For one week in November, Las Vegas floods with automotive enthusiasts from around the world. Hotel rates triple, the Monorail is packed to the gills and everyone does their best to not get sick. This year marks the 12th year that I’ve been attending The SEMA Show in Las Vegas. SEMA is ‘THE’ event in automotive aftermarket. If you make the car, or the part that bolts on to the car, you attend SEMA. Concept cars and new products are the highlights of the show. Throughout my 12 year attendance, I’ve seen the automotive industry both thrive and suffer. The SEMA Show is always a good representative of how industry blood is flowing. A few years ago when the real estate market fell out, quickly followed by the auto industry, SEMA suffered. No longer did we see a show packed with all-new and exciting builds. There was a good 5 year period where I can safely say, SEMA was barely worth attending.
Fortunately, over the past 3-4 years, SEMA has been recharged. New builds are showing up each year and we are once again seeing more innovation than in years past. It would be nice to see a few more off-road builds that don’t look like they have been Armor All’d to death and maybe a few less stickers. Okay? This year, I was only in town for one night and without an official agenda, spent every minute snapping photos. I’ve loaded all of them on my Flickr page because I wasn’t about to post a rundown of 300 pictures here. This post would take far too long to load on your smartphone. Along with the photos and a few words about the cars, I am going to share with you some of my SEMA tips, how I do Vegas and a few other thoughts. So, I hope you actually read the rest of this and don’t just skip to the photos.
How to make your SEMA/Vegas trip smarter!
1. Book your hotel as early as possible. If you know that you’re going to attend SEMA next year, book your hotel NOW. Rates go up throughout the year and within 3 months from show time, they are double or triple what you would pay today. Remember, you can always cancel your reservation usually 72 hours before the date of arrival. With that said, stay alert to last minute hotel deals. I use the Kayak App on my iPhone and love it. It searches all the top sites and puts the results in the palm of your hand. This year, with only one night planned, I waited to see if any last minute deals popped up and got lucky. Treasure Island was charging $199 for WED and FRI nights, but THUR was only $64. Two weeks ago the entire week was averaging $156/night. I find Expedia.com and Vegas.com also have really good rates and checkout is easy.
2. Pack your room full of food and drinks. If you are driving to Vegas, bring a cooler and pack it with water, beer, snacks, whatever you don’t want to overpay on in Vegas. The hotel store will charge you anywhere from $2.50 and up for a small bottle of water. You can buy a case of 24 bottles at home for $5. Be smart. I usually bring water, fruit, oatmeal, and MnMs. Between late nights and early starts, breakfast is often hard to come by in Vegas for me. So, I try to make a nice bowl of oatmeal to kick off my day. Much better than paying $24 for heat-lamp food in the buffet.
3. The best place to get free beer in Vegas is at the casino bar. Any casino bar as long as it has table-top digital games. The bartenders are instructed to give you free drinks as long as you’re playing. Throw $20 in the machine and play a few games before ordering a drink. The bartender will see you are playing and start shelling out beverages as long as you keep going. Some of the casino bartenders have told me that you have to play the $1 games in order to skip drink charges. So keep that in mind. My typical routine is to throw $100 in the machine, play $1 blackjack and sit for a little while. I don’t even need to play that often, just having cash in the machine provides me drinks. Also, don’t be scared of the receipt that will show up in front of you. They have to put that there to keep track of your bill. As long as you’re playing, all you need to worry about is the tip. I suggest you tip the bartender well, especially if you just sat for an hour, pounded down 6 beers and only gambled $5. Give the guy a good tip and he will remember you the next time you sit down at his bar. He is also less likely to worry about how much you are playing. If you are thinking, “Hey man I can do the same at any slot machine!” Wrong. The waitress serving you at the slots barely cares you are there. She takes forever to bring you a drink and if you’re like me, you get tired of a slot machine after about 2 minutes. At least, the table games give you half a chance to win some cash. I usually win enough to pay for my hotel charges and score plenty of drinks in the process.
4. Let’s talk about the Monorail. This is by far the easiest way to get to the SEMA show. If you can, book your hotel at one of the stops. That way, you have easy access. I suggest staying at the MGM. It’s the farthest hotel from the LV Convention Center, but its also the easiest Monorail station to use. It’s the last stop for southbound passengers and the first for northbound. With an empty car, you are assured a seat for the entire route. By the time you reach the convention, the monorail is packed all the while you’ve been seated comfortably. If the MGM is too expensive for you, try staying at Excalibur. Rates are cheaper and MGM is a short walk across the street. Keep an eye out for an elevator just right of the front doors outside valet. Its a secret shortcut to the monorail station.
5. Remember when I mentioned people getting sick? It’s true. With that many people slammed together over a week barely sleeping or eating properly, people are inevitably coughing on you and shaking your hand. This is typical for all conventions. I do have a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my pack but I’m not the guy using it every time I touch something. I recommend stopping in the restroom every now and then to wash your hands. Pack a few pouches of Emergen-C and dump it into a bottle of water once or twice throughout the day. Airborne is also a good idea for keeping germs away and just as easy to use. This may all sound a little ridiculous to you but I no longer get the ‘Sema Sickness’.
