Casinos aren't the only sure bet for Vegas fun

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Las Vegas editor Amy Baratta recently sampled a few of the city's nongaming attractions. Her report follows:

LAS VEGAS -- Travelers who look beyond the casinos and movie-set facades of the hotel properties here on the Strip will find a range of activities and attractions with which to amuse themselves.

roller coasterFrom the special effects shows at Caesars and the Hilton to the circus acts at Circus Circus, visitors will find that there's never a dull moment around here.

  • Billed as the world's first giant-screen Imax 3-D motion-simulator ride, the Race for Atlantis attraction in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace takes visitors on a chariot race through the legendary kingdom of Atlantis.
  • The attraction is a must for those who enjoy futuristic space and 3-D effects, which are achieved by electronic headsets worn by passengers that contain the Imax sound system as well as liquid crystal shutters that coordinate with signals emitted by the Imax 3-D projector. (The bottom line is passengers will find themselves ducking to get out of the way of objects that seem to be flying right at them.)

    The attraction is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Admission prices are $9.50 for adults and $6.75 for children age 12 and younger.

    Forum Shops at Caesars, Phone: (702) 893-4800

  • I admit that I am not a Trekkie, but even so, I thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek: The Experience, another high-tech, futuristic-themed attraction located at the Las Vegas Hilton.
  • The $70 million extravaganza begins with the History of the Future, a self-guided museum tour that features displays of more than 200 Star Trek costumes, weapons -- even I can recognize a phaser when I see one -- make-up special effects and props used in the television series and motion pictures. (I must admit that I was a little disappointed not to see a tribble in the exhibit.)

    Once their tour is finished, groups of participants are beamed to the transporter room aboard the USS Enterprise. They receive their mission briefing on the bridge and then take a turbolift to the grand corridor.

    The group then boards a shuttlecraft, which transports them to the 24th century and their futuristic adventure, complete with a motion simulator ride. The special effects are good in this attraction, which is not surprising since the ride is a collaboration between the Hilton and Paramount Parks.

    Visitors finish their voyage at the Deep Space Nine promenade, which features all sorts of futuristic shopping and dining venues, such as Quark's Bar and the Starfleet Surplus Shop.

    Admission to Star Trek: The Experience, which is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, is $14.95.

    Star Trek: The Experience, Phone: (888) GO-BOLDLY
    Las Vegas Hilton, Phone: (702) 732-5111

  • Modeled after the Cyclone of Coney Island fame, the Manhattan Express roller coaster at New York-New York Hotel & Casino features as many sharp turns, twists and heartstopping moments as a cab ride in the real Big Apple.
  • Much of the ride takes place outside, atop the property's funky facade and amid such New York landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

    The ride, which lasts about four minutes, reaches a maximum height of 203 feet and a maximum speed of 67 mph. The fun doesn't stop when the ride ends, though.

    On the way out, riders can stop by the souvenir photo counter, see what they looked like during their wild ride and even purchase the photo.

    Tickets are $7 per person, and the ride operates from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

    Would-be thrill-seekers are advised to call ahead the day they plan to ride the Manhattan Express because weather factors such as high winds can close the attraction.

    New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Phone: (702) 740-6969

  • Gamblers aren't the only ones taking their chances at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino. Above them on the second floor, daredevils perform circus stunts every half hour from 11 a.m. to midnight, free of charge, on the grand carnival midway.
  • Strolling entertainers making balloon animals, juggling or performing mime and magic also help to perpetuate the property's circus theme.

    Besides the circus acts, the 120,000-square-foot area -- recognized by the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the world's largest permanent circus -- also offers midway-type games that involve such skills as tossing rings or shooting basketballs.

    Circus Circus Hotel and Casino, Phone: (702) 734-0410

  • Visitors yearning for a more natural type of attraction can wander through the Secret Garden of Siegfried & Roy and the Dolphin Environment, both of which are tucked in the acreage behind the lush Mirage resort.
  • The former features several natural habitats populated by the very animals that Siegfried & Roy are known for -- white tigers -- as well as lions, leopards and an elephant.

    The Dolphin Environment is just that -- a couple of pools in which several dolphins can cavort and generally delight onlookers.

    Admission is $10 per person; children under 10 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.

    The Secret Garden is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends and major holidays.

    The Mirage, Phone: (702) 791-7111

  • Animal lovers who want to pay a little less to enjoy nature can find penguins, turtles and, of course, pink flamingos at the Flamingo Hilton.
  • Located in an open courtyard, the animal habitat is perfect for taking pictures of the wildlife or just soaking it all up from the seat of one of the benches that surround the property's pink flamingo fountain.

    Flamingo Hilton, Phone: (702) 733-3111

  • A six-minute light show that rivals the neon of the Strip plays hourly after dark in the city's downtown area.
  • The $70 million Fremont Street Experience features a 90-foot-high canopy covering four acres of the casino-lined street, which has been turned into a traffic-free pedestrian mall lined by such world-famous casinos as Four Queens, Binion's Horseshoe and the Golden Nugget.

    When the show begins, the canopy comes to life with music and moving images created by 2.1 million lights. The attraction is unlike anything I have ever seen, and I highly recommend it to all visitors.

    I must admit to initially balking at paying cab fare to go downtown just to see the area until I found a free shuttle bus that would take me from the Strip to the Golden Nugget.

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