The mammoths who roamed what was then a marshland (10000 BC) and the Paiute Indians who first settled here in the 8th C could hardly conceive of this incredible entertainment capitol in the middle of the Mojave Desert that attracts up to 40 million visitors a year. Like its Italian counterpart, San Gimignano, Las Vegas offers skyscraping towers and innumerable options for transfering large quantities of your money into local accounts. But Las Vegas is also pulsating, vibrant, spectacular – words really don’t describe the vitality in this city devoted to excess in every way. Spectacular hotels, 5 star dining that lives up to its reputation, amazing spas, desert golf courses, wonderful shows and entertainment, extreme upscale shopping, and of course gambling define what must be the most exciting (if not the most intellectual) city we have ever visited.
1829 saw the first non-native American visitors to the Las Vegas area, a contingent of Mexicans exploring the vast territory which was part of their country. They named the area after the meadows (Las Vegas in Spanish) in the midst of the desert supported by fresh water springs. John Fremont was the first American to explore the area as part of the preparations for war with Mexico in 1844. The first attempt at settlement was by a Mormon team sent to convert the native Paiute tribes, unsuccessfully, in 1855. Nevada became a state in 1864, but Las Vegas remained a small village until Sen. William Clark of Montana routed the transcontinental railway through Las Vegas and coincidentally made a fortune selling the land he had previously bought on the cheap. The city was incorporated in 1911 and has become the largest city in the United States founded in the 20th C.
As late as the 1920’s, the population of Las Vegas was less than 2500 and of Clark County (named after guess-who) less than 5000. But with the construction of the Hoover Dam and the influx of workers, the city grew. Laws enabling gambling and easing marriage and divorce laws were passed and sin became the foundation of the increasing prosperity and growth. Hotels, casinos, and adult entertainment venues accelerated and the city and its reputation grew. By 1940 Las Vegas was home to over 8000 people and several famous hotel and casinos including the Pair-O-Dice Club in 1931 on what would become The Strip. Ria Langham’s quickie divorce of Clark Gable in 1939 helped establish Las Vegas as the “Divorce Capitol of the World”.
The modern era dates to the period just after WWII when mobsters Meyer Lansky and the ill-fated Ben (Bugsy) Siegel saw the potential sin-based financial gains to be accrued here and opened the Flamingo Hotel. Liberace first performed here in the mid-1940’s, among others, the first mega-star show on the Strip. Nuclear testing in the early 1950’s brought new visitors and new wealth and more luxurious sin palaces resulted. Between 1952 and 1956, new strip hotels included the Sands, Sahara, and Dunes. The first skyscraper hotel reached 9 stories – the Riviera. Las Vegas’ reputation as a world class entertainment center was reached with the opening of Elvis Presley live at the New Frontier Hotel in 1956. One year later, showgirls made their first appearance – Minsky’s Follies, at the Desert Inn. Las Vegas became “Sin City”, ever increasing in size and reputation.
The re-invention of Las Vegas as a more wholesome vacation destination begins most likely with the opening of Steve Wynn’s Mirage in 1989 beginning a massive building and expansion program which continues today. Older hotels were “imploded” and replaced with famous luxe names – Excalibur, Treasure Island, Luxor, Venetian, Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo and more in the 1990’s. The latest round of building incorporates massive casinos and huge high end shopping malls with famous designer name stores and famous-chef designer restaurants, all with themes and many with theme-shows. The first and most famous is at Caesar’s Palace.
The latest trend is massive high-rise complexes which are cities in themselves. These combined hotel-residential buildings connect directly to beautiful malls, great restaurants, exquisite pool complexes, and spas. City Center includes three upscale hotels the largest with over 4000 rooms and the impossibly beautiful Crystal Mall. Under construction is the Cosmopolitan which will undoubtedly raise the bar for luxury even further. Las Vegas draws up to 40 million visitors a year, many from overseas (we were surprised by the large contingent from the UK, both as guests and as workers in varying hotel, restaurant, and commercial stores). Las Vegas is indeed spectacular, and becoming more so with each passing day.
Here are the best things to do in Las Vegas:
1. Fremont Street Experience
Located in the heart of downtown Las Vegas (in other words, not on the Strip) is the amazing Fremont Street Experience. Casino lined Fremont Street has been topped with a 427m (1,400ft) long canopy which is home to “Viva Vision, the biggest big screen on the planet. More than 12 million lights in the Viva Vision canopy and 550,000 watts of concert quality sound pumped to speakers throughout the venue produce an incredible array of eye-popping imagery and heart pounding music.”
