|Las Vegas Primer
You’ve talked yourself and your family to come to Vegas for this meeting – now what? Here is a primer on the town (updated June, 2012).
Primer to Las Vegas
By Michael J.W. Thomas, CPhT, Event & Editorial Assistant, NPPA
So you’re planning to attend the 16th Annual NPPA Conference at the newly-renovated Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, hosted by Summerdale Enterprises, Inc., Publisher ofPharmacy Purchasing Outlook, and the Founder of NPPA. You’ve heard good things about the Conference, and you want the opportunity to network with your fellow Pharmacy Purchasing Professionals. And let’s not forget about the possibility of fulfilling all of your CE requirements for the year at one meeting (an estimated 8-10 at least is expected). You want to bring the family, catch a show, and maybe try your hand at the blackjack table.
But it’s so far away, it’s in the middle of nowhere and you really know nothing about Las Vegas. This writer has been to the Atlantic City casino hotels, as well as the Indian casinos. At least Atlantic City has the beach to keep my family happy, but the reservation casinos, well, if you don’t gamble, there’s not much else to do. But is what they say about Vegas true? Can I bring my family and be assured that they will not be in danger from The Mob AND have enough activities to keep them entertained? Will they (or myself, for that matter) be tempted by the many lurid distractions in this so-called Sin City? Are there really slot machines in the bathrooms?
Fortunately, the hype surrounding Las Vegas is in this day and age Urban Legend. The only time you may encounter The Mob would be at the Tropicana attraction the Las Vegas Mob Experience (see below “Entertainment” section for more info). And showgirls wearing only feathers and sequins are now only available for photo-ops outside the hotel. Those things are tales of the Old Las Vegas for the most part. And, sorry, in the twelve years of going to the Conference, this writer has yet to see a spectacular CSI crime scene, though many episodes were shot in our former Conference location. You will, however, find a delightful and dazzling array of sights and distractions that has earned Las Vegas the description ‘Fabulous’. What this writer will attempt to accomplish will be to give a brief primer on what to expect to see, what you can do as a family, or a group after the daily Conference sessions, and what your family can do to keep them busy and entertained during the day while you’re at the Conference.
TRANSPORTATION: GETTING TO LAS VEGAS
For those in the East, the only method to get to Las Vegas is by air. All modes of ground transportation will take far too long unless you have all the time in the world. For attendees in the Mid-West and the Coast, there are the options of land, rail, or air travel, depending on your distance from Las Vegas. This writer has done the drive to Las Vegas from San Diego. It’s a five-to-six hour drive, depending on your driving style, and it is for the most part eventless. Once you leave the Los Angeles area, be prepared to drive virtually non-stop to ‘Vegas, barring food, gas, and rest stops. Also, for those driving, turn off your air conditioning and open the windows when driving through the desert. Though at the speed you’re driving, it is not the most optimal way to drive in terms of gas consumption, it puts less of a strain on your electrical system in the merciless heat. And getting stuck on I-15 with a dead battery and being literally a hundred miles from nowhere in the middle of the Mojave Desert, that’s no way to start a vacation.
For those who never or rarely travel by plane, here are a few general tips to make your travel less traumatic:
– For the best airfares, book your flight as far in advance as possible. The further you book your flight from your actual departure date, the cheaper your flight will likely be. Booking your flight early also eases your expense load as you’re spreading out your expenses over a longer period of time. If you are really brave, you can try to book a flight on standby status. Standby status means you book your flight with the understanding that if the plane is not full, you get a seat. If the flight is full, you have to wait for the next flight. Or the next. Or the next. It’s the cheapest mode of air travel, but it is the most risky in terms of actually getting a flight and in today’s economy, it may not be worth the aggravation. You may not want to try this if you are traveling with your family.
– You can make all the travel arrangements yourself, on the Internet or phone. By making all the arrangements yourself, you have the most control over your options (flight, times, etc.), but if you have little or no experience in doing so, you may not get the best price or arrangements. If you do opt to make your own flight arrangements, try to book a flight on an airline that has a hub in your city. An airline with a hub in your city means that airline has one of their main offices in your home city. Delta Airlines has a hub in Atlanta, GA, while US Airways has a hub in Philadelphia, PA, for example. Hub city airlines will have better rates and more flight options from your city to choose from.