6. Depending on why you are attending the show, I recommend you carry a backpack. Please, for the love of everyone else at the show, STOP bringing roller cases to conventions. Those annoying bags trip people left and right and I have no qualms about kicking your bag when it gets in the way. “But I don’t want to carry the weight of a pack on my back all day.” Too bad. Man up or woman up and stop thinking about only yourself for a change. I’ve noticed people carrying stacks and stacks of files and wonder if they realize its 2013? We are in the digital age people, a laptop or tablet packs down flat and is very easy to carry.
7. Grab coffee at your hotel before getting to the show. The Starbucks lines at the convention center are nothing short of depressing.
8. Get up early and photograph the cars outside while the sun is coming up. This should be a no brainer for any photographer reading this. I know getting up early in Vegas is tough, but your photos will show the difference. There are also far less people walking around in the morning both inside and outside. Nice clean photos of cars without people blocking them is tough to come by. Arrange your schedule so you can make this happen.
9. Check your hotel for special SEMA shuttles. Most of the big casinos offer FREE shuttle service to and from the show. If you don’t mind waiting for the next bus to arrive, this could be your best and cheapest bet for getting there.
10. For those of you that are health nuts or have food allergies, doing Vegas can be tough. There are a few Chipotle’s on the strip and this year I found gluten free pizza inside Treasure Island. One of my favorite restaurants is also inside Treasure Island. Gilley’s has great BBQ, just checkout this photo from my Instagram. There is also a Whole Foods on LV Blvd just a few miles south of the big casinos. Fill up that cooler or hotel fridge with healthy goodies!
I hope you enjoyed a few of my SEMA/Vegas tips! This post has inspired me to do a more thorough Vegas Tips post soon to come. There are a few more tricks up my sleeve I will share soon enough. By now you are probably wondering where the photos are! I picked out a few of my favorites to share here and the rest are on Flickr. Just in case you missed that above.
Really great seeing Rory Ward’s, Mickey Thompson tribute car!
Award for the best sticker wrap goes to Mickey Thompson tires. I planned on doing something like this on one of my past SEMA projects, but sadly we ran out of time. Maybe I should wrap the Subaru?
Yup, that is a Roadrunner Challenger.
I’m not a huge Camaro fan but this body kit and those wheels were overly sexual. I’d drive this.
I’ll take one to go EVERYWHERE with please! Loved seeing some truly historic Jeep vehicles this year. Make sure you check my Flickr for lots more.
Everyone walked past this wagon with barely a glance. Sad. I loved it.
All I can do is smile at this truck. Gorgeous.
I’ve been watching the Expedition Overland guys for a few years now. Great seeing their Toyota setup in person. If you don’t know who they are, I suggest you find out here.
Chevy C10’s were plentiful this year. This one was by far the cleanest I saw.
The Rally Fighter is cool, but how about that trailer with built-in lift? Rose Racing, are you paying attention?
My love for the URAL continues…
Not sure I’d ever own one, but these chops are also so great to look at.
Clean. Lean. Mean. Green.
1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Sex on wheels.
This Flacon was my favorite car from the show. I adore everything about it. If it was green, it would be Green Lantern’s ride. Or maybe the Green Hornet. Maybe because its screaming “movie vehicle” is why I love it. Every detail was attended too and it shows.
Just look at that engine bay.
A good representation of the infamous, Stroppe Bronco.
1923 Track T Roadster. Love the wheels, super clean.
There’s nothing quite like a good sleeper.
Another ‘movie car’ paint job that came out quite brilliant.
Truly impressive build on this Studebaker.
Yours for $140,000.
That color. I can’t pull myself away from that color.
SEMA’s 2013 Hottest Truck of the Year. I’ll admit, this Super Duty was packed with adventure goodness and definitely had me in smiles. If this came with 30MPG, it be mine.
Head on over HERE to see the rest of the 300 photos. If your car or company is in one of the photos, please tag it or leave a comment so we can connect.
Using the Sony RX100
On another note, I’ve been getting a lot of comments on Twitter about my photos and how I take them. This year, I left the big gear at home and opted for a smaller package. I picked up a Sony RX100 recently to replace my trusty Canon S95. Everything I read about the RX100 was great. Things like, “This is the best pocket camera ever” and “You can’t do better in a small package”. I have to say, so far they’ve been accurate. The Sony has been treating me well and as you can see, the photo quality is great. All of these photos are straight out of the camera, only resized for the website and watermarked. Yes, that means I did not sharpen, adjust color, brightness, exposure or anything. It helps if you know how to take a decent photo of course. I also did not use a tripod, these are all handheld. I even uploaded large versions of the photos to Flickr so people could zoom in and see some detail. I’m not saying go sell off your nice Pro gear, but you may be shocked at what you can do with something smaller with practice.
Thanks again for stopping by, please share this with your friends and see you next year SEMA!