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Category: USA

Las Vegas – Gambling Low Down

Las Vegas gamblingThere are a lot of good new reasons to come to Las Vegas, but there remains one pretty good old reason – gambling.

The opportunity to gamble is at every turn, and what reasonable person could resist? Which is probably why over 90% of all visitors gamble during their stay. Just remember the legal age to gamble is the same as it is to drink: 21.

Casinos are expected to adhere to very strict rules to maintain their gaming licences, so no one under the age of 21 is allowed in the casino area even if a parent or spouse is gambling. If they do they will be asked for picture ID and likely escorted off the property, or conceivably even arrested, when caught. So don’t risk it.

Some people feel shy about joining in at a gambling table and choose to stick to the slot machines that proliferate, which is fine, although the odds are stacked much higher against you beating the casino on these than if you actually join a game.

Just remember if you feel intimidated about joining a gaming table is that most of the people are tourists just like you (the professionals prefer the older downtown establishments), that they are trying their luck, just like you, and the majority are probably not that much more clued up than you are!

So, to increase your enjoyment, you might want to learn a few games either in reality (poker clubs are pretty popular in the UK) or on-line, or perhaps think about taking gaming lessons while you are in Vegas – many of the casinos do half hour poker tournaments for free, and they are an excellent way to learn the ropes so you not only stand a higher chance of winning, but you also enjoy it more, whether you are gambling or just watching.

Ask at individual hotels for information or check out the Vegas website for a list. If you want more than just poker, try the Imperial Palace, which offers morning lessons in craps, blackjack, roulette and baccarat for residents and non-residents.

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Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon

Grand CanyonThere are 1001 things to do in Las Vegas, and that’s just before lunch. Not only is there a stunning array inside the Mega Resorts, but there’s all the glitz of the four-mile, neon-drenched Strip itself, as well as the glittering Freemont Street Experience, Downtown.. and although many people visit Las Vegas and never feel the need to leave the boundaries of their hotel, it would be a shame to come this far from the UK and not visit outside of the city limits.

Nearby to Las Vegas there is the desert itself, plus the impressive Hoover dam, and a little further afield, although by no mind way out of reach, is the Grand Canyon itself.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Located 25 miles outside of Las Vegas, Lake Mead National Recreation Park Area allows a great deal of relaxation and fun year-round. With 1.5 million acres, it’s twice the size of Rhode Island and is America’s largest manmade reservoir. With 50 miles of shoreline, the park offers multiple marinas, boating, fishing, and water sports. It also caters to hikers, climbers, campers, and car tours, and there are paddlewheel cruises on the lake itself, on which they serve a wonderful champagne brunch!

Hoover Dam

The colossal Hoover Dam was completed in 1935 giving this desert region and Las Vegas a reliable water supply from the Colorado River, as well as creating Lake Mead (above). You can take a $10 tour of the facilities (print your own discount coupon from the website for $1 off) or you can just walk over the dam and view it from both the Nevada and Arizona sides of the canyon. Make sure you park your car on the Arizona side where there is plenty of free parking; parking on the Nevada side is $5. The water levels are currently 50 feet lower than they should be as a result to an eight-year drought in the region, which has resulted in the dam losing 40% of its generating power.

Lost City Museum

With the construction of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead threatened a number of original dwellings of the ancient, mysterious Anasazi civilization. The museum showcases artefacts retrieved from the flooded sites, including pottery, tools, jewellery, and arrowheads. With distinctive black and white geometric designs, the pottery and potsherds are especially beautiful and representative of the rich Anasazi culture.

Grand Canyon

Cutting roughly across the landscape, the canyon is 277 miles long, a mile deep and roughly 10 miles wide and is arguably America’s best-known natural attraction. As the star of many films and documentaries, many of us feel we know it, and yet nothing prepares you for the real thing. It is utterly, completely, and unbelievably awe-inspiring. It takes about 5-6 hours to travel to the North Rim (the nearest to Vegas) by car.

