The Las Vegas Strip
Disneyland for adults
The Las Vegas strip is basically a Disneyland for adults.
It's full of hotel rooms (19 of the world's 25 largest hotels are on the 4 mile long segment of Las Vegas Blvd. known as "the strip"), restaurants, entertainment options, recreation (golf, swimming, tennis, thrill rides) and prices are higher than in the "real world" - even chains like Starbucks and McDonalds have higher prices on the strip than off the strip.
urbanphotos.net has been shooting photos in Las Vegas since 1992 and presents some of the sights of Las Vegas here, along with information for tourists. Check out our other hubs for detailed descriptions of most of the Las Vegas strip casino resorts.
Arranging your trip
Before the Internet became available to consumers in the mid 1990s, arranging a trip to Las Vegas left you at the mercy of a travel agency. You not only had to rely on them for pricing information and flight schedules; you had to trust their judgment as to what properties were "good" and not so good.
Now you can research everything yourself. All airlines and hotels have their own web sites where you can check schedules and rates, and make reservations. Tourists post honest reviews describing both the fantastic luxuries and horrible nightmares they've encountered. If a particular hotel is really REALLY awful, they can no longer keep it a secret.
Search engines are your best friend. Before choosing a hotel, conduct exhaustive searches for reviews of that hotel. Read as many as possible.
Most hotels, car rental agencies and airlines have easy to find web sites. Usually, you just put a dot com after their name and that's their web site. If not, a search engine search should locate it on the first page of search results. A smart shopper will first check the rates available on the airline, car rental agency and hotel web sites, then check the rates at the popular aggregator sites like Travelocity and Expedia.
Usually it's less expensive to book directly with the hotel, airline, and car rental agency. But sometimes a big discount will be available on one of the travel aggregator sites... although you may have to accept an inconvenient flight schedule, like arriving at 6 a.m. and departing at 4 a.m.
Using travel aggregators may also subject you to a lower level of customer service. If you have some problem with the airline or hotel or rental car and complain about it to the airline or hotel or car rental office, they will likely tell you "talk to THEM about it." It's like you aren't their customer; the travel aggregator is.
At the airport
One of the little known facts about McCarran airport is that you can check into your hotel there, if you're a guest at the MGM Grand.
As you enter the baggage claim area from the passenger gates area, the check in offices are directly behind you. I think a lot of people just don't see them, because there is usually no line. It's much more convenient to check in at the airport than to stand on line for a half hour at the hotel... although the length of the check in line at the hotels varies with the time of year, day of the week, and time of day. I've encountered NO line at Treasure Island at 5 p.m. on December 12, 2007; whereas a year earlier (December 24, 2006) there was a huge line (about 300 people) at the same time of day at the Luxor. The reason why, in this case, is that mid December is a generally slow tourist time while Christmas Eve is (like most holidays and holiday-eves) is a busy time. Fridays and Saturdays are also generally busier than the rest of the week, regardless of the time of year.
Exceptions include large conventions like the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) every January, which bring thousands of "extra" people to the city during a short time span.
Your best bet for transportation from the airport is to get a taxi. The taxi stand line can be very long but it moves very quickly. Fare is about $15 to the south and mid strip; $20 to $30 to the north strip and Fremont Street (downtown Las Vegas.) Taxi drivers like to take tourists through the "tunnel" which is the I-15 connector loop, I-215, because it is usually faster and results in a more expensive ride. I-215 loops around the south side of the airport then connects with I-15 on the west side of the Las Vegas Strip; adding about four miles to the distance of most trips to the strip. However, traffic conditions on the surface streets will dictate which route is faster and/or less expensive.
