12 Tips Every First-Time Las Vegas Visitor Should Know

Take lots of photos. Enjoy the people watching. Get the free drinks — and 9 more tips for making the most of your trip to Vegas.

Take lots of photos. Enjoy the people watching. Get the free drinks — and 9 more tips for making the most of your trip to Vegas. (©Andrew Zarviny/Shutterstock)

Congratulations, you’re coming to Vegas! You’re about to indulge in what 41 million visitors to this neon-laden paradise did last year — unforgettable restaurants, fabulous shows, a cornucopia of shopping and attractions that run the gamut from mild to wild, with myriad options for all budgets. We’ve prepared for your visit with a list of tips you need to know to maximize your fun quotient, avoid wait times and unnecessary expenses. Follow this guide and you’ll look like a seasoned pro who has been to the city many times, rather than a first-timer straight off the plane. Now, let the adventure begin!

1. DISTANCES ARE FURTHER THAN THEY APPEAR

We really wish that, on our first visit, someone had told us not to walk all the way from the Bellagio to the MGM Grand — sure, it doesn’t LOOK far, but a couple of blocks in and you’ll wonder what made you do it. The Strip is four miles long, and because the buildings are so close together, they appear closer than they really are — a two building walk from, say, Bally’s to Planet Hollywood is manageable, but any more than that, and you’ll wear out your walking shoes.

The Las Vegas Monorail (©John Edward Linden Photography)

Bonus tip: Use walkways inside and outside the casino, as well as trams and the Las Vegas Monorail to get where you want to go more quickly. For example, you can walk in air-conditioned comfort from Bally’s to Paris, Bellagio to Vdara and Excalibur to Luxor to Mandalay Bay. Or, take the tram between the latter, a tram between Mirage and Treasure Island or the Monorail to seven stops on the Strip.

2. DON’T BUY DRINKS IN THE CASINO

If you’re going to play slots, video poker or table games, don’t purchase cocktails at a casino bar beforehand — wait until the cocktail waitress approaches you. In an effort to keep you gambling, the casinos offer free cocktails; you may have to wait a little longer for it, but you’ll save money. And if you’re hitting the clubs later, start your drinking on the casino floor so there’s less you have to spend — for any type of performance, even a DJ spinning, you’ll get hit with an additional live entertainment tax. Better to start early!

3. PLAN YOUR ATTACK

As with any new travel venue, you’ll get the most out of your Vegas vacation when you familiarize yourself with your surroundings first. After you check in, take a walk around your hotel and casino, and note where the vending machines, restaurants, restrooms and seating areas are. Once you’ve had a rest, it’s time to tackle the Strip — sometimes seeing the sights is overwhelming in itself. To get some insider’s knowledge on the buildings, the history of Las Vegas and more, hop on a Big Bus and enjoy a narrated tour of the city — there are 20+ stops between the Strip and downtown. Our recommendation: stay on the bus for the entire length of the tour before hopping off; this way you’ll be able to makes a note of your must-visit stops and plan your attack. Don’t fear, however — you’ll be able to get back on any bus within a 24- or 48-hour period, depending on the tour length you choose.

Sightseeing on the Big Bus (©Big Bus Las Vegas)

4. CARRY A LIGHT JACKET, WATER AND SUNSCREEN EVERYWHERE

It may sound silly, but even in the middle of summer, you’ll want to carry a light jacket or wrap with you — it may be scorching hot outside, but casinos overcompensate by blasting the AC and once inside you’ll be chilled to the bone. But even if you run out without a cover up, you never, ever, want to be without a bottle of water and sunscreen. With so much walking involved on the Strip, you’ll get dehydrated on even a short excursion — you want to keep your fluids up so you can make the most of every day and night! And even if you’re here in fall or winter, the sun still shines brightly (we’ve had record highs this February), so put on the sunscreen before you head outdoors and apply every hour.