Alternatively you can book yourself on one of the many helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon (try Air Vegas, Scenic Airways or Grand Canyon Tour Company) and expect to pay about $200-300 per person, which is well worth it for what is probably the best of all views, anywhere.

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Las Vegas – Top Tips for a Fabulous Stay

Las Vegas - top tips fpr a great stayThere is an incredible amount to see and do in Las Vegas, so make sure you make the most of your trip with these top tips.

Tipping is an essential part of the service staff’s pay check, and an equally essential way to ensure you get all the help, support and assistance you need, so don’t be stingy. A basic $1-2 tip is appropriate for doorman who gets you a cab, the shuttle or bus driver who helps with your bags, drinks waitress, and slot attendants. Service on food is usually about $3-5, depending on how attentive they are, ditto room service, while $5 would be a more appropriate for your chamber maid (daily, especially if you crave extra towels) and poker dealer (especially if you win).

Wear flat comfortable shoes and clothes that don’t over heat you. The hotels are so big you’re going to do a lot of walking.

Carry a water bottle and drink lots. Remember that Las Vegas is in a desert and that dehydration can be a risk.

Assume you will become disorientated, and plan accordingly, whether that’s having a central point to meet, always carrying a map and a phone, etc. Ne aware sometimes mobiles don’t work in some areas of the hotels.

Know how much you can comfortably spend (and lose) and STICK to it. Nothing like financial pain for ruining the memories of what should be the trip of a lifetime.

Do take advantage of hotel ‘comps’ if you plan on gambling.

If you don’t play, do take gaming lessons before you go so you at least understand what’s going on!

Do leave your valuables in the Hotel safe, not in your room, and keep your bag zipped closed and where you can see it.

Do grab a copy of ‘What’s On’, available in most hotels. Ask your concierge if you can’t find one, sometimes they go very quickly.

Do airfreight your extra purchases home if you get a little carried away with the shopping.

Do watch Robert DeNiro’s film, ‘Casino’, before you go, as well as ‘What Stays in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Hangover (No 1)’…

Don’t jay-walk. It carries a $95 fine and it’s also very dangerous. Always use the crossings.

Don’t plan on getting much sleep.

Don’t go when there’s a big conference planned.

Do get out of your hotel and plan in a trip to the Grand Canyon, it’s nature’s answer to Las Vegas!

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Getting Hitched in Las Vegas

Las Vegas wedding chapelThe lure of a Las Vegan wedding is not just for the impetuous or worse for wear a la ‘The Hangover’ or ‘What Happens in Vegas’. Many choose to get married in this city that never sleeps, and the beauty of Las Vegas is that you can get married all year round and within hours of arrival.

However, if you are planning it, you might want to consider avoiding getting wed in the middle of the summer, when temperatures can hit 43°C+, and on Valentine’s Day, which is so popular that you can queue for up to six hours to get married! Wedding dresses and tuxedoes can be hired if you aren’t bringing your own, but hair and beauty makeovers are harder to organise on the spur of the moment.

The tourist board and all the hotels offer a wedding service, as do many of the individual chapels. If you plan to marry in one of the wedding chapels, assume it’ll be a short ceremony, as most only allow a half hour service.

One of the most popular chapels is still Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, which specialises in exuberant Elvis weddings and other wacky, magical and imaginative themed weddings… worth a peek even if you’re not getting married!

Marriage essentials

• You must present identification and proof of your age, such as a valid passport.

•  You must be over 18 years old. You can be married if you are 16 or 17 years old only if you are accompanied by at least one of your parents or if you have an official document verifying your parent’s permission.

• If you were previously married and divorced, you must have a copy of your final divorce decree that clearly indicates the date and place that the final decree is registered.

• Both the bride and groom must appear in person at the Marriage License Bureau at 200 South Third Street downtown. The office is open from 8AM until midnight on weekdays and from 8AM Friday until midnight Sunday every weekend. They are also open 24 hours on all holidays. A marriage license cost $30.

• Once you have the license, any person authorised by the State of Nevada can perform the marriage ceremony. One witness must be present at the ceremony. Most wedding chapels will supply the witness if you have none and some chapels will even supply an imitation Elvis Presley to be your witness, so it’s worth asking around!

