After getting used to a comfortably air-conditioned car throughout our road trip, we arrived in Las Vegas to sweltering 37 degree heat. Almost immediately we sought refuge in the hotel we were staying in – the Stratosphere hotel and casino – not just to escape from the heat, but also because Las Vegas is incredibly overwhelming! The strip in particular is a full-on assault on the senses – it’s five miles of seemingly endless casinos that all offer something slightly different, which left me feeling distinctly unsure where to start.
Safely in our hotel, we ended up spending more than 24 hours there without leaving the building because it had everything anyone could want; a comfy place to sleep, restaurants, shops, entertainment, a pool, a casino, a spa – even a chapel! Somewhat disconcertingly, we eventually noticed that all of the hotel/casinos are designed like this to keep you inside so that you sit and gamble all day…
The bad news for our hotel is that neither of us are particularly big gamblers, but as we were in Vegas we did want to give it a little go. When getting over the hurdle of where you want to lose your money, then you have to decide how you want to lose your money – on the poker table? Craps? Roulette? Blackjack? The slot machines? I found the casino itself a little intimidating – I thought I understood blackjack, but one look at the table (and the croupier making nonsensical gestures with her hands) and I went running back to the slot machines. Even then it wasn’t a case of sticking in a cent and pulling the handle – you had to decide how much money you wanted to bet and how many lines you wanted to bet on. We both ended up losing a few dollars before we actually figured out what on earth we were doing. It was all good fun though!
In that first 24-hours, we found the best way to make the most of the hotel (and every other casino) was to sign up to its free ‘players card’ – which is like a club card that allows the casino to track how much you’re gambling and on what. Even if you don’t gamble a cent, the card sometimes gets you discounts in the on-site restaurants, free meals, room upgrades and free credit for gambling! Another sneaky trick we learned was that all of the casinos offer you free drinks (which you would pay for if you ordered them at the bar) if you look like you’re gambling – all you need to do is tip the waitress a dollar, and she will keep coming back for your next order.
Even though we wanted to try it out, we didn’t stay at the Stratosphere for its casino. We’d decided to stay there because of its 1,000ft Tower Observation Deck – offering unparalleled views of the city – and because there are rides right at the top! I went on most of them twice and they were amazing! The X-Scream ride shot you over the edge, where you teetered precariously before being pulled back. The Insanity ride lowered you over the side of the building – face down – and then span around before delivering you back to the tower. My favourite was the Big Shot ride, which shot you up into the air above the tower and then dropped you back down just as quickly! The only one I didn’t go on was the Sky Jump – which was like a bungee jump/zip slide from the top of the tower to the ground – and that was because it was more than $100!
After finally deciding we’d spent too much time cooped-up in our own hotel, we decided to break out on to the strip and take a look around. The amazing thing about Vegas is that, although there’s plenty to see and do if you want to spend some money, there’s also lots to see and do if you don’t. Nearly all of the casinos offer some kind of free entertainment in order to draw you in; Circus Circus has it’s live circus acts; Caesars Palace has its ‘Fall of Atlantis’ moving statues show; the Mirage has a Volcano show; the Venetian has its Gondolas (which technically cost money to ride, but you can watch them for free!); the Flamingo has a real flamingo enclosure; the Silverton has a mermaid show; and of course the Bellagio has its fountains.
We spent the majority of our time in Las Vegas trying to visit all of these casinos to see everything they offered, but getting around the strip took far longer than we expected – every casino was so huge it took at least ten minutes just to walk past!
One of our favourites was the Bellagio because of its amazing conservatory display and the stunning fountain shows. If there’s one thing you see in Vegas – make sure you see the fountains. The show is every 15 minutes and people generally start gathering for the next one about seven minutes before it starts. The best ones are at night, so you can see the display in the lights too. We both agreed we could have sat and watched them all night (we almost did at one point!). We ended up seeing around eight of them during the week we were in Vegas and each one was different.
Another show we saw during our stay was a Cirque Du Soleil performance at the Treasure Island. It was very entertaining – and some of the acts were incredibly impressive. Just like Vegas, it seemed a bit like a jumble of different acts that didn’t seem to make a lot of sense altogether, but they still dazzled!
One of our last stops in Vegas was off the strip on Freemont Street. It felt a bit like the Times Square of Las Vegas – with the world’s largest screen and hundreds of moving neon lights, including the famous cowboy sign! We’d heard the strip was tacky, but you haven’t seen tacky until you’ve seen Freemont Street. It’s the perfect place for a stag party; it has seedy bars, casinos, strip clubs and a zip-wire running through the length of it. Visiting was quite the experience. We even saw topless nuns…
All in all, we very much enjoyed Las Vegas after getting over our initial reservations. Everything seemed to be larger than life – apart from the Eiffel Tower, which was apparently only a third of the size of the real one! The strip is a show of pure extravagance and excess, which was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. We didn’t win any money, but we definitely have amazing memories to take away with us.