Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Are you coming into town next week for CES? Is this your first time in Vegas or maybe even in a casino? We've got some tips that you might find helpful for getting around, finding a charger, getting online and more...

Got more to add? Feel free to share your tips in the comments.

Also, if you're heading to Vegas and have an iOS device, pick up Vegas Mate in the App Store.

Heading to Vegas for this year's CES show? Is this your first time in town or are you an infrequent visitor? Here are some tips to get you through the madness.

CES brings 200,000+ people to Las Vegas and as good as the city is at handling crowds, that's enough of an influx to cause problems anywhere. And yes, you should expect problems: delays, long lines, waiting, waiting and yes, more waiting.


The major tourist areas are 'The Strip' and Downtown (aka Fremont Street).

Las Vegas Blvd, or 'The Strip', is the main resort corridor in Las Vegas, running alongside Interstate 15. On one end, you have Mandalay Bay and the corner of McCarran Airport and on the far end, the shuttered Sahara hotel and just beyond, the Stratosphere Tower. Many tourists divide The Strip into South/Center/North distinctions. Mandalay Bay is the south end, Sahara the north. A hotel like Bellagio is considered to be 'Center Strip'.

An older cluster of casinos exists downtown on Fremont Street. These are smaller, less expensive and in most cases less luxurious though full of character. Some Las Vegas tourists prefer to stay Downtown as the casinos are easier to navigate and offer good value. Oh, and don't call Fremont Street 'old town' - you'll sound like a moron.

You don't want to try to walk between The Strip and Downtown, especially at night - it's a long way through some sketchy neighborhoods. There is bus service available or you can take a cab.

In addition, there are 'Off-Strip' hotels, both far and near. The Palms, The Rio and the Hard Rock are a few examples of relatively well known Off-Strip hotels.

Getting Around

Finding a cab during CES show week can be tough, especially at the Las Vegas Convention Center or at the popular Strip hotels each morning. Expect cab lines to be about 30 minutes during peak times.

If you're staying along the route of the Las Vegas Monorail, this can be an easy way to get to LVCC without too much trouble. There aren't a lot of stops on The Strip and they're all a good bit of a walk. Stations include MGM Grand, Bally's, Flamingo, Harrah's, and the Las Vegas Hilton (sorry, LVH). Trains run except for late at night and each ride is a few bucks. Ordinarily most seasoned travelers disregard the monorail as a waste of time but during a show like CES, it can be a good way to get to the show on time.

The CEA organizes special CES shuttles - route maps and timing info is published on standup signs outside most Strip hotels and at the LVCC.

If you'd like some privacy or have clients to impress, consider renting a car or limo. If you are going to need several time slots, you'll want to set this up in advance - there are often not enough private cars to go around during CES. If you have high-powered friends at industry leading companies, just hitch a ride with them - the big corporate limos are always well stocked with booze too.

Of course, walking is always an option. It can be a great way to get some exercise and while the temperature can be brisk, it's typically not prohibitive for walking. If you do choose to walk, keep in mind that distances are deceiving - everything is much further away than it looks. A walk from Wynn Las Vegas to the Convention Center might look like a few minutes but it's probably closer to a half-hour. The scale of the buildings tricks the eye so give yourself plenty of time.


Las Vegas is in the desert but that does not mean it is hot all the time. It will likely be sunny but in January it is not uncommon to have temperatures in the 40s and 50s during the day and into the 30s at night. Pack accordingly.


One of the things that tourists love about Las Vegas is the wide array of food options - you have access to everything from fast food to Michelin starred restaurants. Every taste and every budget can be accomodated. Here are a few ideas in a variety of categories:

Food Courts

If you want something cheap, easy and somewhat boring, there are food courts featuring standard issue burgers and pizza in several Strip resorts. Check Monte Carlo, The Venetian, The Flamingo, outside of Harrah's or in the 'village' at New York New York. There's also a multi-food outlet at Caesars Palace just inside the casino from the Forum Shops that has a bunch of choices.

None of these are anything to write home about but it can get the job done in a pinch.