– You can also check the Internet to book flights. Most airlines have their own websites as well, where you can shop flights and prices. One of the more popular general travel sites is travelocity.com, but there are others, such as cheapairfares.com, cheapair.com, and expedia.com. A word of caution: make sure you are comfortable with any site you use as you will be submitting your credit card and other sensitive information online. Another hint is to check the rates on the travel Internet sites, find the cheapest airline, then go to that airline’s website. Another option is to use priceline.com or hotwire.com for airfares. Their claim to name your own price is true, however you are subject to whatever airline, airport, flight time and even the date they decide you fly, which is risky since you must pay in advance and then you’re told how you get there. I am not sure of their refund policy, either. As with standby, if you are not picky how, when and where you land in Las Vegas, this is the best bet.
In the past few years, the airlines themselves, tired of losing a piece of their action to the online services, have initiated their own “Best Price” policies. This can work in your favor, because once you get a good price for your flight from one of the online travel services, go to the airline itself that had the best prices and put them head-to-head. If the airline’s price is better, and it sometimes is, you book with the airline. If their price is not the best, you can negotiate with the airline to lower their price. By booking with the airline instead of the online travel service, you sometimes save a bit on the administrative fees charged by the online travel service.
For the best and least route of resistance, try a travel agent. They traditionally charge no more than if you were to do it yourself, and they can find the best deals for your requirements as they do this for a living. With your hotel reservations, make sure to use our NPPA Conference name to book your room, so that you will get the best rate. Look for more official hotel room block details on our Conference page of the NPPA website once the 2012 Conference information becomes available.
Something new in the past few years is that the airlines are becoming stricter regarding the baggage they handle. Most airlines now actually charge extra for your checked baggage, sometimes even for your first bag. Charges for baggage checked start at $20 and can go as high as $50! Also, all checked baggage is now weighed, and any over your airline’s weight limit will be charged as being two bags instead of one. And if your carry-on bag doesn’t fit the airlines’ size criteria, they will make you check that instead, and of course charge for the extra bag according to their policy. So a word to the wise is pack lightly and be prepared for unexpected baggage charges. Again, we suggest you CHECK WITH YOUR AIRLINE and find out their latest rules for baggage handling aboard their planes.
Note: Southwest Airlines actually allows two checked bags for each passenger at no additional cost! And you may not realize this, but Southwest now departs from more places across the country than they used to, and they fly into Vegas quite often. Check it out before you make your reservations elsewhere…we’ve also found them to be a fair rate as well when booking in advance per their policies.
Last bit of advice for travel. Since its inception, the Transportation Service Administration (TSA) has frequently changed their criteria regarding what can and cannot be permitted to be brought on air crafts. It would be a good idea to check their website to find out the latest do’s and don’ts. Also, TSA requires that they have complete access to your luggage for random inspection. That means if you lock your luggage, they will break your lock. Department stores now sell TSA-approved locks and belts that can be accessible by the TSA but still ensure some personal security. Caution should be exercised with the luggage belts, because if they are too complicated or too difficult to re-close, they will just tie it to your luggage, leaving your personal belongings completely unprotected. So the lesson here is not to have any contraband, of course, but also not to over pack, or pack anything you may not want others to see, or have to explain to others.
The average temperature in Las Vegas in mid-August usually hovers around the 100 degree mark. Although it is a dry heat (usually about 5% humidity), it often remains around the 90-100 degree mark even at night. You are, after all, in the middle of a desert, so don’t venture outside for any lengthy periods of time if you are susceptible to the heat. The August Vegas weather can also often include sudden downpours of rain along with thunder and lightning, as those of you who’ve witnessed that in the past years can attest to. And lastly, at times it can become very windy outside, and therefore feel a bit cooler at times (unless it’s the hot dry desert wind), so just plan and dress accordingly.
Inside the hotels is a different story. The hotels, the casinos, and even hotel exteriors are usually wonderfully air-conditioned, sometimes to the point that it becomes almost toocold. So make sure to prepare yourself for the drastic weather changes as you go from unrelenting heat to air-conditioned comfort and sometimes too air-conditioned, and vice-versa. When coming to the meeting rooms, we suggest you bring layers and dress a bit warmer than you might think would be needed, since when you’re sitting and listening to lectures inside the air-conditioned space, it can get quite chilly. Check weather.com for thecurrent Las Vegas weather report.
