Once upon a time Carol and I talked about coming to Vegas to get married, yeah, we are that classy 😉 Well that didn’t happen, instead choosing Gretna Green to tie the knot in 2017. We also planned to come to Vegas for our friend Jane’s big birthday but that didn’t happen either.
The question was, would we ever make it to Vegas?
We’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
Not a horse, I meant a bus. Well it’s around 6 hours from Los Angeles by bus, so it would be rude not to as we were in the area. A mere $24 dollar fare each with Flixbus and we were on our way from downtown LA to the strip!
Las Vegas is a Spanish name, which translates to The Meadows. Someone was having a laugh when they thought up that name 😊 It has surprised me just how much desert there is in the USA. Not the rolling dunes of the Sahara, but miles and miles of barren land. Sagebrush dotted around the landscape, and of course patches of Joshua trees, but all growing on very dry, dusty land. We have not seen any meadows here. The journey was uneventful and took 6 hours on the bus but we had arrived!
First impressions were that the place is huge! Much bigger than either of us imagined. When seen on a TV show or in a movie, it’s a very quick shot of the strip. And I for one thought that was all there was to it. When travelling by bus, you have a choice of two places to get off in Las Vegas; The Strip or Downtown, the two stops being a little over 6 km apart. We got off at the Strip, well just behind it to be honest, behind The Fashion Show/Forever 21, and disappointingly close to Trump Tower. You are immediately struck by the huge electronic billboards, some taking up almost a whole side of a hotel!
A short wait for our Uber, and 10 minutes later we had joined the 40 minute long queue to check in at our hotel.
The Hilton Grand Vacations on the Las Vegas Strip
This is a hotel without a casino, and is situated on the northern end of the strip, around 2.5km away from the busiest part of town around The Bellagio, The Venetian, Caesar’s Palace etc.
A plain looking building, with no neon lights, but it more than does a job. It is one of the less expensive places to stay, and we arrived on July 5th, when prices had practically halved from the national holiday prices of the day before. We have a light and airy good sized room with a 22nd floor view of the nearby mountain range, and close to Circus Circus on one side and the Strat on the other. Or should that be the 21st floor? They are evidently a little superstitious here because there is no 13th floor.
The only downside here being the long walk home most evenings. There is no overload of Uber drivers here, sometimes the app only finding 5 cars in the area, and they’re not cheap either at around $20 a mile. As a result, the bus service here, the Deuce, is very heavily used, but they run about every 15 minutes, and often don’t stop to pick you up because they are already full. There are some trams that run between some of the bigger hotels such as Mandalay Bay and the Venetian. The Strip has 29 major hotels and casinos, and 19 of them are owned by just two companies, MGM and Caesar’s. They are well connected 😉
A Unique Place in the World?
Well, not quite! As huge as it is, Las Vegas is a fraction of the size of a country we have previously visited, a place whose entire economy is based on casinos: Macau. At the time, gambling was illegal in China, and in Hong Kong, so people would travel from all over to visit Macau and gamble to their hearts content there. Wanting to outdo the Americans, they built their casinos even larger than their Vegas equivalents, though to be fair, it was the same chains, the Venetian, Wynns etc so really the owners were only outdoing themselves. Below is a comparison of both the Macau and Las Vegas Venetian decor.
The Macau casinos are bigger, have more game tables, more slot machines, more hotel rooms and financially, the Cotai Strip outperforms the Vegas Strip by a ratio of more than 4 to 1, with Macau raking in about 28 billion dollars compared with Vegas’ 6 billion.
Of course we were never intending to be in a casino 24/7, so we arranged a few other visits and activities as detailed below.
SlotZilla Zip over the Strip – Super-Hero Zoom (Zoomline)
We nearly got caught out here. We assumed that something called zip over the Strip would be on the Strip, where we had seen ziplines in place near to the Linq. Our plans for the day were to walk down the strip, stopping at a few casinos on the way so we would be near to the Linq around the time we had our Fremont Street Experience booked. It was a good job we checked our ticket, Fremont Street is downtown, a few miles away. Cue frantic research on the bus network working out how we would get there. We made it via the Deuce bus.
