Vegas Trip Review
So after leaving our beautiful campsite in Zion National Park it was a bit of a shock to turn up to the concrete jungle that is KOA Circus Circus RV park. Located on the less busy, ‘more family friendly’ end of the strip, Circus Circus has decided to transform their overflow car park into an RV park for the more budget conscious traveler. Despite being located at the wrong end of town, having no green in sight and being so hot it’s a wonder the concrete doesn’t melt, this KOA served its purpose for us on our first night in Las Vegas- we had somewhere to lay our heads. The next night would be a different story altogether. We woke silly early in pools of our own sweat and decided to try our luck at checking into our next destination early. The Cosmopolitan here we come! We must have arrived at this glamorous hotel in our ripped shorts and worn tops looking lost and slightly out of place but after taking one look at the numerous shining bars, sparkling roof top swimming pools and exquisite rooms we got over it pretty quickly. Our first stop was to the front desk to check in. Bingo! They had a room available already so we wouldn’t have to come back to check in at 2pm like originally planned. We couldn’t wait to see our room and weren’t disappointed. It was ridiculous. Never mind it being the most luxurious place we had stayed since travelling, this was the most luxurious place we had stayed in full stop. Winnie, the camper, could fit into our room 8 times over! The bath was the depth of a swimming pool, the view from the balcony was breathtaking (we were on the 57th floor) and the bed was so comfy it’s a wonder anyone does anything in Las Vegas other than sleep in.
Because of how wonderful the room was we were reluctant to leave it. Every day we made sure we had time to lay in between the crisp white sheets, have luxurious bubble baths while admiring the view and chill on the balcony, rum and coke in hand, watching the Bellagio Fountains jump to music. One day we went mental and ordered room service so we could spend longer in bed without hunger getting in the way- we were living the dream! The view from the balcony was so spectacular that it even managed to coax us out of bed at silly o’clock to cuddle up on the chez lounge and admire the view as the sun popped its head up over the Eiffel Tower and the other Vegas highlights. If you’re ever in Vegas The Cosmo is the only place to stay.
It was so good that we poor travelers extended our stay here for another night because we just weren’t ready to say goodbye to it yet. Granted we were going to have to move to a cheaper room with less of a view to be able to afford to do so BUT luckily we didn’t’t even have to do that. The guy at the front desk said we could keep the room we were in but pay the cheaper rate to save us the trouble of moving- bloody brilliant!
This meant we had even longer chilling in the three swimming pools the hotel had to offer. There was the Bamboo Pool which had a chill out vibe great for the mornings when we were feeling a little worse for wear.
Then there was the Marquee Day Club Pool which would be really cool if you had a bit of money, but given that almost all the beds had a minimum charge and we were there during the ‘quieter’ weekday period, we didn’t spend too long here. It was really plush though, some of the cabanas came with personal tubs giving a proper VIP feel, shame the minimum spend was $4000…
And finally there was the BLVD pool, our personal favourite. This one had great music, a brilliant view of the strip and beds that were just the right height for you to cool off in the water while allowing you to keep a hold of your cocktail- lush. We spent a lot of our time here including an afternoon where one drink soon turned into four when we got chatting to a couple of guys who were in Vegas for business but were making the most of their time off.
Walking the strip:
So sight-seeing in Vegas mainly involves leaving your hotel, turning left or right, and hopping between all the fabulous hotels, extravagant shops and smoke filled casinos. But, if you’re feeling adventurous, there are also loads of shows to see, rollercoasters to ride and, if you haven’t done so already, you can even take helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon. On our first night, despite feeling a little jaded from our mornings hike, we were keen to explore and we decided what better way to stay awake than to propel ourselves off a high rise building.
The Stratosphere has insane views of the whole of Vegas but due to it being located at the quieter end of town it seems to get limited foot fall. For those who make the effort to get there, the view is not The Stratosphere’s only attraction. Perched on the top of this lanky building are three crazy rides all of which are enough to make even the most habituated rollercoaster rider’s heart race. There’s Insanity, which spins you at the speed of light while you are dangling 900 ft. up with nothing between you and the concrete below to break your fall. Then there’s X Scream which zooms 72 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere in a direction that makes you feel like the next stop will be the pavement. Finally there’s the Big Shot which, in my opinion, is the scariest of them all. Different, from the others, this ride is all about going up. It shoots you 160 feet into the sky at 45 miles per hour, meaning you are at a height of 1081 feet. Of course what goes up must come down but you do get a great view of Vegas before being catapulted up and down a few more times. They were all great fun. We went on each ride at least twice, before realising just how tired we were and calling it a night.
