November 26, 2009; Las Vegas, NV, USA; The "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign shown in front of the Las Vegas Strip and Mandalay Bay Hotel

Viva Las Vegas!: An Invitation


2012. Pac-12 Champions. Coach of the Year.

It’s a start.

Between now and the end of next season, Washington’s young basketball team will have played together a year longer, and be a year wiser and more mature.

As has happened in the past, things can change in a year. Two seasons ago, UConn was in the NIT. Last season UConn won the NCAA championship. This season they didn’t.

It’s reasonable to expect that between March 13 and March 16, 2013, Washington will be participating in Pac-12 playoffs, making a good case for NCAA participation and preparing for a long run. Those playoffs will be in Las Vegas.

For Husky fans this can be one big basketball party.

Husky Haul is, consequently, presenting this public service message to help Husky fans start preparing.

The Strip

Las Vegas Blvd. is “the Strip,” the best entertainment corridor in the world.

While the Mountain West Conference will be playing at the UNLV Thomas & Mack Center approximately one third mile east of the Strip, and the West Coast Conference and the Western Athletic Conference will both have their playoffs at the Orleans Arena about six blocks west of the Strip, only one conference will be on the Strip. The Pac-12 Conference will have their games at the MGM Grand Garden arena – across the Strip from the New York New York complex, and a stone’s throw from the Cosmopolitan (the newest hotel on the Strip), Bellagio (the big hotel with the fountains), Excaliber, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Planet Hollywood, Bally’s and Paris hotels.

Between March 13 and March 16, 2013, in a place where everything is measured in money, the Pac-12 will be the biggest show in town. In those four days of glory, Las Vegas expects the Pac-12 tournament to bring in around $20 million in non-gaming revenue. By comparison, the other conferences have each been playing their tournament championships in Las Vegas for years and their individual revenue production has yet to break double digits. In Spanish, Las Vegas means “the fertile plains” and, for the hotels and casinos, the 2013 Pac-12 visit will be the sun and the rain.

Reservations

Begin researching hotels for the purpose of making reservations soon, very soon. You won’t be able to find anything decent if you wait.

Last weekend NASCAR was in town. The place was full. Fortunately, my wife (who could be a travel agent) books everything well in advance; yes, sometimes as much as a year. With 30,000 people forecast to come for the Pac-12 tournament alone, it is wise to plan ahead.

Hotels

Where to stay? For the money, the best rooms and (un)common areas are in the Venetian/Palazzo complex (about four blocks north of the MGM Grand) which, with over 7,000 rooms, and 19 restaurants, is the largest resort hotel in the world. Describing the Venetian/Palazzo average suite, someone once understated, “I know what an average hotel room looks like and this isn’t it.” And there is no reason to ever leave unless there’s a specific show (or game) you want to attend somewhere else.

Las Vegas, NV, USA; General view of the Las Vegas strip. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

When Las Vegas cab drivers are asked which hotel/casino is the best, the answers are relatively consistent: Wynn’s/Encore (built in 2005 at a cost of $2.7 billion – the restaurants, e.g., the Sinatra, are all very classy), with the Venetian/Palazzo a close second. I don’t know if Mr. Wynn (former owner of Bellagio, Mirage and Treasure Island hotels) knows the cabbies are hyping his place but they are.

The Venetian and Wynn’s are across the street from one another and, again, about four blocks north of the MGM Grand. Venetian/Palazzo ambiance is intentionally Old World – the ceiling frescoes rival more famous ceilings in Italy. Wynn’s, on the other hand, is leading edge. For example, Wynn’s has a restaurant, appropriately called Switch, where walls change out like stage props while you’re dining.

Otherwise, most other hotels along the strip – Caesar’s Palace, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Luxor, Excaliber, Mandalay Bay, Continental, Treasure Island, Paris, New York New York, Circus Circus – are all decent, each has something unique to offer, and the people are dedicated to making guest stays enjoyable.

Cash

It goes without saying but: bring cash for tips. Lots of fives. Las Vegas runs on tips. Tip the cabbie, the baggage guy, the room service, the maids, etc. They’re pretty good about giving you back a little extra service if possible. When in doubt, tip. Don’t be cheap. Plan on a little generosity; it will make your stay more enjoyable.

Cabs

Shuttle services from the airport are no cheaper than taking a cab. Take a cab (you will experience the most coordinated and friendliest airport cab service anywhere in the world) from and to the airport. Talk to the cabbie while you ride; ask questions. They’re generally very informative. In Vegas you don’t have to stand on the sidewalk with your hand in the air. Cab service is a way of life on the Strip and every hotel has a cab line and coordinator, precluding confusion or having to wait.

Deals

Look for good deals. Every hotel makes deals. You have a moral obligation to do a little research and get a good deal.

Nothing is entirely free.

At the same time, weigh freebies. If you’re some high-class guy like Mark Knight or Jeff Taylor, and people want your autograph and all that, a high-end restaurant or hotel may want to give you, say, a free Dom Perignon Grand Champagne basket…but if you take it, you are expected to tip whoever gives it to you. At least 20% of retail value. That’s the game. For the casinos, gambling is numero uno but, for everyone else, again, tips are the lifeblood of Las Vegas.

Smoking

If you’re a non-smoker and haven’t been to Vegas, prepare to get used to 1) the fact that many gamblers smoke, and 2) walking through smoke-filled casino areas to get anywhere else in the complex (the hotels are intentionally designed that way – you can’t miss the casino floor). In some places, e.g., Rio, one never escapes the smell of cigarette smoke. Alternatively, VDara at City Center, a five-star, non-gaming, non-smoking, condo hotel (rooftop pool) off the strip behind the Cosmopolitan, has very nice suites for those who do not smoke or gamble.

Shows

If you’ve never been to Vegas before, don’t get turned-off by the signs you see between the airport and the strip. There are two Las Vegases. One of them should be avoided while the other is a wonderful experience. Some shows are justifiably hyped and some “aren’t all that.” On the other hand, there are some that don’t get much press and are great. I don’t know what’s going to be on the billboard a year from now but I suspect that there’ll be hidden treasures at the Saxe Theater inside Planet Hollywood on the north side of E. Harmon across from the MGM Grand. Vegas! The Show at the Saxe Theater is the most entertaining production I’ve seen in the last six months (including Phantom of the Opera, Jubilee!, Jersey Boys and Cirque du Soleil performances). For the Saxe production/management team, kudos! While the Vegas! The Show dancers are gorgeous, they are also phenomenally talented, as are the singers and impersonators…and that magic act is incredible –you gotta see that. Sex may sell but, on the stage, nothing beats talent.

To be continued.

That’s all we’ll tell you now. We’ll update this article late next season as the 2013 Pac-12 tournament (again, anticipated to bring 30,000 people to Las Vegas) draws near.

Washington fans, generally, are a classy bunch, and Washington should be the most well-represented school at the tournament. Alaska Airlines Las Vegas flights are frequent and relatively inexpensive but vary depending on demand, and there will be a lot of demand preceding and following the 2013 Pac-12 tournament. Get in line early; like now.

Husky Haul wants you to have a great time there. But start planning now. Again, it’s going to be one big basketball party, and Vegas can be a lot of fun when you know what to look for and what to look out for.

Viva Las Vegas! Go Dawgs!

Tags: Featured Las Vegas Pac-12 Pac-12 Tournament Playoffs Popular Tournament Travel Guide