Loving Las Vegas

 

Accessible and Affordable

As I reach down to massage my aching calf muscles, I hear the approaching buzz of a motorized scooter. I glance up and a well-dressed, middle-aged woman, diamonds sparkling on her fingers, zips past me on the cobblestone alleys of Paris Las Vegas (www.parislasvegas.com). Like the flip side of a coin, her companion, exhausted to the point of collapse, is hitching a ride, slouched over her and desperately trying to edge his way onto the few remaining inches of scooter seat. All that is wonderful and frustrating about Las Vegas is captured in that brief moment.

Las Vegas is accessible. In fact, Las Vegas, Nevada, boasts the largest number of accessible hotel rooms in the United States, if not the world. Ask and it shall be given, as long as you’re specific about what you require. If you need a roll-in shower, you’ve got it; bath bench, no problem. An increasing number of resorts offer Braille menus in their restaurants and lifts to access their swimming pools. When a resort’s gambling licence depends on its compliance with strict ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) legislation, there’s no argument. Even older resorts have been renovated to fit the guidelines. Make no mistake about it. When it comes to getting your gambling dollars, Las Vegas provides an even playing field.

If it all sounds too good to be true – it is. The biggest problem for wheelchair users is crowd negotiation. Try to plan your sightseeing when everyone else is sleeping in. Remember that Las Vegas is pretty much a 24-hour town, with the exception of shopping. We avoid the blistering midday heat and the late afternoon/early evening crowds by venturing out in the morning. Of course, everyone wants to see the strip at night when it’s at its neon best. All Las Vegas cab and limousine companies have at least one wheelchair accessible van ready to show you the sights.

You’ll have to manoeuvre through crowds to check out attractions like the not-to-be missed Buccaneer Bay Sea Battle at Treasure Island (www.treasureisland.com). Get there well ahead of time (at least an hour) and choose a spot at the front of the roped-off viewing area near the hotel’s main entrance. Better yet, try nursing a drink in the lounge overlooking the bay where the “battle” takes place.

Back to my aching calf muscles and swelling knees. If, like my husband and me, you have disabilities that restrict the length of time you are comfortable walking – beware! The 3.5-mile “strip” is home to 10 of the nation’s largest hotels. Checking out the latest and greatest mega-resorts means covering marathon distances. The new Aladdin Resort and Casino (www.aladdincasino.com) boasts 475,000 square feet of shopping and entertainment. If you choose to stay at the beautiful art-deco MGM Grand (www.mgmgrand.com), one of the world’s largest resorts with 5,034 guest rooms, you’ll think twice about returning to your hotel room for anything you’ve left behind. Fortunately, nearly all resorts provide wheelchairs for visitors – be sure to phone the resort prior to your visit and ask them to put one on hold for you.

Our solution to cutting down on needless walking is to hotel-hop. We try to spend at least a week and book one hotel in each of the three major intersections of the Las Vegas Strip.

The northern end of the strip between Sahara Avenue and Desert Inn Road features old-time favourite resorts like the Stardust (www.stardustlv.com), Riviera (www.theriviera.com) and Frontier (www.frontierhotelcasino.com). No big themes here. These smaller, modestly priced resorts appeal to people who like the way Las Vegas was 20 years ago. While the resorts themselves are accessible, you’ll need to negotiate sidewalks ranging from wide and smooth to narrow and sometimes crumbling. On the plus side, the crowds are thinner.

Families will appreciate the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino (www.circuscircus.com). We stayed in a beautiful, newly renovated room here. When I mentioned I had an interest in seeing a wheelchair-accessible room, the room staff snapped into action and provided me with a list of rooms to check out. Young and old alike will love the free live circus acts, while the Adventuredome, a climate-controlled indoor theme park, is a must for ride lovers. Families can also take in the thrill rides at the nearby Stratosphere (www.stratospherehotel.com) and Sahara Hotels (www.saharavegas.com). Persons with very young children, with disabilities or requiring assistance should phone ahead to check on ride restrictions. Do take a cab to these properties, as the walk is deceptively distant and less than scenic.

If you’re a Trekkie, you can’t miss taking in “Star Trek: The Experience” at the Las Vegas Hilton (www.lvhilton.com), located adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center (a short cab ride from the strip). If you can resist being assimilated by a Borg or intimidated by a seven-foot Klingon warrior (who visits your table at the Space Quest Restaurant and suggests you send your meal back because it “isn’t moving”), skip this paragraph. The simulated shuttle ride is not recommended for persons with some disabilities (similar to specifications for a roller-coaster ride). The rest of the experience, including the museum and Space Quest Restaurant, is completely accessible.

Mid-strip, the opulent properties of the Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace, stand kitty-corner to the mid-scale Flamingo Park Place and Bally’s. Our favourite for price, location and a fabulous pool setting is the Flamingo Park Place (www.flamingolasvegas.com). Young children love the gentle water slides, and the pools have wide, shallow steps, making entrances and exits a little more graceful. It’s a Hawaiian paradise in the Nevada desert.

Next door to the Flamingo is the budget traveller’s nirvana – the Imperial Palace (www.imperialpalace.com). This property has won awards for promoting accessibility in Las Vegas. It’s smaller than the mega-resorts that surround it, so guests don’t have to travel miles from check-in to their rooms. An on-site medical facility caters to tourists – mostly those who’ve stayed out in the sun too long.

