Glitz and Glamor in Las Vegas

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The one where I realize gambling isn’t for me, eat some of the fattiest foods known to man, cry during The Lion King, drink icy beverages, and am unimpressed by the M&M store while exploring sin city.

Coming to Vegas

From the moment we touched down in Las Vegas, the city grabbed me. Stepping from the arrival lounge and into the baggage collection area, I was immediately assaulted from all sides by the sights and sounds of the original city of decadence and excess. Penn & Teller watched on from overhead as I collected my bag, and I couldn’t exit the terminal without moving beneath the steely gazes of the men of the Thunder from Downunder. Businessmen in expensive suits share the same space as overweight middle aged women with ugly perms and intimidating acrylics.

Rather than the usual sounds of people hurrying about that I’d come to expect from airports, I was instead greeted by the tinkling the merry chiming of slot machines interrupted by the occasional rattle of pennies dropping into the collection tray. Even as they left Vegas, people were intent on pursuing that elusive jackpot.

Nobody leaves Vegas with full pockets.

The contrast between the air conditioned interior of the terminal and the searing heat of the Nevada desert was sobering, and it was hard to believe a place of such superficial beauty could exist in such a harsh environment. It wasn’t hard to imagine a similar city existing in the baking hot red centre of Australia, but of course Alice Springs doesn’t have a Hoover Dam to draw on.

The roller coaster at New York New York


The ride into the city proper takes us through the suburbs with their wilting gardens and peeling paint, but you soon forget about the sadder side of Vegas as the suburbs gave way to the glittering towers of the strip. The Stratosphere stretches up into the clear blue sky defiantly, while the black glass of the Luxor’s faux pyramid seems to soak up the oppressive heat.

Our cab speeds by the famous fountain of the Bellagio and the cityscape facade of New York New York, but our destination lies beyond the glamorous Strip. We’re headed for ‘old Vegas’ and the Fremont Street experience. Our hotel, the Golden Nugget, made me feel like a high roller before I’d even cast a die in anger. Its red carpet and gold trimmed fixtures make you feel like you could be that lucky schmuck who wins it big on one of the many craps tables and roulette wheels that dot the lower floor.

Finding our way to our room proved a challenge, the windowless halls create a labyrinth that you could get lost in if you were sufficently inebriated. And while we’re not in a suite to rival the one in The Hangover, our thirteenth floor room still affords us a fantastic view of the city and has a king size bed. Fallon and I had been sleeping in separate rooms out of respect for her father’s ‘not under my roof policy’, and Vegas offered up our first chance to share a bed since she’d left Korea a few weeks earlier.

We didn’t waste much time dropping off our bags and splashing water on our faces, and while Fallon had been to Vegas before, it was her first time over the age of 21 and we were both eager to make the most of our time in the city. Everything in the city is about excess, and our first meal serves up fries in a bucket. No utensils or plates here – just a small silver pail crammed to the brim with delicious fries served with a side of ketchup. As if that weren’t enough, Fallon and I also split some nachos and wash it all down with some ice cold Bud Lite. Our venue of choice is Mermaids Casino, although we save our gambling for the next venue.

The world’s largest flat screen TV

That venue just happens to be the Fitzgerald, which rates a mention in next week’s Top 10 Favorite Drinking Spots. Fallon’s friends Jeff and Pat were calling the slightly cheaper Fitz home, and had already staked out a balcony table overlooking the famed Fremont Street Experience. A massive flat screen television – the largest in the world – stretches across the roof of the entire street and periodically the entire street would darken and speakers would blare out a tribute to one of many American rock icons. While this happened, the street would come to a standstill as video and laser lights mesmerized the people in the street.

We didn’t do a whole lot of gambling in Vegas. In fact, we did all of it on the first night and decided enough was enough. A little video poker at the bar to earn that complimentary beer, and then some penny slots downstairs that took what little change I had and left me with no hope for a big win.

Bright lights and music dazzle the crowd on Fremont Street
Some guy from America’s Got Talent

With Halloween just around the corner, Fremont Street had periodic shows in the streets. Frank & The Steins put on hourly rock tributes to classic Halloween songs such as the Monster Mash, Time Warp, and the always popular Thriller. On other stages there were magicians, stunt performers, and some crazy guy juggling chain saws while his token attractive assistant posed in various suggestive poses.

We six meandered through the streets and let the night take us where it willed. We sipped on $2 coronas on the street and were horrified that a bottle of cold water sold for twice as much. We stopped by the Bayou and picked up a pair of its famous Hurricane iced cocktails to share. These need to be seen to be believed, and they taste as good as they look. Just beware of brain freeze.

