Holidays – Las Vegas, USA

Reviewer: Simsi
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Although I’m prone to a bit of gambling, I have to admit that Las Vegas was never really high up on my list of “must see” destinations, but a conference took me there for 4 days in the dark English November months and I have to admit, Vegas really surprised me. So much so that I recently took advantage of late 2012′s economic downturn and got a fantastic package holiday to Encore on the strip. This Las Vegas review however concentrates on my first holiday there.

Of course everyone likes a bit of sunshine and decent temperatures, but I didn’t really know much about the city itself apart from the fact it’s Casino City! So if I wasn’t a gambler, would I have enjoyed it? The answer is yes, but 4 days would probably have been plenty and I’d suggest for those that don’t really like their Blackjack or slot machines, it would be better visited as part of a US tour, perhaps taking in California and the Western seaboard.

I’ll leave the gambling out of this review because quite honestly, that in itself would take up most of the space. Suffice to say the choice of games and atmosphere was overwhelming. More of interest are the actual casinos themselves – the achitecture, layout and sheer size of the places does your head in. More on this in a moment, but for other activities you just have to do the Grand Canyon, preferably by helicopter, and take in a show or two. Typically American – larger than life and a total experience. The shopping is also extensive – most of the casino hotels on the “Strip” have their own shopping malls which, in the case of the Venetian runs to over 300 shops and boutiques!

On my first trip, I stayed “downtown” in Freemont Street (on the second I was on the Strip). If I hadn’t stayed down there I probably wouldn’t have seen the downtown area which – with the Freemont Street Experience – would have been a shame as it has it’s own character and pretty much sums up the Las Vegas we know from old Hollywood films like “Casino”. Then again, I spent 95% of my time up on the Strip which is just a very, very big playground. I stayed at the Golden Nugget (average by Vegas standards but sumptuous by London standards!) and took a cab up to the Strip each day I was there at a cost of around $20 each way.

Now…the Strip. Where to start! Friends I met were mainly staying up here and the concensus generally was that the Wynn was *the* place to stay (NB: subsequently Steve Wynn has added the Encore as an adjoined hotel – not much between them when it comes to choosing). It lacks the fairytale character of many other casino hotels up at this end of Vegas, but the rooms are modern, large and come with everything. Having more recently stayed at the Venetian in Macau, I can also vouch for these rooms too – absolutely massive and a replica of the Vegas equivalent.

Myself and 2 friends spent one day “doing the Strip”. This all-day tour we undertook ourselves involved walking from the Wynn, right up to the North end of the Strip to the Mandalay Bay, then back down the other side. We stopped at pretty much every casino on the way and took a look around, which included the Venetian, the MGM Grand, Paris, New York New York, Mandalay Bay (where we stopped to do the small but very neat aquarium), The Luxor, Caesar’s Palace, The Excalibur and one or two of the older joints. By the time we got back to the Bellagio (see image, left) and checked out the dancing fountains our feet were done in, but it was a fantastic trip that took in all the big hotels and their amazing structures.

Highlights included the roller coaster that weaves in and out of New York New York plus the hotel’s uniquely themed reconstruction of New York inside the hotel itself, the awesome structure inside the Luxor and it’s second floor games emporium, the reconstruction of Venice inside the Venetian complete with real canals and gondolas, and the “Pirates Of The Caribbean” free show on the Strip outside Treasure Island (which was very crowded – you watch it from the pavement). I lost count of the number of brides and grooms I saw in the casinos and we also took the monorail up the North side of the Strip from the Sahara to Mandalay Bay.

You have to allow a whole day for this tour but it’s well worth it. And that was without stopping to gamble except for about 45 minutes at the Mandalay Bay (where my colleague won $5,000 on a slot machine!!). After 4 days here – admittedly with only 5 hours sleep a night – I was fairly shattered by the time I returned to England, and I couldn’t wait to go back. Check out the sites to the right for some great package holiday deals to Vegas right now.

For incidentals, I flew to Vegas with Virgin direct for about £600, but there are cheaper flights available – I just like Virgin! McCarran airport (Las Vegas) is only a 15 minute drive from all the major hotels and taxis are plentiful. Security at the airport was very tight and carrying big wads of cash in and out, rather surprisingly in my opinion, has to be watched. A guy I was travelling back with faced the Spanish Inquisition over $4,000 in cash he was carrying, I find that odd in light of where we were, but there you go.

A totally brilliant trip and I’d put Vegas as my second favourite destination behind the Maldives – yes, totally different, but everyone needs some variation ;)


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