The accessibility story peaks at the middle and southern ends of the strip. There are monorail connections between Bally’s and the MGM, the Mirage and Treasure Island, and the Excalibur with the Luxor properties. The Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, Bally’s and Flamingo resorts share an overhead walkway as do the MGM, Tropicana, Excalibur and New York New York resorts. Visitors no longer take their lives in hand crossing these incredibly busy intersections. Each set of walkways comes with escalators and wheelchair-accessible elevators.

Innett Moreno, who runs a website for travellers with disabilities heading to Las Vegas (www.vegasdisabilityinfo.com), advised me that visitors who can’t take the travelling needed to cover the distances in and between the resorts on the strip will appreciate the downtown resorts and casinos. All are accessible, smaller and right next door to each other. If you travel with underage family members, as we do, you’ll enjoy the fabulous Fremont Street Experience. This domed pedestrian mall has a light show featuring two million lights and 540,000 watts of choreographed music beginning each evening at dusk. For families, that’s about it; there’s little else to attract the under-21 crowd here, which appeals to many of those over 21.

Once you have your itinerary planned, think money. How much you gamble is up to you. But for non-gamblers, Las Vegas is probably one of the few bargains left for Canadians who travel south of the border. The naysayers who insist there are no bargains left in Las Vegas just don’t know where to look. What the friendly north-strip Westward Ho (www.westwardho.com) lacks in luxury it makes up for with its nickel cups of coffee, 50-cent pastries and giant $1.49 hot dogs (all prices are in US$). The Burger Palace, located on the second floor of the Imperial Palace, is a clean, non-smoking restaurant with a large number of menu items under two dollars. The burgers are great! The Las Vegas Hilton prides itself on its steak dinner for $4.95.

We booked our package for the Las Vegas Hilton based on an ad in The Los Angeles Times. At $64/night mid-week, we found ourselves in a suite with a view of the strip. The price included two tickets to the “Star Trek Experience,” which costs $25 per person, and two complete meals at the Space Quest Restaurant (value about $40). It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that even converted to Canadian dollars this was an incredible package.

You don’t need to be a resident of Los Angeles to take advantage of the deals. Just mention the ad and promotional code. You can check out the bargains online at: http://home.earthlink.net/~mjceditor/ladeals.html. Most libraries and bookstores carry weekend editions of The Los Angeles Times.

While plenty of legitimate online booking companies offer good rates, many exclude the extras (buffets, shows, etc.) found in the LA Times or on the websites of the major resorts. We booked our room at the Flamingo Park Place directly from their website. For $45 (per room) per night, we had a beautiful room with a view of the strip and more free margaritas (eight in total) than most moderate drinkers can handle.

Bill Here, a Canadian ex-pat living in Las Vegas, saved us bundles. Bill runs the “Viva Las Vegas” website (www.billhere.com), where you can order coupons normally found in dozens of Las Vegas tourist magazines. Bill charges a nominal shipping and handling fee that is more than offset by the savings you’ll get.

We’ve yet to find a hotel in Las Vegas that’s disappointed us, and we go every other year. Take your pick – sleep in a pyramid, soar up the Eiffel Tower or cruise in an authentic Venetian gondola. Be specific about your needs when booking your room. Plan ahead, and you’ll save yourself time, not to mention blisters and aching joints. As for saving money – well, just make sure you sip those free margaritas by the pool, not by the slot machines.

Barb Taylor is a freelance writer living in Calgary, Alberta.

LAS VEGAS – IF YOU GO:

General Information:

Las Vegas Convention and Tourist Authority
Las Vegas Visitor Information Center
(Open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)
3150 Paradise Rd.
Las Vegas, NV
89109-9096 U.S.A.
Phone: (702) 892-7575
1-877-VISIT-LV
Website: www.lasvegas24hours.com
Request a free “Access Las Vegas” brochure for disability-related information, or ask to speak to the ADA coordinator when you call. There is also a section for people with disabilities on this association’s website (www.lasvegas24hours.com/gen_ada.asp). Also use the website to find out about individual resorts and motels.

Transportation:

Las Vegas CAT (Citizens Area Transit)
Phone: (702) 382-1404
Buses are lift-equipped, kneel to the curb and have low floors. Each bus can accommodate two wheelchairs.

All taxi companies have lift-equipped vans. Reserve well ahead.

Keep it Cheap:

Phil Feldman’s LA Times Hotel Deals
Website: home.earthlink.net/~mjceditor/ladeals.html

Viva Las Vegas
Website: www.billhere.com
The free, award-winning Viva Las Vegas Newsletter is sent weekly by e-mail and has Las Vegas freebies, original research, all the new shows and coupons, tips, good and bad on the hotels and a three-month calender of upcoming Las Vegas events. The Viva Las Vegas coupons list is a 14-page collection of free buffet coupons, gaming guides, coupons for shows and an index of over 200 lists of interest to Las Vegas-bound travellers. There is a charge for shipping and handling.

Las Vegas on 25 cents a day
Website: www.bigempire.com/vegas
You may not choose to follow all the advice, but this is a hilarious website!

Tips:
Note: If you have respiratory problems Las Vegas may be a poor vacation choice. There are no non-smoking casinos. This is a smoker’s paradise.

Before you go, visit resorts’ websites and sign their online guestbooks. You’ll receive e-mails offering special room rates.

You can, sometimes, avoid large check-in lines by joining the resorts’ “slot club.” This usually (check first at the slot club sign-up desk) allows you to go directly to the VIP check-in. Joining is free and you are under no obligation to gamble. The cards also put you on the mailing list for special room deals.

 

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