This captivating sound and light show plays hourly, between dusk and midnight. It is very loud and very bright.
Also along the street are old-style casinos, their facades covered in flashing lights and massive neon signs. There is a large stage where a band was playing loudly. Oh, and there was a motorbike display which involved bikes spinning around inside a metal globe, at one stage there were three guys on full-size bikes riding around inside the globe, some how managing not to smash into each other.
This part of town is really worth a look, so jump in a taxi from the Strip and come and spend some time one evening experiencing Fremont Street.
2. Treasure Island Hotel – Casino
Treasure Island debuted in 1993 and for roughly the next decade it brought memories of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. I thought it was pretty entertaining to see the pirate theme on everything from the eye-patched pirate on the giant marquee to the chests of gold in the casino walls to the sailing ships artwork in the rooms. It may have been silly and childish but it was a lot of fun, kind of like Halloween for adults.
Now most of the pirate theme has been removed by a remodel designed to make the hotel appeal to young adults. Even the name has changed, from Treasure Island to “The T.I.”.
The result is certainly more “grown-up” in a way but their attempts to make the place sexy and alluring has taken away its uniqueness and replaced it with just another hotel. To be honest what remains, after they stripped the pirate gilt, is such a nice place to stay that if all you are looking for is a hotel, this may be the place for you.
Out in front of the hotel is pirate village alongside a small lagoon that used to be called Buccaneer Bay. It was home to one of the best free entertainment spectacles in Vegas, a live action stunt show featuring two full-size sailing ships and a battle between the British Navy and some scurvy pirates.
Now the area is called “Siren Cove,” home to an all new “Sirens of TI”. It’s a pretty bad show with bad dialogue; choreography and sound, replacing the action of the old show with sexy women dressed as pirates. The show is four times a night, sexy sirens lure pirates into the cove and taunt them until the pyrotechnics take over. Now how can that be bad? Don’t know but they managed.
Inside of the casino most of the chests of gold, skulls, daggers, cannons, and assorted pirate paraphernalia are gone as well, replaced by bland sameness which is becoming more popular in some of the hotels. It may look ok to the gamblers but it isn’t the kind of thing you want to take pictures of and talk about when you get home to jealous neighbors.
Mirage Volcano Reborn – Free
The Mirage Volcano, once the free number one star attraction of the strip, took some time off for almost a year. Now that it has been remodeled, it has been reborn into a spectacular fire show with lights, music and huge fireballs that shoot 12 feet (3.5 meters) in the air. I will tell you, you can feel the heat coming from this attraction so it is very realistic. A very awesome show that I think every one will enjoy. Make sure you get there early so you can have a good view of the show. It continues to erupt every 15 minutes until 12am.
Aquarium at the Mirage – Free
The Mirage has this really beautiful aquarium that is 20,000 gallons of saltwater and home to angelfish, puffer fish, tangs, and many other beautiful exotic creatures. The tank is 53 feet (16 meters) long, 8 feet (2.5 meters) high and 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide. The walls are 4 inches (10 centimeters) thick. This aquarium houses up to 1,000 coral reef creatures that come from 60 countries such as Australia, Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji, the Red Sea and the Marshall Islands, Sea of Cortez and Caribbean. It is very beautiful and impressive. If you walk in to the main entrance from the strip, take right and behind the reception desk.
The Secret Garden of Seigfried and Roy
The Secret Garden of Seigfried and Roy sounds tacky in typical Las Vegas style, but it was probably one of the best things I have seen in Las Vegas.
This attraction consists of three bottle-nosed dolphin pools, plus a collection of rare white and golden tigers. An asian elephant is also part of the group as well, and this is all set in beautiful, manicured shrubbery and flowers. The area is cleaner than any zoo that I’ve been in, and is actually a research station, affiliated with many major zoos around the world that the famous duo have contacted to set up breeding programs.
What is so great about this is that you can actually get very close to the dolphins and sit on the edge of the pool, to watch them train and be exercised which you can’t do at other dolphin exhibits. Often, they will do flips and turns on their own, or play, which is quite entertaining to sit back and watch.
You also get to see what magnificent creatures the white tigers are, and do make sure you see the rare snow white tiger. Also, be careful, as they are cats — one of them sprayed a crowd of people in front of his area, maybe getting a little revenge for himself.
