Kaitlin’s Vegas Travel Diary – 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix

Las Vegas native Kaitlin attended the inaugural edition of the Las Vegas Grand Prix. She shares her experience and tips for F1 fans considering going to the race.

Most Formula 1 fans don’t get the opportunity to attend more than one grand prix in a year, let alone to attend a brand new race in a city like Las Vegas. The fact that this was a night race on a proper street circuit built expectations to an all-time high. Personally, this race was extremely special to me – not only as a Formula 1 fan, but as a Las Vegas native. The ability to attend my ‘home race’ with my team, friends, and family was truly a special experience.

My team at FanAmp partnered with Ellis Island Hotel & Casino to help capture the very first Las Vegas Grand Prix experience. After attending both the iconic Canadian GP in Montreal and the United States Grand Prix at COTA this year, we were excited to experience something brand new, glamorous, and ‘hopefully’ action-packed.

Arriving in Las Vegas

I decided to fly out to Las Vegas on the Monday of race week, and as it turns out so did most of the teams. I wanted to spend some time at home, check out the track layout, and hit the pop-ups and experiences before the crowds arrived. Luckily, all of the attractions and exhibits in the airport were already there, ready to welcome the crowds to Las Vegas.

While transportation for me involved my parents picking me up, there are many ways to get to various hotels from the airport. It is very easy to grab an Uber and away from peak times, it should only be a 15 minute drive to the Strip. However, friends who arrived later in the week once the ‘track was hot’ opted to schedule shuttle vans for about $50 round trip to avoid surge pricing.

Turn 4 at Ellis Island – Behind the Scenes

After landing and getting settled in at home on Monday, the team at Ellis Island Hotel & Casino invited us to check out their set-up, get an early view of the track, and interview some of their key team members. Although I was born and raised in Las Vegas, I have never been to Ellis Island before, and was very excited to check out one of the few remaining family-owned casinos in Las Vegas.

It was extremely easy to reach Ellis Island from East Flamingo Road although it did take me one loop around the block to locate the turn onto Koval given all the roadwork. There is a pedestrian bridge along the only entrance to Ellis Island, so you must cross under it to reach the property. This route was open all weekend and accessible if you had patience to wait in traffic, but only to Ellis Island guests. Upon arrival I was absolutely in awe; I had officially driven on an F1 track for the first time, and Ellis Island itself was in the perfect location along the straight.

Once we parked the car in their very large parking lot, we were given a tour of the property. Ellis Island consists of two buildings – one that houses the casino and one with hotel rooms. For the Turn 4 Experience, there was an observation deck in front of the casino section, next to The Front Yard Beer Garden (for those who purchased Beer Garden tickets) and the grandstands located in front of the hotel room section (for those who purchased Grandstand Tickets).

We were invited to tour both the grandstands and the transformed Front Yard Beer Garden by Matthew Maynard, Ellis Island’s Marketing Director, and were absolutely blown away. The beer garden provided an open-air feel as well as a comfortable (and warm) environment to watch the race. With lots of seating options, TVs hanging on every wall, and restrooms just steps away I was very excited to be able to watch parts of the race weekend indoors (shocking, I know). Not only that, but the observation deck that the beer garden ticket holders had access to was directly next the track, with a perfect view of the first DRS zone.

Friday’s Free Practice & Qualifying

Just next door to the Beer Garden Observation Deck were two Grandstands that stretched from the entrance of Ellis Island to the exit of Turn 4. I had initially decided that I wanted to watch the race from inside the warm Front Yard Beer Garden, but after seeing the view from the grandstands… my mind was very quickly swayed. As you can see in the image above, they even turned the Ellis Island marquee into a race viewing station to keep up with the on-track action when the cars were not coming out of Turn 4. Additionally, behind the grandstands the team was beginning to set up the Turn 4 Grandstand ‘village’ that included food and drink stations, sponsor events, TVs and a DJ booth.

Image © F1Destinations.com

Getting Around Vegas on Race Weekend

One of my biggest complaints throughout the Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend was the difficulty traveling around the city, specifically near the Strip. While it was SO cool to be able to drive the track (and secretly pretend that I was in the RB19), the traffic, and detours were NO JOKE. From Monday to Wednesday, the biggest issue was traffic due to last-minute construction on the track, but it was nothing that 10-15 minutes added on to your ETA couldn’t fix. 

