TIME to take a deep breath and make that first trip to Las Vegas.
Here are some tips for the unwary ...
1: Leave your good taste at the state line. Or McCarran airport if you're flying in.
Tacky is in. If you feel your nose turning up in your first hour there, it's time to leave. Accept you'll see some hideous sights, structurally and on two legs, and you'll have a hoot.
2: Don't expect startling service.
You might think that a city whose lifeblood is tourism, in the wide sense of the term, would ensure the visitor enjoys themselves and be encouraged to return. Think again.
The lack of helpfulness, or even service with a smile, ranged from bored 40-something waitresses, to hopeless barmen and hotel staff giving out incorrect information.
3: Don't believe everything you're told.
Enquiries at our hotel about the cost of tickets for a show drew the advice that tickets would be between US$177 and US$130. We went to the theatre to be told the tickets were between US$131 and US$116.
Spot the mark-up. Lesson: ask around.
4: Walk smart.
At the time of our visit, the temperatures hovered around 41C but it's possible to walk most of the way from A to B in the air-conditioned hotels and casinos.
5: Not everything you do and see costs over the odds.
There is a free tram and be sure to get a ticket for the Ace Gold and Deuce bus routes, which run up and down the Strip and through the depressing downtown area, which has one redeeming feature we'll come to.
A 24-hour ticket costs US$7, three-day tickets are US$15. Get one.
6: The place to eat.
Olives Restaurant at the Bellagio. Make sure you ask for a table on the balcony as it looks out over a giant lake full of fountains that sway in time to the music.
The food is good, if pricey. Two starters, two mains, one dessert and a bottle of wine cost about US$260. But treat yourself. It is worth it.
7: The place to shop.
Take the Ace or Deuce bus downtown to the Premium Outlet. The drive takes about 30 minutes and you'll pass through the Las Vegas you never see on the TV or magazines. The rundown, grimy concrete jungle is just 10 minutes from the neon, flashy Strip. The outlet mall is worth the trip. The prices are seriously good.
8: It's a long walk.
Distances are deceptive. Crossing the road from one hotel to another can take upwards of five minutes. Avenues are wide, hotels are set well back from the footpath, and pedestrian crossings and over bridges are well spaced.
9: Pocket those $1 notes.
Everyone wants a tip. From the time you drive up to the hotel entrance, someone will have their hand out, from the bell boy to the sour-faced waitress to the incompetent barman. Wages are low so tips are expected.
Swap big notes for piles of small upon arrival.
10: Too cheesy by half.
At restaurants avoid cheese, unless you adore the stuff. Americans haven't figured it out yet - it's invariably undercooked and greasy. They even squirt it out of bottles. Yech.
11: A step too far.
Even the far-from-prudish will be unprepared for the lines of Mexicans on the Strip flicking cards advertising girls to visit your hotel room in your face. Of all the sights that may offend in Las Vegas, this is the pits.
12: Prayer before flying.
Allow lots of check-in time at McCarran Airport. We found huge queues and a near-brawl between two large, shouting, red-faced men at the counter. No one blinked. And you'll soon see why.
Top tip: Hotels have facilities to print your boarding pass before going to the airport. Do it. It will save a long wait.
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