Sorry for the lack of recent posts: one of my projects at work was literally taking over my life…..14 hour days, working weekends, calls from the client at 1am in the morning…you get the picture.
Anyway, as a way of saying thanks, my boss sent me out to Las Vegas for a “valuations course” (I know, right!). Having heard so many wild stories about Vegas, I didn’t quite know what to expect – particularly if I was meant to be studying for an exam!
- the Bellagio fountains
- a showing of La Reve
- the Volcano at the Mirage
- a visit to Old Vegas (Freemont Street)
- the Stratosphere bar and rides
- double frozen chocolate a Serendipity 3
Given that I live near Gatwick, I took the Virgin Atlantic direct flight to Vegas. Although it wasn’t bad, I will definitely travel on BA next time: the food (felt like a school lunch), level of service (ignored twice) and rubbish in-flight entertainment system (no control over the volume!) cancelled out the benefits of larger seats and flexible luggage limits. Hint: Take your own headphones if travelling on Virgin – the ones provided were horrible.
Once out of McCarran airport, I would suggest taking a grey transit coach to your hotel. These coaches are cheap ($7), frequent and have free useful fliers at the back of each coach (containing maps, vouchers and recommendations).
The course I was on was being held at the Flamingo, so I ended up booking 6 nights (standard Fab room) for a relatively cheap £300.
Before I go on, remember to TIP in Vegas. Vegas has a big tipping culture, which, when done properly, can get you many many benefits.
One of these include the renowned “20 dollar sandwich” (TDS). Although I will caveat this by saying that it may not always work, when it comes off, you will ask yourself why you never did this before!
Basically, the TDS allows you to obtain a complimentary upgrade at your hotel for $20. Here’s how it works.
- Before you approach the check-in desk, get your passport, $20 (crisp note) and credit card ready. Hide the $20 between the passport and the credit card (hence the name “Sandwich”).
- Approach the check-in desk with a massive smile and initiate small talk.
- When the check-in clerk asks for your credit card and passport, say the following whilst handing over the sandwich:
“Do you have any complimentary upgrades available today? If you do, I would be really grateful if I could considered for one”
The clerk will do one of three things:
- Reject your $20 and state that the hotel have no upgrades available (no big deal).
- Take your $20 and not give you an upgrade (not ideal, but no biggie)
- Take your $20 and say “I’ll take care of you”.
Having read about the TDS being possible at the Flamingo, I decided to give it a go.
Although I was super nervous when I approached the desk, I recited the line I had practised during the bus journey and was rewarded with an upgrade to a Go Room overlooking the Bellagio fountains. All for $20! (When I asked people on the course what their standard Fab rooms were like, I consider myself lucky that my upgrade happened. Many of the Fab rooms had no hot water and/or ants and/or unmade rooms.)
After unpacking, I explored each of the hotels on the Strip (from Mandala Bay to Circus Circus). My recommendations include:
- The Bellagio fountains. I went to see this 5 times in total. Each visit was different depending on the song and the time of the day:
Seriously, you cannot help but smile when like a kid when you see this!
Tip: do not stand near the Bellagio entrance facing the Eiffel tower when watching this. YOU WILL GET SOAKED.
- The reception area at the Bellagio. It was recently redesigned and now includes a butterfly garden and a flower ceiling. It honestly feels like you have been transported to another world.
- The Volcano at the Mirage. This starts at 8pm and repeats on the hour, every hour until 12am (it took me a long time to figure this out…I ended up going four times and missing it every single time). Tip: Try to get close the main volcano for a great view and get there around 10 minutes before the show starts.
- The roller coaster at New York New York. Basically a rollercoaster surrounding the hotel. It is pretty awesome.
- The Wynn waterfall and gardens. The Wynn is probably the plushest hotel on the Strip, which is reflected in the price of rooms and the type of shops housed at the Wynn. However, the Wynn also houses a beautiful mini-waterfall and an indoor fake garden:
Vegas is, however, full of duds. Examples include:
- The shark tank at Mandala Bay. Having queued 40 minutes and paid $20, I expected this to be something special. Instead, it was a smaller, less impressive version of your local aquarium.
