Viva Las Vegas

In Sin City there is an abundance of places to stay, places to eat and things to do. Here are some of them . . .


It's Dam High!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on April 9, 2012

No trip to Las Vegas should be complete without paying a visit to the Hoover Dam, just outside of the city. The most popular way to visit is probably via one of the many hundreds of helicopter trips that are available from The Strip, but this time we decided to go by car.

===What Is The Hoover Dam===

The Hoover Dam was completed in 1935 after almost 5 years’ construction and was designed to block the Colorado river and to provide low cost water and electricity to the cities to the Southwest of the area. At 726 feet high it is one of the tallest dams ever built and with a 660 feet wide base it is almost as wide as it is high. There is a pretty interesting plaque halfway across the dam that highlights some of the most interesting facts about the dam and its construction – well worth checking out even if you aren’t a fact boffin.

===Getting There===

If you do fancy a helicopter ride out there, it isn’t cheap, but there are many different options that can incorporate a flight over the Las Vegas Strip or even a flight out to the amazing Grand Canyon. It is easy to get a trip as there are so many hundreds of people selling them up and down Las Vegas Boulevard – you can pop into one of the travel shops or even grab a leaflet from someone hawking trips along the pavement. Of course there is also the option of asking the concierge in your hotel who will be happy to help and will be able to give you as much information as you need. Bear in mind though that the helicopter rides often only fly over the dam rather than stopping there, so if you want to actually visit then you are best doing so by an organised coach trip or just driving yourself.

We visited Las Vegas as part of a road trip around the Grand Canyon and so it made sense for us to drive there ourselves. It’s about a thirty minute drive from the centre of The Strip and is quite a simple drive along the highway. Once you leave the highway, the route is well signposted so not difficult even if you don’t have Satnav. We found road works along the way which are apparently fairly long term so if you are visiting anytime soon bear in mind that there may be delays – although the queues only added about ten minutes to our journey.

When you get there, you can actually drive over the dam itself if you want the whole experience, which involves crossing the state line from Nevada into Arizona. I’d actually recommend parking on the Nevada side of the dam though and walking across because the parking on this side is much more organised and plentiful. There is a huge multi storey car park which has a standard fee of $5 – pretty reasonable I’d say.

===Is It Worth A Visit?===

This is absolutely a yes as far as I’m concerned because the Hoover Dam is absolutely fascinating and quite breath taking as well. There is a trip that you can do that goes inside the dam to the huge wind turbines inside as well as covering the history and the making of the dam. We didn’t actually take part in the tour because at $10 per person it just didn’t seem worth giving up a lovely day to go inside. It is a shame really because you used to be able to take an elevator to the bottom and step outside on to the platform as part of the tour, which would have offered much better value for money – however as part of the crackdown in security since 9/11, it is no longer an option.

I loved walking across the top of it and looking over the side, much to my husband’s horror! The walls lining the dam are extremely thick and there is no fear of falling off unless you are stupid enough to deliberately climb up on to the top. But that doesn’t take anything away from the sheer height of the thing – it really is quite something to look over the side. The other great thing about walking across is that you do walk over the state line. There is a little sign halfway across the dam that indicates where the state line is and you may have to wait awhile in order to get to the front of the queue of people that are having their photos taken!

The pavements at either side of the dam are surprisingly narrow and so single file walking is pretty much a necessity. There are plenty of little outposts along the way though where you can stop and admire the views over the side. The road is closed to commercial traffic (online private vehicles are allowed over) so the road isn’t too busy either.

===What Else Is There?===

Another reason that the Nevada side is probably the best side to stop is because this is where the visitor centre is located. There is the obligatory gift shop which contains untold amounts of Hoover Dam themed tat. There is also a café that sells mainly fast food although do a mean (and very popular) ice cream!

Just around the corner from the dam is the entrance to the phenomenally huge Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge which has only very recently finished been finished. The massive bridge, which is the second largest in the United States, was created to help with traffic in the area. It offers absolutely spectacular views over the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead beyond. That is if you have the stomach to cross it! I managed to get around a third of the way across the 1900 feet long bridge before I bottled it!

