If you are about to make a bucket list, here’s my suggestion: if you only have time to visit two places in the world, make them Venice and Vegas. Both are so unique, awesome, improbable and visually spectacular that they leave visitors slack-jawed. Venice is a city built entirely on water, so there are no vehicles, just miles of waterways and precariously-placed Venetian Gothic buildings resting on wooden pilings. Las Vegas is an artificial city built in the middle of the Nevada desert in an arid basin, surrounded by dry mountains. Much of the landscape is rocky and dusty, and the environment is dominated by desert vegetation. From that base has sprung a fantasy land, centred around massive, artfully-themed casinos, where no natural light is allowed, so it’s like being in a bubble 24x7 without knowing if it’s night or day, but what a bubble! There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world. It is simply the world’s biggest party place.
Over the years, Vegas has acquired myriad labels: the Entertainment Capital of the World, the Gambling Capital of the World and, because of the city’s tolerance for adult entertainment, Sin City. In fact, no other city in the world provides such a heady combination of glitz, glamour, girls and gambling. It’s where all bachelors and adult males could fulfill their fantasies, as witnessed in movies like Hangover. In recent times, however, the city fathers have tried to expand its attractions to include families, so the male adult fantasy part has been toned down and replaced by spectacle and entertainment and, in Vegas, that means on a truly epic scale. On normal days, the shows at casinos like Caesars Palace, the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Wynn, Circus Circus, the Luxor, Treasure Island, Flamingo and the Venetian, to name the most visible on the city’s famous Strip, feature some of the world’s most spectacular acts—Cirque du Soleil is on permanently, this year, with a Beatles tribute and other famous acts, while comedians, celebrities and singers include headliners like Britney Spears who performs her award-winning show, A Piece of Me, at Planet Hollywood. Comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno are regulars here, as is Celine Dion.
Las Vegas has probably the most entertainment venues—casinos, nightclubs, bars, restaurants and lounges—than any other place on the planet, apart from other spectacles. The Fountains of the Bellagio perform a magnificent display (set to music) every 15 minutes in the evenings and also every hour on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The huge range of nightclubs are spread right across the wider metropolis, too, so you really have a huge range to choose from. Every casino is designed on a theme, so there’s Caesars Palace with its hedonistic Roman theme; Paris, shaped like the Eiffel Tower; Luxor, a pyramid structure; Circus Circus with acrobats and other acts overhead; the Venetian, modelled on Venice; and Mandalay Bay, with a beach-side theme and a special Michael Jackson tribute show. These are mega-hotel/casino complexes decorated with lavish care and attention to detail, and designed to create a fantasy-like environment. Downtown is where all the action is, starting with the ‘Fremont Street Experience’, a pedestrian mall lined with casinos, near the western end of Fremont Street. A couple miles south of downtown starts the ‘Strip’, lined with casino-hotels, shopping malls and other attractions like the world’s biggest Ferris wheel. The northern end of the Strip is marked by the tall Stratosphere tower. In most cases, hotels are connected to each other either by a bridge or underground or in the case of Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay, by a complimentary rail shuttle.
There’s more, including restaurants that have Michelin-starred chefs, from Gordon Ramsey to Nobu, Wolfgang Puck and Joel Robuchon. In fact, Vegas is home to more acclaimed celebrity chefs and Michelin star-winners than anywhere else, but also full of delicious comfort food to suit every palate. With close to 40 million annual visitors, Las Vegas is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and its clientele is amazingly diverse and from every corner of the globe. The cuisine it offers represents this, with everything from kaiseki to tapas, Hawaiian specialities to Brazilian barbecue, rare Florida stone crabs to fish and chips and Indian curries and even dosas. Carnivorous Vegas is awash in steakhouses, with the best selection in the world—and at every price point—while it also has an amazing array of fine French dining, with the most famous Parisian masters represented here. Then there is Las Vegas’ own homegrown speciality, the all-you-can-eat buffet, offered here in more iterations and staggering variety than anywhere else.
Then there are shopping centres for those in need of retail therapy and other tourist spots nearby, including the Grand Canyon, one of the most popular tourist attractions in America. There are regular bus services from Vegas to Grand Canyon or even a plane or helicopter charter, which is fairly reasonable. Throughout summer, resort pools across Las Vegas host world-famous DJs at pool parties. Try Wet Republic at the MGM Grand or the Encore Beach Club at Wynn Hotel. In fact, the best thing about Vegas is that the prices are comparatively reasonable, including hotel rooms and food and drink at the casinos. The idea is to attract people to the casino tables, where the maximum revenue comes from. You don’t, however, need to be a gambler to enjoy Vegas. Gambling is a lot of fun if you are careful and prudent about how much to spend and where, but there’s so much else to do that even non-gamblers can enjoy the ambience and indulge in their own fantasy trip. There’s plenty to choose from.