The hotels in Vegas are the main tourist attraction. With each one competing for tourists to drink, eat, sleep and of course gamble in THEIR bars, restaurants, rooms and casinos – they stop at no cost to entice tourists in. Vegas is forever in a state of change. In a town with seemingly no appreciation for history or culture when one hotel is deemed too old and out of date, it is simply knocked down and replaced with a new one. That being said there are still a few remaining establishments from the 40’s and 50’s that can give an idea of how Vegas may have once been. From the old(ish) to the brand spanking new, from the heavily themed, to the slick enough not to need a theme, there is truly something for everyone here. There’s the old timer Flamingo (built in 1946 this is the oldest on the strip), with its retro pink lights, the ultra-shiny and brand spanking new Wynne, the heavily themed and in my opinion somewhat outdated Treasure Island and of course there’s the ultra-famous Bellagio. With its amazing conservatory decorated four times a year to depict the changing of the seasons and its insane fountain show, where water dances to music every evening, it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular hotels on the strip.
You can also travel the world while in Las Vegas. In one day you can visit Venice for a Gondola ride and to see an Opera show at St Marc’s square, you can go on a loop the loop rollercoaster trip of New York New York, you can see a Volcanic eruption at the Mirage, visit Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph, see the Great Sphinx and last but by no means least visit the Iconic Caesars Palace for a trip around Rome. Despite its attempt to mimic all these different areas of the globe, it can still safely be said that there really is no other place like Vegas in the world.
Downtown is the place to go if the flashy, money dissolving strip has taken its toll on your wallet or maybe if you want a more causal night out where you don’t have to change out of your shorts and flip flops. This cheaper, less glitzy area of Vegas feels somewhat more real than the strip and is where all the locals choose to gamble, but it still has a great vibe at night especially at the Freemont Street Experience. Impressively Freemont Street is home to the world’s largest video screen (1,500ft long and 90ft wide), its major tourist attraction. Suspended over almost the entirety of the pedestrianized street below, the screen, and its accompanying sound system, provide quite a show when 12.5 million LED’s light up in patterns to music. But that’s not all this street has to offer. With free live music, street performers and open air bars there is plenty to keep tourists amused here the whole evening. When we arrived our first priority was a drink, and so we decided to jump on the band wagon and order ‘yard long’ cocktails. They were deadly. They made the light show, street performers (including bra-less nuns), bar top dancers and live performers even more fun to watch. By the end of the night, and a few yards later, we were dancing in the street to a half-naked woman’s DJ set. It was a brilliant night.
Just like with its hotels and restaurants, Las Vegas has a mind boggling array of shows to amuse you with. But for us the choice wasn’t hard. With a trusted recommendation of two must see shows the decision making process had been cut out for us. The first recommendation was Big Elvis at the slightly tacky Harrah’s Piano Bar. The show consists of a substantially overweight Elvis impersonator singing Elvis classics in a huge thrown-like chair, while occasionally pulling himself up to complete the odd hip thrust or two. It was cheesy but hilarious. Big Elvis was actually pretty impressive in the vocal cord department and the audience participation sing-alongs and dance offs were pretty entertaining (especially after having a few drinks in the pool bar beforehand).What made it even better was that the show is free. Technically there is a minimum drink spend per table but giving that there was only one waitress for the entire bar she was finding it pretty hard to keep track of who had spent what so we only had one round before Elvis was over and we left.
The second recommendation was for Cirque du Soleil ‘O’ at the Bellagio. This was my (Mike) first Cirque experience and really didn’t know what to expect, I knew that Grace loved them and was very excited for this one in particular. We took our seats early, snacks in hand and waited for the show to begin. From the very offset we were entertained, with cast members interacting with the audience before the curtains had even opened. When they finally did it revealed a vast watery stage which could be lowered and raised depending on the particular scene. The whole production was incredible, from costumes, lighting and sound to each individual performance – the acrobatics in particular was jaw dropping! The immense skill the performers posses and the ability to produce such a high energy, inch perfect show night after night amazes me. To be honest it is very hard to describe the evening, so I have included a short blurb form the Bellagio’s website to help explain why ‘O’ is one of the most popular shows in Vegas.
“The international cast of world-class acrobats, synchronized swimmers, divers and characters perform in, on, and above water to create a breathtaking experience in a magnificent theatre reminiscent of a European opera house.”
We had such a great time at ‘O’ we couldn’t resist watching another Cirque performance whilst in Vegas, especially when we saw a last minute half price deal…So the very next evening we headed across to Treasure Island for ‘Mystere’, for the apparently more traditional and less ‘dark’ Cirque offering. This show is renowned for its powerful athleticism and high-energy acrobatics which gave fame to Cirque du Soleil. It was another jaw-dropping spectacle, which literally had you on the edge of your seats for large portions of the show, especially during the big and dangerous acrobatic scenes.
