34 Things First-Time Visitors Need To Know About Las Vegas
It is everything you think it is.
Las Vegas is a fake place that still manages to exist.
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
“The City That Never Sleeps.” “Tinsel Town.” “Old Gambley.”
As a first-time visitor, I was familiar with Las Vegas’ reputation as a kitschy “Disneyland for adults,” and its legacy — both pop-culturally and historically — as a citywide den of gleeful debauchery, constructed by sheer force of will in a desert wasteland so devoid of life that most theologians agree it was where God tested the atomic bombs that killed the dinosaurs.
Yet here exists a collection of improbable monuments to success and pleasure, presumably built upon catacombs lined with the skeletons of forgotten gangsters, where, even in recent memory, you could be locked inside of a walk-in freezer or exploding car for accidentally looking at Frank Sinatra’s girlfriend’s necklace area.
“Las Vegaaaas” —Dean Martin, probably
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
But I was also aware of the Vegas of today — in no small part thanks to the conscious rebranding efforts of their tourism officials — reinforcing Las Vegas’ second life as both a family-friendly resort town and internationally recognized nightclub haven, where gambling is tertiary to the Vegas experience, if not outright discouraged, and DJs, magicians, and celebrity chefs tower above grateful commoners like benevolent space kings, whose very tears of joy fall to the sidewalk as tinkling diamonds, and all of us are moving parts in a cosmic joy machine.
So yeah, I figured I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for.
I. KNEW. NOTHING.
Here is what it’s actually like to visit Las Vegas in style, and all of the things you can expect to happen to you while you’re there.
Your hotel will romanticize the past, but exist in the distant future.
This is the lobby of The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, or “The Cosmo” as the world’s coolest cab driver insists we refer to it.
A relatively new hotel, catering to a younger crowd, The Cosmo has a lobby that features video-screen pillars with rotating themes that synchronize with the elevator monitors and act as the welcome screen on your hotel room television — sort of like living inside a screensaver.
Sometimes this will be terrifying.
These images of naked murder people periodically pressing their hands and face against the glass like the director of The Ring made an ad for Guess.
I repeat: They follow you onto the elevator — and into your hotel room.
But that’s OK, because basically every hotel lobby is amazing and full of things to look at.
Bellagio Hotel and Casino (you may know it best from the end of Ocean’s 11) currently greets you with a mosaic glass horse beneath a ceiling installation of colorful glass blossoms by renowned artist Dale Chihuly.
It’s beautiful and gaudy and surreal and literally sparkling, and then you just walk right past it to get to the next amazing distraction, which is a pretty succinct description of the Vegas experience.
Slot machines are basically iPhone games now.
Gone are the days of filling your buckets with cold, hard coinage and dramatically yanking a lever to unleash the next barrage of plinkity, flashing, scrolling shapes and digits that control your destiny.
Today’s slot machines are heavily branded, artfully designed, and totally inscrutable digital screens where you feed in a dollar or five and try to get three starfish in a row, or five doughnuts, or two staplers in a row and one potato because potatoes are wild, except when it’s raining martinis. Easy, right?
You WILL play the Star Trek slot machine.
How could you not?
It will make NO sense.
It’s like Bejeweled had a baby with Boggle and that baby was understandably a huge nerd.
But most importantly, you will choose MAXIMUM “chair intensity.”
Don’t make the same mistake I did. This was not nearly enough “chair intensity,” a concept I definitely fully understand, but choose not to explain to you at this time.
You WILL lose. Oh, how you will lose. But WILL you? Yes, you will.
The modern video slot machines work on a “purchased credits” system, for convenience and, I assume, to add a layer of abstraction that makes the money feel less like real money — like the in-app micro-transactions of their tiny iPhone cousins. You can lose part of your dollar’s worth of credits and be left over with a balance that you can withdraw (so you don’t walk away empty-handed) or add more money to (because you still have 48 cents left in the machine, so you might as well play again).
From a psychological standpoint, it’s pretty brilliant, and there’s something appealing about not walking away completely empty-handed, which is presumably what the games’ designers are going for. Rather than lose my entire dollar, I was given a voucher for 6 cents, which I chose to keep as a souvenir rather than redeem it and make eye contact with an actual human being while they used two fingers to slide me the least valuable coins currently available in America.
There is a slot machine for literally every theme.
Do you like dogs? Consider playing DOGS.
Invoking nostalgia for a pop-culture entity is another pretty great way to get people to toss in a dollar for the hell of it.
The dollars add up for the casinos, while you pay for the novelty of experiencing a Beetlejuice-for-some-reason slot machine. Most of the gamblers I spoke to said they steered clear of slots in favor of games where their own actual skill could potentially be a factor.
There’s also the “WTF” factor.
I don’t remember this movie coming out, but it looks pretty good.
Seeing some of the branded slot machines might be a little disappointing — and feel downright unwholesome.
Obviously Ellen’s enterprise signed off on this, but I’d like to think that if you wrote her a nice letter, she would give you back all the money that you lost and probably have you on the show for a Nerf basketball dunk contest and dance-off.
And some of them are just way, way off.
You can’t trick me into playing this slot machine — probably the main thing about Iron Man is that he loves keeping his money!
Speaking of big shots, you might be treated like one.
Las Vegas famously rolls out special treatment for “high rollers,” or, in this case, people writing about Las Vegas who might say good things about visiting Las Vegas on a website. Pictured here is a tiny car computer with a probably fake name written on it.
You will see the world’s saddest Mario.
