We flew into Las Vegas on what was almost a private jet, being a half full Embraer ERJ-145. A quick cab ride later we’d arrived at the Bellagio and set about getting checked in. After oohing and ahhing at the room we set out to discover the Secret Pizza place which was right next door. [Casino Counter: 1]
We’d had the Secret Pizza place recommended to us and it sounded quite cool – a restaurant that doesn’t exist. I envisaged secret doors, passcodes and handshakes to get in but upon further research it was just down an alley. Good enough! It was on level two of The Cosmopolitan, the next hotel from the Bellagio on the Strip, so we headed over. [Casino Counter: 2] Ange said I had to get a shot of her in the big red shoe in the foyer!
We discovered the unmarked corridor signifying the entrance to the restaurant and emerged into…
…a pretty normal looking pizzeria. OK, no signage, but it was just a pizza place.
The pizza was ok, washed it down with a beer (me) and a soda (Ange).
And then we were off again!
An icon! We headed over to check it out [Casino Counter: 3]. We noticed that there were posters for some pretty good acts coming through and playing at the Palace, so we headed to the ticket office to see when and whether we were lucky enough for our trip to coincide with their shows.
The posters promised Jerry Seinfeld and Phil Collins so we were very excited as we got close to the booths. I breathlessly asked if they had tickets left for Seinfeld only to be told that our stay in Las Vegas was the worst timed ever, as all the great acts would be starting their time at Caesar’s in November and we were leaving on the 19th October. Except Phil Collins. He was starting on the 19th. At night. After we’d left. Lol. #shipspassinginthenight
We headed back to the Bellagio to watch the fountains while eating room service.
Gold Coast for Brekky
I balked at spending $26 (per person! plus tax! plus tip!) on the breakfast buffet at the Bellagio, so we researched our Las Vegas brochure to find a cheaper one. Not surprising, all the hotels on the strip were equally as expensive, but there was a hotel off the strip, relatively nearby, who offered a $10 buffet! Bargain, sign me up. So we walked over to the Gold Coast Hotel [Casino Counter: 4].
Now America is not really built for pedestrians, Las Vegas especially. While there was a footpath alongside the road, it seemed the only people using it were the homeless and joggers. One itinerant gentleman who happened to be in front of us disappeared from view as the footpath crossed the freeway and we looked around as we passed the spot of his Houdini move to discover a path of sorts under the bridge.
Passing on the opportunity to explore a whole new world, we kept walking in the morning heat until we hit the hotel.
There we again trudged all the way through the gaming floor until we reached the restaurant (I’m starting to see a pattern here). There we waited in line with an assortment of elderly folk clutching some sort of card to discover that the $10 per person is only for members of their loyalty club (hence the cards) and that our price was $12 each. Still better than $26 we thought and gladly paid.
It was an amazing spread with pretty much everything you could have imagined. A long line of counters offered everything from breakfast potatoes, to waffles and eggs at least four ways. One thing I couldn’t see were any drinks. Once I got back to my table I could see why – all the drinks had to be ordered from your waitress.
Ange hadn’t been able to see any milk for her cereal so asked our waitress for some, and it came in a glass, much to my amusement and her puzzlement.
I went back for a fruit plate (yes I’m counting the mini donuts as fruit – sue me!). By the time we left there was quite the line of people waiting to come in, the odd family but by and large an elderly crowd.
We decided to get an Uber back to the hotel. We could have walked again, but it was so tedious in the hot sun and just made us tired so we succumbed to the American way and took a car. Even with the Uber and the increased per person cost of the breakfast, we still came out ahead. And assuming the health benefits of the walk weren’t obliterated by the pollution we breathed in getting there, we came out ahead health-wise as well.
We checked out of the Bellagio and wheeled our luggage down the strip, past the weirdest tribute to New York I’d seen, to the Luxor [Casino Counter: 5], and checked in.
Once we’d checked in, we didn’t want to go too far for lunch and discovered, nestled on the mezzanine floor, a food court with a bunch of fast food restaurants. Best of all they were cheap! Ange got a weird salad thing with eggs and I got a chicken burger with fries from “Original Chicken Tender”.
Being so close to New York, New York we decided to head over. I’d heard that there was a roller coaster which dropped over the edge of a hotel at great height, so we headed over to see if that was at New York New York.
New York, New York
Inside a suitably garish casino [Casino Counter: 6], we eventually found signposts directing the way to the roller coaster. This took us through the arcade, big yellow markings on the floor making sure we didn’t get lost. We eventually made it to the top where I insisted Ange check to see if she was tall enough to go on the ride (minimum limit 4’6″, Ange well and truly over that at 5’2″). She wasn’t pleased.
But it turned out that the rollercoaster I’d been told about, definitely wasn’t this one – that was at Stratosphere – this one was a pretty tame one, so we headed back to the Luxor and thought about dinner.
