Vegas is a strange place. Just like everyone told me before I left for my trip last summer, it’s like no place you’ve ever seen before.
As the plane landed on the runway only a few km from the strip, I looked out the window to identify the green monstrosity that was my hotel. Palm trees and desert formed a superficial barrier between my airplane and “Vegas” – the town of sin and romance, of showgirls and Sinatra (now Celine Dion), of wealth and bankruptcy.
As I stepped into the airport, I was surrounded by slot machines, but fewer people than I had anticipated (it was a Wednesday after all).
We were quickly herded into a tram to take us to the other terminal, and then from there into a cab to take us to The Strip. Our driver was friendly and the roads, while constructed only for fast moving cars on 14 lanes, were empty and efficiently planned.
When we arrived at the MGM Grand, the lobby was attractive, but not overwhelming – the size of the hotel wouldn’t hit me until later when I tried to get across it. Our check-in was swift and we were sent up to our room despite check-in not being officially available for another 3 hours.
Our room was like any other hotel room – two beds, a desk, a tv in an ugly armoir, and a slightly above average bathroom. But when I looked out the window I knew I was in the Vegas that people had told me about. I opened my curtains for a head-on view of the New York skyline. Well, sort of.
All the highlights were there: the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, and the Chrysler Building. Yet, as tacky as a replica of New York City should be, it wasn’t. It was cool.
I felt the same about the replica Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe at the Paris, and the canals of “Venice”. It really felt as if I were walking through the streets of Paris and Rome – as long as I didn’t look up at the painted blue sky.
It surprised me how untacky Vegas turned out to be. Sure, walking through Harrah’s casino with a thick cloud of smoke, low ceilings and garish slot machines still made my skin crawl, but it was almost welcome . That small amount of tackyness next to dozens of billion dollar pseudo-European landmarks made me feel grounded – like Vegas might be a real place, albeit a strange one.
Best of Vegas
If you’re in to pure gluttony, head for the buffets. Harrah’s Buffet of Buffets (which includes Harrah’s, Imperial Palace, Planet Hollywood, Paris, Caesar’s Palace, The Rio and The Flamingo) is a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of gluttony. Nothing says Vegas like 3 plates full of carbs and room for dessert. Price: $44.95
We ate at the Paris, Caesar’s Palace and Planet Hollywood. I would definitely recommend the first two – the food was good, but the line at Paris was huge (something about the age of the crowd that stays there it seemed), and the employee’s at Caesar’s were rather curt. But in both cases I felt like I enjoyed my food and the atmosphere. Planet Hollywood, on the other hand, felt like eating at a food court. The food was stale and uninspired. And though there were more choices than any other buffet, I ended up wasting a huge amount of food because it just wasn’t any good. Of course don’t expect gourmet (Vegas has great restaurants if you’re willing to spend the money), but if what you’re looking for is a lot of food for not a lot of money, the buffets will rock your world. The caveat, of course, is that Vegas is incredibly difficult to navigate quickly. If you’re not staying at one of those 7 hotels, keep in mind that you’ll need to factor in travel time. Whether you’re taking the monorail, a cab, or walking, traveling through the gigantic hotels or through the jam-packed streets, it will take time.
But if you’re not as concerned about price (but still love the gluttony), the Treasure Island buffet was by far the best. The food, though not extremely varied, was really good. It was hot, tasted fresh, and delicious.
I’d also recommend the Premium Outlet Mall on the north side of the strip. I had been warned before I went that the prices weren’t very good and that I should consider driving out of town to the other mall, but it just wasn’t an option. It didn’t matter anyhow. I found a great Ann Taylor dress for 60% off, and a Coach purse for 70% off. To get there, we took the monorail to the end of the line, and then hopped a city bus. It was a long ride, but worth saving $40 on a cab and gave us a glimpse (though not a great one) of Vegas off The Strip. You can find alternate transportation options here.
The worst of Vegas
Family of Pimps: I had no expectation of Las Vegas as a classy town. Peep shows, strip clubs, and burlesque. I get it. But where I really got skeeved out was with the string of pimps that lined the sidewalks of the strip, virtually shoulder to shoulder. They were old and young, men and women. With a swift flick of the wrist and a t-shirt promising delivery of girls within 20 minutes, the people shoved “business” cards in the hands/faces of every man (and some women) who passed by. I couldn’t help thinking “who are these girls?” and “where are they from?” “Why are they available on demand and do they want to be there?” It was dirty, and creepy, and likely a little human trafficking. I could be wrong, but I don’t really believe that I am.
Travel time: It takes so long to get anywhere. It’s not just that it is crowded and difficult to walk on the sidewalk (though it would be nice if anyone would move faster than a toddler) it’s that all the buildings are so immense, the monorail is so far off the strip, and the parking lots take up so much room that nothing is as close as it appears. It took us 20 minutes to get from the monorail in our hotel, to another hotel that we could see was diagonally across the street. When we were trying to get to a show at Mandalay Bay from the monorail at MGM, we had to first sprint across the hotel – through the casino, past the lions, up the stairs and over the bridge. Then we travelled through the New York, New York, over a second bridge and into Excalibur hotel. Then we hopped a tram, and crossed the final hotel to get to the theatre. It was exhausting.
I have no doubt that I got a lot of exercise in Vegas, but it wasn’t enjoyable like walking through the streets and looking at sites, it was spent navigating crowds in smoky casinos just to get to the next place. As I mentioned before, this is why the Buffet of Buffets was a problem. Since we weren’t staying at the hotels with the buffets, we had to travel thirty minutes in each direction to get a meal. We ended up only doing it once and then switched to eating at Denny’s and the Food Court of our hotel.
Kids: This is going to get me in trouble, so let me explain. There were a lot of kids on the strip (at my hotel, in the pool, at the shows). But they don’t belong there. Vegas is, as many people have described it to me, Disney Land for adults. It’s gambling, drinking and sex. Though you can surely make it what you want it to be (I’m fairly lame as far as mid-twenties girls go), what you can’t make it is wholesome. As we lazed in our pool at the MGM (which is fantastic, by the way), I watched kids splashing around, surrounded by drunk people and floating beer cans. It was gross, and it made me feel guilty (and protective). It messed with my fun. At the Treasure Island pirate show, kids waited eagerly to see girls in booty shorts sing about sex.
Sure, we might have different definitions of wholesome (or whether “wholesome” is a good goal anyway) but kids in Vegas is weird. There’s little for them to enjoy, and they cramped my style.