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By Paula Kerrigan, dealnews Assistant Editor
Las Vegas literally means "The Valleys" in Spanish and earned its name in the 19th century from pilgrims who stopped here for water on their way north from Texas. Thanks to the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, the area became a playground for thousands of off-duty builders. Gambling was legalized in 1931, and the years that follow are both a seedy and glitzy history. Being located smack dab in the middle of the Mojave desert might seem like an unlikely place for "The Entertainment Capital of the World" (as Vegas bills itself), but Sin City is booming and always ready to play.
Avoid the 5-hour drive from SoCal and get to Vegas by plane in under an hour via a Virgin America 1-way flight (from $68.90, a low by $50; expires July 31). Of course, the flight from NYC is about five hours, but that's no biggie with a roundtrip fare from United Airlines (from $264.60, a low by $5; expires July 31) landing at McCarran International Airport. It's worth noting that if you're taking a taxi from the airport to the Strip, you'll save yourself about $5 to $10 if you ask the taxi driver not to take the Paradise Road tunnel. The journey may take about 10 minutes longer, but you're on holiday so relax and hang onto your cash for a slot machine.
Almost all the action in Vegas centers around "The Strip," a 4-mile boulevard where you'll find some of the most grand hotel casinos in the area, as well as a plethora of lights, landmarks, and limousines. Hotel casinos in Vegas are not just a place to sleep (in fact, scratch sleeping off your "to do" list altogether), so we recommend perusing the Expedia hotel sale (from $21.25; expires July 31) and loosening the purse strings on this aspect of your holiday budget to get in a proper Vegas experience.
If you don't want to splurge on a hotel but still want the pizzazz of a Vegas hotel casino, consider staying off-Strip. Book a Luxury Tower Room at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino (from $20, a low by $9, expires July 27) to get a stunning view of the Strip in all its neon glory from the comfort of a king-sized bed. Let us pause for a moment to remind you that the hidden resort fee is more prevalent in Vegas, so visitors should expect an additional $10 to $20 per night added to their bill by the hotel.
Once you've settled in to your hotel and found your way through the labyrinthine casino layout, take in some of the jewels of Las Vegas. Check out the 175,000-square foot Roman-inspired Forum shopping mall inside Caesar's Palace; take the roller coaster through mini-Manhattan themed hotel New York New York (to be clear, it's a roller coaster that runs through the interior of the hotel, sort of like extreme touring); see the Shark Reef aquarium in the Mandalay; and of course don't miss a nighttime viewing of the Bellagio Fountains.
Vegas is also famous for its live performances, and no trip to America's playground is complete without catching one of the dazzling Cirque du Soleil shows (our personal favorite), The Blue Man Group, or Penn & Teller. If you somehow run out of things to do, nothing spices up a night like tying the knot to a random stranger, a la Gob and Amy Poehler in an episode of Arrested Development. (It didn't turn out so well, so we recommend you watch the entire series before making this decision.)
Although Las Vegas is the pulse of Nevada, it is by no means the state's only charm. A short trip out to Henderson, NV makes for a complete change of pace and a glimpse of a unique and exquisite natural landscape. Visitors will find a more laid back casino hotel scene with a 2-night stay at the Aston MonteLago Village Resort ($138, a low by $42; expires July 31). This package includes a $25 casino free play voucher per night and a complimentary breakfast for two. Alternatively you can book a stay at the Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort (from $115.20, a low by $29; expires August 31) to retreat from the neon mania of the Strip entirely and unwind in this Moroccan-themed spa. If you can bear to drag yourself away from the pampering, head down to Lake Mead (about half an hour's drive from the resort) to enjoy a day at the naturally-occurring hot springs. Further afield, but a definite must-see is Red Rock Canyon. Whether you decide to hike or take the 13-mile scenic drive, this canyon is a stunning display of colorful rock formations that rivals even the most colorful and elaborate Las Vegas landmark.
It seems natural for Vegas to have a little something for everyone's tastes, offering a wow-factor combined with luxury and style. But if you've got your heart set on somewhere else, check out our daily travel deals for additional airfare sales, and hotel and vacation packages. And remember the old adage: "If you aim to leave Las Vegas with a small fortune, go there with a large one."
At the time of publication, these travel deals offered the lowest prices we could find. Deals may include blackout dates, additional taxes, and fees. Some of our prices may be based on mandatory double occupancy.