LAS VEGAS -- For years, Las Vegas was considered a value destination, the home of 99-cent shrimp cocktails and super-cheap hotel rooms. The desert city forged a not-so-secret agreement with visitors: Take your chances at the casinos and we’ll take care of the rest.
But these days, Vegas doesn’t need low prices to attract travelers. Even with the tough economy, the city welcomed nearly 39 million vacationers in 2011, over 4 percent more than in the previous year and close to the city’s 2007 pre-crisis peak. And they’re coming for reasons that often have little to do with gambling. Think plush resorts, big-name entertainers and celebrity-chef-helmed restaurants. Who needs a cheapo shrimp cocktail when you can dine with superstar cooks like Mario Batali or Bobby Flay, so to speak?
Still, we love a value. So on a recent trip to Vegas, we went in search of deals of all kinds, covering everything from dining to entertainment to parking. We also sought out the few classic deals still available, a reminder of Vegas in all its swinging but bargain-priced glory. And guess what? We saved money — big time. But we also found that a deal is only a deal if it’s something you actually value. After all, a $10 steak dinner doesn’t cut it if the meat is too tough.
With that in mind, join us on our Value Tour of Vegas, with 10 bargain finds that could leave you with a few extra dollars in your wallet. That’s provided, of course, you don’t lose it all at the casinos.
1. Comedy and magic (for the price of a song)
The deal: Sure, you can pay $100-plus to see Celine Dion or any number of Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas. But will such entertainment match up to Mac King? OK, the name may not be familiar, but King is a star attraction in his own right — a comedian/ magician who does an afternoon show at Harrah’s that’s designed to please adults and kids alike. Tickets are $32.95. At least that’s the official price. But it’s fairly easy to find vouchers for semi-free admission (you still have to pay for one drink voucher, so the total runs about $15).
Worth it? Absolutely! King is a throwback entertainer — part Houdini, part goofball in the Tim Conway mode. But his gags really do work (the “cloak of invisibility” bit is a hoot), and his magic tricks can absolutely astonish (where does that beer can come from?). Truth be told, we had a better time at this show than at a Cirque du Soleil one. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that King stays on hand after the performance for autographs and photos.
2. Steak on a Spam budget
The deal: A steak dinner for under $10? Yup, they still exist in Vegas, mostly at the off-the-strip casinos that have to work a little harder to draw visitors. At the Ellis Island Casino & Brewery, the $9.99 special comes with a 10-once steak, potato, green beans and a beer. (As with many meal specials at the off-the-strip casinos, be prepared to ask for the deal — they’re not always on the menu.)
Worth it? Yes, with a caveat. The steak is a solid piece of beef, and cooked perfectly too. (This place knows that it’s all about getting a nice crust on the meat.) Frankly, this meal would be a good deal at more than twice the price, especially with the quality brewski that comes with it. And if you want to pay extra for dessert, $4.49 will get you a delicious piece of cobbler that two can share. So, what’s the caveat? Well, like many off-the-strip casinos, Ellis Island doesn’t wow in the ambience department: The restaurant has a weird nautical theme (we’re half wondering if it used to be a seafood eatery), and the casino is looking more than a little worn around the edges.