To avoid being long hauled, when you get into a cab in Las Vegas, tell the driver one of two things, either a) take the least expensive route, or b) take the fastest route. Whichever is your priority at the moment. Normally, the least expensive route will be to take Swenson north out of the airport and either turn left on Tropicana to head towards the strip, or continue north on Paradise or Koval Lane towards the mid and north strip. If you're staying on the west side of the northern end of the strip (Treasure Island, Mirage, Circus Circus, Stratosphere) or downtown on Fremont St, the freeway can be both less expensive and faster. As I mentioned earlier, it depends on traffic conditions. If you have Waze, take a look at that. Don't believe the cab driver.
If you're staying on the south to mid strip (between Mandalay Bay and Caesars Palace), the freeway will almost always be the more expensive route.
If you've rented a car, there is a shuttle bus from McCarran to the rental car center every five minutes. All the major car rental agencies are located in the rental car center.
Map showing two routes from McCarran to Luxor
I rented a car from Thrifty in December 2008 at the insane price of $12 per day. (It was a slow time of the year, after the National Finals Rodeo was over but before Christmas eve.) It was my first time visiting the new rental car center and I'm very impressed. Shuttles go back & forth from the airport to the rental car center almost constantly. No waiting. I highly recommend joining rental car agencies special programs that let you bypass waiting on line to go over the details of the rental contract. When I arrived at the rental center, there was a line that looked at least a half hour long at the Thrifty counter; but I got to skip past that and go directly to the garage using their FREE Blue Chip program. The special program lets you select all your contract options in advance so they have the contract ready and waiting for you when you arrive. They just have you sign it then hand you the car keys.
I rented from Thrifty at McCarran again in June 2009, it was a fast and easy pickup and return as expected. I didn't spend more than 10 minutes at the rental car center picking up or returning the car. Price was higher though, $40 per day; as June is one of the busiest months in Las Vegas.
The famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada" sign is about half a mile south of Mandalay Bay (away from the rest of the strip). So you may never see it unless you specifically seek it out.
I shot the above photo after walking to the sign from the Luxor.
On the Strip
It looks like a different sign in the daylight. I shot this photo just before sunset on December 12, 2007. You can almost see the taxi waiting for me in the Las Vegas Tourist Bureau parking lot (under the trees to the right of the sign.)
I asked the driver to take me to the sign from the airport. Looking at a map, it appears that you can take Paradise Rd. south out of the airport and turn right on Sunset, which would take you almost directly to the sign; but he said the only route that goes out the south side of the airport property is the freeway. So we went to the sign, then cruised the strip up to Treasure Island.Traffic was light so the fare was lower than I expected... I think $22, and I gave him $25.
If you're bringing a camera with you, it's well worth the extra trip to shoot some photos of the sign since it's kind of the "shrine" of Las Vegas tourists. The rest of your trip may become blurred in your memory, but you'll always remember how it felt to see the sign in person for the first time.There is a small parking lot just to the south of the sign; you enter southbound on Las Vegas Blvd. and exit northbound on the other side.
Mandalay Bay is the southernmost megaresort on the Las Vegas Strip. There are two motels further south (Laughing Jackalope and Diamond Inn), and the Klondike was demolished in early 2008. A condo/hotel project called Paramount is planned for construction at the old Klondike site, which is next to the Las Vegas Tourist Bureau right near the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
I shot the above photo of Mandalay Bay from my room window on the 30th floor of the Luxor on Christmas Eve 2006. The lettering "Mandalay Bay" is slightly blurred due to being shot through glass at a slow shutter speed (15 seconds).
The Las Vegas strip on Christmas Eve and Christmas was totally insane. I had visited Las Vegas many times during mid December, which is a fairly slow tourist time; and thought everyone would be home with their families for Christmas and expected it to be less crowded than mid December. I was not only wrong but I was the exact opposite of correct. The area between the Flamingo and Imperial Palace, which is usually the most crowded part of the strip, was so crowded as to be impenetrable at times. You pretty much had to go along with the crowd... passing slowpokes in front of you or moving over to the left or right was impossible at times. I overheard a lot of European and Asian sounding languages being spoken; the Christmas holiday seemed a more popular time for international tourists than Americans. And about one out of every four couples was pushing a stroller or had small children in tow. "Kids in Vegas" is a hot topic on most Las Vegas travel discussion boards - some folks think walking the strip is fine for tots while others think it's totally inappropriate. The major issue is all the escort ads featuring scantily clad models that litter the strip and are pushed in your face as you walk by groups of people (mostly in the center strip area) who are paid to hand out the ads, which come in three sizes: business cards, pamphlets, and magazines.