If not for the animals, go here to get a whiff of fresh air. Smoking is not allowed in the area, and we realized here how much cigarette smoke we had been exposed to in Vegas, after breathing in the clean air of the Secret Garden. It’s a wonderful oasis to escape the crowds and noise of Vegas.
The entry fee is $12 per adult, and really is worth it. You can stay as long as you like.
4. Bellagio Fountains
One of my favourite things about Las Vegas was the fountains at the Bellagio. At the front of the hotel is an artificial lake and here you can see regular ‘dancing fountain’ displays, choreographed to music.
The displays officially run every 30 minutes, between 12pm and 8pm, and then every 15 minutes until 12am, though they did run more often over the weekend we were there. The individual shows last a few minutes, basically as long as the song they are dancing too. The songs change throughout the day and range from classical to recent hits.
If you are watching the fountains from the Strip, the music is blasted out of numerous speakers situated around the Bellagio’s perimeter. If you are lucky enough to be staying at the hotel, as we were, and have a room looking over the lake, tune into Channel 22 on the TV and you will hear the fountain music.
The main attraction of the Luxor Hotel is it’s building and it’s different structures outside the building. They are unbelievable. The pyramids are beautiful! It’s like Egypt’s pyramid in the United States!
At the Luxor Hotel, you can visit the Tomb or the Museum of King Tutankhamun. Yes, you don’t have to fly all the way to Egypt to have a glimpse of the tomb, including the pyramid. The Luxor Hotel itself is a modern replica of an Egyptian pyramid.
King Tutankhamun ruled in Egypt for nine years. Nothing was known about him until his tomb was discovered in 1922. He is not one of the greatest of Egyptian Pharoahs but the tomb apparently gives a lot of description about this pharoah of Egypt. He died in about 1325 BC.
There are so many things to see in Las Vegas. Among them is the Luxor Hotel as it is designed as a Pyramid of Egypt. At night, it has a light that shoots all the way to the sky and you can see it at a distance.
Besides the hotel is the huge statue of a Sphinx and Pharaoh. Also, you have to go inside and take a glimpse of the hotel’s display.
The tomb of the King Tutankhmun is one of the attractions of hotel.
6. Lake Mead and Hoover Dam
Located in the heart of Lake Mead National Park stands the Hoover Dam, towering 726 feet (221 meters) over the river. When built, the dam was the tallest in the world, and is still the largest concrete dam in the Western Hemisphere. Requiring just 5 years for construction, Hoover Dam was completed in 1935 and named after President Hoover.
All vehicles approaching the dam from either direction are subject to search. Upon approaching the dam from Vegas, the first parking you will find is a nice, new garage next to the visitors center charging $7 to park. Across the dam in AZ you will find plenty of free parking, all just a short, scenic walk back across the dam to the visitors center.
Tours cost $11 for adults, but you can walk across the dam for free. Be careful, pedestrians are not authorized on the dam after dark! Currently you can drive across the dam, but a new bridge is being constructed across the canyon just a 1/4 mile (0.4 kilometers) downriver of the dam to ease traffic congestion and reduce the security threat.
7. Grand Canyon
If you’re staying in Vegas and want to see the Grand Canyon but are stretched for time, I suggest doing a helicopter tour. It takes about an hour to fly there, during which you pass by some amazing scenery, such as the Hoover Dam and the pilot tells you alot about the areas as you fly over them. Depending on which tour you take, you can either simply fly over the Canyon without stopping, or you can stop for a picnic in the Canyon (which is what we did). A wonderful picnic basket of goodies was supplied, which we enjoyed during our 45 minute stopover in the Canyon (plenty of time for photos).
If you choose the sunset tour like we did then the return journey is almost the best part, as the sun is setting right in front of you as you fly back to Vegas. The sky looks so beautiful from up there! By the time you get back to Vegas, night has fallen and the lights of Vegas are on show, so you will take a turn and fly down the strip over all the lights! Amazing!
Total tour time is approx 3 1/2 hours for the tour we did; cost approx $390 per person but it is an experience to last a lifetime!! And there are cheaper option available if you choose not to have the picnic and not go at sunset.
8. Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower
The Stratosphere Tower is located at the northern end of the main Strip area. At 350m (1,150ft) high it is the tallest observation tower in the USA and hence a major Las Vegas landmark. From the top you can enjoy excellent views of the Strip and the surrounding landscape from the outdoor observation deck.
