Photos: Las Vegas News Bureau.
People travel to Las Vegas for many reasons – boys trips, chick trips, hens parties, lovers’ romantic getaway, weddings, parties, shopping expeditions; whatever it is you are looking for, you will find it in Las Vegas!
Getting to Vegas is easy. Flights leave from all major Australian airports heading to Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), and from either of these you can get a connecting flight to McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas. Cabs or buses will take you to your accommodation for about $15.00, but rental cars are also available at the airport – pre-booking online is recommended.
If you have the time to spare, I can highly recommend driving from LAX to Las Vegas. The trip on the I-15 Freeway will take you between 4 .5 hours and 7 hours (depending on traffic); yes, traffic in LA can be that bad! Once out of the LA city limits, driving is a breeze, you will be driving through the desert; the roads are wide, the scenery is very different to what you find in Australia, and stopping at bars/restaurants/factory outlets etc. you will discover that Australians are loved by Americans. It seemed to me that all Americans would desperately love to visit Australia and they love to talk about their plans for dream trip here.
Arriving in Las Vegas, you will drive down the ‘Strip’, it is the main street in Las Vegas, Las Vegas Boulevard, you will pass the world famous ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign and more than likely see a barrage of people lining up to have their photos taken in front of it. The Strip is home to the majority of Casinos from Circus Circus at one end to Mandalay Bay at the other, with 21 casinos (at last count) in between.
Arriving in the day light you will be amazed at the size of the casinos, if you know of the casinos in Australia, your jaw will drop with sheer shock at the size of what you will see here. If nothing else, the architectural brilliance of these structures is mind blowing, absolutely NOTHING in Las Vegas is small or ‘regular’ size. We joke about everything in America being ‘upsized’, well upsize all of that again tenfold, and you have Las Vegas.
Mandalay Bay Hotel Casino has its own beach, I’m not talking about a bit of sand by a pool, I am talking full on man-made beach, 11 acres of it in fact! Its beach environment includes 3 pools, a lazy-river, an adult-only European style pool, a 1.6 million gallon (6.2 million litres) wave pool, a sand beach AND a surf beach, all surrounded by water falls, fountains, palm trees, and all of this is just in the beach environment, there are 8 pools in total!
New York-New York Hotel Casino has a massive ‘Statue of Liberty’, its towers of hotel rooms are built to look like the sky scrapers in New York skyline, it has its own roller coaster that lifts you up 62 metres, drops you down 44 metres and ‘coasts along’ at a speed of 108km/h! They say that it simulates a jet fighters barrel roll while you are taking on the famous ‘heartline’ twist! And, to top this off, you can also get married whilst riding the roller coaster.
You will see a Sphinx and Pyramid at the Luxor, massive Lions at MGM Grand, the Eiffel Tower at Paris Casino, the world famous dancing fountains at the Bellagio, the volcano at The Mirage, and Gondolas floating on the canals at the Venetian and what appears to be a full size pirate ship at Treasure Island, your head will spin not knowing which direction to look in.
There are escalators going up to walking bridges that cross the roads, these carry tens of thousands of pedestrians each and every day, moving people around without interfering with the flow of vehicular traffic. Its hot, hot, hot and people walk, walk, walk, lots will be carrying drinks and as its not illegal to walk around with alcohol, you will find that its very popular to walk along with a metre long margarita or other cocktail.
Shopping here is huge, the Forum shops at Caesars Palace is an extremely popular place to spend your money. Stores here include Burberry, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabanna, Gianni Versace, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co and Valentino. You can easily spend a day wandering the stores, sitting at cafes sipping on delicious cocktails, drinking coffees and eating magnificent cuisine while watching water flow in the magnificent Roman style fountains, all this without even leaving Caesars Palace. Shopping here is expensive, but oh, the experience. Wandering amongst statues of Roman Gods, sitting by the fountains, just soaking up the opulence.. Wow!
Most casinos have their own shopping precincts within, but you will find that they are all in the upper price echelon. For cheaper shopping there is the Fashion Show Mall, also on the strip, it has a multitude of stores from large department stores Macy’s, Nordstroms, Dillards and Neiman Marcus to smaller boutique style stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Kate Spade New York, Aerosoles, Banana Republic and Zara – more than 200 stores!