- Venetian: the concept of being serenaded on a gondola may sound romantic. However, to me, the route looked like a dodgy alleyway.
The rest of the hotels had average attractions (e.g. Roman statues at Caesar’s palace, Pirate ship at Treasure Island, Flamingo garden at the Flamingo). However, some of these housed amazing restaurants:
- Fiamma at MGM Grand
- The Wicked Spoon at the Cosmo
- Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace
- Jean Phillipe Patisserie at the Aria
Literally, Vegas is a foodies’ paradise. Not only will you find some big name brands (Wolfgang Puck, Gordon Ramsey, Hakkasan), you will also find some absolute gems.
My recommendations and brief reviews are as follows:
- The Wicked Spoon: This buffet cost $48 (including tip). This may sound like a lot, but when you factor in that this is 3 meals in one, $16/meal is incredibly reasonable! The Wicked Spoon is hidden at the back of the Cosmo and is one of the most highly rated buffets in Vegas. Overall service was great, non-alcoholic drinks were complimentary and the desserts were insanely good (GF molten chocolate cake, strawberry and lime macaroons, guava ice cream to name a few). However, the savoury courses were average: the roast beef was overcooked, the German sausage was overly salty, the sushi didn’t look fresh and the king crab wasn’t particularly juicy.
- The Bellagio buffet: This buffet is probably the most famous and is reflected in the price ($56 including tip). The price, however, is also reflected in the quality of the produce: the beef Wellington was incredibly moreish, the roasted Kobe beef was as good as it sounds, the guava ribs were crack-like whilst the yams were irresistible (despite my no carb policy at buffets). Desserts were equally good, with a particular focus on baked goods and GF desserts:
- Hash Hash a go go: This meal basically summed up your average American meal. HUGE portion sizes, sweet and savoury combinations at a low cost. I ordered the meat loaf hash and ended up not eating for the rest of the day.
- Fiamma: This was my favourite restaurant in Vegas. Just look at that menu. I ordered the Triple (pasta and gnocchi tasting plate) and was left utterly astounded. The lobster pasta was oozing a lobster aura, the gnocchi was silky and light, the short rib ravioli was a flavour explosion. The Triple would probably be on my last meal wishlist! If I was to critique this, my only issue would be the minimal amount of lobster meat given the price tag of the Triple. If you are a wine connoisseur, this restaurant will be to your liking: Fiamma have a wide range of top end wines at reasonable prices. They even had the Canadian Icewine (Inniskillin) that I have been looking to try for a very long time. Suffice to say I ended up a bit rosy.
- Jamba juice: I found it very difficult to get my 5-a-day in Vegas, with most restaurants focussed on meat, seafood and alcohol. Jamaba, a chain of smoothie shops, was therefore a saviour. My daily order was a double shot of wheatgrass juice (with shooter) at $4 and the occasional 12 oz supergreen smoothie.
- Lobsticle: The Lobsticle is basically a tempura’ed lobster, doused in lemon juice and served with a aioli mayonnaise or clarified butter. They also do lobster rolls, lobsters cerviche, lobster shots. I’m going back as soon as I can!
- Donald’s doughnuts: This place is literally in the middle of nowhere but is renowned for its vegan donuts. I ended up taking 2 buses and walking in 35 d.c. to try one of these donuts. Was it worthwhile? Probably not – the donut tasting like a day old sponge cake covered in icing. However, for $1, I couldn’t really complain.
- Pub 1842: The food here is based on traditional pub-grub with a twist. I ordered the Peanut butter crunch burger, which was basically a burger with peanut butter and bacon jam spread onto the bun. Although I commend the creativity, the burger was very average: the patty was overcooked, the burger needed another helping of bacon jam and the chips that came with the burger were way too salty. The best part of the meal was finding this:
- Serendipity 3: Imagine the best milkshake you have ever had. Now multiple that joy by 100 times. Actually, try 1000 times. Even then, you are nowhere near how happy the double frozen chocolate made me. Literally, I finished drinking it before I could take a photo. If there is one place you visit in Vegas, promise me you go here!