“Gee, sure looks nice in there.”
Like Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip is now home to unlicensed costumed street performers: mostly pop culture characters, but some specifically Vegas-centric, like Caesar, heavily plumaged showgirls, and — of course — Elvis.
But for this Mario, the princess will always be in another castle.
And some Despicable Mes just going about their day.
Meep meep mope! (Is that what they say? I’m 31 and childless.)
Depending on the casino, many dealers have been replaced by robots.
This sexy hologram at The Cosmo — actually just a video screen, but — grows visibly bored when no one is playing video blackjack with her and attempts to encourage passersby to stop and play.
I put in a dollar and wished to be “big,” like in that famous movie Big Boy.
You will be expected to engage with local wildlife.
“Every animal on Earth is endangered,” says Philip Admire, the fiercely protective curator of the Dolphin Trainer for a Day program at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage Hotel and Casino.
While advocating for a better environment for the dolphins in the wild, Admire and his crew teach visitors the art and science of raising domesticated dolphins, from the parts you know — triggering natural behaviors with hand signals, the occasional dorsal tow (read: dolphin ride) — to scrubbing food buckets and handling frozen herring like a pro.
This will look fun in photographs but actually be terrifying.
The dolphins also own a snack bar.
Because that’s how apostrophes — nay, how America works.
The Mirage also has an indoor jungle.
And an outdoor jungle, with actual white lions and tigers.
You will have the best meal of your life at Nobu in Caesar’s Palace.
Remember when Jeremy Piven became the target of jokes when he allegedly came down with mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi? Further rumors indicate that he was eating those three sushi meals a day at Nobu New York, in which case, you would do the same if you could and we all owe him a huge apology.
The chef-curated tasting menu included Japanese wagyu flambé — melt-in-your-mouth steak placed upon very hot actual rocks and then lit on fire in front of our faces — as well as flying fish, salmon belly, and “bluefin chu-toro carpaccio with black truffles,” which I had to copy and paste from somewhere else, because I am someone who will never, ever in all likelihood be able to eat this well again. Marry a wealthy count and poison him if that’s what it takes to visit Nobu.
Your second-best dining experience will be the DIY s’mores at N9NE.
This fancy surf-and-turf place located inside the Palms Casino and Resort also features popcorn shrimp in a paper cup (conveniently eaten with chopsticks) and lobster mashed potatoes, but all of this pales to being given a roaring fire at your table and the godlike responsibility of roasting your own marshmallows without taking the fire out of the fire and putting it onto other objects.
Pictured: a woman whose eyes reveal that she could torch us all if she wanted to, but instead chose s’mores. Wouldn’t you?
You can also eat these little clown poops.
People might tell you they’re delicious macarons from Va Benne Caffé in The Cosmo, but you and I know they are actually little clown poops.
You can buy sex dice in a vending machine. They’re already conveniently calibrated to the most erotic of all acts.
“Shhhhh. Don’t speak.”
Here’s a Mad Men slot machine.
Neat! I did not get three Rogers. I got zero Rogers.
What about daytime on the strip? Well, you can go to an oxygen bar!
Do not do this! It is dumb!
It is so, so dumb.
You will feel imperceptibly different while wearing the world’s worst The Fault in Our Stars cosplay, while simultaneously, mall kiosk employees give you free samples of “relaxation” doodads like a first-generation iPod connected to electrodes that causes your back muscles to involuntarily spasm and an alien sex toy for alien sex and also your face.
You will have these items aggressively sold to you and it will be awkward when you say, “No thank you, this is akin to a trap.”
You can put your girlfriend in a tiny car wash.
The “Aqua Massage” is promoted as “greatly reducing stress,” but is, in actuality, a coffin where they vacuum-seal you in plastic (to keep you dry) and then shoot jets of water at your back to create a massaging effect.
When the man running this semi-aquatic sarcophagus tells you it is your turn to be tightly wrapped in plastic and sealed inside it, you will have an actual panic attack (the opposite of relaxing!) and have to wait outside until your girlfriend is done enjoying her reinvigorating death trap.
To cheer you up, she will buy you Coca-Cola from many lands.
The Coca-Cola store on the Vegas Strip features a tasting menu of Coca-Cola soft drinks popular around the world, including “Smart Apple” from China and a mint Coca-Cola from, if I’m remembering correctly, hell.
You can scope out this totally normal hamburger ad.
This sexy pickle is one of the mascots (?) of Holstein’s Shakes and Buns at The Cosmopolitan. You love her and she loves you, and this is Las Vegas, so you might as well get married.
You’ll learn that “This is not a toy.”
If you mistake this pillowy, plush strawberry with a pleasant smile and big, googly eyes for a toy, everyone will know you are a first-time visitor to Las Vegas and pity you. It is clearly labeled, in fine print on the back, NOT a toy.
At the end of your trip, you will go out onto the terrace and the view from your room will be spectacular.
Especially when the Bellagio fountains are going off. Some high rollers reportedly pay as much as $250K for the privilege of choosing the theme music that the famous “dancing fountains” are synchronized to that night.
But in the end, Las Vegas might not change your vacationing habits that much.
If you’re doing everything on this list (and you are, that’s how it works), you will probably need a rest.
ALSO DON’T GET MARRIED. OK, that is the the last thing you need to know about visiting Las Vegas. Enjoy visiting Las Vegas!
All uncredited photos taken by Daniel Kibblesmith for BuzzFeed.
Some meals and experiences furnished by R&R Partners and The Las Vegas Tourism Board.