TRANSPORTATION – LAND
Once you get there, you’ll want to get around. If you drove yourself, the option is obvious; use your own car. Parking is usually free in most casinos, but read the cautions regarding driving in Las Vegas a little further down in this article. Depending on your budget and your needs, there are three options as broken down here below. Remember that Bally’s is one of the closest hotels on the Strip from the airport at less than 3 miles away, so even a cab ride will be an economical way to go.
Car rental is the most expensive, but the most versatile mode of travel. Las Vegas is a huge, sprawling city in regards to land mass, and if you are staying for any time longer than the Conference, you may want to see the other sites Las Vegas has to offer. A second word of caution: driving on the Strip may be intimidating to one who is not experienced in driving in a city that is literally on a 24/7 rush hour. Traffic is fast, furious and congested, and the later in the day you drive, the more intense the traffic gets.
Taxis offer almost as much versatility but without the financial commitment of a car rental or the nerve-shattering intensity of actually driving, and with Bally’s Hotel being so close to the airport (less than 3 miles), it makes even more sense. The cabs are usually clean and well-maintained, and the drivers will be glad to give you tips on what to see and do while in the city, while also telling you their own life story. Cab fares can get pricey, so choose carefully your itinerary if you are sightseeing by taxi cab. One other caution: If a driver solicits you to skip the regular lines and use their cab DON’T DO IT!! These “gypsy” cab drivers usually pay off their partner at the hotel, then literally take you for a ride. They say they will charge you less than a regular cab, but the fares usually comes out to more than a regular, licensed cab. As a second note, not all gypsies are unscrupulous, and not every door attendant is in cahoots with them, but it’s just safer to use a licensed cab and driver.
Las Vegas boasts a very efficient and reliable public transportation service that runs the length of the Strip and beyond. The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) launched its new Double Decker bus service on the Las Vegas Strip in 2005. The Deuce provides another exclusive transportation option for residents and visitors alike along the busy Las Vegas Strip. The Double Decker accommodates 97 people and provides both an economical and environmentally sound transit option. Day Passes can be purchased that will allow one passenger each to get off and on the bus all day long, and it will take you from near the airport to the Fremont area of Las Vegas, the Original Las Vegas Strip. The city recently updated their buses so that most of them are now double-decker buses, alleviating the congestion of the older buses and allowing tourists to view the city from a better vantage point. In addition, the Las Vegas Strip now has a monorail system that covers most of the major casinos on the Strip, and the monorail begins at the MGM Grand just down the street. All the usual precautions for public transportation travel should be observed (watch your purse, wallet, etc.).
There is another option to taxis and buses. There are several modes of free transportation that are offered by the casinos themselves:
-Shuttles – All the chain casinos offer their own free shuttle service to their other locations in Las Vegas. Several casino chains offer free shuttles. They all have stops on the Strip. It is the cheapest and easiest method to visit the casinos off the Strip. It’s just a matter of where you want to go.
– Monorails – Another mode of free transportation are the inter-casino monorails, not to be confused with the Las Vegas Monorail. These are featured in the newer casinos, such as the Mirage or Mandalay Bay. Again, they connect to their own casinos so you don’t have to walk, and there are several of these monorails accessible on the Strip.
There is a fourth option – walking. This is not advisable unless you intend to cover the only the centermost and most densely packed section of the city. With Caesars Palace alone covering the equivalent of nearly two and one-half city blocks, it is a formidable task to visit to many casinos in one evening, as many casinos are further away than they look. Even with walking, you still need a way to get to that section of town, and that is usually by monorail, since, although we will be practically in the center of town, it is still enough of a distance between groups of casinos to make it daunting. A monorail Day Pass or even a Day Pass for their Strip Bus system is a surefire solution to tired feet.
CONFERENCE HOTEL – BALLY’S LAS VEGAS
NPPA Hotel Room Block Extended Through 7/30
NPPA’s room block rate at Bally’s Las Vegas of $69/night (plus tax; single/double) has been EXTENDED, now
expiring AFTER JULY 30 (reservations accepted at NPPA rate through midnight 7/30). After that time, Bally’s will charge the going rate and our special rate will no longer be available.
