An indoor rainforest, gourmet dining and cut-price designer gear are just some of Vegas's many attractions. Who needs slot machines, asks Barry Egan
Perhaps I should have gone to Specsavers. I'd missed the sign and we'd ended up in the middle of the night lost somewhere outside Calico, the ghost town on the way to Las Vegas. It was like something from a Fifties horror movie: but then so much of visiting Vegas is like being in a movie. Our imaginations and emotions were working at 200mph as we drove through the Mojave desert with its brush and Joshua trees, along Route 66, past towns with names such as Big Bear Lake and Needles to get to Vegas.
Our in-car soundtrack was Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks. When I eventually got to Vegas and saw the Strip for the first time, I felt like I was on a six-cups-of-coffee high. The first thing I did after checking into the Mirage was jump into the pool (which is about the size of Ranelagh.)
That was my first big mistake. It was full of beautiful tanned-all-over young people splashing about in pool-party heaven. I quickly got my milky-white fleshy carcase out of the water. After about two hours I got used it and got back in again. You soon make friends who take you out clubbing all night. (That was my second big mistake.) It is a helluva town like that.
In fact, Las Vegas is a great town full stop. I stayed for seven days and I didn't gamble once in a casino. That's one of the emerging truths of the new Las Vegas: there is so much more to this 24/7 city in the sand than the dreaded slot machines. I would heartily recommend it to anyone -- even my 80-year-old mother. Yes, it can be sin city, yet it also offers something for every member of the family, from the great shows to the rollercoaster rides and attractions (The Mirage's exploding volcano is a real visual treat.)
I even liked things I would normally have considered too cheesy for words (mid-life crisis anyone?). I went to Roy and Siegfield's Secret Garden. It provides magic for children and grown-ups alike. I got to watch dolphins being fed and rare white tiger cubs frolicking with each other. I even made a wish on the wishing tree inside the main gate (definitely mid-life crisis).
There was always another show to go to or a circus to be viewed, or a rare lion to gawp in awe at. Hyper-extravagance and over-indulgence are de rigueur: I had a Chak-rock-ology massage at Grand Spa at MGM Grand one day and a yogic massage another day at the Bathhouse spa at THE hotel.
You have to submit to the will of Vegas to truly enjoy yourself.
The rooms at Mirage are so hip that I was happy to while away a few hours on the enormous bed just reading and occasionally looking out the 20th-floor window to see all that was happening beneath. There was even an indoor rainforest in the hotel to soothe the mind.
All of the world's top designers have shops here, and there are incredible bargains to be found without too much exertion.
The standard of service everywhere in Vegas is also exceptional -- no need to bang on too heavily that this is in stark contrast to the service industry in Dublin or, in fact, Europe.
There is an incredible variety of restaurants, catering for all tastes and wallets. Dinner in The Aureole seafood restaurant in the Mandalay Bay Hotel was an unforgettable gourmet and sensory experience. I was given a table with an adjoining balcony, which offered access to a huge pond in which swans were swimming. I could feed swans while sipping a sparkling water. I had the Chilean seabass, California date couscous and saffron mussel emulsion, followed by a great chat with chef Vincent in his suitably impressive kitchen. Later, the manager regaled me with stories: he had served everyone from Frank Sinatra to Orson Welles to Dean Martin.
I went straight from there to the fascinating fountain show at the Bellagio. It became something of a routine. Each night I'd zen out watching the water whooshing up to 500 feet into air above Vegas in perfect rhythm to One Singular Sensation from A Chorus Line.
As Time magazine put it: "And yet, for some reason, it doesn't feel all that gay, which is quite a feat."
Equally quite a feat was that I brought my dad's little brother Joe (he is 81 and he lives in Nevada) and his wife Fran to dinner at Sensi at Bellagio one night. I got the biggest ribeye steak I've ever seen. It was the size of Rathmines. The following day I went with my American cousins to late lunch at Nobhill Tavern at the MGM Grand. We had lobster rolls on buttery toasted brioche and tableside chicken and dumplings. And that was just the starters. I ran each day in the Mirage's uber-gym for an hour, yet I still put on a stone in weight while I was in Vegas. Still, it was one phat trip. Before I left Vegas, there was a guy in Starbucks doing improv lines from the film, The Hangover:
Guy: "This isn't the real Caesar's Palace, is it?"
Hotel clerk at Caesar's Palace: "What do you mean?"
The guy: "Did, uh, Caesar live here?"
Hotel clerk: "Umm, no."
The guy: "I didn't think so." I had to laugh. Out loud. Then order another coffee.