On the way back we tried to scout out where the tour bus to Hoover Dam would pick us up from the next day, which necessitated walking along an overpass from the Luxor to the Excalibur and then out through the gaming floor [Casino Counter: 7] to pop out in a semi circular loading zone full of buses. Bingo!
Night on the Strip
We were relaxing in the room at the Luxor when all of a sudden we realised we hadn’t taken a photo of us at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign! I’d wanted to ever since working at TripAdvisor in London. The offices there were themed around a different continent per floor, and the top floor was all about the Americas.
The dining room in the office was fitted out to look like an American diner with a soda fountain, video games and tucked into the corner was a miniature Welcome to Las Vegas sign (it wasn’t even the most impressive floor – level 3 was themed after Africa and a large common area was decked out as a safari with huge stuffed toy lions, zebras and elephants).
So off we went, electing to walk because the night was balmy and the south end of the Strip very much quiet. Next door to the Luxor was the Mandalay Bay, the scene of the terrible mass shooting in 2017.
Anyway we got down to the sign and there’s a queue of tourists waiting to pose underneath it. I can see why, when you take a photo without queuing the contrast between the dark of the night and the brightness of the sign collude to either over or under exposing your photo. We do the best we can (bugger queuing!) and head back along the strip towards Vegas proper.
On the way back we discover The Little Chapel of the West, one of a large number of sweet little wedding chapels cashing in on drunken promises. We’re just taking photos outside (that’s Ange’s ring finger, I assure you!) when the doors open and Elvis leads a group of people out, unfortunately no way of knowing if it’s a wedding party or a tour. Celebrity sighting? Check!
We’re getting hungry by this point and just want anything to eat, when I notice in the near distance a McDonalds. Oh well, better than nothing. As we get up to it we notice that the dine-in is closed and it’s only available for drive through. We briefly consider walking through the drive through before moving on. Nearby is a Panda Express and so we get some franchise Asian food.
Mission accomplished – cheap food and pictures of the Welcome sign, so back we went to the hotel.
We checked out of the hotel and got our luggage put in storage, then headed out to meet our Hoover Dam tour bus.
We’d been promised the “Ultimate Hoover Dam Tour” and the Excalibur was the last of the seven hotel pickups that they provided, so the bus was almost full by the time we got on. We selected seats and settled in as the driver navigated his way to the freeways which would take us to the Dam.
All the while the tour guide gave a run down of what was going to happen, sprinkled with jokes and stories – for this was a Comedy tour. Ange had selected it based on the fact that it went right inside the Dam, so it seemed that it was the most complete, and the humour was just the icing on the cake [Ed.note – I hadn’t actually realised it was a Comedy tour].
After driving through Boulder City where the workmen on the Dam had lived while creating the Dam, we parked up beside a bridge which overlooked the Dam. Here we walked along the bridge to get some great shots which showed the Dam in context with its surrounds.
Then it was back on the bus and we went down to the Dam itself, driving over the Dam and then returning to the parking building, stopping briefly to get off. While the bus disappeared to park we headed along the top of the Dam to inspect it from the outside.
Seeing as it was built in the 1930s the brass statues on top were reflective of the Art Deco style. They were the work of Oskar J. W. Hansen.
We made out way along the top of the Dam to take in the views on either side. On the left we checked out the intake towers and on the right the drop down to the water along the face of the Dam.
After going down a whole bunch of steps becasue the escalator was broken, we went through airport type security into a holding area. There they took our photo against a green screen and we waited in a queue with a school group.
The group leader gave the kids a speech about keeping quiet but it only dented the cacophony briefly before the decibels returned to their original height. Eventually we reached the front of the queue to be admitted into a theatre where we watched a fifteen minute movie on the making of the Dam.
And then we were lead away to the lifts and taken down into the bowels of the Dam itself. It was intriguing to see the layout of the pipes and tunnels and to see the layout of the Dam. It looked like an alien!
Our tour guide was very informative and matter of fact, answering questions and giving the import information. I couldn’t help but think he looked a little like John Malkovich. Ange didn’t agree but I think they shared some mannerisms which made the resemblance more than just a physical likeness.
We’d been counted into the lift and they ensured that the space was maximised to ensure an efficient trip through the exhibits.
In the great turbine hall on the Arizona side of the Dam. The Dam straddled the state line between Arizona and New Mexico with minimal difference between the two.
After we finished the tour of the inside of the dam we had a little bit of time and decided to check out the spill way on the near side of the dam where overflow would go. It was an out-of-the-way area, where not many people went so we had a pretty unique view.
The look back at the dam from the lake side managed to capture the dam, intake towers and the bridge which we’d originally looked down from.
And then it was time to get back on the bus and head back, stopping off at a restaurant on the way. We were given little menus to make our choices of what to eat and then these were collected and totalled and rang through so that the restaurant could start making them before we arrived.
