A lot of my friends don't see what I see in Vegas. Most often it's because:
1)Vegas has a bad reputation and plenty of things to do that are not praiseworthy. You will see posters and flyers that aren't family friendly. I ignore them and barely notice. This is Vegas and you can't avoid a certain amount of it but there's so much more than that. That's why we don't bring Bjorn.
2)They stayed in a bad hotel or spent time in a bad part of town and didn't go to the places or do the things that are worth your time/money.
This list is for Michelle - the things we love to do in Vegas.
1) McDonalds for breakfast.
I'm not a fan of McDonalds but there are at least 3 of them on the strip (some are inside a casino). They have healthy yogurt parfaits and oatmeal. You can eat pretty cheap and that's important in Vegas - it's not cheap to eat there. Some of the Subways have great breakfasts too. But save your budget for an amazing lunch or dinner. Besides that it's pleasant to walk on the strip in the morning before just about everyone else wakes up. It's quiet, clean and walkable without the hustlers or crowds.
2) World class hotels.
I never cared about the hotel I stayed in, I went for the least expensive. But in Vegas that makes a huge difference. The type of people and quality of your stay will be affected by the hotel you stay in. There are so many gorgeous hotels (which I scan for decorating ideas). I love a good swimming pool and my favorite is at the Wynn or Encore (if you don't have kids, esp., it's more of a lounge, read a book type of place) but the MGM Grand has tubes and a lazy river that is great for kids. Here are more swimming pools in Vegas that are ideal for kids.
We usually pay extra for use of the exercise rooms. Sometimes they have classes that are not extra and I've had some of the best fitness classes while on vacation in Vegas. I believe it was the Venetian - loved the classes, couldn't stand the spa. TI has a good workout area with bottled water and fruit. So does the Aria.
We search Priceline for a 4+ star hotel and choose the name your price option. We got the Trump for under $100 a night and they upgraded us to a 1-bedroom suite. It was amazing. Get room service if you want to eat at the hotel, same price but it's so elegant and fun to eat in your room. The service is amazing. Also check the hotel web sites and check their Facebook page. If you go often, sign up for their email lists.
Every hotel caters to a different market. TI is more a party hotel with a lot of young, drunk partiers. The pool is really a place to stand around in water while listening to the music and getting drunk. The Encore is for the well-off who like to be around others like themselves. Much more formal, more rules, more expensive, no kids. The Trump had a funny mix of hip young couples/families and gangster type teenagers. It doesn't have a casino which is nice. The Wynn is classic upscale, again not for kids. It's my favorite so far.
3) World class entertainment.
If you're in Vegas you may as well spend the cash and see a show. We recommend Phantom of the Opera. The multimillion dollar theater was built just for the production. Why wait in line for hours, pay for parking and all that in Salt Lake (or wherever you live) when you can buy tickets year-round to such an amazing show in Vegas? I love that you can walk in and out, no hassle with parking or having to get there over an hour before the show starts. We went on a weeknight, bought the cheap seats and because it wasn't very crowded, so they moved us to the front middle section.
There is sordid entertainment in Vegas but there is a lot of clean, high quality entertainment too. See when your favorite rock star or band will be performing. If you go to one of the show brokers in the Mall (not the half-price tickets place) they will often go down on the price if the show has been running a long time and you balk at the price. We also really enjoyed Jersey Boys.
We loved the experience of taking the bus to attend the Liberace museum. It's quaint and quirky but they drive by his former home and tell great stories. His costumes are amazing. Even if you didn't care for his style just seeing his pianos, hearing stories and seeing how much the staff adores him is worth the trip. He was a true showman and influenced many other performers. He also truly cared about his fans.
I want to see the wax museum and another one about the mob. Sometimes there are limited time museums. Pick up Las Vegas magazines (at your hotel, on the street or at shops) where you can usually find coupons and calendars. Even a local newspaper can tell you what's happening and may have special offers.
5) Free entertainment.
The best free entertainment is the people watching. There are entertainers on the street that are incredible (street dancers, piano players, accordion players, etc.) There are people in costumes you can get your picture taken with or just watch. The TI (Treasure Island) show has gotten risque and the Circus Circus acts scare me, but here's a list of more free things to do in Vegas.
6) Best food.
We have our favorite spots to eat in Vegas. Usually we try to go for our biggest meal during lunch. It's usually less crowded, cheaper and there's less pressure to order alcohol. Then for dinner, hit our favorite mall's food court at the Fashion Show Mall (free fashion shows daily). I like the Greek chicken place but they have Subway and a few other chains too.
