Photos: Welcome to Vegas

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  1. Welcome to Las Vegas

    The Bellagio's fountain show entertains visitors nightly. In the background is Bally's Las Vegas, left, and Paris Las Vegas, which has a 50-story Eiffel Tower replica in front. Over 37.5 million people visit Las Vegas each year. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fremont Street Experience

    Located in downtown Las Vegas, this exciting pedestrian promenade is home to approximately 16 million lights, making it one of the largest LED screens in the world. (Brian Jones / Las Vegas News Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Looking for Lady Luck

    Casion visitors play slot machines at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dunking Elvis

    An Elvis impersonator performs a slam dunk during the 2007 NBA All-Star Game on February 18, 2007, at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAEGetty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Grand casinos

    Lights from passing vehicles are seen in front of the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Poker face

    Jamie Gold, right, of California and Paul Wasicka of Colorado go head-to-head on the final table of the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the Rio Hotel & Casino on Aug. 11, 2006, in Las Vegas. Gold outlasted more than 8,700 other poker players to win the top prize of $12 million. Wasicka won just over $6.1 million for finishing second. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Glitz and glamour

    A Canon display is seen inside the Las Vegas Convention Center at the Consumer Electronics Show. Las Vegas is the nation's top business travel destination, with easy airline access, numerous hotel rooms, low rates, plentiful convention facilities and a wide range of dining and entertainment options. (Karl Polverino / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Over-the-top entertainment

    Performers ride a Volkswagen Beetle across the stage during a preview of "The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil" at the Mirage Hotel & Casino on June 27, 2006, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A New York minute

    The New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas recreates the Manhattan skyline, complete with replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Entertainment mecca

    Kenny Chesney performs "Out Last Night" at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 5, 2009. (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tying the knot

    From left, Elvis Presley impersonator Norm Jones plays guitar as Bruce Barnett of Virginia Beach, Va., escorts his daughter Gayle to her wedding ceremony at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Graceland is the oldest wedding chapel in Las Vegas and offers ceremonies with or without Elvis impersonators. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    The $25 million, newly redesigned volcano display in front of the Mirage Hotel & Casino features 150 choreographed FireShooters sending fireballs more than 12 feet in the air and a custom soundtrack created by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for MGM Mirage) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A night on the Strip

    Hotels and casinos line the Las Vegas Strip. From thrilling roller coasters to erupting volcanos to art museums, Las Vegas' many attractions appeal to people of all ages and interests. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Fight night

    David Diaz and Manny Pacquiao fight during the fourth round of the WBC Lightweight Championship at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 28, 2008, in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won in a ninth-round knockout. (Harry How / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Day at the races

    Rookie driver Shawn Langdon earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of his career at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Richard Wong / NHRA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Fabulous shopping

    The Juicy Couture retail store at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace is seen before the grand opening February 5, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for Juicy Couture) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Stunning shows

    Buyi Zama as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (Joan Marcus / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A slice of Italy

    Visitors take a gondola ride at The Venetian in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Get into the groove

    Dina Buell, left, and Carla Giordano, both from California, dance at the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino during Rehab, the resort's weekly pool party, in 2005 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Let’s get this party started

    Party goers gather for the grand opening of LAX Nightclub Las Vegas in 2007. (Chris Weeks / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Big laughs

    Comedian Ellen DeGeneres performs at a taping of ''Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show'' during The Comedy Festival at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in 2008 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A kingly stay

    The Excalibur Hotel and Casino features a castle motif with newly refurbished hotel rooms. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A dancing fountain

    Visitors are silhouetted against the backdrop of The Bellagio's fountain show on the Las Vegas Strip. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 11/5/2009 1:58:36 PM ET 2009-11-05T18:58:36

Viva, Las Vegas! In these tough economic times everyone deserves a break from reality, and Las Vegas is the cure for the common vacation. Make the most of your Vegas trip with these helpful tips.

Before you leave home, prepare for your trip by booking your room. Staying downtown or off-Strip can save you money, but with amazing deals and added “perks”, staying on the Strip is really your best bet. The Strip refers to the portion of Las Vegas Blvd., where all the major resorts are located. If you’re looking for a four star vacation, check out the Venetian, with its “authentic” Italian landscape, Caesars Palace, which has undergone a major renovation in the last few years, the Bellagio with it’s impressive lake, or the Wynn, Vegas’s newest resort. While not considered one of the finest resorts on the Strip, the MGM Grand, is one of the biggest and best, and the beds are considered the most comfortable in town. All five of these hotels are running amazing specials into the fall, offering such extras as free cash for the slots, and free food and discounts at night clubs, bars and restaurants.

