Stepping off the plane and into Las Vegas for the first time is quite an experience. Even before you get to baggage reclaim, just after stepping out of the aircraft tunnel, you will come across slot machines. Yes, welcome to Las Vegas, home of fun and frivolity in excess! For the first-time visitor Vegas can certainly be a little daunting. But it’s also a place to relish and enjoy; a bucket-list destination that should be on everyone’s list. Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas!
Surviving the perils of the local taxi drivers
Although it’s illegal for taxi drivers in the state of Nevada to take you on a longer trip than necessary, we discovered to our peril that that doesn’t mean that they’ll always take you on the shortest route. On arrival in Vegas, we took a taxi to our hotel on the Strip, the Monte Carlo. Upon pulling up at the hotel forecourt, our driver told us that the fare was $27.00, despite the meter showing $22.00. We paid up the $27.00, and added a tip, rounding the fare up to $30.00.
It wasn’t until we were in the queue at reception, waiting to check in, that we heard some American guests in front of us talking about how they had been “ripped off” having been charged a $16.00 fare – clearly we had been stung, with our taxi driver not only taking us on a longer route, but also adding his own tip on before we then added a tip on top of this! Our hotel concierge later advised us that on our return journey we needed to ask the driver to take the shortest route, avoiding the freeway. Indeed, our return journey to the airport cost us only $12.00 plus tip – and we discovered that you can see the strip from the terminal at the airport, it’s that close!
View of the Strip from the airport – yes it’s that close!!
All-important first impressions
After the initial shock of slot machines in the airport terminal and getting royally ripped-off by our taxi driver, it was time to start exploring. Vegas is an assault on the senses – our room was a haven of peace and quiet away from the plinkety-plonkety noises of the slot machines, the strangely up-tempo, funky elevator music and general hubbub that is Vegas. After checking in, we headed out, and it was this noise and just the general bizarreness of Vegas that hit us immediately. Firstly, it took us about 15 minutes to work out how to get out of our hotel – we ended up walking from the Monte Carlo through to the Aria before we worked out how to get out! – and headed to New York, New York for lunch. I think it was after lunch, as we walked from the bright light of day into the dimly-lit light of yet another casino, that I declared to my husband, “Vegas is mental!”! It’s the only way I could describe it at that point – the rows upon rows of slot machines, the over the top themes of the hotels, the bars offering margaritas and foot-long beers at any time of day. And this was just the day time – I’m sure if you arrived on your first trip at night time, you wouldn’t know what had hit you! But the first-time visitor will soon get swept up in the fun of Las Vegas, and I think the sounds of the place are what will really stick with me as a memory from our trip.
A giant slot machine – one of my favourite things about Vegas!
Get your walking shoes on!
One thing you’ll quickly discover about Las Vegas is that it is vast. To walk from one end of the strip to the other can easily take hours, not least because you’ll probably stop often to look at various things. As much as you really get to experience Vegas by exploring it on foot, there are times when you just need to get somewhere quickly. And there are ways to do this: some of the hotels are connected by monorails – our hotel was one of these, and it’s always worth asking if they are free for hotel residents or just free generally; unusually, we felt, for a hotel, we didn’t have an information pack in our room on the hotel services, and therefore found out on our last day that we could use the tram between the Monte Carlo and the Bellagio for free.
A good tip that we did pick up from our hotel concierge was regarding the bus travel in Vegas. For $7.00, you can get a 24hr bus pass – we therefore were able to use this to go to the Freemont Street Experience in Downtown Vegas one evening, and then use the same pass again the next morning to go to the outlet shopping centre at the south end of the strip at no extra cost.
Hit the highlights
While we’re on the subject of the Freemont Street Experience, when visiting Vegas for the first time, there are certain things you’ll soon discover are must-sees and must-dos. For us, along with the usual delights such as the fountains at the Bellagio and the Sirens of TI show at Treasure Island, our must-do was the Freemont Street Experience in Downtown Vegas. Although the bus ride there is a bit hair-raising (your guide book will tell you not to step away from the bright lights of Freemont Street as it’s surrounded by high crime areas), once you’re there, you feel like you’re in the ‘authentic’ Las Vegas. Home of Vegas Vic, the hitchhiking neon cowboy, this ‘mini-strip’ is where the gambling traditions of Las Vegas originated. It’s not so in your face, it’s not so slick, but here you’ll find great street performances (we were lucky enough to be visiting during the ‘Rock of Vegas’ series) and the brilliant light displays every hour, on the hour, on the roof that covers the central boulevard.
Other highlights of our stay included the Sigfried and Roy Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage, home to not only gorgeous dolphins, but also beautiful white tigers and lions. We also took in a show at Caesar’s Palace – no, not Celine Dion, who is one of the regulars there; we saw the extremely talented ventriloquist and comedian, Jeff Dunham – one of my husband’s favourite performers!
Cheesecake for lunch? Burgers for breakfast? And all gluten free!
Food is a massive part of our holidays (my mother-in-law recently commented whilst watching our slide show of Vegas pics that every single one seemed to feature food!), but Las Vegas surpassed even our holiday eating habits. After a great Mexican breakfast at the La Salsa Cantina opposite our hotel for $4.00, we decided that we probably wouldn’t need a lunch that day as we’d had more than enough for breakfast…..that was until we came across the Cheesecake Factory in Caesar’s Palace….yes, we had cheesecake for lunch, and what’s more, with my wheat intolerance, I had gluten free cheesecake for lunch! This is the only place in the world I’ve ever come across gluten free cheesecake (and trust me, I always keep an eye out!); America generally is great for allergy sufferers, and, despite an incident with flour-covered chips at Senor Frogs, I also had gluten free pasta at the Enoteca Otto Pizzeria in St. Marks Square in the Venetian, lots of choice and an excellent and extremely reasonably priced meal in the restaurant of the Four Queens Casino in Downtown Vegas, a very helpful server at Le Burger Brasserie in Paris who helped me to pick a gluten free option (burgers for breakfast!), and yet another great Margaritaville meal, as is always the case, including a wheat free burger bun!
Gluten free cheesecake!
The Vegas Experience
All in all, Vegas was an experience – the heat, the crowds, the noises, the neon lights of the strip, everything about it combined to create a brilliant few days. It’s not for the faint hearted, that’s for sure, but it’s something everyone should experience once in a lifetime….and if you’re very lucky, maybe you’ll get to go back and experience it again!