An October 2001 trip
to Las Vegas by MichaelJM
Quote: A few months before this holiday, my American cousin said "we're re-affirming our wedding vows in Vegas... do you fancy joining us?" Of course we did!
There are so many professionally presented shows that you’ll be spoilt for choice. We saw "The Rat Pack" and "Riverdance," booked well in advance. We had cracking seats, and like all shows down the Strip, these were extravagantly done.
It’s well worth window shopping down the Strip, although, to be honest, I wouldn’t buy in town. Take a trip just out of town to one of the five malls that surround it. To be honest, you’ll struggle to beat the "Belz Factory Outlet," which has over 150 outlets selling almost everything. We were surprised at the prices and even more chuffed when we realised that January and February are particularly good for further heavy discounts. Bargains—we’ve never seen so many!
I’d recommend that you consider eating in the novelty restaurants—the food will be good quality, and you’ll be entertained while you’re eating.
But the big sights on the Strip are the frequently aired, extravagant "public" shows. The most stunning, in my view, is the Bellagio’s dancing fountains. In front of this opulent hotel is an artificial lake that springs into action every half-hour. There are almost 1,000 separate fountains that gyrate to the music ("New York, New York" was particularly inspiring), accompanied by coloured lights. It’s great because you can view it from many different angles, and it’s immaculate wherever you look from.
At the side of the road, near The Mirage, is a peaceful lagoon with a mock volcano. Every 15 minutes, steam starts to the escape from the mountain, it takes on an angrier appearance with clever lighting, and just as you think it’s over, there’s an almighty roar and fireballs are thrown from the centre. If you are of a nervous disposition, you should prepare yourself for the explosion—but be warned, it will still catch you unawares!
Rumour has it that Treasure Island’s "Buccaneer Bay" is a fantastic show, but unfortunately, the wind was too strong whilst we were there, so we never saw it operate!
If you haven’t booked your hotel, it’s worth keeping a look out for hotel and meal discount books (the tourist information service or the airport are favourites to find these). The deals in these are well worth going for, as the hotel savings can be quite dramatic (more likely to be hotels off the Strip), and you may find meals for a two-for-the-price-of-one offer.
One thing we were pleased not to see in Vegas was the leaflet pushers.
Feeling lazy and not in a rush? Then pick up the Vegas Strip Trolley. These run every 15 minutes, and there’s a standard charge for a single trip, whether you go for one stop or the full length of the strip. You do need to have the exact fare, as no change is given.
If you need to get somewhere specific, then book or hail a cab. The prices are really quite cheap, and there’s fairly aggressive "policing" of the cabs, so you can be fairly sure that you won’t be ripped off.
Driving in the town is really easy, but it is not the best way to see it, and you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for pedestrians (jaywalkers), rather than other vehicles. The local police are hot on drunk drivers, so if you’re driving, it’s recommended not to have any alcohol.
Hotel | "Stratosphere Hotel"
As you enter the body of this busy hotel, you will see the usual electronic gaming machines bleeping and blinking as they encourage you to part with a few dimes. There are hundreds of them, and further into the hall, there are the gaming tables with the smartly dressed croupiers scooping up the deposited cash into the banker’s coffers. The main disappointment is that there was no discernable theme – it just seemed to be a casino wanting to relieve you of your cash.
The main restaurant was great for a substantial and quality breakfast, but there was nothing special in terms of its appearance. The staff was courteous and always willing to help, but somehow it seemed very corporate and rehearsed. A first-floor shopping centre was poorly laid out, lacked luster, and the outlets were uninspiring
Our bedroom was just what you’d expect – spacious, with two queen-size beds, a comfortable sitting area, and a lavish bathroom with plush towels and toiletries. The coffee-making facilities were well stocked, and there was a fridge crammed with alcohol – but be warned, the mark up on these was immense. Unfortunately, the bedroom view was disappointing, as in the foreground was "work in progress" – a mass of concrete.
The Stratosphere’s main attractions are found at the top of the tower. Take the high-speed lift, and in less than 40 ear-popping seconds, you’ll have reached the 108th floor. Up here is the revolving restaurant, circular bar, and internal viewing area. If you ascend to the next floor, there’s an external viewing platform, but in February, it was a bit blustery. The views up here are spectacular, and you can see every part of the Vegas. At night it is particularly dramatic, as the lights of the strip contrast with the absolute blackness of the uninhabited desert that surrounds this town.
Up another level and above you are the Stratosphere’s two major attractions. My cousin’s wife was really keen to go on the highest roller coaster in the world, but strangely, the rest of us were less enthusiastic. My excuse was a particularly heavy meal that was not fully digested and the odd glass of champagne that I’d drunk only minutes previously (not, however, in sufficient quantities to give me an inappropriate level of confidence!). So she went on her own. We heard her zoom past several times with shrieks of enjoyment – or could it be fear.
Right at the top of the tower is the "Big Shot" – a ride that mimics a high-speed yo-yo. Needless to say, I was too chicken for this beast of a ride!
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on December 18, 2004
Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower
2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, Nevada 89104
But don’t confuse this place with "just somewhere to eat," as it’s verging on a living museum. Other than the usual wall plaques, photographs, and its homage to celebrities who happen to have sat on or near a Harley-Davidson, it mimics the environment of the Hard Rock Café. The music was loud enough to assault the eardrums of a "non-biker," but possibly not able to compete with the roar of an over-revved bike on an open road. But then I spotted a reference to "Easy Rider," possibly one of my favourite soundtracks of all time, and I succumbed.
