Lynne Coates visits Las Vegas and discovers it has a lot more to offer than you would imagine.
“Full throttle, NOW!’, yelled my race instructor, as I accelerated down the straight in my red Ferrari 458 Italia. It flew. I hit 150mph and my heart was racing; the scream of the engine was intoxicating. ‘Brake before the bend then hit the accelerator’. The
tyres squealed as I hit the corner just a bit too fast, but the car held the racing line. All too soon my session ended, just when I had discovered my inner racing driver. I wanted more, much more.. I was in Las Vegas on a four day trip to discover another side to this notorious desert city, and to find out just what it has to offer other than casinos and pool parties. To my surprise there is much more to Vegas than the attractions for which it is renowned.
Picked up at the airport by stretched limo, I checked into the Park MGM on The Strip. This was my first visit to Vegas. Easily impressed, I was already dazzled by the glitzy hotels and the multi-coloured neon lights. Meeting up with a small group of international journalists, we headed over to the Venetian, a hotel entirely themed on Venice, (more on that later), to have lunch at Black Tap. They serve the most amazing burgers, even veggie ones, and the milk shakes have to be seen to be believed. We spent the afternoon walking along the Strip, which, to a Vegas virgin like me, was an eye-opener!
Nearly all the hotels on the Strip have casinos in or near their lobby. Multi-coloured flashing lights and constant pinging and whirring of slot machines is the normal backdrop, even in the most sophisticated hotels – it’s amazing how quickly you get used to it. Every hotel has its own distinctive character. Dinner in the ultra-contemporary rooftop terrace of The Delano, with stunning mountain views, was as elegant a venue as in any European city. Vegas was already challenging my pre-conceptions.
A short drive out of the city brought us to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a racing circuit where Dream Racing runs all-inclusive driving experiences, with the opportunity to drive some of the fastest supercars at speed round the race-track. The experiences are very well organised by professional drivers. First you are shown a film that gives a briefing on the track, and advice on how to drive it. Then you practice on a simulator which is based on the actual layout of the track. You get to choose which car you want to drive, each costed differently. The choice is beyond the wildest dreams of any petrol-head – for me it had to be a Ferrari. One of the racing drivers accompanies you on the track to provide instruction on where to brake, the correct racing line through the bends, etc. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever done! Still in the after-glow, you are given a photo-plaque and video of your drive, all part of the package – obviously mine now has pride of place on my sideboard!
Vegas is synonymous with nightlife, and the Strip is a pulsating, eye-popping mass of neon excess that lights up the desert sky and is clearly visible from space. There is a fantastic choice of entertainment on offer, with superstar headlining acts. We went to see, ‘Absinthe’, at Caesars Palace, billed as ‘the best show on the strip’ – a thrilling mix of acrobatics, cabaret and non-pc adult humour (unsuitable for snowflakes!). Afterwards we walked to nearby LINQ promenade, a shopping, dining and entertainment district, where we took a ride on the ‘High Roller’, a 167 metre-high observation wheel – the tallest in the world until Dubai topped it with a staggering 210m wheel. The glass bubbles move very slowly and take around 30 minutes to complete the circle. Views are breathtaking, but you do need a head for heights – a few drinks help! You can book a happy half-hour open bar for parties. Each bubble takes up to 40 people. So far, so Vegas.
On a trip to see downtown, I noticed a real change in the landscape. This was a view of authentic Vegas, with old- style hotels, original street signs and far less bling. We were headed for the Freemont Experience, the oldest part of the city and the original gambling district. One of the attractions is the SlotZilla Zipline, where you can fly on a wire, from one end of Freemont Street to the other. Of course, I would have had a go – but (thankfully!) they had a technical glitch that day so it wasn’t working! I did love the atmosphere in this area, with pop-up musicians, mime acts and street artists – it had oodles of character and felt much more genuine than the frenetic strip.
Back uptown for a fabulous lunch in Spago in the Bellagio – a chic Italian restaurant overlooking the famous Bellagio fountains, where every half-hour a synchronised display of water and music captivates onlookers. There is no doubt Vegas has some of the best restaurants and every kind of cuisine – so glad I packed stretchy jeans. That evening we ate at Sake Rok, serving some of the best sushi I have eaten, and curious house cocktails that involve a shot of sake balanced on chopsticks over a glass of beer, and a lot of table banging! – think about it! We followed that with a visit to the Neon Museum, to see an open-air art installation titled ‘Brilliant’, which tells the story of Vegas through iconic neon signs, creatively linked with music from illustrious performers of past eras, such as Sinatra and Elvis. The museum houses collections of decommissioned Vegas signs in an area known as the ‘Neon Boneyard’. Visitors can take guided tours to see the signs and learn the history behind them – a fascinating place.
I love learning new skills, but attending Gondola University, had never made it onto my wish list! The amazing Venetian Hotel, complete with canals, offers a Gondola experience, where you can learn, with the help of an experienced Gondolier, how to propel those beautiful vessels through the water. Quite bizarre, but great fun, and I loved the outfit, which we got to keep, together with a certificate and the inevitable souvenir photo! Apparently it’s a popular attraction – whatever floats your boat (oh dear!). After that, we headed over to the stylish NoMad Bar at Park MGM for a sophisticated Jazz brunch – much more my scene.
All too soon, it was time to head to the airport for my Virgin Atlantic direct flight back into Manchester. For sure Vegas is a fun-loving, party city, but, as I discovered, there is much more to it than that.. If you’ve never been, put it on your ‘to do’ list – it might just surprise you. It did me, and remember – what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas so no-one needs know about your selfie with Elvis!
For visitor information visit: www.visitlasvegas.com
For Park MGM visit: www.parkmgm.mgmresorts.com
Rates for Park MGM: $99 weekday, $149 weekend
Virgin Atlantic flies once daily from London Heathrow and Manchester direct to Las Vegas with return fares from £362.52 per person, including complimentary food, drink and inflight entertainment.
For further information visit www.virginatlantic.com or call 0344 8747 747.
This fare is available for selected departures during 2019. Prices given are correct as of today and are subject to change.
For overnight stays I recommend Manchester Airport Marriot Hotel, it offers excellent facilities, restaurants and spa, airport parking and complimentary transfers to the airport. Hale Road, Hale Barns, Manchester, WA15 8XW, United Kingdom +44 161 904 030 Visit: www.marriotthotels.com