Our first little JWalking trip went so well that we decided to go again, this time to the United States and to Canada. A fair amount of planning has been done, most of it whilst we were living in Auckland New Zealand. A similar plan to our first trip with as many different locations as possible comfortably squeezed in to our itinerary, and as much accommodation as possible booked through Airbnb.
So first stop just had to be Las Vegas! We have always wanted to visit Vegas and see if it’s as crazy and full-on as everyone else says it is, so planned a couple of days in a hotel to begin part two of our JWalking adventure.
Leaving the UK
Our youngest son Ryan very kindly dropped us at Gatwick to catch the Virgin Atlantic 747 flight to Las Vegas. Strange things seem to happen now in airports and this visit was no exception. We’d goner through passport control and were on our way to have a well deserved bacon sandwich when I almost trod on a small blonde lady dithering in front of me. I politely sidestepped around her and glanced back as we strode past towards the bacon shop. Stopping dead in my tracks I then grabbed the blonde firmly by the shoulders and demanded to see her passport! The look of shock and sheer panic that raced across her face was a picture but disappeared as I moved in for a hug. My cousin Jane just happened to be on her way to Prague, and just happened to be flying out at the same time as us, and just happened to be walking along in front of us at exactly the same time. Such a surprise. It was a good job that her husband Jim wasn’t paying attention because I may have received more than a hug!
Luckily the flight was nothing like our Emirates Dubai experience and went pretty smoothly. Less films available meant Jo could easily choose a couple of movies and the ten hours passed reasonably quickly. Not much sleep unfortunately but we didn’t feel too rough when we disembarked at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. We’d been warned that getting through US Customs could take a little while but were on our way to the city within the hour.
Amazingly the customs guy that dealt with us seemed completely taken with our whole JWalking experience and after the usual initial questions he kept us there for 10 minutes asking ‘So what did you do with your furniture’, ‘What happens when you get back to England’, and the favourite ‘Is that really all the stuff you have?’.
As many of you know we love staying with local people but otherwise prefer quiet, unobtrusive, simple hotels. The Excalibur Hotel is none of these. It is the most over the top, unreal, in-your-face place we have ever stayed in. Jo’s fault entirely of course, she decided that if we were staying in Vegas then we should do it Vegas-style.
The whole place is themed like King Arthurs castle and they have done it unbelievably well. To say it’s huge would be a massive understatement as it just goes on and on and its very easy to get lost. Like all of the other hotels on the Strip it is also a casino and there are gaming tables and machines everywhere, hundreds of them. You’ve all probably heard the stories about no clocks or windows in these places and they are absolutely right, there is no way of knowing what time of day it is and its so difficult to find your way out. They just want you to keep playing!
Great room up on the 18th floor but we decided to get out exploring immediately even though we were tired after the long flight. We don’t believe in this jetlag nonsense and prefer to try and power through on local time. Seems to have worked everywhere we’ve been so far and as we wandered down to famous Las Vegas strip we felt fairly good.
History of Vegas
Briefly, the city was only founded in 1905 as a stop on the railroad halfway between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. There had been a small settlement but the Union Pacific Railway decided it needed a stop off point and the abundance of natural spring water made Las Vegas the ideal spot. The city really arrived in 1931 though when three things happened. Firstly, Nevada legalised casino gambling. Secondly, the divorce laws were altered to allow 6 week divorces. Thirdly, the Hoover Dam construction began bringing in thousands of workers. Vegas boomed.
Since then it has just grown and grown of course and now the main strip houses countless huge casino hotels and many more attractions along its 3 to 4 mile length. The city is 135 square miles with nearly 2 million residents but the Las Vegas Boulevard or Strip is the main focus and probably the only part that most visitors every see.
So many hotels and casinos and crazy attractions fight for your attention as you either walk down the strip or take walkways in and out of shopping malls and themed dining complexes. Everything is just jam-packed together and we didn’t always know when we’d left one hotel and entered another as they just love to confuse the hell out of you and get you lost. As far as we could tell there are no ‘Exit’ signs anywhere, you just aren’t supposed to leave.
The incredible New York New York hotel with its city streets and rows of bars and restaurants all inside the lobby area tempted us in for some dinner, and we slowly finished the evening back in the Excalibur checking out the Roulette, Poker and Black Jack tables.
The Mob Museum
What many people don’t know is that there are a whole host of museums in Vegas, it’s not just shows and gambling. The one we fancied was the Mob Museum, all about the Mafia and organised crime in the United States. We needed to get to Downtown which was 6 miles from the Excalibur, too far for even us to walk! A quick and easy local bus ride got us there and included a bit of a chat with an Elaine Stritch lookalike and her grizzly grumpy husband. She had a ton of good advice on where to go and what to see and he had a ton of moaning, racist, anti-everyone stories that we immediately forgot!
The Mob museum is seriously underrated, it has so much to see. I guess it suffers against the bright lights and showgirls but we loved it and spent a good few hours learning all about Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky and of course Alphonse Capone. Brilliant.
Had a bit of a wander around Fremont Street, Downtown Vegas, including watching the screaming tourists on the four zipwires that ran the length of the street. After a brief lunch stop in a casino food court (posh eh?) we dived back on the bus and headed down to the Strip again.
The Las Vegas Strip
When Las Vegas was in it’s prime, and I’m talking the 1950s and 60s, the hotels were just hotels with a lounge to watch the performers and the odd gaming room to gamble in. They weren’t anything like the huge resort centres that exist today. These massive hotels really began 1969 with the International, where Elvis played, and then the Mirage in 1989. Now the whole strip is virtually full of these multi-entertainment complexes.
So many to mention but we walked through Treasure Island, The Mirage, Caesars Palace, The Bellagio, and the Venetian. All huge. All themed in one way of another. Lots more to say about them later.
There are just SO MANY places to eat and drink that it’s a horrendous decision which to try but as soon as we saw the sign for the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co there was no decision to make. Themed on the film Forrest Gump the place was amazing. So many cool references to the film that we absolutely loved and Jo had her first cocktail of the trip, Bubba’s Blue Hawaiian. This is Vodka, Castillo Rum, Gin, DeKuyper Blue Curacao, and Dole Pineapple Juice topped with Sierra Mist. It’s her new favourite drink unfortunately……
The Best and Worst
Neither can really decide whether Vegas is a great place or a terrible one. It is so spectacular and impressive but also so tacky and corny at the same time. It’s Disneyland on Acid, or more fittingly it’s Disneyland on Very Very Fizzy Cola. It seems as though the extremes of so many different worlds, classes and tastes clash here in almighty, unorganised carnage. There is so constantly going on that your senses feel assaulted on all sides. Sounds like we don’t like it doesn’t it? The jurys out after a couple of days. We’ll let you know next time.
6.4 – 7.4.2016