Las Vegas and Grand Canyon - two wonders eons apart
There is something about Las Vegas besides gambling, fine dining, entertainment shows, and nightlife that attract me to this ‘city of dreams’. Las Vegas is the ‘entertainment capital of the world', the ‘sin city', and it is where dreamers and ultra-rich come to wager, play, entertain, and perhaps to capitalize on a well-earned vacation. The nickname ‘sin city’ is due to the relaxed gambling, marriage-divorce laws, and profusion of adult entertainment possibilities.
Perhaps, my childhood memories of temple festivals, village carnivals, school and college youth festivals - the crowd, the hoopla and an eclectic mixture of many sights, sounds, and aromas – still lingers on and that in turn reconnects me to this city. It is a city of electronic billboards, millions of twinkling neon lights, and glitzy modern casino hotel complexes. It is a city where money knows no limits. Slot machines of a multitude of shapes, sizes with bells, and whistles are everywhere, including airport, to entice the gambling man. There are plenty of them around and according to reports there is one slot machine for every eight residents. People come to this city with hopes and dreams of a big win.
It is not only the magnificent casinos, but a combination of the highlife, amazing shows, delicately crafted dishes by the world-renowned master chefs, mega food buffets, lenient booze policy, the sleazy side of the city, and the hot climate attracts about 40 million or more people annually to this amazing city that never sleeps. They wine, dine, entertain, and gamble and enjoy a few days without any qualms and spend about $5 billion of their hard-earned money. Not all the visitors are into gambling: they come to attend conferences, play golf, attend concerts or shows and to de-stress from the mundane and relax.
From the airplane, as it descended towards Las Vegas, I could see the Mojave Desert, and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Nevada is the most mountainous state in the US. I could also see the snow-capped peaks, and the lakes, Lake Tahoe, and Lake Mead and the Colorado River that snakes through many states. Nevada has a unique ecosystem: mountain ranges to dry desert valleys, and rough terrains.
Nevada’s capital is Carson City and Las Vegas is the major city. Lake Tahoe and Reno are other major resort towns. Nevada is the number one producer of gold in the US. Nevada’s main two industries are ‘fast track marriage/divorce’, and ‘gambling’, both became legal in 1931. Thus, for many years Nevada adorned the title ‘divorce capital of the nation’. Lenient marriage and divorce laws, legalized gambling, and licensed brothels made the state a tourists’ heaven. According to reports over 200 marriage licenses are issued per day in Las Vegas alone. Nevada is still number one for gambling.
Years ago, when the criminal (mob) organizations and sleaziness were prominent, Las Vegas had a bad reputation. That was then, but now the city cleaned up its image and transformed into a beautiful, clean, vibrant, and modern city. With the arrival of mega-casinos-resort-entertainment complexes, it started attracting not only gamblers but families as well.
It is a city in the middle of the Mojave Desert, in a valley, surrounded by mountains. When it rains it floods, when in summer it get hot as the daytime temperature can go over 40°C and in winter it could dip to zero degree Celsius. Las Vegas was officially established in 1905 and became popular with the legalization of gambling in 1931.
Freemont Street and Downtown Vegas
Fremont Street in the downtown of Las Vegas is where many ‘firsts’ of today’s Las Vegas started. From the first hotel to the first traffic light Freemont Street earned its credits in the history of Las Vegas. The first hotel, Hotel Nevada (now Golden Gate Casino) opened in 1906 is the oldest casino still in operation. It is located at One Fremont Street.
Today, Freemont Street is a pedestrian mall (Fremont Street Experience) adorned with a million light canopy, known as the barrel vault canopy, and a mega-watt sound system that provides an amazing light and sound show. This is the venue for many concerts and events, including the city's annual New Year's Eve party. Downtown Vegas has other attractions like Mob Museum, Neon Museum, and boutique hotels, and many eateries.
The Strip is the in place of Las Vegas. The Strip is a stretch of about 6.8 kilometers of the South Las Vegas Boulevard starting with the magnificent Bellagio on the south close to the McCarran International Airport, and ending with the Stratosphere on the north. It is well known for its giant casinos, lounges, showrooms, theaters, restaurants, residential high-rise buildings, nightclubs, and entertainment shows. The Las Vegas Strip is live 24 hours a day with people, traffic, street performers, hustlers, food places, bars, and sights, and sounds emulating a perennial party atmosphere.
As early as 1941 casinos started appearing on the Las Vegas Strip. The first casino was the Pair-O-Dice Club. The first major resort built on the Las Vegas Strip was the El Rancho. By early 1990, the majority of the casinos found a place on the Strip. Many of the top hotels in the world are located here and they collectively offer about 62, 000 rooms to accommodate the visitors. Las Vegas is still evolving as it replaces the old casinos with newer, splashier, and bigger casino resorts regularly.
Las Vegas is on a change course always: old casinos implode to pave way for new colossal ones. The latest ones are the SLS Las Vegas, a luxury casino resort, and the yet to be opened Resorts World, a mega billion project with more than 6000 rooms obviously to beat the MGM Grand.
There are many modes of transportation to get around from one end of the Strip to the other. Monorails connect certain adjacent casinos, and they are free or have nominal charges. City busses run up and down the Strip practically 24 hours a day. Bus fare is inexpensive and multiple trip tickets are also available. Hop-on, hop-off tickets for the double-decker buses are another way to travel up and down the Strip. Taxis, limousines, and rental cars are also available. The best mode is to walk from casino to casino, as they are close by, and a few of them are interconnected, enjoying the sights and sounds. On a hot day, walking around the Strip with a frozen Margarita-by-the-yard or frozen rum and coke, or a cold beer is another means of enjoying the city’s vibes.
