It’s the first day of vacation, so where in the world should we go? Perhaps stroll over to the Eiffel Tower? Float down a scenic canal with a singing gondolier? Or maybe get a closer look at that impressive sphinx and obelisk?
In Las Vegas, it’s not all about the gambling. There are many internationally themed sites that are fun to explore. You just need to look past the colored lights of flamboyant signs that advertise shows and the flashing displays beckoning you to slot machines. You may also need to wend your way through pedestrians carrying oversize novelty glasses filled with specialty drinks — sightseeing or on their way to a casino to try their luck.
I had not been to Vegas since I was a child, before the huge theme hotels really came into vogue. So, my daughter, Erin, and I decided to spend several days there recently. The only way I can describe it is over the top.
We stayed in the Hilton Elara on the Vegas Strip, in the midst of numerous lavish hotels. With an art deco feel, our room and the lobby – for some reason – featured large pictures of Marilyn Monroe. The lobby connected to the Miracle Mile shopping center, literally a one-mile loop of some 200 shops and restaurants.
In this hot, desert climate, the shopping center features a beautiful curved ceiling painted with blue sky and white clouds. Many of the standard designer shops are here. But, since this is Vegas, you’ll also find casinos, a sign offering pole dancing classes and a bar in which you can program a robot behind glass to custom-make your drink.
Despite the tragic violence that occurred here last fall, people still seem to be flocking to Vegas. “The new year brings a fresh start,” observed Maria Phelan, communications manager for the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority. Noting that there were “some cancellations following the October 1 incident,” she added that “visitors are looking to return to a sense of normalcy.” Indeed, in the initial weeks of 2018, large conventions were held including the Consumer Electronics Show with 170,000 attendees and the World of Concrete convention with nearly 60,000 participants.
However, in the midst of the crowds and commotion, Las Vegas offers several serene oases to enjoy. The Venetian hotel was my favorite, a lovely resort featuring both indoor and outdoor gondola rides.
We bought tickets for the indoor gondola ride which lasted about 20 minutes, skimming along indoor canals and under scenic bridges. Our congenial gondolier, Umberto, entertained us with a couple of songs including “Volare,” encouraging us to sing along. I had once ridden in a gondola in Venice, Italy, and actually found this to be a lot more fun and the gondolier much friendlier.
Lunch followed at Il Fornaio, a canal-side Italian restaurant with an open-air feel. The varied menu included a selection of pasta dishes ranging from capellini with marinara sauce to linguine with seafood. At a table set with a white linen tablecloth, our Italian waiter served us with Venetian flair, as local singers in operatic costume performed across the room.
Another refreshing refuge from the city’s craziness is the Paris Las Vegas Resort & Casino. This resort includes a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. Here, you can ride an elevator more than 100 feet up the tower to a restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a serene 360-degree vista of the city. If you don’t plan to dine there, it’s also possible to take the elevator to the top of this 460-foot structure for a sweeping view from the observation deck.
We enjoyed the Paris Las Vegas sidewalk café, Mon Ami Gabi, which is described as a classic French bistro – and, true to its name, is loaded with ambiance. Here, you can start the day with anything from a simple warm baguette to cinnamon crepes. Stop by at noon for Le Cheeseburger or perhaps Quiche Lorraine, and finish the day in style with selections including Filet Mignon Merlot or Trout Almondine. And don’t forget the chocolate mousse or crème brulee!
Exploring a couple of other resorts such as Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio, we found more and more opulence, an apparent competition to see who can squeeze in the most slot machines, classic statues and light displays. Vegas does have beautiful architecture along the Strip, I’ll admit, with murals and fountains and its own Arc de Triomphe thrown in for good measure. You can even find a pyramid-shaped hotel, the Luxor, with a large sphinx and obelisk in front.
Outside of the Bellagio, we were drawn to the Fountains of Bellagio water show. The resort website, in typically understated Las Vegas style, describes it as “a spectacular show of thoughtfully interwoven water, music and light designed to mesmerize its admirers. It is the most ambitious, choreographically complex water feature ever conceived and it’s absolutely free for any visitor to enjoy.” Not having seen all water features ever conceived, I’m not quite sure about this, but the crowds did seem to be transfixed.
Inside the Bellagio, I took my one crack at slot machines. Investing a minimal amount in one machine, I ran my balance down to 15 cents, took a printout ticket with that amount and inserted it in another machine. By the time I was done, I’d won back my initial investment plus a whopping two dollars and change. So, yes, you could say that I won at the slots in Vegas. Mission accomplished!
To bring our mini-vacation to a close, Erin and I visited Old Town, also known as Fremont Street. It is the site of legendary establishments such as the Golden Nugget hotel and casino and newer features including the SlotZilla ziplines. Erin had signed up for a sunset “zoomline” experience. After a long wait, she and two other people finally had their turn to simultaneously fly across lines situated 114 feet above the ground, with arms spread in superhero style. I watched from the ground, in this older and spicier Vegas neighborhood, that includes panhandlers and garish street performers. But, it was a colorful ending to a colorful few days.
Ah, Las Vegas! If you’re looking for an escape from life as usual, this city can definitely transport you to other worlds. Next time, I think I’ll just relax inside the Venetian, taking peaceful gondola rides and dining al fresco under a painted blue sky.