Las Vegas also has two factory outlet shopping malls – Premium Outlets and Premium Outlets South. You can pick up a bus that will take you to either of these shopping facilities, or take a cab for about $15.00. Both of these shopping outlets are huge, and have stores including Calvin Klein, Coach, Guess, Kenneth Cole, Disney and Nike, these are true factory outlets with huge savings on discontinued and end of run lines.
Relaxing in Las Vegas is easy. Most of these casinos have the most magnificent pool areas, huge pools, waterfalls, drink service, cafes, pool side cabanas, pool boys, towel boys, you name it, they have it. The Mirage has a pool with dolphins if you are inclined to go swimming with them (for a fee). As Vegas is hot, a poolside lounge is a very popular item; I strongly suggest if you are planning on spending a day by the pool that you book your cabana and/or pool lounge early. I noticed that at the Mirage Pool, by 7.30am most of the deck chairs were already taken and I can only assume other pools would be in a similar situation.
There are also a multitude of open air bars, piano bars, outdoor restaurants in which to sit back, relax and watch the world go by. There are indoor restaurants, bars and cafes by the multitude, many having live entertainment. Prices for food and drink will range from the ridiculously cheap to the ridiculously expensive. But Vegas is Vegas, whatever you pay, you will have a great time.
One of the upper priced restaurants is the Eiffel Tower at Paris Casino. The Eiffel Tower is a signature of the Las Vegas skyline, it is a half scale exact replica of one of Europe’s most famous land marks. At the top, 460 feet above the strip, you get a breathtaking panoramic view of the Las Vegas Valley.
The restaurant is on the eleventh floor, because of its design, just about all tables have views of the Bellagio fountains, it is a truly romantic setting. We were fortunate enough to be waited on by the Captain, who was extremely attentive to our needs and very helpful in his recommendations. I could see that the rest of the wait staff were equally as good at taking care of their diner’s every whim.
The food was divine, true French style cuisine, but also true French style in price! I am not complaining, it was a memorable experience, one that I would do again.
Of course there are other great restaurants in Las Vegas, way too many to mention. Most casinos have their own buffet style restaurant; one that is highly recommended is at the Bellagio. Prices here are in the vicinity of $30.00 for dinner and $20.00 for lunch, but this can change depending on what day of the week it is.
The variety and quality of food here is unbelievable. The Buffet incorporates several live-action cooking stations and they say it has a level of food quality and presentation not currently experienced anywhere else in Las Vegas. Guests may choose from the best of Italian, Japanese, Chinese, seafood and American cuisines. You don’t have to be staying at the Casino to dine at the buffet, but, keep in mind, the buffets are extremely good value for money and are extremely popular, expect to wait a while to get a table.
What is Las Vegas best known for? Yes, gambling! Everywhere you look, you will find gambling of some kind – even poker machines at the airport. Whilst there is money to be made by the casinos at their restaurants and shopping precincts, it’s really all about the gambling dollar. “Know when to fold ’em? When to walk away, when to run? The dealing is never done in Vegas.”
Black Jack, Poker, racing and sports bets, Roulette, Bingo, Slot Tournaments, it’s all here and it’s everywhere. You don’t need to be a pro to gamble, but it helps to know a bit about what you are doing, so, as most casinos offer lessons in gambling, it’s probably a good idea to learn a few things before you start throwing your money around.
Something to keep in mind, age limits in America are different to here in Australia; it’s illegal to gamble or drink until you are age 21, so please keep that in mind. Under 21 you are allowed on the premises, you will often see younger people wandering through the Casinos, but they are definitely not gambling or drinking.
Most casinos do not allow mobile phone use within, so, if you have to make a call, you are advised to take your phone away from the gambling areas. Every casino allows smoking. If you are after a non-smoking environment, you will find that some of the casinos have non-smoking areas or non-smoking tables, but as a general rule, smoking is allowed in most areas.
Some casinos offer high-rollers gambling facilities where bets are in the vicinity of $500,000. If you are like me and that’s just a little out of your price range, make sure you don’t happen to wander into a high-rollers area. Yes, you can make your fortune by winning big if you are incredibly lucky, but you also have to remember that these casinos are so magnificent for a reason, and that reason has cost them a lot of money, or maybe I should say, they have cost the gamblers a lot of money.
