How long has it been since you’ve really had a blast? Is Las Vegas on your list of fun places to go? Think of all the places on your Bucket List. Will the high cost of living prevent you from ever going to most of those places? Learn what the locals know about having a good time on a budget. Their Staycation just may be your dream!
Why not do something different! More and more Americans are gambling less and playing more while in Las Vegas. In response, Las Vegas casinos are giving away less and charging more for food and attractions than in the past in an effort to survive the current economic times. Here are a few ways to tip the balance in your favor!
Since my notes on ‘very affordable’ Las Vegas are 98 pages long, we will focus on ‘free’ and ‘dirt cheap’ instead. There is a way to have a blast for next to nothing if you plan a little in advance. And you can still find free stuff if you know where to look.
Window Shopping (The real thing takes money) – With a Free Show
Las Vegas has become one of the premier shopping destinations in the world. All of the shopping centers here are among the most amazing malls and boutique collections in Las Vegas, are open 7 days a week, have free parking near by, and have completely different themes for a unique feel. If shopping is your idea of having a great time, you can make an entire vacation out of all the variety in shopping at these centers.
As an extra, there is some form of free entertainment at all of them too. I have only listed 7 of Las Vegas’ many shopping centers, one for each day of the week, and all of them are on Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip.) Listed in order of location, the first is on the south end of The Strip, and the last is Downtown. There are several other major malls in Las Vegas, and every casino in town seems to have some kind of mini-mall at least. But most of them only feature what you’d expect in a mall in any city. The malls and shopping centers listed here offer a little something different to make the shopping experience a bit more special.
Town Square (about a mile south of Mandalay Bay)
Town Square has something for everyone and is one of the most family friendly places in Las Vegas. Town Square Park is a great place for a picnic and includes an outdoor children’s playground with a 2-story treehouse, a pavilion for live entertainment, special events and concerts, and a hedge maze to wander through. To survive the summer heat, there are plenty of misters, lots of shade, and covered walkways.
The shopping is small town like in atmosphere and surrounds the park. The architecture is creative (a blend of Mediterranean, Spanish, and Colonial styles) and the shops are organized by theme (children, teen, adult, etc.) Opened in 2009, this is one of the newest malls in town and comes with 3 garages for plenty of free covered parking. (Quaint street parking inside the mall is metered.) The store selection includes everything you’d expect in a mall, plus a grocery store, with plenty to keep the children busy while you’re browsing. There is also a modern 18 screen movie theater for enjoying the latest shows.
In addition to the many restaurants, there is also a nightlife here. The Blue Martini and The Grape both offer live entertainment, and the Yard House has a great selection of beer and food to go with it. Town Square is simply worth seeing, and is an easy way to get away from The Strip, without actually leaving Las Vegas Boulevard.
Hawaiian Marketplace (directly across The Strip from the new CityCenter)
The Hawaiian Marketplace was modeled after the International Marketplace in Honolulu. This is an island style outdoor marketplace with lush tropical plants, lots of bright colors, and kiosk like stores. The main stores and the push-cart kiosks specialize in souvenirs, a canopy protects the marketplace from the sun, and misting fans help to relieve the summer heat. There are various Asian themed restaurants including a buffet and a cold refreshment stand with ice cream and milkshakes.
The Hawaiian Marketplace is not a mall; imagine it more like an oasis. Just south of Harmon Avenue and directly across The Strip from CityCenter, the Hawaiian Marketplace is within walking distance of at least 10 major casinos. And parking is available next to the marketplace, or at the Polo Towers which are directly behind the marketplace.
There are free performances everyday. The Island Performers present a Luau show between 4 and 9 p.m. everyday, and the Birdman of Las Vegas presents his exotic birds on Friday through Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m.
The Crystals at CityCenter (between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo on The Strip)
The Crystals is a luxury mall that just opened in 2009 and seems like a park. Most of the stores are bigger and better than their counterparts almost anywhere, and there are quite a few stores that I don’t believe are anywhere else in Las Vegas. Since the stores are all luxury in nature, like Tiffany’s, it’s a really good thing that just looking is free. Even in a good economy, 95% of the American public wouldn’t be able to afford this shopping.