I remembered by father’s love of his motorbike and suggested to my cousin that it was an early Harley (not sure if it was, but it made for a good story, and he was suitably impressed). Now I could relax and take in the ambiance. I no longer found the music too loud–I was becoming a bike fanatic. I observed a massive conveyor belt that runs through the length and height of the café. Strapped to this beast of a belt were seven of the latest models of Harley-Davidson motorcycles that were viewable from almost every nook and cranny in the place. They were in pristine condition, and even though I couldn’t enthuse about the engine, I did recognise them as fine mechanical pieces almost resembling works of art.
Talking of pieces of artwork, there are dozens of intricately painted "gas tanks" displayed throughout the café, all signed by a celebrity from the rock or film world. Some of them were amazingly beautiful and worth looking at in detail. Hanging from the ceiling is the world’s heaviest American flag. The staff claims that it weighs over 7 tons, and it’s made from tens of thousand of chain links. That’s bikers for you!
But wait a minute, we were hungry – we came in here to eat! There are a couple of dozen beers to choose from (now there’s a serious choice to begin with!) and a really extensive menu, from large juicy steaks to "grown-up sandwiches," with french fries, fajitas, pies packed with meat, pizzas, and chicken wings. In short, whatever you want is here, and the quality and the quantity is spot on. If you fancy a gooey desert (if you’ve got space), they only "do" large portions. Sharing a main course and a pudding means that you can enjoy it all without feeling "stuffed".
Don’t be shy, give it a whirl–this restaurant is entertaining and does its job.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 19, 2004
3725 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
The simple white chapel, with its bright blue roof and traditional spire, beckoned us. The chapel was the first on the strip some 50 years ago and is renowned as the chapel for Elvis weddings. We looked round the walls as we waited in the small reception area and noted that several famous people had been hitched here. I particularly remember that Jon Bon Jovi, Jay Leno, and Robert Trump were names mentioned.
The chapel itself was a narrow light, bright room with a central aisle (I guess it could accommodate 60 odd people), fairly tasteful stained glass windows and well adorned with extravagant flower arrangements. The small group of us sat in hushed expectation, the double doors opened and my cousin and his wife appeared to the strains of "fool rush in". A small diminutive "Elvis" joined them, linked arms with my cousin’s wife and sang them down the aisle. He was dressed in a bright red, sequined skimpy jumpsuit with an ostentatious gold belt. He didn’t have a bad voice and we all solemnly watched them to the front of the chapel.
After their slow walk down the aisle our "Elvis" fumbled somewhat ham-fistedly as he changed the music and then began his personalized address to his audience. The Elvis drawl became more apparent as he reminded us that it was 21 years ago that the two of them promised to "love each other tenderly". Then the "wedding ceremony" began. The seriousness of the occasion began to tell on us all and Elvis proceeded to call the "Bride and Groom’s" attention to the re-statement of their vows. They were told that they must repeat after him the solemn words that they "would remember the rest of their life". His Elvis impression started in earnest, we tried to look serious and then my cousin responded with his near perfect mimic of our Elvis’ attempt to mimic Elvis. My cousin’s wife’s shoulders started to shudder, the "best man’s" lip started to quiver and the video camera shook. We’d all lost it, but my cousin soldiered on. This was, after all a fun experience and although it was a re-affirmation of their affection for each other we were relieved that they were "in it for the laugh".
Graceland chapel was an experience and we were left "crying in the chapel" (with laughter) We realised that neither had a "wooden heart" and my cousin only wanted to "be your teddy bear"; that he was "all shook up" and couldn’t "help falling in love." I’m not sure if a "proper" wedding would be as hilarious but this was a cracking affair that will be emblazoned on our memories forever. Thanks to the Graceland Chapel
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 19, 2004
Graceland Wedding Chapel
619 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, Nevada 89101
Attraction | "From Mandalay to New York"
Mandalay Bay, the most northerly point of the Strip, is a classy hotel, but other than that, I have no real lasting memory of the place. I do remember that it had a notice pointing to a "sand and surf" beach, but I’m not convinced that it’s open in February. There’s a free monorail link to Luxor, and this hotel has the "wow factor". To start, it is a gigantic pyramid that at night has the world’s most powerful beam of light, reaching up to the stars, and guarding the front entrance, a huge sphinx and a massive obelisk are suitably inscribed in "ancient" hieroglyphics. Inside the front door, Egyptian-type statues of guards and lions stand proudly, watching over the highly polished floors and richly carved walls. They really shouldn’t get away with such an obvious replica, but it actually seems quite tasteful (now, there’s a contradiction). Speaking of tasteful, try the self-service basement restaurant. The food is absolutely terrific, you can eat as much as you want, and it’s all fresh. Waiters and cooks are constantly replenishing the stock, and the value for money will be hard to beat. Pop in to the King Tut’s Museum, which houses replicas of the artifacts discovered by Howard Carter in the 1920s.
A short monorail ride will take you to the fairy-tale castle that is Excalibur. Now, as classy as Luxor is, the Excalibur is not. It is sheer fantasy, with no attempt to create any real images. Everything seems extreme and artificial, but somehow that holds its attraction. Our main problem with Excalibur is that we had great difficulty finding our way out—there were no visible exit signs. Perhaps that’s the trick of the casino owners—get the punters in, but don’t make it easy for them to get out!
New York, New York was next in line. It has a stunning façade replicating the Manhattan skyline at one-third of life size. The Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty are there, with a roller coaster linking them together. It’s interesting to see in the daytime, but at night it’s absolutely cracking. Inside the casino, there are more treats, and surrounding the gaming tables and slot machines are superbly decked-out shops set into New York scenes. The sounds of the casino are complimented by strains of jazz music, the chatter of people enjoying a coffee, and the sight of steam puffing out of the false sewer covers. Large screens project horse racing from across the world, and there’s a real sense of excitement from the race watchers. All in all, there is a truly authentic feel to this "no expense spared" tourist attraction.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 23, 2004
Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, Nevada