If Paris is the city of lights, New York the Big Apple and Dubai the city of gold … well, Vegas is all in one. From Ancient Rome and Egypt Pyramids, through the magic of fairytales and science fiction, all the way to Eiffel tower, Brooklyn Bridge and London Eye: Vegas has it all. And honestly, they are doing a pretty good job there in the middle of the desert.
I have been in Las Vegas twice: the first time just for two days, on our way from Los Angeles to San Francisco (yes, we made a “small” detour on our road trip), and the second time on business, when I visited Supply Side West trade show in November 2015. I took two days extra off because of the jet lag and all … I mean I am not a Superwoman, to adapt to 9 hours’ time difference overnight, right?
The show was held in Mandalay Bay, and for that reason the prices for staying there were ridiculously high. So I went for the closest affordable option within a walking distance to the venue and I chose the magical Excalibur. Some “walking distance” that was!
Trust me, nothing in Vegas is within walking distance.
Later, when I took the Hop On Hop Off one day tour, the guide on the Big Bus told us that hotel windows can be deceptive. They usually connect two stories, so the object appears closer. I don’t know if that is being built on purpose, so you can get tired and “rest” in every Casino on your way… or just for the hell of it. Ooooor … the tour guide made a joke at our expense. For 21$ plus the tip, to be precise.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend taking the Big Bus tour, because it takes you from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign (be prepared for the crowd beneath it), along the Strip, all the way to the Circus Circus, as the last stop on the red route. And from there on you can take the blue line, which goes along the Stratosphere (you might see some crazy people there paying to jump from the tower) towards downtown, crosses the lively Fremont street and returns. This part of the tour is a bit boring for my taste, but since it is included in the price and your legs are probably killing you, take it. It only lasts for about 20 minutes, I think. The Night tour is charming as well, since Vegas is the city of lights (sorry, Paris), but there is no need to pay those extra bucks – you can easily catch a glimpse of Vegas by night if you take the last “Strip” ride at about 7 pm, when it already gets dark. At least it did in November.
Anyway, it is usually too hot to walk the streets of Vegas during the day (except for the short winter period I guess), so the tour comes in very handy if you want to see all the famous Hotels and Casinos which are a real masterpiece. Sure, you can take the taxi or local busses as well, they are very cheap, but then you won’t be able to make all those fabulous shots. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It starts with that “Fabulous” sign which is in my opinion the least fabulous thing in Vegas. I mean, it’s just a sign, which looks much nicer on a fridge magnet. The first two beauties on the way are Mandalay Bay and Delano, a gorgeous “golden couple” of hotels, connected with a small express train (free of charge), which runs along the Luxor to the Excalibur as a final destination. Taking the train sounds ridiculous, since all of the mentioned hotels look so damn close. But after you have walked the Mandalay Bay (their Aquarium is supposed to be good, and the “beach” with those show off pools looked very classy) and reached Delano … well, just take the damn train!
Unless you are still fresh (as I mentioned, I visited the trade show there and was in no condition to take one single step further), then proceed towards the pyramid shaped Luxor where you can see the big statues of sphinx and pharaohs and maybe see the Titanic exhibition. I visited the real pyramids in Egypt and I have to say they made quite a good copy. The shot of Luxor I made from the bus is actually one of my Vegas favorites (check the Viva Las Vegas album on my Facebook page).
The next one in line is Excalibur, my magic castle hall, which is actually only magical from the outside. Honestly, you won’t miss anything if you just pass by, cross the bridge (with pretty awesome views in all directions) and reach the New York area. Since I am in love with the Big Apple, this part of Vegas was my favorite. The Statue of Liberty (by the way, it is about half size of its original version, and has male hands) stands in front of the New York, New York hotel, followed by a replica of Brooklyn Bridge. Make sure you get some good Italian coffee inside the hotel – the charming ambient reminds of Little Italy.
Across the street is the grand MGM, famous also for David Copperfield shows (the Big Bus tour guides will tell you there are many other street artist as good as David, for much lower price), and will forever stay in my memory as a hall of hell. I visited it on my last day, seeking for waterfalls which I never found, got lost at least 5 times and came out through some fake exit door, where no one could find me. And unfortunately I couldn’t find anyone as well. But that’s just me, don’t get discouraged by this little incident. (Little my ass, my legs still hurt, when I remember!)
