IF life’s a gamble, then what better place to head for than Las Vegas? It was once, like Dubai, a just a sprawling desert, but is today a high-energy city where no bulb ever dims turning night to day.
Las Vegas is city whose on-going 24/7 love affair with Lady Luck has ensured that it never goes to sleep. It’s a igh-octane desert oasis where you can wake up at any hour of the day---- or night ---- get dolled up, and fit into any scene. At any ungodly hour you can always find entertainment, a game, a meal, a ride and a party. In the four days I spent here not once did I see a clock. Time here is irrelevant. Vegans are proud of their city.” It is the Big Apple of US with all the trappings and then some more,” says Robert, my driver, who’s been hitting the Vegas roads for over 25 years. “This is my kind of place. I’ve seen it grow from almost nothing to everything. It’s a place where you can make money by the fistful and lose money by the sack full,” he says.
Newsweek has called it “the No 1 dynamic city in the world,” and like the gleaming stretch limos that roam the streets, Vegas has stretched imagination to the limits and continues to stretch it as the old gives way to new. It is the ultimate escape. Ever since the mafia muscled in and built it up from scratch, Las Vegas has defied any kind of definition. It was discovered by a wandering Mexican called Rafael and taken over by the mafia. The legend goes that mobster Bugsy Siegel drove into the Mojave desert, saw some ramshackle gambling houses and decided to build a Sin City where “the poor could feel rich and the rich could lose thousands.”
Nobody thought anybody in his right mind would come to Sin City. But Bugsy was right. Everybody was wrong. They came in droves to live it up and, seventy years on, Las Vegas where all that glitters could likely be mother lode, draws 37 millions tourists every year. They come not knowing what cards this vibrant metro of 1.8 million will deal, but what they do know is that they have come to have the time of their lives and live life King size.
“As ambitious as a starlet vying for you affections, fabulous Las Vegas is a wild ride ----- an outrageous fantasy that will never let you down,” is how the Lonely Planet city guide describes this breathtaking place that breaks all the rules, working round the clock to accommodate the hordes of fortune seekers all playing to the tune of coins in the hundreds of casinos, hoping and praying that this time they will hit pay dirt. Some do. Many don’t.
Las Vegas (Spanish for “the meadows”), like Dubai, has taken the concept of one-upmanship to new heights. The two cities have so much in common and yet are so very different. (See box)
They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Not always. Secrets have a way of getting around like a wild bush fire. The eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes secretly arrived in the city in 1966 in a covered ambulance and took over the ninth floor of the Desert Inn and stayed put there for four years, never once setting foot outside! But before long the secret was out. Not that Hughes minded. He finally just bought over the hotel for $13 million and then went on a $300 million shopping spree. That’s Vegas for you.
Vegas has everything you can ever want and can fulfill almost every fantasy. If you are thinking of a quick marriage ---- or divorce ----- this is the place to head for. Sin City has 135 wedding chapels that are kept busy day and night and booking is not recommended. Walk in single and walk out married, or walk in married and walk out single!
Vegas believes in offering the very best. No half way for this city. You can, if you are a regular high roller and can prove your credentials, even get a million dollar credit line with no questions asked when your luck runs out at one of the thousands of tables.
This city of cash and flash boasts the largest entertainment centre of its kind in the world, the MGM Grand. With more than 5,000 rooms this hotel that cost $1 billion to raise stills hold the record for being the world’s largest hotel. According to the Lonely Planet, “when it was opened in 1993, $3.5 million in quarters was needed for its slot machines and to make change. Thirty-nine armoured cars were used to transport the 14 million coins, which were delivered in 3,600 sacks, each of which weighed 60 pounds” to its casino which is the size of four football fields!
Today, the fabulous hotel that is owned by the film company Metro Goldwyn Mayer, has 18,000 doors, 7,778 beds and 93 elevators. Welcoming you to its glitzy premise is a 100,000lbs lion that is nine time the height of an average human. I wasn’t booked there, but I was lucky to stay is a grand suite at the equally luxurious Venetian that is just a stone’s throw way from the MGM.
The Venetian is also $1.5 billion mega resort that was inspired by Italy’s most romantic city, Venice. In fact it’s almost an exact replica of Venice, frescos on the ceiling, and bridges over flowing canals where crooning gondoliers take tourists ‘for a ride’ under an artificial sky.
Both these spectacular hotel resorts, and a hundred others like it, stand proud on the Strip. From the elegant pyramid shaped Luxor and the gaudy Excalibur to the bizarre Boardwalk that has an enormous roller coaster and Ferris wheel at it entrance, to the colossal $445 million New York-New York that’s a mini-megapolis by itself, featuring replicas of the Empire State Building and the Statute of Liberty, the $1.6 billion Bellagio with its thousand dancing fountains that spring to life after sundown and where Oceans Eleven was filmed, Vegas has it all, the glitzy, the gaudy, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Getting around Vegas is easy. You can either take the monorail and get a view of the city from a height or hop on and off any of the often crowded buses, rubbing shoulders with office-goers, gamblers and girls that look they have just stepped out of the Playboy pages. While the transport system is good, there’s nothing quite like walking around the sidewalks to get a good feel of the city and take in the dazzling sights and sounds and then do a whole load of shopping at the malls for family and friends back home. And when you get tired, you can pop into one of the hundreds of food outlets for a ‘graveyard steak and eggs’ and slake your thirst at one of the thousands of watering holes that dot the Strip.
There’s so much to do and so little time that Vegas needs much more than a visit or two. A lifetime would be more like it if you have the greenbacks to back you. There’s something for everyone. From first class stand-up shows, to operas, roller coaster-rides, museums, and listening to the who’s who of the entertainment industry. You are spoilt for choice when to comes to entertainment, though be warned, tickets for these top shows don’t come cheap.
Rejuvenation of any kind is just an arm’s length away in Sin City and if you ever get tired of hearing the constant ding-ding-ding of the slot machines you can always get away for a day to gape in awe at the Grand Canyon or the Hoover Dam on a copter ride that will set you back by $180. And then when you’ve had your fill of nature’s beauty you can head right back to the artificially created one and live like the King once again. And just like the King himself, it will leave you all shook up.
Here’s truly addictive city that can give you a high like no other. Just one disadvantage: On leaving it, the withdrawal symptoms quickly set in and cold turkey is just a heart beat away. Fight it as much as you want, you won’t be able to get Vegas out of your mind.
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
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