But this isn’t just the place to come and enjoy the views from the safety of an observation deck. The tower is also home to the world’s highest thrill rides, which hang off the top of the tower, 110 stories above the Strip! There are three different rides to choose from.
You can buy a ticket to just access the observation deck, and then pay for any ride tickets as you go, or buy combination tickets too.
After a visit to the tower, you can always recover with a meal or a drink or a gamble at the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino, which sits below the tower.
9. Paris Hotel – Casino
As far as thematic hotels go, I thought Paris Las Vegas was one of the most impressive ones, along with the Venitian and New York, New York hotels. The Paris Las Vegas hotel and casino opened in 1999 and can easily be recognized thanks to its reproduction of the Eiffel Tower. Standing at 540ft (165m) tall, it is about half the size of the original one and it sits on top of the casino, in which three of the tower’s four “feet” can be seen. Just a few steps away you can see the hotel’s Arc du Triomphe, which is about two thirds the size of the original one and is remarkably similar to the one in Paris.
We got a kick out of all the French signs inside the hotel (Les Toilettes, La Réception, Le Théâtre…), and we also enjoyed wandering through the little Parisian-like street bordered by different shops and restaurants. After much hesitation, we decided to pass on “Mon Ami Gabi”, a nice little French bistro with a sidewalk terrace overlooking the Strip and the Bellagio that offered a relatively affordable menu. Instead we decided to do the Eiffel Tower Experience, and we were not disappointed! Of course it’s not nearly the same as actually being in Paris but if you can’t afford the trip to Europe, walking through the Paris Las Vegas might just be the next best thing – or it will at least bring back some nice memories.
We weren’t too sure about going up the Eiffel Tower because we were afraid we would walk into a tourist trap. However, as we’d been pretty reasonable thus far, and I usually like going up buildings to enjoy a nice view of whichever city I happen to be in, we ended up getting tickets to the Eiffel Tower Experience. I’m so glad we did! Because it sits at the center of the Las Vegas Strip, the Eiffel Tower offers one of the best views of the famous boulevard. The elevator ride goes by fairly quickly thanks to a pre-recording that keeps repeating that everything is sexier in Paris, and it takes you to the observation platform that stands 460 feet (140 meters) above the Strip. Its birdcage-like structure allows you to take great pictures of the surrounding buildings thanks to little holes through which you can put your camera.
10. The Strip
You can get all kinds of maps at your hotel to see which hotels are where on the strip. Make sure you have very good, worked in walking shoes!
We walked south from TI to see the Mirage, Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, Monte Carlo, New York New York, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay. And then we crossed the street to see MGM Grand. We were too tired after that to see any more so we cabbed to Margaretaville for a drink before heading back to our hotel for some R & R.
We saw a gorgeous lion at MGM Grand, rode the roller coaster at New York New York and walked through the gardens at the Bellagio.
New York New York looks like the city from the outside and the inside they’ve built to simulate New York streets. Loads of character in this hotel and it’s where I want to stay next time I come. They’ve got a huge arcade – good for families. But they’ve also got the Nine Fine Irishmen, a fantastic little bar. When we were there, a band from Dublin Ireland was playing.
11. The Venetian Hotel & Casino
One of the most amazing things we saw in Las Vegas was the Venetian Hotel & Casino. We were momentarily speechless as we stood on the Strip, gazing up at familiar Venetian landmarks, seemingly transplanted into the Nevada desert.
There is the lofty Campanile di San Marco (bell tower), the Doges Palace, with attached Bridge of Sighs, and even the Rialto Bridge, not to mention a canal complete with gondolas.
Moving inside, you can follow the Grand Canal and the gondaliers, whilst browsing in shops under the dusk-lit “sky”, eventually winding your way, via small bridges, to the Venetian’s version of St Marks Square. It is not as large as the original, nor are there any pigeons (thankfully!), but it is realistic. We had dinner at one of the restaurants that lines the square, and as we dined ‘alfresco’ it really did feel like we were back in Italy.
The casino is equally impressive, and the corridors and lobbys are filled with coloumns and adorned with frescoes. Bella Italy!
