Free or cheap
If you've been hit hard at the gambling tables you may be looking to find some attractions that won't take much of a further bite out of your wallet. Luckily there are some pretty cool things to see and do that are free, or pretty close to it. Here are our favorites:
The fountain show at the Bellagio
It's really hard to describe in writing just how great the fountain show is. The bare description of if -- "It's a bunch of giant fountains shooting huge geysers of water in time to old-school Vegas music or showtunes" -- doesn't come close. The fountains are impressive as hell.
The show starts every half-hour between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., then every 15 minutes until midnight. It's very good in the day, but even better after dark. Head over the Bellagio several minutes before a scheduled start time to get a front-row spot at the sidewalk in front of the hotel's lagoon.
Fremont Street Experience
In a way this is every bit as cheesy as it sounds -- loud music and a light show projected onto the canopy covering several blocks of the Downtown area -- but it's cheesy in a good Vegas kind of way. The kind of cheese you can get caught up in and find yourself thinking "Yeah!" as a huge projected image of a fighter jet comes screaming overhead. Maybe the Fremont Street Experience isn't worth making a special trip Downtown for if you're on the Strip, but it's definitely worth taking a break to catch if you're in the area. Shows start hourly after dark.
The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay (about $17)
There are sharks. Lots and lots of sharks. Along with rays, crocodiles, big-ass sea turtles and a komodo dragon. Really, what else needs to be said about this awesome place. It rates near the very top of my "must see" list of Vegas attractions.
Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden at the Mirage (about $15)
Dolphins, lions, tigers and a lush garden all in one stop. It's a very peaceful experience in the middle of the Strip's bustle. When looking at the white tigers you might feel a little guilty to find yourself wondering "Was it one of these that went after Siegfried? Or was it Roy? Whichever one it was who got mauled." Don't worry. That thought flits through everyone's head.
The Auto Collection at The Quad (about $9)
Packed full of classic cars that range from the ultra-high-end (a 1929 Duesenberg built for Howard Hughes and later owned by Wayne Newton) to the plain curious (a 1974 VW Bug with only 80 miles on it and the original price sticker still on the window). I'm pretty far from being an auto enthusiast, but even I enjoyed my visit here. Serious Car People would probably really love it.
Wax statues and a gondola ride at the Venetian ($25 and $16)
Elvis isn't around Las Vegas anymore (he's either dead or working at a Burger King in Kentucky, depending upon which version of the story you choose to believe), so if you want to have your picture taken with him you'll have to visit Madame Tussauds Wax Museum inside the Venetian. There you're free to stare as long as you'd like into the creepy unliving eyes of statues that bear eerie resemblances to celebrities. Here's a hint: Whisper something dirty into the ear of the Jennifer Lopez sculpture and watch her blush.
While you're at the Venetian drop another few dollars and take a gondola ride. The gondoliers singing will surprise you. Not just any schmuck who can row a boat and sing a few Italian lyrics is hired. These guys are a little opera to themselves.
Stratosphere observation deck (about $14)
Outside a helicopter ride (see "Unusual") there is no better way to see Las Vegas than from the observation deck 869 feet in the air. It's impressive at any time, but go at night for the best view of Vegas' dazzling lights. If you're a bold sort, jump on the tower-top rides. (More on these in the "Unusual" section.)