From the tourist ad promises of “What goes in Vegas stays in Vegas”, to the signs for “Sin City”, right through to the hilarious depravity in Hunter S. Thompson’s great work “Fear and Loathing…”, Vegas sets out to present itself as the capital of no limits behaviour. Maybe it’s there if you look hard enough, once you’ve managed to cut through the glitz of the machine designed to extract every single tourist dollar from you.
This dollar extraction begins with the almost ubiquitous addition of “Resort fees” to hotel charges. I’d prepaid around $80 for two nights in The Excalibur, one of the cheaper and less glamorous of the many themed Casino Hotels on The Strip. Upon checking in, resort fees more than double it.
The next day I’m awake before 5am, and with a 6:52am flight to Philadelphia the day after, it calls for some sort of plan to make the most of the 24 hours I have here. Vegas is a city I’ve visited numerous times, but I’ve never been on The Strip early morning, so the plan is settled; a morning walk on The Strip, sleep in the hotel in the afternoon, and then another contrasting walk in the evening. Walking through the Excalibur casino just before 7am reveals closed bars, but a few die hard gamblers still at the slots and the tables.
Early Morning on The Strip
It’s a pleasant morning, the sky is blue and there’s slight chill in the air which must be unusual for Vegas, even at 7am. Walking north up Las Vegas Boulevard, New York New York is the first casino hotel I pass, before getting to The Bellagio with its huge lake and famous fountains. There’s hardly anyone around, one or two down and outs begging for cash, and a handful of people jogging are the only people I pass.
There are no clocks in the Las Vegas Casinos, and the layouts are deliberately confusing making it often hard to find exits. When you’re seated at a table or slot machine gambling, cocktail waitresses will bring you free drinks. Everything is designed to keep you in the casino, losing your dollars. Rumour has it that they also pump extra oxygen, even pheromones into the air to keep you alert, and gambling hard. Venturing into Caesars Palace this early, there are a few guests checking out in the lobby, but by and large the tables are deserted.
As are the shops in The Forum, a high end mall adjacent to Caesars Palace, whose ceiling is painted to resemble the sky, presumably also to make you lose track of time.
The Mirage is a casino I can’t walk past without stepping inside. Having stayed here on several previous trips to Vegas, there are a number of memories here. This casino hotel was opened in 1989, and was the largest hotel in the world at that time with over 3000 rooms. It’s hard to believe, given the amount of money and construction going on in the city, that at the time building it was something of a gamble, an attempt to re-invent things and set a new higher standard for Las Vegas Casinos, against a backdrop of declining tourism.
North of The Mirage you find Treasure Island, but then the casinos start to thin out as you head downtown, until you reach the Fremont Street area (a different experience entirely), so it’s time to cross over and head back south on the other side of The Strip and back to my hotel. By this time it’s starting to get busier, with the first of the local glamour girls setting up position to extract money from tourists. Even a quick photo from a cellphone is noticed, and commands a $4 tip.
Evening on The Strip
After a few hours sleep back in my room at the Excalibur, it’s time to venture out again and contrast The Strip by night. Both the lights and the crowds are now in abundance. With New York New York’s imitation Statue of Liberty, Paris Casino’s Model Eiffel Tower and the fake statues at Caesars Palace, it’s not hard to see why some people despise Vegas for its “falseness”.
The lights are bright and the party is in full swing inside too.
And the card tables are busy in the poker room at Caesars. I’ve played poker in Vegas in the past, and even came second in a 40 person Texas Hold’Em tournament on my first visit many years ago, winning a few hundred dollars. But it no longer holds much appeal, so it’s easy enough to pass by.
Rather than sit and gamble, I’d rather sit quietly and have a few beers. Like everything on The Strip, a quiet drink too is massively over-priced, with a small beer costing around $10 and a big one closer to $20 (plus the obligatory $1 minimum per drink tip to the bar tender). I will learn from my cab driver the next day that off The Strip, Vegas is actually a very cheap place in which to live, with a 12 pack of beer selling for under $10. Perhaps that’s why BeerHaus, a craft beer place, is almost empty, in contrast to almost all its surroundings; people really only come here to gamble and hit the clubs?
My wandering eventually takes me north, past more bright lights, back to The Mirage and the Sports Bar.
It’s well after midnight now, I’m hungry and the need to be up at 4am for my flight is at the back of my mind. Next to the Sports Bar in The Mirage is a California Pizza Kitchen, and I get a seat at the bar and next to the pizza oven. The bartender, like many in the US, is friendly and keen for some casual conversation. He’s incredulous at this trip; eight flights in four days, with just a single day in Vegas, and jokes I must be some kind of drug mule. But his recommendation of the Sicilian pizza proves to be excellent.
Thirty minutes later after a walk south down The Strip and back past the bright lights, I’m back at The Excalibur for a couple of hours sleep before I need to head off to McCarran. It’s been a great day, almost stretching time, and it feels like I’ve packed almost a week into what was in reality just a few hours.