Friday, 19 February 2010

Viva Las Vegas (with kids)

Las Vegas is exactly as you would expect. It looks just like all the photos, and all the types of people you imagine being there are there.

We know this because the first night, we drove up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, or The Strip, as it’s usually called. Each casino, or resort, is crazier than the last. There’s the one that looks like New York, another that’s Paris, one or two with rollercoasters, an Egyptian pyramid, a castle (Sophia’s favorite), etc.

The next morning, as we went about our extremely slow morning routine, Barbara went to Circus Circus, the casino next to our KOA campground. She came back fairly traumatized.

Once we got there, it became apparent that our end of The Strip was the less classy. It had yucky carpeting, a haze of smoke and really tacky souvenir stands. It was through there that we had to walk to get to Slots-A-Fun, the departure point for Las Vegas’ hop on-hop off bus, The Deuce.

As the bus inched up the street through pouring rain and Superbowl Weekend crowds (we heard on the news that the city’s hotel rooms were at 85% capacity), we wondered what the Bellagio – the home of a fine arts gallery – could hold.

There, we had planned to meet up with my high school friend, Danielle, and her husband Chris. They were taking advantage of her air miles to enjoy their first ever baby-free weekend since their daughter Mia was born last May.

We ended up having ice cream instead of fine art, which Barbara went alone to see. Danielle and Chris told us about their weekend of debauchery – wine at lunch, spa treatment, Danielle’s $1000 jackpot on the slot machines, etc. We could only fantasize. But, catching ourselves, we remembered that nine months off to travel the US wasn’t so bad either.

Once Danielle and Chris had said goodbye, fleeing our chaotic piles of baby gear and strollers, it was time to gamble.

Weaving our way past row upon row of game machines operated by zombies, cigarette and drink in hand, we set up camp a game with pictures of huge, gaudy gems (Sophia’s choice). Having put in a $5 bill, we realized we had no idea how to play it. So, off I went with Lulu in the baby carrier to the client services desk. No kids below 18 are allowed within ten feet of gambling, so I had to stand back and shout my question.

A lady sporting de rigueur Las Vegas pop-out cartoon boobs came back with us to the machine in question, then said Sophia had to move away from the games. So the girls and I found a tiny space on the floor that was a couple of feet away from games in all directions. Why, asked Sophia, couldn’t she play these fun, colorful games? These are games for adults, I answered, you can lose lots of money. How boring.

Needless to say, we didn’t win anything.

The best thing about the Bellagio – and one of our favorite attractions overall – was the hotel’s incredible fountain display, which featured dancing water that shot 100 feet in the air to the tune of piped in music, once an hour.

See video below.

A short walk down the strip in the rain later, we were back on The Deuce, headed towards Stratosphere, which is marked by a needle tower.

There, we went to Roxy’s Diner, a Happy Days style place with singing waiters and waitresses. As we waited for a table, four ladies on a fun weekend away danced energetically around a handsome waiter singing ‘My Girl’. Awesome!

Our meal, which was surprisingly good (burgers, mashed potatoes, catfish, washed down with beer), was accompanied by renditions of songs by Motown, Elvis and Patsy Cline…by waiters in slicked back hair and waitresses in poodle skirts.

Exhausted, we piled back into The Deuce.

The next day, Barbara attempted to see the Grand Canyon (bad weather prevented her jeep tour from reaching the scenic South Rim, and bad visibility stopped her from seeing anything from the West Rim).

We had a morning of admin, followed by an afternoon on The Strip.

First up was the Fashion Show Mall, where we got a new Apple charger and then enjoyed a fashion show (we had no idea!), featuring the clothing of one of the mall’s shops. Black-clad bouncers with earpieces hung around the catwalk, where a clock counted down the minutes until the show. Then, once the booming music started, an elevator rose out of the mall floor, filled with models. So much fun.

Sophia spent the rest of the day strutting around Las Vegas, workin’ it.

Before we could leave the mall, she marched me into Zara, where she had spotted some round-toed, round-heeled fuchsia vertiginous heels. I picked out a pair of black skinny jeans, and Daniel chose a checked shirt with fancy buttons. Thus, a new outfit was purchased. I was the lucky winner, for no good reason at all.

Once Sophia had picked out a bag – purple plastic with big, gaudy gems, we were off to The Venetian. Having picked a plum spot on a bench alongside the Grand Canal in the Piazza San Marco – where it’s always daytime - we enjoyed fantastic performances by a mime artist, court jester, opera singers, a man on stilts and troubadours. So we didn’t feel too bad about our (delicious) $24.30 gelatti.

The Venetian is very classy, populated by luxury shops and lots of Italians, who seem to feel very at home there.

Lulu was delighted at the opportunity to crawl all around the black-and-white tiled floor, and every last member of a Japanese tour group was delighted at the opportunity to take photos and videos of her doing this.

“So cute!”, they said.

On our way out of the hotel, the New Orleans Saints clinched their Superbowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts, sending white-hatted jocks running out of the bars, yelling and headbutting. Now that’s Americana.

On our final Deuce ride, we got talking to a man wearing sunglasses with hologram skulls – had to buy ‘em, he said, they were just $3. Instead of being scared, the girls seemed totally at home with him as he told stories of Dodge City, his hometown.

“The steaks and burgers you eat all come from there, we slaughter 15,000-17,000 head of cattle a day”, he said. Well. You learn something new every day.

There is no point analyzing or critiquing Las Vegas, it is just…Las Vegas: completely mental but also fun if you just take it at face value.

What’s definitely good about the place is that it provides employment for so many creative people – artists, musicians, interior designers, architects, florists, etc.

At The Venetian, I met a girl in the bathroom who asked what Vegas is like with kids (on her first weekend away ever, she missed hers terribly). “Two kids, what about grandma,” I said, adding “It’s got something for everyone”. And that’s the truth.

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