Written on: 22/06/2004 by yummy87 (12 reviews written)
A bright, vibrant city that comes to life in the evenings.
Easy to fritter money away if you are a gambler.
If you hear the words 'Las Vegas' what would they conjure up to you? Bright lights? Casinos? Ostentatious hotels? After spending a blissful five days in the city recently I would agree with all of those and more. My initial thoughts on Vegas were that I was going to love it but also would be thoroughly exhausted after my whirlwind trip and I came home having found the answers to most of the questions I had about this wonderful gambling paradise.
Vegas is set in the heart of the Nevada desert, although it's hard to imagine at times as despite the huge number of imposing and quite breathtaking hotels that dominate the Vegas skyline, if you cast your eyes around it is with some wonderment that you experience picturesque mountains that surround the area, but the weather alone gives a clear indication that The Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and hot desert sands are not far away. Vegas experiences temperatures of over 100 F, although during our visit in April, the temperatures reached only the low Eighties. It is important to remember that you will be thirsty all the time in Vegas due to the humidity, and we seemed to drink endless bottles of water when we weren't consuming the local alcohol in the various bars or hotels. Bottles of water were available everywhere and a lot of shops along the Strip sell three bottles for $0.99 as opposed to the higher prices at which they can be purchased in hotels or department stores.
♣♥HOW TO GET THERE♣♥
McCarran is the main airport and is less than ten minutes from the various hotels along the Strip. A lot of the hotels offer package deals with flights included and there are many places on the net where it is possible to bag a bargain. The only airline that flies direct to Vegas at the present time is Virgin and as we travelled with United Airlines we did have a stopover on both the outgoing and return journeys.
If travelling by car, Vegas is approached by Interstate 15 from Los Angeles airport.
Trains do not travel into Vegas, only as far as Bakersfield, then a bus can be caught.
Vegas has a host of hotels at which to stay and the most popular are those along The Strip, but it is possible to find cheaper places elsewhere. Having stayed at The Treasure Island, I can find no fault with the hotel and would recommend it unreservedly and although this is a more expensive option than a bed and breakfast deal away from the busiest part of Vegas, I truly believe that if you visit this wonderful gambling oasis, you do need to push the boat out and spend that little bit extra.
The Strip is the heart of Vegas and is the home to the many hotels and casinos. As soon as night falls, the whole area is illuminated by brightly flashing Neon lights from the hotels that twinkle in the night sky. Although Vegas is a wonderful place by day, at night it comes alive and hordes of people walking the length of the Strip in search of another casino in which to spend their hard-earned cash is a common sight. We walked the length of the strip during our stay and although impossible to mention all of the hotels, here's a bit of a taster.
●▪New York New York●▪
Easily one of the most impressive sights along The Strip, the New York New York is designed to represent some of the most famous buildings from the fair city. Replicas of The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge make up part of the hotel which is breathtaking against the skyline. As if that is not enough, the New York New York is home to the Manhattan Express rollercoaster, and approaching it the hotel for the first time, my eyes were like saucers as I spotted the fairground ride that enveloped the fa ade of the hotel. There are long queues for the coaster, but boy is it worth it and although it is a tad expensive at $12.50 per person, it's an experience not to be missed.
The Mirage is situated next door to Treasure Island and a monorail joins the two hotels for those too lazy to walk. The Mirage is the base for Roy and Siegfried's Secret Garden, home to lions, tigers and dolphins to name but a few. The animals are treated wonderfully and the dolphins are not used to perform any tricks or stunts for the general public but instead are encouraged to do their own thing to the delight of the watching crowds. We visited the Garden and paid about $14 for our entry fees, which were well-worth the price. Audio guides are available to carry with you during your tour and we spent a very happy couple of hours, most of which were spent marvelling at the beauty and grace of the dolphins. During the evening, the Mirage has an erupting volcano but throughout the day the ground reverberates frequently with the distant rumblings as a reminder to all visitors that the volcano is on the premises!
Surely one of the most breathtaking hotels along the Strip, the Paris has a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower on its frontage. It is possible to take a trip to the top of the tower some seventeen floors above the bustling Strip and eat in the restaurant but unfortunately on the day we visited it was windy and it was closed. Step inside the Paris Hotel and it's difficult to imagine you are within the confines of four walls, as the ceiling is painted to resemble a blue sky with clouds and it's like being outside on a clear day. The interior of the hotel is themed to resemble French streets with coffee houses and shops, and on emerging from the hotel back onto the Strip, it's hard to imagine you haven't just been to Gay Paree itself.