Fatburger is the best casual dining place to eat on the Las Vegas strip. It's just north of the Showcase Mall and MGM in a small strip mall. (North is heading towards the Stratosphere.)
Luxor is the next property to the north of Mandalay Bay, and it's attached to Mandalay Bay by a row of shops called "Mandalay Place." This connector used to be an empty tunnel, like the indoor pedestrian walkway which still connects Luxor to Excalibur. So if it's too hot outside, or raining, you can stay indoors and visit all three properties.
Luxor is one of the best values for the price on the strip. It's an excellent choice if you can't quite afford Bellagio, Venetian, or Wynn but don't want to stay at a "budget" property. When you book a room there, be sure to specify whether you want a pyramid room or a tower room. If you're afraid of heights, you'll want a tower room. If you're adventurous, book a pyramid room - and ask for floor 10 through 24. (Lower floors get noise from the casino; floors 25 and above are sealed off from the rest of the pyramid by a ceiling.)
Caesars Palace is probably the most popular center-strip destination, with its meticulously detailed ancient Roman theme, three casinos, Pure nightclub, and Forum Shops which feature 160 stores and 13 restaurants along with elaborate animated statues.
Caesars is also one of the oldest Las Vegas strip properties. Construction began in 1962 and Caesars opened in 1966 with 680 hotel rooms. Since then, four more room towers have been added; giving Caesars a total of 3,348 guest rooms. Caesars Palace is owned by Harrah's Entertainment; which is owned by Hamlet Holdings.
Bellagio is next to Caesars Palace, just south of Flamingo Road on the site formerly occupied by the Dunes, which was demolished in 1993.
Steve Wynn built Bellagio, which opened in 1998 and is now one of many MGM Mirage properties. Walking around inside gives one the feeling of being in some kind of ultra fancy museum and that you're about to be scolded for wearing jeans. However, if you visit Bellagio after visiting Wynn and Encore, it won't seem so fancy. The proper order to visit Steve Wynn strip properties, is in the order in which they were built: Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn, then Encore. This way you can experience an escalation in your enjoyment, as each property is more luxurious and detailed than the previous one.
While the luster may be wearing off Bellagio, it's still one of the dozen or so most upscale and expensive Las Vegas strip resorts (of which I'd include Wynn, Encore at Wynn, Venetian, Palazzo, Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay, Aria, Mandarin Oriental, Cosmopolitan, and Caesars Palace.)
Resorts World International (under construction at the old Stardust site) is expected to take a place in that list as well. New construction on the strip has recently been mainly limited to condominiums and high end casino resorts.. unlike the late 1980s and early 1990s which saw the addition of many new "mid level" resorts like Luxor, MGM Grand, New York New York, Treasure Island, Paris, Mirage, and Monte Carlo.
Ballys is one of the best places on the strip to shoot photos at night. The color changing neon rings in front are probably the largest neon light display in the city, extending 100 feet or more from the Las Vegas Blvd. sidewalk to the casino. These rings are each about 20 feet in diameter, encircling a moving pedestrian conveyor belt. Unfortunately, in December 2014 I noticed that most of the rings were removed. The entire area in front of Bally's has been changed into some kind of retail setup.
Ballys was originally the MGM Grand and had a large fire in which 85 people died on November 21, 1980.
The rooms in Ballys are a bit larger than average and overall it's a fairly nice property and good value. I stayed here once (in March 2005) and had no complaints. You can also walk over to Paris next door through an indoor tunnel.
That photo surprised me even though I shot it. You tend not to notice the surrounding mountain range so much when wandering the Las Vegas strip.
