Friday, November 6, 2015

Summer Road Trip: Days 15-16 - Las Vegas

June 6-7

21 years ago (in ’94) I made it to Sin City for the first time.  Short trip from LA.  For someone who 5 years prior lived under the dark, iron curtain, where electricity use (along with other bare necessities) was “portioned”, the extravagant display of colorful lights was mesmerizing.  Even after 5 years in the States, the first impression was one of astonishment.  Clearly different from any other place in the country.  In the world, for that matter! 

None of the “modern” casinos were there at that time.  The Stratosphere, Bellagio, Monte Carlo, Hard Rock, Mandalay Bay, New York, Paris, Venetian or Wynn were not up yet (and that’s just some of the big ones).  Treasure Island, Luxor and MGM Grand were brand new (all ’93).  Siegfried and Roy were the main attraction.  So was the Pirate show at Treasure Island.  Cirque du Soleil Mystère was just an unknown act at the Mirage (they actually opened in ’92 in Vegas with a little known show called Nouvelle Expérience).  The $9.99 buffets were all the rage, and celebrity chef-owned restaurants were non-existent.

I was back in 2000.  Boom had already started.  Stayed at Monte Carlo.  Anniversary trip [12 years later celebrated the same in the real Monte Carlo].  Aladdin (now Planet Hollywood) was just being finished.  From the previous list, Wynn was the only one still not on the map.  All the others popped up on the South side of the strip.  In the same time, a lot of the old casinos were being demolished, or plans were under way to do so.  Vegas was changing big time.  Big names, big shows, big casinos, and big spenders to make it all possible.

We made a couple more trips since then.  The boom hit full force, but seems like it’s slowing down a bit.  By now, Vegas is no longer a place to go gamble; it’s a true vacation destination.  And it’s no longer cheap.  Superstars have multi-million dollar resident shows (Celine Dion and Britney Spears make about $475K per show; J Lo just signed up for $350k; by contrast, in the mid-60’s the members of the Rat Pack were each paid about $2,000 per show [that’s about $15k in today’s dollars]).  Celebrity restaurants are now everywhere.  Cirque du Soleil has 8 shows.  Opulence is omnipresent.  No cost is spared.  People no longer bother with the old downtown casinos on Fremont Street, other than for a short drive-by for those hit by nostalgia [first-timers, I think it’s still a great idea to go check it out].

Old Vegas, Fremont Street

The place is amazing and continues to grow rapidly on that trajectory…  Linq, Delano, SLS, The Cromwell (2014) and Nobu (2013) are some of the recent additions.  In the “hot” area of the strip, Aria, Vdara (City Center) and Cosmopolitan are already 5-6 years old.  There’s not much more room to build there, unless the old ones get torn down (which was the case with SLS, built where Sahara used to be, or the Venetian where Sands was).  

And to think that this desert oasis only took life as a town in 1905, with gambling not legalized until 1931, and the first hotel on the strip (El Rancho Vegas) opened in 1941.  Even more notable, the first megaresorts (Rio and Excalibur) did not “show up” until 1990.  Which means the “modern era” is only 25 years old!  We are evolving so fast, aren’t we?

Most recent figures show that Vegas attracted almost 53 million visitors in 2014.  And gambling revenues have surpassed 11 billion, with total revenue from tourism (hotels, restaurants, shows, etc.) at almost $24 billion.  That explains a thing or two, doesn’t it?

I’m sure you’re thoroughly bored by now, but hopefully a bit more educated… I’ll just punch through some notes before leaving you to some pictures:
  • If you’re a gambler it pays to sign up with the rewards programs they offer.  Lots of freebies at the other end.  Start there.
  • You HAVE to catch a show or two.  Most are great.  But not cheap.  Sooo disappointed that One (Cirque du Soleil – Michael Jackson) was on a 3 week break while we were last there.  Some planner I am, huh?  Le Rêve, however, was simply amazing! (complete with autographs from the main character as we bumped into her in the parking lot!)
  • Don’t splurge on accommodations.  You won’t spend much time in the room anyway…
  • Foodie or not, do splurge on some of the aforementioned celebrity-chef restaurants.  The list is long, so you’re on your own there.  I loved Jaleo (José Andrés) this time around.  And brunch on the patio at Mon Ami Gabi, with a clear view of the Bellagio fountains.
  • Don’t be afraid to get off the strip.  Raku (Japanese grill tucked in a strip mall) was impressive and very authentic.  Well, the food was a 10+… service left a lot to be desired
  • The Stratosphere is definitely worth it (once) for a view from up high (and a couple thrill rides up there).  So is the Fremont Street Experience (also once)
  • For a much better “strip” view from the top, try the Eiffel Tower
  • Definitely visit the main mega-casinos on the strip.  They brought Venice (gondolas and all), Paris (with the half-scale Eiffel Tower [it was actually designed at full scale, but the airport was too close]), New York and even an Egypt pyramid (Luxor) within a few blocks.  But wear comfortable shoes; although they appears close, there IS a lot of walking to do…
  • And if you have an extra day to spare, venture out to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam

A few pics from Le Rêve.  Click through to enlarge:

...and what's a trip to Vegas without a little "crazy"...

Good night! (whatever that means in the City of Lights)!  

That does it for a whirlwind road trip that started 16 days ago here in Vegas.  2,500 miles (that’s just over 4,000 km for fans of the metric system).  By car, bus, boat, trolley, on foot, and even on a ferry.  From 282 ft (86 m) under the sea level – Badwater Basin in the Death Valley –  to 9,943 ft (3,031m) on the Tioga Pass en route to Yosemite.  Desert to mountains, to the Pacific coast, to the [not so sunny] southern California beaches, to [almost] Mexico, and back.  7 hotels.  3 house rentals.  10 times packing and unpacking.   Intense, to say the least, but all in all, an amazing road trip, with not a dull moment along the way and tons of amazing memories!  Oh, and did I mention 11 other people in tow?

In case you missed the thread, I've included the links below.  Hope you enjoy.  I know we did!

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