===Recommended?===

Absolutely. Even if you aren’t a massive fan of architecture or engineering masterpieces, the views and sheer heights alone make it an unmissable visit. After all, it is not every day that you get the chance to see one of the seven wonders of the industrial world!
Hoover Dam
US Highway 93 at the Nevada-Arizona border
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89101

Lights, Lights, Lights!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on April 7, 2012

The Freemont Street Experience was one of my favourite things about Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas, I love the lights, the brashness and the newness of the place that comes in massive proportions. But Fremont Street is old style Las Vegas – how it used to be before modern money took over – and it has one great attraction in the light experience that was created in 1999.

So What Is It?

The Fremont Street experience is essentially a sound and light show that takes place above the street every night on the hour, every hour from sunset until midnight. As I said, the Experience was built in 1999 in a bid to bring in some of the millions of tourists that visit The Strip each year to the downtown area. All along the street is a ninety foot high archway that contains over twelve million LED lights, which transform the ‘ceiling’ into a huge TV screen.

Is It Worth Visiting?

The short answer is absolutely. The long answer is as follows: (!)

Getting to Fremont Street from The Strip is very easy as there are buses that run along Las Vegas Boulevard and into the downtown area at least every ten minutes. It is cheap enough too – you simply buy a ticket from one of the ticket machines at each bus stop and board. The tickets are about $2 and last for a couple of hours or you can get a 24 hour bus pass for about $7. A couple of hours could be enough, if you time it right – remember the show starts on the hour and it lasts for about six minutes – but if you want to explore the area a bit and visit some of the casinos there, I’d recommend spending the extra for a day pass. If you do this you can also use it to stop off at some of the hotels to the northern end of The Strip (including The Stratosphere and Circus Circus) which are a long way on foot if you are staying in the central area near Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace.

The show is sponsored by a consortium of the hotels on Fremont Street and so they play their part in making the show what it is by turning off all of the lights in their casinos just before the show starts. I think this makes all the difference and is a fantastic idea. For me it did a lot to build up the excitement and create atmosphere before the show. There is something slightly spine tingling about seeing the city of lights go dark.

The show itself has no particular format or story. It is more of just an independent mini movie that is shown each hour. The shows are different every time and they tend to incorporate soft rock and cartoon like images. They are designed that you can’t help but tap your feet and swing your hips to them regardless of whether you like the featured artist. When we visited we saw Queen and Bon Jovi, neither of whom my husband likes but both of which he thoroughly enjoyed. There are huge speakers all along the street, so it really is an experience rather than just a show; you can’t help but feel part of the show. All along the street there are hundreds and hundreds of people staring up at the ceiling bopping along happily.

One of the best things about the show is that it is entirely free, so if you are on a budget, it is a great thing to do to pass a bit of time or even an evening if you want to stay and watch more than one show, which we did quite happily.

Seeing the benefits of creating such a big tourist attraction in the area, there are lots of other things that you can do to pass the time between the shows that have appeared as a result. There are many little free standing gift stalls along the street selling everything and everything you can think of in the form of Las Vegas souvenirs – we were oddly mesmerised by a lady who was writing people’s names on grains of rice!

There is a huge flying fox type thing that runs along the street underneath the LED arch. It’s not cheap at $20 per person, but it is very popular and you will find that any walk down the street is punctuated by the screams and shouts from the people above who seem to be having a whole lot of fun.

Then of course, there are the casinos. The Golden Nugget is kind of Fremont’s answer to the big casinos of The Strip. It doesn’t live up to its aim of being an upmarket establishment in downtown, but it is glittery and eye catching all the same. You can get one of the famous 99 cent shrimp cocktails in The Golden Gate, pretty much the only thing going for this understated and pretty old casino that has been there since 1901. There is also Binion’s Horseshoe which is an old school casino that has no airs and graces and it shows. That said, the casinos here are worth a visit because they are supposed to pay out more than elsewhere and they offer a much more casual experience. To be honest, we absolutely loved spending time in them people watching – you really do get all sorts in this area and it is truly fascinating stuff!

Overall I wouldn’t hesitate recommending a trip to Fremont Street because the Experience is fantastic and it is easy to get to and free to enjoy.
Fremont Street Experience
Westernmost 5 Blocks Of Fremont
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89101
(702) 678 5777

Paradise? Not Quite But Not Far Off!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dkm1981 on April 3, 2012

On our second day in Las Vegas we went to The Buffet @ Bellagio but found the queues were far too long for two hungry people. Deciding to stick to the buffet idea that we set our hearts (and stomachs) on, we went over to Garden Buffet at Flamingo Resort. We enjoyed the buffet because the choice is mouth-watering and the price not too bad.

