Viva Las Vegas

July 2008, by Tom

The second port of call on our USA excursion was to none other than Las Vegas - the city of a thousand vices. Or something like that. We were relatively vice free, however, but I can easily see how it could take control of you, devouring your wallet and stealing your innocence with its array of temptations. Anywho, I continue!

Almost a year ago, while we were chilling out in Lyon, France, Dan and Jo decided they wanted to tie the knot. Being the rather unconventional couple that they are, they decided to turn their wedding into a massive holiday combining travel to remote parts of the world, a wedding and a honeymoon all rolled into one super holiday. We were all invited to the wedding part, and what better place to tempt us all than to get married in Vegas! Yeah baby!

So over we all flew. Chris, Rachel, Gini and I from London. Andy, Nicky, Derek and Helen from their OE homes in Vancouver. Nige, Lana, Josh, Kate, Marcus, Jess, James, Jo's parents and their partners, and of course, Dan and Jo all from New Zealand. Quite the turnout!

We arrived on a Wednesday, after our flights from San Fran were relayed via LA. Flying into Las Vegas is amazing. It's desert, desert, desert, then suddenly a massive city with green golf courses and oddly shaped casino buildings popping out of nowhere. We were enthralled before we even stepped off the plane. Next we were amazed by all the slot machines through-out the airport - there were dozens of them while you wait for your baggage as well as massive LCD screens advertising some of the local shows. To say that this place is over the top is a massive understatement.

We took it pretty easy the first day, with a wander down the strip, which, in 40 degree heat and the only liquid refreshments on hand being a yard-glass sized margarita slushy, damn near killed us! A lesson learned - from then on we relied on air conditioned transportation only. We wandered past such casinos as New York New York - a massive, multi coloured block of buildings stuck together, resembling the New York inner city skyline except with a scary looking roller coaster snaking it's way around it's top. We wandered past a few more memorable casinos, Paris Las Vegas was a favourite - with a half sized replica Eiffel Tour sticking out of a 15th century Louvre styled sky scraper.

The Bellagio stood out over and above all the other casinos we visited due to it's elegance and lack of tackiness. Wandering through it's Venetian glass inspired ceiling reception area instantly gave you a feeling of grand extravagance. I want to stay here next time we visit! It was also the only casino we came across with windows looking to the outside and sun able to stream in to some of it's cafes. All the other casinos were dark and dingy by comparison - with no clocks or windows to the outside world, they were created to give you zero temptation from the outside, real world.

Other Casino favourites include the Venetian, with it's grand canal out the front with replica canal boats you can go for a ride in and Caesars Palace, with shopping streets (on the inside) not unlike what you would find in the more up market streets in Rome or other fancy Italian cities.

Day two was the obligatory Stag and Hens day / night. Us boys started the day with the usual ..... A visit to the local gun range!

I'm not much of a gun person myself, but it was amazing what you can get up to if you are! First, you have to choose from a massive wall lined menu, McDonald's style, of what type of gun[s] you wanted to try out. Or, you could choose one of the "combos". My knowledge in guns is very limited, so I opted for the WWII combo ... An assortment of three weapons used during World War II - a pistol and two machine guns. The others chose from a range of weaponry including: Desert Eagle pistol, AK47, 12 gage shotgun, M16 to name a few. Once we had our guns decided, we were lumped with a bunch of magazines and told to choose what "targets" we wanted to shoot at. The targets were poster sized people - ranging from a typical looking terrorist, Osama or just an outline, to the very politically correct Mexican, Black or Asian looking person. We were then ear-muffed and eye protected before taken into the actual gun range.

Running the show in the gun range were these very burly and rather intimidating massive guys - I guess chosen for this very reason. You don't want someone armed to the teeth with WWII style weaponry going on a rampage - how embarrassing that would be! Actually firing the weapons was quite a rush. The pistol was probably my least favourite as every time I pulled the trigger, the gun tried to slip out of my hand and smack me in the face. The rifle / machine gun were more enjoyable. You pull the trigger and a burst of fire leaves the gun, sending the nose of the gun pointing towards the ceiling. They definitely hadn't perfected the recoil on these weapons by WWII - and it reminded me of the computer based WWII games I used to play, where small bursts were the most accurate way of firing.

After the gun range, we wandered through the Gun shop, where a sales person proceeded to show off his "while jogging and going to the movies" pistol to a customer and another sales person rattled off some tripe about why the world needs to be armed to the teeth to make it a safer place. It really is incredible the mindset here - they fully believe this and are brought up thinking this way. Mention Obama and you're likely to become the next target in the firing range.

Following our visit to Redneck America, we headed back to the strip for an afternoon of gambling, drinking, and eating. Josh, the tinny bastard, after watching me blow $20 on a $1-bet-per-spin slot machine, sat down next to me, spun the reel once, and won himself $5,000 ........ Lucky, lucky bastard. But, in all fairness, Josh is the one who spends the most on gambling, so he deserves to win the most. Kind of. Congrats Josh! We ate at two opposite ends of the spectrum - for lunch, a $1 "world famous hotdog" at Slots'o'Fun, and for dinner, a massive aged sirloin steak at one of New York, New York's steak houses.

The remainder of the stag night consisted of various bars and clubs around the strip and away from the strip to another strip, and ending up in Dan's hotel room for duty free cocktails and a good ol' manly catch up.

