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USA: Nevada: Carson City, Cathedral Gorge, Ely, Great Basin, Hoover Dam - Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Lehman Caves, Primm, Red Rock Canyon, Reno, Virginia City
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA: What happens here, stays here
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, has been very aptly created. Don’t get it wrong though. It’s a great promotional line that reminds travelers that there’s no place like Vegas. The fun and the action that happens is hard to be duplicated anywhere else in the world. I tend to agree.
A travel trade conference was scheduled in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas. The Nevada Commission on Tourism had invited me along with a few other people from the travel trade from around the world. We would be their guests for a few days in which we would be shown around Las Vegas as also a few other destinations in Southern Nevada. Mind you, the State of Nevada is a hidden gem. It has much more to offer than the glittering city of Las Vegas alone. You may want to refer to the exciting destinations I visited in this State of the United States.
The mere mention of the word “Las Vegas” conjures up images of bright lights, awe-inspiring hotel architecture, massive casinos and glamorous shows. The bright lights can be best enjoyed by foot as well as from up above… from a ‘limousine in the sky’.
I arrived in Las Vegas at 1PM. Starting from my home in Pune, India, and travelling through Mumbai, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Counting the wait between airports, it was almost a 36 hour, door-to-door journey! Thankfully, the airline lounges make for a comfortable wait. I am a Gold Member with Cathay Pacific who is a part of the One World Alliance giving me access to priority seating and lounges across the globe. It’s indeed a blessing for journeys like these.
In LV, people with deep pockets are subject to unmatched pampering. Limo pick-ups, special check-in lounges in hotels, butler services, exclusive suites, gourmet cuisine and reserved gaming tables are a few inclusions. For regular travelers, things are not bad either. Airport transfers are moderately priced. For $6 a head you will be dropped to your hotel ($7 if your hotel is off The Strip). Limos are available for as low as $45. Pay a little more and a bottle of champagne is thrown in for free! Arriving at your hotel with shaky legs is quite normal. The doormen don’t mind. Since we are on the subject, you may want to know that it’s legal to walk on streets with drinks in hand. I was amused to see people walking along with their vices in hand bang in the afternoon. It’s quite done after sunset. Bars around town are prepared to lose their tumblers as customers lose their mind.
I was booked at The Venetian that’s mid-way on The Strip. For a postman it’s Las Vegas Boulevard. A 4-mile portion on Las Vegas Boulevard is popularly called The Strip. Roughly speaking, The Strip lies between The Stratosphere on one side and The Bellagio on the other. Between these two hotels, one would be in a different world altogether… a world of make believe.
Hotels in Las Vegas are all size XL and more. A few thousand rooms in hotels is a normal number. The Venetian has over 6,000 rooms and boasts to be the largest of its kind in the world. There’s a debate though as competitors point out that their sister property The Palazzo’s rooms have been added to the count. Well I will leave this for the taxman to look into, but from my perspective the premises of the hotel was big enough for visitors to get lost. The interiors straight away take you to Italy in general and Venice in particular. One can even hire a gondola (with a singing oarsman) to cruise along the waterway within the hotel.
With thousands of visitors pouring in Las Vegas every day, the queues really get long at the check-in counters. However, with dozens of reception counters, the line moves quite fast. This is a normal picture at all hotel lobbies. However, I didn’t have to wait for my keys. Since I was a State guest, a special counter took good care.
We assembled in the hotel lobby at 4PM. After inspecting the facilities and rooms at Venetian and The Palazzo, we took a 10-minute drive to reach Maverick’s helipad. Maverick is Las Vegas’ leading helicopter operator. They operate tours over Las Vegas as well as to various rims of The Grand Canyon. That evening we were scheduled to view The Strip by night.
The flight lasts for just about 15 minutes. Majority of the time is spent in taxing though. The actual flight around The Strip is for 7 minutes or so. But it is a good experience. If you plan to take the trip, it would be a good idea to take a seat on the left side of the chopper. That will offer you a premium view. At the time of my visit this trip’s cost was US$114. The price includes pick-up and drop from and to your hotel.
After the helicopter ride, we were ready for a hosted dinner which was scheduled at Margaritaville on The Strip. Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville is a Mecca for Parrot Heads or anyone else who wants to have a good time and a great meal in a tropical setting. As the name suggests, this place (and many more around the country) is best known for their margaritas and cheeseburgers. Of course, menu is quite elaborate and the same is served with great enthusiasm by their waiters, some of whom double up as acrobats and jugglers. A meal and a drink out here certainly have my recommendation.
