DTour Part 5: Las Vegas Baby!
A quick note to reassure my parents: I have made it out alive, I haven’t run up thousands of dollars of debt, I didn’t pay a visit to any drive-though or pop-up wedding chapels, my skin remains un-tattooed and I didn’t fall into any sticky situations with the mafia.
So now that is out of the way, what did I actually get up to? To start with I arrived at the Tropicana hotel, which is actually a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, and was shown to the most incredible room I think I have EVER slept in. The very kind staff at the hotel treated me to one of their Penthouse Lofts, spread over two-storeys on the 21st and 22nd floors, which comes complete with its own living room, jacuzzi, sauna, grand staircase, unbelievable views over the Vegas strip and not one but TWO bathrooms. It’s 1,738 sq. ft. big! Apparently they’ve just renovated those two floors so I was one of the first people to the use the penthouse. I was utterly speechless! It’s the kind of penthouse suite that deserves an enormous party – a party of Prince Harry proportions. Too bad I wasn’t travelling with a group of 20 friends, as I don’t feel I did the room justice on this trip!
So after I’d recovered from the shock of seeing my room, Lucy from Tropicana took me downstairs for a Blackjack lesson with a dealer called Kris. Blackjack sounds relatively simple (try to make your hand reach 21) but it managed to confuse me no end – the number of rules and exceptions around how to bet and play were a little too much for my excited mind whirling around (I’d like to add that I was already on the complimentary alcohol at this point). Apparently this lesson was a one-off (they must have telepathically realised that I have absolutely no idea how to gamble at anything – I’ve never even played the lottery!) and it isn’t normally available to the public. I think that’s a shame because I would have been utterly clueless otherwise and would have maybe found the tables a bit intimidating. (Maybe there’s a market for that, for pre-Vegas gambling evening classes or something…) I took advantage of the lesson to ask Kris endless questions about casinos, about the dealers and supervisors who work there, about the surveillance (there are a whopping number of cameras on the ceiling) and the etiquette, about life as a local in Vegas, etc. and I learnt so much. There are 2 million permanent residents in Las Vegas Valley, and 500,000 visitors at any one time – it is a city entirely built on tourism and it must be a mammoth effort to keep it all running. My driver from the airport to the hotel had been scaring me about being a girl alone in Vegas, warning me about spiked drinks, homeless people, rapists, etc., and if you consider the sheer quantity of alcohol consumed everyday, then the ambulance and police sirens you hear every other minute don’t seem so surprising.
After minimal success at Blackjack (which I’m determined to keep practising at) I wanted to have a go on the Roulette, seeing as we randomly have a Roulette wheel at home, despite the fact that none of us ever gamble. Here again I was given special treatment and a Roulette table all to myself to help me learn. I got a bit “bet-happy” and started betting everything at once on single numbers. I started off with $20 of chips and after only a few minutes I had made over $500 by placing bets on my lucky numbers! I can see myself easily getting addicted to Roulette! The sad part of this story is that we were playing with fake chips, as it was part of the lesson, so I didn’t actually get to keep the $500… But that “buzz” from winning so much money was electric!!
Lucy is a fellow Brit, living and working in Vegas, and she was an incredible guide for the entire weekend. We randomly met two English actors from the TV soap Hollyoaks, Lee and Andy, and she took me to a delicious dinner at the Biscayne Steak, Sea & Wine Restaurant inside the Tropicana Hotel, and gave me a tour of the building. One tip I would stress is that you should try to go during the Pool Season (generally April to October), when they have the pool parties and outdoor nightclubs open, with famous DJs and musicians playing. I just missed the season by one week unfortunately. But the weather was still incredibly hot and sunny, so nothing to complain about there!
Next up was a stand-up comedy show at the Laugh Factory inside the Tropicana and, as tends to happen to me whenever I go to stand-up (I have such bad luck in that respect!), I was singled out of the crowd all show long, but in not as bad a way as the last time I went to stand-up at the Comedy Store in London, where the comedian would spontaneously bark at us… Very random, I know! American humour cracks me up and it’s interesting how different it is to our British humour.
On Saturday morning I had yet another very early morning (at this point I haven’t had a lie-in for about a month!) as I went on a helicopter trip to Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon is just phenomenal and that trip deserves a blog post all of its own so watch out for that one. After that I tucked into breakfast, followed shortly afterwards by cocktails, next to some fountains and the pool, and I stocked up last-minute on some Vitamin D from the sun to see me through winter hibernation back in the UK. After watching the sun go down during dinner at Bacio, a good Italian restaurant inside the Tropicana, I headed out onto the Vegas strip to be dazzled by bright flashing lights, pounding music, drunk revellers, street performers and artists, semi-nakedness everywhere, even grandmas advertising hookers and a general excess of every kind imaginable. The part of Vegas that a tourist will see is all concentrated along one road, the “Strip”, and it reminds me of a huge theme park for grown-ups. There are a few roller-coasters and the buildings are mostly themed: the pyramid at Luxor, the Roman temple architecture and Colliseum at Caeser’s Palace, the Eiffel Tower at Paris, the Statue of Liberty and skyscrapers at New York New York, the medieval castle at Excalibur… the list is endless.
At the other end of the strip from the Tropicana Hotel where I was staying is Treasure Island where the Mystere Cirque du Soleil is performed. There are about five different Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas and you have to see at least one. I don’t have any photos from the show for obvious reasons, but below are some official photos to give you a flavour. I adored the show and was sitting on the edge of my seat for half of it, convinced that the acrobats were about to slip and plunge to their deaths! It’s truly impressive and I’m so jealous of how talented they all are.
After the show Lucy took me into downtown Las Vegas, which is where all the locals go out and it has a completely different vibe to the strip. It still has the bright flashing lights and some casinos, but is less about extorting money out of tourists and more about just having a fun night out. We bar hopped from under the LED-light tunnel on Fremont Street to Park on Freemont (try to find the secret see-saw), to Griffin Bar (fire pits inside) to Don’t Tell Mama (where you can ask the bartenders to sing any song of your choice alongside the grand piano). I loved downtown Vegas as it felt so much more chilled, although there were still just as many drunkards as on the strip and plenty and plenty of bars to choose from. I’d recommend you have a look in downtown and see if it takes your fancy – it might not be for everyone but it’s good to see where the locals actually choose to go out and I really liked it. There’s also a bar at the top of the Stratosphere Tower in downtown from which you can see over all of Las Vegas.
Leave some time at the end of your trip to Vegas to sleep and recover! Trust me, you will need it. Vegas is an incredible place but an exhausting place at the same time! Next up on the DTour is San Antonio in Texas!
[I am travelling around North America as a DTourist on behalf of DoubleTree by Hilton. You can find out more about how I won this incredible opportunity here]