In N' Out

If you've never visited California, Nevada or Arizona, you may not have heard of In N' Out. It's a famous regional burger chain with several outposts in Vegas. The nearest to The Strip is across the I-15 freeway sorta near The Palms. Don't worry, any cab driver knows where it is.

The menu is burgers, fries, milkshakes - not a lot of variety.

We have constant access to In N' Out and may get a little sick of it but this place actually shows up on some tourists 'must do' lists so you might want to give it a spin.

It can get busy, has a drive-through and is inexpensive.


Virtually all major hotels have buffets. These range in both price and quality - no surprise, the nicer hotels typically have better buffets. For instance, the Buffet at Bellagio has long been considered one of the top spots for this sort of thing.

Prices can vary from about $10 up to $40 per person for a Sunday champagne brunch.

A few of these buffets are famously bad. That reputation may not be entirely fair but many consider the Imperial Palace and Circus Circus to be on that list (i.e. think the gross buffet food from the movie 'Vegas Vacation').

Casino 'Coffee Shops'

Like buffets, most hotels also include a 'coffee shop' type place - open 24 hours (or close to it) and featuring a large variety of American comfort food. Sometimes they include Asian favorites too, for overseas tourists.

Some of the better ones are at Bellagio (Cafe Bellagio), Wynn Las Vegas (Terrace Pointe Cafe), Cosmopolitan (The Henry), Encore (Society), Hard Rock (Mr. Lucky's), Venetian/Palazzo (Grand Lux), and Planet Hollywood (Planet Dailies).

Room Service

Some Las Vegas room service is excellent and most major hotels offer it 24 hours. That said, it's typically pretty pricey between an extra buck or two per menu item, delivery charges and the like. Check the receipt - it's not uncommon for the gratuity to be included automatically and if you don't look, you may double tip without realizing it.

Generally speaking, a nicer hotel means tastier room service.

Fine Dining

Ooooh, fine dining. There is a lot of it in Las Vegas - if you're willing to spend a few bucks, you can have some amazing meals. There are way too many places to list individually but I've got a few suggestions below. Keep in mind, most of the good places are booked or fill quickly for CES. Reserve something now if you want in.

-- Steaks: Lots of choices here. A few highlights are Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico (The Venetian), craftsteak (MGM Grand) and SW (Wynn Las Vegas). These are all heaven for meat lovers, as are a bunch of other great steakhouses around town.

-- Sushi: If you're looking for some excellent sushi, go have a look at Okada (Wynn Las Vegas), Blue Ribbon (Cosmopolitan), Social House (in the Crystals Mall at CityCenter), Yellowtail (Bellagio) or NOBU (Hard Rock).

-- Italian: Another category with a wide range of options. Some good choices include Circo (Bellagio), Rao's (Caesars Palace), Sinatra (Encore), Nove (The Palms), Scarpetta (Cosmopolitan), or Sirio (Aria).

-- French: For a full-on explosion of French flavor, Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand) can't be beat. In addition, Guy Savoy (Caesars Palace) or perhaps Le Cirque (Bellagio) also offer some impressive choices.

These are just a few suggestions out of literally hundreds of choices on The Strip alone. Apps like Vegas Mate can help you not only find nearby restaurants but to filter the ones that are open or closed. We're constantly updating our restaurant database so make sure you've got the latest content when using the app (check our support page @ if you need assistance).

Stuff to See

Bellagio Fountains

If you've only ever seen them on TV, you haven't seen them. The feeling in your gut - the boom as the compressed air moves a 150 foot column of water over the lake - is amazing. Also, see it both during the day and at night: it's very different experience. The soundtrack pulls from about 25 tracks and for the first time in years, a few new ones were recently added.

Mirage Volcano

So, this is on most people's list of 'must see free attractions' when it comes to Vegas. It's a fun way to waste a few minutes but honestly, if you trek to The Mirage just for this and wait around, you may be disappointed. The special effects were re-done a few years back - the fire is more impressive and the sound better integrated - but it's not a 'blow away' moment like seeing the fountains up the street.

Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art

If you like museums and have an hour to kill, Bellagio's art gallery features rotating exhibits from a variety of masters. Located down the hallway near the pool, the gallery isn't huge but the art is always top notch.

