The original Las Vegas

On day one of our lucky value vacation we see two free shows and tour old Las Vegas

Day one budget

We were right in the middle of things in our large room at New York-New York, where we had a view of the roller coaster and the Statue of Liberty. It wasn't a bad deal for $74.99 a night. With 9 percent hotel tax, our two nights came to $163.48. Another great lodging bargain is the Golden Nugget, where rooms start at $59. Located downtown (a few miles north of the Strip), it's one of Vegas's original casinos.

From New York-New York, we crossed Times Square to stroll Las Vegas Boulevard ― the Strip of Sensory Overload. We kept cool by circling through casinos to gawk at the Eiffel Tower at Paris, the volcano at the Mirage, and the canals and gondolas at the Venetian. We were in the land of spectacle, and the scenery didn't disappoint ― even the passersby were entertaining.

At Treasure Island, misters above a wood-plank sidewalk cooled us as we waited for the pirate show (free). We'd missed it on two previous Las Vegas visits because high winds had canceled the performance. But this was the beginning of our lucky weekend, and it started off right: With a pirate yell and a flash of gunpowder, the ships came alive.

As evening settled in, we took a cab ($15, including tip) to the original field of dreams ― old downtown Las Vegas, where the city's first gambling houses opened nearly a century ago. The casinos in downtown aren't as posh as the newer spots on the Strip, but the old-style flash, with lots of neon and a quaint charm, is the Vegas equivalent of a historic district.

We arrived just as the Fremont Street Experience (free) was starting. Every hour, 36 computers broadcast a rocking music and animation show on the 90-foot-high ceiling of the street's four-block pedestrian mall. The production uses more than 2 million bulbs. We watched dancing fish, dancing hats, and a tribute to 1970s funk.

Between the light shows, street performers, and a band that entertained the crowds, the evening slipped by. We'd been told the slots were looser downtown, so we headed for the penny slots at the Gold Spike. We could hardly call our gambling spree a loss ($1).

Lingering paid off in another way too: We hit Bay City Diner in the Golden Gate casino in time for the graveyard special, which starts at 10 p.m. Our tab for French toast, ham, and eggs, with tax and tip, came to $7. Then another cab ride ($15) and off to bed, dreaming of Lady Luck.

Day one
$300 in pocket

Two nights at New York- New York: $163 ($137 remaining)

Strolling the Strip and watching the gondolas: FREE

Cab to and from downtown: $30 ($107 remaining)

Fremont Street Experience: FREE

Penny slots at the Gold Spike: $1 ($106 remaining)

Late-night breakfast at Bay City Diner: $7 ($99 remaining)