Thursday, 8 October 2015

Travel: Las Vegas

Las Vegas was the fourth stop on our American road trip. Although it was somewhere I knew I wanted to see at some point, it was actually Tom who really pushed for it to be a part of this trip, having been there himself a couple of times before and insisting that I needed to experience it.

We flew into Vegas from New Orleans, which gave us some pretty cool views of the Grand Canyon on the way. The Vegas experience really does begin the second you get into the airport, with the baggage reclaim area being full of billboard screens and slot machines.

But before we even began to adjust to the Vegas way of life, we had to get used to the climate change. Whereas Washington D.C., Nashville and New Orleans had been very humid, Vegas was a completely dry heat. And about 10 degrees hotter.

I don’t really know how to describe Las Vegas without saying that it’s such a strange but fascinating place, and nothing like anywhere I’ve ever been before. It almost reminded me of being in a theme park. Like a giant city-sized attraction. And I suppose to some extent that’s what it is! With each hotel having a different theme, from world cities to fantasy lands, it did feel like walking around Disney or something, crossing from land to land.

I think you could walk the Vegas strip every day for a month and spot something different every night. There is just so much going on, from hotels, shops, restaurants, rides and street performers. And I would recommend walking it. Both in the day and during the night, because you get a completely different experience from each. It is hard work in the heat, and it takes about an hour to walk one length (possibly longer if you stop in every hotel, which you should), mostly because there are too many people everywhere to be able to walk at any pace faster than a leisurely stroll. And that was probably for the best given the temperatures we were faced with!

We stayed at the Luxor, which is one of the cheaper hotels on the strip, but it’s still technically a four star hotel, which is amazing value for money. In fact, hotels in general in Vegas are super reasonable, as they make most of their money through the casinos. I was kind of expecting Vegas to just feel like one giant party, and although the atmosphere was certainly loud and lively, it was clear from the moment we got to the hotel that it was a complete mix of ages and types of people, from families to people on business trips.

The Luxor is Egyptian themed and the main building is in the shape of a pyramid. After queuing for about 45 minutes to check-in, we found out that we’d got a slight upgrade from the basic room in the pyramid to the basic room in one of the tower blocks to the side of the pyramid. The main difference was that it seemed to be much quieter in the tower, which was nice.

There were so many restaurants in the hotel, but they were quite pricey so the only time we ate in the hotel was one of the mornings for breakfast. I can’t comment on the casino because we didn’t use it once. Shocking, I know. We intended to try one or two of the machines, but it just didn’t happen!

We spent our first full day in Las Vegas by the hotel pool. It was extremely difficult to find empty sunbeds and they were all really close together. The pool was nice, and they had blocks in the middle of the pool to sit on, but there was very much a party atmosphere and a lot of loud music, which wasn’t the best for relaxing.

Because of this, and the fact that I couldn’t take another day in the heat, we headed to an outlet mall the following day. There are two main outlet malls in Vegas, one at either end of the strip, but we opted for Las Vegas North Premium Outlets, purely for the fact that I wanted to go to Kate Spade (insert heart eyes emoji). If you’re on a budget and don’t want to pay for a taxi, it’s really easy to get the bus there and back.

Okay, time to talk food. So as I said before, we tried to avoid eating in the hotel restaurants because they were super pricey. On the first night we spotted a wood-burning oven pizza restaurant called 800 Degrees and decided we would go back there the following evening. Best. Decision. EVER. We later discovered that it’s actually a chain, but basically you get to choose your own toppings, which they load onto the pizza in front of you and then cook in the oven for about sixty seconds before handing it to you. Amazing food and such a reasonable price.

For our other night in Vegas we ate in the Hard Rock Café, because we have a little tradition where we try and visit a Hard Rock Café in every city we travel to. As we were on a backpackers budget of sorts, we knew we couldn’t afford to eat in a Hard Rock in every city on this trip, but we chose Vegas as our one splurge!

We also made sure we had time for a quick cheesecake stop at the Cheesecake Factory, as I’m pretty sure it’s Tom’s favourite place on earth.

Asides from seeing all the hotels and the infamous strip, the other thing that I knew I needed to do whilst we were in Vegas was to see shows. We knew we wanted one of said shows to be a Cirque du Soleil, and after watching a few trailers online we chose Mystère. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t follow the narrative of the show at all, but it was a strange mix of tongue-in-cheek, serious and fantasy which oddly fused together really well. I wasn’t expecting to be as continually astounded as I was by the insane talent of the performers. If you’re visiting Vegas, a Cirque du Soleil show would be at the top of my recommendations of things to do.

The second show I chose was Jersey Boys. It’s a musical I’ve always wanted to see, but never enough to pay to see it in London. I pretty much thought that because it’s a Jukebox musical (based on the songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), I would find it boring and a little cheesy. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I absolutely loved the show, from the storyline to the staging and vocal performances, and I wouldn’t hesitate to see it again.

Speaking of seeing things again, I would also love to return to Las Vegas again someday, although if I visited again I think I’d opt to say somewhere perhaps a little more expensive, primarily for a smarter and quieter pool area (and apparently such places do exist in Vegas).

The thing I loved most about Vegas is that it knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t for a second try to be anything other than that.

If you'd like to see more of our time in Vegas, I've also uploaded a video, so feel free to go and give that a watch.

From Vegas we picked up our campervan, for a week exploring the national parks; keep an eye out for that post, which will be up next week!


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