We met Mia and Josie in the queue for the Zipline, and later exchanged photographs we took of each other taken in the queue. Our experiences, leaving from the equivalent of an eleven story building were fun and ran fairly smoothly until being brought to an abrupt halt when they apply the brakes at the far end. From 35mph to zero in the space of 2 seconds is going to jolt you a bit.
Mía didn’t have that experience, with her line hitting a problem some way short of the intended end point, leaving her dangling high above Fremont Street and needing to be rescued! It was a fun but short experience and the included digital prints were way better than we thought.
The Grand Canyon
Like many who had travelled before us, we combined our visit to Vegas with a trip to the Grand Canyon. Well it’s a canyon, and it is grand enough to warrant a blog post of its own, which can be found here.
Vegas and the Grand Canyon had similar weather whilst we were there, with temperatures reaching 45°C each day. That was too hot even for the locals, but apparently this was hotter than a typical Vegas in July and all kinds of records are being broken. Today it is forecast to reach a new high of 117°F or 47.2°C! We’ve had some late nights and early mornings here, and on one occasion it was 35°C at 3am…
“You Must See a Show when in Vegas”
Is something many people would say. We didn’t disagree. The trouble is, most people plan their Vegas trips much longer in advance than we had. Many shows had sold out in advance of our arrival and decision to find tickets. From the small list of acts available during our visit, we chose to go and see Penn and Teller at the Rio.
Many of the electronic billboards around town are promoting acts with residencies at the famous hotels. The likes of Katy Perry, Celine Dion, Bruno Mars, and very surprisingly to me, Morrissey of The Smiths fame. Personally I couldn’t imagine a less Vegassy pop star, but here he is… Anyway, moral of the story is to do your research and book your tickets early if you want to see some of the biggest names in showbiz.
The Penn and Teller show was around an hour and a half long, and they were very happy to be back on stage at the Penn and Teller Theatre at The Rio after an enforced absence of 421 days.
The patter was smooth and occasionally raised a laugh, the tricks executed flawlessly, and I have no idea how they do what they do, but for me the 90 minutes felt like so much longer. I was bored, and there are really very few occasions I can honestly say that.
The Mob Museum
A visit here was recommended by my former colleague Ann Timlett, thanks Ann 🙂 We had a very busy schedule that day but we managed to squeeze in a short visit, paying a happy hour price of $19.95 each to visit for the last (almost) hour of their day.
They recommend you should take around an hour and a half to see all the exhibits here, so time was against us, especially as some of the exhibits were video films of Mafia gang murders, bodies and trials.
Vegas was built on dirty money, the Mafia bosses thinking casinos were the perfect way to launder money gained from other illicit rackets such as protection and drug smuggling.
It was visionary of someone to think it was a good idea to build a city in the desert, fill it with bright lights, casinos and dancing girls and imagine it would become somewhere famous worldwide that would still be thriving decades later.
The Linq High Roller
According to Wikipedia, the High Roller is a 550-foot tall, 520-foot diameter giant Ferris wheel on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada, United States of America.
Owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment, it opened to the public on March 31, 2014 and is currently the world’s tallest Ferris wheel. Compare this to the The London Eye, which is 443 feet tall and has a diameter of 394 feet. We booked our tickets in advance online, and still had to join a 150 metre long queue. With up to 30 people in a pod, the queue moved quickly, and soon we were at the top, with fantastic views of all of Las Vegas.
It cost $38 each for the 30 minute experience which was well.worth the money.
One of the most famous Las Vegas landmarks due to its size and visibility across the town, we had to visit the Strat; especially as we saw it every day from our hotel. We paid $28 for a visit to the sky pod and 1 ride at the top.
The lift took us up to the 108 floor where we departed and took in the views from the lounge bar area. Here you can walk round and get full 360 degree views.
Just up one level on floor 108 you will find the rides. Today only 1 was working so we had no choice as to which one we went on.
X-Scream is a ride at the top of the Strat SkyPod in Las Vegas, Nevada. At a height of approximately 866 feet, is the world’s third highest amusement ride, located on top of the The Strat. Carol and I got front row seats so had absolutely the best view of Las Vegas, and way up to the Hoover Dam in the distance as our ride pointed up, then swung down and catapulted us forward over the edge of the top of the Strat. 4 times!
