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Vegas on $100 a day

Don’t Need Big Bucks to have a blast

by Megan G. Downs

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family-¬both immediate and extended. But after two weeks of continuous visiting and cooking three squares a day for what turned out to be a marathon mini family reunion, I needed a vacation. Alone.

I didn’t have the time or money (or energy) to go anywhere. I really just wanted to stay in a hotel and have someone else do the cooking. So I gave myself a budget of $300, drove down the street, checked into a hotel and started my much-deserved vacation.

Did I mention that I live in Las Vegas? Everyone should occasionally take a vacation in their hometown. Of course, I admit this is a special town. I remember talking to a woman who had recently moved here. She asked me, “Do you know what my husband and I miss most now that we live in Vegas? Going to Las Vegas!”

Day 1

Okay, so I had $300. I set out early Sunday morning and headed southeast about 23 miles to Boulder City. I’m in love with the dam, once Boulder now Hoover Dam. The minute I saw it I could somehow sense not only its present grandeur but also its incredible history.

Boulder City is a sun-drenched little town that was originally built for the 20,000-plus workers who came to this hot, dusty desert to live and work 364 days a year on the dam. The first thing I did was wander around and look in the antique stores. The town’s shops are as unique as its history. I like Cristina’s Treasures and I’ve spent a lot of money in the past at Nature’s Art & Gifts where they sell rocks and fossils.

It was getting close to noon, so I decided to eat and head out to the dam. Fortunately, it was January and the traffic wouldn’t be too bad, but in the summer it would be bumper-to-bumper. I ate lunch at Matteo’s Restaurant (a wonderful, spicy chick pea soup for $4.37 with tip) in the Boulder Dam Hotel built in 1933. The hotel has rooms, a few shops and is host to the gallery of the Boulder City Art Guild.

As you head out of Boulder City toward the dam, you come over a little rise and there spread below you is Lake Mead. The view is breathtaking even if you’re expecting it and doubly so if you’re not. The ride out to the dam is along a narrow, winding road and just looking at the ruggedness of the terrain, one can’t help but wonder at the building of a dam in such a place.

Right after we moved to Las Vegas, I worked as a volunteer at the dam, answering questions, directing visitors to restrooms, etc. Then, after September 11, 2001, I got an official letter from the U. S. Department of the Interior telling me that the tours of the dam had been suspended and my services were no longer needed. As one of the perks of a volunteer I was supposed to have gotten to take the “hard hat tour”-no longer offered-but I never did. Well, now that the tours have been reinstated, I finally took my dam tour (cost $11). It was great! We went down in the dam, walked through one of the tunnels through the hillside and came out in the Nevada-side turbine room (there is another turbine room on the Arizona side of the dam). We learned a lot of history and got to go up to the observation tower. I even rubbed the shiny toes of the great Winged Figures of the Republic for luck (hey, I’d be gambling later).

On the way back, I stopped at the labyrinth at St. Andrew’s Catholic Community. Labyrinths are flat and one can walk the single path to the center and back out again for everything from stress relief to meditation. I needed the stress relief. This particular labyrinth is in a garden setting with sounds from the nearby waterfall. Just don’t let the striking of the clock in the tower startle you.

Finally I went to my hotel to check in-the new South Coast Hotel and Casino! It was a bit more expensive than some of the other places I could have stayed ($172.22 for two nights) but it was worth it. They gave me a “Fun Book” filled with coupons for drinks and such, good through December 06. I used a free drink coupon immediately.

I heard one person describe South Coast as a big barn of a casino. That may be appropriate, as it will soon feature a 4,400-seat equestrian and event center. However, I don’t feel that way about it. I think it is very comfortable with its high ceilings, bright lighting and energizing color scheme. No claustrophobia here. I found my room to be attractive, the bathroom was more than adequate and the bed was heaven. However, the soap did smell a little strange but I’d live.

I ate dinner at Baja Miguel’s, a Mexican restaurant in the casino ($12.64 including tip). The food was passable and the free margarita with coupon was empowering.

