Viva Las Vegas! Possibly the most famous party city in the entire word – home to gambling; all you can eat bottomless booze brunches; crazy, risque entertainment and gigantic themed hotels. It was also the next main destination on our epic journey, but not before we were able to have a jaunt down the most classic road trip route in the USA – Route 66!
Way back in the 20s, Route 66 was built as a “superhighway” to connect the East and West. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, but it did more than just take people from one side of the country to the other. It connected together rural towns that had previously never had access to major roads. Route 66 became a symbol of opportunity to all of these towns. Sadly, in the 70s Route 66 was bypassed by a more direct road between the cities and eventually fell into disuse – being decommisionned as a highway in 1985. People still love the history of the road and there are organisations and museums dedicated to keeping its spirit alive, even though it’s now impossible to drive the whole length of the original route due to parts being unpaved and impassable.
We visited 2 towns along the route – Seligman (which is partly where Radiator Springs in the movie “Cars” was based on) and Kingman. They were so strange, like they’d been frozen in time – all the cars were vintage, there were odd little trading posts all over and entering the cafés genuinely felt like we’d stepped back in time to the 1950s. We had about half an hour in each town to explore and snap some cool photos with all of the traditional and quirky Americana, cars and signs. We also stopped at a diner for a traditional milkshake (cookies and cream flavour – sooooo yummy) but I had to drink it too quickly as we were running late for the bus! Would love to go back another time to explore more of the famous route and really enjoy my milkshake this time.
From here we made our way across another state line – we were now in Nevada, home of the desert and of Las Vegas! But before we got to the city, we had one more pitstop to make. We pulled into the Lake Mead Visitor Centre, and this marked the end of our journey alongside the route of the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River stops here; the 277 mile journey of the Grand Canyon finds its end in Lake Mead. The Visitor Centre was fairly non-descript really – at this point we’d been to a lot of Visitors Centres and they had all started to merge into one in my mind. The redeeming feature of this one was the fun, interactive buttons (for children) that played animal sounds of the various wildlife that could be found around Lake Mead. My favourite (that we recorded, then played back repeatedly on the bus in fits of laughter) was a voice that said “YOWCH!” followed by a ridiculous deep voice describing the sound as “touching a cactus”. Hehe. Hehehe. Hehehehe.
Finally, we arrived in the city of Las Vegas. This place is just CRAZY guys. I mean, everyone knows vaguely what to expect from Vegas through the countless movies and TV shows that have been through here (The Hangover, anyone?) but when you see it in person it’s just mind-boggling. The hotels are ENORMOUS, and so tacky and mismatched, but somehow it all just WORKS. You can walk down the Las Vegas Boulevard and see New York City, Paris, Ancient Egypt, Venice and Hawaii within the space of half an hour. All the major hotels, of course, are home to giant (in most cases themed) casinos where you can either sit at slot machines or play table games. But there are also huge swimming pools, restaurants, multiple bars and in some cases even zoos. Ben drove us around the Boulevard to show us the sights, then took us back to the entrance of the city and the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, where after a short queue we managed to get an awesome group shot to remember the trip by. I also discovered that the lady who designed the sign didn’t copyright it, but rather gave the image to the city so it could be used freely with no charge. How nice, for the city of gamblers!
It was a relief to escape the desert heat and get checked into our hotel room. We were staying in a budget hotel just off the strip but it had everything we needed – comfy beds, a kitchen area and a lounge. It was like a suite! Best of all, the AC was ice cold to protect us from the 40 degree heat outside. My roommate and I chilled in our room for couple of hours to decompress and freshen ourselves up before deciding to check out the strip for the evening. We’d been advised to check out the free shows at the Bellagio and the Mirage. The Bellagio, of course, shows off their famous fountains which are timed to the music that plays alongside the show, and have special lights to make the water shine like a chandelier. We got a really good spot to watch from, and it was mesmerising to watch. I love that it’s free (unlike most things in Vegas) and happens every 15 minutes!
Once the Bellagio fountain lights had faded to black, we made our way further down the strip to the Mirage for the next free show – this time it was a volcano. It was really realistic! Jungle drums and tribal music built the anticipation while orange lights and shooting fire created the impression of an imminent eruption. We were stood quite close and when the “lava” spewed from the erupting volcano we could feel the heat from the flames! It was a really exciting show, I’d totally recommend it for anyone visiting Vegas!
