It's easy to think that Las Vegas is only worth visiting if you like a gamble, but there is so much more to the city. Allow me to explain
I first went to Las Vegas when I was 17. It was never somewhere I had particularly wanted to go to, but I was with another family who had scheduled an overnight stop there so I didn’t really have much choice. Nearly ten years on and I am constantly planning my next trip there and have now been there three times. Although I was unable to go in the casinos, gamble or drink as a young 17 year old, the atmosphere and electricity of the place made a lasting impression on me and it is something that has never happened with any other place I have visited. I have the Vegas’ bug’, and I don’t think it’ll ever go away.
Allow me to introduce...
It is easy to assume that Vegas is only worth going to if you like to gamble, but I have in fact never gambled much money while out there (only a dollar or two to say ‘I’ve done it’) and it is certainly not the reason I go. The Strip has a buzz and exciting atmosphere that makes you constantly excited to be there. People are friendly and relaxed and everyone is there to have fun. The architecture of the hotels breathtaking; the Excalibur Hotel & Casino (3850 Las Vegas Blvd South Las Vegas NV 89109) is perfect for families and is very reasonably priced, starting at around $40 per night. The Fantasy/Castle theme is constant throughout the hotel and the hotel exterior consists of white castle turrets and towers. There are several different rooms available, but I highly recommend the recently refurbished Widescreen Tower Rooms. Not only do they have a massive TV and great views, they also have the most amazing double showers! The Excalibur is at towards the south end of the Strip, so you'll have to do a fair bit of walking to other places, but it's positioning on the cross-roads with the MGM and New York New York makes for a very atmospheric stay. If you ancy something a bit more romantic, the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino (3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109) is the perfect getaway for couples and honeymooners. It has a beautiful classic charm and a crystal blue canal that runs through and outside the hotel. You can even get gondola trips. If you love the regal architecture of Italy, then this is definitely the place to stay.
You can get some very good deals to Vegas. We booked ours through Expedia and only paid £504 per person for flights and four nights in the Paris Las Vegas Hotel along The Strip. This trip was cheap because the flights were not direct. We changed planes at Charlotte in North Carolina and again in Phoenix, Arizona. Our journey there was around 16hrs in total and quite exhausting for a five day break. If you can stretch your budget slightly, I highly recommend flying direct as our journey was 26hrs door-to-door on the way out. Direct journeys are roughly 10hrs. Once you are there, it's easy. The airport is at the south end of The Strip, not far from The Luxor hotel. A short taxi ride with take you direct to your hotel in minutes, or, if you're feeling up to it, you can walk.
Where to stay
For the last visit I stayed in the Paris Las Vegas (3655 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109). I picked this hotel mainly because of its location. It is centred nicely near the middle of The Strip, so you don’t have to walk too far to get to the other hotels. The Strip is around 4.5 miles long and, if it is hot, then you don’t want to be walking the whole length of it in one go if you can help it. The Paris hotel is beautifully quaint. The ceilings are painted to look like a blue sky lightly dusted with fluffy clouds and it is very convincing. There are trees dotted around and cobbled stones to give the impression you are walking along the old streets of Paris - and you believe it. The rooms are cosy and luxurious and it is definitely worth getting one with a view of The Strip if you can as the Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109; (702) 693-7111; www.bellagio.com) is just across the road – we spent many a moment sat on the bed gazing at the fountain shows that are on every 30 minutes.
The pool at the Paris is really nice and actually sits on the roof of the casino, but it's not so good if you are a hardened sunbather or like to swim. The pool is large, but shallow (only about three feet deep) and due to the positioning, it takes a few hours for the whole pool area to be in direct sunlight. It also gets incredibly busy. If you are planning on spending a day by the pool, I recommend getting there early and enjoying a bit of shade (and a seat where you like) before the sun moves round.
