Region offers plenty of breaks from the tables

The following is a roundup of things to see and do on and off the Strip, abridged from Weissmann Travel Reports' City Profile of Las Vegas. The report was last updated in October.

f you arrive by plane, the first landmark you may see is the Luxor Hotel and Casino, sitting almost at the end of the airport runways. It's a fitting introduction.

A huge pyramid in the midst of a modern city is impressive, almost incredible. However, crouched outside the hotel is a Sphinx that looks so phony it would be more at home on a putt-putt course.

Welcome to Las Vegas, where fantastic things are real and where some things are not very real at all.

The Fremont Street Experience, with its 2.4 million lights, puts on sound and light shows each evening. But authentic or not, the Strip is completely fascinating: A miniature New York stands across the street from a giant castle; a naval battle takes place beside a busy city street; Venetian-style gondolas sail along indoor canals.

The resorts are full of lavish stage shows, big-name performers and restaurants owned by every celebrity chef to pick up a spoon.

Of course, the gaming tables and slot machines accompany (and underwrite) the spectacles. For many, the thrill of winning and losing makes the casinos the most exciting show in town.

But there's more to Vegas than gambling.

Theme and amusement parks, attractions

Ethel-M Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden. Founded by veteran candymaker Forrest Mars, Ethel-M's offers a self-guided tour that provides a look at the way chocolates are manufactured.

The tour is short, but you still get the reward at the end: free chocolate.

Outside, you can stroll through a cactus garden that contains more than 300 species of western cacti, succulents and other desert plants.
Where: 2 Cactus Garden Drive (at Sunset and Mountain Vista), Henderson.
Hours: Self-guided tours 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Price: Free.
Phone: (702) 435-2641.

Fremont Street Experience. A canopy above a five-block pedestrian mall is fitted with 2.4 million lights. It beams sound-and-light shows each evening, helping to attract crowds to the downtown casinos. Different presentations usually are rotated throughout the evening.
Where: Fremont Street between Main and Fourth.
Hours: The shows begin at 8:30 p.m. and then run at the top of the hour until 11 p.m. weeknights, until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Price: Free.
Phone: (800) 249-3559 or (702) 678-5777.

GameWorks. This complex houses every video game imaginable as well as virtual games and a monolith for indoor rock climbing.
Where: 3785 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (next to MGM Grand), South Strip.
Hours: Sundays to Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Fridays and Saturdays until 2 a.m.
Price: A card must be purchased to play the games -- available in varying amounts -- or you can pay $20 for one hour of play.
Phone: (702) 432-4263.

• Mirage Animal Exhibits. The Mirage contains two areas where visitors can view animals. The Secret Garden features seven habitats with 21 rare breeds of animals.

The Dolphin Habitat lets you view eight bottlenose dolphins from above and below water level in an elaborate seawater pool complex.
Where: The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Central Strip.
Hours: Secret Garden is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays and holidays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and closed Wednesdays. Dolphin Habitat is open Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Price: Adults, $10 for both attractions, $5 when only the Dolphin Habitat is open.
Phone: (702) 791-7111.

Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park. This venue is a collection of 150 species of plants and animals in a 2.5-acre park. It has a rare animal and bird display, including the only family of Barbary apes in the U.S.
Where: 1775 N. Rancho Drive (a half block south of Texas Station).
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Price: Adults, $6.50.
Phone: (702) 648-5955.

Star Trek: The Experience. The experience begins with the History of the Future museum, which chronicles the past three decades of the "Star Trek" TV series and feature films.

The attraction includes a replica of the Enterprise, where clients can interact with the crew. The Deep Space Nine space station promenade features an enormous collection of Star Trek merchandise, food and drink.

It is connected to a Star Trek-themed casino, where the workers wear sci-fi outfits.
Where: Las Vegas Hilton, 3000 Paradise Road (east of the North Strip area).
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Price: Adults, $24.99 for museum and ride; $14.99 for the museum only.
Phone: (702) 697-8735.