12. MGM Grand
The MGM Grand is the biggest hotel in Las Vegas. It’s a vast complex with over 5,000 guest room and offers lots to see and do. The hotel has been in existence for some time, but was re-opened in 1993 (at a cost of 1 billion dollars). It has undergone another renovation since then and really looks good. A movie theme is present throughout the hotel, but it’s not over-done or tacky. The MGM has several things worth seeing:
The Lion Habitat is located near Studio 54 and Rainforest Cafe. It is open daily from 11:00am to 10:00pm. Admission is free. Here you will see two or three lions in a large and lush habitat. The enclosure is made of glass, so you can easily take photos of the lions. Children will especially love seeing these majestic animals, but it’s fun for all ages.
Visit the MGM Grand Adventure Theme Park while you’re at the casino. It is closed in the winter months, but open most of the year. Admission is $12.95 per person and that provides you with unlimited access to all rides except the Sky Screamer. There are a number of rides here, including Grand Canyon Rapids which takes you on a trip down white-water rapids. There are also a number of shows at the park: the Dueling Pirates Stunt Spectacular, the BMX Grind and La Vida Loca, a tribute to Latin rock.
MGM Grand has gotten a reputation as the preferred “family” hotel– and the hotel has started combating that label with some very adult features. They’ve intoroduced “Femme,” a sexy topless revue. Also for adults, go clubbing at the popular Studio 54 or hang out at chic lounge Tabu.
There are lots of dining options at the MGM Grand, including the popular Rainforest Cafe and Emeril’s.
13. Bellagio Conservatory
The part of the Bellagio I liked the most was their Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. We visited it in November, so they had their autumn/thanksgiving exhibition.
Upon entering the Conservatory, we were welcomed by this friendly looking scarecrow surrounded by pumpkins and beautiful foliage and plants with autumn colors. A few steps and to the right we found a big trunk tree with a smiley face, and eyes that opened. This tree sort of made me feel a little bit like being in a mixed movie featuring “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz”.
The Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are open 24/7, have free admission and usually change theme according to the seasons or special activities going on.
14. Cirque du Soleil
There are many, many ways for you to spend your money in Las Vegas but if you’ve got to pick only one thing, I’d recommend going to a show by the Cirque du Soleil. The little circus company that started out in Quebec in the 1980s is now famous all around the world, and back in the early 1990s, the Cirque found a home in Las Vegas. There are now five resident Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas (Mystere, O, Zumanity, KA and Love), with a sixth one scheduled to open at the CityCenter Complex in 2009, featuring the songs of Elvis Presley.
Since we only had time and money to see one show we picked KA, a $220 million production hosted at the MGM Grand. For this show, which became the Cirque’s fourth resident show in Vegas, the Cirque du Soleil teamed up with another brilliant artist from Quebec when they asked Robert Lepage to create and direct it. It resulted in a beautiful and very moving story that once again pushed the Cirque’s limits. It is the most theatrical of all Cirque shows, it’s got an amazing soundtrack, and thanks to the custom-made theatre and floating stage platform, the show features stunts and acrobatics you didn’t think were possible to see!
Because it is a customed-made theatre, there are no bad seats in the house. Of course, the closer you are to the action, the more details you can see. We picked Category 2 tickets and were quite happy with our seats. If it happens to be a slow night (we were there on a Wednesday), you don’t need reservations, you can buy your tickets when you get to Vegas (Prices range from $69 to $150, depending on the category).
15. Mandalay Bay
The Palm trees at the Oasis
The palm trees planted at the Mandalay Bay Oasis Garden are like the weather in Las Vegas – hot and humid! The palm trees are beautiful and give a lot of shade to the swimming pool and the restaurants.
Each time I come to Las Vegas, I usually visit this area because it feels like I am visiting the oasis in Egypt.
The elephant trimmings
The elephants are everywhere, from the doors to the fountain of Mandalay Bay Hotel. I like the little elephant spouts fountain at the Oasis. A few years back, it was blocked and we couldn’t even go near it. Nowadays, you can sit close to the fountain.
The beautiful lobby
The lobby is very beautiful and inviting with huge chandeliers and fountains. There is a big circular table with fresh flowers. The lobby has marble columns and the decor is exquisite. The front desk is elongated to accomodate visitors who are all checking in at the same time.
The aquarium that goes all the way to the ceiling is a very beautiful piece on top of the different decor of the lobby.
It has a collection of huge fishes and a sharks. It’s circular so you can see in all directions. It has a calming effect on visitors as well as on the staff.