Click HERE for Hotel Reservations (for link to online reservations or for reservations by phone).
Please note: even after the newly extended July 30 hotel rate cutoff, be sure to continue to use our group block name & code (NPPA or “SAAC811.”), to receive the following Resort Fee Amenities with your NPPA room rate, at no additional charge(normally $9.99/day):
- High-speed wireless Internet (also pool-side);
- Phone calls: local, domestic long distance, & toll-free;
- Daily fitness center access;
- 2 for 1 signature cocktail with your meal in restaurants Bacio & Biscayne;
- Business Center usage for: Incoming faxes (10 per day), Outgoing faxes (10 per day), Photocopies (10 per day), and Airline Boarding pass printing.
As previously mentioned, Bally’s is spiffing up the place, in time for our 2012 Conference. We’d like to share with our members at this time, some of the new features that will be in place for 2012.
The first thing you’ll notice in the South Beach-themed hotel is that the entire casino area has been opened up. Renovations and re-modeling have been completed. Bring your sunglasses, as the casino area is actually more brightly lit, as opposed to the smoky, darkened casinos in the rest of Vegas.
Café Nikki is Bally’s 24-hour, 3-meal dining facility. Also, because of its popularity, a buffet component is included in Café Nikki as an option while dining there. Breakfast & Brunch there is an all-you-can-eat buffet-style (with no menu options), and Brunch is served EVERY DAY from 11am-2pm. For lunch at Café Nikki, you’ll have the choice of their menu options or the buffet, and dinner is menu only. Next to the Café is a small fast food court, with “Pellegrino’s Pizza & Deli,” “Nuudles: World Noodle Bar” (Asian food), “The Naked Spoon” (ice cream & yogurt), and of course, no food court would be complete without a “Starbucks™”! In addition, Bally’s has 2 more traditional restaurants: Bacio (Italian), and Biscayne (steak & seafood).
Dining Options at Bally’s: Café Nikki is Bally’s 24-hour, 3-meal dining facility. Also, because of its popularity, a buffet component is included in Café Nikki as an option while dining there. Breakfast & Brunch there is an all-you-can-eat buffet-style (with no menu options), and Brunch is served EVERY DAY from 11am-2pm. For lunch at Café Nikki, you’ll have the choice of their menu options or the buffet, and dinner is menu-only. In addition, Bally’s has 2 more traditional restaurants: Bacio (Italian), and Biscayne (steak & seafood).
Next to the Café is a small Fast Food Court, with “Pellegrino’s Pizza & Deli,” “Nuudles-World Noodle Bar” (Asian food), “The Naked Spoon” (ice cream & yogurt), and of course, Starbucks™.
Retail Stores: A “sundries” store (for water/snacks) is also available 24/7 (in the hotel lobby adjacent to the main entrance, called “Essentials”). There is also as a “Welcome to Las Vegas” souvenir store, and 5 mini-boutiques.
If you’re sports fan, Bally’s has also just opened their brand-new race & sports book area, fully renovated.
These are some of the new features waiting for you in August. As more information comes from Bally’s Las Vegas, we will be sharing it with you.
Attire at the Conference is Business Casual. Women should wear skirts or slacks with blouses, or dresses; whatever you would feel most comfortable wearing in a business/social environment. Men should be in slacks and shirts; jackets are optional, polo shirts are acceptable. You should stay away from tank tops, undershirts, short-shorts, and ripped jeans; scrubs are a bad idea also. Shorts and sandals are acceptable if still professional enough; the general Rule of Thumb would be to dress as though you were going to dinner or a casual social event. One important note: bring layers to wear while in the meeting rooms. All of the hotels & meeting room space in Vegas are kept VERY COLD in contrast to the oppressive heat outside the hotel! It’s not something we have a lot of control over, so it’s best to be prepared. So, the layering…you will be happy you’ve brought a sweater or jacket, despite the sweltering heat outside, when sitting in the lecture room for hours in the air conditioning.
