Viva LAS VEGAS...
This is part of a series of travel stories, based upon the experiences of me and my wife, on our tour across America. Read more at
Sin City bills itself as the entertainment capital of the world. As a resort city, boasting many of the world’s biggest hotels and casinos, it is primarily renowned for gambling, shopping, fine dining, and nightlife. Not only one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, there also has been a recent influx of retirees and families. Host to the famous strip, it’s easy to see why this is a popular setting for many movies and television programs.
Vegas was our first point of entry on our Journey West and we arrived with our veins still pumping full of roller-coaster fueled adrenaline from our Florida stint. After some excessive coastering we were ready for a change of scenery and the backdrop provided by the City of blinding lights would be the perfect way to spark our sinful souls. We flew in at night and like gazelles caught in a headlight, the Vegas strip sucked our breaths away. We have arrived in the Silver State!
Independent perceptions are the cornerstone of preconceived expectations and with us being Vegas rookies, our anticipated prospects were based upon all the stories that escaped the “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” premise. Our pre-trip forecast predicted subtle spells of mischief, scorching casino-hopping trips with temperatures reaching highs of awesomeness, followed by gale winds of epicness. Conditions were perfect to indulge in the best that Vegas had to offer.
Our primary objective however was to find our way to our hotel and this also served as our first warning of how Vegas will subtly con you out of your dollars, without delivering on expectations. This trend of clandestine deceit would unfortunately remain a relentless constant throughout our Vegas stay. Nevertheless, after being robbed by our taxi driver of half a fortune to take us to our hotel, we gleefully had costume change à la Vegas style, and were ready to roll the dice. Feeling like naughty schoolchildren bunking class, we hopped onto a shuttle to the strip and arrived at the “little Apple” or more prominently known as “New York-New York” in Vegas. After a serious stint in actual New York, we felt like whizzes of the concrete jungle and were blown away by the ability of the hotel to capture the buzz of the city that never sleeps. We walked through replicas of the streets of Manhattan, faced a mini Statue of Liberty and were drawn like moths to a candle to the awesome rollercoaster encircling the hotel. Hotel number 1 and we realised the magnitude of these empires, when we nearly got lost after an extensive journey down its corridors. Inspired by some pre-trip tips, we decided that one should not linger too long in one place and therefore agreed that we must avert doing more than one thing at a time in a hotel. Embracing the legacy left by the Mafia we basically pretended to be on the run from the authorities, thereby ensuring constant stimulation – since it’s medically proven to prevent unintended powernaps. Deprived of time due to our return shuttle allowing for only 2 hours of exploring, we proved on our first evening that we could give the Godfather a go at being on the run as we blitzed through the MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, the Mandarin, Aria and Planet Hollywood.
Zombie-like, the wicked nature of the city arose as the nocturnal creatures materialised and we were exposed to the true grit of Sin City. The city’s personality was triangulated by an undertone of prostitution, gambling and binge drinking with a forged overtone of shows, dining and clubbing. Upon exiting New York we accidentally tailed a trio of married men, who were shamelessly escorted by a combo of “ladies of the night” who clearly did not share any of their surnames. Visible debauchery hung in the air while the distinct sounds of gambling orchestrated the soundtrack for wickedness. Unimpressed by the dysfunctional moral compass of the masses whom embark on this journey through the strip, we caught a ride back to our hotel. Our first evening was a concoction of the good and the bad with the highlights inspiring us for our return trip to the strip.
