It might seem weird, since people generally think one thing when they come to Las Vegas: Big money. But enough inexpensive fun exists here to fill a trip without stinging stakes. Examples: $45 rooms at the Monte Carlo, slow-paced poker games, and free attractions, from lion-watching to a man-made volcano.
"It's the whimsy - it's just fantasy enough. It doesn't take itself so seriously that you can't have fun while you're enjoying the entertainment," said Jan Jones, senior vice president of communications and government relations for Harrah's Entertainment and a former mayor of Las Vegas.
"You're not supposed to be overtaken by the grandeur, you're supposed to be captivated by the creativity," she said.
Where to stay
As with any resort destination, the best deals are midweek and offseason nights. Expect to pay more on weekends.
Check with the hotels, as they often offer the lowest rates themselves, especially in direct-mail offers to customers belonging to loyalty programs.
Overall, average daily room rates were down 9.2 percent for the first nine months of 2008 compared with the same time period last year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Officials at MGM Mirage, which owns 10 hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, say the company's resorts guarantee the lowest rates when booking online through the individual properties. Some examples from now through March include: $64 per night at the MGM Grand (800-280-8271, mgmgrand.com) or $45 per night at the Monte Carlo (two-night minimum, 866-919-1960, montecarlo.com).
Things to do
THE BELLAGIO FOUNTAINS
Lounge acts and good people-watching posts are plentiful on the Strip, but it's tough to beat the beauty of the fountains at Bellagio.
Sidewalk space is free for people to gather and watch the water dance to whatever's playing, whether it's classical music, opera or popular tunes. Below the surface, the 8-acre lake holds some 1,000 nozzles and about 4,000 lights programmed to create complex choreography. Showtimes are every half-hour starting at 3 p.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends, with shows every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. until midnight (except on windy days).
THE (NEW) MIRAGE VOLCANO
Flames dance for roughly five minutes to music from Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian tabla musician Zakir Hussain (every hour on the hour from dusk until 11 p.m., mgmmirage.com).
ANIMALS & OTHER SHOWS
Off the Strip, the Show in the Sky at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino features a female student cast of singers and dancers taking over one side of the casino, riding floats on tracks from the ceiling and performing on the hour every hour from 7 p.m. to midnight.
Flamingos at the wildlife habitat at Flamingo Las Vegas and lions at the MGM Grand.
Those entertained by basic Vegas glitz and glam should simply walk through Caesars Palace and the Bellagio (including a stop at Bellagio's seasonally changing botanical garden), the Venetian and Palazzo (through the Grand Canal Shoppes with its daily street performers) or the Wynn Las Vegas (wynnresorts.com).