However, once Thursday through Sunday rolled around, the chaos began. It was advertised that the track was ‘open’ to drive on from 4am-5pm daily, but these times varied and often you would try to get off the track at 4:45pm to find it already closed and routes completely shut down. During this time, calling an Uber on the Strip was nearly impossible, with 20-30 minute wait times all evening and extremely inflated prices.

Luckily, for many Las Vegas GP attendees, the monorail is an option that connects many Las Vegas Casinos on the Strip. Additionally, walking paths were available. The walking paths, however, were very poorly laid out with little signage. I got lost in the Venetian Casino at one point for 15 minutes because I was misdirected by staff. The Las Vegas GP app did offer a very well laid out map and directions feature, but even that wasn’t helpful for finding the correct route once you were inside a casino.

Wednesday – Opening Ceremony

The Las Vegas Grand Prix is extremely unique for more reasons than its iconic location – there was even an opening ceremony for the event on Wednesday, the day before the cars hit the track for the first time. In Las Vegas, each part of the track is broken up into zones – meaning you can only access the zone that corresponds to your ticket. For the Opening Ceremony, people who had tickets in the East Harmon Zone (including the Main Grandstand and various hospitality areas) had access to the show including free food catered by Wolfgang Puck and soft-drinks. The Paddock Club was also open.

My friends and I were lucky enough to score tickets to watch from the right side of the Main Grandstand for about $100 each on Wednesday morning. There was a designated Uber drop-off zone near this end of the track and paddock. While the Uber ride was seamless, the walk to the track was very confusing. The route had thousands of fans walking through the Virgin Hotel and backtracking to walk down the road to the entrance of our zone, which added on a good 15-20 minutes of travel time.

The East Harmon Zone itself was reminiscent of a music festival with activations, giant food and drink stations, F1 art installations, and even a massive main stage. The show itself… ‘made for TV’ is how I would describe it. The performances were rushed, the sound system wasn’t working properly for most of the show, and the whole thing only lasted for about 30 minutes. If I were to suggest anything to a race-goer in Las Vegas for future years it would be to save your money and watch the fireworks and drone show from your hotel room. 

Thursday – Free Practice

On Thursday, the FanAmp team arrived bright and early (which on Vegas race weekend is 5pm) to the Turn 4 at Ellis Island Experience ready to interview excited fans, try the food, and watch both Free Practice 1 and Free Practice 2… If you know anything about the Inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, however, you know that did not go according to plan. BUT, before we talk about the disaster that was Free Practice day – let’s talk about Ellis Island!

The lines for security were not long at all and the team was thorough. Ellis Island opted to enforce the standard small bag or larger clear bag policy. This is  standard security practice in Las Vegas and the team was thorough, but kind and quick when checking bags. Our team headed straight to the Beer Garden to check out the finished space and grab some food. Not only was the space the PERFECT ambiance to watch some night racing, the food spread absolutely surpassed our expectations. There was a giant dessert table in the center of the room, the kitchen had a buffet style main dish set-up with chefs carving salmon and brisket. Wait staff also circled the room with trays of various snacks including mac n’cheese, fried pickles, hummus and pita, and chicken tenders. Each table also had a full menu of drinks (including FREE Turn 4 Lagers) and food. To say we were blown away by the service and quality of food was an understatement.

After we stuffed our faces, we headed up to see the observation deck. Since Monday evening, they had installed TVs with live race coverage and speakers so the Beer Garden guests could stay up-to-date on the race, even when outside on the deck.

About an hour before Free Practice 1 began, we started our ‘work’ (it was very fun and I wouldn’t classify any part of this experience as work) interviewing excited fans! Along with our content creator partners Neha and Josh, we asked fans about their experiences so far, why the Turn 4 Experience at Ellis Island, and what they were looking forward to for the weekend. One unifying answer: The food and service were impeccable on Day 1.

Once Free Practice 1 began, we watched from the right side of the Main Grandstand. While both grandstands were extremely long, they were only 10 rows high and every seat had an unobstructed view. AND… we all know what happened next… but even with the disaster of Free Practice 1, the Ellis Island team kept the party going and race-goers entertained until they ventured home (or walked a few steps to their hotel rooms).

Friday – Free Practice 3 & Qualifying

The team returned for Day 2 with high hopes that Free Practice 3 and Qualifying would go off without a hitch. [Spoiler alert: they did!]

We arrived at Ellis Island around 7:30 PM. As the roads were already closed by this stage, we had to be dropped off on Flamingo Road at a designated Uber drop-off location. However, this was a straight path to Ellis Island and only took 5-10 minutes to walk. Again, the security team was very efficient funneling the MUCH larger crowd into the Grandstands and Beer Garden.