Both shows were absolutely incredible and would recommend either to anyone who is in Vegas, in fact seeing a Cirque show is a ‘must do’. If we had to pick one though it would be ‘O’, we preferred the overall production and eye pleasing nature of this show as well as the beautiful venue at the Bellagio.
Of course one of the biggest earners for the hotels are the casino’s and gaming rooms. The average person coming to Las Vegas loses $175 per trip on gambling, which equates to over $6 Billion in revenue for Vegas Casino’s – not too shabby! Thousands of people flock to the strip every day in the hope of winning ‘that jackpot’, there are of course a handful of ‘professional’ gamblers out there who try to make a living from the profits, but ultimately the House always wins.
That being said, Grace and I managed to leave Vegas with a cheeky $35 profit from gambling. It didn’t start off too well though, feeling confident after a couple of cocktails Mike hit the roulette table, only to lose $40 in as little as 4 minutes…not great. Things started to pick up on the Blackjack table though and after 2 good sessions at the Cosmo and NewYork NewYork we were back on track and in the plus. We particularly enjoyed strolling around the slot machines after a few cocktails to try our luck at the low cost slots, even Grace started to get excited after our first win – $3. Instead of cashing out our fortune, I persuaded Grace to play 1 more time…this didn’t end well. Determined to take something away from the casino Grace cashed out the remainder of our winnings, happily walking away with a voucher for the head spinning sum of $0.05. Jokes aside, Grace was genuinely happy to be 5 cents up, very cute. Shopping:
Although we did very little shopping, and none for ourselves, we did wander around some of the shopping malls just for the experience. By far the most plush we came across were Caesar’s Forum with its changing sky, and the Crystal Mall, filled with more designer shops than I can name. With the ‘more money than style’ crew out in force, these malls also provided some very interesting people watching.
Eating and Drinking
Eating and drinking was fast becoming our new hobby and with what Vegas had to offer it was probably a good thing we only had a few days in the city – otherwise they would have to roll us out! Firstly the breakfast buffet offered at the Cosmopolitan Hotel is one of the best buffets in the whole of Vegas and definitely our favourite. There was a huge variety of food on offer and unlike with most buffets, the quality of food remained incredibly high. From your standard fried breakfast, with endless amounts of bacon and a dedicated omelet bar to fresh sushi and oriental dishes prepared right in front of your eyes. Fresh fruit, poached eggs, roast pork, buffalo chicken wings, cereals, French toast and pancakes…you could literally eat anything you wanted. My personal favourite had to be the entirely separate dessert area, where you could help yourself to various bite sized goodies as well as freshly made ‘in-house’ gelato.
The best thing of all was that the breakfast hours ran until 2pm, so everyday Grace and I would make sure to eat as much and as late as possible to keep us going all day until dinner. Felling lazy one morning we decided to ‘live the dream’ though and call up room service like we were high rollers. 15 minutes later there was a knock on the door and in wheeled a table for 2 with our delicious meals (breakfast sandwich and French toast) perfectly presented. We actually took our plates and headed out to the balcony and enjoyed our breakie with a view – perfect way to start the day.
On the slightly less expensive side of things, you can grab pizza by the slice at The Cosmo’s Pizza place. The only problem is finding the damn thing…The pizza joint is ‘hidden’ with no signage or directions, it’s not even mentioned on the list of hotel restaurants. The combination of a strong recommendation and the simple desire to discover the secret restaurant meant we simply had to find it. However after 2 days of walking around the hotel we hadn’t come across it, we were just about to give up when we found a pizza box. In a similar fashion to Hansel and Gretel we followed the crumbs, or large pizza boxes, until the trail stopped at a tiny passageway. Sure enough, at the end of the long hallway there was a tiny kitchen and a small counter from which you can order your prize of delicious tasting fresh pizza. This ‘no frills’ pizza joint serves up some of the best tasting pizza we have had and is perfect for a quick cheap lunch (or late night snack).
Another great place for food in The Cosmo is Holsteins, an incredible burger and shake joint with an emphasis on fresh organic ingredients. Grace and I enjoyed one of the best ever chicken burgers in here followed by an alcoholic chocolate Oreo milkshake to die for. They tasted so great we ordered another one to takeaway, which we enjoyed in the spa bath back at the room.
