Founded in 1905, as a humble water stop for steam trains shuttling between L.A. and Salt Lake City, Las Vegas is celebrating it hundredth birthday on May 15. With scores of special events and spectacles in the works -- including a 130,000-pound birthday cake -- Sin City is eagerly counting down the days (see www.lasvegas2005.org) until its centennial.
To be sure, Las Vegas has more to celebrate than the hundred years since its founding. In 2004, $33.7 billion flowed from tourists' pockets into the blinking, throbbing, burgeoning, surreal desert metropolis -- which is the center of the fastest growing urban area in the United States. (The centennial website reports that the city's expansions have gone so far as outer space, with the announcement that it now has an asteroid named in its honor -- the city's "first piece of interplanetary property," said Mayor Oscar B. Goodman.) With 36 million visitors a year, Vegas is second only to Orlando in popularity among U.S. cities, and the cost of traveling there has been steadily on the rise since 1992 -- up 13.7 percent since just last year, according to the Las Vegas Advisor.
What better reason to take advantage of the incredibly low discount packages on the market at the moment? Southwest Vacations (tel. 800-243-8372; www.swavacations.com) is offering a variety of two-night air-hotel packages. From Los Angeles, round-trip fare and two nights at the Westward Ho Casino are a fantastically low $89. Rates are good for travel on Mondays and Tuesdays, from April 25 to June 14. Cross-country, from Baltimore or Washington, it's even lower, at $259 for the flight and two nights at the Hotel San Remo. And from Houston, airfare and two nights at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino are $304. Houston rates are good for travel on Mondays and Tuesdays between April 25 and 26, and between May 30 and June 14. (Southwest package prices don't include about $40 in taxes.)
Southwest Airline's (tel. 800/435-9792; www.southwest.com) airfare-only prices into Las Vegas are also unbeatable. For the birthday bash weekend, May 12 to May 16, Internet-only, one-way fares from Philadelphia are only $79. From Los Angeles, air-only is $39 each way. At $224 round-trip, Chicago is a little pricier for those particular dates, but lower fares are available at other times.
If you're mapping out your own journey, look into Trip Reservations (tel. 800/255-0372; www.tripreservations.com) to book your room. They're promoting nightly rates of $38 at several three-star hotel casinos, including Fitzgeralds, the Orleans, and Stratosphere. Even four-star luxury accommodations can be had on a budget, with rooms at the Golden Nugget going for $64 a night, and $65 at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino.
Expedia (www.expedia.com) is your best bet for air-hotel packages from New York. For the birthday weekend, round-trip air and a four-night hotel stay, from May 12 to May 16, is $557 total at the two-star Palace Station Hotel and Casino, and $564 at the two-star Arizona Charlie's Decatur. For shorter trips during off peak times, rates are naturally lower.
Provided you play your hand right, Las Vegas has always been the sort of place where you can have your cake and eat it too. So don't miss out on your piece of that 130,000 pounder.
We've told you where to find the best current deals, now head over to our Nevada Message Boards to ask questions and share advice with other travelers -- just like Dee Purvis did with this detailed trip report.