Let’s hear it for Vegas!! Las Vegas (www.lasvegas.com) is possibly one of the most magical places on the planet. A Disneyland for adults if you will. The city is well known for its tolerance of all forms of adult entertainment and, for this reason, has gained the moniker of “Sin City”.
Vegas’ very existence is based on the allure of the unattainable. Here enthusiasts bow down to the idols of gambling, gastronomy, glamour and thrill seeking.
As many know, this exciting city is hundreds of miles from the Pacific Ocean and often reaches temperatures in the summer of over 45C. If you plan to spend any time outdoors be prepared for it, always wear sunscreen and pack accordingly.
But inside the city limits, its water, water, everywhere from the sprouting fountains of Bellagio’s to the copy-cat canals of Venice at the Venetian Hotel - all giving the appearance and feeling of coolness. Every hotel has a swimming pool and all casinos are air-conditioned. The impressive Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Gardens is kept at 20C, a very chilled place to visit. Indeed many guests, on arriving in Vegas, never go outside. Certainly one option for ‘beating the heat’.
If you don’t see some of the natural wonders around southern Nevada and northern Arizona, you could be missing a trick. Take to the air to get the best views possible. Maverick Helicopters takes travellers on a Dream Catcher Sunset Tour which includes a trip down to the Grand Canyon. Flying over Lake Mead, the famous Hoover Dam and Fortification Hill during the journey guests will see breath-taking views of the Southwest. The helicopter then lands 3,500 feet into the Grand Canyon in Hualapai Indian Territory. Champagne, beverages and hors d'oeuvres are served 300 feet above the roaring, surging Colorado River. Flying back through the Grand Canyon, it is then over the Bowl of Fire with a sunset flight over Downtown Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Strip as it transforms into the "City of Lights" concluding the trip. Helicopter rides with any operator cost from $450 per person.
If you go down to the Grand Canyon in your own hire car, be sure to take in the new Grand Canyon Sky Walk. The Sky Walk is a transparent horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge on the edge of a side canyon in the Grand Canyon West area of the main canyon in Arizona. This tourist attraction is proving extremely popular as you can gaze down the bottom of the canyon, a vertical drop of 150m to 240m.
Flightlinez (www.flightlinezbootleg.com) have organised zip lining in Bootleg Canyon, a 30 minute drive from the city. Guests can shoot down four different zip lines (totalling 2,400m in length) at 60 mph. A real thrill and a unique way to see the desert…from hundreds of feet above the ground. Back down to earth, visitors can head out to remote parts of the desert and visit gun ranges. Bullets & Burgers (www.bulletsandburgers.com) will pick up guests from their resort and take them out to the Bullets & Burgers gun range. A whole range of firearms are available to use and a burger lunch is part of the package. Also, a return trip via the Hoover Dam can be added on to this adventure.
Lake Mead was created in 1935 on the completion of the Boulder Dam and is well known for all types of water sports and activities. Head out to Lake Mead Marina to rent boats with cost per day running to about $500 for a power boat that holds six people. Channel catfish, one of the original fish that inhabited the Colorado River, can be caught between April - September every year. The lake is also stocked with fish such as large-mouth bass and striped bass. A Nevada Department of Wildlife fishing license is required to fish on Lake Mead.
110 miles north of Las Vegas, about a 2 and a half hour drive from the city, is a tiny town named Rachel. It is here that tales of alien sightings abound and it is known as UFO Capital of the World. If you travel up to Rachel, visit the Little A'Le'Inn (pronounced Little Alien) restaurant, open daily 8am-10pm, which offers amazingly good hamburgers, appropriately referred to as Alien Burgers. The walls are covered with photographs of aliens and supposed space craft. There is even a UFO memorabilia gift shop so you can stock up on trinkets and T-shirts. Back in town, there are always new places to stay, great entertainment to see and exciting things to do.
The range of shows on offer in Las Vegas run the gamut from x-rated to utterly elegant. On any given night you can see superstar entertainers, burlesque, comedy, unique acts such as the Blue Man Group and there is even a bit of magic (Penn and Teller) thrown in for good measure. The ever popular Celine Dion has a long running show at The Colloseum, Caesar’s Palace which is purported to be as good as any of the shows Elvis produced during his reign as King of Las Vegas. Celine is so in demand, it is probably a good idea to book her show in advance. Musicals are often brought here after successful Broadway runs. ‘Jersey Boys’ is a top favourite at the moment as is the anarchic ‘Rock of Ages’ and the irrepressible ‘Mamma Mia’.
