We’ve been going to the NFR for about 10 years. Every year it seems like we learn something new about something going on during the rodeo, even though we both spend a significant amount of time on the internet, and social media. However, we’ve learned a lot by talking to people, some trial and error, and we’d like to help you plan your trip to the NFR. It seems like every time we’re waiting for an NFR shuttle, there’s someone near us who is on their first trip to the NFR, and they generally have all kinds of questions. Should we take the bus? Is Cowboy Christmas worth it? What about the other Western Shopping Shows? What if you’re not staying at a hotel with a bus route? Where can we find good food that’s not at Strip prices?
For my first blog, lets talk about Cowboy Christmas. Last year was a huge year as Cowboy Christmas moved to the South Side of the convention center, and NFR experience started bus services from select hotels to the convention center. While moving to another side of the convention center may sound like just a logistical thing, it is ever so much more. Take it from the event planner I used to be. It was HUGE!
We stayed at the Mirage for our first 3 nights, because we love to watch the excitement of the NFR after party! We’re boomers (that’s a nice way of saying we’re in the 55+ generation) – so we rarely stay out till midnight, but it’s fun to watch people and the concert. We arrived on Wednesday evening, and decided to go to Cowboy Christmas as our first stop on Thursday morning. We knew where the rodeo shuttles left – so we got some coffee and went to the shuttle stop around 9:15am to try and be on the first bus to the Convention Center. Sure enough, there was a bus waiting, perfect timing.
Cowboy Christmas was bigger than I could’ve imagined. After attending Cowboy Christmas the past few years, I had some expectations about booths that I wanted to visit, so my first concern was to try and get the “lay of the land”. What I found was an exhibit hall that felt like it was a three miles long and a whole new layout from the Cowboy Christmas of the past few years. The Starbucks near the entry was doing great business before the doors opened so we got some caffeine and got ready to experience the “new” Cowboy Christmas. Here’s some tips for you as you experience Cowboy Christmas for the first time!
1) Wear shoes that support your feet. The first day we went, I was wearing my Ugg Boots which I love because they are so warm and comfortable. However, about an hour into our morning at Cowboy Christmas, my back was aching. We sat down for a little while, and I texted a friend and she said – what shoes do you have on? The next day I wore my Cowboy Boots, and had no more issues with back aches no matter how long we talked! Cowboy Boots, a great pair of tennis shoes, anything that is made for supporting your feet is what you need to walk on the cement floors and experience Cowboy Christmas. (There is carpet on top of the cement, but for the most part – the floor is hard.)
2) Cowboy Christmas is not something you can experience all at once or in just a few hours. We tend to go to Cowboy Christmas at least 2-3 times, and we’re planning on going more in 2016 because they’ve expanded the events happening in the arena. If you have only 3 hours, take your time and experience ¼ or 1/3 of the booths. Don’t “speed-read” through the booths – you’ll miss things. I know this because it’s happened to me. Only when I slowed down enough to look in every booth, and process that booths products did I actually start to appreciate the wide variety of vendors at Cowboy Christmas. I loved sitting in the truck cab in this pic, and I had no idea how really big some of the “outfits” are before I crawled in this truck. You want to have time to actually see all the interesting retail items, and you also want to have time in case one of your favorite rodeo athletes is signing autographs in a booth and has time to chat!
3) Don’t miss the stages and the “shows” that are happening throughout Cowboy Christmas. Find the schedule (either on NFRExperience.com or by the actual stage at Cowboy Christmas) and schedule around the shows you want to see! Flint Rasmussen does his “Outside the Barrel” show every day at noon, and he has great guests and a lot of “behind the scenes” knowledge that will enhance your enjoyment of the NFR – whether you are at the Thomas and Mack, or watching at one of the hotel viewing parties in Vegas! Shop for 2 hours, grab a beverage and a snack and watch one of the shows on the Rodeo Live stage, and then shop for another hour or two before you go back to your hotel to get ready for the rodeo!
4) Check the schedule of what’s happening at the Cowboy Christmas Arena. We happened on the youth bull riding event – and I’ve never seen anything so cute! I read somewhere that this year they are planning a Junior NFR. There’s lots of opinions out there about when kids should start their rodeo careers, but no matter what you believe, checking out this rodeo arena should be on your list.