Wet 'n' Wild. The park's Der Stuka is a fast and high water chute that drops straight down, creating a free-fall sensation.

Children can frolic in the new midway arcade and Suntan Lagoon, while adults relax in the Lazy River ride.
Where: 2601 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (just south of Sahara Avenue), North Strip.
Hours: Open from early May to early October from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; until 10 p.m. midsummer. Hours are approximate.
Price: $26.99 for those taller than 48 inches; $20.99 for those shorter than 48 inches; free for children younger than age 3. Includes unlimited rides.
Phone: (702) 765-9700.

Comedy clubs

Catch a Rising Star. This club at the Excalibur features top comedians and variety acts. Full bar.
Where: Excalibur Hotel Casino, 3850 Las Vegas Blvd. S., South Strip.
Hours: Shows nightly at 10 p.m., plus a 7:30 p.m. show on Thursdays.
Price: $18.95 (tickets available at the Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay and Monte Carlo ticket booths).
Phone: (702) 597-7600.

Comedy Stop at the Trop. Stand-up comics provide the laughs every night.
Where: The Tropicana, 3801 Las Vegas Blvd. S., South Strip.
Hours: Shows nightly at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Price: $17.50, includes admission and two drinks.
Phone: (702) 739-2714.

The Improv. Usually three comedians per show.
Where: Harrah's, 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Central Strip.
Hours: Shows nightly (except Mondays) at 8:30 p.m and 10:30 p.m.
Price: $24.95.
Phone: (702) 369-5111.

Laugh Trax. Established and up-and-coming comedians.
Where: Palace Station, 2411 W. Sahara (just past the expressway).
Hours: Shows Tuesdays to Thursdays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Price: $12.95.
Phone: (702) 367-2411.

Riviera Comedy Club. Usually three comedians in each nightly show, with the lineup changing each week.
Where: 2901 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Hours: Shows nightly at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., with adult-oriented late shows on some weekend nights.
Price: $17.95.
Phone: (702) 794-9433.

Second City. A Las Vegas version of the famed Chicago comedy troupe, which performs skits and some improv.
Where: Bugsy's Celebrity Theatre, Flamingo Las Vegas, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Central Strip.
Hours: Shows Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.; at 8 p.m. only on Sundays and Mondays. No shows on Thursdays.
Price: $27.95.
Phone: (702) 733-3333.

Nightclubs

Baby's. This hip spot is generally full of beautiful people dancing to hip-hop and techno music. Those with two or more left feet can enjoy a drink in the lounge area and try to spot visiting celebrities.
Where: Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 4455 Paradise Road (one mile east of the Strip).
Hours: Thursdays to Saturdays from 10:30 p.m.
Price: Cover varies.
Phone: (702) 693-5555.

The Beach. An expansive seaside-themed club. A DJ spins the tunes on most nights. Live Hawaiian music on Sundays.
Where: 365 Convention Center Drive (just east of Las Vegas Blvd.), North Strip.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. DJ music from 10 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays; Hawaiian music from 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Price: Cover is $10 for out-of-state men, $5 for men from Nevada, free for all women.
Phone: (702) 731-1925.

C2K. A performance venue early in the evening, this space turns into a high-energy nightspot later on.
Where: The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Central Strip.
Hours: Dancing usually begins around 11 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday and typically goes on well beyond the wee hours.
Price: Cover is $15 for men, $10 for women.
Phone: (702) 414-1000.

Club Rio. Very popular disco. Waiting lines are long. The dress code is strict (cocktail dresses, suits/sports coats, no jeans).
Where: Rio Suite Hotel and Casino, 3700 W. Flamingo.
Hours: Wednesdays to Saturdays from 10:30 p.m.
Price: Cover varies.
Phone: (702) 252-7777.

Curve. A weekend phenomenon, this club is tucked inside the upscale London Club at the Aladdin. It's full of private booths and large furniture scattered over several rooms, plus balconies overlooking the Strip.
Where: Aladdin Casino, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Central Strip.
Hours: Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 10:30 p.m.
Price: Cover for out-of-state men and women is $20, $10 for in-state men, free for in-state women.
Phone: (702) 785-5525.

