We already know that there’s a train track but no train, well no passenger train at any rate. Back home your next thought may well be a bus. Vegas does have buses – well sort of. In the Downtown section I told you all about The Deuce; the very cheap bus that runs the length of The Strip and on to the far end of Downtown. Click on the link and have a read – it opens in a new tab so won’t lose your thread. Reliable and very good value for money but oh so slow.
There’s a second public bus service called ‘The Strip and Downtown Express’ (SDX). This runs about every 15 minutes and looks a little like a train. I think it’s probably more accurately a bendy or articulated bus. This covers a greater distance than the Deuce operating between the Premium Outlets North (see Outlet Malls) and the Premium Outlet Malls South. It passes through Downtown but misses most of The Strip in order to make the journey not too slow. You can however catch it at stops near the following Strip hotels:
- Excalibur and
- Mandalay Bay
As you can imagine the stop near Bellagio can get very busy as this effectively serves the entire centre of The Strip! Fares are similar to the Deuce at $6 for 2 hours and $8 for 24 hours so this is also very good value but can become equally crowded.
There are a variety of other buses serving the local neighbourhoods but these are not going to be of much assistance to you. There are also the free and chargeable shuttle buses to get you to and from the airport and your hotel (see airport transfers).
There is also limited other free transport to be had. Running between Mandalay Bay and Excalibur there’s a small monorail that also serves the Luxor. All three properties belong to the MGM Resorts International Group so they are keen that you can move easily from one of these properties to another (but not to their rival’s). It’s only a modest journey but it avoids you walking along this part of The Strip in the heat. The coaches are air-conditioned and the views are pleasant. The free service operates from about 9.30 am to 10.30 pm everyday and you just hop on, hop off.
There’s a similar but much grander free monorail service that operates between Monte Carlo and Bellagio (incidentally also MGM Resorts International properties). This is now known as the Aria Express because it also serves the Aria at City Centre and Crystals shopping centre. This was constructed at massive expense as part of the City Centre development – you know, the one that nearly sent the MGM group into bankruptcy!
Again, it’s absolutely free, you just hop on and off at any stop. It’s a rather long walk to the very back of the property to find it at Bellagio but some of the views along the route are amazing. City Centre is huge as well as futuristic. Again the tram is air-conditioned – a real blessing in the Summer months, clean and well maintained. Like all these trams it’s essentially a cable car running horizontally. Here’s a video of the journey I shot on a recent visit – Aria Express. (This should open in a separate tab so you can continue browsing then view it when it has fully downloaded). It all looks a little blue because the glass in the compartment is heavily tinted.
To somewhat buck the trend of trams serving only the same group’s properties there’s one other free service that takes you from Mirage to Treasure Island. That is however all it does. It’s a short ride – less than five minutes long but it does exactly what it says on the tin and hey, if you want to get from Mirage to Treasure Island, it’s better than walking.
This tram is rather more antiquated that the two services described above dating back to 1983 or thereabouts when both properties were actually in the same ownership. That’s no longer the case as the Mirage passed to MGM and Treasure Island was also sold on. Happily for us the service wasn’t removed in the process. Again it’s free and runs every day from mid morning to late evening. There are sometimes queues at busy periods.
None of the above offerings should however be confused with the official Las Vegas Monorail system. Self-described as ‘ONE OF THE MOST ADVANCED URBAN TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS IN THE WORLD’ others have branded it a hugely expensive white elephant. Every visitor should ride it once and judge for themselves. If you follow this link to the official monorail site you can read all about it and even buy tickets.
In short the service runs all the way from the MGM to the SLS station to the East of Circus Circus and the Stratosphere with five stops in between. It doesn’t say this in the promotional literature but it would be more correct to say that the service runs through the back yards of these properties. Perhaps the biggest criticism of the service is that it takes so very long to reach the monorail stations themselves from The Strip. Frankly it’s a bloody long walk to the very back of the MGM to pick up the service and another mighty long trek at, say Harrahs, to get back to The Strip again. I’m sure it was necessary but they simply built it too far back! The walking to and from the stations doubles or triples the actual journey time.
All that said, some of the views are amazing. I’m thinking particularly of the section near the Wynn where you get premium views of the old Desert Inn golf course and now you also get a very close up view of the High Roller at the Linq. Note I say some of the views because the route does effectively take you through the back yards of these properties so there are also views of many car parks, storage yards and stuff that they don’t ordinarily want you to see.
As I say you must ride the monorail once and see for yourself. The fares are not exactly a giveaway at $5 single so $12 for a 24 hour pass may be better value (prices as at 1/06). Have a go and tell me what you think. Personally, unless I happened to need to get from the MGM to the Convention Centre I can’t see me using the monorail again.
Before I get onto my seemingly favourite subject of Las Vegas taxis I want to talk to you about walking. It has the undisputed advantage of being free. In Las Vegas it also has many disadvantages. There are many mistakes to be made and, trust me, I’ve made them all at one time or another.
I’m only concerned here with walking along The Strip. Walking Downtown is easier because it’s a smaller area and some of it’s pedestrianised. As a tourist don’t walk away from the Strip or Downtown. I’m not saying anything will happen to you but the chances something might happen have just gone up substantially.
