Tuesday 12 December 2017

A wedding date with Elvis

The famous neon sign welcomes millions of visitors to Las Vegas each year.
The famous neon sign welcomes millions of visitors to Las Vegas each year.
Gemma Fullam sees the attractions in glitzy Las Vegas

Gemma Fullam

Reader, I married him. Or did I? My husband to be, whom I had known for all of 48 hours, stood waiting at the altar. As Elvis, aka minister Brendan Duffy, proffered his arm to walk me up the aisle of the Graceland Wedding Chapel to the strains of It's Now or Never, I thought to myself, "When in Vegas ... "

Of course, I later realised I had got my quotes – and cities – mixed up, but by then it was too late.

Two days earlier, I'd landed in Las Vegas, Nevada, for a couple of days of well-earned R & R. Unlike most airports, McCarran International is within spitting distance of the city it serves; you can see Vegas's distinctive skyline from the terminal building.

First stop was the MGM Grand Hotel, which is on the famous Strip and normal-sized by Vegas standards, with over 5,000 rooms. Vegas hotels are mind-blowing. The MGM Grand's check-in area has a square footage to rival an airport terminal's; the same floor also has Hakkasan, a state-of-the-art nightclub that regularly features globally famous acts such as DJ Tiesto, numerous shops, bars, restaurants, swimming pools, a vast casino area, and two wedding chapels. Phew!

You can get married pretty much anywhere in Vegas. Want the romance of Italy? Get hitched in a floating gondola at the Venetian. Want culture? The exquisite art deco Smith Center, a performing-arts venue fits that bill (www.thesmithcenter.com).

Want to get wed in a Fifties diner dressed as Darth Vader? Viva Las Vegas can oblige at their Doo Wop Diner Wedding Chapel. Into horror? Check out Chap-Hell, part of Hostel director Eli Roth's Goretorium (www.goretorium.com), a complex which also includes the grisly Babydoll bar: blood runs down the mirrors when you wash your hands and disembodied voices scream when you enter the toilet cubicles. Frights aside, the Babydoll has one of the most spectacular views in Vegas.

Having settled in at the MGM, I had a delectable lunch – and quite possibly the best service I have ever experienced – at MOzen Bistro, a contemporary Asian bistro in the swish Mandarin Oriental, one of the new breed of hotels sans casino. Full as a tick, I decided to immerse myself in a bit of Las Vegas nostalgia and headed for the Neon Museum, which is situated at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North. Outside of the Strip, there's a very retro feel to Vegas; it has an air of faded Fifties Americana that's quite charming.

Vegas is all about newer, bigger, better – there isn't huge interest in the past; even iconic Rat Pack haunts such as the Sands Hotel and Casino have fallen to the wrecking ball (a rare exception is the Graceland Wedding Chapel, built over 50 years ago and still in situ, www.gracelandchapel.com). There was a certain ennui as to the fate of Las Vegas's historic neon signage until the non-profit Neon Museum opened up in the former La Concha Motel. Vaguely reminiscent of a Dutch bonnet, the motel's mid-Century design reflecting the Atomic age will delight design buffs; one day, they thought, all buildings would look like this.

Troy, my tour guide, led a very entertaining tour of the Boneyard, where all the old signs are kept. Even if you've never been to Vegas, you'll have seen some of these 150 signs before: Caesars Palace, Binions Horseshoe, the Golden Nugget and the Stardust are all here. They're like ageing showgirls, the gloss has faded, but the magic is still very much in evidence. They also make for a great photo opportunity. You can get married here, too: the old Betty Willis-designed Moulin Rouge sign, as-yet-unrestored, is currently in several parts; the cursive script of one section resembles 'in love' and it's a popular spot for nuptials. Willis is best known for her iconic 1959 design for the 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada' sign recognised worldwide as the symbol of the city. It's $18 general admission to the Neon Museum or $25 for a night tour, (see www.neonmuseum.org).

Culturally sated, it was back to the Strip to dine at Table 10, in the Palazzo, a sister hotel of the Venetian. This Emeril Lagasse venture rocks his signature New Orleans-influenced cuisine to perfection; I had roasted beef marrow bones, fried Great Lakes smelt, and New Orleans Fried Shrimp Po-Boy with a side of lobster mac and cheese. Caution: do not come to Vegas if you're dieting.

Then it was back to the MGM Grand for a cocktail and a bit of posing by one of the hotel's four pools. Bliss.

A visit to Vegas wouldn't be complete without catching a show, so I plumped for the newest Cirque du Soleil spectacular, Zarkana, currently showing in the Aria Resort and Casino. There are eight Cirque shows currently running in Vegas – if you've never seen one, prepare to be blown away. The production values are sublime, while the acrobatic feats showcase near-superhuman skills. The power and emotion coming from the stage is awesome and – irritating clowns excepted – you're sad to leave the magic behind when the final curtain falls.

Vegas doesn't sleep and I had no intention of doing so either. In need of a drink, I headed to Vesper at the Cosmopolitan, possibly the best cocktail bar in the city, with a team of expert mixologists.

The cocktail menu at Vesper features numerous classic cocktails and also the bar's own twist on same. I love a pina colada, which wasn't featured, but just like everywhere else in Vegas, my request was met by the response "not a problem, Ma'am". I subsequently got the most exquisite pina colada I have ever imbibed. So I had another ... Ah, I know what you're thinking, but you'd be wrong. These days, the marriage licence office closes at midnight, so Britney-style weddings at 4am don't really happen any more. Plus, they won't give you a licence if you're drunk.

So, did I leave him crying in the chapel? Well, the maxim is, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but let's just say that now and then, there's a fool such as I...


The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is charged with marketing Southern Nevada as a tourism and convention destination. For more information about what is hot and happening in Las Vegas, go to lasvegas.com or tel: (01) 631-9640

All Aer Lingus flights from and to New York's JFK Airport now operate from JFK's Terminal 5. Aer Lingus has its own dedicated area, allowing for easy check-in, baggage-handling and seamless connections. The minimum connection time from European arrivals to connecting JetBlue markets is reduced to about 60 minutes. Customers travelling to Ireland can get JetBlue connections as fast as 40 minutes. The amenities at the award-winning, state-of-the-art T5 include free wifi, 55,000 sq. feet of food and shopping and a large children's play area.

Aer Lingus in partnership with JetBlue fly from Dublin to Las Vegas via New York's JFK and Boston, Logan airport. Fares start from €249 each way.

Irish Independent

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