The Las Vegas Travel Guide: Viva Las Vegas
Can Sin City can still claim to be a global high roller?
With Dubai and Miami overtaking Vegas as the go-to destination dens for celebrity inequity, luxury travel writer Mark Southern discovered if Sin City can still claim to be a global high roller.
Roll up, gamblers, put your chips down now. What’s it to be, red or black? Is it fate or is it chance as to where the ball will end up in life’s eternally spinning roulette wheel of imponderables? It’s a mystery.
However, what’s not mysterious in the slightest is the enduring appeal of the self-styled ‘Fabulous’ Las Vegas.
For more years than it cares to admit, Sin City has been fatefully peddling chance to the millions of wide-eyed wonder-seekers who descend upon it every year. Marketing strategies as cynical and varied as million dollar slot machine payouts to Elton John residencies all scream in unison the same message; “It’s your fate to come here and change your life on the roll of a dice. It could be you.” In lurid pink neon, of course.
Yes, in the brash consumerism capital of Nevada, ‘chance’ means something to everyone, whether it be the life-changing lucky spin of a roulette wheel or the chance to buy any vice you like in broad daylight. It’s the chance of a lifetime.
But make no mistake; the great irony of being in the epicentre of Chance City is that nothing is left to it. The house always wins, and compliant tourists are simply the pawns moved around the board to complete the ultimate fate; a stack-full of chips in the pockets of the international entertainment companies that run the town.
But, despite how that may read, it’s not a criticism. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. For Vegas is exactly what it is; gaudy, overly-lit showbiz in its rawest form. It’s giving people what they want – namely, spoon-fed, heart-stopping moments of sugar-rush joy. It’s not changing the world, but it doesn’t pretend to either – it’s only interested in providing (expensively-bought) cheap thrills to millions of ordinary lives.
Because of this, many holiday-makers still see Las Vegas as ‘fabulous’; a 21st century cavern of wonders to be marvelled at. For the more discerning traveller, the experience is equally fascinating to witness the skilful way the town plays its chance-card in such a linear fateful way.
Las Vegas today still remains a place of excess, albeit with a somewhat Disneyfied inequity, and still represents a long weekend that everyone should take at least once. You’re essentially fated to try it if you haven’t yet, and what are the chances that you can say that about anywhere else?
The Vegas strip is home to probably the most famous series of hotels on the planet. However, one of the oldest is still the best for quality and, importantly, location. Caesar’s Palace was putting up the rich and famous in Sinatra’s day, and decades later is now playing host to Barack Obama. And with good reason.
That everything is ‘bigger’ in Vegas is a given, but that everything is ‘better’ is less guaranteed. At Caesar’s, not only are you right in the centre of the strip for easy access, but you’ll be sure that your stay will be the best in town, and you’ll be well looked after at all times. Book into one of the ‘Rainman Suites’, made famous by the movie and the inspiration for the hotel room featured in ‘The Hangover’. Make sure you ask for a room as high as possible, and bask in the glory of one of the great hotel room views as the legendary strip sails past you in both directions.
Make full use of the exceptional facilities in the hotel too, and make sure you put time aside to enjoy the almost guaranteed weather in one of the many pools at Caesar’s. Also, don’t forget to book at least half a day in the stunning spa. Here you’ll be transported back to ancient times with gloriously ornate and allegedly authentic Roman baths (aside from the flat screen TVs embedded into the walls). If you’re with a partner it’s worth bearing in mind it’s a separate male/female spa, but it’s impossible to not enjoy the complete relaxation you’ll feel take over your body.
However, when in Vegas one is compelled to at least try their hand at the casino, and the gaming floor at Caesar’s is the best in the city. As you’d expect, this isn’t a place for shrinking violets, it’s a bold, striking arena in which to experience the most famous high-rolling on Earth. There’s something for every price-bracket, from the 25c slots to the million-dollar buy-in card games, so if you’re going to gamble in Vegas, make sure you do it at Caesar’s.
Dining is eclectic and excellent at Caesar’s Palace. It’s worth exploring all the options available, although Bradley Ogden, Guy Savoy and Italian diner Rao’s are outstanding.
For something totally different, take a cab away from the strip to the Hofbrauhaus, where the famous traditional Munich hotspot has been brought to the Nevada desert. All the food and beer is made in the motherland before being transported to Vegas, and the atmosphere is certainly unusual.
The casino resorts very carefully manage the entire user experience, famously hiding clocks, so time reduces its meaning. However, night is still when the town comes alive, and partygoers are still in their element with a bar on every corner. One of the best for location and evocative atmosphere is Gallery Nightclub at Planet Hollywood, featuring exceptional cocktails and risqué décor.
These days it could be argued that Vegas is less Sin City and more Entertainment Town, and there are a huge myriad of spectaculars claiming to be the greatest show on Earth.
Whilst many thrill and amaze, undoubtedly the only show that could lay claim to this is the truly staggering ‘O’ at the Bellagio. The Cirque de Soleil show has won every award going, and with reason; it’s simply one of the best displays to have ever been witnessed on a stage. Unbelievable acrobatic skills, death-defying stunts and an evolving stage-set which can switch from a hard floor to a 1.5 million gallon diving pool in the blink of an eye. Just wonderful, and a must-see.
Another show that’s currently packing them in, in more ways than one, is Peep Show at Planet Hollywood, featuring former Playboy playmate Holly Madison. Combining burlesque, vaudeville and acrobatics, this is more than a seedy side-show, and deserves the plaudits it’s currently generating.
The other go-to performance is another Cirque du Soleil production, LOVE, at the Mirage. Chronicling the works of The Beatles against a semi-autobiographical backdrop, LOVE is a more fun and accessible introduction to the spell-binding Cirque extravaganza.
If you accept in advance that your credit card will get plenty of use in Nevada then you’ll make life much more simple for yourself and, whilst there are plenty of malls to take your hard-earned cash, Fashion Show is the best place in town for high-end brands and exclusive shopping.
Check out the weekend runway shows taking place in the courtyard area using only clothing from the mall itself.
When you’re in a city where anything goes, it’s hard to find something that feels genuinely dangerously exciting, with many vices having their edge taken off purely because of their acceptability. However, if you’re looking to challenge yourself, head down to The Gun Store, where you can fire everything from hand guns to machine guns in the fully supervised range.
Coming from a British viewpoint that ‘guns are bad’, it’s deeply odd (not to mention a little uncomfortable) to see a plethora of firearms able to hire, but the satisfaction of unleashing rounds into the terrorist targets is undeniable.
British Airways has launched a new First Class service to Las Vegas, and it’s outstandingly good. Get to Heathrow T5 early and settle in to the fine dining at the Concorde Lounge, before heading down and enjoying the sumptuous comfort of BA’s First Class.
Unlike some airplane sleeping experiences, the new fold down chairs are like sleeping on your own bed, which is a nice way to relax before the impending chaos of Vegas.
Main image above copyright: FreeImages.com/chad Mathews