Magazine article Sunset

Beating the Odds in Las Vegas

Magazine article Sunset

Beating the Odds in Las Vegas

Article excerpt

With a little planning, you can live large on a small

bankroll in Sin City

ome people don't believe in luck. They say we create, through effort or karma, our own futures. So the source of the good fortune bestowed upon my husband and me on a recent weekend trip to Las Vegas is debatable, but wherever it came from, we sure felt charmed: We enjoyed great food and entertainment--without busting our budget.

Once known for its bargain buffets and free drinks, Las Vegas more recently has gone upscale with swank new casinos and restaurants. Though you still can lose all your money at the slots, now you can also blow a big chunk of it on a Wolfgang Puck meal and a luxury room. But you don't have to. We set a target of $300 for quality meals and lodging for two, tax and tips included. You might call it impossible. But don't forget that Las Vegas isn't just Sin City-it's also the city of dreams.

Our money-saving strategies: Go midsummer to take advantage of low hotel rates snagged on the Internet; eat off-hours for discounts at restaurants; and search out the city's great variety of free or low-cost entertainment. DAY ONE: THE ORIGINAL LAS VEGAS We were right in the middle of things in our large room at New York-New York, where we had a view of the roller coaster and the Statue of Liberty. It wasn't a bad deal for $74.99 a night. With 9 percent hotel tax, our two nights came to $163.48. Another great lodging bargain is the Golden Nugget, where rooms start at $59. Located downtown (a few miles north of the Strip), it's one of Vegas's original casinos.

From New York-New York, we crossed Times Square to stroll Las Vegas Boulevard-the Strip of Sensory Overload. We kept cool by circling through casinos to gawk at the Eiffel Tower at Paris, the volcano at the Mirage, and the canals and gondolas at the Venetian. We were in the land of spectacle, and the scenery didn't disappoint-even the passersby were entertaining.

At Treasure Island, misters above a wood-plank sidewalk cooled us as we waited for the pirate show (free). We'd missed it on two previous Las Vegas visits because high winds had canceled the performance. But this was the beginning of our lucky weekend, and it started off right: With a pirate yell and a flash of gunpowder, the ships came alive.

As evening settled in, we took a cab ($15, Including tip) to the original field of dreams-old downtown Las Vegas, where the city's first gambling houses opened nearly a century ago. The casinos in downtown aren't as posh as the newer spots on the Strip, but the old-style flash, with lots of neon and a quaint charm, is the Vegas equivalent of a historic district.

We arrived just as the Fremont Street Experience (free) was starting. Every hour, 36 computers broadcast a rocking music and animation show on the 90-foot-high ceiling of the street's four-block pedestrian mall. The production uses more than 2 million bulbs. We watched dancing fish, dancing hats, and a tribute to 1970s funk.

Between the light shows, street performers, and a band that entertained the crowds, the evening slipped by. We'd been told the slots were looser downtown, so we headed for the penny slots at the Gold Spike. We could hardly call our gambling spree a loss ($1).

Lingering paid off in another way too: We hit Bay City Diner in the Golden Gate casino in time for the graveyard special, which starts at 10 PM. Our tab for French toast, ham, and eggs, with tax and tip, came to $7. Then another cab ride ($15) and off to bed, dreaming of Lady Luck. DAY TWO: CULTURAL LAS VEGAS

Saturday dawned sunny and clear. We breakfasted on pastries and coffee from the hotel's I1Fornaio Panetteria ($5) and used a coupon we'd received at check-in to get free biscotti.

Most summer days in Las Vegas you want to stay indoors, so we boarded a free shuttle to our first stop, the Elvis-A-Rama Museum, stocked with Elvis's cars, jumpsuits, and even handwritten letters. …

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