Yet again, our team started off the evening interviewing even more fans attending the Turn 4 Experience at Ellis Island. Although many of them lamented the poor racing experience from the previous day, nearly everyone followed up that statement by praising how well Ellis handled the situation.

As Free Practice 3 began, it became very apparent that there was a MUCH larger turnout (as expected) on Friday. The Front Yard Beer Garden had even more (still delicious) food, a live DJ and additional decor. Outside in the grandstands, the on-track action was streaming not only on the Ellis Island marquee, but also on TVs throughout the small village adjacent to the bar and food area.

Watching Free Practice and Qualifying from the ‘right’ grandstand in the 2nd row truly had us feeling as though we were on the track. Although I’ve attended 3 Grand Prix weekends by now, I have never been this close to the action while still well fed and comfortable. There isn’t much to report about Friday because the experience was absolutely seamless with great energy, great food, great company, and a Charles Leclerc Pole to top it all off! After qualifying ended at 1:00 AM, we made the short walk back to the Uber zone and were home by 1:30 AM!

Saturday – Race Day

Somehow our experience managed to get even better once race day rolled around. Although I had to learn about the winding and LONG route to get from Treasure Island to Ellis Island (which took about 20 minutes walking at a New Yorker’s pace), this may have been my favorite race to watch live.

The Turn 4 Experience at Ellis Island was completely sold out of tickets on Saturday and it was visually apparent…but you never had to wait in lines for food, drinks or the toilet. Kudos to the organization of the Ellis Island team.. There was still plenty of room to move freely in the Beer Garden, at the Observation Deck, and the ‘village’ behind the grandstands. The fans were excited and friendly, which was apparent in the pre-race interviews we captured. We even grabbed a table and some food (the salmon that I still dream about) to watch the pre-show festivities. Even with thousands of patrons, the Ellis Island staff were extremely friendly and accommodating, which isn’t always the case for large events.

We chose to watch the race from the grandstands in the front row. Not only did the left-side grandstand have a view of Turn 4, but the right-side grandstand sat directly on the DRS starting point. This made for the PERFECT location to watch race action. We were even close enough to very CLEARLY see Max Verstappen’s front wing and side pod damage with the naked eye.

Staying at Ellis Island – Josh’s Perspective

During the Las Vegas Grand Prix, one of our FanAmp team members, Josh (@BaristaJoshF1) stayed at Ellis Island Hotel & Casino on premise. Here is what he had to say about the room:

“Checkin and parking were both very easy and accessible. It was extremely convenient to park my car and not have to lug my luggage around a giant casino property to find my room. The room itself was simple but ‘well done’ with basic but higher end amenities. The bed was comfortable, the TV was a good size and worked well, everything was clean, there was a large fridge. There were also plenty of food options in the hotel itself including a number of restaurants. If you didn’t want to eat on the property, there were multiple restaurants that were within 10 minutes walking distance, as well as a close monorail stop to get onto the Strip.”

One thing that Josh also pointed out was that during the 2nd Free Practice that no spectators could watch, he could HEAR the cars very clearly driving past while streaming. While this experience isn’t for everyone, it’s definitely something that race fans like Josh enjoyed.

Check room prices at Ellis Island Hotel & Casino

Summary & Tips for Attending the Las Vegas Grand Prix

The Las Vegas Grand Prix and the Turn 4 at Ellis Island Experience made this trip to Vegas one of the most special ones that I have taken since I moved away. The track indeed does make for an extremely exciting race to watch. You can be sure the FanAmp team will see you there for years to come!

Heading to the race? Here are our top tips:

  1. Bring a JACKET. It didn’t turn out to be that cold, but it was cold enough at times where you wish you’d had one
  2. The Turn 4 Experience at Ellis Island is one of the best Las Vegas GP deals in terms of location, quality, food/beverage, and ambiance
  3. If you’re going to invest in tickets inside the official F1 seating areas, do your research – the tickets are VERY expensive no matter what section you’re in and price doesn’t always translate to better views, food, or amenities
  4. Traveling around Vegas is DIFFICULT on race weekend. Map your route and add a 20 minute buffer. If you’re using rideshare, stick to the highways on the outer perimeter
  5. Get your beauty sleep. The sessions are all late, so prioritize sleep when you can
  6. Sit along the straights. They may be long, but we saw how much action they delivered.

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