"I got the six pack," says the driver as he plunks himself in his seat. Indeed we occupy most of the seats on the small bus. My mother ends up in the front where the air conditioning is working. It has been hot since we arrived in Vegas, about 40 degrees Celsius. Later I find out that the weather just turned hot; the bus air conditioning systems are having their first workout of the season.
We have gathered to celebrate my mother's birthday. For such a lofty event, one of our chosen events is going to the Grand Canyon by plane. There are 6 of us in total, a family that plays together. And there is no better place to play than the "Entertainment Capital of the World."
When the cab driver asked me if this was my first time in Vegas, I told him that I had been there 29 years ago. "Then, yes, it is your first time." Looking out the car windows, I was captivated with how big everything was - the billboards, the streets, the buildings. That fascination threaded its way throughout the entire visit.
There is plenty to do, day or night.
Gambling in Vegas is like sitting down for tea in London. This is what you do between all the other activities, as you are going in or out. To get to your hotel room, you always have to pass through a casino. I was amused by the more interactive slot machines such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Dirty Dancing. The chairs have speakers in the headrest, giving both a visual and auditory experience. The pinnacle is to get 3 bonuses in a turn. Then the display becomes a touch screen and you get to choose options that result in various payouts.
For table games such as Craps, Blackjack or Poker, the best advice is to take the free casino gaming lessons.
One of the tips I read about gambling was to choose the slot machines near the entrances to the casinos. Do they payout more often to entice passersby? My mother's thoughts: "If it's going payout, it's going to payout."
2. Grand Canyon
There is nothing like seeing the Grand Canyon from a bird's view. That way you can get to see the Grand part. It is huge - the Canyon is carved by the Colorado River which is a total distance of 277 miles. From Vegas there are bus or plane excursions to the Grand Canyon; the buses can take from 11 to 14 hours. From Boulder City, our plane took us to the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the west rim of the Canyon.
3. The Shows
The live entertainment includes on-going (Celine Dion) and single events (headliners such as Britney Spears). The cab driver from the airport (also known as the tour guide) pointed out that there are 7 Cirque du Soleil shows happening in Vegas right now, including tributes to Elvis and the Beatles. We went to see Penn & Teller, "eccentric magicians with a psychotic twist." They are funny, wacky and highly entertaining - perfect for Vegas!
Every hotel on the strip has its own shows; there are places to get half price tickets - usually the day of the show.
4. Outdoor Shows
The most happening place for free live outdoor entertainment is downtown at the Fremont Street Experience, which is a pedestrian mall covering 5 blocks of Fremont Street and includes 2 sound stages. The light canopy which is called Viva Vision, features larger-than-life animations. Go to Fremont Street after dark and look up!
One of the favourite shows on the Strip is the Bellagio Fountains. An 8-acre lake in front of the hotel explodes in a show of music, light and water every half hour during the day and every 15 minutes after dark. There are several choreographed performances so hanging out in front of the fountains can keep you entertained for a long time.
Treasure Island features 5 performances each evening, called the Sirens of TI, in front of the hotel alongside the Strip. With special effects, special set that includes two ships and sexy dancers, the 18-minute show dazzles in the pyrotechnics department.
For more free shows in Vegas, check out the Official Vegas Travel Site.
Who knew that shopping was such entertainment? In Vegas there are many choices for shoppers including two Premium Outlet Malls, a Fashion Mall, and shops in every hotel. Aimee, Julie and I went to the Las Vegas Premium Outlet - South via bus; there are over 140 stores offering deals. In one store, everything was on sale.
6. Eating in Vegas
Like most things in Vegas, the choices in dining are overwhelming and range from economy to extravagant. We ate at Caesar's Palace at one of the infamous Vegas buffets, that offer a wide variety of dishes including prime rib and the cutest desserts. There are deals around town that offer all-you-can-eat buffets for a full day (24 hours).
Each hotel has its own restaurants. At Caesar's Palace, there are 9 restaurants. The Flamingo has 5 not including cafes and fast food places. We stayed at Bally's which is next door to Paris; we ate twice in Paris. Our birthday celebration dinner was at Mon Ami Gabi a French bistro where I had to have the French Onion Soup (yum!).
For my last meal in Vegas, I ate at Sea Las Vegas, a Thai restaurant, where I had a Massaman Curry and a Pomegranate Mojito - both were the same price!
7. Photo Ops
You never know when you might be walking down the street and run into Jack Sparrow so the best advice is to keep a camera and tip money handy. There is a lot of tipping in Vegas. Capturing all the sights with a camera can be challenging especially when walking down the street at night with all of the dazzling lights.
The Eiffel Tower is a half-scale exact reproduction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I heard that when the idea for the tower in Vegas was conceived, they wanted to do an exact replica but because the airport was so close, it was not permitted. At over 46 stories above the Strip, you get to see a spectacular view of Vegas and the entire valley.
Below is a photo of Caesar's Palace from the Eiffel Tower:
8. Hanging out at the pool
The thing about Vegas, everyone says, is that "it's a dry heat." When my daughter and my sister went for a walk, they said that they didn't even sweat because the perspiration dried as soon as it appeared on their skin. July and August are the hottest months in Vegas but our June trip gave us a taste of what was coming. Each day was over 100 degrees (which is the way they talk in Vegas). We popped into the pools in between our many other activities. This is the day-time party place with drinking allowed in the water (beer in plastic bottles!!) and poolside events like limbo contests. Eight hotels in Vegas including Caesar's Palace, Bally's, Flamingo and Paris are a part of the Total Rewards/Caesars Entertainment program. What this means is that if you are staying at one hotel, you can go to the another pool - not that you would want to walk some of those distances between the hotels. The hotels may be side by side but they take up a lot of space. We tried the pools at the Flamingo and Bally's, each designed for socializing with ledges on the edges of the pool, cabanas and daybeds.
After 5 days in Las Vegas, I know that I got a smattering of the entertainment. Here are some tips I learned from going there:
1. Shoes! Shoes! Shoes! There is a lot of walking in Vegas. There should be a sign that says: "Objects are farther than they appear."
2. Bring your Vitamin B. Vitamin B is the elixir for consuming too many pina coladas - they go down pretty easy (and quick).
3. Leave the computer at home. Besides being occupied 24/7, there is no free Wi-Fi in hotels.
For more tips for your trip planning to Vegas, visit the vegas.com site.
The shuttle bus driver from Bally's to Rio's offered us his advice for visiting Vegas: "Sleep when you can. Shower when you have to."