Vegas in the day undergoes a metamorphic change. Drunks are replaced by people nursing violent hangovers, gamblers become hobos, prostitutes become retirees sourcing the best show specials and Elvis impersonators become the norm. With the lights out, Vegas bears its lifeless soul. Nevertheless, we were there for a good time and fortunately there are two things that Vegas shares in abundance with the average South African likes – good beer and food. We therefore set forth on a mission to explore Vegas with an excuse to eat and drink like kings. We purchased a 24hour buffet ticket and went hotel hopping to pamper our taste buds with extravagant foods. This provided us with a disguised objective to shop and explore each destination – all the time carrying our covert alcoholic refreshments in our tag-along suitcase as per our tour norm. Also on the agenda was to chance lady luck, by throwing a couple of dollars down the thirsty throat of a one-arm bandit. Unable to recoup on travel costs with the roll of the dice, we embarked on our 2nd mission – to find a bargain Vegas show – all along eating and drinking our way through impressive Vegas menus. During this time two things were unceremoniously decided upon; firstly the fortunate show, who would later find in attendance two cheerful South Africans, would be Penn and Teller live! Secondly, the expensive and excruciating twelve hour round trip to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon (after our uninspiring Niagara Falls excursion), would be absent of this Afrikaans speaking duo for any planned trips while in Vegas. By dodging a bullet through skipping the Canyon trip, the double edged sword got sweet revenge by disappointing profusely through the Penn and Teller show. Unimpressive with forced humour, this show was a distinct paradox from the screened version on our TV’s. We lingered on with enthused spirits, all the time keeping our positive motto despite the perceptible deficiencies of Vegas. This constructive attitude proved a positive when we finally discovered the hidden gems of the city.
The hotels are impressive and each one has its own ambiance and story to tell even though some things become repetitive. Fortunately we decided against eloping when the reality of Vegas proved far less enchanting than one would believe. But there are some magic to be found still. None more so that “downtown Vegas”, predominantly consisting of Freemont street. Sordid and foul, the old strip makes you feel like an outlaw especially as you walk through the Golden Nugget casino, where the carpets are seedy and years of nicotine filled puffs still stains the air with a musky and cheap smell. Shaky characters feed this last stone saloon with their final dimes before dismal hopes are shattered. But in an attempt to turn the tide of downtown Vegas, the Freemont street experience was erected as a ceiling over the street. Here you can watch the outdoor mall’s ceiling tell little vignettes in laser lights and we were dazzled by classics from the band called Heart. We sang our lungs out as “Barracuda” mesmerized us in an epic display of lights above us. Afterwards we were ill-fated enough to experience a cliché Elvis impersonator on show, before being stunned by the superb skills of a street artist creating magic through spray-cans of graffiti bliss. We also used this opportunity to do some serious souvenir shopping. The remainder of the day also included a spectacular fountain show at the Bellagio (where all the Ocean Eleven movies were shot) and rollercoaster rides at New York and Circus Circus and lots and lots of good food and drinks. The stand-out meal however was shared with Joe and Lindy in Caesars Palace. Surrounded by the world’s premier fashion brands, marveled luxury structures, exotic pools and famous people, this truly is a Palace of grandeur. Featuring the largest buffet in Vegas, there’s a promise of unheralded food quality. With over 500 dishes from 9 distinctive regions of the world, these amazing meals (all prepared by Mater Chefs) are renowned through the streets of Vegas, thereby causing extensive queues. The four of us finally slipped in and decided that we might overstay our welcome at this luxury enterprise and hence ordered the bottomless drink special to pair with the all-you-can-eat Master Chef Buffet. This self-fulfilling prophecy probably became the luckless Americans worst nightmare, as we made the most of the obvious flaw in the fine print and remained seated for numerous meals in a near 7 hour marathon session at the table. Sampling exotic foods by the hordes, we also kept the prepaid tab running at breakneck speeds. Subsequent research was probably done after a first highly unprofitable evening at the palace, just to discover that the anomaly was caused by thirsty South-Africans. One of the master chefs also hailed from the south-most tip of Africa and probably pre-warned the kitchen on allowing Afrikaans speaking individuals on future endeavours. Proudly South African in more than residency, we walked away pleased, bursting and exhausted. In true Vegas fashion we falsely portrayed “richness” with our Caesars Palace stint, while being tight budgeted tourists. Thereby we fully embraced the city’s persona by leaving there looking like Vegas in the night but feeling like Vegas in the day – disappointed. We might not have made our millions, or have sinned in style, but we made our mark on Vegas, yet it failed to tattoo its transgressions on us.