We visited the MGM on two occasions during our stay, once to look around the interior of the hotel and the other to attend the VH1 Diva's concert in the MGM Grand Arena. The two-toned blue building is home to lions synonymous with the MGM logo. Although there are notices warning visitors that the lions sleep for twenty two hours a day, it's still a disappointment when you realise that no matter what you do these felines are not going to wake for anyone! It was slightly unnerving to walk under a glass arch and have two enormous lions laying above us, sleeping or not, and the sheer size of the enormous feet was enough to make my throat go dry! The MGM has a jungle theme and also has live music in the casino/entertainment area most evenings and when we visited an all-girl band were belting out Eighties hits to the delight of the cheering crowd.
Situated at the end of the Strip, close to McCarran airport Mandalay Bay was our last stop on our outward bound Strip journey before we crossed over and worked our way back. The hotel is immense and is a combination of gold and beige with blacked out windows that glimmer in the midday sun. Mandalay Bay is home to Shark Reef, an aquarium where visitors can walk through tunnels with sharks and other marine life swimming overhead. We paid $14.95 for entrance, but I swear we walked nearly a mile through the hotel before we reached our destination! Whilst wandering through the never ending marble walled corridors, we soaked up the Mandalay atmosphere. The casino stretches for what seems like miles, and was milling with people even in the middle of the afternoon. Young girls patrol the corridors with parrots who not only talk but had us in hysterics with their impressions of crying babies and laughing clowns.
The Bellagio Hotel is surrounded by a sea of blue water, and if you happen to walk past in the day, you'll probably wonder what lies beneath the surface as there are what appear to be tracks running along the bottom of the lake. Every half an hour the water transforms into a water display and a visit to Vegas is not complete without witnessing the calming yet wondrous spectacle. Step inside Bellagio and visit the Gallery of Fine Art where masterpieces such as Monet are displayed for visitors to gaze in awe. Bellagio is one of the more calm hotels in Vegas, but is certainly worth a visit.
Caesar's was the place I REALLY wanted to visit during our trip not least because my Dad held such fond memories of it from their trip many years ago. Everyone who thinks of Vegas can name Caesars so it was a bit of a disappointment that it was nothing special at all. Although the fa ade is made to resemble a Roman amphitheatre, that really is the most impressive part of the place, although the casino area is enormous and huge one-armed bandit with a jackpot of $1,000,000 stands at the entrance doors. However, extensive building works are now underway so I can only imagine that Caesar's is trying to gain top spot once more and compete with the other fabulous hotels along the Strip.
All of the Hotels along the Strip provide shows and entertainment during the evening and it was impossible for us to see them all during out trip. Booking is imperative for any of the shows and you can expect to pay around $30-$50 per ticket although some are more expensive.
No trip abroad is complete without a shopping trip to stock up on half-price clothing items and Vegas has a veritable feast of shops in which to part with your hard earned cash. We visited the Las Vegas Premier Outlets, not to be confused with the Las Vegas Fashion Outlets, a short taxi ride away. All of the big brand names have shops here and the Adidas and Nike stores were absolutely enormous and stocked items that we are never likely to see in the UK. We bagged some wonderful bargains - half price trainers, tops and trousers for the children as well as some glorious housewares and cocktails kits from the huge range of shops selling Americanware. The Premier Outlets are a relatively new addition to Vegas and seem very popular even though we arrived just as they opened at 10am on a Saturday morning.
Along the Strip lays the M&M shop, not surprisingly selling everything imaginable pertaining to America's favourite sweet. Here we picked up clothes and other merchandise to bring home as well as cuddly toys and other memorabilia.
Coca Cola also have a shop along the Strip and here it is impossible not to buy something with the image of the famous Coca Cola bear imprinted on it. I found it incredible that both M&M and the Coke shop were so enormous yet they were still heaving with customers.
Along the road from our hotel, The Treasure Island is a shopping mall strangely named The Fashion Show. Very deceiving from the outside the Mall is absolutely gigantic and houses Bloomingdales and Macy's as well as shops selling sports gear such as Puma, Quicksilver and Billabong. The Mall is reached by escalators on the outside -- another Vegas concept and to us English the experience of travelling on an escalator in the fresh air is a strange one and one that my children rolled their eyes about when I related it after returning home. The Fashion Show is another must for shopping when you're in Vegas and we quickly got through hundreds of dollars in a few hours.
