Monday, May 19, 2008

When you are not playing poker in Vegas...

Things to Do in Vegas When You’re Alive

Now you may be a poker junkie, but even if you’re in Las Vegas, the poker capital of the world, playing in the World Series of Poker, the world’s most prestigious poker tournament, you still have to step outside and enjoy the scenery. Here are some of the sights you must see after you’ve taken a brutal beat the tables and need a break.

The free stuff

We’ll start with the sorts of things a poor, low-roller like me prefers – the freebies. Luckily, there are plenty of things to see and do for free in Vegas. After all, the casinos need some sort of attractions to lure you into their lairs in a city full of choices. Let’s start with the Bellagio fountains. The famed fountains, which number more than a thousand and shoot water as high as 240 feet, are choreographed to music ranging from classical to showtunes. Situated in the lake in front of the Bellagio casino, the fountains go off every half hour in the afternoons and every 15 minutes after dark until midnight. They are perfect for a romantic night out.

Just down the Strip are a few things close together you might enjoy. The volcano outside the Mirage “erupts” every 15 minutes after dark until midnight. The 54-foot high structure in front of the casino emits a show of steam, water and light that at least approximates a volcano eruption. A good place to view the brief show is from the second floor of the terrace at St. Mark’s Square outside the Venetian, which is directly across Las Vegas Boulevard. The square is a pretty fair replica of the famed corner in the real Venice. After viewing the eruption, walk inside the Venetian to admire the beautiful adornments, including the paintings on the ceiling and the Grand Canal Shoppes, where you can buy your special someone that something special after a big night at the tables.

Just down from the Venetian is TI (formerly Treasure Island) and the Sirens of TI show. I recommend this half-heartedly. It’s a cool show if you’ve never seen it, but the crowds that gather in front of the casino can grow large and make viewing the show a pain. If you got, get there at least a half hour early (shows are at 7, 8:30, 10 and 11 p.m.) to stake out a decent spot. During the show, male and female pirates battle it out on two ships on either side of the crowd in a display of pyrotechnics and acrobatics.

While you’re heading north on the Strip, you might as well catch a cab or bus and head to Downtown for the Fremont Street Experience. The $70 million light show in the sky features five different shows each night on the hour lasting several minutes over four city blocks. The action is projected on a canopy 90 feet over the pedestrian mall. While you’re Downtown, duck into Binion’s and walk to the back of the casino where you can still see the former WSOP tournament area much as it used to be. The casino is planning some major renovations to its poker room in the coming months, but for now you can glance at a table and imagine yourself trading bluffs with Doyle Brunson or Stu Ungar.

The not-quite-free stuff

Sometimes you’ve got to give a little to get a little. Among the sights you ought to see that cost a little coin, is the top of the Stratosphere tower, which costs about $10 to ride to the summit of the 1,149-foot structure. There are several thrill rides at the top. Try the Big Shot, which will make similar rides at other amusement parks seem like child’s play after you are shot up 160 feet and back down again at the top of a 100-story tower.

For the outdoor enthusiast, take the short drive to Red Rock Canyon, about 20 miles west of Las Vegas. There’s a $5 per vehicle admission fee. Once there, you can take your time driving the 13-mile scenic loop, stopping at points along the way to hike your way to the springs that first drew visitors to this part of the Mohave Desert nearly two centuries ago or to view ancient rock drawings made by the Anasazi.

Where to eat

A boy’s gotta eat, right? When you’re not chowing down at the snack bar outside your favorite poker room – or, heaven forbid, the WSOP kitchen – you’ve got to try some of these places while you’re in town.

If your wallet is fat, go ahead and splurge at Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at MGM Grand. Main courses at dinner will often run $30-$40 but the eating is good. Also try Mr. Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian. Bouchon by famed Thomas Keller and located mid-Strip, is a delight to the palate, while Chang’s of Las Vegas is an affordable Chinese restaurant in the north part of the Strip. There’s no better place to use those $2 an hour poker comps at Binion’s than upstairs in the Binion’s Ranch Steakhouse, which provides a gorgeous view of the city. And if you’ve never been, you must go to In ‘n Out Burger for a burger, fries and shake. You won’t regret it.

What shows to see

For the non-gamblers among us, Vegas may be most famous for its selection of shows, from major artistic productions to magician acts and very low-brow impersonation fests. There are several Cirque de Soleil productions in the city, but the ones that come mostly highly recommended are O at the Bellagio, Love at the Mirage (a tribute to the Beatles) and Mystere at Treasure Island. Tickets don’t come cheaply, however, as you should expect to pay $100 and up for most seats.

In a town that seems to magically make the money disappear from your wallet, it should come as no surprise that there are a number of magic shows. Among those worth seeing, Lance Burton: Master Magician in the Monte Carlo offers a good value at around $65-$75 a ticket. Penn & Teller over at the Rio (just a hop, skip and jump from the WSOP tournament area) are famous for revealing some of the secrets behind the tricks and tickets are on part with Burton. Mac King, a magic/comedy hybrid artist, is one of the best values in town at $25 a ticket.

If it’s cheese you seek, there’s no shortage of it in this town. One option would be to wander Fremont Street and wait for someone to hand you a “free” ticket to a lounge act (which, of course, requires the purchase of at least one overpriced drink if not more) or you could head to one of these shows: American Superstars at the Stratosphere features a variety of celebrity impersonators singing the songs those celebrities are famous for. You might hear Charlie Daniels followed by Christina Aguilera followed by Michael Jackson. Expect to pay around $40. At the Excalibur, you can sit down for a meal and a joust at the Tournament of Kings. Knights compete in a variety of contests while you eat your $45 meal with your hands. It’s great for the kiddies.

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