Vegas baby

Over the past few weeks I’d been moved by some of mother natures finest scenery, visited many museums and a couple of vineyards. All quite cultured really but now I was ready for some superficial fun. Vegas – what a place. It really is Disneyland for grown ups. There is something to excite and titillate the senses whether you’re a gambler or not. Even the ride down Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip) is impressive.

As you drive the two and a half kilometre length of The Strip there is an instant kick on recognising the hotel names known from both the big and small screens. But what you don’t get from the two-dimensional on screen image is the sheer scale of each place. As I passed The Bellagio, The Venetian, Caesars Palace, MGM, New York New York, Treasure Island, The Imperial Palace etc I was taken in by the grandiose size; as each location occupies at least a couple of blocks. And under the roof of their many towers are bedding, gaming, entertainment, shopping and eating areas that dwarfs anything we have in Europe.

I stayed at the Imperial for almost a week. Although well known by name it’s not even a distant relative of the sumptuousness offered at the Latin sounding pillars of excessiveness. However, compared with other rooms where I’ve stayed on this trip it certainly felt palatial with its huge floor space, king size bed and bathroom bigger than some hostel bedrooms. Ironically the cost of the room was roughly the same price as some hostels. Where the location entices guests with low room rates, as they know they’ll get you at the casinos, bars, restaurants and shows. After a quick check-in I headed out for a walkabout and realised that the comparison to a theme park is fully justified.

Each location has a unique offering akin to a ride at the fairground all of which can mesmerise and provoke a state of wondrous awe. From the gondolas that drive through the mock Venetian city under real and painted skyline, to the Bellagio’s Trevi Fountain and it’s amazingly choreographed fountain that dances to music and lighting all topped off by a firework crescendo every twenty minutes. Then there’s the replica of the Eiffel Tower and Broadway at New York, New York. And, at the Miracle Mile shopping mall the fake sky rains every twenty minutes or so. In someway the imitation of mostly European landmarks it not perverse but on the contrary is pretty cool. And that’s before you hit the casinos.

Even as a non-gambler I could feel the allure of the casino. The enormous halls with high ceilings and constant buzz of excitement. The one arm bandits belting out their happy chirpy melody and whose sound leaves you feeling trapped within a Gameboy if you don’t escape within ten minutes. Then the real gambling tables escalate the pull of Vegas. The floor of most casinos where constantly busy regardless of whether it was roulette, crap, blackjack or some other vice. The two things you won’t find in casinos are: clocks and windows. Customers don’t need to be reminded how long they’ve spent there. However I set myself a time and cash limit of USD200 playing Blackjack at Caesars.

Luckily I found a table with no other players, as I didn’t want to come across as the novice I am. My session lasted about fourty minutes before I called it quits when I was USD120 down. Good to say I’ve had a go but honestly I would have preferred to have blown the money other ways. Box ticked.

Beyond the gambling there is a lot more too Vegas’s entertainment menu. There are some wicked bars and clubs. Tips for hotspots came from my buddy Chris (Pure) and the barman at the Hardrock Café where I had a fantastic Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Pure is the Bellagio’s superclub in name and nature. The place rocked with 3K people in attendance with great music, light shows and a pool for decadent ambiance. However I did enjoy the tip to visit Town Square, which is a mini strip where the locals go. I took in Blue Martini on two nights as the combination of free vodka and mixers before 12 and surprisingly well mixed House and R&B made it an easy choice for a return visit.

Two other Vegas highlights included Cirque du Soleil’s show Love and a visit Lagasse’s to watch El Classico. The former being the dance group’s homage to The Beatles which despite its price tag of USD170 for reasonably decent tickets was worth the money. First time I’ve seen a show by this dance group. I’ve been to enough live music concerts to appreciate how dance and dancers can enhance a show but I’ve never been to an event where dance and performance was the show. The performers with their combination of dance, acrobatics, set design and music really put together an incredible nights entertainment. I guess that’s why they have seven different shows running concurrently in Vegas.

On my last day I watched the other remarkable performance that week, being Barcelona’s 5-0 win over Real Madrid at Lagasse’s. Another excessive Vegas location. Not the type of sports bar where you have to cram past loud Australians to watch a video wall. This is an upmarket sports haven where TV screens are laid out like NASA’s control room and lazyboy recliners replace the roller chairs. A great game enjoyed over a steak, onion rings and a glass of red wine. Which itself was a challenge to eat while half reclined on one of those fine American chairs.

Not long before I started this trip I spent a couple of days in Paris during which I visited the Palace of Versailles. A pleasant enough excursion that included a rowboat in the pond. While such a visit appeals to the intellectual parts of the brain it’s a once in a lifetime event. Next time it will be Disneyland as let’s be honest, theme parks are much more fun. Vegas – until the next time.


Al Dempsey
23 December 2010

PS. My GPS is not working. I’m not in Tijuana but in the fantastic beach town of Puerto Vallarta Mexico.