The Swarovski Chandeliers
I am fascinated with chandeliers so when I’m at hotel lobbies, these are the first things that I notice. They give ambience to the room. I have seen so many beautiful chandeliers, especially in hotel lobbies, in churches and in mansions.
At Mandalay Bay Hotel, the chandeliers are simple but charming. The huge one on top of the fountain leading to the Mandalay Swimming Pool is a large piece with lights on it that go through Tiffany cut glasses. The top are decorated with Swarovski glasses that sparkle and give a glow to the lobby.
When you are looking at the water fountain at the top of the stairs, it feels like you can touch the chandelier. It’s beautiful and gigantic.
The dome at Mandalay Bay Hotel lobby is beautiful. I think every building should make use of the natural light to save electricity. Architects should design their buildings with energy saving in mind.
16. Caesar’s Palace Hotel & Casino
This place is MASSIVE. You are almost struck speechless when you first see the hotel and grounds because it’s just so huge. I guess this Roman theme echos the excess and fantasy of the ancient Romans, and it pulls it off with a grand flourish.
We, in fact, didn’t have time to go inside the hotel/casino itself, but walked around the perimeter of the property, plus we went into the Forum Shops, which is basically a gigantic shopping mall, completed with beautiful Italian architecture and gorgeous fountains. Like the other theme hotels, the shop fronts are meant to make you feel like you are on a street, this time in Rome.
This is an extremely busy area, and the crowds were overwhelming. We did return here early in the day, but it didn’t seem to make that much of a difference.
17. Wynn Las Vegas
I personally love the golden facade of the Wynn Las Vegas [See Photo#1], especially as it contrasts with the natural surroundings.
There is a towering mountain, lagoons, waterfalls, [see photo #2]terraced landscapes, and a Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole championship golf course. There are flowers blooming everywhere. An indoor atrium near the lobby [See Photo #3] leads you through a path of flowers, trees and lights.
There is a 110,00 square-foot Casino which also has a flower pattern. Supposedly, the 50-story hotel tower has floor-to-ceiling windows that shows sweeping views of either the resort’s golf course, lake & mountains, or the Las Vegas Strip.
There are more than five restaurants ranging from the Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare to the ZooZacrackers Deli [see my restaurant review].
There’s a nightly light/music/multimedia show near the curtain waterfall that pours into the 3-acre Lake of dreams.
We discovered that the Wynn’s elegant sister hotel property [Encore] is located adjacent to the Wynn with two entry points from inside the hotel.
This resort is home to the Penske Wynn Ferrari Maserati dealership and showroom!
Next to the Deli where we ate, there is a 195-seat race and sports book with sports and VIP lounges. The hotel also houses two night clubs, Blush and Tryst.
There are two main swimming pools with a number of smaller pools and jacuzzis. Yes, there is also a European sunbathing pool area available.
For those with money, The Wynn is a beautiful place to stay.
18. Excalibur Hotel – Casino
The Excalibur Hotel and Casino was modeled after a French Medieval castle and was named after the legendary sword of King Arthur. When it opened in 1990, it was the biggest hotel in the world, but it has now been supplanted by several hotels, including the Las Vegas MGM Grand.
The Excalibur features a pretty big arcade in the basement where kids can waste some money while their parents do the same at the casino upstairs, and there are also some 4D rides featuring characters such as SpongeBog SquarePants. Another very popular family attraction is the “Tournament of Kings”, a jousting dinner show (about $60 per person, free for kids under 3). We enjoyed both the meal and the atmosphere – the menu features Cornish game hen as the main dish, and you are expected to eat it with your fingers just like people did in ye good old days!
19. Gondola Rides at the Venetian
As part of our just wandering through some of the big hotels on the strip, the Venetian seemed a must. It, like all of them, is a tremendous place. You almost have to think of them as a campus rather than a hotel. One thing they all have in common is free parking. You can drive into their parking garage or use their valet parking. Of course, the valets live on tips so you should pay them something. Inside is a maze of shops, restaurants, ‘Venetian’ features and there are various things going on at different times to entertain you. We encountered a group of madrigal singers and some mimes here. They also have gondolas both inside and outside and for a fee you can have a ride. We did one outside and had a very pleasant young lady gondolier who also had a wonderful voice. She sang some classical songs then ended with ‘O Sole Mio!’ She told us that all the gondoliers are professionally trained singers and from the sounds, I do not doubt her.
