Did you know that Dean Martin, the King of Cool, would have turned 100 on June 7, 2017? Dean and the others of the Rat Pack, like Frank Sinatra, effectively put Las Vegas on the entertainment map.
“Las Vegas” means “The Meadows” an incredibly unlikely name for this high-rise, high-octane urban destination. If you’re heading to Las Vegas, universally known as simply “Vegas” you need to know that there is Downtown and The Strip (most of which is in the adjoining town of Paradise).
Dean Martin and co-star Diana Lynn strike a pose in Las Vegas, circa 1950
The Strip is where you want to be – as Downtown has seen better days. Still, it’s worth heading down there to visit the Mob Museum. You’ll learn a lot about how Las Vegas came about as an extravagant oasis in the middle of the desert and you’ll discover a lot about its early links to organised crime. Indeed, you walk through the courtroom where some of the renowned Mob senate enquiry was held. A feature of the museum is the actual wall full of bullet holes from Chicago’s 1929 St Valentine’s Day massacre.
Discover the city's crime-filled past at the Mob Museum
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” reflects the excesses of visitors to the Strip. The whole place is glitzy and tacky – and apparently designed without any sense of irony or understatement. It’s also unrelenting fun.
You need to stay a few days just to catch the shows. There are seven Cirque du Soleil shows alone: Michael Jackson One, The Beatles: Love, Mystere, Zumanity, Ka, Criss Angel MindFreak, and O. I’d recommend One as the pick of these. But there are also many musicals (including David Copperfield), adults shows and burlesque, male revues (including our own Thunder from Down Under ), hypnosis, some kids’ shows and several Elvis impersonators.
Ka is one of the seven Cirque du Soleil shows available
That’s, of course, just the regular shows. Upcoming concerts include Elton John, Donnie and Marie, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Cher, Rod Stewart, Britney, the Who, Hall & Oates, Santana, Steve Miller, Ringo, Diana Ross, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, John Fogerty, B-52s, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, REO Speedwagon, Ricky Martin, Reba with Brooks and Dunn, Burt Bacharach – even Brenda Lee and Engelbert. A good list is here.
The gondola boat ride is a kitsch but necessary experience when visiting Vegas
But the hotel extravaganza of the Strip is a show all of its own. Along Las Vegas Boulevard South between Sahara and Hacienda avenues you’ll find the Eiffel Tower (Paris Las Vegas), an Egyptian Pyramid (Luxor), the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building (New York, New York). You can visit King Arthurs Court (Excalibur) and can take a gondola boat ride along Venice’s Grand Canal at the Venetian.
There’s even a new casino in town. The Lucky Dragon is an Asian-themed resort that will have a tea sommelier and Dragon’s Alley designed like oriental night markets. The W hotel tower at the SLS has rooms designed by Philippe Starck as well as Lenny Kravitz Extreme Wow Suites. The Monte Carlo towards the southern end of the Strip opened the 5200-seat Park Theater in December 2016 with Stevie Nicks. And The Cosmopolitan opened the much-anticipated Momofuku this year.
So that’s the night taken care of. What about the days? Of course there’s the resort pool – much appreciated in the desert heat. But the ultimate show of Vegas is the relatively nearby Grand Canyon. It’s 400km away by road, but easy to take in on an afternoon overflight. Nothing prepares you for the scale of this magnificent landscape. Depending on your budget, take a direct overflight by small plane or, better yet, by helicopter to see it. Hoover Dam, featured in so many disaster movies, is less than an hour’s drive away.
Rediscover a natural landscape by visiting the nearby Grand Canyon
However, Las Vegas is a destination that stands alone. I think that many people come here prepared to tilt their noses at the tacky fun fair in the desert, but soon find themselves having a lot of fun. Las Vegas has certainly come of age. The excesses were once tawdry – they are now impressive and well worth a visit.
Of course, this is just the story for publication. Remember, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. At least until my novel comes out. Until then, it’s back to my dog-eared copy of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Have you been to Las Vegas? What’s your favourite memory?
- Destinations to see before you die
- A tale of two cities: Dallas Fort Worth
- Cuba: colours, cars and cigars
Image credit: Las Vegas News Bureau; Fotos593, Nito, Kobby Dagan / Shutterstock.com