Everything is gigantic, amazing, and magnificent in Las Vegas, thus it is the entertainment capital of the world. Las Vegas has more AAA Five Diamond mega casino hotels than any city in the world. The city has abundant entertainment choices for young, family, and adults. Visitors spend mega bucks to splurge a bit and live as if no tomorrow.
There are about 29 major casinos hotel/resorts on the Las Vegas Strip including the mega ones such as Aria, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Cosmopolitan, Encore, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage, New York New York, Paris, Palazzo, The Stratosphere, Treasure Island, Tropicana, Venetian, and Wynn. Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Wynn, Encore, Venetian, MGM Grand, Rio All Suites, and the Palms occupy the top of the best casino hotels list.
Each casino has its unique identity and branding; it is practically a city in itself. Many of them are replicas of world famous edifices: Luxor is built like a pyramid; Paris has an Eifel Tower, New York New York depicts the skyline of New York City landmarks, Venetian replicates the Venice atmosphere, with canals, and gondolas, while Caesars Palace is built to replicate the Romanesque era. Hype, glamor, and opulence are everywhere. Casinos promote an upbeat, happy go lucky environment. The ambiance inside is hip, and in many casinos shopping area ceilings simulate the natural sky with appropriate lighting, simulated thunder, lightning, and even rain. There are no clocks in the casinos: time simply slips away as you are having fun!
When the children were young, during our first visit, we stayed at the Circus Circus. (Children are allowed in to the casinos, but they are not permitted near the slot machines, or not allowed to stay with parents near the gambling areas.) It has a family oriented theme, with a built-in circus tent, and associated circus acts and clowns, animals, and rides to entertain young ones while the parents dabble on the slot machines, and wager at the gaming tables. We had lunch at the Stratosphere. It has one of the tallest observation towers proving a panoramic view of the Vegas Strip. Children enjoyed the daring tower rides immensely.
Well, if you want to binge a bit or a lot and live your dreams then Las Vegas is the place. There are hotel rooms to take you to cloud nine and hotel services to pamper your inner most desires. The Titus Villa, part of the Caesars Palace comes with all the perks and amenities for a mere $25,000 per night. By ‘invitation, only’ guests can experience MGM Grand’s the Mansion, Mediterranean style villas, where prices for the resort are not published. The Sky Villa at the Palms Casino with private Zen garden is only $35,000 per night. These are a few of the lavish options reserved for celebrities and money magnets. However, you don’t need to spend that kind of money to enjoy Vegas. You can enjoy Vegas on a frugal budget, as there is a range of services from one end of the scale to the other is available. Here you have the option to enjoy sensibly or to live large flagrantly violating all prudent values.
Hard-core gamblers attain ‘nirvana’ here. Over the years the gaming environment changed: newer digital slot machines of many shapes sizes, penny to high-roller machines, and machines that ‘give away’ megabucks are constantly promoted to accommodate the novice and the avid gambler. Newer and faster table games are also featured to entice the patrons. Once inside, our awareness of the outside world disappears fast as the casino environment including sunlight, and sunset is simulated by technology. The blinking, buzzing and spinning slot machines, the carnival-like sights, and sounds, the neon, and LED lights, and graphics, overall décor, and the ambiances are specially created for extreme gambling and keep the patrons inside. The festival atmosphere keeps you without monotony. Free drinks and many other incentives keep the patrons rewarded. For serious gamblers, casinos provide special white-glove treatment including charter jets to travel, penthouse units to stay and gamble.
Las Vegas is the city of ubiquitous slot machines. Charles Fey invented the very first slot machine, Liberty Bell, in 1899. Newer machines are grouped into standalone, networked, progressive, and loose/tight depend on their architecture. The world's largest jackpot so far, $39.7 million, was won by a California man after putting in $100 in the Megabucks slot machine at the Excalibur Casino on March 21, 2003. There are many types of table games and slot machines to entice players of various interests and levels.
Along with slot machines, there are Video Poker machines, Bingo and table games such as Roulette, Blackjack, Poker (many variations), Baccarat, Craps, and Pai gow are available in many casinos. Most of the casinos provide free lessons on all these types of games. The Nevada Gaming Commission is the regulatory agency that controls gaming/casino operations in the State of Nevada. According to its rules, slot machine must pay back, over the machine’s lifetime, 75% of what it takes in.
It is a foodies’ world
Las Vegas is a foodie's world. From fast foods to ‘eat till you drop' mega-buffets to the exquisite fine dining establishments purveying an assortment of local and international flavours are available for the visitors’ enjoyment. Every casino has multiple restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues to cater to a variety of clientele. You can pig out all-you-can-eat at the famous Las Vegas buffets. They are lavish and elaborate and open for breakfast to late dinners with various price ranges. While in Vegas, check out some of the best buffets such as the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace (known as the biggest and best), the Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan, and the buffets at the Wynn and the Bellagio.
We checked out buffets at Excalibur, Luxor, Circus Circus, and a few other places. The huge number of dishes they serve is to please the varied pallets of a wide range of people. They all have international dishes to typical American fares, to vegan and vegetarian, to exotic