They operate the gondolas Sun-Thur 10:00 a.m-11:00 p.m., Fri & Sat 10:00 a.m.-midnight. Indoor rides are $15 and outdoor $12.50 or you can rent the gondola for 2 passengers only for $60 and $50 respectively. Rides are by reservation only (same day) and can be made either indoors or outdoors.
20. New York-New York Hotel & Casino
Only in Vegas can you walk from Venice to Paris to New York in just a few minutes! Because we stayed across the street, we spent a fair bit of time at the New York, New York hotel. It wasn’t as crowded as the MGM Grand, and I thought there was a nice casual atmosphere, especially for the younger crowd. Of course, looking at the hotel from the outside is an attraction in itself as you can pick out many of the famous NYC landmarks in the condensed New York skyline: the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and of course the Statue of Liberty are all there, among others.
One of my favorite features inside was the hotel’s foodcourt, designed to look a bit like Greenwhich Village, which happens to be my favorite area in NYC. There are many casual restaurants and bars, including my favorite place to hang out at night in Las Vegas: the Nine Fine Irishmen pub. Another big attraction at the New York, New York is the Manhattan Express roaller coaster but when I saw how high the first drop was (203 feet/62 meters!), I thought I’d rather live to tell about it – riding the elevator up the Eiffel Tower had already given me all the thrill I needed!!
21. Bellagio Hotel – Casino
The Bellagio is a massive 5 star hotel and casino located in the middle of the Strip. The design and décor was inspired by Italy’s Lake District, and it is a lot classier than some of the other Vegas theme hotels. At the front of the hotel is an artificial lake, with regular fountain displays. Inside, the lobby is marble filled and there is a very impressive glass sculpture on the ceiling – 2000 hand blown flowers in bright colours.
There are several restaurants, cafes, bars, and a night club. The pool area is stylish and there are private cabanas for hire if you are so inclined. Art lovers may want to visit the Fine Art Gallery, and if you are into Cirque du Soleil then the Bellagio is home to their water show “O”.
Make sure you sample one of the decadent cakes at the Jean Philippe Patisserie and see the worlds largest chocolate fountain!
I can highly recommend having a drink at the Fontana Bar, which is located lakeside in the Bellagio, accessed via the casino. There is a large bar area inside, with a stage and dance floor, and a terrace that looks over the lake and Strip. We visited early one evening and of course headed straight for the terrace, and a prime fountain watching position. The mojitos are very tasty.
Most of the casino tables at the Bellagio seemed to have minimum bets that were out of our comfort zone, but one evening we did come across a $5 Blackjack table and found the dealers, and our fellow gamblers, to be very friendly and helpful.
22. Thrill Rides
SPEED – The Ride
Wow! Not for the faint of heart. This ride starts inside the Sarah, at the Nascar Cafe, but I don’t recommend eating before you go! The acceleration at the beginning is so fast you have no time to catch your breath or psyche yourself up for the corkscrews and loops. I admit it – I screamed my head off and then closed my eyes. I only opened my eyes when it eventually stopped – only to find myself looking straight up into the sky, hanging at a 90 degree angle 224 feet (68 meters) in the air. After what seemed like an eternity in that position the ride rocketed us backward at the same speed the way we came (accompanied by more screaming). Apparently the ride goes along the strip. You are warned before you go off to remove all lose items, bags, etc. before getting on the ride. There are even 50 cent lockers for the purpose. My husband got on the ride and was told to remove his glasses. He complained that he wouldn’t be able to see properly without them but after the ride started he soon realized that seeing the strip while on the ride wasn’t really possible due to the speed (up to 70 m.p.h./113 k.p.h.).
Open from at least noon until 9pm each day, some extended hours on weekends. It costs $10 a ride or you can get a pass for $19.95 which entitles you to go on as much as you want on both Speed The Ride and the Cyber Speedway, which was quite fun.
Another reason for me to visit Vegas was to ride one of the rides on top of the Stratosphere, and my choice for this trip was the X-Scream.
What this ride does is go back and forth, while you hang “mercilessly” 264 meters (866 feet) above the ground. You go forward, the thing stops and leaves you hanging head first, then goes back, and the process repeats. Sometimes you don’t go back at all, but up and then down and all you see is the ground below thinking that you’re gonna fall face first. It was a great thrill ride, and I didn’t fully get it until I saw the car hanging from the indoors observation deck.