Speaking of such, the second industry in Las Vegas is food. Food is everywhere. And there is food for every taste, every lifestyle, and every budget. At Bally’s, as in every other casino, there is a fast food court as well as restaurants, such as Bacio (Italian), Biscayne (steak & seafood), and Café Nikki, their 24-hour dining location, which has breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all-you-can-eat Buffets for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. And if that’s not enough, Bally’s location allows you to walk over to MGM across the bridge, and partake of the MANY additional restaurants of every caliber and expense, very easily and quickly.
Note that with your Buyer-Attendee NPPA Conference registration, Breakfast on 2 or 3 days is also included, as well as entrance to our Opening Night Meet N’ Greet Reception. Snacks will also be provided during the Exhibit Hall times, and each Buyer-Attendee receives 1 free non-alcoholic drink ticket for use in our Full Bar in the Exhibit Hall (cash bar, not hosted otherwise).
Las Vegas is truly the Entertainment Capital of the World. Entertainers who are world-renown live and perform in Vegas year round. Tourists flock to Vegas to see some of the most famous people in the world perform. And like everything else in Vegas, there are entertainment choices for every taste and budget.
– Let’s start with the free shows. That’s right FREE shows. Throughout every casino there are lounge acts that range from relaxing to easy Jazz to tearing it up at a full-blown House Party. And it’s available to you for the price of a drink. If lounge acts aren’t your style, try wandering through the Strip at night. This is when Las Vegas really becomes alive. The lights of the city and the gigantic video screens would be enough distraction for a normal night. But there is more, much more. Wandering down the Strip, you can watch the spectacular Dancing Water Fountains Show at Bellagio, or even get a little flame-burned from the Volcano Show at the Mirage. Or catch real, live circus acts at Circus-Circus. Need some more? How about a five city-block-long light and music show up in the Fremont section of Las Vegas. Words can’t describe it. You just have to see it. And it’s all free.
And of course, there’s always the trademark Vegas acts, such as the Cirque du Soliel productions, or the plays/musicals, such as “Phantom – the Las Vegas Spectacular.” These shows will normally set you back anywhere from $69-150 per person, if you can get a ticket, as they are very popular. Another tip: check the website pages of the hotel’s show you’re interested in to see if they are offering discounts to select dates. Remember, the top shows like “Menopause – the Musical” or the Blue Man Group are usually booked solid, so if you plan to see these top shows, make your arrangements early.
You may want to network with the various Vendors displaying at the Conference. Drug Reps are also a good source for entertainment during conventions. At a conference such as the NPPA Conference, chances are there will be a vendor there that either you are familiar, or who wishes to speak to you more at length than during the display times. This is an excellent opportunity for both vendors and buyers to get together in a business/social environment. The Conference vendors get your undivided attention for a couple of hours and you get a great meal and/or show. Physicians and Pharmacists have been wined and dined for years in this manner. Isn’t it about time for the person who actually makes the purchases to get this kind of treatment? It is truly a winning deal for all.
For those planning extended stays in the Clark County area, you may want to take in a tour of Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon. There are many options to tour these areas, including aerial and helicopter tours. These tours need to be planned at least a day in advance so that the tour companies can make accommodations for you or your group. The Hoover Dam is a nice half-day excursion, while the Grand Canyon takes a full day, because of the extensive traveling that is involved (across two states). Also, it’s better to visit the Grand Canyon in a tour group as the drive is long and generally non-eventful, and the tour guides know of the better places for the sights and picture taking. The Bally’s concierge staff will be happy to help you with these arrangements.
Then there’s the gambling, although the Politically Correct crowd now call it Gaming. Many people find entertainment in the various gaming activities. In addition, the hotel offers free classes in Blackjack, Roulette, Poker, etc. Just approach any employee and they can direct you to where the classes are. One more feature about the gaming area. As long as you are gaming, cocktail waitresses will offer you free drinks. One of the attendees told this writer that she was getting $8 mojitos just for sitting at a slot machine and spent only $5 on a slot machine. As long as she sat there gaming, the drinks kept coming. Of course it is customary to tip the waitress, but getting drinks for a buck is still a very good deal. There are rumors that this practice may end, but for now, it’s still going.