- Roy’s: In Vegas, many of the best restaurants are located in the dodgiest of locations. Raku is located on Spring Mountain Road (which looks like a drug den in the desert), Lotus of Siam is located opposite the US equivalent of a housing estate whilst Roys is located in the middle of a busy road junction with nothing nearby. However, this place is a definite gem. Serving adapted Hawaiian food, I had some incredible food here. The innovative baby rib bimbap (which is Korean, but fair play!) was mindblowing (I almost ended up ordering another serving!) whilst the butterfish was something out of this world. Having never had butterfish before, I didn’t know what to expect. However, having tasted this dish at Roy’s, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to try it! Every mouthful was silky smooth, but with a bite not too dissimilar to monk fish. Wholeheartedly recommend this place!
- Jean Phillipes Patisserie: Ever wanted to see a 4 tiered chocolate fountain (consisting of 80% dark chocolate, 70% dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate)? Then you need to visit JP’s. It is literally like walking into Willi Wonka’s chocolate factory. On my visit, I tried the cinnamon bun (sorry, I took a bite before I could take the photo) and the chocolate chocolate cheesecake. This place literally challenges every preconception you have about baking and takes it to the next level.
Other notable items:
- I visited the Stratosphere on Thursday evening, one of the highest vantage points in Vegas. Not only were the views stunning, the Stratosphere also houses rides designed for adrenaline junkies:
I tried the Xscream and instantly regretted it. The Xscream is a ride situated at the top of the Stratosphere and, during various moments on the ride, you are thrown over the edge of the Stratosphere. Despite not having a phobia of heights, this ride scared me into having one. DO NOT GO ON THIS RIDE UNLESS YOU HAVE BALLS OF STEEL.
- Check out Old Vegas (i.e. the Freemont Street Experience). Not only does it house the infamous heart attack grill (free for those over 350lbs in weight; they require you to weight yourself and attach a heart monitor before entering!), a zipline has been installed to enable a cool way of travelling from one end to the other. Old Vegas often holds many street performances (I saw a street dancer that would put even Marvin to shame!) and also the renowned Golden Nugget.
- Go and get tickets to see La Reve. This show at the Wynn was incredible and consisted of underwater acrobatics, pyrotechnics, a beautiful story and awesome acrobatics. I got very good tickets direct from the hotel for c.£75 (row D, Section A).
(no photos were allowed during the show!)
- start your evening by going to the Double Down Saloon. This is a creative bar that has some funny named drinks – the best being “Ass juice”.
- The Coyote Ugly bar is incredibly cheesy, but also a good night out once full! Just don’t expect to wake up fresh the following morning…
- Fat Tuesdays sell yard sticks of alcoholic slush puppies. If you are looking to get trashed, this is a tasty way to go.
- Go and find a love chapel…..
- Don’t buy water from any of the hotels (c.$5 per 330ml bottle). Street vendors will sell ice cold water for $1.
- Get a 24 hour bus pass for the Deuce ($8). This bus service takes you up and down the Strip, but requires you to buy the ticket at one of the machines by the bus stops. Hint: These machines only accept exact change, so make sure you break some notes in advanced.
- People will try to give you stuff for “free”. As the old saying goes, there is nothing such as a free lunch. Expect to be hassled/pay a “donation” if you take these items.
- Book a hotel on the Strip (Bellagio, Flamingo, Drais). It will save you a lot of time and taxi money!
- If you are going to Vegas to gamble on slot machines, play the Michael Jackson slots off the Strip. These slot machines have the highest pay-out and empty ones are therefore hard to find (even at 1am in the morning!). I put $5 in this machine and left with $60; the lady next to me had over $600 in winnings!
- If going on tours, book in advanced (despite rumours, helicopter tours are not cheaper on the day!). However, for shows, book on the day – the frequency of shows means that the theatres often have plenty of empty seats to sell.
- Don’t bother with China Town. It is a tiny shopping mall.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to check out everything on my to do list. The next time I go to Vegas (Stern’s stag do), I have the following planned:
- Pool party at the newly opened Drais
- Exploring the south rim of the Grand Canyon
- Visiting the Valley of fire
- A night out at XS
Just one final comment….Vegas is definitely NSFW. If you are under the age of 21, are planning on taking kids with you or plan on having a cultural experience, then look elsewhere (I’d recommend LA!