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|CARLY'S CORNER Laughlin, Nevada|
Laughlin, Nevada: Old-Fashioned Fun at a Fraction of the Cost
By Carly Blatt
It’s hard not to have affection for Laughlin, Nevada. Located at the southern tip of Nevada and a poker chip’s throw from the Arizona state line, Laughlin is a small town with fewer than 10,000 full-time residents – but one that also happens to boast nine full-service casino hotels, scores of popular restaurants, and an impressive array of entertainers.
Just 90 minutes from Las Vegas, Laughlin is like a friendlier, more laid back version of Sin City, complete with its own distinctive identity. Laughlin’s casinos offer all of the traditional games and an assortment of player’s clubs, and you can actually manage to find a $5 blackjack table on a weekend. Many of the casinos are along the Colorado River and you can easily hotel-hop by strolling along the stunning Riverwalk or hitching a ride on a water taxi.
The town is particularly friendly to boaters, water sports enthusiasts, golfers, and spa-treatment seekers, as well as anyone looking for a fun getaway that will barely stretch their finances. Those looking to catch a show or two will also find their niche – Laughlin’s venues have housed entertainers like The Beach Boys, Wayne Newton, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Bill Cosby, and Air Supply.
Shocking Hotel Prices...In a Good Way
You could spend $25 on a single blackjack hand. Or you could spend that same amount for a midweek’s night stay at a Laughlin hotel. Hands down, one of Laughlin’s biggest bonuses is cost. The hotel and food prices will often make you blink twice to make sure they’re real. The nearly negligible dollar amounts made me think back to what Vegas had been like back in the day. Though prices vary by season, I found rooms on Expedia for around $50/night on the weekend and half that on a weekday.
Events Roar into Town
The town’s annual events are a major draw, luring in people from all walks of life for Laughlin’s own brand of excitement. This year, the 25th Annual Laughlin River Run takes place from April 25-29 and brings more than 60,000 motorcycle enthusiasts from across the country for nonstop activities including stunt shows, entertainment, exhibits, a Harley-Davidson lifestyle tradeshow, and more.
Another roaring event is the SCORE International Off-Road Laughlin Desert Challenge which, I checked out when I was in town in January. First a disclaimer – I’ve never been to an off-road truck race. Heck, I’ve never even been to a NASCAR race – motor sports weren’t a huge draw growing up in Southern California. But I couldn’t resist checking out the madness of off-road truck racing since the event was going on.
Trucks sporting massive tires that would look entirely out of place on a city street find their home in this desert race, held at the Laughlin Events Park and attended by approximately 30,000 people throughout the weekend. The race is raw and exhilarating as spectators watch the trucks growl their way around the dusty track, making earth-spewing turns and leaping over massive mounds of dirt. Though I walked away covered in a thin layer of dust, I viewed it as much a part of the experience as getting splashed by Shamu at Sea World.
Tapping into the Ghosts
The brave and the curious can test their beliefs in ghosts during "Haunted Laughlin", an eerie, interactive tour that visits top haunted sites in the area. According to our Haunted Laughlin tour leader, Laughlin holds bragging rights as having more than 100 haunted legends and more UFO sightings in its area than anywhere else. Well, if you can call that bragging…
Our leader shared stories of friendly and not-so-friendly ghosts in the area, and participants had the opportunity to use dousing rods – L-shaped pieces of metal that locate electromagnetic energy and which spin when spirits are sensed. Even non-believers in our group had a difficult time not getting a little freaked out when their dousing rods mysteriously spun out of control as we walked through the Hardyville Cemetery.
The tour also visits Oatman, Arizona, a nearby spooky ghost town chock full of stories and legends. It’s fun to check out at night as part of the tour, but make sure to also visit during the day to watch staged shoot-outs and shotgun weddings. Also, bring some money to buy carrots to feed to the wild burros that roam the town’s sole street.
Haunted Laughlin leads tours leaving from the Preferred Outlets at Laughlin Mall and is associated with the same folks who lead Haunted Vegas and Vegas Mob Tours in Las Vegas. Tours cost $32.95. Call 866-218-4935 for tickets.
Shoppers can get their fix at the Preferred Outlets at Laughlin Mall, located across from the Aquarius Casino Resort, which houses 55 different stores including GAP, Reebok and IZOD.
Just 25 minutes from most Laughlin hotels, the El Rio Country Club’s golf course in Mohave, Arizona is open to the public and provides a nice escape from the constant action of the strip. It’s particularly good for golfers that are a bit out of practice, and the desert foliage provides unique background scenery.
In nearby Bullhead City, Arizona, Laughlin Ranch houses an impressive public golf course, clubhouse, fitness room, full spa and the Grill restaurant, which overlooks the green. The ranch has a rustic ambiance and features thick, dark wood and stones in its architecture.
The 10,000 square foot Spa at Laughlin Ranch features 11 treatment rooms, leather sofas and tranquility rooms you can relax in before or after your treatment.