Where to eat
Architecture is not the only thing that Vegas excels in. The food is some of the best and most varied you’re ever likely to come across. Name a cuisine and there is a restaurant for it and there is somewhere for every budget and any time of day or night. One ‘must do’ is the Bellagio Buffet (www.bellagio.com/restaurants/the-buffet.aspx) which is one of the best in Vegas. You get a choice of salad bars, sushi bars, Italian, Chinese, American and Indian and soft drinks (with unlimited refills) are always included in the cost as well. I always use the opportunity to try something I have never had before, last of which was Atlantic crab leg and pumpkin ravioli, which were both delicious. I have always associated buffets with cheap and cheerful food, but eating at the Bellagio is like taking your pick at Michelin star restaurant. The food quality is second to none. They also have a very large selection of sugar free desserts, so it is an ideal buffet if you’re diabetic. If you fancy a novelty trip, then pop into the M&M Store which is just across the road from New York New York. They have a whole wall of 'Pick n' Mix' M&Ms in every colour imaginable! I ended buying a massive bag of all the colours you can't get in the UK just for the fun of it.
Wandering up and down The Strip will take up quite a bit of time, but it is the best way to see everything, There are buses that travel up and down and the monorail, which starts at $14 for a day pass (www.lvmonorail.com/) The buses are always incredibly busy and not worth the hassle in my opinion. They do not travel very fast due to the constant traffic along The Strip and people are always crammed on them – definitely give them a miss if you are claustrophobic. The monorail is good, but I encourage you to walk, wander around the grounds of the hotels and absorb the atmosphere as much as possible as there is so much to see. There are lots of people scattered along the strip giving out adverts. Men (and sometimes women) will be constantly offered a card for strippers, regardless of whether a guy is with is with his wife and children, but the people that give them out are not pushy or aggressive. People walk past them with no trouble at all and this is the only thing that is likely to get a bit tiresome whilst in Vegas. You may also get approached about offers for getting into clubs for free (if you're younger) or to attend a timeshare conference (if you're older), but just tell them that you are flying back home that day and they shall leave you alone. The Paris has a free bus that runs between that and The Rio Hotel on Flamingo Avenue. This is a great way of getting to the Rio Hotel and the bus runs every 30mins up until midnight.
The nightlife in Vegas is what most people go there for as that is when the city really comes alive. Everything has an extravagant neon sign – hotels, taxis – even McDonald's. One place I really recommend visiting is the VooDoo Lounge at the Rio Hotel (3700 W. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89103; (888) 746-0233;
www.riolasvegas.com/casinos/rio/hotel-casino/property-home.shtml). It is perfect if you want to experience a night out without going to one of the really busy clubs and is very popular with people over the age of 30 in particular. The VooDoo Lounge is actually on the roof of the Rio and, as the hotel is set off of the Strip, you get the best views money can buy.
The Voodoo Lounge (www.vegas.com/nightclubs/voodoo/) entrance is on the ground floor of the hotel past the casinos, but once you are in, a glass elevator takes you up 50 floors to the bar. There is an indoor and outdoor section to the Lounge, but the outdoors gets very busy because everyone wants to take in the views. There is a bar out there and dance floor and I can tell you that dancing and drinking with views of The Strip around you is the most surreal yet amazing feeling! As with most clubs in Vegas, you have to pay to get the best seats – or in this case, any seats. There are tables outside behind roped areas, but these will set you back a few $100. We decided to buy an Open Bar pass when we went here from www.vegas.com. They are around $60 or £45, and mean you can have unlimited spirits and mixers (including red bull) from 10pm until close. These are excellent value, but make sure you get there bang on 10pm to make the most of them – sometimes it shuts around 1am.
I can’t wait until I can get to Vegas again. Every time I see it on TV or a film I get goose pimples and butterflies. I’m not sure whether that is normal…
Top five things to see and do:
1. The Secret Garden at the Mirage hotel www.mirage.com/attractions/secret-garden.aspx
2. The Bellagio buffet www.bellagio.com/restaurants/the-buffet.aspx
3. The Voodoo Lounge at the Rio www.vegas.com/nightclubs/voodoo/
4. The free Siren’s show outside the front of Treasure Island Hotel www.treasureisland.com/shows/sirens_of_ti.aspx
5. The Bellagio Fountains at night www.bellagio.com/amenities/fountains-of-bellagio.aspx