Gipsy. Dance club and show bar catering to a young gay and lesbian crowd. State-of-the-art light and sound.
Where: 4605 Paradise Road (1.5 miles east of the Strip).
Hours: Open Mondays to Saturdays at 9 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.
Price: Cover varies.
Phone: (702) 731-1919.

Nightclub at the Las Vegas Hilton. DJs spin 1970s and '80s dance hits while the Spotlight Dancers perform.
Where: Las Vegas Hilton, 3000 Paradise Road (half-mile east of the Strip).
Hours: Thursdays to Saturdays from 11 p.m.
Price: No cover charge.
Phone: (702) 732-5422.

Rain. A spacious club with several different levels and environments. A gold-mirrored entryway leads you to upscale cocktails, DJs and a busy dance floor.

The club's liquid theme is carried through to splashy sights such as booths (available by reservation) where the seats are filled with water.
Where: The Palms, 4321 W. Flamingo Road.
Hours: Thursdays to Saturdays from 11 p.m.
Price: Cover $20, free for local women.
Phone: (702) 938-9999.

Studio 54. This nightspot pays homage to its New York namesake with disco but also pumps out pop and all kinds of chart-topping dance music. Impressive light-and-sound system.
Where: MGM Grand Hotel, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S., South Strip.
Hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 p.m.
Price: Women pay no cover (except for special events and concerts); men pay $10 Tuesdays through Thursdays, $20 Fridays and Saturdays.
Phone: (702) 891-1111.

Spectator sports

Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The huge speedway complex includes a 1.5-mile superspeedway, 2.5-mile road course, drag strip, go-cart tracks, racing schools and a variety of additional motorsports facilities and attractions. More than 100,000 seats.
Where: 6000 Las Vegas Blvd. N. (17 miles north on I-15 to Exit 54, Speedway Boulevard).
Phone: (702) 644-4444.

Las Vegas 51s. The AAA baseball affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Season runs April through September.
Where: 850 Las Vegas Blvd. N.
Price: $6 to $10.
Phone: (702) 798-7825. For tickets, call (702) 474-4000.

UNLV Runnin' Rebels. The men's basketball team of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Season runs December through March.
Where: The Thomas & Mack Center, Swenson Street at Tropicana Street.
Price: $8 to $26.
Phone: (702) 895-8658. For tickets, call (702) 739-3267.

• • •

Weissmann Travel Reports
101 W. Sixth St.
Suite 350
Austin, Texas 78751
Phone: (800) 776-0720

A list of the area's must-see attractions

Sights: The water show in front of the Bellagio; St. Mark's Place and the canals within the Venetian; the Eiffel Tower replica at Paris Las Vegas; the live pirate show at Treasure Island; the lion habitat at MGM Grand; the nightly volcano eruptions at the Mirage; the Luxor pyramid; the Roman streetscape at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace; the Mardi Gras-style Show in the Sky at Rio's Masquerade Village; the view from the observation deck at the Stratosphere Tower; the Fremont Street Experience.

Museums: The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum at the Venetian; Elvis-A-Rama; Las Vegas Natural History Museum; the Liberace Museum.

Memorable meals: The world famous cuisine of Lutece; red meat at Emeril's Delmonico Steak House; osso buco at Ferraro's; Chinese-style duck at Spago; the desserts at Aureole. Walks: A short hike through the desert at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area; a casino walking tour along the Strip; strolling beneath the evening light show on Fremont Street.

Especially for kids: The dolphins and the white tigers at the Mirage; interactive exhibits at the Lied Discovery Children's Museum; circus acts at the Circus Circus midway; a painless art/history/science lesson at Hoover Dam; thrill rides at Adventuredome; video games at GameWorks.

The preceding list was taken from Weissmann Travel Reports' City Profile of Las Vegas.

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