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October 30, 2014

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Camping, Vegas style

Airstream trailers right at a Strip resort offer a hip, retro alternative to hotels

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Steve Marcus

An Airstream trailer, complete with picnic table, propane grill and plastic flamingos, sits at the Kampgrounds of America at Circus Circus.

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Showgirls Janell Lewis, left, and Johanna V. peruse copies of "Airstream Life" magazine.

Map of Circus Circus

Circus Circus

2880 Las Vegas Blvd South, Las Vegas

The newest wrinkle in tourist accommodations on the Strip is an overnight trailer court.

At an asphalt campground alongside Circus Circus, Airstream has delivered 10 of its iconic, silver-bullet-shaped travel trailers for overnight rentals.

Honey, pack up the kids, we’re going to Vegas and staying in a trailer!

It sounds almost poignant, maybe even vintage, possibly even appropriate, given how Airstream started building the trailers in the 1930s when America was trying to claw itself out of a depression. What is it about hard times and trailers?

These 25-footers will rent for $45 a night through February, although Airstream executives see a day — say, busy NASCAR weekends — when the trailers will fetch $150 per night. Fast cars, fast trailers.

The Airstream trailers are parked at a 366-space KOA park, long a popular destination for RV owners who would rather live in their own vehicles than cart their luggage into a hotel.

It’s actually cheaper to stay at a hotel than an Airstream, given how prices at the mid-level and lower-tier resorts on the Strip have been slashed to 35 bucks or so.

But then, a trailer vacation has certain benefits.

Housekeepers won’t be bumping their vacuum cleaners up against your door at 8 in the morning.

There won’t be kids running up and down the hallways.

You can park right next to your bedroom. In and out in 20 seconds, without having to navigate through a smoky casino.

You can play your TV as loud as you want. (The Airstream comes equipped with two Toshiba flat screens and yes, the RV park has cable-TV hookups.)

You can cut down on the cost of eating out. (The Airstream galley comes with microwave, stove top, refrigerator, dishes and utensils.)

You can grill up a burger on the propane grill just outside your door.

And then you can hail your neighbors grilling their hamburgers and launch a happy-hour party among your new friends.

You might even fall in love with the trailer and decide to buy one for $50,000.

Indeed, Airstream has a lot more in mind than $45 a night. “It’s a great chance for our dealers to send people out to spend a few nights in one,” said Bob Wheeler, president and chief executive of Airstream.

But you cannot drive away with one of these. The security guards are told not to let any leave the premises.

Wheeler said the trailers don’t compete directly with hotels because the Airstreams offer a “different lifestyle experience.”

This experience would include sitting in front of the trailer admiring the pair of plastic pink flamingos outside the window.

This newest Strip experience isn’t unique.

Chic trailer parks in the style of boutique motels have popped up around the country, including in California, Texas and Arizona.

Airstream has also made a similar “experience” available in Key West, Fla., where some trailers are being rented for more than $200 a night. In May it plans another offering, in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Van Hefner, chief executive of the Nevada Hotel and Lodging Association, said he can see the idea working in Las Vegas, where people search for all kinds of experiences.

“It’s a cross between a pop culture experience and today’s Las Vegas choices,” he said.

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