Mandarin Bar

One of the best spots to grab a cocktail and see the city is the Mandarin Bar, located on the 23rd floor at Mandarin Oriental at CityCenter. The cocktails aren't cheap but the view is incredibly impressive and the staff extremely well trained. This is a grown up bar.

MIX @ THEHotel

Another spot with great views is MIX, on the top floor of THEHotel at Mandalay Bay. This place turns into a mini-club at night and sometimes has a cover but if you go right around sun-down, you'll see amazing views of the valley. The outdoor glassed in area is a great spot to take photos.

Binion's Rooftop

Downtown's best view is at Binion's. The hotel tower may be closed but the top-floor restaurant is operating for both dinner and for drinks at the bar. Look back on The Strip while enjoying Fremont Street.


Part of the allure of Las Vegas are the casinos. Even if you don't gamble, there's a lot to take in - each one of the Strip megacasinos is like a miniature city in it's scale. For example, Bellagio has over 10,000 employees that circulate around a complex set of tunnels and underground offices. If you have an in, touring the 'back of house' at one of these places is absolutely fascinating. Where else can you see a room full of giant liquor bottles that power drink guns around a 4.5 million square foot cathedral to capitalism?

Even if you're just observing the public areas, if you appreciate detail there's a lot to like. The design processes here are high stakes and incredibly competitive. Walk the convention loop at Wynn and realize that every piece of furniture was individually sourced and placed... then extrapolate that out to every hotel in town. It's pretty mind boggling.

Almost nowhere else in the world do the economics of building a $3 billion hotel make sense. If you find that sort of thing fascinating, the details of the Las Vegas Strip's operations provide endless intrigue.

There's probably no better people watching than on the Las Vegas Strip. From the early rising gamblers at 5am to the late night clubbers at 4am, it's a real reality show.

Spending Your Evening

Between resident shows, comedy, magic and visiting concerts, Vegas is a great entertainment town. That said, CES attendees are not always the best customers for this sort of thing so you may find that some of the most famous or interesting shows are on reduced schedules during your stay. If you do find something that sounds interesting, you're best off getting tickets sooner rather than later - the best acts can be tough to get into.

-- Magic: Penn & Teller (The Rio) are consistently regarded as one of the best magic acts in town. They combine comedy with some impressive illusions to wow the audience.

-- Cirque du Soleil: Cirque has shows all over town, from O (Bellagio) to Mystere (Treasure Island) and also newer shows like LOVE (The Mirage) and Viva Elvis (Aria). Different folks have varying taste but LOVE, O and Ka (MGM Grand) are often regarded as safe choices if you want to experience what CDS is all about.

-- Comedy: Between resident comedians, shows with comedy aspects and visiting comics, there's typically a few choices if you want to have a chuckle. Consider George Wallace (The Flamingo), Carrot Top (Luxor - yes, it's Carrot Top ; he's funnier than you think), Gordie Brown (Golden Nugget) has a combination show with comedy and some impersonations. In addition, check the listings magazine that is no doubt in your room for the latest bookings.

If you want to see a show but don't really care which one, you may want to consider looking for discount tickets at an outlet like Tickets4Tonight. They have windows at Bill's, downtown at the Four Queens and near MGM Grand @ the Coke Bottle, amongst other places. Be prepared to wait in line.

Charging Devices

When you're out all day on the show floor or meeting with vendors, you'll almost certainly need some topping off for your battery. This is especially true given that the near-certain 3G problems you will experience (see below) will be taxing your phone's cell radio more than normal.

There are random power outlets scattered throughout the LVCC, though I've seen people camp out to get access (imagine the busiest airport you've ever seen where everyone has a laptop or phone to charge). If you do find one, pounce - do not wait.

If you have a press badge, you'll find plenty of power in the lounge... but for lowly attendees, you may be high and dry. This is probably a good time to consider one of those battery cases like the Mophie devices.

When it comes to the casino floor, outlets can be even harder to find. Generally speaking, the casino is wary of anyone plugging in anything so if you do find some power sitting next to a lonely slot machine, you may have to explain yourself to the security team if you plug in (note to slot manufacturers - include iOS dock connectors and mini-USB connections and no one will ever leave the casino floor).