The buffet, like most in Las Vegas is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and charges various amounts depending on what time and day you visit. As a rough guide, breakfast is around $15, lunch around $17 and dinner around $20. If you are visiting on the weekend you can expect these prices to go up by a dollar or two. Children under 15 years old pay a fixed price of $12 regardless of the time or day.

When we visited for midweek dinner at around 6pm, the queue for the buffet was absolutely huge, but we noticed that there was an entrance for ‘Total Club Members’ and there was no one in the queue. A very helpful guy from one of the nearby gift stalls explained to us that we could become ‘Total Club Members’ by paying an extra $2 each for the buffet. It didn’t take much consideration and I’d strongly recommend paying the extra. The other benefit to this is that you only have to pay the extra amount once – you are given a card and so if you visit the buffet again, you can use the card to skip the queue and then just pay the standard buffet charge.

The Garden Buffet is right at the back of the hotel on the casino floor. It is a fair old trek, but it is well sign posted and close to all of the other Flamingo restaurants so is pretty easy to find. Once you get inside, you see that the place is (like everything in Las Vegas) is absolutely huge. To be honest the restaurant design was pretty basic and it did give me the feeling of being in a school canteen that buffets do tend to give. The food is laid out on the left hand side as you go in and the dining area to the right. There are plenty of tables and I’d recommend paying attention to the route the waitress takes you on in getting to your table, because it is unbelievably easy to get lost!

The dining is bright and airy, mainly thanks to the huge floor to ceiling windows that line one side of the room. If you can, ask if you can sit by the window because you get a good view out over the garden area which is home to the hotel’s namesakes: a pretty huge collection of the bright pink birds as well a selection of other birds and creatures. It is quite a nice place to sit to be honest, much better than the other areas where, despite the size of the room, the tables are packed in quite closely.

The food was very good. Comparing it with the only other buffet we ate at (the one at the Bellagio) I would have to say it isn’t quite to the same standard, but it is a pretty close second and for the price difference it absolutely does offer great value for money. The choice is extensive and no matter how fussy an eater you are, you’ll find a wide range of things to eat. There is a huge fresh salad counter and I was pleased to find that the food was nice and cold. After eating American stodge for a week already, it was a welcome change to eat something a bit healthier! If you are health conscious, there is also mounds of fresh shrimps and snow crabs as well as a mind boggling assortment of delicious sushi.

If you fancy something a bit heartier, there is carving station where you can get lamb, prime rib and chicken, which can be accompanied by potatoes (roasted, mashed, boiled and chipped to name a few) and more vegetables than you can shake a stick at. If you prefer something a bit more exotic, there is a selection of Chinese, Mexican and Indian inspired dishes. In fact the choice is so abundant that I’d recommend you have a wander round first and decide what you want because otherwise you’ll get carried away and miss out on dessert!

Dessert is where the buffet comes into its own – there are cakes, tarts, pastries and mousses galore. My favourite was the chocolate fountain where you could dip strawberries, marshmallows and cinder toffee pieces to your heart’s content! Again for the healthy eaters, there is a huge display of fresh fruit including melon, mango, pineapple and the like.

The food is cooked nicely and is very tasty. Although some of it is a bit plain, it is very much comfort food and is just what you need if you have spent the day exploring. Overall, I would absolutely recommend the Garden Buffet because it is reasonably priced and the choice means that everyone will find something that they love. Although it is not the best in Las Vegas, it is a perfect option if you are on a budget and you are hungry!
Paradise Garden Buffet
Flamingo Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
(702) 733-3333

The King of Buffets!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by dkm1981 on March 31, 2012

Buffets are and always have been a stalwart of the Las Vegas dining scene. For years people have flocked to them to pile plates for a few dollars. But in recent years the buffet experience has developed somewhat and it has become a chance for hotel chefs to show off their culinary experience. The buffet at the Bellagio is a fine example of being able to eat a wide variety of food for not exorbitant prices.

