Sunday, April 8, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 3: Where to Stay

This is the third in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"
Part 1:  Intro and Helpful Hints
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  this page
Part 4:  Where to eat 
Part 5:  Deals and finagles 
Part 6:  Slot clubs and positive-expectation promos 

Where Not to Stay

  • Anywhere on the Las Vegas Strip.  
  • Downtown.
  • Circus Circus or Excalibur.  
This may fly in the face of any instinct you ever had about going to Vegas.

Where to Stay

Your best options are:

  • Off-Strip Hotels
  • Timeshare Resorts
Which one to choose depends on how long you will be there and what your priorities are.

What's a trip to Vegas without staying on the Strip?

If you have been to Las Vegas without children, you probably thought that the Strip is the place you wanted to be. Your hotel room was as opulent as any you had ever stayed in with a beautiful view, you could party all night, and walk down Las Vegas Blvd. with a 44-ounce margarita.

You might have thought at the time that Las Vegas is a pretty fun place to be as long as you don't come with children.  You were almost right.  It's actually the Strip that is not a great place for children.

Our priorities change when we travel with kids.  When the kids are screaming like banshees for a snack, the only thing that sumptuous furnishings can do for us is to provide mixed nuts from the mini bar, and we all know that isn't happening.  What about the pillow mint?  Dad already ate that.

Hotels and casinos on the strip are generally nice and centrally located, but the casinos are crowded, and aisles in the casinos typically are narrow with lots of corners and turns.  Of paramount importance, the distance from your car to your room will be very long if you stay on the Strip.  When you have small children and lots of things to carry, and particularly if you are pushing a stroller, this quickly becomes a nuisance.  We once stayed at the Venetian when our daughter was a baby.  The half-mile walk from the garage to the room got to be very exhausting.  

Also, almost all restaurants on the Strip are relatively expensive.  

There are a number of kid-friendly activities on the Strip.  Take them to the fountains and the conservatory at the Bellagio, or do one of the animal exhibits if you want to spend the cash.  But I suggest staying elsewhere, driving, and parking.

If you absolutely must stay on the Strip, I suggest one of the hotels with kid-friendly pools, such as the Mandalay Bay.  But when your 3-year-old starts screaming for a juice box halfway between the parking garage and the elevator, don't say I didn't warn you.  This is a lesson we have learned the hard way.  You can do better.

Why not downtown?  

Well, to begin with, it's open container central.  More importantly, there is very little for kids at the downtown hotels beyond the Fremont Street Experience, which itself can be seen in about ten minutes.  Like the Strip, casinos tend to be crowded.

Why not Circus Circus?  

See my rant here.

Can't this blowhard just tell me where to go already.

Indeed I can.

Off-Strip Hotels

Several off-strip casinos are very family-friendly.  These are the places where folks who live in Las Vegas take their kids to eat.  Restaurants have children's menus and buffets usually have children's prices.   

Most of the off-strip hotels are less opulent than their Strip counterparts.  However, the rooms are spacious and not painfully far from either the self-park garage or the valet.

I haven't been to every hotel in Las Vegas and don't intend to.  I provide commentary on places I have stayed.  We have had excellent experiences at:

The Orleans:  A good option for a trip up to about 3 nights. (Beyond this, it helps to have a kitchen.) 1.5 miles west of the Strip on Tropicana between Arville and Decatur, the Orleans is a nice ostensibly New Orleans-themed hotel (not much jazz though) with wide aisles, a perfectly decent pool, and free beads for the kids (no flashing required).  The buffet is pretty good and an excellent value, especially for breakfast and lunch.  Rooms are comfortable at 450 square feet, about average for anything in Vegas built since the 1990s and downright large compared to most other cities.   Orleans is a complete resort with a lot of other services for both kids and adults, including bowling, a movie theater, a kids club (3+ and must be toilet trained), ice cream parlor, a very nice spa and fitness center, and many reasonably priced restaurants.  "Resort fee" is about $5 so add that and tax to any price you see quoted.  No free wi-fi anywhere on property last I checked.