The next morning, our breakfast was scheduled in one of the restaurants at the Las Vegas Premium Outlet – North. This outlet centre is a short drive from The Strip and has an impressive collection of finest designer labels and brands. Amongst other things to do, Las Vegas is also a destination for shoppers. After spending a couple of hours and a few dollars, our next stop was Fashion Show Mall.
Located on The Strip, just across The Venetian, the Fashion Show Mall screams for shoppers’ attention. Their building is quite unique and stands out prominently on The Strip. To compete with shopping ideas that are present in every hotel, this mall was designed, as the name suggests, around a fashion runway. Friday thru Sunday, the mall has live fashion shows (with stuff from stores that’s actually available within the mall) on the hour. A ramp and a stage stick out from the floor at the designated time. The atrium turns into a great runway. The show is free of cost. During my visit, Macy’s Valentine show was on. We were given a few hours to explore the mall’s over 250 outlets. I had lunch at Rocket’s – a famous gourmet burger joint.
Post lunch I opted to visit Madame Tussauds Wax Museum that’s located in The Venetian. The afternoon was free. I took the time to walk the neighbourhood preparing myself for dinner which would be hosted at Benihana, a premium Japanese restaurant located at LVH – Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, formerly known as Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. Benihana is an exhibition style dining at its finest. You sit around a live cooking table. Food is cooked by chefs who double-up as story-tellers. If you crave for Japanese food, this is the place. Be sure to book your table well in advance.
Later that evening, I walked most part of the strip. My tripod came in handy.
The next day we would make a trip to Grand Canyon West which falls in the State of Arizona. From there we would drive to spend the night at Primm. I have covered my experience out there separately.
From Primm we drove to Fremont Street. Located in downtown Las Vegas, Fremont Street is a seven block open-air, pedestrian mall where one can see live entertainment and a graphic overhead light show under a 90 feet canopy. I had the opportunity to go up close to the canopy as I flew down the Fremont Street Flightline… an 800 feet long zip line. When there, try the Flightline. For $15 it’s a fun experience. If you have the heart, you may ask Flightline for a zip-line across the canyon.
For the next 5 days I was at Green Valley Ranch, Henderson for the Trade Conference. One of the days during the conference was kept aside for the delegates to explore Las Vegas using the Big Bus Tours.
The distances in Las Vegas, especially whilst walking on The Strip, can be very misleading to the first time traveler. The hotel buildings are large and they stick almost to each other. Thus, they appear to be very close, but can end up with hours of walking. Of course, it’s fun to walk the strip in the evenings. An easy alternative to walking the town or taking a cab is to opt for an Open Top Sightseeing Tour. A 24-hour pass cost $35 for an adult. That way you can hop-on and hop-off at all attractions that fall on The Strip, downtown and Fremont. A commentary in English and 8 other languages is available on board. The bus runs 24 X 7.
Sitting atop a double-decker, I was able to view the spectacular structures of many hotels along The Strip. Our group made a brief stop at A Special Memory wedding chapel. There are countless wedding chapels in Las Vegas. Just so you know Las Vegas holds nearly 100,000 weddings every year. The Nevada State law makes it very convenient and easy for people from around the world to get married (and divorced, I guess). Wedding co-coordinator will manage everything for you… invite guests, arrange for limos, photographers, minister, receptions… the works. Just make sure you have your bride (or the groom) with you. If you are on a budget and in a hurry, you can get married with a drive-thru. It can be faster than getting your burger at a nearby McDonalds.
During my walks in Las Vegas, I did pass through many casinos. Each one of them appeared to be bigger than the other. Those small in size, had many tricks to invite customers. Girls performing on poles were a major draw as were $2 beer bottles. Not being a player, I could only enjoy seeing casinos making money.
Whilst walking on The Strip a visitor is bound to be tackled by a very enthusiastic bunch of boys and girls who offer business cards with telephone number of companies… essentially escort services. “Girls in 20 minutes” was a popular slogan! I was surprised to learn that prostitution is legal in the State of Nevada, except the Clark County in which falls the city of Las Vegas.
Well so much for “The Entertainment City”; ‘The City of Lights” or “The Sin City” if you so prefer.
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