No Las Vegas travel guide would be complete without listing the many attractions to be enjoyed in Vegas. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it includes the highlights (in my opinion) and should give you a base from which to start your trip planning.
Bellagio Fountain Show (free): This is my #1 recommended attraction for any Las Vegas vacation. The fountains are choreographed to music and go off every 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on the day and time. The schedule for the shows can be found at the website, as well as a list of music. My favorite moments in Vegas consist of watching the fountains dance to Rondine al Nido (Luciano Pavarotti) or Con Te Partiro (Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman). It brings tears to my eyes.
Bellagio Conservatory (free): The conservatory (a.k.a. the Botanical Garden) changes its flower displays each season. They really do an amazing job creating panoramas with flowers, and the attention to detail is fabulous. The best display I saw here was in fall of 2006, when they created miniature replicas of major national landmarks. It was very cool. While you’re walking through the lobby to get to the Conservatory, do look up and take note of the Chihuly glass sculpture on the ceiling. Consisting of 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers, this sculpture cost a reported $10 million.
Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, The Mirage: Siegfried and Roy have been involved in the conservation of rare white tigers for many years, and you can see some of them here at the Mirage, along with Black Panthers, Golden Tigers, Snow Leopards, and more. There is also a Dolphin Habitat, a very nice facility that includes vantage points above the pool where the dolphins swim, as well as an underwater viewing area. Admission is $15 for adults. For a much heftier price, you can be a dolphin “trainer for a day”, participating in the daily activities of the center with direct contact with the dolphins.
Mirage volcano (free): This attraction is situated in a lagoon in front of the Mirage. When darkness falls, it erupts as a fake live volcano every 15 -30 minutes.
Lobby Aquarium, the Mirage: This has always been a lovely aquarium, but has recently been renovated to be even more impressive. It’s a 20,000 gallon aquarium measuring 53 feet long, with artificial corals and a vast array of exotic sealife, including stingrays, sharks, eels, and puffer fish. According to the Mirage website, there are now more than 1,000 coral reef animals representing 60 species from Australia, the Caribbean, Fiji, and the Red Sea, among others. Located behind the front desk.
Tropical Rainforest, the Mirage: The Mirage has a lush, tropical rainforest located in the atrium just off the lobby. The rainforest includes cascading waterfalls, more than 100 different types of plants, and Palm trees that tower 60 feet under a glass dome. They have 300 orchids.
CSI: The Experience, MGM Grand: This is one of the newest attractions on the Las Vegas Strip, based on the hit CBS television show. CSI: The Experience places guests in the role of crime scene investigator as they solve one of three mysteries. Examine a crime scene, spend time analyzing evidence in a lab and try to solve the case. As a CSI fan, I had to do this and it was a blast. If you find the $30 price tag too high (as I did), try to secure a half-price ticket via Goldstar Events or one of the Tix4Tonight booths in Las Vegas.
The Mob Attraction, Tropicana: This attraction walks you through the history of the mob in Las Vegas, with timelines and quite a few interesting artifacts. But what makes it most fun is the interactive element that puts you in the position of a new mob initiate. How you interact with the Attractions actors throughout the attraction decides whether or not you get “whacked” at the end. You can read my full review here. (Don’t worry, it’s reopened since I wrote that post.)
Shark Reef, Mandalay Bay: Billed as “North America’s only predator-based aquarium and exhibit,” this is a great way to spend some time in Vegas. It has sharks of various kinds, piranha, golden crocodiles, and endangered green sea turtles, among other things. See website for current price and hours.
Fremont Street Experience (free): There is a canopy over a section of Fremont Street downtown, where all the old-time casinos are, and every hour starting at dusk, a light show takes place on the canopy. It’s pretty neat to see at least once. For a few seconds, take a look around you at all the other people; one of the most amusing things about this show is how all activity on the street comes to a stop, and everyone just stands staring up at the canopy. It’s like everyone is mesmerized by a UFO or something. I highly recommend spending at least one evening Downtown during a Vegas trip. It’s got a whole different feel from the Strip. Dining is a lot cheaper here, and there are some inexpensive souvenir shops.
Gondola Ride, The Venetian: Simulate the experience of being in the real Venice with a gondola ride through the twisting indoor canals at the Venetian. The gondoliers are very talented singers. You can ride with others or pay extra for a private gondola. You can also just watch for free.
