Where to Stay
You've decided on your first trip to Vegas, now you have to sort through the array of decisions governing your trip. You're got three major things to settle on first. They are:
- What time of year to visit?
- Where to stay, the Strip, Downtown or Off-Strip?
- Which hotel is the bet fit?
What time of year to visit?
There's no bad time of year to make your Vegas run but there are times when the city is much more crowded that usual, meaning hotels and gambling tables get more expensive. In general you can count on giant crowds and higher costs around:
- New Year's
- The Consumer Electronics Show (held each January)
- Super Bowl weekend
- The March NCAA basketball tournament
- The National Association of Broadcasters convention (held each April)
- Major boxing or UFC matches
Summer holidays that extend the weekend -- Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day -- also boost the number of Vegas visitors, but not as much as the events listed above.
While it's more difficult to find a really good room rate during these peak times, you can find exceptional bargains if you go during slow periods. If you visit around Christmas, for example, even very nice hotels usually have rooms available at a bargain rate. You can also save money by taking your trip in the middle of the week instead of over a weekend. Room rates tend to be about 25 percent to 50 percent less expensive Sundays through Thursdays.
The Strip, Downtown or Off-Strip?
The part of town in which you stay will almost entirely determine what kind of trip you'll have, so it's important to figure out what you really want before choosing your hotel.
When to choose the Strip
If you're looking for the "Full Vegas Experience" -- flashy places, over-the-top attractions, fine dining, big-time shows, hot nightlife and world-class shopping -- then you'll definitely want to stay on the Strip. The downsides are that it's more expensive and, because the hotels are so huge, it's more difficult going to many different places. If you want to visit multiple Strip casinos you're in for a lot of walking.
For most folks the decision-making about which part of town can end here. Downtown and Off-Strip have a lot going for them, but almost all first-timers want to see the Strip, and it's usually the best first for new visitors. It's gimmicky, it can be crowded, it often doesn't have the same kind of bargains that can be found in other areas, but it is truly VEGAS! in all capital letters.
When to choose Downtown
If gambling is your thing -- REALLY your thing, as in that's pretty much the entire reason you want to go to Las Vegas -- Downtown may be the best fit. It's an older part of town, the casinos are smaller and the places are less expensive. There's not much going on in the way of shows or nightlife, things revolve around slot machines and table games. You can walk into a half-dozen Downtown spots looking for a cheap blackjack table in the time it would take to get from one Strip casino to the next.
When to choose an Off-Strip hotel
When we talk about Off-Strip on FirstTimeLasVegas.com, we're really referring to four places: the Stratosphere, the Hard Rock, the Rio and the Palms. Of those, the last three are fantastic party spots. They tend to draw a young, attractive, lively crowd willing to spend a fair amount of cash to have a great time. The poolside social scene and the nightlife are the major lures, with gambling falling into the "we can do that, too" category. If you're in your 20s hoping to score, and don't mind splurging on expenses, any of those three would be an excellent choice. Just be aware you're not going to be able to walk to another casino if things don't work out the way you hope at your home base. The Strip and Downtown are both a short cab ride away.
The fourth major Off-Strip casino, the Stratosphere, almost belongs in a category to itself. Many sources actually list the Strat as being on the Strip, and a case could be made that it is. After all, it does have a Las Vegas Boulevard address. But it's so far to the north of other far-end hotels like Circus Circus and the Riviera that we can't call it a Strip casino. Especially since it's surrounded by a fairly bad neighborhood. Walking to the Strat at night would not be a wise thing. It's a really nice place with the misfortune of being located in kind of a No-Man's Land. Because of it's isolation it's hard to recommend anyone stay at the Strat -- with the exception of families traveling with children, as this is one of the few Vegas spots where the kids will be able to enjoy themselves -- but it's a place everyone should visit. The tower-top observation deck gives the best view of the town at night. It's worth cab fare and the cost of deck admission.
(Note: Another hotel, LVH-Las Vegas Hotel & Casino [formerly known as the Las Vegas Hilton] is sometimes considered an Off-Strip location because it is not situated directly on Las Vegas Boulevard and is a little apart from the other hotels in the area. However it's also a stop on the Las Vegas monorail, which is one of the main ways of getting around the Strip. So for our purposes we'll consider it to be a Strip hotel.)
Which hotel to book?
Here's what it comes down to: Is the hotel going to be simply a place to hang your clothes and go to sleep, or do you want to bask in total luxury? Or, like most visitors, do you want something in the middle?
Finding bare-bones accommodations on the cheap isn't hard -- almost anywhere Downtown or Casino Royale, Excalibur or Circus Circus on the Strip would fit the bill -- and it's easy to find spots for ultra-luxury -- the Wynn, Encore, the Venetian, the Palazzo, the Bellagio and Caesars Palace would all make the short list -- it's the mid-range hotels where it becomes harder to decide. Finding the best hotel is usually a matter of figuring out what you want from your trip. If you're a young single person looking for nightlong parties, one of the Off-Strip properties like the Hard Rock or the Palms may be best. If you want to explore lots of places, then a mid-Strip location would be where to start looking.
To help make your choice, we've compiled many broad categories with recommended hotels for each. Looking through there should put you on the right path to picking the best spot to stay.