5. SIGN UP FOR PLAYER’S CLUBS

Even if you don’t plan on doing much gambling, signing up for a casino player’s club is a great way to get freebies and discounts on shows, restaurants, attractions and more. Swipe it everywhere you go within the property. If you’re gambling, you definitely don’t want to be without a player’s card, because accruing your points may mean enough for freebies on a return trip to Vegas!

6. TAKE GAMBLING LESSONS

Feel intimidated by poker, blackjack, baccarat and other table games? Not sure if gambling is for you? Why not find out by checking out the free gambling lessons hosted by Las Vegas casinos large and small? You’ll get a primer on the rules of the games and pick up crucial things such as dealer-speak, where to sit at a table and more. And before you arrive in town, head to our page on gambling basicssince it’s good to have at least some preparation. We also like this page of information about sports betting; otherwise your first time inside a Vegas sportsbook can be a bit overwhelming.

7. IF POSSIBLE, AVOID PEAK DINNER TIMES

The heaviest dinner times in Las Vegas are between 6–8 pm. If you’re flexible, it’s best to try and have dinner between 5–5:30 and 8:30–9 pm, particularly if you are visiting a buffet, as lines can get unmanageable at peak time and the multiple hours you spend in line could have been better served anywhere else! Certainly there will be cases in which dining early or late is simply not possible, but it never hurts to be aware of primetime.

The Las Vegas Strip at night (©Las Vegas News Bureau)

8. ALLOW WAITING TIME FOR CABS

If we had a nickel for every time we’ve heard of some being late to a show or dinner with friends because they didn’t factor in the time it took to wait for a taxi, we’d own a casino by now! In general, you should allow for no less than 30 minutes; bump it up to an hour at the prime dinner times we mentioned above. If you’re leaving a convention, concert, or other event that draws thousands of people, two hours may be a better estimate. However, in those cases, you may want to consider #9 …

9. RIDE-SHARE

Ride-sharing encompasses a few different things in Las Vegas. Sure, it behooves you to ask those in taxi lines around you at the airport or your hotel if they’re going to the same property/near the property you are. If you’re at a convention, they’ll even help you with this. It could also mean taking a shuttle from the airport — your price will be less, but you’ll have to wait as others are dropped off at their destinations as well. Last but not least, if time isn’t a factor and you want an inexpensive way to get downtown, the Strip & Downtown Express (SDX) bus picks up at points along the Strip and take you to its end destination, the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North, and other hotspots downtown.

10. KNOW THE COSTUMED-CHARACTER GAME

Sure, it’s fun to see someone dressed up as Elmo, Bumblebee and a Minion at various points along the Strip (including at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign), but be forewarned, if you stop to take a photo with them, they expect you to pay for it. Avoid a potentially nasty situation by either taking a pass or negotiating a price you feel comfortable with beforehand. In most cases, these costumed characters are at iconic sights you snap photos of anyway — but if you simply must have Big Bird in your photo at the Las Vegas sign, so be it.

Showgirls pose at the Las Vegas sign (©Las Vegas News Bureau)

11. SNAP PHOTOS EVERYWHERE

Whether it’s with or without the aforementioned characters, be sure to constantly charge your phone, camera and any other device which can chronicle your first experience in Las Vegas. Bring back-up batteries, power cords and memory cards. Take pictures of everything and anything — you don’t want to forget one moment of your first trip to Vegas!

12. BE OPEN TO ANYTHING

When you come to the adult paradise that is Las Vegas, do so with an open mind. Things not going according to plan? Take a breath and go with the flow. It may lead you to something cool you may not have discovered otherwise. You never know what you’ll encounter when you walk down the Las Vegas Strip. But that’s half the fun. The people-watching in this town is AMAZING!

A final note: Should you find yourself doing something that your friends or family would look down upon, don’t feel ashamed, we won’t tell anyone. Really. It’s in our motto. Just don’t post the compromising photos on Facebook. If you do, then we can’t help you, and someone would probably find those photos if you ever tried to run for Congress.

By Jennifer McKee