On the strip, spas treatments can be enjoyed at many of Laughlin’s hotels.
Boating enthusiasts flock to Laughlin from throughout the southwest and beyond. Located on the Colorado River, the Laughlin Bay Marina offers convenient slips and boat launches along with a clubhouse and a restaurant that’s particularly popular with boaters and jet skiers who pull in to enjoy a meal.
Laughlin’s visitors can rest assured that their meals will often cost less than they’d spend in a single minute of nonstop play at a 25-cent slot machine.
Many of Laughlin’s upscale casual dining restaurants overlook the river, such as the Saltgrass Steak House at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, which offers there’s-no-way-I-can-finish-that entrée portions for insanely reasonable prices. The Lodge at River Palms Resort and Casino also offers river views, which are even more enchanting after dark.
The Hickory Pit at the Edgewater Hotel and Casino, which features a different view with mural-encompassed walls, offers filet mignon, chicken marsala, scallops, and more. The price is right there, too – some of their dishes include a soup or salad, potato option and entrée for just $12.95.
Buffets abound throughout the town and one of the best is the Fresh Market Square Buffet at Harrah’s Laughlin, which was recently renovated to the tune of $2.5 million, and it shows. Some of the more than 150 entrées include Black Angus prime rib and sushi rolls, and a chocolate fountain is located amongst the dessert offerings.
For elegance and seafood, you can’t go wrong with Granny’s Gourmet brunch buffet at the Pioneer Hotel and Gambling Hall if you’re in town on a Sunday. This gem offers the best deal in Laughlin if your taste buds crave foods that would otherwise run you into triple digit bills. Granny’s buffet features lobster tail, caviar, sushi, crab legs, a chocolate fountain to create your own chocolate-covered fruit creations, cooked-to-order cherries jubilee and bananas foster, and unlimited juice and champagne. The price? $23.95. It’s understandably popular, so be sure to reserve in advance.
A Quick, Reasonable Getaway
Laughlin is ideal as a 3-4 day trip, which will give you ample time to visit a variety of restaurants, try your hand at the tables, check out a show or two, and take advantage of the golfing, spa options, and other activities available away from the strip.
Renting a car is a good idea if you plan to check out the offerings away from the main drag of hotels, although it’s possible to rely on walking, cabs and water taxis if you plan to stay nearby. The Laughlin Events Park can be reached by car, cab or foot if you’re feeling up for a walk.
Sun Country Airlines, Allegiant Air, Western Express Air, and many charter services are based out of Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport, and many visitors who take advantage of 3-day, 2-night packages that include charter flights arrive there. Most visitors making their own arrangements, though, choose to fly into McCarran Airport in Las Vegas on a major airline and rent a car to drive to Laughlin. Shuttle buses like River City Shuttle and Commuter Carriers are also available from McCarran.
The Aquarius Casino Resort (AquariusCasinoResort.com) houses the building that was formerly the Flamingo Hotel and has been redesigned with a slick new look and a water theme. It offers a new VIP players’ lounge and excellent river views.
The Colorado Belle Hotel and Casino (ColoradoBelle.com) resembles a massive river ship. Its Boiler Room Brew Pub, which is a fully operational brewery, has a raw, exposed atmosphere and is a great place for a drink or to catch a game.
The Edgewater Hotel and Casino (Edgewater-Casino.com) is home to the Grand Buffet, which features specials like all-you-can-eat Black Angus beef and Friday seafood dinner buffets.
The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino (Goldennugget.com/Laughlin) offers riverside dining and Tarzan's Nightclub, which specializes in Top 40 music.
Harrah’s Laughlin (Harrahs.com/casinos/harrahs-laughlin/hotel-casino/property-home.shtml) offers a beach-themed area and cabana rentals. There is also a sizeable non-smoking area and a tower dedicated to guests who are 21 and over.
Pioneer Hotel and Gambling Hall (PioneerLaughlin.com) offers a friendly, cowboy-like ambiance. Visit Sassy Sue’s River Bar for live entertainment, including country music, on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Ramada Express Hotel Casino (RamadaExpress.com) offers a tower dedicated to adult guests and a train called "Old No. 7" that takes visitors around the 27--acre property.
The River Palms Resort and Casino (River-Palms.com) boasts a tropical theme and easy access to the river.
Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino (RiversideResort.com) stands proudly as Don Laughlin’s original property, founded in 1966. He is still known to wander throughout the property, speaking with guests.
VisitLaughlin.com is a great one-stop resource for information.
New York-based freelance writer Carly Blatt has extensively traveled, studied and worked abroad, covering 23 countries on five continents. Her travel adventures include swimming in Antarctica, bungy jumping in New Zealand, paragliding in the Alps, caving in Belize, mountain boarding in Colorado, camping with locals in the Australian Outback, and helping confused-looking tourists find their way in Manhattan.
Be sure to check out Carly’s most recent book reviews (JohnnyJet.com/folder/archive/CarlyBookReviewNov2006.html).
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