While you’re hanging and dangling, the operator makes some funny comments and one-liners. After riding the X-Scream, my throat was hurting and I sounded as if I had a cold but it was worth it!
23. Madam Tussauds Wax Museum
Madam Tussaud’s (correct spelling) Wax Museum at the Venecian Hotel is a MUST see. The detail put into the wax pieces allowes them to look ALIVE!! I kept expecting the wax figures to start moving! There is a section of the museum that displays figures in various stages of completion so you can get the idea of how they are created.
My favorite figures were Brad Pitt, Bono, Shirley McClaine and Princess Diana. There were actually two Princess Diana figures on display.
The displays are interactive. You can touch and sit next to the figures all you want. Jennifer Lopez’s cheek would turn red when you rubbed her bum. Yea, like that would really happen. The Madonna and George Bush figures were not very realistic, maybe they didn’t pose for Madam Tussaud’s.
I felt very sorry for the employees working the museum. We would enter a room and no one would be in there except the was life-like figures and the one employee. A couple friendly employees started up converstaions and I couldn’t help feeling that they must be extremely lonely in a room with no live people all day except when the occasional LIVE being walks through.
24. Coca Cola Store
World of Coke changed in May of 2000. That is when the history museum and tasting room with the shooting coke display shut down.
It has just recently been renovated to two floors of retail. There are many fun souvenir and apparel items that are always changing. There are key chains, magnets, mousepads, shrink wrapped glass bottles, sports and golf items, stationary, lip glosses, plush, toys, glassware, jewelry, housewares, home decor, the list goes on.
The Soda fountain is a great place to visit. There are glass bottle coke, diet coke, coke made in mexico (made with pure cane sugar) and sprite. For $7 you can sit and enjoy 16 sample cups of different coke products from around the world. The samples are periodically changed but there is one “SPECIAL” product that will never change. There is also the FLOAT VARIETY PLATTER for $8, which has 8 little ice cream floats on a tray to drool over. Some of the float flavors are coke, root beer, fanta orange, mello yello, and whatever 3 icee flavors are currently running.
There are surprise events promoting Coke Zero and cans of Coke Zero are given out in front of the store.
There are also random sighting of the Coca-Cola polar bear walking around the store for picture opportunities.
All in all the store may have changed but there are a lot of new things to come!
Even if you don’t get married in Las Vegas, at least visit and see some of its typical wedding chapels! There are many weddingg chapels in Las Vegas. they are usually small and very funny.
If you’re not planning to get married there, drive around to see them and get to know its funny ambiance. We did that and had a good time!
Theme weddings are really big in Vegas. Among many choices are an Elvis wedding, a Drive-thru wedding, a Star Trek wedding, a gangster wedding, a Harley wedding, a beach-party style wedding, a Camelot wedding, a rock ‘n roll wedding, a Gondola wedding, a Pirate ship wedding, or even a nude wedding and “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign wedding!
Note: If you want to get married at Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve, you have to book well ahead.
- Featured image: pdphoto.org, public domain
- 1. Fremont Street Experience: Tim (Timothy) Pearce [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 2. Treasure Island Hotel – Casino: Clément Bardot [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 3. Mirage: King of Hearts [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. Bellagio Fountains: Vahe Martirosyan [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. Luxor: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Lake Mead and Hoover Dam: Waycool27 at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 7. Grand Canyon: Ken Lund from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9. Paris Hotel – Casino, Las Vegas: Jim G from Silicon Valley, CA, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 10. The Strip, Las Vegas: Lasvegaslover [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. The Venetian Hotel & Casino: © Frank Schulenburg, via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. MGM Grand: Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Bellagio Conservatory: urban.houstonian [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Cirque du Soleil: Clemens Pfeiffer
- 15. Mandalay Bay: Erin Khoo [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. Caesar’s Palace Hotel & Casino: Jim G from Silicon Valley, CA, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. Wynn Las Vegas: Almc1217 [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 18. Excalibur Hotel – Casino: Clément Bardot [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Gondola Rides at the Venetian: © Frank Schulenburg, via Wikimedia Commons
- 20. New York-New York Hotel & Casino: Simeon87 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Bellagio Hotel – Casino: Clément Bardot [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. Thrill Rides: Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. Madam Tussauds Wax Museum: Luke Rauscher, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
- 24. Coca Cola Store: Nandaro [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. Weddings: Llaxina [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons