There's no shortage of ways to keep busy during the 2004 International Builders' Show (IBS). Just visiting the exhibits could qualify as a marathon. But when the convention halls are closed, Las Vegas offers nonstop entertainment and excitement. To find out what to do and where to go in Sin City, we bypassed the tourism and convention bureau and went straight to the experts--the local builders.
"People love to come here, not just to gamble but because it's fun," says Sue Streeter, Realtor relations coordinator for Pulte Homes/Del Webb, which has several communities in the Vegas market. "They can fit a class or a seminar in or go play. There are a lot of great things to do within a 45-minute drive."
Topping virtually every builder's list of places that make Las Vegas memorable is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. With nearly 200,000 acres and less than 30 minutes' drive from The Strip, Red Rock offers stunning views, a 13-mile scenic drive, 30-plus miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, and a visitor center.
"Red Rock is incredible," says Steve Jones, co-owner of Merlin Contracting and Development and builder of The New American Home 2004. "There's a scenic loop where people run and bike. There's world-class rock climbing; they can observe or climb. ...There are a dozen good hikes in Red Rock. If you're an intermediate hiker, First Creek is right off the highway. You're liable to see big horn sheep there."
Located in high desert, Las Vegas is uniquely positioned for a wide range of outdoor activities, Jones adds.
"We've been here on a Saturday to go snow skiing and on Sunday to go water skiing," he says.
The snow skiing is 45 miles to the north in Mt. Charleston and Lee Canyon, offering downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snow sliding. The water skiing is 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas on Lake Mead, a 247-square-mile reservoir created by the construction of Hoover Dam. The fishing is good there for striped and large-mouthed bass, says Larry Simon, architectural manager for Pardee Homes Las Vegas.
Here are some other suggestions from local builders on how to spend your Las Vegas days and nights:
A classic resort destination, Las Vegas offers plenty of great golf, says Chris Stuhmer, CEO for Christopher Homes, which builds high-end luxury production and custom homes.
Topping Stuhmer's list of favorite public courses is the Tournament Players Club (TPC) at The Canyons. Home course of the PGA Tour's Las Vegas Senior Classic, TPC at The Canyons offers golfers both a challenging round and a great view of the city and Red Rock Canyon.
Angel Park Golf Club features two courses--the Mountain Course and the Palm Course, both designed by Arnold Palmer. Plus, Angel Park offers Cloud Nine, a collection of 12 of the world's most difficult par-3 holes and an 18-hole putting course.
The Badlands, co-designed by Johnny Miller and Chi Chi Rodriguez, was specifically created to meet the needs of both the novice and the veteran. Each hole features five or six sets of tees that test the skills of golfers of all ability levels.
Bear's Best is a Jack Nicklaus- designed daily-fee course, 20 minutes from The Strip. It boasts 18 holes selected by Nicklaus from the 200 courses he has designed around the world. Jack's Place Grille and Lounge in the clubhouse features a wide range of memorabilia from his career.
The folks at Pardee Homes gave a nod to Rio Secco, Bali Hai, and the Revere at Anthem. Rio Secco in nearby Henderson, Nev., is a challenging Rees-Jones-designed course with four par-5s; Bali Hai is the only championship course located on the Las Vegas Strip. The Revere Golf Club features two courses and the chance to say the only reason you went was to check out Del Webb's amenities package.
If you're staying at the Bellagio or the MGM Grand, Jones says, you have to get on the Shadow Creek course, which is one of the top 10 in the country. "But it costs a small fortune," he warns.
And if you want to golf while your spouse goes shopping, Jones points out that there's a great course in Primm near the outlet malls.
After you've walked 20 miles at the Las Vegas Convention Center trying to see all the exhibits at the show and then stayed up all night playing high-stakes poker or listening to smokin' R&B at the House of Blues, a massage sounds like a really good use of an hour or two. You're in luck.
"We have probably the best collection of world-class spas anywhere in the country," Streeter says. Among her favorites are Canyon Ranch at the Venetian, the Spa at Mandalay, and spas at the Aladdin and the JW Marriott in Summerlin.
She also noted the new Spa Vita di Lago ("Life of the Lake") at the Lake Las Vegas Ritz-Carlton. Part of the 2,600-acre, high-end golf community (Celine Dion lives there), the hotel and spa hug the shore of the two-mile-long, man-made lake. The spa claims to be the only one in the country to offer La Culla, a two-hour massage, steam, and facial created in Italy.
For the low-down on shopping, we talked to Julie Knepp, vice president of marketing for Sunrise Colony Co., the developer of Red Rock Country Club and Siena in Las Vegas.
"I'm the total shopper," Knepp says, and Vegas has some of the best. Recently renovated and expanded, the Fashion Show Mall across the street from Treasure Island now has more than one million square feet of prime shopping territory.
For over-the-top designer shopping (and some really fun performance art), don't miss the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace. There's also great shopping at the Venetian and European-style boutiques at Paris. For high-end outlet shopping, make the 40-minute drive to Primm. Streeter pointed out that a premium outlet mall recently opened in downtown Las Vegas, too.
If you want to shop with the locals, head to Summerlin, Knepp says.
"Summerlin now has so much awesome shopping," she says. Check out Boca Park, which has The Great Indoors, boutiques, and great dining "away from the Strip hoopla." Nearby is another shopping area with Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor, and the Gap.
High-rolling roller coaster
Roller coasters in Las Vegas? Oh yeah. And not just any roller coasters, but two coasters known for being among the scariest rides on the planet. Why? Because they're almost a thousand feet off the ground, on top of the Stratosphere Hotel.
The hotel actually is home to three thrill rides--Big Shot, Project X Sky, and the High Roller. The High Roller would be pretty tame on the ground, but at more than 900 feet above it, it's pretty intense. But it's nothing like Big Shot and Project X Sky. Big Shot launches riders 160 feet into the air in two seconds and then lets them free-fall. Project X Sky straps you in on a ramp that drops over the side of the hotel, pointed straight at the ground.
Joining these rides on the thrill-seeker's hit list is Speed--the Ride at the Sahara Hotel. Using electromagnetic force, riders feel like they've been fired from a gun on a ride through the hotel's marquee--and then back again.
For the true coaster fanatic who doesn't want to miss a single ride, there is the Manhattan Express at New York New York. Made to simulate a barrel roll in a fighter jet, it gives riders the experience of negative g's. Desperado in nearby Primm, Nev., is one of the tallest coasters in the world and frequently appears on fanatics' lists of the top rides on the continent.
And for the kids ...
While the grown-ups are scoping out next year's product trends or trying to beat the house in the casinos, there's no need for their kids to channel surf in the hotel room or just hang out at the pool. Pardee Homes purchasing manager (and dad) Glen Arnold says the biggest thing in town for kids is the Adventuredome theme park at the Circus Circus hotel and casino.
America's largest indoor theme park (its roof is a 5 1/2-acre glass dome), Adventuredome includes such thrill rides as Chaos, the Inverter, and the heart-pounding Canyon Blaster.
The park also offers classic arcade games and rides such as bumper cars, the merry-go-round, and a Ferris wheel, as well as miniature golf, rock climbing, and two IMAX motion rides: Reboot the Ride and Fun House Express.
Save a ride on the Rim Runner for last. This log flume ride features a 60-foot drop that will leave you drenched.
GameWorks, across from the New York New York Hotel, is a huge, three-story, video-game arcade, Arnold says. Skateboarders will find plenty to keep them happy at W. Wayne Bunker Park at Tenaya Way and Alexander Road or Doc Romeo Park (Pro Park) on Cheyenne Avenue and Buffalo Drive.
Promoted as conservation areas and educational/research centers rather than attractions, Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage is home to some extremely rare animals, bred in captivity to help preserve their species. Come and see white tigers and lions, a black panther, a snow leopard, and a heterozygous tiger that can produce white, white striped, and golden tiger cubs. The dolphin habitat lets you observe dolphins in an environment similar to the wild. Marine biologists are on hand to answer questions.
Some other kid-friendly activities Arnold recommends:
* The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay
* The Tournament of Kings medieval tournament at the Excalibur
* The Las Vegas Natural History Museum
* The Lied Discovery Children's Museum
* Sunset Park, a regional park with room to romp. A favorite with runners, too.
Only in Vegas
Styled after the famed Italian gondolas, the gondola ride at the Venetian is a relaxing way to enjoy the stunning architectural design of the hotel. Amiable gondoliers, who sing pleasant and passable Italian, pilot the boats. But get your ticket early; the half-mile rides sell out every day. The wait averages about an hour, but there's plenty to do and see while you wait. Get a gelato and enjoy the street performers, or window shop for Venetian glass or hand-painted masks.
Down the street, you can ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel and Casino. For $9.95 at the Rio Casino, you can don a costume and be part of the show in the daily Masquerade Show in the Sky, a Carnivale type of extravaganza.
The Las Vegas Hilton, host hotel of the IBS, is home to Star Trek: The Experience, a virtual reality simulator ride that features stars of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
And then, of course, there's Elvis, who may have left the building, but will never leave Vegas and, for a fee, will officiate at your wedding and sing at it, too. (Thank you. Thank you very much.)