Stratosphere Observation Tower and Rides (Big Shot, Insanity, and X Scream): The Stratosphere has the tallest observation deck in the U.S. at 1,149 feet. It offers 360 degree views of the Las Vegas valley. Per the Stratosphere website: Big Shot shoots passengers straight up 160 feet at 45 mph until they are 1,081 feet above the Strip. X-Scream is a giant teeter-totter that dangles you 27 feet over the edge of the Tower, 866 feet above ground. Insanity extends 64 feet over the edge of the tower and spins you at a force of 3 Gs. I have been to the observation deck, and it’s really quite a view. I have not been on any of the rides, because I’m not insane.
Eiffel Tower Tour, Paris: I prefer the view of the Strip from the Eiffel Tower to the Stratosphere, since it’s closer to the actual buildings on the Strip, so you can see more details–especially the Bellagio Fountain show across the street. Dusk and darkness are the best times to go up. Beware if the wind is blowing and it’s really hot out, it can really irritate your eyes. Also the observation deck is narrow, so it can get crowded at times. Still, it’s worth checking out at least once.
Titanic: The Exhibit, Luxor: I toured this exhibit when it was at the Tropicana. This isn’t just a museum-type exhibit featuring artifacts retrieved from the Titanic, they really have gone to a lot of trouble to pull the visitor into the experience. When I entered, I was given a card with the identity of a passenger on the Titanic and a few details about her. At the end of the exhibit, there was a wall listing the dead and the survivors, so visitors could see the fate of their alter ego. Mine survived, but her husband perished. I thought it was well worth the (then) $15 price. However, since it has moved to the Luxor, the price has climbed to $27. I think that’s too high for this exhibit, but your mileage may vary. Depends on how bad you want to see this stuff, I guess.
The Pinball Hall of Fame (aka the Pinball Museum): This attraction is off-Strip at 1610 East Tropicana. It is easily accessible if you have a car, or you can take a bus or taxi to get there. Trust me, it’s well worth the trip. Relive your lost youth for a little while by playing pinball machines of yesteryear. No, you won’t win your money back, but it’ll last a lot longer than it does in a casino.
FlightLinez, the Vegas Zipline, Fremont Street: I’m a little afraid of heights, but I’ve been wanting to go ziplining for years. It’s a cool experience soaring above the heads of everyone on Fremont Street, especially if your ride is timed to coincide with one of the overhead light shows. The price is much cheaper than anywhere else I’ve seen, too. $15 for a day ride, and $20 at night.
Fall of Atlantis and Festival Fountain Shows, Caesar’s Forum Shops (free): Every hour on the hour, statues come alive at these two separate locations in the Forum Shops. In one, we see the fall of Atlantis, and in the other, a discussion between various gods and a light show. I prefer the Atlantis show, as it has better special effects–fire and water and surround vision/sound. Cheesy? Yes. But it’s free.
NYNY Rollercoaster: This coaster twists and turns on the outside facade of the hotel. It’s the first rollercoaster to feature a 180-degree “heartline” twist and dive maneuver, providing riders with heart-stopping actions and thrills (according to NYNY press materials). You can even purchase a picture of yourself “frozen in time” at 67mph. Me? I like my heart beating, thank you very much.
9/11 Tribute to Heroes at New York, NY: In the hours, days, weeks, and months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, people who couldn’t make it to New York City to pay their respects came to the New York, NY casino and resort to do so. As they did, they left behind articles commemorating the event. The resort has saved these items and created display cases of granite in front of the resort, where passers-by can view them while walking down the Strip. Among the items you’ll see are tee shirts with fire station and police department insignias, flags, and heartfelt notes.
Sirens of TI (free): This showdown between hunky pirates and gorgeous sirens takes place in front of Treasure Island nightly. The music and choreography isn’t bad. The show would be much better if the characters never opened their mouths. The crowd starts gathering about half an hour before the show to get a prime viewing spot.
Madame Tussauds, The Venetian: I visited this museum on my first Vegas trip, and then again in 2005, and felt completely differently about it the second time. If you’ve never done a wax museum, it can be a little freaky. The figures look so real sometimes you find yourself thinking they’re live people. While it’s great for photo opps, it’s a little hard for the solo visitor to get a picture of herself, say, marrying George Clooney unless she doesn’t mind asking a stranger to take her picture. I found myself bored by the museum during my second trip. They just hadn’t changed things up enough in 4 years. Also, it’s overpriced, in my opinion. If you can get a discount, do try.
Wildlife Habitat, the Flamingo (free): The Flamingo Casino and Hotel has a flock of wild Chilean flamingos, as well as ducks, koi and turtles on property, en route to the pool area.
Show in the Sky, Rio (off-Strip, free): This is an energetic, free show with floats that move around the ceiling over the casino area, music, and people throwing beads like Carnivale. They’ve revamped it recently in partnership with Victoria’s Secret, which means it’s been sexed up.