Fallon double fists a pair of Hurricanes from La Bayou

We attempted karaoke hosted by a fat Elvis impersonator, posed with pretty girls in the street, and finally ended our night with the old staple of boozy evenings – Big Macs and fries.

Waking up in Vegas

Our first full day in Vegas dawned as warm as the one before, and with America gripped by the missing kid in the weather balloon, it made for interesting viewing over the decent buffet offering that the Golden Nugget offered up. Our day was to be spent exploring the Strip – so we snagged a ride on the confusingly named ‘Deuce’ and rode downtown past a slew of 24/7 chapels.

Oddly enough, my good friends Liz and CJ would tie the knot in one of those very chapels less than a year later.

Our first stop on the Strip was New York New York, although I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Las Vegas and a theme park. Sure, the cheesy mascots weren’t around and the ride were replaced by games of chance – but the bright colours, the crazy characters, and even the occasional rollercoaster jutting out the side of a casino reminded me that this was more of an adult playground than a real city.

Dueling pianos at the Bar from Times Square in New York New York


New York New York blew my mind. It was such a show in decadence. The lobby, modelled to look like a miniature New York, even has streets to wander. Delis, bars, souvenier shops, and cute little cafes line the mock streets – but it was the famous piano bar that grabbed our attention. A pair of dueling pianos, played by a gregarious duo, banged out customer’s requests as they sipped on $7 beers from souvenier glasses. I gamely stepped forward to request Downunder by Men at Work and was treated to a five minute interview by the host for my troubles.

After that it was time to snatch an authentic New York style bagel before moving back out into the heat. Fighting our way through crowds of people handing out flyers for strip clubs and prostitutes, we eventually made it across to the Coca Cola and M&M stores. It’s hard to believe that so much Coca Cola merchandise exists, but this place had it all. From boutique bottles to magnets to books to gigantic statues that sold for over $1000. On the very top floor the Coca Cola Cafe offered up a sampler of eight foreign takes on soda ranging from delicious mango soda from India to the eerily toothpaste like mint flavored soda from Italy.

Sampling a galaxy of Coke flavours
The M&M store – a lot of color, not much substance

The M&M store, for all of its bright colors, wasn’t much to explore – and so it was time for a little shopping and some dinner. We took our meal at a very good Mexican restaurant whose name escapes me, although if you’re ever in Vegas, it’ll have a guy in a plush Elvis suit standing out front handing out menus. Unless the heat finally got to him.

The Mexican restaurant I loved. Apparently it’s called La Salsa Cantina

After dinner it was time for our Vegas show, and we headed to the Mandalay Bay for The Lion King. Those of you who have seen the stage adaptation of Disney’s timeless movie know how good it is – and those who haven’t probably won’t understand just how amazing it is until they see it for themselves. I went in expecting it to be good, and came out with a renewed love for the theatre.

Preparing to see The Lion King

The opening scene, in which a lone Rafiki sings The Circle of Life and dozens of amazingly costumed performers make their way out is just a thing of beauty. I’m not ashamed to admit I was moved to the brink of tears by the entire spectacle, and it was a feeling of wonder that held on until the final note echoed out into infinity and all that was left was applause and a feeling that you’d witnessed something pretty damn special.

Fallon’s birthday celebrations weren’t yet over, and we returned to Fremont Street for more drinking and stumbling around. We took $2 deep fried twinkies and Greek style hot dogs at Mermaids; ate the famous 99 cent shrimp cocktails while table dancers gyrated and smiled cheerlessly in the Golden Gate, and returned for more Hurricanes from La Bayou.

Deep Fried Twinkie – Better than it looks

While the adults retired to their rooms, Fallon and I stayed out until the streets began to empty. The casinos wouldn’t be closing, but the night was over for us. Nursing our hurricanes and crawling back to our hotel room, we prepared for the fact our trip was over in a few short hours.

Leaving Las Vegas

A water slide through a shark tank. Win.

Our final morning in Vegas dawned hotter than any before it, and with our time short, we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our day than by the pool that we’d walked by each and every day. With a water-slide that shoots through a shark tank and a lagoon like pool surrounded by deck chairs, it was a perfect place for us to nurse hangovers. The sun still hung high overhead when we dried off and headed out for one last decadent buffet meal, and then it was time to board our flights and head back to cooler, less glitzy Idaho.

I fell in love with Vegas, although I’m sure its ceaseless noise and action would have worn me down eventually. I do wish I’d managed to see more of the Strip and witness the famed fountain show at the Bellagio, but I enjoyed every moment of my Vegas experience.

And that’s what Vegas is about. It’s about spending too much money, indulging in too much food and booze, and leaving not sure if you regret the whole thing or just had the best weekend of your life. Want to create your own Vegas memories?

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