Vegas used to be the land of freebies -- or at least, stuff so cheap it seemed free. Those days are an increasingly dim memory, but some hotels still offer free attractions designed to lure you into their casinos, where you might well then drop far more than the cost of a day ticket to Disney World. Here's a handy list of the best of the free bait, er, sights:
Bellagio Conservatory (in Bellagio) -- A totally preposterous idea, a larger-than-life greenhouse atrium, filled with seasonal living foliage in riotous colors and styles, changed with meticulous regularity. From Easter to Chinese New Year, events are celebrated with carefully designed splashes of flowers, plants, and remarkable decorations—it’s an incredible amount of labor for absolutely no immediate financial payoff. No wonder it’s one of the most popular sights in Vegas. Open 24 hours.
Bellagio Fountains (outside Bellagio) -- Giant spouts of water shoot up and down and sideways, and dance their little aquatic hearts out to music ranging from show tunes to Chopin. When we tell people about this, they roll their eyes when they think we aren’t looking, and then they go see it for themselves . . . and end up staying for several numbers. Shows are daily every half-hour, starting early afternoon, then every 15 minutes 7pm to midnight. Closed when it’s windy; hours vary seasonally.
The Forum Shops Fountain Shows (in The Forum Shops at Caesars) -- The first established of the free shows and easily the stupidest. We love it—in theory, at least—as giant “marble” Greco-Roman statues come to creaky animatronic life and deliver a largely unintelligible speech, mostly exhorting the crowds to eat, drink, and get so merry they will think nothing of dropping a bundle at the slots. A second show in another part of the mall adds fire, so that’s cool. It’s great silly fun in the way that Vegas should be. Daily every hour, starting at 10am.
Mirage Volcano (outside The Mirage) -- When it first opened with the hotel in 1989, this erupting “volcano” literally stopped traffic on the Strip. The fact that it’s not quite as spectacular these days—even after a 2008 makeover amped up the fire, lights, sound, and effects to a much more entertaining level—says more about how jaded we’ve become than how cool it is. Get up close to feel the heat of the “lava” blasts and the rumble of the sound system. Eruptions are daily on the hour after dark until 11pm.
Show in the Sky (in the Rio) -- This formerly wholesome, if a bit weird, show has undergone a revamp to make it more sexy and adult oriented. Giant carnival-style floats scoot about above the audience, manned by sexy, dancing, scantily clad men and women -- and then more of them come out to sing, dance, and pelvic thrust their way through a stage show on the casino floor. Note that the later it gets, the more adult it gets; if you've got kids, take them to one of the early shows and you'll only be slightly embarrassed. Performed hourly from 7pm until midnight Thursday through Sunday.
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign -- Erected in 1959, this colorfully lit neon sign is probably the most iconic and most photographed attraction in Las Vegas. Located in the median of Las Vegas Boulevard about a mile south of Mandalay Bay, visiting was made easier a few years back with the addition of a parking lot, which means you no longer need to play chicken with oncoming traffic to get to it. It has no formal address, but GPS users should use 5200 Las Vegas Blvd. S. to get in the vicinity. The lot is open 24 hours, but go at night when it’s all lit up for the best photo opportunities.
Wynn Conservatory (in Wynn Las Vegas) -- Yes, remarkably like the one at Bellagio, this one is better placed, situated just inside the door and laid out so that you can stroll through it on your way to other parts of the hotel, as opposed to the tucked-in-a-corner Bellagio version. The floral displays change regularly, though they may reflect the striking floral mosaics on the floor below. We do hope it won't get as wacky as its Bellagio counterpart and will stick to the merely festive. Open 24 hours.
Wynn Lake of Dreams (in Wynn Las Vegas) -- This is the most peculiar of the "free" shows in several ways: It's not easily defined (not dancing fountains, not a parade in the sky), and it's not easily seen. The 150-foot-tall mountain, complete with mature trees saved from the old Desert Inn golf course, plus several waterfalls, cannot be seen in its entirety from anywhere other than the hotel rooms facing west. The show itself can be watched only if you are dining or drinking in one of the lakeside restaurants or bars, or from a small viewing platform set above those venues on the casino level. Nab a coveted spot there or else pay double (or more) digits to dine or drink while waiting for the shows. Should you bother? Maybe. Basically, twice an hour, the lake lights up with pretty colors, cued to tunes ranging from classical to Louis Armstrong for "interludes." At the top of the hour are bigger extravaganzas of weird hologram erotic-psychedelic images projected on the wall waterfall, while shapes and puppets pop out for even more weird action, with some rather adult imagery at times. Shows are every 30 minutes, from 6pm to midnight.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.