5) Booth Numbers are there to help you! Don’t assume that only the booths in the front are worth visiting! There are great booths all the way to the back of the exhibit hall!! Just start at one end and start going up and down aisles. Make a note of where you are when you start getting worn out (or your arms are full of packages) – so you can start there when you come back. That’s why they put the aisle numbers there – so you can find things. Just look up – remember you were at row 2800 – and then you can start there next time. If I find something I may want – but I’m not sure if I “really” want it – I grab my phone, and take a pic of the booth number, and then I can just look back at my phone, and know the booth numbers I’d like to visit again.
6) It’s important to note — that this is one shopping trip that Mike doesn’t mind tagging along with me! This is not a shopping mall for women only! There is just so much to look at including trucks, trailers, clothing, the whole Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation show upstairs, plus the shows and adult beverages if you want one! If you’re tired and need a break, there are areas to sit (and food and beverage stations) — and there are TV’s playing the previous night’s NFR Performance!
Do these hints help? I hope so. Would love to hear your favorite part of Cowboy Christmas!
Donna Jobe says
Like your tips. I also have been attending for years and love the new move of Cowboy Christmas.
We too have been attending for many years but did not like the new set up for COWBOY Christmas. It was very hard to navigate. Also don’t forget the other casinos that are housing vendors too. The Sands is my favorite.
I had some anxiety adjusting to the new setup of Cowboy Christmas too — but once I figured it out — I think it’s better than ever. One thing that may yhelp is that they usually have vendor brochures out in the lobby — so that you can find your favorite vendors by their booth number. We were also AMAZED at all the vendors upstairs — I wonder if people who didn’t get a booth reserved at Cowboy Christmas got booths at the RMEF show instead! I’m thinking you’ll like it better this year cuz you’ll know what to expect!
And Lynne — see todays post on Stetson Country Christmas — it too has moved!
Thanks for all the wonderful info. This will be my husband and I’s first trip for the NFR & to Vegas. We are coming in on the Wednesday and planning to shop til we drop Thursday. And then watch the opening night of the rodeo at the Thomas and Mack.
Please keep me posted with any other good tips you may have.
Check out Fremont street… They have a great night with country music the night before the rodeo starts
That’s a great idea. We usually fly in the night before the rodeo and it seems like weather delays in the midwest often have delayed us so we don’t get there until late at night! However, this year we’re scheduled to get in during the late afternoon — so we’ll try to go down there! We’re bringing a friend who’s never been to Vegas — and I’m sure his eyes would be open wide in amazement at Fremont Street!
Nick Phillips says
So looking forward to my first Cowboy Christmas, Coming over from the U K for a week. Thanks for the tips.
You will love it! We do!
Sharon Chrisner says
This will be our 26th NFR and Cowboy Christmas! We are getting up in age (77 and 79) and really appreciate the monorail! We try to get in the Thomas Mack at least one night to see the rodeo. We watch the rodeo at Harrah’s at Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar” if we can’t get tickets. There is so much fun things to see and go to during these 10 days in Vegas! We always have a great time!
Sharon — do you stay all 10 days? That’s amazing! Do you stay at Harrah’s as well since it’s a monorail stop?
Obea Billing says
Be sure to visit the Davis Mountains Nut Co. booth they are the best!
Thanks so much for this. This is our first year going and we can’t wait! Your tips will help us so much!
Keep watching — I’m planning to blog every day thru the NFR! (and now that I wrote it — I’ll have to do it!)
Kresta Sherman says
Do they take debit cards at these cowboy christmas vendors?! OR cash only? I’m trying to decide if I need to take more cash to Vegas or if I can put a lot of it on my prepaid visa debit…
They absolutely take plastic! At least all the vendors I have purchased things at do! They generally have some piece of furniture functioning as a check out desk — and that generally has a sign on which plastic cards they accept. I haven’t had issues with my debit card, but I believe there might be a few vendors who don’t do discover cards. However, if you’re on a budget — my accountant would tell you to decide how much shopping money you have and take that with you in an envelope instead of using plastic! (She’ll be proud of me because I mentioned that!)
It is a good idea to tell your bank you will be shopping in Vegas!! First year we went the bank did not allow my husbands card to go through for a purchase because he had never been there before. Have been to the NFR for the last 8 years. We always tell the bank now when we are traveling. Great tips here. Download the NFR app lots of information. I am interested in places to eat that are reasonable priced!! Fremont street is super fun and worth the time to go there, but it is only the first weekend of the rodeo. Pace yourself if you are there more than 2 or 3 days.