We actually made two attempts at visiting the Bellagio buffet, but our first attempt was not so successful. We went at about six pm the first time and the queue was ridiculously long. The buffet is right at the back of the hotel on the gaming floor, on the right hand side. We could see the queues long before we reached them and we saw that there are actually two queues. The first is for anybody to join, the other for members of the Bellagio ‘club’. I’m not entirely sure how you join this club – maybe you have to be staying at the hotel, I’m not sure. But we decided very quickly that we wouldn’t bother waiting and we decided to return and try our luck the following night. We actually returned a little bit later at around 7.30pm and found that there was no queue at all. It would seem that the patrons of the Bellagio are early diners!

We were shown to a table straight away. The dining area is large and spacious, although the tables do seem to be quite close together. There was some refurbishment work going on whilst we visited and parts of the restaurants were closed off, so this could be the reason for the cramped dining. A waiter came and took our drinks order straight away but we declined because we had bought our own drinks with us. That is one of the wonderful things about Las Vegas – you can bring drinks in from anywhere and therefore don’t have to pay inflated restaurant prices. It might seem like a cheap thing to do, but when you are looking at around $10 for a glass of wine, it is worth making the saving! I did later on in the night sample a cocktail for $12, which was very nice indeed but probably not worth the money really.

The buffet is amazing. It is well laid out and, unlike the dining area, the buffet area is spacious. This is good for two reasons. Firstly, you can see the full choice of food available easily and, secondly, there is plenty of room for everybody. I don’t know about you, but I always find that people tend to hover and generally get in the way at buffets, but there is enough room for everyone here.

The food is great – everything you could wish for and more is here. You can start with some fresh shell fish – stuffed crab, lobster claw and huge shell on prawns. Or you could opt for a nice fresh salad made with the freshest ingredients and topped with one of the mind boggling choices of dressing they offer. There is also a selection of soups which changes on a daily basis. For main course I particularly enjoyed the carvery selection. It is clear that the Bellagio use the finest ingredients and the choice is astounding. One thing I will say is that you need to specify the size of portion you want because they have a tendency to pile you plate high for you! There are also lots of others types of food to choose from including curries, Chinese stir fries and pasta dishes. There is lots for every body – whether you are a fussy eater or a healthy eater, you’ll find plenty. There is also a selection of ‘kid’ food like chips, chicken nuggets and pizzas. One thing that I noticed is that the food was kept to the perfect temperature. The chilled foods were all displayed on huge piles of crushed ice, keeping them nice and cold whilst the hot food was indeed that. I tend to find that food at buffets is often lukewarm, but this is not the case here.

The desserts were something else entirely. I strongly recommend that you don’t over-indulge before you get to the desserts because you’ll be sorry if you can’t fit them in. The desserts are all served on individual little plates and include everything from Tiramisu sponge to extravagant fruit and ice cream sundaes. There are so many that you could probably spend a few hours working your way through them.

The service was good – plates were moved quickly and drinks brought quickly too. When I asked the waiter about the cocktails, he was knowledgeable and enthusiastic but not overly so.

The price of the buffet is slightly more than the others in Las Vegas at just under $30 per person (around£20) but I think it is entirely worth it. Unlike many buffets, you don’t feel like you are in a school canteen and the choice and standard of the food is excellent. Definitely recommended.
Bellagio Buffet
3600 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
(702) 650-9459

Having A Ball At Bill's!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by dkm1981 on March 16, 2012

We stayed at Bill’s Gamblin Hall and Casino on two separate occasions during our recent road trip in America on the recommendation of a fellow reviewer (thanks Rosebud2001!!) and thoroughly enjoyed the excellent value for money and great location that the hotel offers. There is an abundance of rooms available in Las Vegas, so the competition is strong but Bill’s Gamblin Hall well deserves it title as ‘Best Strip Deal’.

===Location, Location, Location===

The hotel is located at the corner of the East Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard (otherwise known as ‘The Strip’). The entrance, if you are arriving by car, is actually on East flamingo Road to the side of the hotel. It’s immediately on your right as you head down the road so you have to be prepared to turn pretty much straight away. The car park is covered and has CCTV so is pretty secure and also has the added bonus of being free to use. There are plenty of spaces and we never had trouble finding one.

Aside from the price, the location is absolutely the best thing about this hotel. It is right in the centre of the action and within walking distance of all the main sights. It is right opposite the Bellagio and we could actually see the famous fountain show from the window of our room – OK so you have to crane your neck a little bit, but that isn’t the point! Caesar’s Palace is across the road on the other side too, so shopaholics will be pleased to know that you are only a few minutes’ walk from The Forum Shops which includes a great range of high street favourites. If you want to go a bit further afield, there is a bus stop right outside of the hotel, so you can get pretty much anywhere in Vegas easily.

