Tuesday 18 June 2019

Why the whole world wants to take a gamble on Las Vegas

Las Vegas

The famous 'Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas' sign is located just to the south of the Las Vegas strip
The famous 'Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas' sign is located just to the south of the Las Vegas strip
Red line a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche with an instructor on hand at Speed Vegas
Chloe at the Grand Canyon with her helicopter in the background
Chloe Brennan

Chloe Brennan

The last time I visited Las Vegas was the summer of my J1.

Four friends and I invested in a minivan, filled it to the last inch with our stuff and ourselves, and began our 30-hour drive from Chicago to Nevada. Upon arrival at Caesars Palace, where other hotel guests were arriving in stretch limousines and Hummers, it was safe to say we stuck out like a sore thumb.

The masking tape that we stuck on the driver's door, in hope of holding the driver's window in place, was tearing away and flapping in the wind after driving full throttle down Route 66. The door of the boot bounced up and down and even when stopped it remained half open at a 45 degree angle. The whole van itself would jolt back and forth even when asked to complete simple tasks - like changing gear.

This time round was a bit different, to put it mildly. After an 11-hour flight from London, I arrived into McCarran Airport feeling refreshed having flown Club World with British Airways, where I had an armchair, a bed, a dining table and an office integrated into one. Early in the flight, I was served a three-course meal that included a variety of options such as seared fillet of beef, prawn and wasabi timbale salad and Moroccan vegetable and chickpea salad.

Stepping out of the airport and into the desert is a similar feeling to opening the door of an oven, yet I found the dry and extreme heat oddly bearable.

We stayed in the newly-renovated Park MGM, formerly known as Monte Carlo Casino and Resort, which is situated in the centre of Las Vegas's four-mile Strip, with both the T-Mobile Arena and Aria Resort as neighbours.

Red line a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche with an instructor on hand at Speed Vegas
Red line a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Porsche with an instructor on hand at Speed Vegas

The hotel rooms were spacious - decorated colourfully and chicly throughout - and looked onto the Strip offering magnificent panoramic views.

Our first evening was spent exploring the cuisine that Vegas has to offer. Our food tour guide, Donald from Lip Smacking Foodie Tours (vegasfoodietour.com/shop/food-tours-in-las-vegas/savors-of-the-strip), took us on an unforgettable food tour. We dined in some of Las Vegas's most exclusive restaurants without having to queue or reserve a table. I was apprehensive in the beginning because I wasn't confident a small taste of each menu would be a sufficient amount for dinner. Thankfully, I was wrong.

In each restaurant, we had roughly 30-40 minutes to try out their pre-set menu. Our first stop was Javier's in the Aria Resort, a Mexican restaurant that had an eye-catching Day of the Dead inspired wood carving covering an entire wall. We were greeted by the manager, who whisked us away from the main dining area to a private room, where we tasted their empanadas and enchiladas, washing them down with Javier's signature Pina Margarita.

A quick ten-minute walk brought us to a French bistro, Bardot Brasserie. We tried the duck wings and snails, before heading to Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmopolitan, where they serve Greek and Mediterranean-style dishes and pride themselves on flying fresh fish in from the Mediterranean daily. Our last stop on the tour was Cucina, by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, where we indulged in tiramisu, pistachio panna cotta and espresso mousse.

The food tour was a fascinating way to spend the first evening of our trip and since we walked between the restaurants, it gave us time to find our feet and get our bearings.

Throughout the trip we enjoyed food at Holsteins, Osteria Costa, Primrose; and cocktails in Park MGM's Jupiter Lounge.

Chloe at the Grand Canyon with her helicopter in the background
Chloe at the Grand Canyon with her helicopter in the background

On our second morning, we left the hotels and casinos behind and travelled by helicopter to visit the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. When you're surrounded by the bright lights, fountains and energy of the city, it's easy to forget that you are, in fact, in a desert.

Our pilot, Ed (from maverickhelicopter.com), gave us our headphones and we piled into his helicopter. As the blades began to spin above, I felt a rush of adrenaline come over me. The difference between the monstrous buildings and bright lights in Las Vegas, and the arid desert landscape that surrounds it, is surreal to witness from above. We flew south-east, over the Hoover Dam, taking in the breath-taking views. Within 30 minutes, we had landed in what seemed to be the centre of the Grand Canyon.

However, it was an unnerving experience landing, with the canyon's edges appearing to be just an arm's-length away. We raised our champagne flutes before making our journey back to The Strip.

We headed to Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, the original city centre and gambling district prior to the Strip. Fremont Street is packed with hotels and casinos, although on a much smaller scale in comparison to the Strip. Magicians, buskers and various other street performers lined the street, providing an electric and vibrant atmosphere.

One of the main attractions in downtown Las Vegas is Slotzilla, a slot-machine-inspired zipline that hangs 12 storeys high and takes you five blocks down Fremont Street at, what feels like, 100mph. It was incredible to soar above the crowds, leaving you with an overload of adrenaline, a feeling you can become accustomed to in Las Vegas.

We stopped off at the luxurious Hyde bar at the Bellagio Hotel for a cocktail and nibbles before heading to the Matt Goss show in 1 OAK Nightclub. We sat overlooking the Fountains of Bellagio, which bring the usually busy crowds in the surrounding area to a standstill.

On our final day, we paid a visit to Speed Vegas, where we could choose between a pool of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and Audis to drive around the racetrack. I took the wheel of the Audi R8 with an instructor in the passenger seat. Racing around the track, gathering speed and momentum was a thrilling experience.

Las Vegas is a step ahead of anywhere else in the world when it comes to entertainment - from helicopter rides to racetracks and food tours to shows, there really is no place like it.

Getting there

* British Airways operates up to eight flights a day into London Heathrow from Dublin Airport and up to four flights a day from Belfast City Airport.

* BA operates two non-stop daily services from Heathrow/Gatwick to Las Vegas.

* Its Boeing 747 aircraft from Heathrow offer a choice of four cabins - World Traveller, World Traveller Plus, Club World and First (www.britishairways.com).

* Chloe stayed at the Park MGM hotel, see wwwparkmgm.com for latest offers.

* For more ideas, including shopping, dining, tours, museums, sightseeing, green spaces and more, see, www.visitlasvegas.com

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