Cirque du Solei is always stretching the envelope by combining clowning, acrobats, amazing costumes and sets with racy themes for adult audiences. Their shows appear in a range of venues including the Mirage with current offerings ‘O’ at the Bellagio and ‘Zarkana’ at the Aria selling out every night. Vegas hosts a huge amount of sporting events that draw audiences from around the world. Heavyweight Boxing at Caesar’s Palace has always had a massive draw and now the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino are also getting in on the act by hosting boxing bouts. But you can also see rodeos and bull riding, basketball games, NASCAR championships at the Las Vegas Speedway and Extreme Sport competitions. www.lvol.com/events/sports.
Marquee, at the Cosmopolitan, has three floors of dancing and partying with some of the best DJs in the world. It is by far the top Vegas night club, by some considered one of the best in the world. A tall claim when competing with places like Ibiza. Book tickets early as this place is incredibly popular, and crowded. Equally amazing is Rain, at the Palms Casino Resort, a 28,000 square foot playground created for adults only. An elevated dance floor full of boppers gyrate to a beat that is so contagious, the dancing water fountains struggle to keep up. Skyboxes, cabanas and water booths provide a more intimate affair for 8 – 15 guests. Reservations are required and need to be made in advance. Rain is currently open for private parties and special entertainment engagements. If you are a party ‘til dawn type then XS is your club. XS at Encore is one of the most expensive nightclubs ever built with over $100 million dollars and considered to be an incredible urban oasis. Steve Wynn continues to deliver a level of quality that sets this club apart from the pack. In this big open space you will find grand chandeliers juxtaposed with stripper poles for the more daring. XS opens up into the pool area where you can walk around and play blackjack and craps, or dance in the pool to the music. Partygoers can even swim up to the outdoor blackjack tables.
If you want to hit a great many casinos and nightspots in Vegas why not hire a chauffeured limousine? You can not only hit the best night clubs but you can also drink without worrying about driving. MaxVegas is one of many companies that will organise a ‘pub crawl’ for you and your friends in a very snazzy vehicle with a stocked bar and comfy seating.
There are many exceptional pools in Las Vegas but probably the best is 60,000 square foot beach party at Encore. Steve Wynn has pulled out all the stops on this beach party. Three tiered pools, daybeds featuring private safes and 26 cabanas outfitted with refrigerators and flat screen televisions are all part of the fun. This beach party also has eight two story bungalows that come with hot tubs, showers, lavish furnishings and a temperature-controlled cooling and heating system. It really is exceptional. Other pools to try out are at the Cosmopolitan, The Beach at Mandalay Bay, the gorgeous pool at Aria, Golden Nugget pool where you can swim up to a shark. For over the top glitz, the Pool at Caesar’s Palace and also the Monte Carlo Las Vegas pool are tops. The Marquee Day Pool and the Venetian Pool exude elegance while the Tropicana Las Vegas pool is just plain fun.
There is loads to do for free in Las Vegas. It cost nothing to gawp at the iconic Welcome Las Vegas sign. Perhaps first and foremost, most of the Casinos offer free gaming lessons to get beginners started and comfortable at the tables. Work with a pro and get a handle on blackjack, craps or roulette. Then you can switch to cards when you get tired of slot machines. There is also free entertainment in many of the casino lounges. The Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo is worth visiting as is both the aquarium and atrium at the Mirage. There are fountain shows at regular intervals during the day and night at Planet Hollywood, Bellagio’s’ and also Caesar’s Palace.
By far the most popular free entertainment is the circus acts at Circus Circus. Trapeze artists, lion tamers, and clowns are on hand to keep everyone happy.
You could certainly go shopping at the wonderful malls here like Tivoli Village and Town Square or Las Vegas Premium Outlets – South. These are enormous, spectacular shopping destinations.
But I always prefer to mosey around the air conditioned hotels and hit the shops on offer there: Crystals, Encore Esplanade, Fashion Show, Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian/The Palazzo, Hawaiian Marketplace, Le Boulevard at Paris, The LINQ, Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, The Shoppes at Mandalay Place, The Shops at Cosmopolitan, Showcase Mall, Town Square, Via Bellagio and Wynn Esplanade.
It’s always worth making a trip down to the old part of Las Vegas to soak up the history of this fascinating city and enjoy a different ambience than that of the big resorts. The glittering downtown still boasts historic hotels such as the Golden Nugget, El Cortez, The Fremont and the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino. Las Vegas was established in 1905 when 110 acres of land adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks became the downtown area. The year 1931 was a pivotal one for Las Vegas as Nevada legalized casino gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. This year also saw the beginning of construction on the nearby Hoover Dam. The influx of construction workers and their families helped Las Vegas avoid economic calamity during the Great Depression. Soon after WWII, Vegas became almost solely associated with gambling casinos, big name entertainers and lavish hotels.
