Obviously its reputation for gaming and hedonism precedes it – but even if you’ve never played blackjack in your life and your clubbing days are over… it’s still a place that you must visit at least once. Why?
Because it’s a city where you can live out your fantasies, and your dreams can really come true…
Mine did this summer when I got married by a singing Elvis at the Graceland Chapel in the city. OK, it might not be that original (800 or so people a day do it in Vegas), but for me and my wife it was the chance to follow in the footsteps of the rock stars and movie stars and fulfil a fantasy in style.
You see, in Vegas you don’t have to be rich to live well or experience quite extraordinary things. You can stay in fantastic five star hotel, travel by limousine, go to great restaurants, fly in helicopters and see world class shows in an affordable way, as long as you are prepared to plan a little ahead and play by Vegas rules.
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The city is home to over 150,000 hotel rooms, and 17 of the largest hotels in the world, including the mighty MGM Grand which is the largest and has more than 5,000 rooms and suites alone. Whatever your budget, you will find somewhere great to stay in Vegas. Of course most of the rooms are within casino complexes – from the grandeur of European-themed Venetian or the Bellagio to the ultra-modern hotels which make up the CityCentre complex on the strip. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get in Vegas. So when you check in, wherever you’re staying – make sure you ask for an upgrade – you’ll be surprised how quickly a standard room can become a suite in low season if there are spare rooms. This is because the casino wants to keep you happy – because they want you to stay in the complex and spend your money.
If you do fancy a flutter, New York New York is definitely one of the more friendly places to play blackjack on the strip – but if you want a real taste of vintage Vegas gambling, make sure you get yourself down to Fremont Street in the old town. Home of the Golden Gate, the city’s oldest surviving hotel/casino, the area is a frenetic hive of activity which has been recreated on screen time and again by Hollywood’s elite. The casinos tempt you in with 99 cent shrimp cocktails and hope to keep you there with franticly paced games of blackjack overseen by scantily-clad dancing girls. The atmosphere on the streets is electric as bands play and revellers shoot past on a zip wire that goes from one end of the covered walkway to the other.
If you want something more than shrimp cocktail whilst you’re downtown – why not try the Heart Attack Grill – you won’t see this place in the movies. Certainly one of the more novel eateries in Vegas – the friendly diner requires that you put on a surgical gown when you enter their world of politically incorrect, artery busting fun. If you’re over 600 lbs, and are happy to prove it on the scales provided, you’ll get a free burger. Frankly, if you went there too often – you soon would be eating gratis everyday, as all the food and drinks are massively oversized and calorificly bad for you. Indeed, the 1.5kg Quadruple Bypass Burger at 9,982 calories is certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most calorific burger per ounce, ever. Eat it in good health, my friends.
It’s a bit of a trek from the downtown back to the strip – and in 40 degree heat and with a 10,000 calorie burger in you – you’ll probably want to get a cab. Not just because they’re the quickest way to get around – but because taxi drivers in Vegas know everything and everyone. If you’re stuck for inspiration, hop in a taxi and tell the driver what you want to do. Almost all of them have commission deals with clubs, casinos and restaurants around the city and can not only make recommendations – but will usually be able to get you past any queues and get you a discount. They’re also a famously talkative (and at times rather intriguing) breed. If you want to hear great stories about what movie star stays where and does what in this town – a Vegas taxi driver is the best play to go.
But if you want real Vegas style – surely it’s limo time. Although prohibitively expensive in most places, the Vegas limousine market is extremely competitive. In fact for groups of four or more on a reasonable journey from one end of the city to the other, it’s sometimes cheaper to go by limo than cab. Hey, why not make an evening of it, buy some champagne and take a tour of the city… even better, perhaps have an air conditioned ride up to the Hoover Dam (about 40 miles away). It’s possible to even go to the Grand Canyon by limo – although it’s a long drive, so if you’re planning to see one of nature’s great marvels – it’s better (if more expensive) to go by helicopter or plane.
And if flying’s your thing, why not take a cruise up and down the strip by night by helicopter. There is no better way to take in the majesty of the great city, and if you shop around online – you’ll get in the air in Vegas cheaper than almost anywhere else on earth.
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With your feet firmly back on the ground, don’t forget to see at least one show while you’re in the city. From the stunning Cirque de Soleil shows at the Mirage and the MGM to Penn and Teller’s magical adventures at the Rio, Vegas shows are the greatest on earth. Taking place in enormous purpose built arenas within the casino complexes – you will never have an experience like this at a theatre anywhere else. Many casinos offer discounts to their guests, but if you shop around or incorporate show bookings with your hotel booking you can often make big discounts. However, if you want great seats and don’t want to spend a cent – you can always “earn” free tickets by watching a time-share presentation. These deals are genuine (you’ll get offered them all the way along the Strip)- but will take a few hours, so only get involved if you’re prepared to commit.
But something you must throw yourself into feet first in Vegas is eating. It’s one of the most extraordinary culinary environments you will find in any city. If you like great value and an enormous selection – it’s got to be buffet time for you. Almost all the casinos have buffet restaurants serving three different sessions a day (although in reality most all blend into one – it’s just the price changes as the day goes on). You can get buffets from a couple of bucks a head – but if you’re prepared to stump up a little more – you can eat some amazing buffet food for twenty or so dollars per person, often including a decent selection of drinks. Some of the best casino buffets can be found at the Wicked Spoon (in the Cosmpolitan casino), the buffets at the Aria casino and the Bellagio – where much of Ocean’s Eleven is set.
But buffet eating is just the start, and there’s been an explosion in cuisine in the city over the last decade with some of the best and most well-respected chefs opening restaurants in the area – including our very own Gordon Ramsay who has a steak restaurant at Paris. From Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist at the Mandarin Oriental to Joel Rubochon at the MGM Grand – there’s Michelin Stars and gourmet royalty littering the Strip. But if this might stretch your budget too far, most of the major casinos have some great fine dining experiences, which if you’re willing to book in advance and shop around online can end up being very affordable. A good example of this is Sage at the Aria which offers fantastic tasting menus and paired wines at very competitive prices in the early evenings.
And still we have only just scratched the surface of this extraordinary city. Did I mention it’s almost always hot and all the hotels have fantastic pool complexes, spas and sports facilities. Did I say it’s only a half an hour flight from the beaches of Los Angeles and the excitement of Hollywood? Did you know it’s home to art galleries and museums that are the envy of the world?
Vegas is where dreams come true, and normal people like you are I get to spend time living like the rich and famous in the Nevada sun. It’s no wonder it’s been the subject of so many movies, and will continue to intrigue and entertain us for many generations to come.
Viva Las Vegas!
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