To officially register your marriage in your home country:

• When you return home, you will need a copy of your Nevada marriage certificate as proof of your marriage. It can be purchased at the Clark County Recorder’s office for $7 before you leave.

• Some countries require a certified copy of your marriage certificate and an Apostilles, so check with the marriage officials in your own country! Both documents are available from the Clark County Recorders office for a modest fee.

A list of wedding chapels is available from Las Vegas Online Entertainment Guide.

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Las Vegas – Where to Stay

Staying in Las Vegas

Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas

Unlike other cities, the hotels aren’t just somewhere you crash after visiting the main attractions – they are the main attractions! Interestingly, however, given the level of luxury and grandeur, they are not outrageously priced, and you can even get money off your room rate or even as much as a complementary week’s stay if you use the ‘Comp’ system run in many of the hotels.

This is where the hotel offsets what they charge you in return for you gambling with them, ie in their casino or on their one-armed bandits. Since most of the people visiting Las Vegas gamble, the amounts you gamble do not have to be high to earn you credit against your hotel bill, and it simply involves registering with reception and making sure you tell the waiters/croupiers etc, it can be a good way of making your money go further.

In addition, if you get hooked on Las Vegas and want to revisit, having a ‘comp’ card will automatically get you to the front of the queue with your hotel.

Bellagio

Elegant and beautiful are not two of the words that immediately to mind when you think of Las Vegas, yet that’s the only way to describe Italian-inspired, architecturally gorgeous, Bellagio, complete with blue-green lake with fountains in front and an Italianesque 8-acre pool behind. As you enter the hotel’s lobby, look up at the ceiling, which is filled with exquisite hand-blown glass flowers made by world-renowned artist, Dale Chihuly, while the Conservatory and Botantical Gardens are filled with dazzling displays of real seasonal floral displays, installed by cranes through the 50ft ceiling. Even if you aren’t staying there, don’t miss the nightly choreographed fountain show on the waterfront, which is free and utterly breath-taking.

Caesar’s Palace

One of the city’s founding leading lights, this Greco-Roman fantasyland remains, for many, quintessentially Vegas. The architecture and décor is showbiz classical, including hand-painted murals, Corinthian columns, waitresses dressed as goddesses and waiters as gladiators. The Coliseum, the hotel’s 4,000-seat entertainment venue, hosts Celine Dion’s theatrical extravaganza, A New Day, as well as such mega stars as Elton John. Don’t miss the living statues, who perform half-hourly in the atrium.

Harrah’s Hotel

Situated at the heart of the strip, Harrah’s hotel offers nightly entertainment, including the famous comedy club, voted Best Comedy Club four years in a row and which you can book in advance at the desk or on-line, regardless of whether you are staying at the hotel or not. Check the website for details of performers. Carnival Court, just at the entrance to Harrah’s, is a great place to sit and sip cocktails created by their award-winning bartenders and watch the live bands.

Harrah’s also feature regular duelling piano bar sessions, renown for their energy, stamina and enthusiasm.

Luxor

Of all the hotels in Las Vegas, the Egyptian-inspired Luxor perhaps packs the biggest wow factor. Its atrium is a black-glass pyramid, the largest in the world at 30-storeys high and large enough to accommodate nine Boeing 747s with room to spare. From the pyramid’s apex, the world’s most powerful beacon (40-billion-candlepower) sends a shaft of blue-white light 10 miles up into space, where it’s visible to astronauts.

The hotel’s décor is elegant and luxurious, and filled with huge Egyptian statues and tapestries, while a 10-story high replica sphinx sits out the front.

Mirage

Not called Mirage for nothing, the hotel certainly creates one by pitching you straight into its incredible South Sea Island theme as you pass the volcano out front (hopefully erupting, if you arrive at night; it does it every 15 minutes) and step into the lobby atrium, which is akin to walking straight into a tropical rainforest.

Trees, waterfalls, and exotic birds are all here, while the illusion continues as you go through the casino, with its individual palm-thatched gaming areas, and head out back to the gorgeous residents-only outdoor oasis.

The hotel is also home to the original pair of Royal white tigers bequeathed to the USA in 1958 by the Maharaja of Rewa. Their now full-grown cubs were born in Vegas, and live with their parents in their habitat, the Secret Garden. There’s also a large Dolphin Habitat, which has been carefully modelled to recreate the animals’ natural habitat as closely as possible. Non-residents can visit all the animal attractions, educational trips by students are frequent, and guided tours can be arranged. You can even become a dolphin trainer for a day!

Mandalay Bay

Home to the Events Centre, where the fight scene between Rocky Balboa and Mason Dixon in Rocky Balboa was filmed, Mandalay Bay hosts many premium sporting and musical events, from the likes of Christine Aguilera and the Pussycat Dolls, through to the performances by world-celebrated orchestras.

Mandalay’s Theatre attracts the best shows, such as the musical ‘Mamma Mia’, while the House of Blues plays host to a huge variety of top-notch singers and performers, including burlesque (such as ‘Forty Deuce’ from Los Angeles).

The hotel itself is an amazing sight, a huge narrow curve of golden glass beside a sun and surf pool (they hold surfing competitions here!) and flanked by the deluxe golden tower of its companion, THEHotel. At the top of THEHotel’s tower you will find Mix, a modernist masterpiece of a bar with an amazing view. Bars and entertainment are, in fact, a bit of a Mandalay Bay specialist subject, and at Mandalay’s Aureole you’ll not only enjoy a great meal, but you’ll also get to see the ‘wine angels’ bouncing up and down ropes in climbing gear to retrieve wine from a three-story tower in the middle of the restaurant! Over at Mandalay’s vodka bar, Red Square, they have a constant frozen block of ice running down the centre of the bar to keep the drinks chilled.

Main Street Station

This most charming of the Downtown hotels faithfully reproduces the splendour and opulence of the Victorian era. It has an amazing collection of artefacts and antiques, ranging from three exquisite bronze chandeliers from the original Coca Cola 19th century building in Texas to a piece of the Berlin Wall complete with graffiti!

It also has an award-winning microbrewery on site, and its beers can be sampled in the Triple Seven restaurant and bar in the hotel, where live music can be enjoyed several nights a week.

MGM Grand

With a 45ft tall bronze lion (it’s the USA’s largest statue) perched amidst lush landscaping outside, and the acclaimed Cirque du Soleil show inside, there is certainly nothing insignificant about the shimmering green MGM Grand. With over 5,000 rooms, it lays claim to being the world’s largest hotel, despite stiff competition, and owned as it is by movie mogul Metro Goldwyn Meyer, its sumptuous and fabulous decor certainly provides a magical slug of 1930s Hollywood glamour.

Additional attractions at the MGM Grand include the Lion Habitat, which you can walk through in a see-through tunnel, two shopping concourses, and the gigantic Grand Garden Arena (17,000 seats), which hosts champion sporting events and megaconcerts.

New York-New York

Complete with its own scaled-down New York skyline, including the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge, ‘Sex in the City’ devotees will adore the New York-New York, which offers an amazingly authentic Manhatten experience – without the risk of being mugged! There’s a great roller coaster, and lots of watering holes to sample, including the Nine Fine Irishmen, which is as authentic a pub as you will find on the Strip.

The parts making up the decor were all imported from Ireland, as is the beer, there’s bangers ‘n’ mash to keep you going through the night, and the music and rollicking atmosphere certainly got our thumbs up. For a more sensual experience, try Zumanity, where the Cirque du Soleil gets saucy, and then there’s the sassy lasses at Coyote Ugly, inspired by the bar in the film of the same name, which is a real hit with hen and stag parties alike.

Paris

You can hardly fail to miss Las Vegas’ version of the half-scale size Eiffel Tower, as it soars up into the sky from its base in the casino of the Paris hotel on the Strip. The hotel has recreated a romantic version of France, complete with cobbled streets of shops and fine likenesses of landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Opera House. Le Theatre de Arts hosts international performers, and the Casino’s ceiling is worth a special mention as it is a wonderful tromp l’oeil that is lit to create an amazingly real early evening sky.

Stratosphere

While the hotel itself is nothing to write home about, the view from the top of the tower will certainly have you reaching for your pen! At 108 floors (1149ft) the Stratosphere’s Tower is the tallest building in the USA West of the Mississippi. At the very top of the tower is a revolving restaurant reminiscent of the one that used to be at the top of the Post Office Tower in London and the very best time to come is just before sunset to see the sun go down and the city light up.

Other attractions here include the High Roller, which is the world’s highest roller coaster but isn’t as exciting as it sounds, and the Big Shot, which is the real McCoy and guaranteed to get you screaming! Try any, or all, of the four rides at night for maximum effect. The Stratosphere also has its own chapel about two thirds of the way up the tower, just in case you want to get married.

Treasure Island (TI)

What was once a yo-ho-ho and a bucket-load-of-kids hangout has been revamped into TI, a distinctly ‘private-Caribbean-hideaway’ kind of place where kids are strictly off the menu and grown up fun and pampering is definitely in. Although the replica 18th-century sea village remains in the cove fronting the entrance (you approach the hotel across a wood and rope bridge above the cove), the daily sea battle is now spiced up and features scantily-clad lady pirates, called ‘sirens’, and hunky renegade freebooters, and is certainly one to catch if you are on a hen or stag holiday!

The Spa at the Treasure Island is considerably better than the ones at many luxury resorts that are in the dedicated spa business, and there’s an extensive array of services all design to utterly indulge and pamper you. Although the Spa is open to anyone, Treasure Island guests get first shout.

Where to stay in Las Vegas

The Venetian

The Venetian

Unbelievably beautiful and luxurious, the Venetian was inspired by a Doge’s Palace in Venice, although with its impressive Palazzo Tower, it’s definitely the all-American version in it’s sheer scale and size! In addition to the fabulous decorations (think marble columns, chandeliers, and hand-painted ceiling frescos) and room design, the Venetian is also famous its romantic gondola-filled lagoon, set in a romantic full-scale reproduction of central Venice, including significant landmarks such as St Mark’s Square. The strolling mimes are a particular treat.

The Venetian is also home to Madam Tussard’s waxworks, Vegas-style, as well as the stunning Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum. The Guggenheim-Hermitage was conceived as a venue for the presentation of exhibitions based on the collections of the American Guggenheim and Russian Hermitage museums. Exhibitions change approximately twice a year, check the hotel website for details.

Wynn Las Vegas

Opened in 2005, this sleek–looking hotel casino is the latest offering from Steve Wynn, the driving force behind Bellagio, Mirage, and Treasure Island, and the only one to be, in his words, “worthy to bear the Wynn name”, so you know it’s got to be good! Top of the list here is the incredible Lake of Dreams production, which is situated next to the casino area and is free. It features a 140 foot mountain covered with 1,500 trees, waterfall and three-acre lake, spans over 20,000 square feet and employs thousands of underwater LED fixtures to construct a show that combines colour, music and water into an amazing hourly spectacle. Other attractions include the on-site Ferrari-Maserati dealership (to drool over), the only golf course on the Strip, and top-notch shows, such as Spamalot, which is arriving from England later this year.

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Viva Las Vegas!

Viva Las VegasDedicated to “putting the Sin back into Casino” and dubbed ‘Disneyland for Grown Ups’, Las Vegas is quite simply the most outrageous, hedonistic and mind-blowing playground you will ever have the pleasure of visiting. Hopelessly addictive, it is currently the second most visited destination in the world after Paris, and once you’ve visited, it’s easy to see why.

Situated in the Nevada desert, and located miles from any other urban centre, Las Vegas is like an oasis mirage where reproductions of world iconic destinations, such as the Eiffel tower, Venice and ancient Egypt, sit comfortably side-by-side.