South Point:  Another good option for a trip up to about 2 to 3 nights.  5 miles south of the south end of the Strip on Las Vegas Blvd.  This is a hotel with basically no theme, but it does everything it does well, and has pretty much everything you need in a hotel and resort.  It feels a little bigger than the Orleans and is similar in a lot of ways, since it used to be owned by the same person.  This is a 4-star hotel and everything is more upscale than at the Orleans.  The pool area and pool are large and pretty nice on a hot day.  The spa (for the grownups) has among the nicest facilities of any in Las Vegas, meaning better than most Strip spas, including that of the Bellagio, in my opinion.  The buffet is reasonably priced, especially for weekday breakfast at $6.45 including beverages. As at other buffets, it really can't be beat for those using a unit energy per unit cost efficiency metric (e.g. calories per dollar).  Other restaurants are more expensive, so it's hard to get any meal here for under $10 per person or a cup of coffee for under $2.50.  I like the Del Mar Deli a lot.  The menu is limited and it's a take-out counter, but they bake their own bagels.  On multiple occasions, I've had some of the best matzo ball soup I've ever had there, albeit served in a styrofoam cup.  However, one time we bought some soup right as the deli was closing, and it was some of the worst matzo ball soup I've ever had, so I suggest picking that up mid-day.  South Point does not charge a resort fee.  No free wi-fi anywhere on property last I checked.

Tuscany Suites:  Since rooms have kitchenettes, you could have a decent vacation here staying a little longer, up to 4 or 5 nights.  0.5 miles east of Bally's on Flamingo, between Koval and Paradise.  The Tuscany is a good location for people who want an easy walk between room and car.  (a big plus in my book)  This is a relatively small hotel, set up as several 3-story buildings with parking all over the property, so you can usually park right next to your building, similar to a Courtyard by Marriott, etc.  The rooms are large at 550 s.f., almost as big as two rooms at some hotels, and they have kitchenettes with refrigerator, sink, and microwave oven, but no conventional oven.  The furnishings are about the same level as the Orleans.  This is a hotel for do-it-yourselfers; I don' think they have an extensive room service menu or too many other services.  The Tuscany "theme" is almost unnoticeable and the casino is small.  The coffee shop is fine for most purposes but below the high Las Vegas standard.  You can walk from the Tuscany to the Strip but the round-trip may be long for children.  "Resort fee" is a hefty $14 so add that to any price you see quoted.  The pool is not bad and nicely landscaped but it's small by Las Vegas standards.  They provide free wi-fi at the pool, although you need to pay extra for it in your room.

What about using Priceline or Hotwire?

We use Hotwire and Priceline (the "opaque" pricing agencies) frequently when booking hotel rooms.  However, we usually don't use them to book hotels in Las Vegas.  Hotels often charge rates that are very close to the opaque prices on their own web sites, and/or often have specials that include extra amenities such as a spa or dining credit that the opaques never do. The hotels' direct web sites also frequently have lower service charges.   The opaque prices are final, so you can't change your mind.  Also, you have no control over your room type, which is not always a good situation when traveling with kids.

If you do use an opaque service, first hotel web sites to see what their prices are, and account for specials with inclusions.  Then check Hotwire to determine whether its offer is better.  Be sure to click through to see the total price including taxes and fees.  Finally, you can bid a lower price on Priceline than the Hotwire price (remember to account for fees and taxes, including "resort fees" that are not included in what you pay to them) to see if you are awarded the room.

If you are going to Vegas on a busy weekend, with most hotels asking upwards of $100 for a room, and you decide that is above your pay grade, it may be worth checking Priceline or Hotwire.  Last summer, we needed a room on a Friday night after checking out of our timeshare and we used Hotwire to get a Holiday Inn Express for about $50, about half what non-opaque sites were charging.

Timeshare Resorts

Many people own timeshares.  Some love them, some have buyers' remorse.  

For those who don't own a timeshare, it is possible to rent a timeshare, often for less than the cost of the owners' annual maintenance fee.  Some owners are not able to use their annual week, so they may to rent the timeshare to someone who can use it, to offset their annual maintenance costs.  This is mostly known to other owners, but in many cases, anyone can actually rent the timeshare from them.

