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Game plan: Hot tips for a sporting holiday in Las Vegas

Heading to Sin City for a game of Golden Knights or Raiders? Here’s how to do it right.

If you’ve only ever thought of Las Vegas as a gambling and nightlife hub, it’s time to rethink that notion. This desert oasis is of course known for its casinos and resorts. But with the addition of the NHL Vegas Golden Knights and NFL Las Vegas Raiders in recent years — and with speculation mounting of an MLB team possibly heading in that direction — there’s no question that this city is now a true sports mecca.

My husband and I love Vegas because there is so much for everyone. He loves sports and I love that there is so much to do outside of sports so this is a no-brainer for us. Our last trip here was in December, an early Christmas present to ourselves. We booked a flight through a seat sale and went to a Raiders game, strolled down the famous Strip and visited some fabulous desert attractions. And we were home three days later without breaking the bank.

If you’re thinking of planning a similar trip, it’s wisest to do some research on what’s going on in the city before booking. Remember that Vegas is primarily a convention and exhibition center.

From January’s Consumer Electronics Show, which brings 180,000 visitors to the city, to December’s National Finals Rodeo (174,000 people), Vegas is frequently crowded, which means hotel rates have skyrocketed. The same basic room at one of the resort hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard, aka the Strip, can be as little as $50 a night — or as high as $600 and up when hotels are busy. Start your vacation research at vegasmeansbusiness.com, which has a comprehensive convention calendar.

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I wouldn’t recommend flying in on game day, no matter how tempting that thought is. Flights are regularly delayed and I think it’s worth the extra hotel night to ensure you get to your game on time. If you arrive before your room is ready, no problem; Just leave your luggage in your hotel’s luggage storage. It’s usually a complimentary service, but a tip is appreciated. You can also pay for early check-in.

There are numerous hotel options in Vegas, but when I’m there to catch a Golden Knights game, my favorite is New York New York. The hotel is reasonably priced and a two-minute walk from the T-Mobile Arena where the Knights play. Remember to wear your team jersey for the hilarious game day parties atop the hotel’s replica Brooklyn Bridge. For a great pre or post game meal, dine at the nearby Shake Shack for one of the best burgers you’ll ever have. I also recommend the delicious dining options at Eataly’s cafes and restaurants across the street in Park MGM.

When it comes to the Raiders, I tend not to stay near Allegiant Stadium where they play. The site is on the south end of the Strip — too isolated for me — and I’d rather choose a hotel more central on the Strip and then walk to the game. On our most recent trip we stayed at the Paris Las Vegas, about four kilometers from Allegiant Stadium. However, if you want to stay close to the stadium, Mandalay Bay is the closest large hotel.

Whatever you decide, bring your good walking shoes because the Strip looks deceptively small on a map but is actually gigantic. The strip is approximately 6.8 km long and is bounded by Mandalay Bay at its southern end and the stratosphere at its northern end.

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Whether you need a vehicle depends heavily on your plans. If you live on (or slightly off) the Strip and like to walk, you can take a cab or rideshare from the airport to your hotel, and the rest of the time you don’t need a vehicle.

Keep in mind that price increases can greatly affect Lyft and Uber prices. After the Raiders game we attended, the four kilometer drive from Allegiant Stadium to our hotel would have cost $40 without tip. (We walked.) Another transportation option is the Las Vegas Monorail, which runs along the Strip from the MGM Grand to the Sahara.

If you only need a car for a short time, here’s a little-known fact: some hotels have on-site car rentals, making it easy to rent a vehicle for just a day. This saves you from hiring a car at the airport and paying for all the days of your visit if you only need it for part of your trip. You also save on the hefty parking fees at the hotel.

I should add a warning regarding temperatures: we know that Vegas is hot in the summer, but many forget that winters can be quite chilly, both outdoors and inside the stadiums and casinos. Allegiant Stadium is indoor but open at one end and air conditioned even in winter. T-Mobile is enclosed but it’s cool with the ice rink and it’s air conditioned too.

After the game there is enough to do. Many activities are free or low cost and I’ve listed my top 5 below. At the other end of the price spectrum, my pick would be a swanky Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour; Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s also spectacular. For an in-between option, consider a ride on the High Roller observation bike for the best aerial views of the city and beyond. Or drive to Valley of Fire State Park to see massive red sandstone formations that will take your breath away. If you want to see a cirque or similar show I highly recommend buying tickets in advance as they often sell out.

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Let the games begin now!

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FIVE ATTRACTIONS

Looking for free or low-cost entertainment in Vegas? Here are five great options:

1. Visit the Neon Museum, a 115,000-square-foot site dedicated to preserving the city’s history through its iconic neon signs. Tickets are $20, advance booking is recommended.

2. The Bellagio Fountains are one of the most famous attractions in Las Vegas and the best part is that the show is free to see. The fountains are choreographed to music and lights, and the spectacular show runs every 30 minutes.

3. Explore the Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian mall where you can choose from live music, street performances, and light shows. Admission is free.

4. Visit the Hoover Dam, just a short drive from town. Join one of their excellent tours if time permits; Self-guided tours start at $10.

5. Las Vegas is a shopper’s paradise with options ranging from luxury to outlet shopping. The Mid-Point Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood are my favorite place to browse and eat.

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