Las Vegas, while it tried to make itself more family-oriented, is not exactly Disneyland either. Its seedier underbelly rears its head at night, as hawkers on the streets slap pamphlets and leaflets in your face, trying to attract your attention, men, women, couples, even children, advertising escort services, and every other type of mature distraction. Although considered conventionally rude, it’s best to ignore these people completely, as walking through 8-10 of them at a clip can be a little unnerving, and there is virtually no way to walk around them. The latest sidewalk scam is the offer of free tickets to shows and attractions by street hawkers. While their offer may be legitimate, and some are, the “price” of the free offer is that you sit through a “short” timeshare presentation that can waste as little as 45 minutes or as long as several hours of your time. If a person approaches you and asks how long you are in town, it is a timeshare scheme. It is advisable to use whatever method that is comfortable for you to firmly tell the person, “No.” Prostitution is legal in Nevada, but not in Clark County, where the Las Vegas Strip resides, but it doesn’t stop a ‘working girl’ from plying her (or his) trade on the Strip. There are also adult revues and of course the showgirl revues where G-strings are optional. Most of these avenues of entertainment usually have to be actively sought after, so it should not present a problem to attendees bringing their families to Vegas.
There are other ways to lose money in Las Vegas besides the Roulette Wheel. Most of the casinos have exclusive shops and boutiques. If you’ve ever imagined walking down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, this is the closest thing to that. Most of these stores are fairly pricey, with names like Gucci and Pierre Cardin, and it is kind of fun to go into these boutiques, and just see how the other half shops. There are also very specialized shops for very unique tastes. If this is not exactly to your liking or your budget, every casino has shops where you can purchase souvenirs and other sundry items as well as specialty shops with more reasonably priced items. This writer, on one of his excursions to Vegas collected a souvenir beer mug from every casino he visited. I wouldn’t recommend that to everyone, as shipping them back home cost over a hundred dollars, but sometimes it’s fun to have a goal like that. Also for those attendees planning an extended stay in Vegas, and you venture off the Strip, you’ll also find that Las Vegas is a real, regular city, with supermarkets and regular retail stores. But keep in mind that these stores are in the residential areas far from the Strip. You may be identified as a tourist invading their private sector if you act like one. Still, it is a unique experience to mingle among the locals. But use caution, as traveling off the Strip unescorted and into unfamiliar areas is never a good idea, as the city has all the perils and dangers of any other urban jungle.
PLAN TO STAY THE ENTIRE FOUR DAYS! Gone are the days of the fourth & final Conference day was mostly “fluff.” The last few Conferences have been chock full of information, up to the very last session. Too many times have we heard that attendees couldn’t stay for the final sessions because they’ve already booked their flight. And as important as the GPO and Wholesaler breakouts are to the companies running those sessions, so is the Open Forum and Conference Feedback sessions for us, and ultimately YOU. Many of the educational sessions at this Conference are a direct response to what we were told during the Conference Feedback session last August. So a word to the wise: stay for the entire Conference, assuring your staff that you’re just a phone call or a text message away. If they are so concerned that your direct intervention is necessary, let them assign you a laptop. So stay the whole four days, and bring your spouse & the kids. Put the kids on the Roller Coaster atop New York, New York, or watch a Live Jousting Matchwhile you feast on medieval foods (using your hands – no utensils) at the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur. Send the family just up the street from the Bally’s to the UA Showcase 8 Movie Theater to catch the remake of the James Cameron thriller, “Total Recall” or, for the kiddies, the live-action cartoon, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days”, both opening August 2012. And, who knows, maybe you can win tickets to see Brad Garrett at his very own nightclub at the Trop!
INFORMATION RESOURCES & CONCLUSION
This article by no means encompasses Las Vegas in its entirety. Entire sections of bookstores have been devoted to Vegas, with new volumes coming out every year as Vegas is a dynamic, ever morphing entity. Something is always being torn down and/or rebuilt so it is never the same city anytime you visit. When we return to Vegas in 2012, it will be a different city as old hotels are torn down and new ones are being built. The Bally’s, one of the oldest hotels on the Strip, is getting a complete makeover, taking its guests to a more tropical theme. Other information resources are listed below. It is an incomplete list at best, as there are dozens of Internet sites devoted to Las Vegas or one of its attractions. Free information pamphlets are just a letter or a phone call away for those who do not have Internet access, and it, too, is abundant.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau
3150 Paradise Rd
Las Vegas, NV 89209-9096
See you there!