If you’ve always viewed Las Vegas as only a gambling and nightlife hub, it’s time to rethink that notion. This desert oasis is known for its casinos and resorts, of course. But with the addition of the NHL Vegas Golden Knights and the NFL Las Vegas Raiders in recent years — and with increasing speculation about a MLB team possibly headed that way — there’s no question that this town is now a bona fide sports mecca.
My husband and I love Vegas because there’s so much for everyone. He loves sports and I love that there’s so much to do besides the sports, so this is a no-brainer destination for us. Our most recent trip here was in December, an early Christmas gift to ourselves. We booked a flight on a seat sale and went to a Raiders game, strolled along the famous Strip and visited some fabulous desert sights. And we were home three days later, without having broken the bank.
If you’re thinking of planning a similar trip, one of the smartest things you can do is to check what’s going on in the city before you book anything. Remember that first and foremost, Vegas is a convention and trade show city.
From the Consumer Electronics Show in January, which brings 180,000 attendees into town, to the National Finals Rodeo in December (174,000 people) Vegas is frequently jam-packed, which means hotel rates will jump. The same basic room at one of the resort hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard, aka the Strip, can cost as little as US $50 a night — or as much as US $600-plus when hotels are at capacity. Begin your vacation research at vegasmeansbusiness.com, which has a comprehensive convention calendar.
I would not recommend flying in on game day, no matter how tempting that thought is. Flights are routinely delayed, and I think it’s worth the extra hotel night to make sure you get to your game on time. If you arrive before your room is ready, that’s not a problem; just leave your bags at your hotel’s luggage hold. It’s usually a free service but a tip is appreciated. You can also pay for an early check-in.
There are numerous hotel options in Vegas but when I’m there to attend a Golden Knights game, my favourite is New York New York. The hotel is reasonably priced and a two-minute walk to T-Mobile Arena, where the Knights play. Remember to wear your team jersey for the boisterous game-day parties on the hotel’s Brooklyn Bridge replica. For a great pre- or post-game meal, eat at the nearby Shake Shack for one of the best burgers you’ll ever have. I also recommend the tasty dining options at Eataly’s cafes and restaurants across the street at Park MGM.
When it comes to the Raiders I tend not to stay near Allegiant Stadium, where they play. The site is at the south end of the Strip — too isolated for me — and I’d rather choose a hotel that’s more central on the Strip and then walk to the game. On our most recent trip we stayed at Paris Las Vegas, about four kilometres from Allegiant Stadium. If you want to stay near the stadium, however, Mandalay Bay is the closest major hotel.
Whatever you decide, bring your good walking shoes because the Strip looks deceptively small on a map but in reality it’s gigantic. Bookended by Mandalay Bay at its south end and the Stratosphere at its north end, the Strip is about 6.8 km long.
Whether you’ll need a vehicle depends a lot on your plans. If you’re staying on (or just slightly off) the Strip and you enjoy walking, you can taxi or ride-share to your hotel from the airport and you’ll be fine without a vehicle for the rest of the time.
Keep in mind that surge pricing can greatly affect Lyft and Uber prices. After the Raiders game we attended, the four-km ride from Allegiant Stadium to our hotel would have cost US $40, not including the tip. (We walked.) Another transportation option is the Las Vegas Monorail, which runs along the Strip from the MGM Grand to the Sahara.
If you only need a car for a short period, here’s a little-known fact: Some hotels have a rental agency right on the premises so you can rent a vehicle easily for just one day. This will save you renting a car at the airport and paying for all of the days you’re visiting when you only need it for part of your trip. You’ll also save on the hefty parking rates at the hotel.
I should add a caution about temperatures: We know Vegas is hot in the summer but many forget that it can be quite cool in winter, both outdoors and in the stadiums and casinos. Allegiant Stadium is covered but it’s open at one end, plus it’s air-conditioned even in winter. T-Mobile is enclosed but it’s cool with the ice rink and it’s air-conditioned as well.
Post-game, there’s no shortage of things to do. Many activities are free or low-cost and I’ve listed my Top 5 below. At the opposite end of the price spectrum, my pick would be a splurgey Grand Canyon helicopter tour; yes, it’s expensive but it’s also spectacular. For an option in between, consider a ride on the High Roller observation wheel for the best aerial views of the city and beyond. Or, drive to the Valley of Fire State Park to see massive red sandstone formations that will take your breath away. If you want to see a Cirque or similar show, I’d highly recommend buying tickets in advance because they often sell out.
Now, let the games begin!
FIVE SIGHTS TO SEE
Looking for free or low-cost entertainment in Vegas? Here are five great options:
1. Visit the Neon Museum, a 115,000-square-foot site dedicated to preserving the city’s history via its iconic neon signs. Tickets are $20 and advance purchase is recommended.
2. The Bellagio Fountains are one of the most famous attractions in Las Vegas and the best part is, the show is free to see. The fountains are choreographed to music and light, and the spectacular show runs every 30 minutes.
3. Explore the Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian-only street where you’ll have your pick of live music, street performances and light shows. Admission is free.
4. Visit the Hoover Dam, just a short drive from the city. Take one of their excellent tours if time permits; self-guided tours start at $10.
5. Las Vegas is a shopper’s paradise, with options from luxury to outlet shopping. The mid-point Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood is my favourite for browsing and dining.