The visit to Vegas was always going to be memorable given that it started with a short flight from New York with my best friend, while incredibly hungover.
Despite arriving in the early hours of the morning around 3am, there was a timeless buzz about the place, with groups of friends meandering through the reception and everything brightly lit. This was a pre-cursor for all we would experience on this trip.
Looking directly down from our window we could see a beautiful blue twinkling diamond. There was a swimming pool that was our only planned destination for the day. After a very busy four days in New York and an early morning arrival, some rest and relaxation was exactly what we needed.
Thanks to recovering from surgery, I had to wear a brace on my leg which meant I was unable to get in the water. Looking down from the window I didn’t anticipate this was going to be much of a problem, but when I got outside by the waters edge my mind was very much changed…..it was hot! Walking around the pool there were weird frames that were misting out a fine spray of water. I thought these were a strange design feature but after a couple of hours of frying like an egg in the heat of the day, they became my best friend.
As I’m a bit of a waterbaby, I couldn’t cope with not getting in the pool at all. I waded ankle length in the shallow end but looked like an awkward pool attendant just stood watching everyone. I retreated to sitting on the edge keeping my feet in the water-not the most comfortable option but my only one available. A team of drop dead gorgeous bar servers were walking round in tiny purple bikinis. I was conscious of sitting in their way so spent my day restlessly flitting between my pool edge and my sunlounger for the majority of the day.
Being in the city of excess, we knew we wanted to watch a show, there would be no limits to the spectacles we could see here. We’d been told that you could get tickets from street sellers on the strip, we just had to find them located under a big red umbrella. A quick google told us that luckily there was one directly across the street from our hotel so we decided to go for a mid afternoon walk.
There was a glass bridge spanning the twelve lanes of traffic (seriously everything in this place is supersized!) and this was a perfect place for a view of the strip in all it’s glory.
After being recommended by the majority of baristas in Starbucks, we settled for tickets to watch Absinthe, and also secured some vouchers for dinner at Planet Hollywood.
With the evening drawing in, we continued our walking around. Neon, illuminating, day-glo there is nothing quite descriptive enough to capture exactly how lit up everything is. And it’s amazing how quickly you fall in line and find it totally normal to see an Eiffel Tower, followed by a pyramid, next door to a hot air balloon as you navigate the crowds.
Friends we met in New York told us not to pack the sneakers away and they were right, there is a lot of walking to be done in Las Vegas.
We made our way to Planet Hollywood to use our dinner vouchers then took a sensible option to call it a night as we had a big day ahead of us.
After a rushed breakfast we raced to the underground carpark to be met by a sweeping black limousine, ready to whisk us off to an airstrip a short drive away.
Waiting to check in, I realised that everybody was being weighed. It made perfect sense for each helicopter to be fairly balanced but did nothing for my ego when my weight recorded a couple of kgs higher due to the ‘holiday weight’ currently on my back in the rucksack we’d filled with stuff to get us through the day!
With name stickers firmly in place we waited to be called by our pilot Bruce. With a moniker like that I was expecting a silver haired, more mature gentleman but was surprisingly met with a young guy who had a look of Mark Zuckerberg.
We bundled into the back of the chopper, headsets on looking like extras out of a music video and took to the skies. In a convoy following other helicopters we were soon cutting across the clear blue sky, gazing down at the vast expanse of desert stretching before us. After a short flight that cruised high above Lake Mead and the Hoover Damn, we came in to land. Stepping foot outside, we were officially in the basin of the Grand Canyon.
The landscape was other worldly. I suddenly felt incredibly small surrounded by the huge rugged walls of the canyon while listening to the tales of how this whole channel was carved by a once mighty and powerful river. There was plenty of chances to take photos and savour the moment of being where we were – I felt very lucky to experience this and even luckier to do it with my best friend by my side.
After a quick picnic lunch, we were back in the helicopter. This time we got to co-pilot and sit up front. The sleek glass of the windshield curved round and underneath our feet giving a panoramic view. This was most effective as we raced along parallel with the ground before it slowly fell away beneath us as we went over the cliff edge.
On the return flight we were able to swoop through the skies and fly in over the famous strip, marvelling at the OTT hotels in all their glory.
Being the ultimate tourists we wanted to mark our visit with a selfie by the Welcome To Vegas sign. We had two options to get there, start walking or play it a little bit cheeky and ask our limo driver to take a left turn instead of a right turn. We chanced option number two and thankfully the eight Americans we were sharing the ride with were up for a little detour. Surprisingly the sign is a fair distance from all of the action but this hadn’t stopped people making their pilgrimage to it. Naturally being British we were soon in the queue to capture the iconic shot.
Bundled back in the limo we really pushed our luck asking the driver for a second detour. This time we knew our limits and vowed to just get out of the car at the next unplanned destination. Hotel New York New York. The idea of a rollercoaster within a hotel is generally unfathomable so we expected to find a tame merry go round at most. But this is Vegas and Vegas doesn’t do things by halves. With no queue to contend with, all too quickly we were strapped in and thundering in, out and around the hotel on a very real rollercoaster.
Taking a bit of a breather, we decided to stroll along the famous strip, basking in both the sunshine and the wonderment of the surrounding hotels and their insane uniqueness. Exploring every inch of this place, we caught the bus to Fremont Street and stepped back in the to old style Vegas. With the Kicking Cowboy and the glittering lights of the Golden Nugget casino this was the expectation of Vegas I had from watching Sister Act!