There are a few retailers, like Apple, that will often let you plug in and recharge, though if you don't have an iPhone you may be out of luck. Those stores are in the Fashion Show Mall (across from Wynn Las Vegas) and the Forum Shops (Caesars Palace). There's another one at Town Square but that's likely off your beaten path.

Wi-Fi and 3G/4G Access During CES

If you've experienced the crappy AT&T service in cities like New York or San Francisco, you're partially prepared for Las Vegas during CES. The 3G networks aren't that great during other parts of the year but in early January, they basically meltdown in and around the LVCC.

As is the common pattern, Verizon seems to do better than AT&T. T-Mobile and Sprint vary - less subscribers can mean better chances but with the quantity of high volume data users in town, no carrier is 100% prepared, even with the exrta capacity they bring in.

Even portable MiFi units won't save you. Honestly, the data situation at the convention center during the show usually sucks pretty bad and there isn't much that most attendees can do about it. The Strip is a little better but generally expect to be frustrated at least a few times during your trip.

When it comes to the hotels themselves, Las Vegas is one of the places where you still pay for Wi-Fi. In some hotels, it's included in the mandatory nightly 'resort fee' but for those where it's not, expect to pay between $10 and $15 a day, sometimes per device to get online. To add insult to injury, the service is often slow and unreliable. Yes, it's infuriating.

There are a few casino spots with free access: The Venetian's food court, Wynn's Pizza Place and Terrace Point restaurants and parts of the Crystals mall at CityCenter. There are some other spots detailed in my iOS app, Vegas Mate. These are often changing - for instance, The Cosmopolitan recently discontinued their property-wide free Wi-Fi service.

As previously mentioned, some retailers like Apple, Starbucks, etc... often have free or customer related Wi-Fi networks that you can use.

Other Random Tips

If you're an tech addict who hasn't spent a lot of time in casinos, there are a few tips to avoid potentially unpleasant interactions with staff:

-- If you're playing at a table game, it's generally forbidden to answer the phone or to send text messages. Some dealers are more lenient about this than others but if you need to make/take a call or respond to a text, simply stand up and step a foot back. No one will take your seat and there's no need to grab your checks (chips). There are no such restrictions surrounding slot machines - feel free to tap away.

-- Most table game chips are interchangable within the same casino. The exception is roulette chips - exchange those with the dealer when you're ready to leave (the term is 'color up'). They'll give you 'normal' chips that you can use at other games or exchange at the cashier. If you're leaving any table game and have a lot of small denomination chips, the dealer will be happy to exchange them for larger denomination that are easier for you to carry around. You generally want to exchange your chips for cash when you leave the casino, though if you wander between hotels and find a stray $5 or $25 in your pocket, they'll generally take them at a table at another casino. This is at the pit bosses discretion though - no guarantee.

-- When changing money at a table to buy chips, do not hand your cash to the dealer. They're not allowed to take money directly from a customer. Instead, put your money flat on the table in front of you. They will pick it up and exchange it for chips.

-- If you don't know how to play a specific game, don't fret. Find a table that isn't busy and let the dealer know you want to learn. They're generally very happy to teach you the basics. Sometimes, other customers don't have the same tolerance for beginners - you may have to ignore them or move on if they decide to be jerks about it. In a general sense, CES attendees don't spend a lot of time playing casino games so you may see plenty of tables ready for your action.

-- For security reasons, wearing sunglasses at a table is typically frowned upon: the cameras in the ceiling need to be able to see your face. If you're not down with this sort of surveillance, you're probably not going to enjoy being in a casino - you're being watched and analyzed (facial recognition against databases of known cheaters and other crimimals) constantly.

-- It's not technically legal to drink outdoors on The Strip but it's generally tolerated, assuming you're not making an ass of yourself. It's very common to see folks walking down the street with a beer and as long as you're not being beligerent in any way, no one will give you a hard time.

-- Not really gadget specific but be careful what you touch & wash your hands often. Many many people get sick after CES because they're touching all the same stuff that other sickies are putting their mitts on. Grab some Purell, hit the restroom or keep your hands to yourself... just avoid the sickness if you can.

