Elvis, wedding chapels, low entertainment, high-rolling sharks, blackjack, poker and other card games you've never even heard of… Tacky and opulent at the same time, Vegas really does have it all
This is the city that never sleeps, where life is lived at a x20 pace – in surround sound, and with high definition. Vegas can be experienced at this break-neck speed, or in a more leisurely way – but no matter how much time you put in by the pool, the lure of the slot machines and gambling tables will bring you back inside to chance your luck.
My holiday in Vegas was a frenetic four days and, with such a short time available, it was important to plan wisely. "The Strip" is the city’s lodestar and where I spent most of my time. This guide lists just some of the highlights – and the lowlights – of walking through its fabled mega-resorts.
The road from Mandalay
The south end of The Strip begins with the Mandalay Bay, its gleaming orange/gold towers coolly reflecting the fierce Nevada sun. Inside, the decor is that of a plush, re-imagined South-east Asian palace, but with all the amenities of the US included. There are restaurants catering for any appetite, from cheap fast-food outlets to eye-wateringly expensive "ultra lounges" and celebrity-endorsed restaurants. Almost all the mega-resorts follow a similar template.
The Mandalay hosts an enormous shark reef aquarium, where tickets cost almost $19 for adults. The hotel’s pools are surrounded by sand, imported from California.
Next on the Strip is the Luxor, where I stayed in a good mid-range room. It is basically a giant black-glass pyramid surrounded by black-glass towers. The main entrance is under a large and garishly painted Sphinx. On the inside, the ancient Egyptian theme is repeated with statues of various pharaohs and strategically-placed hieroglyphics.
My room was spacious and the bathroom well-maintained. The view was of the airport, but the noise wasn't a problem because the room was thoroughly sound-proofed. It also helped that I was on the 19th floor.
My only criticism was the black shading used on the windows, which dulled the light coming into the room. While this helped keep the temperature down, it created a permanent twilight that was impossible to alleviate due to the dim lighting. The room was also without a refrigerator, which meant I was forced to shop downstairs for cold water or other cool beverages.
The sound of money
Throughout all the mega-resorts, the chime and ring of the slot machines is a constant siren call. Prices start at one cent a go and, if you keep a sharp eye out, waitresses can be called over and free drinks obtained. However, you must be playing – and paying – before you will be served.
Higher rollers will want to chance their hand at the card and roulette tables. Most of the mega-resorts called for a minimum stake of $10 to enter the game. Sharks with money to burn will want to seek out the separate, more intimate areas for big-game gambling.
Vast in size, the Excalibur is a decidedly downmarket place. Its "Ye Olde" reworking of medieval England is tacky in the extreme – though kids will love it. The mega-resort’s mock jousts, too, will excite children both young and old.
The New York New York is a far more impressive place. Its exterior is constructed to look like the skyline of the Big Apple, with an impressive "miniature" Statue of Liberty out the front. For the more daring kind of traveller, a roller-coaster runs through and outside the resort.
Some years ago, my parents stayed in this hotel and found its rooms and service excellent. Sadly, the café where they ate breakfast while singers belted out Motown hits has been closed.
The biggest attraction at the MGM is its lions, which are kept in a large reinforced glass enclosure. There is a glass walkway which the public can go through – and on which the big cats sometimes doze. It’s a strange feeling to walk to a souvenir shop with lions directly overhead.
Next on my list was Caesars Palace, a vast place in which I found myself lost when trying to find a restaurant. There is so much to see and do, it could take almost half a day to explore the casino and its sights fully. Even its lobby is something to gape at. Be sure to visit the moving statues.
When in Venice…
The most lavish of all the mega-resorts on The Strip is probably the Venetian. This vast renaissance reproduction cannot fail to impress even the most jaded and cynical of visitors. Inside there is a "Grand Canal" complete with gondoliers, singing boisterously to couples and families who can see the "sights" without suffering the authentic smell of Venice.
The Mirage has a "volcano" that stops the traffic, or so I was told: when I was in town, this man-made Vesuvius was inert and undergoing technical maintenance. The resort also hosts Love by Cirque du Soleil, a dream-like musical using remixed Beatles hits. For fans of the Fab Four, this is a must-see, though tickets can be expensive and should be booked well in advance to avoid disappointment.
For those who are a little light on the wallet, it is worthwhile watching the fountains at the Bellagio as they dance in time to music (which can range from opera to Elvis and "Lawst my Dawg" Country & Western).
There are plenty of other shows and a million other sights in Vegas, and one of the quickest ways to reach them is by the monorail that runs from MGM all the way up to the Sahara. It’s best to buy a three-day pass if you are staying in Vegas for some time. A single journey will cost $5, which is cheaper than the London Underground.
The glamour of Vegas – the Rat Pack, Elvis, and suited and booted mobsters – is long gone, but on The Strip the glitz remains. Indeed, so large and boisterous is this place, it is one of the wonders of the modern world. And when in Vegas, always remember the golden rule: no matter how well you do, the house will always win in the end.