Las Vegas review: Take a gamble on the City of Sin
When I go on holiday, I usually seek places full of history and culture. On initial appearances, it would seem Las Vegas is the opposite of these. However, having visit Sin City twice, I am a fully paid up member of the Las Vegas fan club! When friends ask me about it when they haven’t been, I always say two things: ‘It’s like Disneyland for adults’, and ‘Don’t stay longer than a few days.’ Having grown up in London, I have high expectations when it comes to nightlife and have often been disappointed with other cities’ nocturnal choices when travelling. However, Las Vegas is one place that certainly doesn’t disappoint and still leaves me wanting more.
Las Vegas is a unique place. A city full of lights, noise and misbehaving – a contrast to the empty, still and quiet desert which surrounds it. Whatever your vice – gambling, alcohol, architecture, food, shopping, shows or adrenalin rides, there is something for you. Following a five year absence, I revisited Las Vegas for three nights in October 2013. As it was my second visit, I was determined to see things I had missed last time. With an airport just outside the city, you can fly straight in and out of Las Vegas, however I combined my mini break with a Californian roadtrip. Las Vegas is around a four hour drive from Los Angeles, but you can also make an adventure of it and take some of the old Route 66 from LA as far as just before Needles, CA. After hours of driving through empty desert and passing the occasional one storey gas station or diner, to suddenly see LV coming into view with its soaring casino resorts and millions of lights is quite a sight.
Most visitors to Las Vegas tend to head for the Strip. This is the main road through Las Vegas featuring all the landmark hotels, such as the Luxor’s black pyramid, the Paris and its Eiffel Tower, the neo-classical towers of Caesar’s Palace and the dancing fountains outside the Bellagio. Compared to other US cities, you can get an incredibly high standard of accommodation for a lot less than you will pay elsewhere. Prices mid-week tend to be significantly cheaper, however if you’re looking for nightclubs, be aware that many are closed on weekday nights. All casino-resorts tend to have several in-houses restaurants for a variety of budgets, bars and at least one nightclub. On my first trip to LV, I stayed at the Luxor in a Pyramid Deluxe Room which was affordable, comfortable and clean. The resort was full of Egyptian paraphernalia so visitors can get a sense of the ancient world. However, on my second trip, I wanted to push the boat out a bit – after all, I was in Vegas and wanted to do my break in style. My friend and I ended up getting a Studio Suite at the Palms Place Hotel & Spa, a hotel linked to the neighbouring Palms Resort & Casino. Although I did want to stay right on the Strip, I had been impressed with the Palms on a night out on my previous visit and it was only a few minutes drive from the main drag. As we were staying over a weekend, it was around $169 per night for our suite on the 28th floor, but thought it was worth it for such a high standard of accommodation. Our huge room included a king sized bed, sofabed, balcony, two TVs in the main room, a kitchenette and Jacuzzi bath, as well as a TV in the bathroom. There was a free valet service and discount at the Palms restaurants, of which I particularly enjoyed the buffet breakfast.
One of the main attractions of Las Vegas is the gambling. I’m not a big gambler, but I do enjoy a flutter. For those who want to play small, there are thousands of slot machines which can keep you occupied for hours and it is relatively easy to win money back. There are also tables, including Black Jack, Roulette, Craps, etc and also lessons available for those who don’t have a clue. I usually set myself a budget of what I am prepared to lose and try to stick to it. On this visit, I was happy to say I broke even. While gambling, you usually get free drinks from the waitresses (don’t forget to tip!). Some casinos are easier to get service than others, but I particularly recommend the waiting staff at the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and Caesar’s Palace.
Las Vegas is a great destination for foodies with some of the world’s top chefs, including Wolfgang Puck, Gordon Ramsay, Michel Richard, Emeril Lagasse and Michael Mina, having established restaurants in the casinos. On my first visit to LV I had an amazing meal in the Eiffel Tower Restaurant which had great views of the Strip and the dancing Bellagio fountains across the road. Something to look for is several restaurants have ‘happy hour’ offers on food and drinks either early or late in the evening. On our first night in Vegas, we ended up heading out for dinner fairly late and were quickly attracted to the happy ‘Samba Hour’ offer on bar food at SushiSamba at the Palazzo. We grabbed a stool by the bar and ended up ordering a mix of sushi, sashimi and small plates, such as plantain and asparagus. The cocktails – also on offer – were as delicious as the food and we wiled away a couple of hours chatting and eating at the bar. The staff were also incredibly friendly and attentive so we gave them a good tip when paying the bill. (For Metro Girl’s review of SushiSamba London, click here.)
