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Las Vegas!

How to maximize your time in America's playpen.

Stay at a hotel within a hotel
In December 2003, Mandalay Bay opened THEhotel, a separate boutique hotel east of the main property, with its own valet parking, lounge, and coffee bar (thehotelatmandalaybay.com, from $170). And West Wing at MGM Grand, which debuted last March, is a tower west of the main casino with a private entrance, lobby bar, and reception desk. Each room is only 350 square feet, but the pillow-top king-size mattresses, 27-inch flat-screen TVs, and Bose alarm clocks with CD players make them seem ritzier (3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702/891-7777, mgmgrand.com, from $109).

Learn to play poker
Sandi Wilson's Texas Hold 'Em lessons, weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. at the Palms, are free and first-come-first-served. She'll lead you through a game, advising when to raise, check, hold, and fold. "When I play, I don't want the men to know I have anything," says Sandi, tossing back her blond hair. "So I act innocent and flirt." Groups can reserve Sandi for themselves, also for free, by calling poker room manager Gene Trimble (4321 W. Flamingo Rd., 702/942-7777, palms.com).

Increase your odds for shopping success
Las Vegas Premium Outlets is the closest of the three outlet malls in Vegas, and the best. It takes 15 minutes and $15 to get there in a cab, but the pickings can be worth it. Of the 114 outlet stores (plus nine restaurants), a handful--Elie Tahari, Dolce & Gabbana, Lacoste, Coach, Chanel, Theory--stand out (875 S. Grand Central Pkwy., 702/474-7500, premiumoutlets.com/lasvegas).

Spend an afternoon soaking
At Bathhouse, a spa in THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, you don't need to book a service to stay at the pools all day (though they'll waive the $35 entry fee if you sign up for anything over $50). A day pass buys all-day access to the facilities, including the red-walled gym and separate men's and women's areas, each with its own pool. There are free snacks, such as nuts, oranges, bananas, and banana muffins. After a eucalyptus steam and stint in the redwood sauna, test out complimentary June Jacobs products (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 877/632-9636, thehotelatmandalaybay.com).

Forget "Rocket Man"
Only die-hard Celine Dion, Elton John, and Cirque du Soleil fans can talk themselves into spending more than $100 for a seat. Two discount ticket companies--Tix4Tonight and Tickets2Nite--sell same-day, up-to-half-price tickets to those (on occasion) and dozens of other productions every day. The selection is usually heavy on hypnotists and magicians, but as one ticket vendor noted recently, "I don't think there's a single show in Vegas we haven't sold." All available remaining seats are released at 11:30 a.m. Tickets2Nite is in the giant Coke bottle at the Showcase Mall (888/484-9264, tickets2nite.com), while Tix4Tonight has four locations (877/849-4868, tix4tonight.com).

Aim high for a photo op
At the northern edge of the Strip, the 1,149-foot-tall Stratosphere Tower has the highest observation deck west of the Mississippi. Enter the building and you'll find yourself in a mall. An elevator bank in the back goes to Top of the World, a revolving restaurant; the observation deck is one level higher. To make things all the more over the top--and back over the top again and again--there's a mini amusement park up there, too. One ride is a claw extending 64 feet beyond the tower's edge; fittingly, it's called Insanity (2000 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 800/998-6937, stratospherehotel.com, elevator $10, Insanity $8).

 
Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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