Rogue's GalleryPosted: Aug 1, 2005 11:53:21 PM
There are a few places in the world that are areas of pure luxury and excess. Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is covered in billion-dollar developments such as five-star Burj al-Arab (the tallest hotel in the world) and The World, a huge series of about 250 artificial islands arranged in the shape of the world, with each island costing US$25 million or more. Macau, next to Hong Kong and officially part of China, is less ostentatious and its mega-casinos are more serious, but there is still the occasional architectural glut, such as the huge underwater casino known as the City of Dreams. More money is gambled in Macau, mostly on the tile betting game known as Pai Gow, than in any other place on Earth. The grandfather of all of these places, however, is in Nevada, USA, and it is to this place that Siobhan and I went. We went there to experience the extravagance that is Las Vegas.
When you drive towards Las Vegas you are in a desert like the one described in the Grand Canyon report, desolate aside from the band of colour that is the perpetual stream of cars, SUVs, and trucks heading to the city. The air is so clear and the distances so great that when you crest a mountain and look down onto the wide valley that contains the city it is like some kind of crazy mirage in the desert, an impossible complex in the most outlandish of areas. That air of impossibility carries over into the city itself.
Vegas is all about the tourists. Along the central road of the tourist area the hotel casinos are designed for just one purpose: to get people inside. Millions of light-bulbs and enormous neon displays are just the start. They specialize in individualized exteriors: giant fountains, erupting volcanoes, pirate battles, and more. Glitz is everything. They offer the possibility of exciting performances: everyone from the white tigers of Siegfried and Roy to the Cirque Du Soleil to Tom Jones to Jay Leno appear here. There's the gambling, of course: the poker tournaments are huge, but there are more unusual competitions too, such as rodeo contests and professional eating matches. It really is all about making the casinos as memorable and distinctive as possible, so here's a rogue's gallery of the famous casino-hotels of Vegas.
Many of the casinos are location places, that is, they try to capitalize on the mystique of another area of the world, usually by tacky reproductions of said area. Three of the best:
New York, New York
Paris, Las Vegas
The Venetian - yes, they have gondolas and singing gondoliers
Amusingly, there are places themed towards families:
Excalibur - a haven of medieval jousts and much quaffing
There are some places that may be themed a particular way, but are really famous in their own right, usually thanks to being the locations of famous films:
Caesar's Palace - they shot 'Intolerable Cruelty' right here
The Luxor - a giant black pyramid with a spotlight shooting out the top; it has the largest atrium in the world inside, but is still indescribably tacky
And then there are the seedy places:
The Frontier - yes, you read correctly. "Bikini Bull Riding" / "Cold Beer, Dirty Girls" Oh dear.
So, this is the Strip. We spent a night walking up and down this crazy road (oh yes, all of those casinos are on a single road right in the middle of Las Vegas). Because we were there for Vegas's centennial celebrations weekend the crowds were enormous, and because we were in the desert in the middle of summer the heat was incredible: 35 celsius (95 fahrenheit), at 10 in the evening. The Strip is also covered in pushers with advertisements for prostitutes on little cards that they flicked for attention (one for $49, or two for $99!).
We stayed in the Mirage - until recently home of Siegfried and Roy. It's a huge three-winged hotel with corridors stretching into the horizon. We didn't actually explore the hotel much, but we did try some gambling in the form of the huge rows of slot machines. We would have stayed longer but for two points: 1. we ran out of money very quickly, and 2. for some freakish reason we never properly established the machines gave us a shock of static electricity whenever we touched them.
For dinner, we went to the Bellagio's famous buffet. They had jacked prices up $20 extra for the weekend, a fact that we didn't find out until we had waited in a queue for half an hour and become desperately hungry. Fortunately, the buffet was pure decadence, and we helped ourselves to delicacies such as prime rib, creme brulee, sushi, lotus root, white truffle souflee, beef wellington, wild boar ribs, king crab legs... lovely.
When walking the Strip and gawking at the sights became too tiring, we stopped for a drink in Circus Circus. Like Excalibur, this is supposed to be child-friendly, but here this means that the upper floor contains the child equivalent of gambling in the form of ring-toss games and other carnivalesque attractions while their parents game below. We stepped into a merry-go-round bar to have some martinis and watch the acrobats perform in the main ring.
And that was it. We only spent one night in the city, and in case you were wondering we did not get married. The biggest surprise for me came as we were leaving: outside of the Strip, Las Vegas is a completely normal, pleasant city. It's as if the centre is another world, and beyond there are people just living a completely normal life. I doubt many tourists get beyond the Strip, however. Maybe next time...
This report has been archived - for new reports go here.