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Since most of a Las Vegas vacation is usually spent indoors, you can have a good time here year-round. The most pleasant seasons in this area are spring and fall, especially if you want to experience the great outdoors.
Weekdays are slightly less crowded than weekends. Holidays are always a mob scene and come accompanied by high hotel prices. Hotel prices also skyrocket when big conventions and special events are taking place. The slowest times of year are June and July, the week before Christmas, and the week after New Year's.
If a major convention is to be held during your trip, you might want to change your date. Check the box later in this section for convention dates, and contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (tel. 877/VISITLV or 702/892-7575; www.vegasfreedom.com), since convention schedules often change.
First of all, Vegas isn't always hot, but when it is hot, it's really hot. One thing you'll hear again and again is that even though Las Vegas gets very hot, the dry desert heat is not unbearable. This is true. The exception is most of the hotel pool areas because they are surrounded by massive hotels covered in mirrored glass, which acts as a giant magnifying glass, focusing the sun's rays on the ant-like people below. Generally the humidity averages a low 22%, and even on very hot days, there's apt to be a breeze. Also, barring the hottest summer days, there's relief at night when temperatures often drop by at least 20°F (-7°C).
But this is the desert, and it's not hot all year-round. It can get quite cold, especially in the winter, when the temperature at night can drop to 30°F (-1°C) and lower. (In the winter of 1998-99, it actually snowed in Vegas, dropping nearly 2 in. on the Strip. There's nothing quite like the sight of the Luxor's Sphinx blanketed in snow.) The winter breeze can also become a cold, biting, strong wind of up to 40 mph and more. And so, there are entire portions of the year when you won't be using that hotel swimming pool at all (even if you want to--be aware that most of the hotels close huge chunks of those fabulous swimming pool areas for "the season," which can be as long as Labor Day to Memorial Day). If you aren't traveling in the height of summer, bring a wrap. Also, remember your sunscreen and hat--even if it's not all that hot, you can burn very easily and very fast. (You should see all the lobster-red people glowing in the casinos at night.)
Calendar of Events
You may be surprised that Las Vegas does not offer as many annual events as most tourist cities. The reason is Las Vegas's very raison d'etre: the gaming industry. This town wants its visitors spending their money in the casinos, not at Renaissance fairs and parades.
When in town, check the local paper and call the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (tel. 877/VISITLV or 702/892-7575; www.vegasfreedom.com), or the Chamber of Commerce (tel. 702/735-1616; www.lvchamber.com) to find out about other events scheduled during your visit.
World Series of Poker. This famed 21-day event takes place at Binion's Horseshoe Casino, 128 Fremont St. (tel. 702/382-1600), in late April and early May, with high-stakes gamblers and show-biz personalities competing for six-figure purses. There are daily events with entry stakes ranging from $125 to $5,000. To enter the World Championship Event (purse: $1 million), players must pony up $10,000. It costs nothing to go crowd around the tables and watch the action.
CineVegas International Film Festival. This annual event, usually held in early June, is growing in popularity and prestige, with film debuts from both independent and major studios, plus lots of celebrities hanging around for the big parties. Call tel. 800/431-2140 or visit their website at www.cinevegas.com.
Las Vegas Jazz Festival. World-class jazz musicians are invited to play at this relatively new but growing festival held at the Fremont Street Experience for 3 days, usually in early June. For details, schedules, and tickets call tel. 800/249-3559 or visit their website at www.vegasexperience.com.
Las Vegas Stampede. 2002 saw the debut of this "only in Vegas" event--several days of chuck-wagon races--that will become an early-September annual celebration. No, we're not making this up. Call tel. 403/279-5804 or visit their website at www.wpca.com.
Oktoberfest. This boisterous autumn holiday is celebrated from mid-September through the end of October at the Mount Charleston Resort (tel. 800/955-1314 or 702/872-5408) with music, folk dancers, singalongs around a roaring fire, special decorations, and Bavarian cookouts.
International Mariachi Festival. Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Hacienda Ave.), started hosting this worldwide Mariachi (Mexican music) festival a few years ago, and it has become one of the city's most eagerly anticipated events. Call Mandalay Bay at tel. 877/632-7400. The event is usually held in early September.
Invensys Classic. This 5-day championship event (formerly called the PGA Tour Las Vegas Invitational), played on three local courses (the main course is TPC Summerland), is televised by ESPN. For details, call tel. 702/242-3000.
National Finals Rodeo. This is the Super Bowl of rodeos, attended by close to 170,000 people each year. The top 15 male rodeo stars compete in six different events: calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, team roping, saddle bronco riding, and bareback riding. The top 15 women compete in barrel racing. An all-around "Cowboy of the Year" is chosen. In connection with this event, hotels book country stars in their showrooms, and there's even a cowboy shopping opportunity--the NFR Cowboy Christmas Gift Show, a trade show for Western gear--at Cashman Field. The NFR runs for 10 days during the first 2 weeks of December at the 17,000-seat Thomas and Mack Center of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV). It usually begins on the first Friday in December and lasts through the following Sunday. Order tickets as far in advance as possible (tel. 702/895-3900).
Las Vegas Bowl Week. A championship football event in mid-December pits the winners of the Mid-American Conference against the winners of the Big West Conference. The action takes place at the 32,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium. Call tel. 702/895-3900 for ticket information.
Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Football Championship. This collegiate championship event takes place the first week in December in Sam Boyd Stadium. Call tel. 792/731-5595 for ticket information. Ticket prices range from $15 to $100.
New Year's Eve. This is a biggie (reserve your hotel room early). Downtown, on the Fremont Street Experience, there's a big block party with two dramatic countdowns to midnight (the first is at 9pm, midnight on the East Coast). The Strip is usually closed to street traffic and hundreds of thousands of people pack the area for the festivities. Of course, there are fireworks.
Staying Healthy--It can be hard to find a doctor you can trust when you're in an unfamiliar place. Try to take proper precautions the week before you depart to avoid falling ill while you're away from home. Amid the last-minute frenzy that often precedes a vacation, make an extra effort to eat and sleep well--especially if you feel an illness coming on. It's a drag to be sick on vacation, and a head cold can make a plane flight intolerable.
Limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days of your trip, and from 11am to 2pm every day. Use a sunscreen with a high protection factor and apply it liberally all day, every day, even during the winter. The desert sun can be brutal. Remember that children need more protection than adults do.
If you worry about getting sick away from home, you may want to consider medical travel insurance. In most cases, however, your existing health plan provides all the coverage you need. Be sure to carry your identification card in your wallet.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure. For conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a Medic Alert Identification Tag (tel. 800/ID-ALERT; www.medicalert.org), which will immediately alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through Medic Alert's 24-hour hot line.
Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage. Carry written prescriptions in generic--not brand-name--form, and dispense all prescription medications from their original labeled vials. If you wear contact lenses or glasses, pack an extra pair in case you lose one.
If you do get sick, ask the concierge at your hotel to recommend a local doctor, even his or her own. For physician referrals, call Desert Springs Hospital (tel. 800/842-5439 or 702/733-6875). Hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm