Las Vegas is a sprawling desert paradise for the super rich. Some celebrities travel to the sparkling city to be seen. Others prefer privacy – perhaps taking up a game of poker in a more secluded section of a hotel casino. The rich and famous can dine at pricey celebrity-chef restaurants and shop at luxury destinations such as Gucci or Louis Vuitton.

What about the rest of us who don’t fall into the ‘super rich’ or just plain old ‘rich’ category? Believe it or not Vegas can be just as fun for those of us on a budget or with a shrinking wallet. With some planning it’s easy to enjoy several exhibits, eateries and attractions.

A great way to start the day is to travel to where it all began. Downtown Las Vegas, once known as "Glitter Gulch" is the more rustic district and where Vegas was born. Drop by the oldest hotel in town: The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino at One Fremont Street that dates back to 1906. Inside, you’ll get a feel for how this town pulsated in the early 20th century. Notice the handsome mahogany paneling while listening to live piano music.

Outside the Golden Gate is the Fremont Street Experience, featuring four blocks covered with a Viva Vision canopy that provides a nightly light and sound show free of charge.

Before leaving Downtown, have lunch at Mickie Finnz Fish House and Bar. You can order "Sampler Sliders," four mini burgers with cheese, teriyaki pineapple, guacamole and BBQ sauce and bacon.

Next, head to the "Strip" and enjoy the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. Notice a Golden Crocodile slinking in and out of the water. Learn about the Asian Water Monitor, the world’s second largest lizard. Several varieties of Piranha fish are on display. For $16.95, it’s not exactly free, but one of the better deals. An audio control panel helps you on this self-guided tour and this is free.

A short walk away, and free of charge, is Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand. Gather around a glass enclosure in the main casino area and observe some huge lions chasing a ball with the same energy as a couple of kittens. Learn about these 300 pound animals by reading facts posted around the enclosure.

A few steps from the MGM, at the Showcase Mall, Everything Coca Cola is a free attraction where you can find limited edition Coke paraphernalia. On display are bottles, tee shirts, caps, miniature Coke bottles, license plates and key chains. There are kitchen products and Coca Cola coolers for camping. You can even purchase vintage Coke advertising signs.

The Showcase Mall also features M&M World. You’ll feel like a kid as you wind your way through this multi-level attraction. You can buy M&M tee shirts, caps, personalized coffee cups, figurines, candy dispensers and poker sets. On the second level, "My M&M’s" lets you fill little baggies with every possible M&M candy.

Hop aboard the Monorail and travel Las Vegas Boulevard to the Mirage, where you can get in touch with nature by visiting Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat for just $15.00. Begin the journey by viewing random interactions between staff and dolphins. Head underground as Dolphins swim right up to the viewing windows. Then it’s a visit to some lush habitat where you’ll catch a glimpse of Tigers, including the Snow White. Feel a cool, misty spray on a summer afternoon.

As evening approaches, walk over to Treasure Island for a free performance of the Sirens of Treasure Island. The program, offered several times nightly, depicts a 17th century battle between rowdy pirates and seductive sirens. Pyrotechnic magic transforms Sirens’ Cove into a frenzied battleground. It’s best to arrive early for the programs.

Have your camera ready as you navigate the Strip to enjoy a Las Vegas treasure: The Fountains of Bellagio. This spectacular show can be seen day or night. At night, expect a large crowd as huge streams of water shoot up to spectacular heights. The program is enhanced by lights and beautiful music

Wrap up your perfect budget day by visiting the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. 170 stores and 15 restaurants are featured at this mall, which includes a walk-through street scene. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store is one of many shops that cater to all tastes. Toss in a coin or two (for charity) at the live rainstorm attraction at Merchant’s Harbor. Notice the skies start to darken. Purple mist rises. A crackling thunder and lightning storm begins and rain falls. Be careful. You can get wet if you stand close to the rain.

You don’t have to be a movie star to savor this rapidly-growing entertainment center. Armed with the internet or a couple of good travel guides, and this article you can create a fantastic vacation on a budget. You may even spot a celebrity or two.


WHAT & WHERE
Fremont Street Experience
(425 Fremont St;702678-5777)
Golden Gate Hotel and Casino (One Fremont St; 702-385-1906; 800-426-1906)
Mickie Finnz (425 Fremont St; 702-382-4204)
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino (3950 Las Vegas Blvd, South; 1-877-632-7800)
MGM Grand Las Vegas (3799 Las Vegas Blvd, South; 702-891-7777)
Showcase Mall (3785 S. Las Vegas Blvd; 702-597-3122)
The Mirage (3400 S. Las Vegas Blvd; 702-791-7111)
Treasure Island (3300 S. Las Vegas Blvd; 702-894-7111)
Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Blvd, South; 702-693-7111)
Miracle Mile Shops (3663 Las Vegas Blvd; 888-800-8284)