For the first time in my life I travelled to a city fully prepared to hate it. I arrived expecting to be chewed up by Sin City and spat back out again, broke and broken. I longed to visit Vegas but had no illusions about being able to love it.
So no one was more surprised by last week than me. Vegas’ heady mix of unbridled hedonism and scandalous history had me hooked from the get go. The Strip was eye-popping, Downtown spoke to me of old school glamour and seeing the surrounding desert landscape was simply surreal. I found the whole experience great value for money and the only real casualty of the week were my feet (which looked like a couple of bleeding trotters after I attempted to break in new pumps on the Strip – stupid, I know!).
Las Vegas is a city of huge scale; everything is stupendously, head-spinningly big. From the car park to our room at MGM Grand (one of approx. 5,044!) it was a 20-minute walk. The serene corridor that led to our suite in the South Tower deposited us onto the casino floor, which was always a bit of a shock in the morning, especially as the slots were spinning at every hour of the day. To get to the next hotel would be at least another 15 to 20 minute walk, across the casino floor, past several restaurants, bars and shops, along the Strip and back inside the next mammoth complex. Of an evening when we wanted to dine or drink at different hotels we would have to take a cab, luckily from one end of the Strip to the other only costs about $10.
Every conceivable type of cuisine is on offer in Vegas, sometimes all within the same complex, and we tried our best to sample them all. From sophisticated tapas at Julian Serrano, to burgers at In-N-Out and pancakes at IHOP (the International House of Pancakes no less!). I tried my first Vegas buffet at the Village in Paris (literally themed like a Parisian courtyard complete with cobbles, fake sky and trees) and felt duty bound to sample at least 4 of the desserts on offer. We also made the most of the all you drink add on for $12, which included champagne (hic!)
There is much you can see for free in Vegas, like gawping at the gondolas inside the Venetian and watching the fountains dance at the Bellagio (I never knew a fountain could be impressive until I went to Vegas).
Downtown Las Vegas is like a journey through time. There, casinos like Glitter Gulch and Golden Nugget are gaudier and cheaper than those on the Strip – naturally I loved them. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Downtown Neon Museum – a graveyard for retired Vegas signs from hotels, casinos and businesses, both past and present.
If the over-fragrant air conditioning of the casinos starts to get too much the beauty of the Nevada or Arizona deserts are only ever a short drive away. We took the 20-minute drive to Red Rock Canyon one afternoon for a bit of fresh air, the so-called Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive delivered exactly what it promised.
And of course there is that famous Canyon only a helicopter hop away. Our biggest expense of this trip was a ride with Papillon Helicopters to the Grand Canyon. At approx. $300 per person it ain’t cheap but our package included limo pick up from the hotel, a fly over the Strip, a swing by the Hoover Dam and a full 1 hour and 20 minutes trying to take in the natural phenomenon of the Grand Canyon. For $300 I have memories that will last a lifetime.
I also experienced another first in Vegas that I never saw coming – I held and shot a loaded gun. I’ve never shot anything in my life (you may be relieved to know) not even in a computer game, but the offer to try something completely different with the Gun Garage was strangely alluring. The knowledgeable and clear staff talked me through the posture and grip, and with shaking hands and half closed eyes I shot the pistol and miraculously managed to hit the target. The adrenaline rush was incredible, especially mixed with my fear. Our package included the chance to shoot a Glock 19, Uzi and the ‘Happy Ending”, a Krinvok Baby AK. I tried the first two but wimped out after hearing one blast from the Baby AK, I couldn’t trust myself not to scream and drop it on the floor after it went off in a frenzy. The whole experience has given me a newfound respect for people in the armed services. It was unforgettable experience but not one I have any intention of repeating, I’m just too much of a softie!
I much prefer to get my adrenaline rush on roller coaster rides and Vegas certain delivers on this front. In the Adventuredome at Circus Circus we rode the world’s only indoor double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster and then whooped our heads off on the Big Apple Coaster at New York New York, which takes you all around and on top of the hotel, affording amazing views of the Strip if you are brave enough to keep your eyes open!
Vegas was an absolute blast, it packs a whole heap of fun in one sinful city. Much to my own surprise I’m already wondering when I can go back.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be crafting all my Vegas virgin tips into a Beginners Guide. I’m also working on a Budget Guide to Vegas for the Flight Centre blog and will be writing about the reformation of Downtown, raft of dining options in the city and much more on this blog. I hope you will find all of them useful. Do get in touch via the comments below with any questions or to let me know your thoughts on Vegas too.