Lots of places around the world can offer you unique, memorable, romantic, expensive, expansive, impressive, diverse, cultural, tacky amongst others. However, very few can offer you them all! Having been to Las Vegas many times now, we think we can speak authoritatively on our experiences and can safely say that it can offer the visitor virtually anything that visitor wants from it. I can already hear the hecklers shouting lines like: “What about the beach? It’s in the middle of the desert?” Believe me, the beach is the least of your worries. We’ve seen beaches in Las Vegas at many of the pool complexes, the Mandalay Bay and Monte Carlo spring to mind as good examples.
Cheap and cheerful tackiness, right through to opulent, sophisticated style; it’s all there. On our most recent visit we sat by the window on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, looking down onto ‘The Strip’ while we sipped Champagne with our Afternoon Cream Tea. Yet looking down to the view below, not only we could see the bright lights, breathtaking plasma billboards and signs that illuminate Las Vegas Boulevard day and night, we were also aware of the scene only half a block behind all the razzmatazz: the less glamorous small businesses, catering for the perhaps less privileged residents, who despite the almost extra-terrestrial glitz only a two minute walk away, still have to feed and clothe their families on a budget.
It’s a city of contrast and an absolutely fascinating place to visit. We laughed on one occasion when we were looking at a sign promoting the Fine Art Gallery at the Bellagio, home to many of the original Impressionist Masters, and housed in an authentic, secure, immaculate gallery environment when our view was temporarily obscured by a huge billboard advertising truck emblazoned with “Hot Babes to Your Room – 24 Hrs”. Oh the irony of it! In 50 yards you can go from an opportunity to buy an unfeasibly large $1 Hot Dog to some of the finest cuisine in one of Wolfgang Puck’s many restaurants where it would be very easy to spend $150 a head on a good meal.
To illustrate our breadth of experience, we first visited Las Vegas back in 2002 and have been there five more times since – so 6 times altogether! On our most recent visit we travelled with Virgin Atlantic and organised our hotel through Virgin Holidays. Virgin are a superb airline to travel with and as usual everything about our flights were spot-on and their Virgin Airport Experience is great. We were fortunate enough to be upgraded to Premium Economy and the extra leg-room and luxuries were very much appreciated. We’ve stayed in various hotels on ‘The Strip’ ranging from Budget to Absolute Luxury and have done so using both independent travel and hotel arrangements and package options.
Here are our thoughts (in no particular order):
This was on our first visit and it is one of the experiences in Las Vegas I will never forget. You walk in between the feet of the giant Sphinx that forms the grand entrance and as you walk in to reception, you cannot miss the breathtaking scale of the Pyramid atrium that you’re walking into. It is enormous, with four diagonal ‘travelators’ carrying guests from floor to floor and balconies overlooking precipitous drops from the highest levels. Due to its ‘open’ construction, it is one of the biggest and most impressive indoor spaces you’re likely to see in Vegas. The room was large, well-appointed and for what we paid was fantastic value for money. The frozen Margaritas we drank in the little bar in the atrium gave us ulcers that lasted for hours, but they were great!
Imperial Palace (now ‘The Quad’)
One of the older and cheaper hotels on the Strip, we stayed here for just a couple of days purely as a look-see to see what you actually get for the ridiculously low price we got the room for. Though a little dated and perhaps not as glamorous as some of the newer hotels, it was a big room which was described as one of their ‘love-tub’ rooms. Walking through the door made it immediately apparent why. There was a bath that could comfortably accommodate about 10 people at once, that was so big that I couldn’t touch opposite ends at the same time even lying down and that took only 10 minutes to fill using a tap akin to a fire monitor! Location is brilliant too! Right in the middle of the Strip and just across the road from Caesar’s Palace.
Next-door to Caesars and nestled behind its very own volcano, the Mirage is classy and refined, with a good atmosphere, good food and drink and, if the weather’s kind, has the best place to drink a ‘sundowner’ pre-dinner cocktail – The RhumBar. We went to see Cirque de Soleil’s Beatles Love show one evening and were treated to one of the best theatre shows I think we’ve ever been to – ever. It’s a fantastic multimedia performance with a spellbinding combination of music, light and acrobatics that keeps you gripped from start to finish.
Situated right in the centre of the Strip, opposite the fountains of the Bellagio, it has a perfect location for exploring. The room was huge, with a big sunken bath and an enormous bed. The windows were floor-to-ceiling across one entire wall of the room, offering fantastic views across the south part of the city. Many of its shops and facilities are shared with its neighbour the Paris. It’s a mid-priced option, but its location more than makes up for the very slightly dated interiors. It houses one of the best steakhouses in the whole of Las Vegas and its breakfast was definitely worth a visit.
We seem to have a strange affection for Caesars and have to pay it a visit every time. There was a time when their Café Lago served the best buffet breakfast in Vegas, but we were somewhat disappointed on the most recent couple of visits. We’ve now rated the Bellagio’s Buffet Breakfast as one of our favourites. However, this doesn’t take away the fact that Caesars was, and still is probably our favourite hotel stay in Las Vegas. We had a room in the Forum Tower which was well-appointed, luxurious and so conveniently central too. The Old Homestead Steakhouse serves some of the best steaks too – at a price!
The Venetian is a colossal hotel/casino. In fact it’s probably better to look upon it as a small city in itself. The authenticity of the décor throughout, the sheer scale of everything, the wealth of shopping and dining opportunities, the fantastically-appointed rooms and the central location make the Venetian a top contender out of all the Las Vegas Strip hotels. Our room was a long, split-level room, with a lounge area near the window and the bedroom on the raised mezzanine, next to the luxurious bathroom. There are lots of quirky modern touches in the rooms – like being able to open and close the curtains from the bed for example. The staff were all friendly and helpful and we had a brilliant time.
The Tropicana was until very recently seen as one of the old run-down hotels on the strip. Situated at the south end of the strip, it has been completely renovated throughout and has a bright and airy feel, lots and lots of white décor and rooms which have again all been renovated to a high standard. It doesn’t come anywhere near the grandeur of Caesars or the Venetian, but bearing in mind that it’s one of the cheaper options on the strip it offers really high standards for a very competitive price. The public areas all have a whiff of coconut-flavoured air-freshener about them too, presumably in keeping with the ‘tropical’ theme. The reception experience was a little slow due to the low staff numbers both when we arrived and checked out, but overall it was a great value and ‘nice’ place to stay.
That’s our view based on our own experiences. To be perfectly honest, even when we have chosen to stay ‘on the cheap’, we’ve still enjoyed great quality and nothing has ever been so bad as to disappoint us. We always look forward to the next opportunity we get to visit this fascinating city and feel that we will never grow tired of its ever-changing landscape and attractions. In fact writing this has got me thinking that it’s about time we started planning our next Vegas Holiday ……..