It’s totally artificial and a stunning testament to America’s ability to go completely over the top, and it seethes with so much life and excitement that a couple of days can seem like a week! So it shouldn’t surprise you that Las Vegas has been the fastest-growing city in the United States for ten years in a row, and that its growth is so rapid that it is unique in needing two editions of the Yellow Pages printed every year.

And it’s even more impressive when you consider the city itself is only just a century old.

The Las Vegas valley was first settled in the 19th century by Mormon settlers attracted by the green oasis (“Las Vegas” means ‘the meadows’), and the city itself was founded in 1905. Its incredible growth spurt was kicked started after World War II as tourism and gambling became increasing popular (and therefore lucrative), and then after some years in the doldrums during the 80s, it had a major revival in 1989 when magnate Steve Wynn opened The Mirage, Las Vegas’ first megahotel. The city has basically not looked back since and currently attracts over 37 million visitors a year.

There is a relatively high turnover of residents, with an almost equal number arriving and leaving each year. Despite its trade in unreality, Las Vegas is no city of dreams and it will stand you well to remember that at all times, from being realistic about your odds in the casinos to tipping the staff, who are far from luxuriously paid.

When to Visit

When planning your trip, bear in mind the temperatures vary a lot at different times of year, and from daytime to night time, because it is a city in a desert. So the average daytime temperature is 43°C in July and August, down to 20°C in the evening. During the daytime in November and December it averages 16°C, falling to 1°C at night. Las Vegas only has an average of 10cm of rainfall each year, so the heat is very dry. However, when it does rain it really can rain, with as much as 3cm sometimes falling in the space of an hour or two.

Another consideration is to try and avoid Las Vegas when there is a huge conference going on, which is most common in the spring, although they do happen all year round. When the conference circuses come to town, all the available 102,000+ rooms seem to disappear overnight, rates for everything go up like rockets, and fighting your way to anywhere, from the buffet to the Stratosphere, becomes a challenge and extremely time-consuming, which isn’t even remotely amusing if you are only visiting for a few days! Your travel agent should be able to check for you, or alternatively ask your hotel when you are booking. If your visit does coincide with a major conference, seriously think about rescheduling.

And if you are planning a romantic trip to Las Vegas to get married, as over 100,000 couples do every year, then be aware that Valentine’s Day is the most popular wedding day of the year in Las Vegas. Consequently you can queue for up to six hours to get hitched, which maybe isn’t the way you’d ideally choose to spend your wedding day.

Once you have chosen when to go, bear in mind that a direct flight (try BMI and Virgin) takes 11 hours, and that it is much more likely that you will be offered a flight that stops at Fort Worth, Dallas, Chicago or Los Angeles, and that these take 14-15 hours. Las Vegas is in the Pacific timezone, which is basically eight hours behind the UK, so do allow for some body clock adjustment at both ends of the journey. Given both these factors, and the sheer variety and spectacles available in Las Vegas, going for less than five days is probably not going to give you any time at all to enjoy the trip, and a week is a much more realistic option. Luckily there are many good deals available for a week in a top hotel, and with the pound being so strong against the dollar at the moment, anything state-side is incredibly good value. Expect to pay approximately £500 each for a return flight and a week in a top hotel, such as the Mirage, or about £300 for just the return flight.

When you are booking your flight, do try and get one that arrives in the evening – Las Vegas is at its most stunning when you first see it at night all lit up with neon… and its even better if you can organise to see it first by stretch limo from the airport! This isn’t as difficult or as expensive as you might imagine. Basically, if you have six people in your party, or can join up with others to make up a party of six who are staying in the same general area, then the cost of hiring a limo between you is on a par with you each taking the airbus shuttle – and a whole heap more luxurious and exciting! The limousine shuttles are run by Las Vegas Limousines under the name of Airline Limousine Corporation (ALC), just look on the airport diagrams for their location at each airports.

You can also book one to take you back at the end of the holiday (they have a reputation for being more reliable and time conscious than the shuttles), just ask the driver for the number and book it ahead of your departure date.

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