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Las Vegas Strip Walking Tour
Take in the sights in the heart of the Vegas Strip on a sunny spring day with a first hand account of casinos, games, people-watching, and attractions.
Starting Out | Planet Hollywood | Paris | City Center | Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon
Casino Royale & Harrah's | Flamingo & Venetian | Bellagio & Palazzo | Wynn & Encore
After lounging by the pool at the Monte Carlo and a quick brunch at the buffet, it was time to finally hit the strip. The conference was over and I was ready to get out and explore some of the other casino properties. If you've never been to Las Vegas, I strongly recommend getting out at least one day and walking around. With some of the mega-resorts serving as self-contained entities, it's easy to wind up never leaving the hotel. That might save you some money with cab fare, but it falls short of a true Las Vegas experience. The strip has a lot of interesting architecture and attractions, and what better way to experience them than up close? If you plan to go for a stroll, be sure to bring some comfortable shoes because there will be a lot of walking.
It was another NBA playoff day, so my goal was to walk to the Wynn Sportsbook, which was a little over two miles up the road, to watch the game. I planned to stop in a few casinos along the way to play some blackjack and check out the different scenes. I left the Monte Carlo at 2pm and the game started at 7:30, so that was plenty of time, right?
Earlier in the day, while lounging at the pool, I was tempted to get one of the jumbo pina coladas that are popular poolside beverages. Reminding myself that I needed to eat more than drink at that point in the day, I decided to wait until later. So that became my first order of business during my walking tour. I'd forgotten that there is no open container law in Las Vegas, and was quickly reminded of that after walking about twenty feet and seeing people chugging bottles of beer. I figured I'd just get my pina colada - admittedly not the most 'manly' drink (perfectly acceptable, though, if you're laying beside a pool) - at Planet Hollywood, which was my first stop.
Planet Hollywood, or PH for short, sits catty corner from the Monte Carlo, and across the street from the new City Center. I hadn't been inside since it made its transition from the old Aladdin years back, so I was curious to see if it lived up to its billing as a hip and trendy place for the slightly younger crowd to play. Outside the resort, right on the strip, was a Pink's Hot Dog, an L.A. icon famous for their frankfurters. I strolled inside Planet Hollywood and liked what I saw in terms of the casino. It was decent sized and dimly lit, like the Monte Carlo's, providing a relaxing vibe. Go-go dancers swayed above the table games in one section, and the second floor had a cool lounge that overlooked most of the gaming floor. My search for a decent blackjack table proved fruitless. There was only one $15 minimum game and the table was full. There were, however, several games of blackjack switch, attended to by bored looking dealers with no customers. Management may want to consider balancing the game variety a little.
After walking around a while, I found a drink waitress and put in my order for a colada. She asked if I was playing, which caught me off guard. I suppose it made sense because the casino isn't in the business of giving away drinks to mere passers-by. I said I'd be at a nearby bank of slots, and proceeded to spend about $40 while waiting 20 minutes for my drink. At this point, I realized it would have been much faster - and cheaper - to have simply walked up to the bar and ordered. But, having spent the first 72 hours of my trip inside the Monte Carlo playing numerous sessions of blackjack, I was in the habit of ordering from the cocktail waitresses. I finally got my sought-after libation, which came fully dressed with whipped cream and a cherry - thanks! Oh well... it tasted delicious and was gone in about three sips. After burning through $40 on the dollar slots, I made my way over to a Wheel Of Fortune quarter progressive machine. Fortunately, the one I picked was on a roll with the spin signs. I made a quick $80 and cashed out. I'd spent enough time in Planet Hollywood for now, and had plenty of other places to check out on the way to the Wynn.
Heading out of Planet Hollywood, I saw lots of newly-turned 21 year olds sipping on meter-long margaritas. It was the first part of May and might have been the first 90 degree day of the season. I was kind of wishing I'd grabbed a water - or a three foot tall cocktail - to go. I wasn't out in the sun for long as I strolled into Paris, which is right next door to PH. The interior was upscale and mainly modeled after the unique and inviting style you'd find in... the real city of Paris. I didn't care for the low ceiling in the casino. It was painted sky blue with clouds to match - not exactly my style. After PH, the place felt a little stuffy and cramped. Again, I looked around for a good blackjack table, and they were all full. I settled for playing some more slots and broke even before continuing on my trek.
Being right on the strip afforded some great views of the nearby casino properties. The new City Center, with its Aria and Mandarin Oriental hotels, Veer Towers condominiums, and Crystals shopping mall was right across the street, so I took a minute to snap a shot. Finally seeing in person what took several years and over $9 billion to build was literally awe-inspiring. City Center takes up almost an entire block, and kind of redefines the landscape in an already impressive town. I had a room booked there for the last couple nights of my trip and was anticipating an even closer look.
Wading through the stream of tourists, crossing several pedestrian bridges, which were put in to help the flow of traffic along Las Vegas Boulevard (although I personally think they hinder foot traffic a little), I passed street musicians playing for tips in the hot mid-day sun, and young Mexican men attempting to pass out flyers - probably for some strip club - to everyone who walked by. They seemed to be instructed not to harass people, so if you're not interested in a flyer, just keep walking and they leave you alone.
