The strip in Vegas: a place I had heard about, read about and seen on TV, but not a place I had imagined ever going to myself. It’s one of those fairytale far-off places everyone talks about but never goes to. Yet I was here, standing drowsily in the biting cold winter weather, staring up at the impressive buildings looming overhead.
Sarah & I were standing outside our hotel: the Luxor, looking North towards the MGM Grand and the Excalibur. The Luxor is about as far South as the strip extends, the only hotel and casino further South is the Mandalay bay, one block South. Just a little further South of that stands the Iconic “Welcome to Vegas” sign pictured here on the right. All the other hotels were laid out before us to the North, stretching out into the distance, lining the 6-lane road that separated them like self-contained cities.
And cities they are. They remind me somewhat of the archologies from SimCity 2000: that popular computer game where once you ran out of land and had a ridiculous amount of money you could build enormous self-sufficient buildings which housed literally thousands of inhabitants who never needed to leave the building for any reason at any point in their lives. This is how the hotels are. They contain restaurants, casino, hotel, entertainment and in some cases (such as the Mandalay Bay) a beach. Soon, you will be able to live permanently at one of these hotels: they’re busy building condominiums closer and closer to the strip all the time.
We walked past the Excalibur. The Excalibur is designed to look just like a magical castle, complete with horribly tacky life-sized wizard sticking out of one side. That seems to be the rule in Vegas: go tacky, but go all out. They don’t just theme their casinos they Theme their casinos with a capital T. There are no half-measures here.
We got onto an overpass so as to avoid the busy street below and crossed over into New York – New York. They obviously took the “city” metaphor literally when they built this one. New York – New York (like everything in Vegas) is a condensed version of what it is intended to represent.
The theme of this hotel is (wait for it) New York. On the outside, it looks like every instantly recognizable major landmark from the New York skyline, including the Brooklyn Bridge. Inside, it’s designed to look like the streets of New York, complete with authentic-sounding shop names and manholes spewing real fake steam.
A rollercoaster weaves its way through the buildings, rattling and screaming its way past guests who bustle endlessly with one purpose: to spend their money.
This is what you have to remember about this place. The whole of Vegas is designed to part you with your money as soon as possible. Be it the shows (which are excellent by the way) the gambling (not so excellent) the food (pretty good) or just getting from A to B, they will find a way to make you pay. We left New York and headed across another overpass to the MGM Grand. The theme of this casino (being the MGM) was, of course, lions. To my great delight, they had a lion cub on display in the lion habitat indoors. In the subsequent days I would annoy Sarah no end by insisting we stop at the MGM to “look at the kitties”. She doesn’t think I’m weird anymore, she knows I’m weird.
It was only two more blocks to the Venetian hotel: the place where we hoped to pick up tickets to some of our shows. Then another few blocks Westward to the Rio for more tickets. What we were slow to realise was that each “block” in Vegas is about a mile long. Since each hotel itself is the size of 6 city blocks, what looks like a leisurely stroll on a map soon turns out to be quite a journey.
We continued walking. Opposite the MGM Grand sits the Monte Carlo (pictured left). A very nice looking place, though we never ventured in. As we walked down this part of the strip I was more than a little bemused to discover what I can only describe as porn vending machines: machines containing smut, just sitting there on the side of the road. Personally, I found it distasteful. Then again, Vegas is home to the one and only Hooters hotel and casino, so anything is possible, really.
It became immediately apparent that Vegas was a city undergoing constant rejuvenation. Just about every year it seems an old building is spectacularly imploded to be replaced by a newer, grander, more ostentatiously themes mega-hotel than its predecessor. We passed by one such grand construction underway on our left side. On our right, we passed by an enormous coke bottle. Later we were told that coke bottle marked a good place to get cheap tickets to shows.
The Bellagio is perhaps one of the grandest hotels on the strip, made famous by the movie “Ocean’s eleven”. It doesn’t have a goofy theme, it doesn’t have to. Its major draw-card is the magnificent water fountain display they put on every half-hour at night. We were fortunate enough to video one such performance. You can view the video here. They play different music every time and I was really grateful to have caught one where it was Andrea Bocelli singing such a beautiful song, even if I did have to put up with an American yelling “wow” in my ear every 5 minutes.
Across the road from the Bellagio, Paris rose up out of the Nevada desert, looking even more out of place than Aladdin’s cave next door. Paris features such memorable landmarks as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, all scaled down and concentrated into a nice, easily-walk-able area. You can actually take an elevator up the tower and look out over the strip. It’s quite a breathtaking site, especially since if you time it right you can see the Bellagio water fountain show from above.
We went further up the strip that day but I will elaborate on that in another post.