So having struggled with adjectives to describe the stunning scenery over the last two weeks, I am now struggling equally to describe this city.
I have to be honest I am not a lover of big modern cities and Las Vegas was never going to be a highlight for me. My first vision of this city came was after we had driven past the scenic Lake Mead and saw the huge skyscrapers on the horizon.
Our ‘sat nav’ took us to our room for the next two nights – the Luxor Hotel. As the name suggests it is full of Egyptian themes and is built as a giant pyramid. On entering the hotel, we had to walk through its huge casino. The first thing that hit me was the noise, it was unbelievable. It wasn’t that it was so loud you couldn’t talk over it, it was the general ‘hubbub’ of the background noises joining together to create so many different sounds. Each slot machine had its own noise, given there were probably a few hundred in the room and background music from every angle as well as the vast number of people talking – it was noisy!
We entered the hotel lobby to check in and were told it was at least a 20 minute queue – welcome to Vegas, I thought!!!! But, in this modern world of ‘apps’ we were able to check in online, go to a machine and have our keys deposited automatically (with the assistance of a very helpful member of staff!). The idea being there is no need to speak with a hotel receptionist, a real person – not my idea of a welcome to a hotel, or the best customer service!
After checking into a room on the 15th floor overlooking the top end of the strip, we then went out to explore the famous Las Vegas Strip. We made our way to the Stratosphere at the far end to see the views. However to our shock on arrival it was $35 each just to go up to the top of this hotel. Friends who had been in the past had told us it was free, ‘just go up and have a drink’ they had said. Not now!!!
So we drove the 5 miles (!) back along the strip and stopped off at the Bellagio hotel to see the fountains overlooking “Paris”! We drove past various themed hotels, New York, Venetian, Circus etc and were completely in awe of how busy and how noisy the place was. I think it made London feel like a provincial town! I had heard that Vegas at a weekend was busy, but I didn’t expect this!
I was amazed at the number of shops that connected the hotels. I do not like ‘shopping malls’ anyway, so a 5 mile long one of shopping and gambling halls was never really going to appeal. Having developed themed hotels, I couldn’t understand why they then choose to drape advertising over the landmarks of the Statue of Liberty and the Pyramid.
It had always been on Chris’ agenda to visit Vegas so I was happy to oblige while on this big USA tour. (Note from Chris: I had always wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Now I’ve seen it, I can say it serves it’s market well, but I am not a part of it!)
We went back to our hotel and decided to explore the hotels near to us on foot and choose somewhere for dinner. We walked around the Mandalay, and took the (free this time) lift to the 64th floor Sky Fall bar, with a fantastic view of the strip and all the shining neon landmarks.
We went to the Excalibur Hotel, which I feel is the most tasteless building of all. Being a mock medieval English castle, but with different garish coloured turrets, it reminded me of something children would have drawn when they were about 8! Maybe it is because we have toured such wonderful natural places on this trip, or maybe it is because we live near two genuine, old castles both in England and in Spain, but all I could do when I saw the Excalibur is laugh at how false it looked. I know it is not trying to be a genuine castle, they are just trying to create an ambience, but the coloured turrets just looked awful to me.
Over dinner a man from Texas who was on his fourth visit said Vegas is great, but that it is an acquired taste. Not a taste I think I will ever acquire. An interesting guy though, who spent four years based in Suffolk with the US Air Force, and he loved it there and throughout the U.K. too. One of the many really nice people we have met on our travels.
I was surprised to see that smoking was allowed inside, but the idea is the hoteliers do not want you to leave, so I guess I could understand it. Having said that, it was only in the huge central casino and surrounds, not in any bedrooms.
We had a couple of drinks and saw the ridiculous 48fl oz – 3 pint – drinks on offer. Surely your beer would go flat before you could drink it all, I thought! I was getting the feeling this was a great place to come for a weekend with mates to celebrate, party and get drunk. I can’t fault the people doing that, but for once that was not on our agenda! Not in the middle of a 34 day tour.
The following morning, we made our way out to the Hoover Dam and the picturesque Lake Mead, which was wonderful (see separate blog). We made our way back to the hotel, ready to experience the Strip for the evening.