We love El Segundo Mexican restaurant right outside the Mall. The tamales are to die for. I'm not dying for the chips and salsa (it's good but I've had better) but the corn on the cob is amazing and many of the dishes are outstanding.
The same company owns Strip Burger next door which has some killer burgers and fries. They also own the charming French restaurant Mon Ami Gami which is inside the Paris hotel/casino. It's romantic to sit on the patio and watch the Bellagio fountains go off. The soup is always amazing, the prices are higher. But eat slow, people watch and enjoy a long meal.
As far as buffets we've tried most of them and the Wynn is my favorite so far. It's more expensive but the quality is so high. The Aria, Cosmopolitan and others are decent but the Wynn still wins. TI's buffet used to be terrible but the last few times we tried it was a lot better and is moderately priced. I think of the cost for 2 meals because I usually eat so much I skip a meal. Time it right and you can get in while they are switching out breakfast for lunch items and then skip or eat a light dinner that night.
7) Amazing massages.
I know what you're thinking but even though some of these places look seedy, they are safe, inexpensive and deliver a great massage every time. They're much more affordable than a spa, which vary in quality, require an appointment and come with the whole experience. These are simple places -- walk in and get a great massage. They are the Chinese massage places. Just commit to the minimum at first (25 minute hands and feet massage) and then try to haggle with them on the price to add more time.
I've wanted to try out Qua Baths & Spa but we go to one that's across the street from City Center in a dive right by a small outdoor strip mall. There's a simple sign in Chinese and English. Even though it might be totally insane outside (noisy) you won't care. Spring for the full body (but haggle on the price).
On the other end of the strip in a run-down strip mall a few blocks down from the Wynn hotel (same side of the street, before you get to McDonalds) is an obnoxious looking 24/7 massage place that is decorated in pink sequins. It seems seedy but it's not. I really had to talk Stephen into going inside but now it's the highlight of our trip. If they get busy they call in backup, so you really never have to wait long. It's quiet and the lights are turned low with big comfy chairs, so this is a great escape from the bustle of Vegas. Sorry I don't know the names of these places. The massages are fully clothed and we think the people seem to really care about you and that you have a good experience. I don't get that feeling anywhere else like I do from these 2 places.
Not that you can really afford a lot of the places in Vegas, but the window shopping and even the artistic way the expensive malls are decorated are fun to see. It gets you out of the sun or weather. I love the storefront decor especially near Christmas. Steal their ideas for your own decorating! As I said I like the Fashion Show Mall - it has a lot of moderately-priced stores. The Miracle Mile is the same or lower but I don't like the stores there as much. There's quite a selection of shoe stores and fashion ideas, but be aware you could get big time sticker shock from many of the stores at other malls.
9) Watch a Movie.
We don't usually have time to watch a movie at home that often. Compared to other options in Vegas, watching a movie is cheap. There's one just a block off the strip. It never seems crowded. We walk up, buy a ticket, go in and sit down. No parking or long lines like at home. If you want to watch a movie in your room, bring your laptop and subscribe to Netflix online for $10/month. You'll spend more than that on an in-room movie.
Note: Spas are a great place to spend a day relaxing. Look at Yelp or another review site to find one you might like close by. There's only one I didn't like. Pay the day use fee and spend the day lounging around, in the hot tub/sauna/steam room, reading magazines and snacking on the food. I've even brought my laptop and caught up on things like blogging at the spa. Just remember that cost doesn't equate to quality.
If you gamble, sign up for a player's card because you get points redeemable for free buffets, free play and more. Then they may send you offers to return (discounts on rooms, food, show tickets, etc). I rarely gamble but I have signed up for a card just to get the free money and try to win. Some are hoaxes though (they have so many restrictions and rules that no one actually wins, they just want to get you into their casino). However, I feel a little weird having my name on their list since it's against my religion to gamble.
We recommend not paying for the gondola ride at the Venetian unless it's free. It's so lame. You pay a lot to get paddled in a circle and sung to. Our guide told us about his marriages (and subsequent divorces) which wasn't too romantic. When it's over they try to sell you a picture of your short ride. Tourist trap. You'll have more fun standing on the bridge and watching the suckers who paid for the experience.
Whew! That was long.
Do you have any tips to share about visiting Las Vegas?