One of the newest additions to the LV dining scene is Hakkasan in the MGM Grand. The Cantonese restaurant chain established itself in Vegas a year ago following branches in London, Miami, New York and the Middle East. However, in Vegas, Hakkasan also extends itself to a nightclub, which attracts big name DJs, such as Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki and Tiesto. We made a night of it starting with dinner at Hakkasan, before popping upstairs to the namesake club and adjoining Ling Ling Lounge and Ling Ling Club. The restaurant is stunningly decked out with lattice walls and embroidered leather seating with the waiting staff in chic shift dresses. We decided on a tasting menu so we could sample a range of dishes, including Hakka-steamed dim sum, Spicy Prawn, roasted Chilean Sea Bass and Seared Scallop with fresh Mango in Chili Sauce. The kitchen is led by Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon so the food was absolutely exquisite. Both of us were in raptures over the flavours. To accompany our meals, we tried some cocktails from the extensive and original menu, including Smoky Negroni (Ransom Old Tom barrel aged gin, Antica Formula vermouth, Campari and Grand Marnier smoke infusion) and Chinese Mule (Ketel One vodka, Masumi Okuden junmai sake, cilantro, ginger, lime and Fever-Tree ginger beer). I highly recommend Hakkasan for an amazing meal.
When it comes to nightclubs, you are spoilt for choice. If you want the easy option, you can always choose a club within your resort so it’s easy stumbling distance back to your room. Among the most popular nightclubs in Vegas are Tao at the Venetian, Hyde at the Bellagio, Marquee at The Cosmopolitan and XS at Encore. I’ve enjoyed some epic nights out at the Moon club at the top of the Palms and the Hakkasan complex. The biggest club in the complex is the main Hakkasan nightclub, where Calvin Harris had a residency last season. He was DJing on the night in question and proved a huge draw with people queuing outside. The venue was packed to the rafters, so we ended up moving to the more intimate Ling Ling Club, where Run DMC legend Rev Run had joined DJ Ruckus for the latter’s birthday party. We loved the music in here so ended up spending most of our night in here dancing. If loud music and dancing isn’t your thing, you can easily drink at the many bars in the casinos until sunrise.
For those who still have the energy, there is also the opportunity for ‘dayclubbing’ at the many pool parties. We were there for the end of pool party season (which generally runs from April to October) and were due to go to Wet Republic… however we were out so late the night before, we were just too exhausted and… let’s say, not looking our best. The pool parties usually feature big name DJs so you can dance in the pool or listen while chilling on a lounger. Guests really make an effort with their glam poolwear, so given how hungover my friend and I were feeling, looking good wasn’t high on our agenda at that time! So a pool party is definitely on my list for my next visit to Vegas. However, if you do fancy one, check out Wet Republic at the MGM Grand, Rehab at the Hard Rock, Daylight at the Mandalay Bay or Tao Beach at the Venetian.
For those who want a taste of old Vegas, head downtown where some of the classic Vegas casinos such as the Golden Nugget and 4 Queens are located. Fremont Street has been covered over with a sound and light show in the evening (Fremont Street Experience). It is also the location of the famous Vegas Vic, the illuminated cowboy hitching a ride, and his friend Vegas Vicky. Another iconic Vegas must-do is to watch the dancing waterfalls outside the Bellagio. The Italian-themed casino is one of the most glamorous in Vegas so is worth checking out inside and staying in – if you can afford it. I’m hard to impress when it comes to sound and light shows or fireworks, but was stunned at how good the waterfalls were, so can highly recommend.
For those looking for a retail fix with the money they’ve won, there are many boutiques and stores within the casinos and along the Strip. However, the outlet malls tend to be a big draw for tourists. Within Vegas itself are the Las Vegas Premium Outlets North and South, or I drove 30 minutes south to Fashion Outlets Of Las Vegas, which features stores such as Kate Spade New York, Nine West, Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors. I ended up buying a pair of Converse trainers for £14 so that’s an idea of the bargains you can find.
Finally, for adrenalin junkies, there are lots of rides attached to the casinos. Those looking for a more sedate experience can fantasise they’re in Venice on the gondola ride at the Venetian ($18.95 – significantly cheaper than the real thing in Italy’s City of Bridges). We were somewhat freaked out at one of the Venetian’s canals because it had a moving daytime ‘sky’ above the water, despite it being about 1am in the morning and inside – surreal! I love rollercoasters, but was scared silly by the Big Apple Coaster ($14) at the New York New York, which goes upside down and around the casino towers. On my to do list for the next visit to Vegas is the rides at the top of the Stratosphere tower. The SkyJump is a controlled freefall off the 108th floor, Insanity is a G-force ride which sends you out 64 feet over the edge of the tower, X-Scream sends you teetering 27 feet over the edge and Big Shot sends you 160 feet in the air.
Overall, there is plenty to keep you occupied in Las Vegas for weeks, if not months on end. However, due to the surreal and chaotic hedonism of the place, which prompts you to spend a lot of money, I always recommend to friends just spending a few days there at a time. The lack of windows and clocks in the casinos mean you lose all track of time and the constant ping, ping of the machines can get into your head – not the best place to have a hangover in. When you do leave, Vegas should leave you wanting more… I know I always feel that way on departure. I can’t wait to go back!
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