As America’s playground rolls the dice with new protocols, time will tell if the lure of Sin City post Covid-19 lockdown will remain as potent.
With our pre-pandemic tux and party frock in tow, we were raring to experience this dazzling destination.
Vegas is famous for - you name it! Gangsters, The Rat Pack, glittering shows, dazzling casinos, larger than life themed hotels, nightclubs, fine dining, retail therapy, exhibitions - not to mention its salubrious Downtown.
Of the one hundred of so major casino hotels on the iconic strip established in 1931, today’s visitors still flock to hotels including The Flamingo Hotel resort constructed by gangsters Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and Meyer Lansky.
The backdrop of films including Jason Bourne, Ocean's Eleven, Casino, Con Air and Rain Man, we recalled with amusement on arrival the words of Sid Garner to his stag party conspirators in The Hangover: “Remember, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
Our first impressions after a 1,000-mile journey (part of the iconic Route 66) from San Diego via Santa Barbara, Death Valley, The Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam - let’s go party!
Stepping foot into the famous Bellagio - home for the next three nights - the buzz, excitement and enormity of displays, gaming tables, sparkling outfits - many truly outrageous - vied for our attention.
A stunning centrepiece stopping us in our tracks was a glass ceiling sculpture by respected artist Dale Chihuly which incorporates over 2,000 colourful hand-blown glass flowers weighing over 40,000 pounds.
Our comings and goings were enhanced by the Bellagio’s musical fountains - hailed as the most ambitious, choreographically complex water feature ever produced.
Famous for dancing to music, we were enthralled as they shot into the sky 460 feet - and came crashing down like thunder or at a slower pace like drums to complement the various styles of music including opera, classical, Broadway and pop tunes. The free show runs every 30 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes in the evening.
On arrival, it took the best part of an hour to navigate our way around the Bellagio and its myriad of restaurants, bars and retail outlets. Besieged with fast food joints just about everywhere we’d travelled to date, we splashed out on a delicious seafood platter served up with a martini cocktail. Civilisation at last – in Vegas!
With so many eateries to select, beware when ordering pizza! After a long day, and a quick loss of a few dollars at the roulette table, Steve ordered a large one. At two foot wide - it could have fed ten people!
The Vegas Strip - 4.2 miles along - is a long road with massive hotels and entertainment on both sides. Not bad for a place in the desert - and the size and extravagance are something to behold.
Away from the hustle and bustle we explored Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage Hotel. Here we saw dolphins and learnt about their well-being and breeding programme.
This educational and upbeat experience was well presented and underpinned by some simple and serious sustainability messages such as refilling an eco friendly water bottle in favour of using copious plastic bottles. Also at the gardens were meticulously cared for leopards and tigers - another world.
Be sure to pack in the CSI experience at the MGM Grand. Stimulating the grey cells from the moment you walk through the door, this real life insight delves into the meticulous process as we turned investigators determining the science behind the evidence.
We were taken through the techniques that the forensic team use - much more than just fingerprints and DNA. We determined ‘who dun it’ by moving through the exhibition and writing up our conclusions. We were pleased that our brains were still working as we solved the clues and pointed the finger at the right culprits.
We travelled the world in Vegas and the arresting hotel themes include the New York - New York Hotel.
We were also transported to Venice, where Gondoliers sang their way through the canals at The Venetian Hotel, and bridges led to the Plaza where visitors dream under false blue Italian skies and savour gorgeous gelato.
The WOW factor is enormous on entering the water themed mall which captures the architecture, culture and magic of Venice and St Mark's Square. The attention to detail is wonderful - moving clouds, iconic Venetian bridges, Italian cuisine. Irrespective of whether you're up or down on the tables, you definitely leave on a high - and feeling like a winner!
Traversing continents, the Luxor on the Southern part of the strip and accessed by an overhead railway is Egyptian themed with public spaces featuring sculpted statues and antiquities. Celebrating Egyptian history and iconography, the interior boasts an enormous Sphinx along with statues of pharaohs and murals.
The Luxor also houses The Titanic exhibition whose true-life stories personalise this terrible and preventable tragedy. Being given the name of a passenger on entering brought us closer to the sequence of events that led to the appalling loss of 1,503 lives on the fateful 1912 crossing.
On leaving, a board displays the deceased and the survivors. The fact that the names we were given had thankfully survived, did not alleviate the overwhelming sense of sadness for those whose lives were tragically cut short.
The sparkle faded on a bus trip to Downtown Vegas. It was only midday and nudity and alcoholism were already prevalent.
More tackiness included a zip wire running down the main street and street artists in various states of attire.
Our height was The Mob Museum - The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement dedicated to the history of organized crime and law.
The fascinating experience combined shows and genuine historic items, such as Al Capone’s revolver and how the FBI tracked and chased the mob. It also featured a re-enactment of the St Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929. Allow at least half a day to take it all in - it was our last day and we ended up rushing round at breakneck speed.
With cuisine to satiate every palette, our favourite was a taste of France at Mon Ami Gabi under the Eiffel Tower, where Moules marinièr were enhanced by the extremely Parisian décor.
Savouring the scrumptious onion soup au gratin was also wonderful. Don’t forget to linger over the best ever Bloody Mary cocktail while perusing the menu!
On our last night we treated ourselves to the Chinese banquet at The Bellagio, Having lived in Hong Kong we had high expectations – and they were met. The sweet and sour made an excellent tasting feast from our front seat view of the Bellagio Fountains captivating cascade directly in front of us.
Depending on how long your stay - or how much energy or budget you possess - the multitude of experiences up for grabs include glittering shows such as Cirque de Soleil, David Copperfield and Elvis.
Our conclusion? We wholeheartedly agreed that America's playground is everything it's cracked up to be - loud, eccentric, erratic - and the buzz is palpable.
Assaulting your senses at every turn with brashness interspersed with glamour and glitz, Vegas is not to be taken seriously. Enjoy the razzle dazzle!