For a trip lasting more than a few days, there are a lot of benefits to staying in a timeshare resort:
  • Full kitchen enables you to cook meals instead of eating out every single meal
  • Many timeshares are full 1- or 2-bedroom apartments, with separate eating and living areas.
  • Pools often have barbecue areas with gas grills and supplies
The chief drawbacks are:
  • They don't have daily housekeeping service.  They may have some kind of service in the middle of the week, you will need to check with your resort.  
  • Other services are also limited.  Timeshares are more like furnished apartments; they don't typically have restaurants, room service, etc.
  • Most deals to rent timeshares are final.  Similar to buying hotels through Hotwire or Priceline, you can't cancel for a refund.
  • You usually have to pay through PayPal or using cash equivalents.  Avoid using non-recourse methods of payment, such as cash or check, whenever possible.
  • You often are dealing directly with a private seller, sometimes through an agent, rather than a business.  It is possible that the seller may have some emotional position regarding the sale.  
  • Take the motto caveat emptor (buyer beware) to heart.  It is important to understand something about the seller, such as their reputation on Ebay, before engaging in the transaction.
As you can see, most of the drawbacks involve the transaction, not the experience of staying in a timeshare.

If you rent a timeshare from an owner, in most circumstances you are not required to go to a sales presentation.  However, the timeshare may invite you to one, usually in exchange for tickets to a show, dinner, etc.  When we stayed in a timeshare in Las Vegas, we were offered tickets to B-level shows which are usually available for deep discounts, and in some cases free.  We declined and they were completely professional and respectful about it.

The Finagle

Last summer, we rented a timeshare through Ebay.  We felt very fortunate to have been the sole bidder for a 7-day rental of a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit at Desert Paradise Resort, for the first week of July 2011.  The resort is on Decatur Blvd. just south of Tropicana, about 2 blocks from the Orleans Hotel.  The sale price was our opening bid of $259 for the week-long stay; this was about as low as I have seen timeshares rent for anywhere.  The annual maintenance fee on a resort like this is probably about twice that rate if not more.

The resort has an apartment-complex feel to it with stairs to our second floor unit, and is definitely not a high-end resort with fancy furnishings, but it was perfect for us.  The kitchen was fully stocked with dishes, pots and pans, and appliances.  Importantly, the air conditioning was cold and strong.  I called ahead and asked for a room overlooking the pool and was given one.  There are two pools, a very nice one for families with a splash pad (see picture of my daughter Sammi) and waterfall, and one for adults only.  There is a grilling area with gas grills, and you can borrow spatulas, etc from the front desk.  The total square footage is listed at 1200 s.f. (see floor plan), but this includes the outside patio, closets, etc., so I'd say it felt more like 1000 s.f.

If you are interested in bidding on a timeshare, I suggest first making a cancelable reservation at a hotel such as one of those listed above.  This is because you may not win an auction.

At any given time, there may be 5 to 10 timeshares available for rent on Ebay for your vacation week, whereas there are literally tens of thousands of hotel rooms available for the same time.  Ebay may be something of a last resort for owners who have not been able to rent their timeshares through more traditional avenues such as point exchanges.  If you are ok with staying in a hotel in the event you don't win an auction, you can be more aggressive in your bidding strategy (meaning that you can bid a low price and walk away if you don't win the auction).

The best deals are for off-peak periods, and prices seem to get lowest within a month before the beginning of the stay, as owners realize they need to cancel their stays and/or can't find renters through more traditional channels.  Waiting that long to book a timeshare may result in not getting one.  Once you have bid and won the auction, you can cancel your hotel reservation and get a refund.  

This is the Ebay search for timeshare rentals in Nevada.  You can further filter it for size of unit, etc. but not for dates.  You will need to search through the list manually.  

Terms are not standard.  Prices are sometimes listed for the entire stay, and sometimes on a per-night basis.  Be careful to understand exactly what you are bidding on before entering your bid.  Ask the seller questions if there is any ambiguity.  Remember that bids generally are non-retractable once they are submitted, and that the timeshare rental is final once you have won the auction.

Another site to rent them directly from owners is the Timeshare Users Group.  There are others including Vacation Rentals by Owner but the listed prices seem to be very high.

1 comment:

  1. One other note about pricelining Vegas. My brother's buddy was pretty bummed that he got the Rio when he pricelined the strip area. Of course any regular user knows to check the area thoroughly, but the fact that the Rio is in the strip area takes almost all of the value out of pricelining Vegas for me.

    If you're kid-free, and you gamble at all, check your offers. My brother and I are paying $43 per person all in next Thurs-Sun at IP. Clean rooms, center strip.


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