Great Suggestions! I have future blogs planned on credit cards, and the NFR App!
Most vendors have a machine to take cards or swipe it through a reader on their phone. No need to carry lots of cash.
John Moore says
Well , after hours of walking and shopping, they have quite some stations there were u can get into a massage chair head to toe , that gets me for a couple more hours going:)
What I would like to see in the food court , is some good Hamburgers, tri tip sandwiches some good cowboy food that will keep u going some more hours, not nachos etc or chunk that will hold u only for a few minutes, did not like the food selection at all the last couple years 🙁
You’re right — I forgot about the massage stations! That might be a better use of time than going back to the hotel and taking a nap!
As to food, I can’t answer that — but I can tell you that I’ve worked as a conference / exhibit hall planner in the past — and the concessions are generally contracted in a large contract across all events. I think it is unlikely that the Cowboy Christmas planners have any say in what food is actually offered in the convention center, it’s decided on for the convention center early in the year. I would recommend that you go to the convention center website and enter your feedback each time you visit — and make sure the planners are aware of your preferences so they can take that into account the next time a contract is negotiated.
I’ve been going for years and don’t forget the other venues. South Point, Mandalay Bay. They have great shopping with different vendors. I do Cowboy Chriatmas first, then the next days…..visit the rest!!
Don’t worry! I attend all those, and I will be blogging about those as well!
My dau & I have been going for years & experience the whole Cowboy Christmas…this year I’m going alone bec she’s in Canada serving a mission. Every week when she writes she talks about NFR, Vegas, Cowboy Christmas, buffets…she says…”mom meet some cow peeps from Alberta Canada…wear a sign or something…I’d like for them to bring me back some stuff”. Bless her heart. My husband will follow me but he’s not a shopper…busy Roping at a South Point. I hope to have just as much fun being alone.
Where is the best venue to watch the rodeo live? Saw it at Emerils Sports @Venetian and it was awful
I haven’t watched from a hotel for awhile, so we are going to have to ask for some help from our readers. I know that I have seen the line of people waiting to get in to watch at the MGM when I was walking to the bus, so I am guessing that’s a good place. Any other recommendations?
Gilley’s at Treasure Island is an awesome way to view the NFR if you don’t have tickets. They set up long tables across the dance floor and have a large screen for all to have the best view. My husband & I did that last year & we plan on doing it again this year!
Great idea — I’ll add these comments to my Viewing Party Blog!
South Point has awesome viewing of the rodeo on big screens..
Brad Dutcher says
Go to the Southpoint . they have very big screens in there two big conference rooms ,giveaways and food
which you have to pay for if you want that but its not exspensive
It is called the ram tailgate party. very big tables to sit at and fun to be at.
We’ve received comments that the MGM, Treasure Island / Gilleys, The Orleans and the SouthPoint are all great options!
Surprisingly we watched it at Excalibur in the biker bar. It was great, not crowded and the service was fantastic.
Mandy Brazil says
The NHSRA booth (National High School Rodeo Association) in the Convention Center will have it’s national officers selling $10 raffle tickets for a Weatherby .300 mag custom rifle and a Dodge truck. Please consider supporting these kids. They are your future NFR contestants!
Thanks Mandy! We always purchase these raffle tickets. If you have a graphic that they are using in the convention center that you can send me — I’ll include it in one of my blogs!
We travel from Great Britain every year to attend the NFR, to get my cowboy fix and look around cowboy Christmas. It’s one of my favourite parts of our holiday. We always love the caramel and chocolate covered apples for a sugar pick me up, but share as they are huge.
G sharman says
Gold coast, the Orleans, both not far from the strip, also South Point…all cater to rodeo fans.
Thank you — I’ll add these to my hotel and viewing party blog!
Do you fly out there? If so and you buy anything big do you ship it home?
I do fly out there — and I haven’t bought anything so big I had to ship it home. With furniture and huge stuff — I’m sure they ship it when you purchase. Check your airline tickets and see how much extra baggage costs. Perhaps its possible to purchase a “club pass” that gives you free baggage, and that may be cheaper than shipping an extra bag.
As far as us — I used to travel for work so I have frequent flier status that gives us free checked bags. I generally go home with at least 1 more bag than we came with! I haven’t shipped anything — but I believe the convention center has a business center with boxes and shipping. (it’s pricey tho!)