Time began to run away from us thanks to something going on in literally every direction. Back on the bus downtown we were suddenly up against the clock along with battling rush hour traffic to get back and get ready for the evening.
After a quick freshen up and a change of outfit, we were out again hoping to spot the circus tent where we’d be watching the show after our dinner reservations in Caesars Palace. With this hotel being practically next door-but-one we couldn’t foresee any trouble with the plans.
Making the way up the sweeping driveway we stepped foot inside the huge hotel and the search for the restaurant began. Weaving through hallways and through casinos, into the corridors all topped with ceilings decorated with clouds, time stood still. It was ridiculous to be lost within a few minutes of being inside but the truth was we were very very lost. If we could have located a fire escape to get back on to the street and start again we’d have taken that option. It felt like we’d never see natural daylight again and the restaurant was a long forgotten dream thanks to the hypnotic dance of the clouds on the ceiling.
After an eternity (in reality it was around 30mins) walking through the hotel we finally located the restaurant. I can categorically admit this is the first and last time I’ve asked for the bill while ordering food mere minutes after sitting down!
Miraculously we made it on time and the stresses of the evening melted away into pure hysterics. Absinthe is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever experienced. It’s a variety, circus style affair but with more than a touch of adult humour about it. If you can’t laugh at yourself or are easily offended then I’d try to make a point of avoiding it.
Buoyed by the show, we left the huge circus tent on a wave of giggles and still keen to take in all this city has to offer. We wanted to time it just right so that we could watch a volcano erupt at the Mirage hotel.
Learning our lesson from Caesars, we made a beeline for the nearest assistant and asked for directions to the volcano. Rightly so she looked astounded that we’d asked and politely ushered us back outside just in time for an enormous fiery dance to be performed by the gigantic volcano right before our eyes.
Using another glass bridge, we crossed the road to go and tick another first off the list, marvelling at an indoor canal complete with gondolas.
Continuing our march down the strip, we never quite got to the stage where there were no people but the throngs did start to thin out a little as we approached our furthest destination, the Stratosphere.
Ascending the iconic tower we made our way to the highest viewpoint of the day. Looking across the vista we were now greeted with a view resembling a thick black blanket dusted with twinkling lights far below.
At this stage in the day, neither of us needed further encouragement to end the day in style, so we climbed an additional level for a final blast of adrenaline.
On the roof of the Stratosphere there are three rides. One’s a huge mechanical seesaw that teeters precariously towards to edge of the building. One’s a more glamorous version of a flagpole that shoots up to the skies. And one’s a mechanical arm that swings off the side of the tower.
We’d decided we were doing one, but which one was up for a debate that wasn’t really a difficult choice. I’m not a fan of the seesaw effect so that was ruled out, and my friend isn’t a fan of the piston shooting style so that was ruled out, leaving us with the mechanical arm.
We’d spent a couple of minutes watching so knew the arm swung out off the side of the building, and the pod area that you stood in rotates. From the safety of the viewing platform it looked nothing more than a wonderfully unique experience for a couple of minutes. Both with a competitive nature and a thrill seeking encouragement for each other, we queued for a short while before it was our turn.
Stepping on to a metal floor, we walked to the little booths you stand in and were strapped in with the restraints that pull down over your head. Standing side by side in pairs, there were four teams all facing into the centre towards each other. A nervous uneasy tension enveloped us as the lights started to flash and the music cranked up. We couldn’t see each other but could shout and hear what the other was saying.
Slowly the arm began to swing out. A slow mechanical process geared to heighten your senses of just how high up you are before the spinning starts. But there was an extra treat we hadn’t realised. The standing zones began to tilt forward to face you directly at the metal floor, before the absolute delight as the floor retreated leaving nothing but clear space.
So there it was. Midnight. Dangling off the side of the tallest tower. Staring at Las Vegas far far below. Waiting to be spun like a garment in a washing machine.
There were a few screams, but there were more words uttered that probably shouldn’t be repeated. And the three quick minutes we had witnessed a short time earlier were now an actual eternity.
With this our final act of a jam packed day, we decided to splash out and treat ourselves to a cab ride back to our hotel. I can safely say it’s the best $10 I’ve ever spent!
Given that the previous day was one thing after another, after another for a solid 18 hours, there were no arguments when we chose to spend the morning by the pool again.
We knew the drill, walk through the misty frames to cool off, rotate every 15minutes to prevent burning and listen to the faint hum of the helicopters zipping by overheard while day dreaming about now wanting to become a pilot.
As airports mornings go, this was a pretty perfect way to spend a couple of hours before bidding a fond farewell to the ultimate Adult’s Playground and continuing my exploration of North America.
Las Vegas was pure exhilaration. There’s a side that’s all clubs and gambling which I chose to avoid but my visit wasn’t impacted by this choice at all. If I had to, I’d recommend:
- the early morning helicopter flight into the Grand Canyon – you avoid the heat of the days and there simply is nothing that can compare to what you get to see
- another good pair of sneakers and allow extra time as the place is BIG and there’s a lot of walking
- a sense of direction and no fear of heights as there is a lot to be seen in, around and up all of the hotels
Let me know if you have any thoughts or comments on this throwback.
The Introverted Globetrotter.