Las Vegas-Tear Me Off A Strip, Will Ya?
Some people say Simon Walton is craps. So he headed for the sun-kissed home of the high rollers to find out just how craps he really was.
The Neon Museum is more than a trailer park full of forgotten massive mementos of forgotten motels, hotels, companies and casinos. It's a living, lighted, and not in any way blighted, history of Las Vegas; of Nevada; of the Mojave Desert and the West. In short, It’s the best bet you’ll make all visit (neonmuseum.org).
Guide Genevieve makes everyone feel at home, by asking where home happens to be, before setting off on a nighttime tour through the icons, myths and mysteries of latter day Las Vegas, making the bright lights bright again, through the stories behind familiar icons, from Stardust to Sassy Sally, to Lady Luck and the Yucca Motel. The velocity of Vegas reinvention needs no more explanation than the eagerly awaited arrival of the newest exhibit - the 80-foot Les Paul guitar from the former Hard Rock Hotel - which itself is rebranding under the Virgin colours.
Back in the day, and we’re talking early seventies here, James Bond drives up the desert highway from McCarran ‘airfield’, dust beneath the wheels and the bright lights of Vegas shine in the far distance. It’s a bit different now. From prohibition and crooners to the mob and atomic tourism, and on through today’s mega malls and mega resorts. it’s all here to discover.
That dusty road is the now The Strip, lined by modern icons like New York New York, Luxor, Bellagio and Park MGM - even the latter is so recently revamped, the locals still call it Monte Carlo (MGMresorts.com). Bond would have as much chance of staging a diamonds-are-forever car chase through the ten lanes of traffic as Blofeld ever has of keeping his mouth shut about plans for world domination.
So, your secret agents will need to settle for a more sedate, and better air-conditioned, transfer from McCarran by someone like Bell Trans (airportshuttlelasvegas.com). As a bonus, you’ve much less chance of ending up in a hood’s trunk for a rendezvous with a hole in the desert. Unless of course your first stop is the Mob Museum. In which case, your case might only be solved by Langton and Grissom at the CSI Experience. Note to TV buffs: none of CSI was actually filmed in Vegas - but, with the Statue of Liberty next door to Venetian canals and the Eiffel Tower, the number one aim is not exactly geographical authenticity.
No bigger than Dunfermline when Bond paid a visit, Vegas is now no smaller than Birmingham, and got all the trappings of the big, big city. Weddings, divorce, booze and gambling - the four pillars of Las Vegas, have made this town its own. These days though, think conventions, family resorts and now add sports too.
Bringing a sporty group to the party is suddenly on the cards in a big way. The Golden Knights swept all before them in their rookie NHL season on the ice. American Football, Baseball, and Women’s professional basketball are all coming too. There’s even something called a soccer team.
With the majority of Las Vegas groups under fifty in number, there’s always room to accommodate parties within the huge resort complex hotels. Even though the big business conferences often number their delegates in the thousands, and occupancy rates run in the mid-ninety percent range, typical resorts, like Aria, Wynn and Park MGM, still have a few hundred rooms available on any given night.
Before the ubiquitous bon motte, the saying was “if you can’t do it at home, you can do it in Las Vegas.” This may be the altogether more wholesome twenty-first century, but that still holds true. If you’ve always wanted to go roller skating parachute base jumping; or cruise the main drag with your homies in a pink polka-dot Lamborghini; or be a cocktail mixologist for the night; or just have your Cosmopolitans served underwater by a pirate; Las Vegas is the place, and it’s still fabulous. Learn more at visitlasvegas.com. For group organisers there’s help at travelpros.visitlasvegas.com.
The War on Want and a Greener Las Vegas
Not everyone in Vegas is minted. There are a fair few who’re skinted. The down turn hit here too, leaving many still struggling to find their daily bread. That’s why there’s a coordinated initiative to bring all that unconsumed conference food to people who really need it, all across Nevada.
On the environmental front, the big hotels strive to recycle everything, right down to those part-used toiletries, through a programme called Clean the World. To keep the bright lights burning, the MGM chain is even taking itself off the power grid by building their own upstate solar and wind farm.
No Portion Control
From downtown diners to up-market haute-cuisine. Vegas is reinvented as a fine food destination. Super hot Californian chef Michael Mina has just opened his eponymous fish restaurant in the vast Bellagio resort. That’s the high-end sorted (michaelmina.net).
Alternatively, hit the bricks with Whitney for the Downtown Lipsmaking Foodie Tour (vegasfoodietour.com). No need to choose a restaurant, you’ll be eating in them all, and doing a photocall on Freemont into the bargain, and check out Container Park - the neighbourhood that looks like it should be on the back of a freightliner train.
London, Manchester and Glasgow all have direct flights to Las Vegas McCarran, taking upwards of ten hours, and priced from about £400 with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick. Almost every US airport has flights direct to Las Vegas, meaning almost all UK airports with Transatlantic flights are just one connection away. McCarran is notably close to The Strip, but aircraft are routed away to avoid noise - not that you’ll be getting much shuteye anyway.