10 things to love about Vegas

2013-05-04 09:30

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This dazzling desert city offers so much more than greasy-haired Elvis impersonators and slot machines.

The flight from London to Las Vegas confuses my body clock. I can’t tell whether to have champagne or coffee on the plane, so I have both. When I get to Heathrow for my flight to the US, I visit the BA Club Galleries Lounge.

I thought it would be just a regular spot to relax between flights, but I discover

I have my pick of spa treatments, fine dining, a wine bar, plus a business centre.

I enjoy a leisurely breakfast and go onto the internet to tweet and Facebook my friends about my awesome experience.

I arrive in Las Vegas in a state of anticipation and my jet lag takes second place to my excitement. All of a sudden, there it is – a city alive with lights, fun, non-stop activity and casinos. It’s my first trip overseas – ever. Vegas, baby – here I come!

1. Hotels

We check in at the MGM Grand Hotel.

It’s huge – four 30-storey towers and 5 044 guest rooms, 751 of which are suites.

2. Food

That evening we have dinner at celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak steak house.

I order shortrib and it’s deliciously, unnecessarily big. Everything seems to be plus-sized.

Lavish hotel buffet breakfasts feature anything from waffles and bacon to Asian stir fries, and I have my first taste of foie gras and rhubarb tart at the Picasso Restaurant at the Bellagio Hotel.

3. Trip

It’s 10am and the city is buzzing.

As I pass Elvis impersonators, cartoon characters and showgirls, it strikes me that my perception of Vegas before arriving here was spot on.

It seems you can be anyone you want – and do anything you want – here in the city of flamboyance and fantasy.

The Las Vegas strip is the most dramatic and visible aspect of the city.

It’s a 6.8km road that buzzes with hotels, casinos, shopping malls and restaurants. It’s definitely a ‘must see’ at night, even if you have to dodge touts trying to get you into their strip shows and nightclubs.

4. Shopping

Unsurprisingly, shopping in Vegas offers extraordinary variety. Designer boutiques and five-dollar stores are all within a few streets of each other.

I take a peek at glamorous outlets such as Miu Miu, Donna Karan and Saint Laurent Paris, but that’s all I do… just peek.

I also develop a deep-seated envy for the elegant people swinging big branded shopping bags as they stride across the marble floors of the glass and steel highrise Aria Resort and Casino.

5. Art

We’re taken on a tour of the city centre, where our guide points out some unique art pieces.

‘A Blooming Flower’ by Nancy Rubins, below, is a colourful composition of 200 aluminium rowboats and canoes strung together with thousands of stainless steel wire cables forming a web-like structure.

Inside the mammoth Aria, we see a Henry Moore sculpture of a baby wrapped in its mother’s embrace.

It’s clear the city is not just a place of gambling and having crazy parties – it’s also an unexpected art destination.

At the legendary Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, we are entranced by the current exhibition of the famous pop artist Andy Warhol.

6. Cirque du Soleil

I’ve been to the circus before, but have never experienced something like this. In Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil has seven permanent resident shows.

We were lucky enough to see Zarkana, a show based on a circus ringmaster who brings the circus and all its creatures back to life.

The show is a combination of opera, acrobatics and unbelievable stunts that leave you dizzy with amazement. The trapeze artists who performed on a spiderweb net quite literally took my breath away.

7. Clubbing

After dinner one night we head to Hyde nightclub for drinks and dancing.

Like everything else in Vegas, the club is super-sleek. Slim waitresses in short dresses bearing iPad menus look after us.

Our table overlooks the Bellagio fountain and the atmosphere seems perfect for a night out.

I have a drink, dance a while and engange in some light flirting with a group of random American boys.

8. Grand canyon

The morning of our third day was the absolute highlight of my trip – a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.

We arrive at the airstrip and digest some safety measures before clambering aboard. As the blades chop the air and we lift off into the sky, adrenalin courses through my body and I let out a little girly shriek.

The Grand Canyon is 446km long, 29km wide at some points and 1 800m deep.

From the air, we see the Hoover dam and Dead Horse Point, where the final scene of the 1991 movie Thelma and Louise was filmed. We also fly over Boulder City, one of the cities in Nevada where gambling is prohibited.

We make a stop on one of the canyon tips for some champagne and snacks, and to take some more pictures. This is definitely the best way to see the Grand Canyon.

9. Aquarium

Shark Reef Aquarium is an unlikely attraction in Vegas, but this is where people flock to get up close and personal with more than 2 000 animals, including sharks, crocodiles, sawfish, piranhas and even a Komodo dragon.

An unforgettable sight was a tank full of gold jellyfish and the tunnel where you are able to see the ocean floor and then look up and watch a school of fish swim above.

10. Gambling

The downstairs casino is abuzz with people playing the slot machines, poker and roulette.

I must confess I’d been hoping for some dark and handsome high rollers, like the ones I see in Bond movies, but the majority of punters are middle-aged women, smoking, drinking and dropping money into slots.

I try my luck but I lose all my $10 chips.

I leave without regret, knowing that gambling simply isn’t my game. My night ends well because I feel I have fully experienced all the faces Las Vegas has to offer. It’s not only a city for bachelor parties.

It’s also a sophisticated art and fine dining destination.

» Get your copy of iMag in City Press on Sundays.

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