Since I didn’t visit all the hotels from the inside and you probably don’t want to read my Vegas review for 3 hours, I will try to cut things short from here. Make sure to see the fountains in front of Bellagio during the day and night – both versions have their own charm. I think the water pops up every 15 minutes, so don’t worry, you don’t need to schedule your time for that. Caesar’s palace is gorgeous from the outside, while we have Celine Dion to thank for the Colloseum part – it was built just for her and she performs there regularly. Another masterpiece is the Venetian. Take the time to check it from the inside as well. Again, the night version is very romantic, when the water in those fake canals gets magical colors.
The “modern” part of the Strip, around Aria and CityCenter is a nice contemporary refreshment. The Veer twins, luxury residential towers which lean in opposite directions (about five degrees from center) are indeed eye catching.
And then there are Wynn and Encore. The richest and the most glorious of them all. Make the time and take your time. Even if your legs are about to fall off, trust me, these two giants are worth it. Especially if you learn about Mr. Wynn’s story. Once again, take that Big Buss tour, they will tell you all about it. (I swear to my dog I am not getting any commission for this.)
Choosing the right hotel
As I mentioned, I chose the Excalibur because of the trade show nearby. The location was totally ok, and since there is also a bus station very close to the hotel, I can easily recommend it further. However, I think that any of the hotels on the Strip serve their purpose … and that is to gamble until you drop. Although I am not the right person to advice you on that part of the fun (you can booohooo me as much as you like, I am just not into it), I did learn learn that the machines are all over the place. They start by welcoming you at the airport and they don’t forget to say goodbye when you leave as well. I think they even have them in oil stations …
Ok so back to choosing the hotel, I noticed that the prices can double on weekends, so if you are on a budget, it might be smart of you to take a room a bit off the Strip. Again, we probably don’t have the same motives to visit Las Vegas, so I recommend you to listen to your wallet and see the Hangover part one and two … and the rest is up to you.
If you are in the city for business (by the way over 22.000 trade shows and conventions are held each year in Vegas so if your job is related to global sales there is a very big chance you will end up there at least once in your life) and if you are not so much into gambling or sightseeing … and if you are a woman … well, you are definitely in the right place. To shop until you drop.
You can choose between the designers’ clothes in the Fashion Show Mall, with all the “big ones”: Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. Younger fashionistas with slimmer wallets can easily spend a couple of hours at the world’s biggest Forever 21 store, which is just around the corner. They say you also have to experience the Miracle Mile shopping, which located in the Planet Hollywood with 170 specialty stores and 15 restaurants. Well, I didn’t. Because I was saving myself for the Las Vegas Premium Outlet malls, especially the north one. It has 150 stores and is worth every blister. Make sure you have some spare plasters in your purse. Actually this goes for the whole Las Vegas experience. You can thank me later.
(other) Things to do
If you have an extra day to spend in Vegas and want to do some sightseeing, then take the half an hour drive towards Hoover dam, one of the great miracles of human architecture. It is indeed very impressive, especially if you read about its history and the making.
To those of you who have 2 days off, I strongly recommend taking a bit longer, actually about 6 hours’ drive to the Grand one. You can either rent a car or go there with a local travel agency. I prefer to do these things on my own, because I can stop on the way whenever and wherever I feel like it. And, if you are tired, you can rent some motel to spend the night there. But trust me, once you see the Grand Canyon, it will stay in your memory forever. (My Grand Canyon post will be published here in the near future). Before you decide to go there, read some reviews about the rims (some are better and closer than the others) and try to take the Skywalk. I envy you already.
However, if you don’t have much time to spend, then you should visit the Stratosphere Tower to see the city in all its glory and to experience a romantic sunset. The Eiffel Tower offers one of the best dining experience, but make sure to book it in advance, so you get a good seat. But don’t worry – if you are on a budget, you can visit any Vegas hotel for free and all of them can offer you their own unique experience. In fact, if you only have a couple of days, you will have more than enough to do just by watching their interiors.
At last, but definitely not the least, do try to throw a coin or two into one of the machines while you are taking the hotel tours. If you are a gambling rookie, then it might be a good idea to check the tricks casinos use to squeeze as much cash from you as possible. Start with the smallest change so you don’t spend too much (there I go again … sounding like your wife or mother) and make sure that the waitress sees you. If you just so much as pretend to gamble, she will bring you any drink for free. Well, for a tip, to be more precise. However, if the tip is too small, she probably won’t return. At least I wouldn’t.
And if you by any chance get lucky… do remember this review, which helped you to cash that BIG FAT CHECK.