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Top-10 first impressions of Las Vegas

22 May 2009

Last week I finally took my pilgrimage to gambling's Mecca: Las Vegas. I stayed for four days and three nights, and probably couldn't have lasted any longer. By my last day, running on three hours of sleep had finally caught up.

My group stayed on the Strip at the Luxor, whose two "headline" acts were Carrot Top and Criss Angel. Needless to say, we found better ways to occupy our time.

That being said, I wouldn't trade my experience for anything. And you can bet that I'll be making a second appearance in Sin City before long. So, like I did with Atlantic City, and my colleague Gary Trask did with
the Gulf Coast,
here are my Top-10 first impressions of Las Vegas.

10. Under construction

Everywhere you looked there were construction signs. The CityCenter project looms high over the Strip, and it looks like it will be unbelievable (if it ever gets completed). There were lane closures and detours all over the city. This didn't help the traffic situation, as it always seemed we were stuck at a red light.

9. There's plenty of other stuff to do

It's not all about the casinos. There are a ton of attractions you can enjoy in Las Vegas without sitting down at a blackjack table. The water show in front of the Bellagio (made famous in Ocean's 11) was incredible. There were more shops than you could shake a stick at. And the roller coaster at New York, New York was running all afternoon and evening -- which leads to number eight…

8. Families are everywhere, at all hours

There were people of all ages milling about the Strip. The pool area at Luxor had plenty of twenty-somethings, but also plenty of pre-teens. And it wasn't just during daylight hours. There were more than a few "Parents of the Year" who were pushing around strollers at 3 am.

7. The sportsbook can get a little crazy, especially during the Preakness

We picked a pretty good time to go to Vegas, especially since everyone in my group is a sports fan. On our first night we headed over to the Mandalay Bay sportsbook to watch our hometown Celtics take on the Magic in an all-important Game 6. Not only did the Celtics blow a double-digit lead to lose the game, but they also could not cover the eight-point spread (driven home by Ray Allen missing a wide-open three at the end that would have done the trick). The packed house was going crazy for that game, not to mention the other NBA playoff game and two NHL Game 7s.

But that was nothing compared to the atmosphere on Saturday for the Preakness. We got there early enough to snag some seats, but after that it was standing room only. The build-up to the race was crazy, especially since half the sportsbook was betting on the smaller races leading up to the big one. The race itself was great because Mandalay Bay used the Pimlico track feed, not the NBC broadcast feed. The sportsbook had an announcer calling the race, and the crowd went nuts after Rachel Alexander took her historic victory. The only negative? I went 0-for-4 on my bets.

6. The club scene is intense

I was in Vegas for only three nights, so I was only able to attend two of the dozens of clubs the city is known for. But the two I went to were intense. LAX in Luxor was free to get into with a room key, which was a huge benefit for me. The venue itself was very cool. And Pure at Caesars was probably the best club I've ever been to. It was huge and completely packed. There was a rooftop area overlooking the Strip. Plus, I was able to see a washed-up rap star in person (Ja Rule at Pure) and just missed seeing a washed-up rock group (Everclear at LAX).

5. Food options galore

The only thing in Vegas more abundant than the casinos was the restaurants. At every turn there was a food option, from buffets to filets. In fact, the filet I had at David Burke's Modern American Cuisine at the Venetian was one of the best steaks I've ever had. And the buffet at MGM Grand was well worth the $38 I spent.

4. The heat

You can be warned a hundred times before you go to Vegas about the heat, but you can't really appreciate it until you actually set foot outside. Of course, it's a dry heat, and everyone says a dry heat is better than a humid heat. Well, 100 degrees still feels like 100 degrees. Thankfully I loaded up with sunscreen or else there would have been real problems.

The one benefit to the heat? The pool scene is fantastic. Just make sure you lube up.

3. Casinos everywhere you turn

There are slot machines in the airport. There are slot machines on the sidewalk. There are so many casinos I can't remember how many of them I gambled at, let alone just walked through. From the guy playing $500 craps at Caesars by himself (not me) to the guy playing $5 craps at Bill's Gambling Hall on a full table (me), there are options for everyone regardless of their tax bracket.

2. No open container laws

This is one impression I didn't see coming, even though I should have. They don't call it Sin City for nothing. But I was a big fan of this impression, as was basically every other person over the age of 21 that I came across on the Strip. It certainly made the long walks between casinos much more enjoyable.

1. The Strip at night is the sight to see

Of course the Strip is #1. In fact, it was so good that I walked it two nights in a row. It's simply something you need to experience at least once in your life. The lights are glaring. Everyone is drinking and having a good time. The street peddlers handing out flyers for women (WHO WANT TO MEET YOU!). The casinos seem to go on for miles. This walk should be on every person's bucket list.