Beyond the CasinosOctober 1, 2006 By: Erin Sternthal Home-Based Travel Agent
From dolphin training to hot-ticket shows, Las Vegas has many diversions off the casino floor
Chances are you probably know someone whose eyes light up at the sight of a casino floor. I, for one, am not one of those people, which is why on my last trip to Las Vegas I did everything but step foot near a slot machine or table.
If you've never been to Vegas or haven't been in years, it may seem hard to believe, but the city has definitely transformed itself into a true vacation destination with opportunities for visitors beyond the gaming scene. Restaurants led by celebrity chefs, full-service spas and unique attractions await leisure and corporate travelers heading to the city.
And if you're not part of the gambling set, you can even stay in a non-gaming hotel, completely avoiding the walk through the casino floor to access your room.
If you stay in one of the 117 suites at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay (www.thehotelatmandalaybay.com), you may even forget you're in Las Vegas. The property has a sleek, somewhat European vibe with a chic spa, The Bathhouse, and its top floor restaurant, Alain Ducasse's Mix. THEhotel is connected to Mandalay Bay, so you don't have far to travel for the unique shops at Mandalay Place.
Over the summer, MGM Mirage also opened the first of three towers at The Signature (www.signaturemgmgrand.com), next to the MGM Grand. The all-suite property is not only non-gaming, but non-smoking as well. While staying at The Signature, book a treatment at the Grand Spa at MGM Grand and secure reservations at one of MGM Grand's restaurants. For special occasions and fine dining, reserve a table at Joël Robuchon at The Mansion, or, for a more casual meal, head to Emeril's for his signature New Orleans BBQ shrimp.
Of course, there are other non-gaming hotels on and off The Strip, including the 255-suite Platinum Hotel and Spa (www.theplatinumhotel.com), which at press time was slated to open this month, the Four Seasons Las Vegas (www.fourseasons.com) and the contemporary Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel (www.renaissancelasvegas.com) next to the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Play Golf, Train a Porpoise and Catch a Hot Show
Whether you're traveling as a couple, with family or in a group of friends, there are numerous activities and attractions in and around Las Vegas. If you're an avid golfer, you may have hit the jackpot—Las Vegas has more than 60 public and private courses and was recently named the top emerging golf destination by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. One popular course is at the Wynn Las Vegas (www.wynnlasvegas.com), which has an 18-hole course designed by Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn; 11 of the holes incorporate water. Or, tee off at the Badlands Golf Club (www.badlandsgc.com), the city's first public 27-hole facility, which has three distinct nines as well as a driving range and chipping and putting greens and a full-service clubhouse.
You can find miniature golf at the Adventuredome Theme Park (www.adventuredome.com), among other attractions at the five-acre indoor park behind Circus Circus. Roller coasters, rock-climbing walls and an arcade are just a few highlights.
One of the newest attractions in the city is The Mirage's Trainer for a Day program (www.miragehabitat.com) at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. During the five-hour program, you'll learn about the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, as well as trainer terms and hand signals, and get to slip into a wetsuit for hands-on training. At the end of the day, take home a picture with the dolphins and a certificate. (Participants must be at least 13 years old.)
And don't forget to take in a show while you're in the world's "entertainment capital." Cirque du Soleil has been fascinating theater-goers for the last 10 years in Las Vegas, from Mystere at Treasure Island to its most recent production, Love, which opened at The Mirage in June featuring music by The Beatles. The show scene has also evolved to include Broadway-adapted productions, such as Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular and Monty Python's Spamalot (opening in 2007), plus a concert lineup of popular headlining artists and comedians.
Booking Las Vegas
A selection of packages and transportation tips; plus, how to get Vegas Certified
Continental Airlines Vacations (www.covacations.com), operated by Certified Vacations Group, offers agents up to 13 percent commission on Las Vegas bookings. Packages include roundtrip airfare, accommodations, ground transportation and a selection of amenities. Use GDS code CAV.
Certified's private-label brand, Future Vacations (www.futurevacations.com), has land-only and air-inclusive packages, working with more than 30 hotels and seven airlines. Agents can earn up to 13 percent commission. Use code FTV to book via the GDS. For Continental Vacations or Future Vacations, you can also book via the web at www.vaxvacationaccess.com,
www.amadeus.net or www.sabretravelnetwork.com .
Funjet Vacations (www.funjetvacations.com), the flagship brand of The Mark Corp, provides land-only or air-inclusive packages with nonstop charters and scheduled air service. Commissions start at 10 percent for air-inclusive packages. Book via www.vaxvacationaccess.com or through Apollo Galileo USA's LeisureShopper, Worldspan Tour Source or Amadeus Tour Source using code FJV .
Though parking is free at all of the hotels, most travelers don't rent cars unless they take a day trip outside of the city.
Taxis can be hailed at every hotel but fares can add up, especially with traffic on The Strip.
The most economical mode of transportation is the Las Vegas Monorail (www.lvmonorail.com), which has seven stops: MGM Grand, Bally's/Paris, Flamingo, Harrah's/Imperial Palace, the Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas Hilton and the Sahara. The monorail operates Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. A one-day pass costs $15.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), the destination's official marketing organization, recently enhanced its online agent education program at www.lvcva.com.
Vegas Certified agents can now access a virtual toolkit with valuable resources to help boost bookings. Templates allow agents to create customized marketing pieces to send to clients, such as postcards, direct mailings and e-newsletters; a bonus module has also been added to highlight new products and commissionable opportunities. To become a certified specialist, agents must complete 10 modules on topics such as dining, transportation, shopping, spa and weddings. Benefits include a certificate, invitations to fam trips, logo insignia for business cards and promotional materials, and monthly drawings of $100 e-gift certificates. For more information on the program, visit the web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best Time to Go
While Las Vegas is a year-round destination, if your clients plan to spend time outdoors, recommend the spring and fall. As a "convention capital," it's also best to check with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to see if a major conference or trade show is taking place when leisure clients plan to travel; hotel space may be limited. Close to 20 million people visited the city in the first half of 2006. —EFS