‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ that’s what they say. Well that may be perfect for covering up the indiscretions of a Hangover style hen or stag party, but it’s not so good for a travel review… So, rapidly glossing over the details of what happened in the Crazy Horse Gentlemen’s Club, here is a brief review of what (and what not) to do on a brief whistle-stop visit to Sin City.
Let’s start with what not to do. We 100% don’t recommend to go in August. That’s what we did and although we knew Las Vegas is in the desert and would be hot, it really is H.O.T. Jet lagged 6am walks looking for coffee and breakfast in 39°C are not pleasant. Mid 40’s in the afternoon means a strategy of air-conditioned casino hopping to keep cool is necessary to progress along the strip. Secondly, don’t expect to win in the casinos! The excesses of Las Vegas weren’t built by rich benefactors so you can enjoy yourself at their expense. ‘Free’ drinks whilst you gamble aren’t really free. They are a tool to keep you sitting at the tables whilst the casino rinses you for every possible dollar and cent. The gambling is fun if you expect to lose. You will lose. I played Blackjack. I lost. Primarily a game of chance, but with the odds loaded in the casino’s favour, and a healthy dose of bad luck on my side, I lost $100 in exactly 3 minutes, and I didn’t even get a gin and tonic for my trouble. That was fun ! Las Vegas is not just about the gambling though (thank goodness !). For some it may be but they are missing the point. LV is Disneyland for adults. Fake, gaudy, loud, cheesy, excessive, expensive and lots of excitement.
So what to do in Las Vegas…
Start with breakfast. Breakfast is a big thing with most of the resort hotels offering expensive and lavish brunch spreads. We avoided those and went for more traditional diner breakfast instead. Denny’s diner is recommended for a good feed, but we also enjoyed Canters, located on a European-esque pedestrian walkway between the Flamingo & LINQ hotels. It’s a classic US diner, walls plastered with photos of the ‘original’ Canters Bros Delicatessen somewhere in LA, shouting chefs hunched over smoking griddles, and gum chewing waitresses with names like Dolores or Sandy. The pastrami and egg sandwich is all you will need to eat all day. At $13 it’s expensive for a sandwich but cheap for an all-day breakfast ! Oh, for two people with food, coffee, juice etc it will still set you back $50 but every time you open your wallet in LV, (at least) fifty bucks seems to evaporate. No kidding.
If $50 seems like pocket change to you big ballers, we recommend pushing the boat out and taking a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon. What a thrill ! Our pilot Cooper was as cool as his name, and he flew us to the Canyon, via the Hoover Dam. A half hour landing at the floor of the canyon to toast the trip with a glass of bubbly, then back swooping over the Las Vegas downtown district and the strip. Total cost for two, including limo transfers, snack lunch, bubbles and Cooper’s flying skills came in at $768. Not cheap but 100% worth it for once-in-a-lifetime trip. The Canyon really should be on everyone’s bucket list. It won’t disappoint.
Afternoons are best spent relaxing. Either in your room or by the pool. We stayed in a low/mid range option of the Luxor. The weirdest interior of a large building one can imagine, with sloping walls, and an elevator that lurches and rattles its way along the angled shafts. It’s a peculiar feeling moving horizontally as well as vertically in a lift. Lots of side glances and nervous smiles with other guests. However, we survived and the cost is reasonable – $70 per night per room, plus $30 resort fee, for a ‘Cleo pyramid king deluxe’ room with plenty of space. It was clean and tidy and with reasonable, if a little dated, décor.
In the evening, and all night, Las Vegas comes alive. Roulette wheels start spinning, crap tables fill up, chips are flipped across nervous poker players fingers. Not that you can tell they are nervous of course because the players have perfected their poker faces…
If you get a chance, head downtown (away from ‘the strip’) to Fremont street. This is the heart of the original Las Vegas, before the mega casinos and hotels that now occupy the strip. At Fremont street you’ll find the Golden Nugget, Lucky Horseshoe and Golden Gate (LV’s oldest) casinos. Fremont street is grubby, lively and not for the faint hearted. Beggars, drunks and vagrants are notoriously moved on from the strip. Not so in downtown Vegas so keep your wits about you and be prepared to politely decline offers to sign you up for who knows what. The casinos are a lot lower rent than the strip but our luck was better in the ‘Nugget, with a $43, slot machine win so, although I can’t guarantee this will happen to everyone, I suggest you gamble here rather than at the Luxor Blackjack tables ! The street ‘sky’ lights up with neon after dark and loud music pumps, so don’t hang around unless that’s your bag. We used Ubers a lot for transport around Las Vegas. Downton to the strip was around $25 but most journeys within the strip were sub $10. As Uber virgins we were nervous to try but the system works like a dream. Just head to the Uber pick up / drop off points rather than traditional taxi ranks, after booking via the app of course.
For a more sophisticated evening, head to the cocktail bars of The Cosmopolitan. People dress to impress and the air is definitely more sophisticated than Fremont street. The Chandelier, a multi-level, crystal enveloped bar incorporating balconies overlooking the gaming tables below is fab. Try the We’re All Mad Here. According to the menu, An ode to Alice in Wonderland, this gin-based concoction starts blue but changes colours once blended, and is accompanied with an edible tag that makes your tongue tingle. “ It really does change colour as you mix it. Such fun. It also has one hell of an alcoholic punch.
Finally, the show. Everyone will tell you when you go to Las Vegas that you must see a show. Well we kind of cheated and went to a dinner-show. At Rose.Rabbit.Lie, a wonderfully well executed, speakeasy style bar/restaurant/cabaret. The bar is fantastic with cocktails such as Through the Looking Glass, a huge pour of Tequila and Mezcal based awesomeness which will leave your head spinning and your wallet light. Food was excellent and the entertainment, a collection of singers and dancers who skip between and across the tables whilst you eat and drink was of the highest order. The service was a bit haphazard with some long delays but that didn’t spoil what was an excellent evening of dining and entertainment. Probably best not talk about the bill. Let’s just say you should budget around $100-150 per head if you’re hungry and thirsty. Steep, but remember a show alone will cost you 90% of that.
OK Las Vegas… so long, and thanks for the (rather fuzzy) memories. Next time we will win. Regarding the total bill – well, as they say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Words and Pictures: Iain Cranwell