneer Bay, a 10-year-old traditional pirate show, he had the perfect idea – Sirens of TI. This 18-minutes’ free show will make you hold your breath as you watch dashing sword fights, sizzling dance moves, danger and seduction. The story-line, if you need one, is how renegade pirates are lured into a cove of sirens by their enchanting and powerful songs. And as both the crowd and the performers are different each night, the element of novelty is always surprising.
$3 shrimp cocktail
Get yourself the $2.99 shrimp cocktail at downtown’s Golden Gate Hotel & Casino. This Vegas legend started in in 1959 for just five cents when Italo Ghelfi, a founding partner in the Fremont Street property, introduced the San Francisco specialty to Las Vegas. Ever since, the hotel has sold more than 40 million shrimp cocktails containing a combined total of more than 1 billion of the crustaceans. This shrimp cocktail is a cup full of tiny shrimp, with some tangy cocktail sauce on top and there is live jazz on the side.
If you go
The best possible guide to any place is a person who’s actually been to a place, experienced it like a local and came back to tell the tale. We have curated the world’s largest collection of such authentic trips. If you go, start by searching the hand picked trips to Las Vegas below. Customise them as much as you want and let the smart planner take care of the rest.