In addition to the fancy restaurants, Wolfgang Puck has a “grab and go” cafe (The Pods) for taking a bit of lunch out to the park which is itself an entertainment experience. Scattered around the park like mall are several “pocket” parks tucked into various nooks, a couple of magnificent water fountains, artwork, trees, flowerbeds and benches. So it’s not too hard to find your own little private area to enjoy a meal.
Fountains aren’t usually considered entertainment, but these two are exceptional and different. Halo is in the center of the mall, and is the only fountain you can walk through without getting wet. Imagine interconnected crystal tubes with brightly lit mini water-spouts twisting and turning at various angles in competition with nature. Glacia is by The Strip entrance, and may be the only solid water fountain you’ll ever see. 15 columns of ice rise up out of a shallow pool and are randomly carved in the process before getting a chance to melt. Background music accompanies this growing ice sculpture garden of endless shapes and transparencies.
Parking is limited and requires valet service, so I’d recommend using the lot across the street by the Hawaiian Marketplace, or using the tram that stops at The Crystals from the Bellagio or the Monte Carlo. Although the Eve nightclub is upstairs, the only free entertainment is, the unique fountains, the art, the unique park itself, and the magnificent stores linked by walkways that sometimes go to nowhere by design.
The Crystals mall is unique enough to warrant a visit just for the experience, and there are two more fountains outside the mall, yet still in CityCenter, which is huge. Lumina is a fountain with neon lit bursts of dancing water, and Focus is a 270 foot waterfall that flows in various patterns. Both are next to ARIA Resort & Casino. CityCenter also boasts a $40 million dollar Fine Art Collection strategically integrated throughout the public spaces.
Forum Shops at Caesars Palace (next to the Mirage – near Flamingo Road)
The Forum Shops began the entertainment malls of Las Vegas in 1992 as I remember it, and they still do a captivating job. The domed ceiling is sky painted and constantly changes from night to day and back at such a slow pace it seems real. Underneath this ceiling art you’ll find 160 shops and 13 restaurants designed to look like businesses along an Italian street. The latest addition includes a fabulously artistic three-story entrance on The Strip, with an indoor courtyard and one of only two circular escalators in the world. Without having to go into the casino, the Forum stands on its own as a destination while using Caesars’ free parking.
There is plenty to see just walking around the mall. The Forum Shops are a mixture of specialty shops, typical mall shops, and some of the most expensive retail shops in the world. This combination tends to attract movie stars, professional athletes, and music celebrities; making it a prime place to people watch, or maybe just a place to be seen. The specialty shops include showoff shops like Exotic Cars with its display of classic cars and fancy motorcycles. And if you’ve ever wanted to go to Italy and see the Triton Fountain or the Trevi Fountain, this is a much less expensive photo opportunity. Three-story marble replicas of the fountains can be found here.
If fish are your thing, the Atlantis Fish Aquarium, (located behind the Fall of Atlantis stage,) is a huge saltwater aquarium with over 100 different ocean species including sharks and tropical puffers. Aquarium tours are available at 3:15 p.m. on weekdays; and you can watch the divers feed the fish daily around 1 and 5p.m. For a nice extra touch, there is a guide available to answer questions during feedings.
There is also a bit of free entertainment to go along with your window shopping. At the west end of the Forum Shops is the Festival Fountain, where you can listen in on a discussion between Apollo, Bacchus, Pluto and Venus – while a laser light show accents these larger than life animatronic figures. They have the same discussion every hour during the day.
The Fall of Atlantis animatronics show is deep inside the Forum Shops, (next to the Cheesecake Factory.) King Atlas wants to pick an heir, his children try to destroy each other, a 20 foot flying beast appears, then Atlantis is destroyed by fire and sinks in the flood. Monitors have been added for effect and kids love this show, so it gets crowded early with presentations every hour starting at 10 a.m. daily.
Inside Tip: Although you can hear the show while in the patio dining area of the Cheesecake Factory, the surrounding crowd interferes with the view. So the show and dining are best done separately. I’d choose to dine inside where you can enjoy your company and the meal, then enjoy the show on its own when you’re ready.
A little detour into Caesars Palace, and over to the Augustus Tower, will find you at the Neil Leifer Gallery. Gallery admission is free, and this just may be the bribe you need to keep the interest of the sport enthusiast in your family. Neil is an award winning photographer who focuses on sports history. His pictures have been used in magazines like Time, People, and Sports Illustrated. The opportunity to see larger than life pictures, like Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston, Secretariat winning the Kentucky Derby, and even the classic of President John F Kennedy throwing out the first pitch in 1961, may be just the thing to win the day.