Once dusk hits, the strip really livens up, not that it was quiet before, but it certainly changes its mood when the sun goes down. The crowds that were wandering before suddenly increase in number; it becomes even more of a party atmosphere. Vegas at night is most definitely a sight everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. To see those amazing architectural structures all lit up with their glaring lights is truly amazing.
Billboards bigger than imagination itself suddenly take on a whole new persona, they jump out at you from every direction.
What also jumps out at you from every direction is the groups of men and women spaced about 100 metres apart spruiking and flicking business cards at you for the call girls/boys. They are everywhere and don’t worry if you are man, woman or child, they will thrust their business cards in your face, pocket, backpack, wherever they can slip one of their cards, they will.
The massive billboards that have now lit up are advertising entertainment; Jerry Seinfeld, Donny and Marie Osmond, Lady Antebellum, Katy Perry, Jay Leno, Janet Jackson, Rod Stewart, yet another thing that the list goes on and on for. Acts, stars, celebrities that we can only dream of here in Australia perform in Las Vegas on a regular basis.
On our trip in May this year, we were lucky enough to get tickets to see the amazing Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Cirque du Soleil – Beatles Love and the Spiegeltent. All were truly magnificent shows and done in a way that I could only have ever dreamt about before, again, Las Vegas, the shows and entertainment… massive!
There are tonnes of night clubs, bars and risqué shows around Las Vegas, most casinos have their own assorted night spots for every type of budget.
Most of the bars have no cover charge, but night clubs usually have charges that will set you back between $25 and $50.
Beach clubs are the most expensive because in general, you will hire a cabana or sunken pool table with chairs for around $250 to $500 per night, averaging out to be around $100.00 an hour.
Many of the ‘top’ clubs are very difficult to get into as they are quite often hosted by Paris Hilton and the like, it is definitely easier to get in the door if you are a guest of the casino hotel. It’s a good idea to check this out when you are doing your hotel reservation and maybe ask if they will throw in an ‘all access’ club pass with your room key. You could also check out www.FreeVegasClubPasses.com before you leave home, you never know, you might just end up at one of the clubs where you will be rubbing shoulders with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and the like.
Pure Nightclub inside Caesars Palace is one of the very popular clubs in town, it’s been running now for more than six years, which is pretty much unheard of in Las Vegas where things get turned over and re-invented very frequently.
Tickets for Pure Nightclub are $60 for guys and $40 for girls, guests MUST arrive by 11pm. A VIP table for up to four people on certain nights begins at $375, which includes admission and the table, you will also get a bottle of Skyy, Stoli or similar.
You will also be charged a gratuity (tip) of $75 and then tax will also need to be paid. VIP tables for three to six people begin at $850 with gratuity of $170 and tax, and a table for six to eight people will cost you $2,500 and a gratuity of $500 and tax. Expensive? Yes! BUT, if mingling with celebrities and the ‘right’ people is important to you, this is the place you will more than likely find them.
Lines outside Pure Nightclub are massive to say the least, it’s not unusual to wait in queue for three hours, and that’s IF you get inside, but once you do, it’s very easy to see why so many people bother to wait.
Inside there is the Pussycat Dolls Lounge, its decadent to say the least, it has two main stages and numerous mini stages to accommodate 1 -2 performers. The Pussycat Dolls perform their sultry dances every hour, which I am reliably told by the guys I know, is well worth the look!
Next to the Pussycat Dolls Lounge is the Red Room, its more laid back, less crowded and has a very seductive and romantic colour scheme of burgundy. This is the place where you can sit back and just watch what is going on, rather than flaunting yourself and hoping to be seen.
The main room of Pure Nightclub is decorated in crisp clean white, very much in keeping with the Roman theme of Caesars Palace. The main dance floor is surrounded by VIP seating and there are also cabana style beds which are considered to be ‘prime real-estate’ and usually reserved by celebrities and sports stars.
Pure is just one of the very many nightclubs in Vegas. Most casinos have at least one club and they all do it well.