The girls were probably more energetic and organised with their day. They started off by making the most of their man-free freedom by heading out to the massive Factory Outlet Store shopping mall where they could get the shopaholic out of their system. Following the shopping, they refreshed themselves at Margaritaville - apparently cocktail heaven. They then prepared for their evening activities starting at Caesars Palace for Italian at the Trevi Cafe - where the whole ceiling is painted to simulate a cloudy sky and lighting emulates sunrises and sunsets. It sounded rather magical. After dinner they headed out to the Palms Casino to Ghost Bar - situated on the 52nd floor, it had an incredible view out across the strip and beyond. Their partying continued on the other Palms tower at the Playboy Bar (why us boys didn't go here, I don't know!). Finally, they went to Luxors main nightclub - LAX. Apparently one of the hippest and coolest nightclubs on the strip, and judging by the weekend queues to get in, I say they were right. The girls danced the night away and out-did us boys by an hour or so in heading to bed.

All in all, a fantastic day had by all and Las Vegas lives up to it's nightlife reputation.

Friday had come, the big wedding day! The day was relaxation - lounging by the pools, wandering through casinos, snacking on food. The afternoon was the main event! We were all planning on dressing up for the ceremony but, after finding out the price of the costume hire, Dan and Jo decided it best that they be the only two in dress. It was a good idea. They stood out like movie stars - dressed as Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. Walking through the casinos they had tourists wanting photos taken with them and staff making way for them. We followed them out of the Luxor casino to our transport - the bridal party in a massive stretch limo and the rest of us in the longest (and, well, the only) stretch hummer I've ever laid eyes on! Off to "A Little White Chapel" we went!

The ceremony was straight forward - we were led to a small chapel - one of the three at the location, and sat through the most normal of ceremonies, with the least normal of subjects. Witnessing a wedding of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra will be remembered for a long time! Congratulations to both Jo and Dan for going ahead with what we initially thought was the craziest idea concocted but ended up being the most unusual and memorable weddings of all time.

Jo and Dan were very generous to shout us all a massive feast at the best buffet in town - the Carnival World at the Rio - as well as all the drinks we could manage (which, considering this was the day after the hens / stag night was quite a portion!). Derek (best man) and Dan gave us some eye watering speeches and what a better way to spend the rest of the night but back to the gambling! Gini and I hit the little leprechaun dancing Irish jig machine (where we would all chant "Bonus, Bonus, Bonus!!" while joining in with the jig to try and help the third bonus on it's way), and we even tried our luck on the black jack tables - where Gini's winnings would be lost by my losings .... Sorry babe - your luck was far greater than mine!

Shows we saw included the free, show from outside The Bellagio with it's water fountain. Every 15 minutes a song would play out the loud speakers surrounding the massive pond in front of the Bellagio and suddenly the huge fountains would start moving and swaying and spraying to the tune. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. We stayed to watch another show as they play several different ones. Very cool. We also hiked it to Treasure Island on two occasions to see the Pirate Ship show. Unfortunately the first time there was literally a breath of air and they said it was too windy and dangerous to perform. Unfortunately the second time it was pretty crap! Just dancing girls and guys with little pirate action. Least it was free, but I wouldn't recommend fighting the masses to see it.

The real show we saw was Mystere - an amazing show by the Cirque du Soleil group of acrobats, gymnasts and circus freaks. It was rather dark and spell binding with touches of humour throughout. Recommended.

Our last day in Vegas was adventure day. We decided we had only one chance in our lifetime to see the Grand Canyon via Helicopter. Six of the others had booked from NZ, we had left it to the last minute! James was also keen, so the three of us booked into the last available flight - and on an upgraded, more expensive helicopter! Still, it did not disappoint. In fact, we've decided that it was one of the most awesomist things either of us have ever done, ever! For someone who has never set foot in a helicopter, that alone was incredible. The feeling of weightlessness as the helicopter defies gravity and lifts off the ground, to the speed and noise of the chopper while zooming over the outer wall of the grand canyon and into it's depths. It was amazing. We passed the Hoover Dam - an incredible site, and the creation of which, created Lake Meed - the largest man made lake in the US and what is now a resort and recreation area. It was a tropical turquoise colour from the skies. The Grand Canyon was unbelievably huge. We parked on one ledge and had a champagne picnic while enjoying the magnificent surrounding views. On our return to Vegas, we did one final fly-by of the strip and managed to see the casino's from yet another amazing viewpoint.

Very recommended!

As our holiday came to an end, everyone was slowly disembarking on their return journey. It was rather sad to have to say goodbye to everyone but what a fantastically amazing time we all had. So much so that we are already planning another re-union for September next year! Bring it on! Thanks to Dan and Jo for choosing Vegas as their wedding venue and thanks to everyone who made the long trip there to help with the celebrations. It will go down in history.

T
Our "castle" Excalibur - our home for the next 5 nights

Our "castle" Excalibur - our home for the next 5 nights

Piling into the stretch Hummer on the way to "a Little White Chapel"

Piling into the stretch Hummer on the way to "a Little White Chapel"

Group shot, after the ceremony!

Group shot, after the ceremony!

Gini in her element on the Fishy game!

Gini in her element on the Fishy game!

Not entirely sure what's going on here.

Not entirely sure what's going on here.

The bridge leading to the Venetian

The bridge leading to the Venetian

The ceiling of the Bellagio reception area - so grand!

The ceiling of the Bellagio reception area - so grand!

The bridge under construction so traffic can bypass the dam (reducing the Terrorist threat)

The bridge under construction so traffic can bypass the dam (reducing the Terrorist threat)

The backdrop was amazing.

The backdrop was amazing.

And safely home again.

And safely home again.