With the hotel booked, it’s time to look at flights. Three days, two nights is more than enough time to spend in Vegas, and most major airlines have non-stop flights from just about anywhere in the United States, and Jet Blue, Southwest and Virgin America often run specials.

Now, with the hotel and flights set, it’s time to start planning the meat of your trip. Here are some suggestions on what to see, where to eat and what to do in Sin City.

Friday night:
After you arrive and check into your hotel, you’re going to want to eat. If you’re coming from the East Coast, your internal clock might be a bit off, so a good meal just might be what the doctor ordered! With a plethora of restaurants to choose from, you can’t go wrong at just about any restaurant, but Bouchon, located in the Venetian Hotel, is an excellent way to start your trip. Thomas Keller’s French bistro takes you to a world far away from the bright lights of Vegas. In Bouchon, you are transported to a French bistro with authentic flavors and amazing service. The food is top-notch and the desserts are the tops.

The making of Las VegasAfter dinner it’s time for a show — and what’s more Vegas than Cirque du Soleil? If you haven’t seen one of these high-flying shows, run, don’t walk to get your tickets. At KÀ, at the MGM Grand, you can see the most amazing acrobats fly around the theater doing things that you thought were not humanly possible, and at “O” at the Bellagio, you will see the performers creating magic in a stage that is a deep pool of water. What makes the Cirque shows so amazing, in addition to the performers, are the theaters that the shows are in —every theater has been specially built for the show that it houses and nowhere else but Vegas can you see it.

After the entertainment, make your way back to your hotel by walking the Strip. Vegas definitely attracts its share of unique individuals so enjoy the sights and sounds of Sin City — check out the other casinos and enjoy people watching.

Saturday:
After a good night’s rest, it’s time to explore Vegas during the day. The best way to start your day is with a good breakfast, and one of the best is at Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro at Caesars Palace. For $16.00 you can have all the French pastries, juices, fruits and other amazing delicacies you can eat! Get there before 11:30 a.m., and enjoy one of the best deals in Vegas.

With a full stomach, it’s time to make the most of your day. Be sure to take advantage of the pool at your hotel. Most hotels on the Strip have amazing pools and some, like the Mandalay Bay Resort, have lazy rivers and wave pools. Every pool has a bar — and relaxing with a frothy frozen drink is a great way to spend a few hours in Vegas. 

If you’re looking for something a bit more cultural ... if that’s the right word, then I strongly suggest you check out the Liberace Museum. A free shuttle makes the rounds to most of the hotels and takes you to one of the most unique museums you will ever go to. The Liberace Museum is made up of two separate buildings housing his collection of cars, pianos and costumes. Whether you are a fan or not, this museum will make you shout for more. Liberace was an outrageous talent and his museum lives up to his persona. 

Saturday night in Vegas can be a lot of things. It can be a drunken frat party or a relaxing dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world. It can also be an opportunity to check out some world-class entertainers. Cher and Bette Midler have been in rotation at the Coliseum at Caesars Palace for the last year, both performing what some consider to be, independently, the ultimate concert experience Vegas has ever seen. More than a concert, each performer puts on a show that will leave your jaw dropped and in awe of their talents, voice and presence. Do yourself a favor and book a ticket for whoever is performing in the Coliseum the night you are there. And don’t forget about dinner! Caesars Palace is currently running specials where you can eat in one of their amazing restaurants and book your tickets as part of a deal.

Sunday:
By this point, you have seen amazing performances, eaten fantastic food and walked up and down the Strip ... so what is there left to do? Shop! Vegas has become the Mecca for shopping in addition to gambling. The Fashion Show is a giant mall located right on the Strip and every hotel has it’s own shopping area with brand name stores, but the place that blows them all away is the Caesars Forum Shops. Much more than a mall, the Forum Shops have created a Roman village complete with a painted sky. Highlights of the shops include a spiral staircase that is really an escalator, and statues that talk and put on a show. Treat yourself to lunch at Spago, the Wolfgang Puck restaurant or one of the other dozens of restaurants in the shopping complex and end your time in Vegas with an only-in-Vegas shopping experience. 

Remember ... if you walk away with money in your pocket — you’re a winner!

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