Vegas is also renowned for its cocktails, in fact it’s probably easier to find a cocktail than a glass of water! Not wanting to ‘stand out’ Grace and I kept with Vegas tradition and sipped numerous concoctions poolside whilst basking in the sun, semi-submerged on loungers. This was great don’t get me wrong, however nothing can compare to the cocktail we had at the Chandelier Bar.
First let me set the scene, the Chandelier bar (part of The Cosmo) is exactly as the name describes, a bar in a chandelier. Apart from there isn’t just 1 bar, oh no, the Chandelier is 3 stories high, draped in over 2 million beaded crystals and contains a bar on every level with its own distinct feel and vibe, as well as differing menus!! We settled for the bar on the second floor inside the chandelier for the famous cocktails it churns out. Every last drop of mixer, filler and flavour was produced in-house by the hotels own designated cocktail kitchen and hand crafted by highly trained mixologists – this is cocktail drinking on a whole new level. A tiny bit out of our comfort zone and partly due to the fact we couldn’t understand a single ingredient on the tiny menu we asked for a recommendation.
The Verbena came highly recommended so we ordered 2 and sat back, a little later the waitress delivered the drinks and gave us some instructions, we were to chew the small flower that the cocktail was garnished with and then drink. Very dubiously we began to chew this tiny yellow flower, slowly but very surely our tongues started to tingle and fizz until they felt like they were being electrocuted, it was an explosion of sensation. However the real joy came when we began to drink – the chemicals released by the flower (spilanthol) numb the tongue, speeds up the salivary glands and intensifies everything you consume for the following 5-10 minutes. A definite game changer – the taste was incredible and every time we drank it felt as if the liquid turned to slush in the mouth – it was remarkable! If you are ever in Vegas you must try one of this, although it’s not actually listed on the menu it is in fact the most popular cocktail in the hotel and hands down the best cocktail we have ever tried.
Of course there are endless amounts of restaurants outside of The Cosmo as well, we visited a cool 60’s dinner at the Stratosphere, where the waiting staff would break out into song every 10 minutes which was cool, the food was also very tasty.
Whilst strolling through the Venetian we grabbed a ‘Cake Boss’ cupcake to enjoy sat back in St. Marks Square. For those not familiar The Cake Boss is an American reality TV series following the famous, sweet treats chef Buddy Valastro – he has opened a very popular cupcake shop in the Venetian. It was so busy they have to serve people using a ticket system similar to a meat deli.
With our last morning in Vegas spent lazing by the pool, we sadly came to realize our trip was pretty much over. We dried off, glumly packed our bags and checked out of The Cosmo, jumped in Winnie and began the 4 hour drive back towards LA for our final night away. We had picked our camp site based purely on location – Dockweiler RV Park is situated only 10-15 minutes’ drive away from the airport making it a perfect first night/last night stop for travelers. As you can imagine the roar of engines was pretty loud, in fact it shook the entire van at points. It felt as if we had parked at the end of the runway…We did start to question our decision in the early hours of the morning when the planes were still relentlessly roaring past. However, on the positive side of things it is right on the beach, which allowed us to dip our toes in the sand one last time in the morning.
Tired from the drive from Vegas and a crummy night’s sleep we hastily packed the remainder of our belongings and gave Winnie the once over before we handed her back. Grace somehow managed to collect some much stuff her bag required the ‘sit on’ technique to even come close to zipping it shut. With the keys exchanged and the final balance paid on the van we waved goodbye and grabbed a taxi to the airport to begin our 25 hour journey home, via Moscow International of course!!!
The last 9 months has been just the most amazing experience ever, we have had our eyes opened to so many new places, cultures and experiences. We met some remarkable people and never once got in trouble, there isn’t a single regret just amazing memories to last a lifetime.
We would just like to take the time to thank everyone who made the trip special, to the guides, companies used, fellow travelers and locals alike. To use the cliché – It was the trip of a lifetime. It would not have been possible however if it wasn’t for our very kind parents who put up with us living at home in order to save. We can’t thank you enough for all the help you gave, it allowed us to stay longer and experience things we never would have, so a massive thank you to Karen, Phil, Graham and Jenny. Also a massive thanks to friends and other family who also helped out, again our trip would have not been as unforgettable if it weren’t for you.
All good things must come to an end…Final Stop – Heathrow and Home… 😦
To Summarise: 8 months, 2 continents, 8 countries, 14 flights, 25,000 air miles, 13,000 miles by camper, god knows how many miles by bus, 5000 photos, 2 wonders of the world, 1 new language learnt (ish).
Modes of Transport: Plane, yacht, RIB, bus, tuk tuk, bicycle, feet, horse, longboat, canoe, kayak, paddle board, helicopter, light aircraft, campervan….