So, walking disadvantage number one is the weather. Don’t underestimate how hot it gets in Vegas. The average July high temperature is over 40 degrees Centigrade. That’s well over 105 degrees F in old money. You’re approaching November before it gets below 20 degrees. I’ve known so many people who set out to ‘walk The Strip’ and give up before they’ve completed 10% of it. If you do intend to walk you must take lots of water with you. It does get cooler in the evening but not hugely so.
Disadvantage number two on or near The Strip is the sheer number of people doing the same as you. This photo is a bit extreme as it was taken on New Year’s Eve, which is certainly not typical, but from mid-morning to late evening the Strip pavements or sidewalks are very busy indeed. Vacationers don’t tend to be that orderly so you often have to stop or get stuck behind someone moving at the pace of an ‘asthmatic ant carrying heavy shopping’.
Crowds also build up in huge numbers at certain places. Understandably, watching the Bellagio fountains is a free treat, so is viewing the volcano eruption at Mirage. Foot traffic nearby comes to a complete standstill.
When you add into the mix the inebriated, the number of colourfully-dressed characters offering you a shared selfie for a couple of Dollars and the significant quantity of homeless on the cadge your walk will very often cease to be a walk at all.
If, despite the above, you’re determined to walk more than a block or so then you need some help. You could try this:
Starting at the Southern end of The Strip at Mandalay Bay you could:
- Take the free tram to Excalibur
- Take the footbridge across and into New York New York
- Exit by the Staaten Island meeting room and walk The Strip for about 50m to Diablo’s Cantina at Monte Carlo
- Walk through Monte Carlo to the Aria Express station
- Take the tram to Bellagio
- Walk through Bellagio, trying not to spend away your entire wealth in the shops at Via Bellagio,
- Follow the sign to Caesar’s Palace
- Cross the footbridge towards Serendipity 3
- Hang a left and into Caesar’s Palace
- Follow the signs for the Forum Shops
- Pass through the Forum Shops exiting on your right back onto The Strip
- Walk about 100 m left then enter Mirage under the canopy
- Walk through Mirage to the tram station to Treasure Island
- Take the tram to Treasure Island then exit back onto The Strip
You have just ‘walked’ over half of The Strip (and the most interesting half to boot), you have hardly stepped outside, you’ve dodged most of the crowds and it has cost you nothing. You’re now just a few steps away from Fashion Show Mall and should be very pleased with yourself.
If you don’t want to do anything as organised or extreme as this I have one other tip. All the casinos are very well air-conditioned. Some are better than others: The Venetian, I think, has the best air con system. When you’re walking The Strip and you see a casino entrance, go inside, walk through it parallel to The Strip then out again when you reach the far end of the property. It won’t be that far to the next property when you repeat the process.
Try this on the Eastern side of The Strip (MGM to Palazzo) and you’ll find you cool down enough when you’re inside to make up for the overheating when outside and you dodge many of the crowds. And always carry water.
One other thing. From late afternoon on The Strip you’ll come across a lot of Mexicans handing out what appear to be cards. In fact they’re little advertisements for girls to be sent to your room! Unless that is what you’re looking for just ignore them – no eye contact – and they won’t bother you. The authorities did once try to remove them from the streets but it caused so much litter when they threw all their cards on the pavement and ran off that they now just let them get on with it!
And then finally you could always take a taxi. As I mentioned elsewhere there are just too many taxis in Vegas. Bad for the drivers but great for you and I. You very seldom have to wait at all for a taxi to arrive. The only waiting you’re likely to do is in line to get into a cab. They line up at each and every hotel and establishment of note, 24/7, day and night.
So I can just flag down a cab in the street like I do In London or New York? No, that’s a big difference. They won’t (or shouldn’t) stop. You need to get your cab from an approved location. On or near The Strip that means just about every hotel, casino or mall so you’re never far from a taxi. They’re not particularly cheap or expensive – just the same price you’d expect to pay for a cab at home because they’re tightly regulated. Tipping is up to you; tip as you would at home.
You’ll find the taxi drivers themselves are also just like they are at home. Some won’t want to say a word, some won’t shut up. By and large they’re knowledgeable and will get you exactly where you want to go without fuss. Like everyone else in Vegas they rely heavily on tips so it’s important to do a good job.
If you’re a good planner you can call and reserve a cab or have one sent to you but I’ve never found the need because I’ve never had to wait more than a matter of seconds anywhere in the city and that includes the airport. Taking a cab is definitely my preferred mode of transport in and around Vegas. You could rent a car – I did so once but unless you’re planning to go further afield, away from The Strip or Downtown, there’s absolutely no point at all.
If a car rental does appeal the main rental centre that serves McCarron airport isn’t actually at the airport itself but a three mile courtesy bus ride away at Gilespie Street. Not a great start especially as roadworks in the area can make it a tortuous journey. Many of the larger casino hotels have a rental car desk in house with the cars collectible from and returned to their own parking garage! This is much more user friendly, just watch out for the occasional very hefty charges. That said, if you book in advance, you can sometimes get the same rate you’d get at the airport and without the hassle.