I’ve arrived on a Thursday for the low midweek rates at the Luxor (3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 888/777-0188 or 702/262-4000; www.luxor.com), a gigantic glass pyramid with a gaudy Egyptian theme (miles of fake gold and limestone, sphinxes over 100 feet tall). The Strip below is eye-popping, but my renovated west-tower room ($87) is big, clean, and surprisingly unflashy.
"You want to get to the Wynn without a taxi?" a casino worker scoffs when my boyfriend inquires about public transportation. Determined to start our day without a pricey cab ride, we stubbornly traipse through three linked, labyrinthine casinos to board the futuristic monorail ($5). Unfortunately, the free shuttle that’s supposed to link our stop to the Wynn Las Vegas is out of commission, so we end up walking the last mile. Next time, we’re springing for a cab.
There’s plenty to gawk at in the $2.7 billion Wynn casino: the kaleidoscopic mosaics on the marble floor, the trees hung with flower-covered globes, the head-spinning array of luxury shops. At the Terrace Pointe Café (3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/770-7000; www.wynnlasvegas.com), we claim a table overlooking a swimming pool ringed with manicured plants and candy-colored cabanas. I order a strawberry-topped waffle and fresh-squeezed orange juice ($16.50), and feel myself settle into vacation mode.
We head to the neighboring Venetian Casino for a free blackjack lesson. Our dealer, Mike, has a gravelly Brooklyn accent and good advice for would-be card sharks: "Don’t touch the cards. If you touch the cards we get Guido, and you don’t want to meet Guido." Suitably intimidated, I bolster the whirlwind lesson with a blackjack strategies card ($2) and promise to give the game an earnest try—later. In the meantime, I feed handfuls of quarters into the slot machines ($5), but luck’s not on my side.
Strains of "O Sole Mio" lure us to the Grand Canal, where striped-shirted singing gondoliers propel tourists down the canal. At St. Mark’s Square, I spring for a scoop of hazelnut gelato ($5), then spot a pair of faux- diamond earrings ($15) in a souvenir shop. Bling?On a budget?Onto my ears they go.
Back on the Strip, I buy a coffee mug ($4.30) splashed with the old fabulous las vegas sign from a sidewalk stall. We stop for lunch at Mon Ami Gabi (3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/944-4224; www.monamigabi.com), a French bistro that somehow manages to convey an authentic Parisian charm (unlike the Eiffel Tower straddling the adjacent casino). I refuel with a chicken-and-mushroom crêpe and a glass of red wine ($19.70).
Eager to try my hand again at blackjack (and earn enough money to hit the Wynn shops in earnest), I strut into the luxurious Bellagio Casino like a high roller, "diamond" earrings flashing. I set my cash down on a $10-minimum blackjack table (one hand, $10) and promptly lose. With no play money to wager, I slink back to our hotel for a rest.
To avoid the after-10 p.m. cover charge at Mix Lounge (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/632-7777), we stroll over for pre-dinner cocktails. Located on the 64th floor of the Hotel at Mandalay Bay, it’s a spectacular space, with curvy black-leather banquettes, glowing round tables, and floor-to-ceiling windows with 360-degree views of the Strip and the valley. I try the citrusy Mixopolitan ($15), and we watch gape-mouthed as a lightning storm rolls in—this is by far the best show in town.
Eager to check out Vegas’s new breed of "hip buffets" (a contradiction in terms?), we take a cab ($14) to The Buffet at TI (3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/894-7111). The Jeffrey Beers-designed dining room is sleek and modern, with a smorgasbord of dishes ($20). The desserts alone are worth the trip—seven flavors of homemade ice cream and mouthwatering crème brûlée.
Related: 5 Best Buffets in Las Vegas
We’ve already added our names to the secret guest list at one of the city’s hottest clubs, Pure, at Caesar’s Palace (3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/731-7873) by calling the venue early in the day, so we breeze in past the throngs and avoid the $20 cover charge. We sip gin and tonics ($10), scout the icy, all-white interior, and hit the dance floor.
We’re not ready for bed, so we catch a ride on a double-decker Deuce bus ($2) to Peppermill’s Fireside Lounge (2985 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/735-4177), a 1970’s throwback with low couches and a fire pit, mirrored ceilings, and genteel cocktail waitresses in long black gowns. Martinis ($8.50) in hand, we toast our good luck: we’ve still got enough cash for a cab ride back to our pyramid.
TOTAL SPENT: $239
Hit the Strip midweek or during the summer for rock-bottom hotel rates—often half what you’d pay on a weekend or in high season. The best deals are online.
Average Five-Star Hotel Rate
From $56 (low) to $416 (high).
Drive-Thru Wedding Ceremony ($30) at the Little White Wedding Chapel (1301 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/382-5943).
Breaking the Budget
Try the six-course tasting menu ($225) at Joël Robuchon at the Mansion (3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/891-7125), the legendary French chef’s first U.S. outpost.
Score same-day, half-price tickets to Vegas shows at the Tix4Tonight booth in front of Neiman Marcus at the Fashion Show Mall (877/849-4868). Brush up on your poker skills with free lessons at Paris Las Vegas (9 a.m.), and the Venetian (throughout the day).