Free to a good builder
Yes, there are things you can do for free in Las Vegas, which is good considering the likelihood that your wallets will be a lot lighter after a few days in this town. Here are just a few of the highlights:
'Air play.' Four times a day, acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, singers, and dancers take the stage, the floor, and even the air at the Tropicana. Stick around for Tiana Carroll's bird show.
Waltzing waters. Every night both the Bellagio and Caesar's Palace ignore the fact that Las Vegas is in a desert and mesmerize the crowds with spectacular, choreographed fountain shows.
TV research. CBS has a research center at the MGM Grand. You can help the network honchos decide what to air next season by watching a pilot and registering your opinion.
Sweets for the sweet. The most serious sweet tooth will be satisfied at M&M World and Ethel M's Chocolate Factory.
It's a jungle in there. You can spend time with the lions at the MGM Grand's Lion Habitat, or visit the Flamingo's Wildlife Habitat and see the birds that inspire the casino's signature neon sign.
Mardi Gras, Vegas-style. The Rio Casino rolls Mardi Gras, Carnivale, and every other scantily clad festival imaginable into one daily party called Masquerade Show in the Sky. The 24-minute parade features three floats, music, dancing, acrobatics, and, yes, Mardi Gras beads. Stick around awhile and you'll see one of the 94 'bevetainers' take a break from serving drinks to break into song and dance at mini-stages throughout the casino.
Pat Curry is a freelance writer based in Watkinsville, Ga.
Angel Park Golf Club -- www.angelpark.com
The Badlands -- www.las-vegas-golf.com/badlands.html
Bali Hai -- www.bali-hai-golf-club.com
Bear's Best -- www.vegas.com/golf/courseguide/bearsbest.html
Revere at Anthem -- www.revere-at-anthem-golf-club.com
Rio Secco -- www.rio-secco-golf-club.com
Shadow Creek -- www.shadowcreek.com
Tournament Players Club -- www.tpc.com/daily/the_canyons/index.html
Aladdin Spa -- www.aladdincasino.com
Aquae Spa at JW Marriott -- www.marriott.com/dpp/PropertyPage.asp?MarshaCode=LASJW
Canyon Ranch at the Venetian -- www.canyonranch.com/spaclubs/venetian/index.asp
The Spa at Mandalay -- www.mandalaybay.com/amenities/spa/
Spa Vita di Lago at the Lake Las Vegas Ritz-Carlton -- www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/lake_las_vegas
The Fashion Show Mall -- www.thefashionshow.com
Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace -- www.parkplace.com/caesars/lasvegas/Display.aspx?contentID=5201
Outlet shopping, Primm, Nev. -- www.fashionoutletlasvegas.com
The Venetian -- www.venetian.com
Sahara Hotel (Speed: The Ride) -- www.saharavegas.com
Stratosphere Hotel (Big Shot, Project X Sky, and the High Roller) -- www.stratospherehotel.com
Adventuredome at Circus Circus -- www.adventuredome.com
Doc Romeo Park (baseball park)
Las Vegas Natural History Museum -- www.lvnhm.org
Lied Discovery Children's Museum -- www.ldcm.org
M&M World and Ethel M's Chocolate Factory -- 702-736-7611
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay -- www.mandalaybay.com/entertainment/shark/
Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage -- www.themirage.com/pages/attrac_secret.asp
Tournament of Kings at Excalibur -- www.excalibur.com/entertainment/tok.php
W. Wayne Bunker (skateboard park)
Wildlife at MGM Grand (Lion Habitat and Flamingo's Wildlife Habitat) -- www.mgmgrand.com
Acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, singers, and dancers at the Tropicana -- www.tropicanalv.com
CBS research center at the MGM Grand -- www.mgmgrand.com
Eiffel Tower at the Paris -- www.parkplace.com/paris/lasvegas/
Fountain show at the Bellagio -- www.bellagiolasvegas.com
Fountain show at Caesar's Palace -- www.parkplace.com/caesars/lasvegas/
Gondola Rides at the Venetian -- www.venetian.com
House of Blues -- www.hob.com/venues/clubvenues/lasvegas
Masquerade show at the Rio Casino -- www.harrahs.com/our_casinos/rlv/entertainment/
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area -- www.redrockcanyon.blm.gov/
Showgirl exhibit at the Samba Theater in the Rio Casino -- www.harrahs.com/our_casinos/rlv/entertainment/
Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton -- www.parkplace.com/hilton/lasvegas/
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Las Vegas, NV.