If it's Tuesday this must be Paris. Or maybe Venice. But isn't that Bali and the South Seas we can see shimmering in the distance? Welcome to Las Vegas, where the world comes to gamble, and gamblers and tourists alike can, in turn, see the world. Or as much of it as fits into a hotel/casino complex. Nothing in this town is as constant as change, as evidenced by the three new hotels which opened between May and September.
Mandalay Bay, with its elephant fountains and sandy beach, was launched in March, while The Venetian, complete with canals and gondolas to ply them, welcomed its first visitors on May 3.
Wild Life Playgrounds of Miami Miami: A 'Tropicool' Hot Spot for the Hip and Romantic And the $760-million Paris Las Vegas, complete with a 50-story replica of the Eiffel Tower and two-thirds copy of L'Arc de Triomphe, introduced its C'est Bon attitude to the strip on Sept. 1, mere days before we arrived.
Eurosnobs may huff at this attempt to bring culture to the middle of an American desert, but this is as close to the real thing as some of us can afford to be. In fact, it is in the name of thriftiness that we have returned to the neon city. Las Vegas on the cheap, that's what we're here to find.
(All prices are in U.S. funds and may not include taxes. Prices were in effect when we were there, and are subject to change).
Free, no charge, gratis.
There is actually a wide range of free entertainment, from the Mutiny Bay Pirate Show outside Treasure Island (every 90 minutes from 4-10 p.m.) to the volcano eruption in the Mirage's fountains (every 15 minutes from 6 p.m. to midnight). A popular attraction is the dancing waters in the lake outside the Bellagio (every 30 minutes Mon.-Fri. 3p.m.-midnight; Sat. & Sun. from noon).
The Bellagio also contains a wonderful conservatory, filled with flowers and plants, that undergoes a complete makeover several times a year.
Take a cab, or ride a bus, to the original downtown section, where two million light bulbs present The Fremont Street Experience, a series of six-minute shows shown on the top of the hour, starting at 7 p.m.
East of the Strip is the Rio, where the Masquerade Show in the Sky presents a 20-minute display of song, dance and music, plus aerial floats, every other hour from 2 p.m. to midnight. (More on this later).
The bad news is that there are eight million other people who want to see something for free as well. So hang onto your wallet, and find a football lineman to follow through the crowds.
50 cents There is no charge to walk through the MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park, as long as you're content to stand and watch while others enjoy the rides. For the price of two quarters, however, you can create your own fun.
There are two water rides and they each have bombing stations where, for 50 cents, you have three chances to fire off depth charges that shower the riders just as they pass, unawares, in front of you. Once you get your timing, this soaking people to the skin is very addictive.
I asked one young fellow later if there was any other place on the ride where he got wet. No, he mutters, wringing out his T-shirt. Gee, sorry about that.
Less than $5 While you can just walk into the gift shop at the World of Coca-Cola, there is a $3.50 charge for the tour of the upper floors, which includes a small theatre playing a loop of Coke commercials. The highlight is the chance to sample Coke products from around the world. You might want to stick with the Cherry Coke because there are some beverages here that should have their lead content displayed. So this is what kerosene tastes like.
Less than $10 A personal favorite is the indoor gondola ride at The Venetian ($9) where Bruno, who insists he's been imported from Naples, operates the boat's small engine with his foot while pretending to paddle, then serenades you with opera while turning the craft at the far end.
Pointing to a stretch of unused water stretching into darkness on the other side of the loading dock, Bruno explains that there is another 350 feet of the canal that is currently useless because someone forgot to make it wide enough at the end to turn the gondola around.
The Manhattan Express, at New York New York ($8 on weekdays), is a roller coaster with what's described as a heartline twist. That means, with speeds in excess of 60 mph, your heart leaps in a straight line into your throat. Hang onto your glasses. And your lunch.
The view from the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower ($8) at Paris Las Vegas is spectacular, especially at night, when you can look down at the Bellagio water show from some 500 feet overhead.
For $9.95 you can be a player in the Masquerade Show at the Rio. After donning a costume, you're buckled into a float that slides along a track on the ceiling. Your job description is simple: smile, wave, shake a maraca like you mean it.
Famished after a long day on your feet? May we recommend the best snack food in the civilized world. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is located in the upstairs food fair at the Excalibur. Hint: Buy two dozen; the first batch won't survive the trip back to your room.
Less than $25 We once saw Siegfried and Roy make $180 disappear, and that was just for the admission tickets. Fortunately there is entertainment in Las Vegas that you won't need a second mortgage to afford, especially at The Riviera, on the north end of The Strip, where we took in a pair of evening shows.
La Cage ($22.25, includes one drink) features female impersonators lip syncing to hits by, among others, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg and Celine Dion. The performers are introduced by Frank Marino as Joan Rivers, looking absolutely divine in Bob Mackie ensembles to kill for.
Crazy Girls ($19.25, includes one drink) attempts to mate art with a topless revue. Note to producers: Replace the fancy, muted lighting with skipping ropes. If the audience wanted culture, they'd be at the art gallery at the Bellagio.
Lions (MGM Grand), tigers (The Mirage) and bares. Oh my! But Las Vegas is a sight to behold. And just when you think you've seen it all, there comes word that the new Aladdin will open in 2000.
Rust never sleeps. Neither does Las Vegas.
Author: John W. Ireland and Heather Beaton