Next to gambling, weddings are the biggest draw to Vegas as it is so easy to get married there. There's no need to plan either and even if you have married before as long as you can provide the date on the divorce certificate, there's no need to take the document with you. Most of the hotels in Vegas have their own wedding chapels, but of course there are the inevitable tacky chapels littered all over the place and most offer themed weddings. Steve and I married while we were on our trip and were amazed at the speed and the cheapness of the whole package. First stop for anyone wanting to tie the knot is the Wedding Licence Bureau on Third Street where you will have to complete a form and show some sort of photograph ID before handing over $55. After that, it's simply a case of finding a chapel to conduct the service and as many are open twenty four hours per day this does not present a problem. All of the cab drivers in Vegas are well acquainted with the chapels in the area and most can direct you to one that suits your needs. As one who has married in Vegas, I can't think of any other way I'd want to do it as it was an experience to cherish and never be forgotten.
♣♥OTHER THINGS TO DO♣♥
You'll be hard pressed to be bored in Vegas even if you've walked the length of The Strip eight or so times. There a multitude of things to do and one of the most popular attractions whilst we stayed were the helicopter trips to the Grand Canyon. Although we did not have time to visit, something that I sorely regret, a couple of people in our party took a helicopter ride at dawn and said it was an experience they will never forget. Most of the hotels do provide a booklet with money-off vouchers so it is wise to check these out before booking anything at one of the booking offices in Vegas as you could save yourself a fair few pennies as some of the offers are buy one trip and get another free.
Skydiving trips are all the rage in Vegas and after a twenty-minute lesson by a qualified instructor, you can take to the skies for a tandem jump. There is an age limit of 18 for this activity and it can either be booked online or by telephone. Not only do the participants have the chance to try skydiving, but the jump is over some of the most wonderful scenery known to man and if you can open your eyes for long enough, you will be able to see The Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and the Colorado River. If that's too scary there is also the option to skydive inside believe it or not - well that's Vegas for you!
Close to McCarran airport is the home of AJ Hackett Bungy, open all year round where you can have an adrenaline rush and try the popular pasttime of bungee jumping. Although I would be petrified to take part in something like this, I find myself transfixed on watching others leap to their deaths! Booking is essential and the firm do promise that in their twelve years of trading they have a 100% safety record, so it bodes well if you want a go!
The Stratosphere Tower at over 1000 feet in height is the tallest observational tower in the United States and monopolises the skyline in Vegas. Take a trip to the top of the tower where you can dine on the most mouth-watering food in the restaurant overlooking the strip and the surrounding valleys. Not only this, the Stratosphere has its own thrill seeking ride aptly named the X-Scream, that blasts you up into the air so fast that it seems as though you might lose the dinner you have just paid for. The Stratosphere is a must if you're in Vegas. Where else could you eat, gamble and then take a stomach churning ride on top of the highest tower in Vegas at the end of the evening?!
If a more sedate visit is the order of the day then the Guinness World of Records museum is a must. I'm only sorry my thirteen year-old son wasn't with us on our trip, as he would have enjoyed this no end. The place is massive and houses over 5,000 square feet of exhibits from the longest fingernails to the most piercings. We only paid $6.50 to get in and it was worth double that for the amount of exhibitions on display.
Although Las Vegas can be sleazy in parts and it's not uncommon to have the business cards of prostitutes and strippers thrust into your hands in broad daylight, the tackiness is part of this wondrous oasis in the desert and the sheer splendour of the hotels and buildings make up for the seedier parts. Vegas is pristinely clean and not once during our stay did we see any litter whatsoever. The air is clean and fresh and the weather glorious. What more could you want?
Anyone who has heard of Vegas has surely built a picture up in their minds of an over-the-top place that is filled with the most amazing hotels and casinos. Yes it's all that, but Vegas has an energy that just pulls you in like a magnet until you're wrapped in its spellbinding cocoon and I can only compare it to a fairground ride that I didn't want to get off.
I'm not ashamed to say that I have fallen in love with Vegas and will be going back one day to do the things that I missed on our short but delightful visit. For nightlife, Vegas is second to none; for shopping you can't get much better; and for gambling, it's an oasis.