The Mob Museum, aka The National Museum of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement, is located on Stewart Street downtown and has proved a hit with visitors, winning awards for being the best new attraction for 2012. The museum chronicles the history of the mob’s involvement in the building of the city’s gambling and casino empires, a subject not likely to be covered in school textbooks. Organized crime figures such as New York's Bugsy Siegel took an interest in the growing gaming centre of Las Vegas very early on. In fact, the funding for many of those first hotels was provided through the American National Insurance Company, based in the then notorious gambling empire of Galveston, Texas. The 12,500m2 museum has 4,800m2 of exhibition space over three floors.
Nearby is the Fremont Street Experience. One of the first visitors to the area in the mid-1800s, John C. Fremont’s writings helped lure pioneers here and so Las Vegas’ Fremont Street is named after him. The Fremont Street Experience blends vintage Las Vegas with high-tech displays, live entertainment, shopping and eating, to create an awe-inspiring attraction.
Dominated by the Viva Vision canopy and light show, the canopy towers 27.5m above the ground and features more than 12 million LED modules and a 555,000 mega-watt sound system. The light show is excessive and bombastic, a real ‘Vegas’ type extravaganza. Shops include kiosks selling souvenir items like engraved rice grain jewellery, unique T-shirts and quirky hats plus there is an Indian arts and crafts market, too. The Heart Attack Grill offers enormous burgers and French fries served to you by waitresses dressed like nurses. The restaurant takes the term "Eat your heart out" to a whole new level as customers weighing more than 350 pounds eat for free.
A trip to the Neon Boneyard is a walk through history. Here the most treasured, world-famous signs from Las Vegas’ hey day – Caesars Palace, Binion's Horseshoe, the Golden Nugget and the Stardust - have come to be retired. These were the signs and displays that lit up the desert and are considered by some to be works of art. There are also signs here from the Palms Casino Resort, New York New York, Lady Luck and O’Shea’s.
The double decker Deuce busses started operating in October 2007 and charged $2 for a single ticket. The Deuce on the Strip is still good value and a great way for getting around town. Current fares are $6 for a two hour pass, $8 for a 24-hour pass, or $20 for a 72-hour pass.
Excellent food and outstanding restaurants is one of the latest trends in Vegas. World class restaurants with celebrity chefs, such as NOBU, are the opening at a rate of knots and are often inside the glamorous hotels on the Las Vegas strip. The CUT by Wolfgang Puck can be found at the Palazzo Hotel, Gordon Ramsey’s BurGR is part of the Planet Hollywood Resort and Fleur by Hubert Keller can be found at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
You can also go downtown for less expensive dining. Gone are the days when cheap buffets were laid on to attract the gamblers, but there are many good eateries in this part of town. Word has it that Hugo’s Cellar in the 4 Queens Hotel is quite elegant and known for its prime rib.
There are some incredible new hotels on the Strip that are vying for attention with the more established, iconic premises like the MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace and Circus Circus.
The Hard Rock Hotel is making a splash with its rock n’ roll vibe and modern décor though the Planet Hollywood Resort is competing head to head with this type of new and trendy accommodation. New York New York is visually stunning and you get the bonus of being able to try out its great roller coaster. The ARIA is described as a curvilinear creation and is the largest hotel in the world with the LEED Gold accreditation for being environmentally friendly and technologically superior. And one mustn’t forget the European Old World charm and panache of the Venetian – which has also recreated the canals of Venice, replete with gondolas. Some of the very large hotels, such as the Luxor or the sprawling Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, will have fantastic deals during the summer (considered off season) advertising as much as 30% off.
The Excalibur, at the farthest end of the strip, is one of the less expensive hotels to stay in and is excellent for families. I stayed recently and noticed the great arcade in the basement for kids as well as an excellent swimming pool. Not to mention lots of King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table décor.
And, as mentioned earlier, the downtown hotels, The Golden Nugget, The 4 Queens, The Fremont and Golden Gate Hotel and Casino are the cheaper options. As the downtown is now being spectacularly regenerated, these premises are nearly all being refurbished and are well worth considering for your next stay.
The choice of where to stay and what to do in Las Vegas is pretty much endless. But there is one thing that can be predicted, you probably will have the time of your life!
London based travel writer and photographer, Lynn Houghton was a concert performer in her early life before throwing off the choir robes and deciding to write full-time about travel. Born in the Canadian Rockies, of English and Welsh parents, she is naturally drawn to the outdoors and nature. Now travelling on assignment, she covers culture, cruise and cuisine for websites and consumer and trade publications. She writes extensively about the U.S. and Canada but also covers Africa as well for targeted consumer titles.
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