One of the very popular bars/restaurants to visit along the strip is Margaritaville. This place is a restaurant, bar, music venue all set in a tropical island getaway setting. It opens most days at 8am for breakfast and stays open until 2am Sunday to Thursday and 3am Friday and Saturday.
This is one of the places where you can buy your extra big/jumbo/humongous size cocktails, their food is typical of a lot of American places, hamburgers, sandwiches, grille food, Mexican, shrimp, but they also do it very well.
The staff are all great, it’s a real party atmosphere morning, noon and night, yet another place I would highly recommend.
For something a little bit different, there is Gilley’s.
This is bar/restaurant/saloon/gambling hall/dance hall inside Treasure Island Casino, the décor is that of an old time American western saloon with lots of timber, saddles to sit on at the bar and cowboys and cowgirls working the bar, waiting tables and dealing cards.
It’s a place where you can wear your chaps and spurs if you want, but you are more than welcome even if you don’t.
Their country music videos and true western hospitality will have you wanting to go back time and time again. In the Gilley’s dance hall you are guaranteed to be boot stomping while throwing back some ice cold beers.
Line dancing is very popular here, yeah, it’s not huge in Australia, but once in inside, where everyone really ‘gets into it’, it’s hard not to get up and give it a go, and surprisingly (for those who don’t bootscoot or line dance like me) it was huge fun! (Maybe it was the pre-beers).
For those who are really up for a challenge, there is the mechanical bull where you can test your strength and stamina and show your willingness to have fun. Rides are available every day 11am to 2am for $10 per ride, but if you are extra lucky, you might be able to join in on one of the special events.
We were ‘lucky’ enough to witness the bikini bull-riding shows. We wrongly assumed that it was an event where the gorgeous Gilley’s girls were in competition bull riding, but we were wrong. This event was open to the general public (females), and the organisers made sure the term ‘bikini’ was strictly adhered to.
As most of the girls hadn’t pre planned to be taking part in this event, and hadn’t packed a bikini to go drinking and bootscooting,, they were told that they had to strip down to ‘similar’ leaving the girls wearing just bra and nickers (in all shapes and sizes – and I’m not just talking about the underwear!)
Again, maybe it was the beers, but this show was absolutely hysterical, amidst my shock and continual laughter I found myself having tears running down my face, hysterics I think you would call it.
Gilley’s is another place in Las Vegas that I can highly recommend, it was sooooo much fun! Oh, and when I was talking about celebrities earlier, at Gilley’s I found myself sitting next to and talking to the old time country singer Willie Nelson!
OK, so now, after shopping, eating, drinking, sitting by the pool, walking, clubbing, you might feel like you need a little break from the fast living of Las Vegas. Hoover Dam is about an hour’s drive away, it’s definitely worth seeing.
Yes, it’s a dam, but the structure and story behind it is worth the trip.
You can also go to the Grand Canyon, it’s around a five hour drive from the strip in Vegas, but the view is unbelievable, especially if you can arrange to be there at sunrise. There are charter companies that will take you out in a bus, limo, helicopter or small plane, or you can just drive yourself, taking in all the beautiful natural landscape in the Arizona desert.
Closer than these two is a much lesser known area – Red Rock Canyon. This is about 30 minute drive from the Vegas strip, and really highlights how Las Vegas is in the middle of a desert.
It has postcard geological formations, nature conservation areas, scenic drives, historic areas and hiking trails. There are even wild burros (small donkeys) that are so used to having human contact they have been known to put their heads into your car window and nibble on whatever food you offer them.
Vegas has a lot to offer everyone, there are way too many bars, clubs, restaurants, casinos, pools, shopping malls to even think about mentioning, you really have to see it to believe it.
Vegas is somewhere you can party, shop, relax, and that’s just on the strip. You can head to downtown Vegas, the older part of Vegas on Fremont Street; watch the aerial activities from the overhead canopy that goes the length of the street. You can go out into the desert, take in the incredible scenery, partake in water sports on Lake Mead, ride bikes, feed wild burros, take a tour of the incredible Hoover Dam, take scenic flights, go to speedway and watch the cars race or maybe even buy a drive around the track yourself… again there are way too many things to mention, but whatever it is you are looking for in your holiday, you will most definitely find it in Las Vegas!