I checked out Trump's web site in early December 2008 while I was deciding where to stay for my 17th visit to Las Vegas. Trump tower is on Fashion Show Drive in between Las Vegas Blvd. and the freeway (I-15). And they don't have a casino. A good choice for upscale luxury walking distance to the Las Vegas strip but without the usual Las Vegas strip hassles. I almost booked one of the condos at Trump since the prices were reasonable but decided on Mandalay Bay instead.
I shot this photo December 14, 2008 from my room on the 20th floor of Mandalay Bay. You can pay extra for a strip view like this, but the basic (least expensive level) rooms at Mandalay Bay are surprisingly nice. I liked my "cheapie" Mandalay Bay room better than the suites I had at Venetian and Rio. I stayed at Rio in the late 1990s and again in December 2000; my stays at Venetian were in December 1999 and August 2002. I think.
The Mandalay Bay basic rooms have a huge flat panel TV mounted on the wall, a mini fridge and snack bar (don't touch or you get charged!), floor to ceiling windows, and a fairly huge bathroom. I highly recommend this hotel if you're looking for the best room value for the money.
Project City Center, an MGM/Mirage project, began construction in late 2005 or early 2006. The photo above is how it appeared on the night of December 14, 2008. MGM/Mirage sold Treasure Island in December 2008, perhaps to help pay for this huge project, which will be like a miniature city on the Las Vegas strip in the area between Bellagio and Monte Carlo. Plans include 5 condo towers, at least one resort casino and retail shops.
Echelon, a Boyd Gaming casino resort project being constructed on the old Stardust site (Stardust was imploded March 2007) has been put on hold. Boyd Gaming gave up on Echelon. Some other corporation has been working on Resorts World International at the old Stardust site. It looks like it's going to be a multi-themed resort, with different parts of the casino being set up to look like different countries around the world.
Fashion Show Mall is a popular destination on the Las Vegas strip, just north of Treasure Island, across the street from Venetian & Wynn. It's not much different from other malls except that prices may be higher. Las Vegas strip real estate increased in value 43% between January 2007 and January 2008 (source: inbusinesslasvegas.com) and has an average value of $18 million per acre. Whether a business owns or leases their land, that high cost is passed on to you, the customer.
The Fashion Show Mall food court has 4 computer terminals you can feed with money or a credit card to surf the Internet. Printers are included so you can check in for your flight home and print your boarding pass. Up until recently, public computer terminals with printers were pretty scarce on the Las Vegas strip, but my last visit there in December 2008 shows that the hotels have finally caught on to the fact that a lot of their guests want to print out boarding passes. I noticed about twice as many public terminals as I did a year ago, and almost all of them had printers. Airlines, however, may come up with a way to download a digital boarding pass to a cell phone or PDA and eliminate the need for a printed boarding pass.
Stratosphere Las Vegas was originally Bob Stupak's Vegas World. The tower was completed in 1996 along with a complete remodeling of the casino, and Vegas World with it's almost cartoonish outer space theme became Stratosphere, which is pretty much themed on the tower itself.
This is the one place in Las Vegas where you don't want to forget to bring your camera. Views from the top of the 1,149 foot tower can be stunning. How stunning depends on the time of day, the weather, and the state of nearby construction.
The short walk to Stratosphere from Sahara Avenue is usually manned by panhandlers. Especially on the west side of Las Vegas Blvd near the Bonanza gift shop. This part of the Las Vegas strip is a typical urban environment, very different from the touristy areas south of Sahara Avenue.
Stratosphere is a budget property but has a nice atmosphere. They can't get away with high prices because of their location, which although is on Las Vegas Blvd, it's debatable as to whether or not it's accurate to say that the Stratosphere is on the Las Vegas Strip. Some people will say the strip ends at Sahara; some will say no, it ends at St, Louis Ave. (near the Stratosphere, which is about where I shot this photo from) or that it ends downtown at Fremont Street.
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