The best things in town are free (or almost)
You can get good prime rib at a great price ($13.95) at the Frontier Room at the Barbary Coast Hotel & Casino. The meal includes soup or salad, potato and a nice slab of lean beef, available 24 hours a day.
Frontier Room, Barbary Coast Hotel & Casino, 3595 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (888) 227-2279.
This rowdy little joint offers spontaneity, a dash of glitz and zero pretense. When the mood strikes, the eye-catching staffers like to pour vodka shots directly into patrons’ mouths, gratis. Get there before 9 p.m. and avoid the $10 cover.
Beacher’s Rockhouse, 4 p.m.6 a.m., 3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (in front of Imperial Palace); (702) 699-7844.
Most people watch the fabled Bellagio fountains erupt, cascade and shimmer to the strains of classical and popular music from Las Vegas Boulevard; it’s better from in front of the casino. Shows are every half-hour from 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; every 15 minutes between 7 p.m. and midnight. On weekends, catch them every half-hour between noon and 7 p.m. and every 15 minutes between 7 p.m. and midnight.
Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (702) 693-7111, www.bellagio.com.
You’ll find free circus shows here throughout the day, with clowns, contortionists, flying trapeze artists and other acts. The Circus Theater presents performers from Argentina, Russia, Poland and other places every 30 or 45 minutes until 10:30 p.m. or later, depending on the day.
One caveat: The show I watched last only five minutes.
Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (877) 434-9175, www.circuscircus.com.
On the Strip, it’s always rush hour. To cut down on taxi fares, consider the Deuce, the popular double-decker bus. Twenty-four hour passes, available at machines at each stop, are $5. Single rides are $2, cash accepted. Tip: When the lower level jams up, head up to the second level, which is twice as roomy.
The Deuce, RTC of Southern Nevada; (702) 676-1500.
Fountains, lasers and animatronic characters tell the story of Atlantis on the hour from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. If you’re in the mall, check it out -- it’s at the far end near the Cheesecake Factory -- but don’t go out of your way.
Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (702) 731-7110, www.caesars.com.
Fremont Street Experience
The best free show in town is the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block celebration of downtown Las Vegas that includes live music and an overhead canopy that features state-of-the-art sound and light shows nightly. Winter shows are hourly from 6 p.m. to midnight.
Fremont Street Experience, 425 Fremont St.; (702) 678-5600.
In a city that seems to be overflowing with 99-cent shrimp cocktails, some of the best can be found at the Golden Gate’s Shrimp Bar & Deli, just off Fremont Street. The shrimp, ocean not tiger, came brimming over the lip of a soda fountain glass. You’ll have to pay $2 more for bigger shrimp. If you need a quick protein fix to fuel up for the casino, it’s worth it.
Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, 1 Fremont St., Las Vegas, NV 89101; (702) 385-1906.
The Golden Nugget’s new pool hadn’t opened yet when I was there, but its 200,000-gallon aquarium, which is its centerpiece, was already in the swim.
Watching its sharks and other ocean dwellers frolic around a tank that can be seen from the top of the water slide and slid through (the slide becomes clear through the heart of the tank) was thrilling and chilling. You can see the new pool-playground from public areas.
Golden Nugget, 129 E. Fremont St.; (702) 385-7111 or (800) 846-5336, www.goldenugget.com.
MGM’s lions were napping in the Lion Habitat when I strolled through the tunnel that goes through their lair. No eardrum-shattering roars and no pacing, but it still was cool to be that close to the king of the beasts.
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily at MGM.
MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (702) 891-7777; www.mgmgrand.com.
Paris Las Vegas
OK, so you pay $9 -- more than some casino breakfast buffets -- to ride an elevator. But really, everyone who visits Las Vegas should take in an aerial overview of this glittering, sprawling metropolis by night. It may be the only way to appreciate what a vast industry Sin City has become.
That elevator at Paris Las Vegas on the Strip whisks you up to a viewing platform, 460 feet high, near the top of the hotel’s faux Eiffel Tower.
I waited 12 minutes for a two-minute ride in a crowded glass elevator that offered a rapid-fire, recorded narration of the Paris monument’s history. At the top, I could stroll around the viewing platform for a spectacular 360-degree view of the city.
Open 9:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m. daily, weather permitting. $9 adults, $7 ages 6-12 and seniors 60 and over, $28 for a family (two adults, two children).
Paris Las Vegas, Eiffel Tower Experience, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (877) 796-2096, www.harrahs.com.
Watch the “Masquerade Show in the Sky” nightly at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, where colorful floats dance high above gamblers’ heads. The show and parade, with a Brazilian theme, mimics Carnaval, with costumed dancers and floats suspended from the ceiling above the casino floor. At 3, 4, 5, 6:30, 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. daily; hours vary in December.
Rio, 3700 W. Flamingo Road; (800) PLAY-RIO (752-9746), www.harrahs.com/casinos/rio/hotel-casino.
Ninety-nine cents for a foot-long hotdog? That’s just the start at Hound Doggies, a snack shop tucked away in a corner of the Penny Town slots area.
More than 20 items, including a shrimp cocktail, a bowl of chili, a slice of cheese pizza, ice cream, popcorn, beer and margaritas, cost 99 cents each.
For 50 cents more, you can get a dozen other items, including a slice of pepperoni pizza, a chicken sandwich, a hoagie or a fruit cup.
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.
Riviera Hotel and Casino, 2901 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (800) 634-3420, www.rivierahotel.com.
Birds chirp, an animatronic wolf howls, a mechanical bear waves a paw and a mechanical eagle flaps its wings during “Sunset Stampede,” a free show at Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall.
Jets of water -- pink and green -- shoot seven stories into the air, the water sparkling and dancing to the rhythms of an original symphonic piece.
The show takes place at 2, 6, 8 and 10 p.m. daily in the 10-story atrium of Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall, a mega-entertainment complex 10 miles east of the Strip.
Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall, 5111 Boulder Highway; (702) 456-7777.
-- Beverly Beyette
THEhotel (Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino)
Sky-high Mix Lounge is where locals take out-of-town visitors to impress them.
Mix, open 5-10 p.m. without a cover charge, is consummately cool, a 64th-floor bar with wall-to-wall black leather decor, red lighting and a panoramic view of the Strip and the Vegas Valley. But the best place to be is on the outside balcony, where patio heaters take the chill off.
THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (702) 632-7777 or (877) 632-7800, www.mandalaybay.com.
It’s pirates versus babes in this nightly show in the lagoon in front of the Treasure Island casino. One of the better free shows in town, “Sirens of TI” usually takes place at 5:30, 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m. during the winter. It’s closed now, however, for annual maintenance and will reopen Dec. 20. Line up early -- the 15-minute act is popular -- or check into Treasure Island: Hotel guests get VIP treatment for the show.
Treasure Island Hotel and Casino, 3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; (800) 288-7206, www.treasureisland.com.