Coming into Vegas I had conjured up many different (sometimes contradicting) images of what it would be like and what to expect when we arrived. I can tell you now that this is a direct result of too many nights spent whiling away the hours in front of CSI re-runs and bad romantic comedies (plus that Friends episode). For the main part I thought of Vegas as a typical big city with the small exception of an intense strip of casinos clogging up the centre, dotted here and there with petite wedding chapels and drenched in bright light... Other (more nostalgic) times I envisaged a small American town with a sparkling neon strip of colour running down its heart, full of excitement and chance. What we got when we arrived was a pleasant mixture of both, an extra dash of tackiness and a blustery 40 degree heat.
Our very first call to action was to stomp the strip (Las Vegas Blvd) and explore this unique urban melting pot! Our hotel (The Hilton Grand) stands behind Planet Hollywood and this meant that the safest and most direct route to the strip was via The Miracle Mile shopping mall. A healthy 2hrs later (after ducking into a few stores, watching two fountain shows grabbing a quick bite at La Salsa Cantina and an irresistible photo opportunity with the giant stripper statue) we were on the famous Las Vegas Blvd!
The atmosphere on the strip is utterly indescribable! You are surrounded by loud and obnoxious drunks with a vocally unashamed desire to gamble, drink and drool over strippers... And yet somehow you feel incredibly safe... We were handed nudie cards on every corner and promised endless nights of fun, frivolity and free drinks by nightclub reps... Countless bars and street vendors selling a wide array of alcoholic combinations in weird and wonderful vessels (I chose the giant, sparkly champagne bottle filled with Red Bull and vodka) and advertisements absolutely EVERYWHERE!
The street art of Las Vegas! A very small sampling of the fantastic neon that lights up the strip at night and makes you feel both glamorous and tacky at the same time.
After a day of settling in, we hit the outlet malls. Shopping in Vegas outlet malls is AMAZING! I parted with a measly $500 and walked away with a healthy amount of designer clothing, shoes and accessories from Burberry, Hillfiger, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Calvin Klein and Vans. I highly recommend you spend the money on a cab ride to these outlets (they are not on or near the strip) as it is well worth the dollars you will save if you are planning on shopping... If you don't plan on any shopping I suggest you scrap your original plan and go shopping.
Shopping aside, my favorite thing about Vegas is easily the showbiz. Every single major casino on the strip has at least one in-house show or gimmick of some description... In fact most have three or four! Examples are... Treasure Island with their Siren show that includes fireworks and dancing wenches, the famous Bellagio fountains choreographed to music, The gondola rides in the Venetian and the roller coasters of New York, New York. On top of this there is a very wide selection of musicians, magicians, comedians and theater shows, as well as several of the famous Cirque Du Soleil shows. Because of our limited time in Vegas we could only see a few shows (much to my dismay) so we chose Cirque du Soleil's "O" (performed in and on an incredible stage that turned into a massive indoor lake) and Holly Madison's "Peep Show". Both shows were outstanding! We were front row centre for "O" (the splash zone) and sat wide eyed throughout every jaw dropping act, clapping feverently as often as we could. Ross was pulled onto the stage for a dance with a clown and the crowd went wild! I left the theatre knowing I had seen something that I will never forget. We were also fortunate enough to have VIP seats for "Peep Show" which included exclusive tables by the stage. A fantastic group of performers dazzled us with their... unique talents... Holly Madison ruffled Ross' hair and I got a wink... All in all, a great night!
During our time in the great state of Nevada we decided that we should take some time to visit something more... culturally substantial... (if that isn't subjective then I don't know what is...). This cultural redemption took form in another luxury bus ride (this one was... less luxurious than the last) to the inspirational Hoover Dam. After watching an episode of some engineering documentary back in Australia (I am making it sound as though I get all my travel ideas from tv) I decided that I should probably take some time away from booze and strippers to appreciate the achievements of Man. Having paid for the deluxe tour we were rewarded with a $10 gift card and a classy book full of facts and figures about the dam. The book (written quite a few years ago) has become a treasure of mine because of the snaps of happy tourists in high waisted... acid wash... double denim... scrunchies and white runners. Upon arrival we where herded into a small cinema to watch a new age propaganda movie about the amazingness of America and the amazingness of what Americans could achieve and how amazing and forward thinking Americans were... You can see where this is going... Finally the good stuff came and we were taken underground and stood on top of one of the water bypass tunnels. This is where the water flies around the side of the dam and squeezes through huge pipes fitted with turbines that generate A LOT of power. This really was an amazing experience, you can literally hear and feel thousands and thousands of gallons of water surging under the floor beneath you (thankfully you can't see the thousands of gallons of water). This was followed up by the equally as impressive power generators themselves. Once again you could literally hear and see the electricity being generated by the tremendous force of the mighty Colorado River (geez now I sound like the propaganda documentary). Finally we toured the top half of the dam and I must say we were suitably impressed by that too. A great trifecta of awe inspiring engineering, man power and the force of nature made the Hoover Dam one of my favourite things about America... Oh also I got to stand in Nevada and Arizona at the same time... I cannot recommend this place highly enough!
The mighty Hoover Dam! Intake towers that look like something from a SciFi movie, One of four huge pipes that allows water to bypass the dam and generate a proverbial ton of power in the process, and the tunnels we used to see all this... Yep it felt like we were in a mine too...
Handy Shanwah hint: Stay longer! We booked a three night stay in a fantastic hotel suite and did not stop the entire time we were there. There is so much more to do in Vegas than drinking and gambling and three full days wasn't even close to enough time there. I would suggest at least a week, especially if you plan on visiting Hoover dam and the Grand Canyon
My final thoughts on Vegas... Both underrated and overrated. For a city with such a massive focus on alcohol and gambling it sure packs a cultural punch.