The world's biggest playground

VIDEO Las Vegas is brash and tacky, right? The gambling mecca of the world does live up to its reputation, but there's a lot more besides with some surprisingly diverse aspects of Nevada.

By Tracey Sparling

VENTURE beyond the casinos where daylight never shines, and you can find plenty more to a holiday in Las Vegas. TRACEY SPARLING headed out to the wild west.

LAS Vegas is brash and tacky, right?

The gambling mecca of the world does live up to its reputation, but I decided there's a lot more besides during a trip which revealed the surprisingly diverse aspects of Nevada.

Yes, the themed hotels on “The Strip” are cluttered with gimmicks, topped with neon invites competing for your attention, and perma-tanned Elvises if you want to get hitched in one of the many wedding chapels. Billions are at stake on the casino tables and at the mega resorts.

I rode the 200ft-high bone-rattling rollercoaster off the top of the New York, New York hotel, got up close to the lions in MGM Grand, and was serenaded by gondoliers in Venice. You can visit a dozen “countries” in just a few miles!

Most Read

But the sheer scale, colour and spectacle which create this legendary place, also translate into Vegas's more sincere attractions. If you tire of the ding-ding-ding of the slot machines, the surrounding area has some of the Southwest's most beautiful scenery.

The Grand Canyon is a natural wonder and you can take a helicopter ride down into its depths, or ride a mustang horse, cowboy-style, round the cactus-strewn rim of Red Rock Canyon.

These were the real highlights of a four-day holiday which left me bowled over by Las Vegas - and exhausted at having fitted so much into such a short break!

Before leaving Ipswich, I admit I'd had slight reservations about a holiday destined to be spent indoors, either exploring hotels, or gambling in casinos with no windows so you can't tell the time of day. People spend days inside these places which are the size of whole villages, drinking non-stop and feeding credit cards into guzzling machines. As it turned out, we didn't gamble a dollar until the very last day of the holiday, because there was so much else to do.

We walked miles every day, I got sunburnt in temperatures over 90F, and hardly saw the hotel room.

I stayed in a pyramid room at the Egyptian-themed Luxor hotel, where the lifts run at 45 degree angles inside the world's biggest atrium … which plays havoc with your sense of balance when you're halfway up!

We booked a Sundance Helicopter's sunset tour to the Grand Canyon which turned out to be an awe-inspiring - if expensive - afternoon trip. We descended in to the huge gorge passing the new glass-bottomed Skywalk which looked fragile as a twig, dwarfed by the canyon walls.

After landing near the bottom, for a quick picnic and to take some snaps, six of us climbed back in the helicopter and the pilot chased the sunset back towards the Strip. Darkness fell fast and the neon spectacle flashed on as we approached.

A great value excursion is wild west riding around Red Rock Canyon, and even the many beginners on “babysitter” horses, loved our ride on the rocky trail up the side of the canyon then around its rim - it was real tumbleweed country as the sun beat down relentlessly.

The only criticism I have is that Cowboy Trail Rides could make so much more of the opportunity at their fingertips. We sat around for nearly an hour waiting for our horses, during which time a talk about what we'd see and do would have been welcome.

Trips usually pick up from your hotel or one nearby, so transport is included - Sundance is right at the end of the strip and Red Rock Canyon is 40 minutes on a bus.

This is such an easy holiday with no language barrier, currency easy to calculate with dollars strong against the pound, and Americans, keen to ensure you “have a nice day”, have plenty to offer.

Sometimes that can be too much - at an all-you-can-eat pancake buffet I failed miserably to finish the first round.

Portions are big, and with every venue competing for your custom, prices are cheap with breakfast from £2 and we enjoyed a three-course Mexican feast with cocktails for £10 a head.

It struck me how clean the streets were, but the sleazy side of Vegas' attractions is inescapable as touts indiscrimimately push prostitutes' cards into your hand regardless of whether you are male, female or obviously in a couple!

We caught the 'Deuce' bus - which is easier than walking the five-mile Strip - downtown to Freemont Street, famous for its neon ceiling across the whole street which now plays mainly adverts overhead.

A quick stroll round the famous Golden Nugget casino revealed The Hand of Gold which was the original catalyst for prospectors developing Vegas, and in Circus Circus we found the clown water gun game made famous by the James Bond film Diamonds are Forever.

We had lunch at the Nascar cafe, watched the Bellagio fountain display three times, and shopped at the Fashion Show Mall - with the two-dollar pound there are big bargains to be found.

Then we whizzed to the top of the Stratosphere Tower to marvel at the bravery of people who went on the fairground rides which shot them over the edge of the tower, and watch a newly-wed couple's photo session.

There was even a volcano erupting every night at the hotel Tropicana.

The sights are too many to mention. Legendary landmarks are everywhere, and there's so much to see that your senses are left in a whirl.

My advice is to plan an itinerary before you go.

You find yourself so caught up in the spirit of the place that visiting a Coca Cola shop, or M&M World, doesn't seem crazy any more.

I'm sure we missed plenty - for example, the Elvis Museum - but there's always next time!

I realised gambling is by no means the be all and end all of Las Vegas, and I couldn't complain when our Virgin flight home was delayed by nine hours - it gave me a precious extra evening in the world's biggest playground.

n See www.eveningstar.co.uk for a video of the dancing fountains at The Bellagio.

Where: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

What to do: Too much to mention here!

Cost: £525 for five nights, with www.lastminute.com

Sunset helicopter tour: £210

Horse ride: £30 for two hours.

Deuce bus £2.50 day ticket

Contact:

Sundance Helicopter Tours www.sundancehelicopters.com

Cowboy Trail Rides www.cowboytrailrides.com

Hospitality:

The author and guest paid for this trip.

Coming Thursday

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter