Amanda Friedman

You don’t have to be a high roller to travel to Vegas in style. Here, T+L’s tips for playing your cards right—and saving a bundle—in Sin City.

August 12, 2009

9 A.M.

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.

9:30 A.M.

"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.

10:30 A.M.

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.

12 P.M.

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.

1:15 P.M

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.

2:40 P.M.

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).

 

4 P.M.

 

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.

6:30 P.M.

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.

8 P.M.

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

9:30 P.M.

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.

11:30 P.M.

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).

Bargain

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.

Money-Saving Tips

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).

Peppermill's Fireside Lounge

With colorful neon lights, cozy black booths, faux vines and a blazing fire pit surrounded by bubbling water, Peppermill’s Fireside Lounge is an old-school Vegas experience like no other. For decades, locals and in-the-know tourists have been stopping by this casual diner on the Strip for 24-hour breakfasts, pre-party dinners and late-night snacking. Of course, snacking isn’t quite the appropriate term since every dish at the Peppermill comes in heaping portions, from the towering pancake stacks and enormous omelets to the 13-pound fruit plate and gravy-drenched country fried steak. The potent, brightly colored cocktails are equally gargantuan and amazingly tasty.

The Buffet at TI

Hailed as one of the most scrumptious all-you-can-eat spreads in Vegas, the Buffet at TI specializes in five types of cuisine: American, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and sugar – lots of of the latter. Amidst rich dark wood, shimmering mirrors and a cozy ambiance, patrons can dive into cheesy omelets, oven-baked pizzas, fresh sushi, decadent made-to-order pastas, barbecue pulled pork, creamy spoon bread, made-to-order salads and flavorful fried rice. However, if there were ever a buffet at which diners should save room for dessert, it’s this one as the sweet treats range from crème brulee to cotton candy to addictive mini donuts fresh from the fryer.

Mon Ami Gabi

Named for celebrated chef and owner Gabino Sotelino, this lovely sidewalk bistro is renowned for its delicious and surprisingly affordable French cuisine. Patrons can choose to sit beneath glittering chandeliers in the exquisite dining room or outside on the patio which features spectacular views of the Bellagio fountains. For brunch, the fluffy blueberry French toast and succulent corned beef hash topped with poached eggs are both delectable, while dinnertime masterpieces include the creamy baked cheese appetizer, crave-worthy French onion soup and melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon with decadent merlot butter and crisp frites. Follow your feast with a blissful bananas foster crepe.

Terrace Point Cafe

 

Overlooking the sparkling pool and gardens at Wynn Las Vegas, this casually elegant café is ideal for both breakfast and lunch. Patrons can sit in the bright, airy dining room, adorned with lavish draperies and plush seating, or outdoors on the poolside terrace beneath large umbrellas and cooling misters. For breakfast, large cheerful mugs of coffee, fresh squeezed juices and fabulous morning cocktails awaken taste buds just in time for delectable dishes like the rich lobster eggs Benedict or the famous chicken and waffles drizzled with spiced syrup. During lunchtime, the juicy burgers on homemade buns are always a hit.

Mix, Las Vegas

Featuring some of the best views in Vegas, Mix is located on the 64th floor of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay and is lined with enormous wall-to-wall windows overlooking the Strip. In the all-white dining room, patrons are seated beneath a 24-foot chandelier comprised of 15,000 hand-blown Murano glass bubbles. The French-American menu from renowned chef Alain Ducasse offers specialties such as lobster au curry and filet mignon Rossini with foie gras and black truffle. Diners also enjoy the complimentary pre-dessert of freshly baked madeleine cookies.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas

France's "Chef of the Century" Joel Robuchon loosens his tie a bit for this sleek, open-plan, black and red kitchen, where diners order from the bar or high-top tables. Seasonal discovery menus are playful, though devotees will look for Robuchon's signature items, like Le Caille—carmelized free range quail stuffed with foie gras and served with his mashed potatoes (which have their own cult following).

Luxor

Featuring a 30-story black glass exterior topped with the world’s brightest light beam, the Luxor is one of the most recognizable buildings on the Strip. Opened in 1993, the hotel was originally designed with an Egyptian theme, but the theme was slowly phased out during a decade-long renovation officially announced in 2006. The third-largest hotel in the world, the Luxor offers 4,400 rooms and suites lining two towers as well as the resort’s iconic pyramid. Highlights include the 120,000-square-foot casino, celeb-frequented nightspots like LAX, and acclaimed shows such as Carrot Top and Cirque du Soleil’s Criss Angel Believe.

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