Nongamblers make up a larger and larger percentage of Las Vegas visitors every year, whether they come with gamblers or with others uninterested in gaming. Fortunately, there’s plenty for such people to do, as Vegas continues its transformation into a full-service vacation destination. Here are just a few favorite nongambling activities and pastimes culled from researchers and readers.
10. The best free view on Fremont Street. Sure, you can get right in the downtown crowds if you want, but wouldn’t you rather sit on a balcony higher up? Maybe enjoy the beverage of your choice while people-watching the mobs below and the glittering lights of the Fremont Street Experience above? Then head down Fremont to Fitzgerald’s. Walk to the back of the casino and take the escalator up to the second floor. Walk back toward the front of the casino, past the food court, and out on the balcony. Get there early for the light show or concerts.
9. Pick up a little something for your gambling pals. If your favorite card sharks are too busy at the tables (or already went home broke), they’ll appreciate a token of your Vegas esteem. The justifiably famous Gambler’s General Store (off I-15 between the Strip and downtown) offers a mind-boggling array of gambling paraphernalia, from roulette wheels to blackjack tables to personalized poker chips.
8. Shopping nirvana. The newly renovated Fashion Show Mall on the Strip offers massive department stores like Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, just to name a few. Filling in the gaps between these colossal retail motherships are myriad boutiques and specialty shops of every description. And prices here are often much less painful than in the ornate casino shopping galleries.
7. Get some fresh air. Remember what sunshine feels like? Take an afternoon to visit the Red Rock National Conservation Area, only a 20-minute drive from the Strip. Visitors of any age and ability can enjoy Red Rock, as there’s an easy driving loop that allows you to view and enjoy the spectacular desert canyonland from the comfort of your car. Or stop at any of the frequent turnouts and go for an invigorating hike or picnic.
6. Terror at 1,149 feet. The thrill rides atop the Stratosphere were scary enough already. The “tamest” of them, the High Roller, is a roller coaster that zips around the crown of the tower. Then there’s the Big Shot, which launches victims straight up the tower’s needle. And now there’s the new X-Scream, the worst/best of the trio, a sadistic see-saw that dangles unfortunates off the tower’s sheer edge. A fourth torture device is planned for 2005.
5. After-after-after hours nightlife. One of the longest-running late-night lounges in Vegas, Drai’s makes its home on the Strip in the basement of the Barbary Coast. This sensual suite of red-light rooms attracts night owls of every description. Though “After Hours” at Drai’s supposedly starts at midnight, don’t bother showing up before 2 a.m. And if you want to stake out a table, be prepared to shell out for the privilege.
4. Two words: mechanical bull. At the other end of the spectrum (and the other end of the Strip), Gilley’s at the New Frontier is the original hoedown throwdown. Bring your cowboy boots and denim, and leave the Prada behind — most folks here may be more hat than cattle, but city slickers and cowpokes alike can still bond over the beauties of bikini mud wrestling.
3. Indulge your inner speed demon. The Richard Petty Driving Experience runs laps in NASCAR stock cars at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. You can shell out $100 to ride along with a pro driver as he hits the gas and turns left, or work your way up to the “Advanced Racing Experience” at $3,000 for 40 solo laps (or $75 per lap).
2. Hit the links. Las Vegas is a worldwide golf destination, but many of the premiere courses are private or reserved for guests of certain hotels. One exception is Reflection Bay at the Lake Las Vegas Resort. Rates for play top $200, but if you’re a true golf connoisseur, consider making this a present to yourself. You won’t regret it. Mixing wild desert terrain and gorgeous landscaping and water views, this course has won multiple awards from Golf, Golf Digest, Travel & Leisure, and many others.
1. Simply the best show in town. Cirque du Soleil’s show has set the standard for Las Vegas production shows since it opened in December 1992. Tickets run a little under $100 ($60 for some special sections), and it’s worth every penny. Though certainly on the weird and whimsical side, you would be hard pressed to find its equal for sheer creativity and athletic rigor. Bizarre, funny and stunning, Mystere showcases clowns, acrobats, dancers and performers almost impossible to describe — and it’s been number one in the Unofficial Guide rankings for several years running.
Chris Mohney is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas.