Before last year, I was a Las Vegas virgin.
I had never walked the Strip, taken a ride on the New York New York roller coaster, or even gambled. The only things I knew about Vegas were what I had seen on TV.
I ended up having a blast: It's impossible not to in Sin City. But there were quite a few things I didn't realize about Vegas until I went.
And anyone who is a rookie at the upcoming SALT conference — the Wall Street convention that kicks off at the Bellagio May 5 — should probably know these nine things before they pack their bags and hit the Strip for the first time.1. You can't walk everywhere
All the hotels are much farther apart than they first appear. Technically, the entire Strip is over four miles long, and it will take you at least 15 or 30 minutes to walk from your hotel to a different one, though fortunately, the Bellagio is centrally located. Before the weekend is over, you will end up taking a few cabs.
But you should walk at least part of the Strip once. There are fun elevated walkways and outdoor elevators, not to mention plenty of photo opportunities. Just don't do it in 4-inch heels (better yet — leave those heels at home).2. You can take your drink to go
Are you headed to another club or restaurant, but you're not quite finished with your drink? Ask for a to-go cup!
Seriously — even classy establishments will let you take your drink outside as long as you use a disposable cup instead of their fancy glassware.
Oh, and once outside, you can imbibe with impunity since Vegas lets you drink (almost) everywhere.3. Bring cash — ATMs are crazy expensive
Unless you can find your own bank's ATM, the standard fee at most Vegas ATMs is a staggering $5.99 — a charge that may not bother the high rollers, but gets really old, really fast for most of us.
If I ever go to Vegas again, I'd bring plenty of cash.4. You can get free drinks by gambling
There are a few things Vegas casinos do to keep you gambling (no clocks, no windows, and plenty of lights and sounds), but the trick that works the best is plying customers with free drinks to keep them playing, and playing poorly.
While I'm not much of gambler, my friend told me to go sit at the bars with the gaming machines built into the counter. You stick in a $20, order a drink, and make minor bets of $.25. I played until I had won all my money back and knocked back a few glasses of wine while I was at it.
Basically, you can just drink for free (but don't forget to tip your bartender).5. There's art all around
Most of us go to Vegas to gamble, drink, and party. But take a moment to realize there's art all around you on the Strip.
There are sculptures by famous artists behind the check-in desks, in the hotel lobbies, on the street, not to mention the fact that certain hotels like the Bellagio and The Cosmopolitan have their own galleries that display touring collections from around the world.
There's even the Picasso restaurant in the Bellagio, which is filled with sculptures, drawings, and paintings by the late artist.6. Everyone smokes, everywhere
In Vegas, it's permissible for people to smoke inside casinos. To try and counteract that, the casinos will attempt to cover up the smell with what they call "signature scents."
The smell isn't incredibly offensive (especially if you're in a nice hotel), but if you're sensitive to cigarette smoke, you may want to stay somewhere that is non-gaming, such as the Trump International Hotel, The Signature at the MGM Grand, and Vdara Hotel & Spa.7. The food is incredible
Almost every single Vegas hotel restaurant on the strip was phenomenal. No one thinks of Vegas as a foodie city, but from sports bars to three-star Michelin establishments, Vegas delivers.
Many of these huge hotels have fantastic relationships with seafood and produce providers, and prepare their meat and make their breads in house. Personally, I'd make the trip again just for the food.8. Men must buy tickets (or bottles) to get into a club
Vegas may be bachelor-party central, but no group of guys is going to get into a club without buying tickets, bottle service, or a table. Period.
I saw several groups of rejected men begging women to join their group to try and get in for free, but at the bigger clubs like XS, TAO, LAVO, and Marquee, that's just not going to happen.
Chip in together for bottle/table service, buy a ticket to a DJ show, or don't try to go to clubs. You'll just be disappointed.
Ladies, you probably won't pay for anything. Enjoy.9. Downtown Las Vegas is far away (but worth checking out)
My friend who I traveled with was a seasoned Vegas veteran, but she had never been to downtown Vegas. Neither of us knew what to expect.
Turns out, it's nice to get away from the expensive strip and see a different side of the city. Plus, there's a Mob Museum, you can see the remnants of Old Vegas before the Strip was built (there's still gambling, too), and you can try some kitschy establishments like the Heart Attack Grill.
It's worth seeing at least once, even though it is a $30 cab ride away.
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