The Grand Canal Shoppes (at the Venetian – across from the Mirage and Treasure Island)
The Grand Canal Shoppes bill themselves as a “Streetmosphere” with cobblestone walkways that meander along a canal and a variety of live street performers. With over 80 boutiques and restaurants, this shopping stroll is quite an experience. Most of the shops are typical, although I feel the photo gallery near the Venetian main entrance is fabulous.
Artiste del Arte performs at a few locations in the mall throughout the day from around noon ’til 6 p.m. You can catch more shows around St. Mark’s Square than anywhere else though. This is a professional troupe of singers, actors and entertainers that offer a variety of unique and exciting entertainment.
Living Statues perform all day in St. Mark’s Square and in front of Ann Taylor. These performers are good enough to be mistaken for real statues, and can be a shocker when one moves a little to adjust their pose near you. They are quite amazing to behold.
Gondoliers can be seen in the canal, and put on a parade at the beginning and end of each day (9:45 a.m. & 4:15 p.m.) The Gondolier March is an opportunity to be serenaded by the Gondoliers as they march through the mall from the Food Court to St. Mark’s Square.
And be sure to go to St. Mark’s Square at 6 or 10 p.m. for a free concert. The Venetian Trio performs An Evening of Musical Elegance for all to enjoy. Some guests choose to dine nearby, getting dinner and a show.
This Venice street scene with its painted ceilings and replicas of famous Italian landmarks, punctuated with free live entertainment is another unique Las Vegas experience.
The Fashion Show Mall (at Spring Mt. Road – directly across from the Wynn)
In front of The Fashion Show Mall you can’t miss the giant flying saucer they call The Cloud, and the giant multimedia billboards with constant video displays. Once inside, you have found the largest shopping experience in all of Nevada, with over 250 retailers anchored by 7 major department stores, and a large Food Court in addition to the regular restaurants.
The layout can get a bit tricky due to the multi-level design, so you may find yourself in front of a “You are here” more often than you’d expect while getting to your destination, the runway in the center of the mall. By the way, there is an abundance of free parking accessible from Spring Mt. Road.
Another point to make is that although shopping is a seven day a week activity here, the weekend is when you want to go (Friday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.) That’s when the runway magically rises up from the floor. Every hour there is a new show as the local stores have professional models display the clothes that are currently for sale in their stores – which are better seen in motion than wondering what you’d look like while staring at a mannequin. No two weekends are alike, with celebrity models and personalities flown in from New York and LA adding to the attraction.
A massive sound system accompanies giant monitors, and action is accented by a complete lighting system. So when not presenting a free fashion show, this venue can be used for concerts and special events as the runway is turned into a theater. This is another one of a kind experience.
The Freemont Street Experience (where Las Vegas Boulevard meets Freemont Street)
The Freemont Street Experience in another one of a kind must see. Imagine a video screen that is as wide as a street, as long as five football fields, and suspended overhead. Add a six minute themed music and light production and you have Viva Vision. The free shows are presented every hour from 9 to midnight, everyday. With about 15 different shows to choose from, there is plenty of variety. Although this is the headliner, it only begins to describe The Experience.
Inside Tip: Most of the parking downtown comes with a cost. So for free parking, please take advantage of the lots and garages at either The Plaza, Main Street Station, or the Vegas Club on The Strip side of Fremont Street; or use one of the two garages at El Cortez from the other end of Fremont Street. Anywhere else you can expect to pay.
Fremont Street is lined with vintage casinos that were built close together and bring back a nostalgic feeling. The many small souvenir shops have some of the lowest prices in town. Traffic is pedestrian only along the promenade, and push cart or kiosk type venders are scattered throughout. During the day the canopy acts as a sunshade, and at night it becomes the largest video screen in the world. Street performers are always available to entertain you. And there are several stages for free special events and major concerts which may include multiple events on many weekends.
Freemont Street attracts locals in addition to many visitors as the downtown area presents a completely different feel from The Strip. So whether you go to shop, gawk, or enjoy free entertainment, Freemont Street is an experience.
Whether you come to Las Vegas just to shop, or for all the other wonderful opportunities, I hope this little bit of information will save you plenty while enhancing your overall experience.