For our next day and our one full day in Las Vegas, a group of us decided to try out one of the cities famous All You Can Eat bottomless brunches. The Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan Hotel is arguably the best brunch in Vegas, and considering the price point of the hotel it’s surprisingly good value. For food and soft drinks only it was $29 per person – to upgrade to bottomless bubbles it would have been an extra $15 but we stayed on the cheap side (nearly the end of the trip so we were penny pinching a bit!). The thing is about Vegas brunches is they’re pretty much the same concept as a Cayman Brunch – pretty much every kind of food you can imagine eating but in tiny form. So for $29 we could eat everything we would need to eat for the rest of the day! I wouldn’t be overstating anything if I said the food was INCREDIBLE. It was all really gourmet and amazingly delicious. Standout foods were the Angry Mac n Cheese (I’m not normally a mac fan but this was to die for!) the crab legs and the creamiest, cheesiest grits I’ve ever tasted! The meat was amazing and fresh and the desserts were beautiful – all perfectly proportioned into pretty portions. And the ice cream….ohhhh the ice cream. It was all divine and we almost had to roll ourselves out of the restaurant once we were done.
Still feeling full, we decided to take a wander up the strip to check out some of the extravagent hotels. First off was New York, New York – an enormous replica of the Big Apple city, complete with Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building! The inside is themed like Times Square and there were so many candy stores, including the Hershey’s Chocolate World which featured huge sculptures of the Statue of Liberty made from different candies! It was just bonkers – this was a hotel?! And as if it couldn’t get any more ridiculous, it’s topped off by an actual real-life, full-sized roller coaster! Was it a good idea to ride this straight after an all you can eat brunch? Definitely not. Did we do it anyway? Hell yes! It was a short line so we even opted to wait for the front row – definitely worth it. Awesome roller coaster – and gave a fantastic view of the Vegas strip. Also, as an added bonus none of us threw up! Score.
We kept on wandering up the strip, through Excalibur and headed for Luxor but unfortunately my roommate had a fall at this point because of her bad knee, so we had to take an unscheduled trip back to the hotel so she could rest. It was a nice chance to chill out away from the Vegas heat for a bit (have I mentioned the desert is HOT?!) but I was keen to get back out and try my hand at the casinos in the evening. So after a brief nap I called up one of the other girls on the trip and we agreed to meet at the Venetian hotel for a drink.
It turns out the Venetian hotel has an actual real CANAL system inside it (because of course it does, welcome to Vegas) and you can transport yourself to Vienna by taking a gondola ride – with an authentic Gondolier rowing you and everything! We couldn’t resist and booked ourselves onto the next gondola ride. It was quite funny for us to get into queue surrounded by happy, loved up couples – I’m pretty sure they thought we were lesbians – but we didn’t mind and laughed away at the experience, gazing around the brightly lit room designed to look like the streets of Venice as we drifted down the canal to the music of our singing Gondolier. It was quite an experience, and for a brief moment I forgot I was in a hotel in the middle of the Nevada desert and truly believed I was in Venice for real.
It was time to hit the casinos! Selina had never gambled before, and I’ve only ever played games online so we started simple at first, playing a few dollars in the slots. Neither of us won big so we moved on to the table games. Selina watched as I put a $5 bet on the Roulette table. I always bet red – lucky me red came up! Double or nothing? Doubled it. I stayed safe and walked with my $20 winnings. Sadly Selina wasn’t so lucky, and her spin came up black and she lost her stake. Wisely, she gave up there and didn’t let herself lose any more money. Blackjack was next! Selina sat this one out, but I put down another bet, this time $10. I had a really terrible hand, but apparently the dealers’ was even worse and by the skin of my teeth I walked away with $30 more in chips. I’m not even sure what happened but I happily took the money and changed it into cold hard cash. We celebrated my wins with a cocktail in the Venetian bar, but sadly at this point Selina and I had to part ways. She was flying back to Switzerland early the next morning and I had to get back to the hotel to pack for the last leg of our journey.
Still, I can feel happy that I had done everything and more that was on my Vegas checklist – not bad for 2 days!