The Glitz of Vegas

Thursday 25 to Saturday 27 June

We returned to Los Angeles after the wedding, exhausted after days of celebrating. Ian had spec’d out an itinerary that would take us back and forth, north and south through the whole of the USA. He had maps embellished with stickers and coloured markers to direct us to the best places. Peta had insisted he remove about 2/3 of the stickers, arguing that we couldn’t see ‘everything’ in our allocated time.

We left Los Angeles, by now a comfortable stop over, and drove into the Mohaje dessert. A brown plume crossed the sky, from a wildfire burning south in California.

Two days was more than enough to spend in Las Vegas. It is true that we did not see every sight, gamble, get married (again) or see shows. But we certainly got a feel for the place.

Our first experience was registering at the hotel. At the entrance were a couple of brides milling around with cigarettes and bottles of water in hand.

We had trouble finding the hotel reception – it was tucked away behind the hundreds of gaming machines. Of course we are in Las Vegas.

We had to queue to register. Our super friendly attendant told us that there were 500 registrations that day.

Hotels here boast thousands of rooms. The largest capacity hotel is the Wynd with 4000 rooms. A new Asian themed hotel will open in 2017 with 6000+ rooms and will be built around a themed Great Wall of China. It is considered that the Asian visitors, especially those from China are not looked after well enough in Vegas, and this hotel will cater for their cultural and dietary preferences.

It was hot here. We realised how hot when we tried to walk from our hotel, the Stratosphere, to the strip, about 1.5km. There are many vacant lots on that part of the road so there was no relief from the searing heat. Temperatures are in the range of 40C to 45C.

The vacant lots, as we later learned, were where past ventures had gone broke. Rather than see half-finished buildings, they are mostly dismantled.

We found the Fashion Mall, beautifully air conditioned, and caught our breath. A little shopping and a cool drink reenergised us. We braved the heat again to see some of the sights and then found the up-market Ceasar Palace shopping mall. The mall was replicating an Italian shopping street with shop fronts of Tuscan style and a curved ceiling representing the sky. As it was dusk when we entered, the completely indoor mall was lit as if the sun was going down. All the big brands were there like Armani and Tiffany. There were plenty of unabashed window shoppers, or perhaps shoppers who had big wins.

At the end of the arcade at Caesar’s Palace was a fountain to Atlantis, and a pretty tacky reenactment of the final days of Atlantis with robotic figures and fire and water. All speculative of course.

The empty streets during the heat of the day had now become a seething mass of people. We were surprised at the number of young children that we saw in and around the gaming areas. Signs suggest that they should not stay in these areas, but that is nearly impossible as every hotel foyer and reception area is full of gaming machines.

Having learnt our lesson about trying to walk in Las Vegas, we drove to Fremont Street in the older part of town. Even mid-morning is was blistering hot, so the covered walkway on Fremont Street was most welcome. This part of Las Vegas is the old glitzy area with lots of flashing neon lights, lots of street vendors and lots of scantily clad people offering photo opportunities.

We are used to travelling on our own and don’t often meet up with people we know, so it was delightful to catch up with James & Naomi Bell on the last day of their honeymoon. They had cruised the Caribbean, stayed in a resort in Mexico and tried their luck in Vegas. We used the time to explore the tower that is part of the Stratosphere Hotel.

The tower is the tallest building in Las Vegas and sits mid way between the strip and downtown. Here you can free fall 865 feet (controlled, of course), or try the merry-go-round or slider on the roof. We chose to watch.

Totally back-to-front, we left the hop-on hop-off bus to last. It has two routes. One toured through ‘the strip’ with the high rolling hotels and amazing architecture. Our guide Brian was an enthusiastic 22 year old who had lots of stories up his sleeve to keep us entertained. The other toured  ‘downtown’, the original Las Vegas where hotels are smaller, restaurants are cheaper and gambling odds are better. Our guide Rose was tired after a late work night, but also tired of the journey. It made this tour somewhat mediocre in contrast.

We didn’t wage any bets in Vegas – that really isn’t our scene. We did however come away with an understanding of how this desert town ticks.