It was fun 😊
We went to the Bellagio to see the famous fountain displays the first night we arrived; it had to be done and they really are impressive!
Soon afterwards we were inside the casino. Carol went straight for the slot machines. She put in a dollar, pressed the button and… Nothing. In goes another dollar, same result. And a third time…At this point she’s out of cash, so I give her $20. I should point out we generally don’t carry much cash, as Vegas these days take cards every where. She put the $20 in the same machine, pressed the button and… Well to be honest, no huge flashing lights, no money clattering out of the machine either,but it was a winner! A ticket came out, which she took to the cashier and she was handed $372.50 😊 We celebrated by having a vodka each, which cost $50, that’ll teach me to find out the cost before ordering, though to be fair it was a good quality vodka, and a very large one. So on day one we’re 322 bucks up, and don’t forget the fiddy cents 😉
Over the course of the 4 days we were there we visited as many casinos as we could. The Bellagio was a preconceived favourite of ours, and remained so after we left. With the fountains and the beautiful architecture it just seems to have a touch of class about it. We were almost sorry we had taken money from them. Almost 😊
Had to be done; the fake ceilings and St Mark’s square were impressive but not as impressive as the one in Macau. You can get gondola rides through the canal system both inside and out; we didnt do that as we had been to Venice for real but could imagine this would be fun for anyone who hadn’t before.
New York, New York
This one was recommended to us as it had attractions similar to Coney Island. The outside architecture was certainly impressive with replica buildings of New York. There is a rollercoaster and we tried to go on it but there was a massive queue and you had to book a slot online so we didn’t manage it.
The buildings are impressive and the Coney Island section is great for kids but not really for adults. It was very busy when we visited so we didn’t stay so long.
Our nearest hotel; we visited to see free circus acts which seemed to be about every hour. A really popular hotel for kids and the circus acts we saw were not all that; Carol is not a fan of circuses anyway so we only stayed for the one performance which was an acrobatic act and a clown playing with a diablo . If it is your thing though and you want something free to do come here and watch them.
We went in many others, Paris, Caesars Palace, Rio, Harrahs, etc but most of them were for the casino rather than the attractions. Paris has a replica Eiffel Tower with a restaurant at the top; we didn’t go up there. We also hear there were zoo animals in the Mirage but didn’t see them for ourselves.
Food and Drink
The first night, ater we had a long bus ride and check in we went out to find food and this was harder than you’d think! All the restaurants we walked past were closed; even the subway we saw was temporarily closed (even though it said 24 hrs). We ended up standing in a queue for nearly an hour to enter a Denny’s restaurant which was really uncomfortable in the heat. The food was actually really good and we ate in Dennys a couple of times whilst in Vegas. The other place we ate was Subway; we weren’t too adventurous with our food and we did have a kitchenette at our accommodation so we had breakfast and snacks there. Drink in bars or casino bars was hugely expensive especially for spirits which was what we were drinking; however we managed to get many complimentary drinks in the casinos. Good form here is to tip your server and that is certainly appreciated and remembered by the server who will come up again and ask if you want another 😉
My game of choice was Blackjack, while Carol preferred to play the slot machines, though she made a profit playing Blackjack too. We made money at The Strat, The Golden Gate, The D, New York New York, Binions, and Caesar’s Palace, our good run being brought to an end by the Mirage, but that was the only casino that got the better of us.
The end result was Vegas didn’t break us, and we didn’t break Vegas either, but we did break even, or possibly even left slightly up. There wasn’t much in it either way and in the meantime we had lots of fun and excitement, and more than a few free vodkas that more than made up for the $50 ones we had purchased earlier. When we were cashing in tickets, others were withdrawing cash from their credit cards, and on one Blackjack table I played on I saw someone put down $500 on the table, and a losing streak ensured that was all gone in under 2 minutes.
We say Vegas didn’t break us financially, however we left absolutely knackered! The casinos are open 24 hours and we never had a clue what the time was, we had copious drinks, walked a lot and basically had a ball! After our 4 night break we were exhausted. On our final night we were home by 4am, stayed up until 5 to finish our packing, and were up by 6am ready to catch a bus for a 10 hour journey to our next destination, Tucson, Arizona. We were now ready for a proper break!
An exhausted Nigel & Carol xx