*This is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here.
Welcome back to my series on getting the most out of Vegas without spending too much money. In the first blog, I wrote about my first trip to Vegas, a business trip, that had a rollercoaster of emotions. Now, having become a “Vegas Insider” in the eyes of my friends, it was time to arrange a trip for them to come meet me for a few days.
It was 2001, and we had just endured the tragedy of 9-11; airports were in semi-lockdown, and tension was high for anyone who had to travel in or out of the U.S. One side-effect of the fear was that fewer people were traveling by air, which caused a slashing of flight prices across the U.S.
I was at this point living in Costa Rica when I got a call from a friend in Canada to discuss a bachelor party for our mutual friend. We talked through loads of options when I suggested that perhaps we should make our way to Las Vegas. They had never been, and I had enjoyed my time so much the first time that I thought it would make a great trip. We agreed this was a good plan, and I said: “you just get your flights sorted from Toronto, I will take care of the rest.”
Seeing how the last trip had fared, I decided to put some more thought into where we would stay this time. We were still working with a budget, and clearly, the largest chunk was going to alcohol, so after careful thought, I selected the Sahara as our hotel for the excursion. The Sahara had everything we needed: a NASCAR-themed roller coaster (our friend loved NASCAR), a cheap buffet, and $39 rooms on the weekend! Perfect, I thought, so I went ahead and booked it.
Next up was a rental car. I wanted to get us out of the city for a trip to the Hoover Dam, also as a reason to not just be holed up in a casino the entire 5 days. I booked a car for my arrival, which was 90 minutes before my friends, so I had time to get the car and have it ready to go when they arrived – no time to waste!
So everything was set…and that’s when the learning started.
When I arrived, I went straight to the car rental place, and to my surprise, they were willing to give me an upgrade to a Ford Mustang convertible! Fantastic, I thought, and I accepted the kind offer. They gave me the keys and off I went to the parking space, to find my Mustang….a canary yellow Mustang.
Never mind, I thought…this is Vegas. The boys will love it, and we don’t know anyone. When the boys arrived, they were of course thrilled by the ride and so off we went, top down, right onto Las Vegas Boulevard…and right into traffic.
Do Not Get a Poser Car in Vegas.
The next 20 minutes of our lives were not what any of us had expected. Not moving at all while thousands of pedestrians strolled by put us completely on show…and the strangers were not shy at all about giving us their feedback about the car. “F***ing morons” and “What Douchebags” were the most frequent chants we heard during our trip (at least the ones that I can relay here). It seemed like an eternity until we got to the hotel, but we finally made it. We threw our bags into the room and jumped back in the car to make our way to Hoover Dam. No tourists on the side of the highway, so we were in great shape to blast some tunes with the top down and get caught up.
When we got to the Dam and slowed the car down, something didn’t seem right. My left arm definitely felt very tingly, and it wasn’t until I went into the restroom that it all made sense. Driving for an hour in 95 degree heat with the top down can be a bit distracting, and now I had what felt like a third degree burn on my left arm and left side of my face….
It’s Hot in the Desert. Be Prepared.
Aside from the fact that I was going to be the laughing stock of our friends when we showed them any of the pictures, I didn’t much care. My friends were as scorched as I was, and a hat and long sleeved shirt would cover up my stupidity during the evening’s events.
Alright, so we got the tourist stuff out of the way, and after parking the Canary in the Sahara parking lot, we hit our room to get changed and get started on our gambling adventure. When we opened the door to our room, we noticed something we hadn’t when we just threw our bags in earlier – it smelled like someone had chain-smoked 200 packs of cigarettes while we were out. It was in everything, and it was horrifying. We called down to the front desk, but there was nothing they could do for us as the hotel was booked solid.
Make Sure to Confirm Your Room is Non-Smoking
There wasn’t much we could do at this point aside from going to get some air fresheners from the convenience store across the street and hope we were too drunk to notice later in the night. Time to gamble!
I had never been to the Sahara before, so we checked out the room first. Standard table games and slots in a casino that wasn’t absurdly big; a bar that seemed to have some karaoke going on, and the “Showroom” that we would never enter. The guys had not been big gamblers, so I chose to take it easy and just gamble small amounts with them; if I am gambling larger amounts, I prefer to have people have the same amount at risk to even out the level of play.
Sometimes You Should Pick a Small Stakes Table
We saddled up to a $1 blackjack table (I know, right?) and plopped down some cash. What happened next was amazing…they were using silver coins for $1 bets instead of chips. The weight, the sound, everything about this was different than the gambling I had done before. This gave it more of a home game atmosphere, which made it even more fun.
Now, after a few cocktails, which in the Sahara seemed to come at an alarmingly fast rate. I decided to make a proclamation at the table: “I don’t want to be paid in anything but these $1 coins until this casino runs out of them!” Incredibly, the dealer not only agreed to this request, but the pit boss came over to tell me that “they would not run out before I did.” Well, I like a challenge, and so we started to up our bets…$2, $3, $5 but all only in coins.
What happened next was an incredible run of cards. It felt like we could not lose a hand, and the poor dealer had to call twice for more $1 as I just refused to cash them back in. By the end of the run, which was now well into 6 hours at the table, we had a crowd around us, and we finally cashed in our coins and decided it was time to get at least a couple of hours of sleep. Grand total between the 3 of us? $1,236. In coins. We looked like we had robbed a wishing well!
After a couple of hours of sleep, we decided to fill ourselves up with as much bacon as possible at the buffet and made our way down the Strip (the guys wanted to see the Mirage, etc.) Here is where we found out another golden rule about Las Vegas:
Everything is Far Away in Vegas
From the air and on the map, Las Vegas Boulevard looks very easy to walk along. It is, except that every casino is about 1 mile long, and you are usually forced off the road and into the property (great marketing, as far as I am concerned). The North end of the Strip doesn’t have a lot to offer, so after we had walked for what seemed like an eternity in the heat, we decided we needed to stop and get some drinks and maybe throw down some winnings. Two more rules here for you:
Do Not Order Anything Served in a Yard Glass or That Hangs Around your Neck
We ended up at Slots O’ Fun, outside Circus Circus. We sat down at the bar, and when we were offered a Yard of Long Island Iced Tea, we all decided this was the right size of beverage for big shots like us. A couple of yards later, we had the courage to jump into a game, which seemed like a great idea and was very easy for us to play.
Do Not Play War in a Casino
War! Come on, this game is so easy to play. Just flip cards and win, just like when we played with our parents and grandparents as kids, right? Well, we learned a valuable lesson that day: our grandparents let us win. An hour later, we were a combined -$750 and not only that, probably had some sort of sugar and alcohol poisoning to accompany our shame. We stepped back into the blazing sun, and after a long, very vomit-inducing walk back to the Sahara, we decided to leave the sightseeing for another trip.
The rest of the trip wasn’t nearly as crazy as those first two days, but overall I did learn some valuable lessons that I would apply to future trips to Las Vegas. You’ll be reading about some of those in the next installment of Vegas on the Cheap.
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