I was ready to gamble. Usually I’m a penny slots kind of gal. I admit to liking all the sounds and scenes. I just love it when the little fish do a dance or the elephant trumpets or the frog turns into a prince when you win-even if its just two credits. But tonight I was going to go for the gold. Quarter slots-$20. I found a machine that took a maximum of two credits and went to town. It was on the approximately 10th spin that I got $60! I cashed out immediately, spending only $3.50 and went to play BINGO ($15.00 with a coupon for more cards than I could handle so I used one of the automatic BINGO machines to handle the overload).

Day 2

My room was on the 23rd floor and faced east, so I had a beautiful view of the sunrise over the mountains. While flipping through a magazine and watching my big plasma screen TV (in total control of the changer I might add), I heard on the news that the Boardwalk Hotel and Casino was closing that day at noon. This presented a location for breakfast.

On my way out, I asked one of the croupiers if they had free table game instruction. On weekdays, many of the casinos offer mini-classes in poker, blackjack and other games. They didn’t have formal lessons, but since there was no one at any of the tables, I was treated to an impromptu lesson in craps. I hadn’t been there more than two minutes when six people materialized out of nowhere and started to play for real at my table, all shouting and laughing! It was like an action magnet. I think I could like that game (if I could ever learn to play it).

The Boardwalk, with its wooden roller coaster rising high above the Strip, was closed on January 9 to make way for CityCenter, a project of MGM-Mirage Hotels. I spent $5 on a Betty Boop nickel slot machine (that took real coins) for almost an hour then I went upstairs to eat breakfast at the buffet ($10.76 plus a $5 tip). Everyone was acting as if wrecking crews weren’t smacking their chops to get at the building and I felt like a ghoul at a wake of someone I didn’t know. I was glad I went though. It’s sometimes good to be part of history. I bought a pair of colorful salt and pepper shakers ($2.86) as a souvenir.

In Vegas, there are many ways to save money. Several of the weekly magazines have discount coupons for food, shows and attractions and often those overwhelming racks of travel brochures will reveal a coupon or two. The other thing my family and I do is buy tickets on eBay. I once took a group of kids to see The Backstreet Boys (yeah, I know) for $10 each and we’ve gotten great deals on other tickets. Of course it takes planning. For my current sojourn, I had several two-for-one coupons I had obtained from for food and shows. My dollars were dwindling, so it seemed like a good time to pull them out.

After I left the Boardwalk, I noodled about a bit, went to the Fashion Show Mall and got ready to meet a friend for the 4 o’clock showing of The Magic of Rick Thomas ($13.92 for my half of the lasvegasperks two-for-one coupon) in the Stardust Resort & Casino. I love magic shows. I want to believe in the magic and have no desire to know how the sleight-of-hand was accomplished. Thomas’ show had the requisite scantily-clad dancing girls, the cutting of a woman in half and a really incredible act where an audience member’s watch ended up in a closed can inside a locked box. I really liked that one. I also liked the well-fed, slinky white tigers. Dinner was good talk, good food and great décor at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino (great jambalaya-$13.13 with tip using coupon).


I didn’t want to leave. My room was so comfortable. Someone else made the bed. Clean towels appeared magically in my bathroom! I ate breakfast downstairs in the Coronado Café, just oatmeal and coffee ($8.79 with tip). When you live in Vegas and everything stays in Vegas, that unfortunately includes the calories and cholesterol. Oh my.

Then it was out the door, bag and baggage in hand, and off to enjoy the beautiful weather with a drive out to Red Rock Canyon. The morning sun lit up the red cliffs and the world seemed to be filled with fire and energy. I parked by the side of the road and soaked up the peace and calm that is our desert. The Red Rock area is a favorite of mine and I’ve seen quail, wild burrows, a bobcat and deer at different times throughout the years.

One place I had always wanted to visit was the Liberace Museum ($12.50). I’d heard that this was a real treat-and it was! Everything glittered-his cars, his clothes, his pianos. The museum is a truly opulent tribute to a man who was always over-the-top.

A final late lunch/dinner with a friend at the Zanzibar Café in the Aladdin Casino ($7.68 including tip with coupon), a tiny bit of window shopping in the Dessert Passage and I was home.

The total spent-$298.37, and counting my modest $60 windfall at the slot machine, I actually came home with more than I expected. I did a lot in three days but I was rested, the brain was cleared of fog and I was ready to be home.´

Lodging $172.22
Food 62.37
Fun 37.42
Gambling 23.50
Purchases 2.86

TOTAL $298.37

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