The Old Block & Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon
I came upon what I will dub 'The Old Block'. This block on the strip actually extends slightly more than a block, beginning with Bally's - which was built in the early 1970s as the original MGM Grand, and extending through the Harrah's-owned properties. Why is it the old block? Well, it sits in the middle of all the much newer, more modern properties. I supposed this area was new thirty or forty years ago when resorts like The Sands and Desert Inn were still going strong. I didn't go into Bally's because the casino entrance is too far off the street and frankly wasn't that interested. I'm sure it's nice enough. I probably would have visited on any other day, but I had a basketball game to catch - and a bet to place before the game started. So I wandered across the street to Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon, formerly known as the Barbary Coast. The first thing that struck me was how narrow the property was - like they wedged it into a tiny slice of prime strip real estate. The second thing I noticed was the fact that there was a parking structure sitting atop the casino. The facade was done up to look like guest rooms, and there were what looked like actual guest rooms a couple floors above the parking garage. I walked in, because the entrance was literally right off the sidewalk, took a quick look at the blackjack tables, at which I didn't really see myself playing, then headed for some quarter slots. I did okay at a 3-4-5 Times Pay quarter slot, making about $40 before cashing out. I walked around for a couple minutes, looking for a bill breaker machine to cash my ticket. The casino floor felt cramped, probably due to the postage stamp size of the place. I didn't find a ticket machine until after I stumbled onto the cashier cage. While waiting in line, I noticed a small lounge area at the back which was open to the casino. Somebody was singing country music - I couldn't tell if it was karaoke or not - to an enthusiastic crowd. I thought to myself that in modern times, Bill's might qualify as a 'sawdust joint'. Maybe it had a sort of rustic, nostalgic appeal, but also definitely a low brow scene and it was time to move on.
Casino Royale & Harrah's
I found that Imperial Palace's entrance was also set back too far for me to spend time exploring, so I went next door to Casino Royale - a casino that is known for having very favorable payout rates for its slot machines. Unfortunately, the slots I played there were less than favorable, so I proceeded to Harrah's, the anchor property on this block of mostly underwhelming casinos. Despite being a little older, Harrah's was decent enough on the inside. They had a spacious casino and it was easy to find a blackjack table. After taking a seat and getting some chips, I quickly learned why there may have been so many seats available. Harrah's pays blackjacks at 6 to 5, instead of the usual 3 to 2, which is obviously better for the house. Kind of stingy for a huge casino company at their namesake property, I thought. I was betting $20 a hand, more or less holding ground, and was kind of annoyed by only winning $24 instead of $30 every time an Ace-Ten came up. No tip for the dealer this time around. It was a bonus game of blackjack - I forget which one exactly - with a side bet that offered decent payouts. Rapidly accumulating dollar chips on account of Harrah's dodgy 6:5 blackjack payout, I put a few dollars on the side bet one hand, only to be informed by the dealer that side bets had to be in multiples of $5. Give me a break. This casino was starting to rub me the wrong way, so I left the table, played a little slots, won $100 and went on my way. I will note that a lucky bloke next me at the blackjack table put four red chips ($20) on the side bet and hit the top payout, getting 30 to 1 ($600) on his bet. I congratulated him on the win, and he was very modest. Despite the unfavorable house rules, I found both the players and staff at Harrah's to be very congenial.
Flamingo & Venetian
I made a quick stop in the Flamingo to get something to drink, had a look at the Flamingo habitat exhibit, played a little more slots, won $80 at a quarter 3-4-5 Times Pay five-payline machine, and headed back to the strip. By this time, it was around 6:30 pm and I still had a little ways to go before I got to the Wynn. I made a brief jog through the Venetian, which is by no means a small property(!) I really wanted to try out the tables there, but it was getting close to game time, so I kept moving. Although my tour was brief, I was very impressed by the property and made sure to mentally bookmark it for a potential future stay.
Bellagio & Palazzo
The late evening sun made for some beautiful views of the Bellagio and Wynn resorts as I was finishing up the first part of my walking tour. Next door to the Venetian, I passed a streetside cafe at the Palazzo. A good-sized crowd of well-heeled guests were partaking in some upmarket cuisine just a few feet from the bustle of the strip. Gone were the flyer-hawkers and mid-day party crowd from just a couple blocks down the strip.
Wynn & Encore
Approaching the escalator to the pedestrian bridge over Sands Avenue, I felt like I was entering a different world. Even the approaches to the Wynn and Encore block were fancy.
Simultaneously strolling past and bidding adieu to the Palazzo, I saw an entrance to Emeril Lagasse's Stadium Grill, a combination restaurant-sportsbook with over 100 tvs. It surely sounded inviting, but I was on a mission to watch - and bet on - the NBA playoffs at the Wynn sportsbook, which was now only a stone's throw away.
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