On the Town
Las Vegas is always an exciting city, but the pure adrenaline of the National Finals Rodeo kicks the excitement up a few notches. Every corner of the city is covered in western-themed memorabilia, from cowboy hats to starched denim jeans. Many hotels in the area offer special cowboy-themed deals during the NFR, slashing prices and hosting meet-and-greet events to put you face-to-face with your favorite cowboys and cowgirls. Hotels and other concert venues bring in musicians from all over the United States, infusing Las Vegas with the sweet twang of country music. From small, local bands to world-famous performers, the variety of music will have you singing in your sleep. If your stomach feels left out of the party, hit up one of hundreds of restaurants and buffets serving up western-style food for the National Finals Rodeo. Steak, ribs and beans can be found all over town, and Vegas' traditionally affordable faire won't put a hole in your wallet.
In the Stands
While Las Vegas is a year-round tourist destination, few things pack in the people like the NFR. The Thomas and Mack Center sells out every single night for the entire 10-day duration of the Finals, packing hundreds of thousands of spectators into its bustling dome. Tickets sell out months in advance, and those lucky enough to secure a seat will see the best cowboys and cowgirls in the world compete for more than $5 million in prizes. Before the first event, spectators wander through the events center to shop, eat and enjoy their favorite frosty beverages. As the lights go down in the arena, people rush to their seats so they don't miss a minute of the action.
In the Arena
The hustle and bustle of the stands is enough to distract anyone, but all eyes shift to the arena once the first chute opens. Each of the 10 performances features the same 15 cowboys and cowgirls, each competing to earn the most points or the fastest times to speed themselves into the winner's circle. Rough stock events, which include saddle bronc riding, bull riding and bareback riding, are based on a point system. Two judges critique both the rider's skills and the animal's bucking prowess, with an available perfect score of 100. Most NFR-level cowboys score in the upper 80's and lower 90's, although it's not uncommon for even cowboys at the top of their game to get bucked off at the Finals. Timed events work on a different scale, with the lowest times earning the highest placing. Riders are faulted for infractions such as breaking the barrier and knocking over barrels, and the fastest, most precise riders will go home with a championship buckle. The highest scores and the lowest times of each nightly round are awarded prizes for winning the round, and the competitors with the best performances over the duration of the 10-day event earn the right to be called "World Champion." As the arena crew preps the ground between events, entertainers fill the floor, showing off their roping and riding skills. One of the most popular performers in recent memory is a talented monkey that rides a Border collie, zipping around the arena as they perform a variety of tricks. From the cowboys, to the food, to the entertainment, the National Finals Rodeo is an event that must be seen in person.