Have Fun

CES is a spectable in and of itself. It can be a pain to navigate, exhausting and may cause you to question the humanity of your fellow attendees. It can also be a blast so try to focus on the good stuff and have a blast. Who knows, you may fall in love with Las Vegas and come back for your next vacation!


Read archived comments (7 so far)
January 3, 2012 7:08 PM Posted by Eric

Hunter, great article. Next week will mark my sixth CES, and I've made 3-4 other trips to Vegas per year for the last ~6 years. Despite that, I learned some things from this article.

One thing I'd love to know is what Caesars Entertainment did to piss off the CEA. For the last 3-4 years, the CES shuttle busses have not included ANY CET hotels on their routes. No Flamingo, no Paris, no Caesars, nothing. This was not always the case -- for CES 2004 and 2006 I stayed at the Flamingo, and took the busses to the LVCC. But for the past few years, Caesars properties have been conspicuously absent from the CES shuttle map ( Since they are some of the largest hotels on the Strip, this seems like a deliberate decision, and I'm curious as to why. I've not been able to get an answer out of CEA or CET -- when I've asked the question via FB/Twitter, it has been summarily ignored.

Of course, there are ways around this -- as you point out, the busses aren't the only game in town. Based on the Total Rewards and MLife deals I could get, I'm staying at the Flamingo for the first 3 nights and MGM for the last 2. While at the Flamingo, I'll either take the monorail to/from the LVCC or take a short walk to the Westin Casuarina and grab the bus from there.

Still, seems like a weird situation. Why would CEA run busses to basically every hotel on or near the Strip, EXCEPT the Caesars properties?

January 4, 2012 7:09 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Great piece, Hunter. Dead on observations. Especially about the distance between properties.

First trip to Las Vegas I made Lisa walk from Treasure Island to Tropicana and back at midnight on the first night . I thought it looked like a couple blocks, instead of a mile and a half. Second trip I wasn't any smarter. Got off the bus in front of Wynn because we were going to see Huey Lewis & The News at the Hilton. I think it was 105 degrees outside, and the bus driver tried to tell me that we still had about a mile to go, but it looked like a block or so to me. Driver was right. Lisa was pissed. At me. Learned my lesson.
Those buildings are so big they really do look like they are just a few feet apart. So true, Mr. Hunter, so true.

January 4, 2012 7:29 AM Posted by Jason

Having been to CES for the past 10 years or so, my #1 piece of advice is RENT A CAR! I can't imagine going to CES without one. The taxi lines everywhere are 20-30 minutes minimum. Even the bus lines can get long. For me a quick 5 minute walk to the car and I'm off to the next place.

Also... If you park in the LVH parking structure and you plan to gamble there... Let them know before paying the $30 (hint, hint) to park.

January 4, 2012 12:28 PM Posted by Eric

See, different strokes for different folks. I can't imagine ever renting a car during CES again. I did during my first trip (2003) and it was awful. Traffic everywhere, $20+ to park anywhere within sight of the LVCC, forget it. The monorail is inconvenient, the busses slow, but still so much less stressful (to me) than driving.

January 5, 2012 3:04 PM Posted by MattK

@eric: Any property can run its own shuttles back and forth to the convention center. But the CEA shuttles may be contractually obligated to only stop at hotels that played ball with CES and gave them a guaranteed room block at agreed rates. I know that MGM Resorts had such a deal this year and Caesars did not.

January 5, 2012 8:41 PM Posted by Jason

Eric, living only 3.5 hours away from Vegas, I have always driven. I average about 4-8 trips per year. I know the shortcut routs in Vegas, the parking tricks during convention times, and how to take care of the valet staff.

You are right, people not as familiar with the city may find it a bit overwhelming. But still, I will not wait 30+ minutes in a taxi or bus line.

January 6, 2012 8:22 AM Posted by Brindle

I'd add a tip to the random section to always get and use the casino's 'p[ayer card' for where you are gambling. This will get you into their computer system and even low rollers will get a lot of special offers down the road. Plus, you will probably score a few dollars of free play just for signing up.