We booked an Uber taxi (which arrived in 4 minutes) to take us to the Planet Hollywood theatre. Again, my lack of understanding of how large this city is was made evident when the taxi driver said “do you want dropping off at the hotel or the mall inside??” We were dropped off at the hotel and walked through the “mall’ to the theatre. The “mall” reminded me of the Middle East malls which have ‘fake’ sky to make it feel like you are actually outside. It was done very well, so you didn’t actually realise you were inside, in a shopping area dotted with bars and ‘eateries’. Being a Sunday, Vegas was slightly less busy than the day before (a lot of people fly into Vegas for the weekend and leave Sunday morning – hotels are much cheaper Sunday night to Thursday night).
We made our way to the V Theatre for the “All Shook Up” Elvis tribute show. Having collected our pre booked tickets, we enjoyed a couple of drinks at happy hour to ‘get us in the mood’ in a Mexican bar. I actually found myself understanding more Spanish than I realised I could – well done to our Spanish teacher Laura in Monda! I enjoyed a couple of Margaritas at $4 each and being in Vegas, asked for the second drink ‘to go’ to enable me to take it into the theatre. Something that would never be allowed in the UK, but something that is freely allowed and encouraged here. (Note from Chris: I had 3 pints of a nice Mexican beer for $3.50 each – can’t be bad!
Then off to see the Elvis tribute. Well, when in Vegas! I have to say Elvis was always a great hero of mine and I was devastated when he passed away so young. The tribute act was very, very good. He managed to reflect all of Elvis’ annunciation when talking or singing and had so many of his body moves perfectly replicated. The show lasted 75 minutes and he covered the two Elvis styles, from the early days in the tight black trousers to the latter years in the famous white suit. (Note from Chris: it was great entertainment. The guy was excellent).
We wanted to walk along the strip to explore some more, but as we started to realise, it is just not that quick to get around on foot. You have to walk through the ‘shopping malls’ and over bridges rather than just along the pavement. I guess this is to keep people inside and spend money and also to stop the drunk people walking on the roads. Many of the roads have railings so you cannot cross over and have to use the pavement bridges above!
After the show, we made our way to the Hard Rock Cafe, to buy another shot glass for our collection! We have 21 already from different cafes we (or our family) have visited around the world and were keen to add to our collection. Chris is a big fan of rock and was delighted to see The Who represented in pride of place as we entered the restaurant. There was Roger Daltrey’s famous fringed jacket and Keith Moon’s trousers!
Trying to get into the Vegas spirit I had a cocktail, which was expertly made by “Ricky” as he threw the glass, cocktail shaker and drinks all about to make a wonderful mixture.
We left Hard Rock and made our way to “New York, New York” for dinner. This area was done well, with smaller bars and theatre areas. People were queuing up for some ‘sex show’ not something that was on our agenda, but as we realised, Las Vegas has something for everyone! We thought we would walk back to our hotel and of course that was not straight forward. We had to walk through more casinos and shopping malls to get there.
Vegas is done well, it is a giant playground and attracts millions of visitors a year, so they are doing a lot right. It is literally only a few hundred yards from The Strip to the airport, so people don’t even have to miss any gambling time with a long transit after arriving. I get Vegas, it is a great party city and offers a fantastic escapism if that is what you are looking for. I agree with what people say, if you are in the area you have to go and experience it. It may not be for you, but it is worth a visit. But it really is not for me.
After a a couple of days in the city, my perception of Vegas was not proved wrong, it was just was not my ‘cup of tea’. It was too busy, too man made, too much concrete, too many similar shops and bars and too many people. But, I believe you can have a great ‘fun, partying’ time there and I was glad I went and experienced it.
Would I come back to Vegas?
I would never say never. If a friend wanted to come to celebrate a big birthday or a hen weekend, then yes I would probably come. But not out of choice!
Tomorrow, we make our way out of Vegas to Death Valley on our way to Mammoth Lakes.
Buenas Noches Vegas – (goodnight) although I truly believe, this really is the City that never sleeps!!