You can also ask the vendor that you are purchasing from if they will ship it — sometimes they will!
Were going because my 12 year old daughter qualified for the JrNFR for barrel racing. Its gonna be exciting and fun for us first timers. Thanks for the info. We will be there the 6-11th.
Congratulations — that’s so exciting! And a whole new thing to add as far as things to do! Make sure and follow your favorite WPRA barrel racers on social media, so you’ll know where they are signing autographs — as I’m sure your daughter will want some pics of the top 15!
Tami Vickery says
Thank you for posting this. Great ideas. I was there 2 years ago for my first time and could not believe how HUGE it was. Going again this year “girls trip” and we can’t wait !!!
That sounds amazing! I’ll have some future blogs about the other shopping places (I love them all — it’s just that Cowboy Christmas is like the Cheyenne Rodeo — Daddy of them all!) Bring Comfortable/supportive shoes for shopping, and wear your fancy boots at night!
I have been a couple times, loved Cowboy Christmas!! I would like to know the best place to view to rodeo WITH KIDS! Especially with the JR NFR I hope there are places that are a little kids friendly. We took our daughter a couple years ago for her Senior year in high school trip and it was not a great experience finding somewhere to watch the rodeo on the nights we did not have tickets. I believe the MGM has a large viewing room but you must go in advance to get a bracelet for admission and there is a minimum age. We are going back with our other daughter and would love input!
Brad Dutcher says
Go to the Southpoint It is the best veiwinf by far.
Pat McCandless says
Not sure where to stay, any suggestions?
You’ve just asked about tomorrow’s blog! I’ll give my thoughts tomorrow.
Carol G. says
Several hotels will replay the rodeo in-room viewing later that evening and it’s free. When you do have tickets to the rodeo be sure to get there early enough so you can enjoy the venues outside Thomas and Mack.
Also, be sure to check out the Miss Rodeo Pageant held at the MGM convention center. Several events are open to the public. Visit their website, missrodeoamerica.com for a schedule of events. Over 30 state title holders are vying for the one coveted the most.
Hello all—-In reference to using Credit Cards—–Please call your CC Company/Bank and let them know!! The reason for semi problems is there are Vendors from all over the country. So if you buy from Vendor A–who is from Tennessee and then buy from Vendor B—who is from California–your CC company says “WHOA” they can’t be in both places on the same day!! Vendor CC companies are usually from their home state. So just be aware.
AND Please stop by at Old Frontier Clothing in Cowboy Christmas and say Hey!!!! Both #2016!!!! We will dress you to the nines!
Tammara Hoover says
Come visit our booth “Christian Bling” We are a new company and we have amazing Christian Jewelry and gifts. Check us out. http://www.ctbling.com/tammyhoover
Shelly LeSueur says
We can’t wait to go this year. My daughter qualified for the Jr NFR in team roping. She will rope in the Comventiom Center at Cowboy Christmas the 8th, 9th and 10th. Rodeo and shopping all in the same place!
What’s her name? and where can we follow to see how she does? We’re so excited for you!
Thanks for taking the time to do this. I used to take the monorail from Bally’s but if Cowboy Christmas has moved, how far is it to walk from the monorail now? I am staying at the Flamingo. Best transportation from there?
Cowboy Christmas in the new side of the convention center is actually closer to the monorail station I think!
Ronnie D . says
Thanks for the tip on the cowboy Christmas we’re probably going to hit that Saturday but Friday we’re going to be at the George Strait concert and this will be her first time ever going to the cowboy Christmas with me we are looking forward to having a good time
Deborah Gastelu says
Been to the NFR countless times, but been two years since I last went. Glad to hear that the Cowboy Xmas changed it’s venue since It was getting stale and not one of my favorite trade shows. So looking forward in seeing the change this year. Mandalay Bay and Southpoint also had good trade shows. Should be interesting to see how the new trade show in Downtown that was originally held at the sands turns out. The Sands was huge, but the parking and the walk to get there was terrible. Found that the NFR tickets are over priced so viewing the live coverage works out just fine. Enjoy watching at South Pointe. But if you have never attended a performance, do so. But try not to find yourself up in the nose bleed seats. You will probably find yourself sitting behind a huge speaker or lights. So plan on spending a small fortune to get good seats. At least do it once.