===Checking In (And Out)===

Checking in is super easy. As Bill’s Gamblin Hall is one of the smaller hotels on The Strip, there aren’t the massive checking in queues that you find in many of the more famous hotels. The check in desk is located right at the back of the hotel on the ground floor behind the casino floor (you’ll notice that a lot of the things you need in Las Vegas are at the back of the casino floor!). The staff give you the big American welcome and are competent and friendly. You get a little booklet that is full of discount vouchers that you can use at various places in the Harrah’s chain. Some of the vouchers are much more useful than others – there is half off tickets to see Penn and Teller as well as quite a few discounts on restaurants and buffets, which are obviously handy.

Checking out at the end of your stay is just as easy. We actually asked about late check out to give us more flexibility and it wasn’t a problem at all – and reasonably cheap at $10 to extend our stay from 12 noon until 4pm. Very handy and well worth the money.

===Four (Hundred Foot) Rooms===

The rooms are huge. There is no other word for them. They include either a king size bed or two queen sized bed (we had the latter), either of which is absolutely swallowed by the 400 feet of floor space in each room. The beds are huge and comfy with nice firm pillows. My husband and I both slept brilliantly every night.

Each room has a (somewhat unnecessary, I thought) 42 inch plasma TV which has a full range of channels including optional pay per view ones. They also have the usual furniture – a desk and chair, a wardrobe and an armchair. All pretty standard but everything you need. The only thing that was missing that we could have done with was a safe. We opted to lock valuables in one of the cases and had no problems with that, but it would have been nice to have a safe for peace of mind.

The rooms are perhaps a little dated, much like the rest of the hotel. The whole place is perfectly clean and well maintained, but the décor is dated and it clashes brilliantly. To be honest it wasn’t a problem for me at all – I thought it added to the charm of the place and to the loose theme. It is one of the oldest hotels on The Strip and still maintains that old school charm that made the city famous. I loved the hotel and its décor because it put me in mind of what Las Vegas used to be like before the big hitters took over and made it the brash city that it is today.

===Amenities? You Bet!===

Like every building in Las Vegas, the hotel centres around its casino floor where you can play poker, craps, blackjack and roulette or you can just spend your time playing the slots. I am no experienced gambler, so I spent my time on the slots and won a couple of $100 plus jackpots, which is always nice! If like me you are a novice to the tables, there are lessons each day on craps so you can learn whilst you are there.

There is a restaurant at the hotel which seems to serve an odd combination of steak and Chinese food. Despite this oddness, it is ridiculously popular (probably because of the rock bottom prices) and there was at least an hour waiting list all the time. This was just one of the reasons we decided not to dine there (that and the fact there is no shortage of places to eat in Vegas), but just in case you do want to wait, you don’t have to stay in line – they don’t want to missing the opportunity so they make a call out across the casino floor when it is your turn to eat.

Aside from that, there aren’t many other amenities to speak of, although you can use the facilities at the flamingo next door, which is part of the same chain. The Flamingo has four pools as well as a couple of hot tubs which you can use by just showing your Bill’s Gamblin Hall room card. The pool area was actually closed for the season when we arrived at the end of October, which was a shame because it was certainly still hot enough to sunbathe and swim, but the pools looked to be large enough to accommodate all visitors.

===Come On Down, The Price Is Right===

So it all sounds great, but what about that price that I have been hinting at? Is it really that good? Yes it is! We paid £25 per room per night for a room only basis. To be honest, that is cheap even if the hotel were in a rubbish location and it was a dump, but it isn’t. It is just brilliant because it is such good value for money. The prices do go up at certain times – for example when there is a big event on – but even then it is still the cheapest place to stay on The Strip. We booked it directly with the hotel at www.billslasvegas.com.

I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this hotel to anyone – sure it doesn’t have the abundance of facilities that some of the bigger ‘resort’ hotels offer, but it is so cheap and you can still use all of the facilities in the other hotels for free anyway, so with Bill’s Gamblin Hall, you get the best of both worlds.
Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon
3595 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89132
(702) 737-7111

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