The food was ok (though “potato spuds” are just what the English call crisps and Americans call chips – disappointing when I was expecting french fries!) though anyone ordering lemonade ended up sending that back as there was an issue which made it taste insipid.
Replacements were forthcoming, so no danger. We sat in booths of four and so met another couple and chatted with them while we ate. Found out lots about them – the Americans do like to share!
Then we headed back to Las Vegas and were dropped off first. The guide gave everyone a ticket to his show and Ange was pleased that we got free ticket until I pointed out that with the one drink minimum per person, you were still having to pay something. Great deal for the guide though – built in mid-week audience!
All along the trip the guide had dropped some not so subtle hints about the tip that was expected: even putting it in print on a brochure that the expected amount was $15 per person for the guide and $10 for the driver. The constant badgering was really the only sore point on the tour, everything else was pretty good.
Once we got back we collected our luggage and headed to our next hotel. Which proved a bit of a trek.
We had decided to take the monorail to the Venetian, which involved getting on at the MGM Grand, getting off at the Flamingo because the Harrah’s stop was closed, and the walking the rest of the way.
So off we trekked, discovering that the monorail station could only be reached by going through the gambling floor of the MGM Grand [Casino Counter: 8], and at the other end, to get to The Strip, we had to walk through Flamingo’s gaming floor [Casino Counter: 9]. I can’t prove it, but I suspect the distance to the MGM Grand station, plus the distance we walked from the Flamingo’s station to the Venetian was somehow more than it wold have been to just walk from the Luxor to the Venetian.
Anyway, after exploring the Venetian [Casino Counter: 10] with all of its pools, we headed out for our last night in Vegas.
We started off with the Volcano Show outside the Mirage. This turned out to be very close to the Venetian and we found a little trick. You can watch the show from across the road at the Denny’s. It was good to be able to avoid the crowds that had built up looking for a good vantage point.
The elevation and the comfort of being able to sit down while the flames entertained made this quite a good option. Unfortunately the outdoor area was blocked off because of the high winds. Fortunately they let me go out there anyways. Unfortunately by the time I got out there the show had just stopped. Never mind.
We made a note of what times the show was on, just in case we wanted to see it later in the evening.
We’d heard that Fremont Street was where we needed to be – the place where people let their freak flag fly and let it all hang out. Apparently people became more nude as the night went by and it was a spectacle. Seeing as it was getting close to Halloween, we thought we’d be foolish not to check it out. We jumped in a cab and headed off.
It seemed to me that Fremont Street revolved around a huge mall area over which they’d stretched a canopy for shelter (not from the rain: from the sun!) and to shine fancy lights and advertising on. We wandered our way along it, taking in the sights. We’d been told that it doesn’t really get started until 10pm so we knew we were getting the PG version. We paused to watch a band in Halloween costumes rock out with gogo dancers and a light show.
High above us two levels of zip-lines operated the full length of the mall, the higher level offering a sit down riding style while those on the lower more of a Superman position. One superman-ing lady zoomed past with her friends and for whatever reason when they “landed” she did not and started moving backwards until she came to a halt over the crowd watching the music.
As the band finished their set, a staff member from the landing spot hooked on to the wire and came shimmying out to collect her and they headed back to the landing zone to cheers from the audience.
It was a good natured crowd, families with kids out this early, mixing with adults who were starting to get their drink on.
We’d be wandering along and then out of the corner of my eye I would catch another group of zipliners whizzing by – a little disconcerting but all part of the entertainment.
Probably my favourite part of Fremont was the Heart Attack Grill. It was a restaurant with a weighing platform out the front and signage indicating that if you were over 350lbs (about 160kg) then you ate for free.
I peered inside through the windows and saw that all the guests inside were wearing hospital gowns and some people had IV stands beside them. I was glad they specified it was the Heart Attack Grill: you’d hate for someone to think the medical theme was required due to food poisoning!
And so we bid Fremont Street farewell, too soon to get the full experience, but just a taster to whet the appetite. If we ever get back to Vegas we’ll be sure to save a night for everything it has to offer. We jumped a cab and headed back to the Mirage in time for…
The Mirage II
… a later showing of the Volcano Show. This time since we were so early and the hour later the crowds were thinner and we got right up close to the show. While the force of the flames had rattled the windows at Denny’s, this close we were kept toasty and warm. We could hear the music as well which you don’t get from Denny’s. Not indoors at Denny’s anyway.
And then we walked back to the Venetian. The next morning we breakfasted, checked out and took a taxi to the airport.
I didn’t hate Las Vegas as much as I thought that I would: I had very very low expectations. The city as a whole seemed hell bent on squeezing every last cent out of you (upgrade! tax! resort fee! tips!) and I saw ten more casinos than I really needed to.
I was told that I needed to embrace the tackiness while I was in Vegas and celebrate it, but with a few exceptions, I was never able to buy in to the style-over-substance attitude which the city is built on.