Rodeo fans making the trek to Las Vegas this December for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo may not recognize McCarran International Airport when they walk off the plane.
If you haven’t been to the “Entertainment Capital of the World” since late June, chances are you may arrive in the airport’s new and shiny Terminal 3. Opened June 27 as part of a $2.4 billion expansion project – the largest in the 64-year history of the airport – Terminal 3 is a 1.9 million-square-foot terminal that provides the ultra-busy airport with some breathing room during peak travel times.
The terminal, which replaces Terminal 2 that was closed June 28, has seven domestic and seven international gates, additional check-in desks, baggage claim, security checkpoints, parking and even a 10,000-square-foot duty-free shop. Terminal 3 is also home to a 60,000-square-foot Customs & Border Protection arrivals hall for passengers coming from abroad.
Another 26 gates are also available in the D Concourse, which is a 45-second ride from “T3” via an underground tram.
So, the craziness of the ant farm-like airport from years past might not await you this year as you arrive for yet another 10-day extravaganza of Western excellence that is the Wrangler NFR. This will be a welcome change for travelers accustomed to being herded like cattle through the airport through the years as bottlenecks and traffic jams abounded.
Airlines that fly into Terminal 3 include United, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Sun Country Airlines and Virgin America. Terminal 1 traffic will be considerably less as well, thanks to the addition of T3, so rodeo fans taking Delta, American, AirTran, Allegiant, Great Lakes, Omni, Southwest, Spirit and US Airways should also notice a difference.
The public’s reaction to the largest capital improvement project in the airport’s history has been extremely positive, according to Chris Jones, public affairs and marketing manager for the Clark County Department of Aviation. The new terminal is also a technological marvel, as far as airport terminals go.
“I think for the most part, it’s been really positive,” Jones said. “It’s very, very tech-friendly. Depending on the airline, you can check in on your own and tag your own bags, and there are plenty of places for people to plug in and use computers or charge their phones.”
Speaking of more convenient travel, I would be remiss if I did not remind fans about the free shuttle service available to you in Las Vegas. There’s no need to fight the traffic going to and from the rodeo each night, no need to splurge for a rental car and pay for parking.
There are 14 different routes that navigate through town and stop at 22 Las Vegas casinos, as well as Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center. You don’t even need to be staying at any of the casinos that have shuttle bus stops in order to take advantage of the free service, and there are handicap-accessible buses that are part of the shuttle fleet.
The buses drop fans off right in front of the Thomas & Mack Center, next to the ProRodeo Zone – which is another must-see for fans coming to the Wrangler NFR. Sure, you have to plan ahead in order to catch the buses, but they normally leave every 15 minutes from each hotel, and every hotel on the route has an on-site rodeo manager to set up the schedule.
Which casinos are on the shuttle bus list? Get yourself to any of these locations, and you can have a free ride to and from the rodeo: Excalibur, Mandalay Bay, Sam’s Town, MGM Grand, Hooter’s Casino Hotel, Las Vegas Hotel, Wynn, Aria, Monte Carlo, The Orleans, Circus Circus, Riviera, Golden Nugget, Mirage, Treasure Island, Terrible’s, Hard Rock Hotel, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Silverton, South Point and the Gold Coast.
The shuttle bus system has been in place for years and has been immensely popular with rodeo fans who want to have a good time without the hassle of fighting through traffic on their own. And, hey, the price is right!
Another convenience provided to rodeo fans in Las Vegas has to do with live broadcasts of the rodeo each night. Tens of thousands of people converge on the electrifying city each December for the Wrangler NFR, but not everyone is lucky enough to be one of the more than 17,000 ticket holders who watch the action at the Thomas & MackCenter.
If you don’t have a ticket for the rodeo every day you’re in Las Vegas, don’t despair. You don’t have to miss any of the excitement, and sometimes it’s almost as entertaining watching the rodeo in one of the city’s casinos.
As I wrote about last year, casinos in Las Vegas really do bend over backwards to welcome the rodeo world each December. Part of that is the closed-circuit satellite feed on which the casinos show each performance of the Wrangler NFR.
So, for instance, if you’re in town for three nights and only have tickets for two of those nights, make your way to a participating casino to watch it live as part of the congregation of rodeo fans who likely will gravitate to the casinos’ big screens. You can watch the rodeo, then hang around for one of the after-parties.
Nearly 40 Clark County properties will be broadcasting the satellite feeds, including: Aria, Bally’s, Binion’s, Caesars Palace, Excalibur, Gold Coast, Golden Nugget, The Mirage, The Orleans, Planet Hollywood, South Point and the Wynn.
I take time to mention all of these fan-friendly features because I believe the Wrangler NFR to be one of the most accommodating and fan-oriented events in all of sports. I have been to and covered numerous different sporting events during the last 20 years, and the Wrangler NFR and city of Las Vegas do more for fans than I’ve seen elsewhere.
That’s got to be worth something.
*For more information about the shuttle buses or satellite feed locations, check out their tabs on this site, http://www.nfrexperience.com.