By Bridget Jackson
When I hear the words Las Vegas I instantly think of an era of mobsters listening to Frank Sinatra crooning and smoke filled Casinos in a town that was proud to be nicknamed “Sin City”. Over the years Las Vegas has changed; the Rat Pack is no longer the focal point, but instead it has been replaced with thrilling acrobatic musical shows and other top performers. Of course there are still casinos for those who gamble but they are immersed in grand, sky high resorts.
Las Vegas is an exciting place to visit anytime of the year, but I prefer to visit during the winter months. You may think that’s an odd choice, but I have spent a few summers in Vegas and the desert sun can be quite hot! I once actually witnessed someone cooking an egg on the sidewalk. During the winter, the days are mild which makes it enjoyable to walk along the strip for as long as you like. The evenings are brisk, but a light jacket will keep you warm.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit Vegas you are in for a great time. Unless your trip to Las Vegas is strictly for gambling, I strongly encourage you to explore past the casinos and take in some sights beyond the strip. You will be pleasantly surprised by what awaits you past the glitz and glam.
Fremont Street is magical at night when all the signs are lit up; I think that’s best time with all the lights and neon signs on all the buildings. No high rises here, but it is equally as amazing as the Las Vegas Strip. There are several historic casinos that line Fremont Street. I was able to visit and play the slots at the Golden Nugget which was built in 1946. It’s the oldest casino in Las Vegas.
Fremont Street is host to a bevy of historical hotels and casinos, Binion’s Gambling Hall built in 1951, Queens Casino – a staple since 1966, and the Fremont Hotel and Casino which was once the tallest building in the city. Walking among a light show filled street, I was able to envision a time of casinos and nightclubs filled with Sinatra and Dean Martin fans. Many of the hotels and casinos are in operation but Freemont Street has advanced with the times. Now there is also a 1,500 foot long video screen that covers the entire Fremont Street. The light show begins at nightfall and it’s simply captivating. I was in complete awe staring at the illuminating bright lights, and you won’t be disappointed either; you might even see an Elvis performer.
Another great spot to visit near Fremont Street is The Neon Museum, located on Las Vegas Boulevard. It’s not hard to find – just look for the giant Silver Slipper in the sky. This museum is a final resting place to many of the iconic signs from early Vegas heydays that have been either torn down or replaced. It’s literally a graveyard or boneyard as they refer to it for over 200 neon signs that have been saved.
Famous signs such as the Sahara sign and the Dunes are both there. The list is endless. It truly is amazing that someone thought these signs were worth saving. It is a guided tour and spaces are limited so make sure you reserve your spot a day or two in advance. The museum provides a tour guide that provides an overview and history of the signs in the boneyard.
If you have the chance, I strongly recommend taking a trip to the Grand Canyon. Of course the quickest way to see it is by helicopter. I had the opportunity to take a sunset helicopter ride to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. I chose Papillion Grand Canyon Helicopters, their rates were reasonable and they have a shuttle that picked me up and took me to the Boulder City airport. It was an incredible trip, flying over the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. When the helicopter landed I had plenty of time for a late lunch and to take breathtaking photos of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. If you are able to fit this into your visit to Vegas I strongly encourage you to take advantage of seeing one of the worlds wonders.
While visiting Las Vegas I noticed a beautiful mountain range in the background. When I found out that Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is only 17 miles away from the Vegas Strip, I had to take a closer look. It’s only a half day trip and it’s a refreshing break from the casinos. The National Conversation Area contains the spectacular 3,000 foot red Rock Mountain.
After I entered the Conservation, I made my way to the visitor’s center to learn the history of Red Rock Canyon. As soon as I walked into the visitor center I was immediately greeted with a panoramic view of the Canyon. My day of great photo opportunities started here. Don’t forget to grab a map of the trails and scenic overlooks.
If you are an avid hiker or rock climber there are several hiking trails to explore. I decided to take a leisurely drive along the 13 mile loop where I came across many overlooks that had parking so I could get incredible pictures and climb on the rocks for an up close view.
Of course a trip to Las Vegas wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the Las Vegas Strip. Where else can you can and see a replica of the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, Roman statues, gondola rides as well as extreme thrill rides all within walking distance of each other.
An absolute must on the strip is taking a picture in front of the famous Las Vegas sign. Just follow the Luxor light beam in the sky and the sign is just past Mandalay Bay. I was surprised how many people where there taking a picture like me, so be prepared to wait your turn. Parking is available along the road.
My next top pick is gazing at the Fountains of Bellagio. This is one Las Vegas show that’s free and one you don’t want to miss out on! Day or Night the water show is absolutely spectacular so find a bench and watch the water dance to a variety of choreographed musical tunes. It’s simply a memorizing experience. My favorite time to watch the show was at night time when the fountain is lit up.
Another great adventure is taking a ride on the High Roller Ferris Wheel located at the LINQ Promenade. This is not your ordinary theme park Ferris wheel. The High Roller is 550 feet tall and has an all glass cabin that can hold 40 people. The ride takes 30 minutes to do a complete revolution, therefore you will have plenty of time to take in the scenery as well as get the perfect snapshot. I rode the High Roller at night and was rewarded with an incredible view of Las Vegas lit up in its finest glory. After your ride, visit Sprinkles for a delicious cupcake or two, I suggest coconut or red velvet cupcakes, both are incredible. Yummy!
For another stimulating view of the Strip, a visit to the Stratosphere Observation Deck is in order. The Observation Deck is 1,149 feet high with an amazing 360 degree view of the city. The deck is outside so it’s not for anyone that is afraid of heights. I enjoyed the view but it is overwhelming standing so high in the sky. Sunset and night views are amazing.
For the extreme thrill seeker there are also some daring rides on or near the deck. Since I prefer less thrills I made my way downstairs to the 107 Lounge at Stratosphere, where I was able to enjoy a 360 view from glass windows while lounging in a cozy chair from the 107th floor. All while watching sky jumper’s fall 829 feet in front of my window. The Stratosphere is never a dull moment.
Of course Las Vegas has many great restaurants to choose from but these are a few of my beloved choices. Mon Ami Gabi is directly across from Bellagio and the Fountains. If you wait for an open table on the outside patio you will be able to watch the Bellagio Fountain Show while dining. Spectacular!
Mandalay Bay has two scrumptious restaurants with spectacular views of the entire Vegas Strip. Rivea at Mandalay Bay where I enjoyed delicious duck and The Foundation Room where I had a fabulous steak dinner. Reservations are required at both but well worth the dining experience. Also, if you just want a drink with a great view, check out The Skyfall Lounge.
I strongly recommend that you see one of the many shows available in Vegas. No matter your choice I’m quite sure you will be entertained with a fabulous performance. I chose the tribute to Michael Jackson and it was fantastic.
Last, by all means walk along the strip and visit as many casinos and resorts as you can! Each resort has its own theme, attractions, restaurants and shopping malls. A few you don’t want to miss seeing are Paris, The Venetian, Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Aria, LINQ, Luxor, and MGM resorts. Remember each resort has a variety of stores, so it’s important to window shop just in case you strike it big in the slot machines or the tables. However you decide to spend your vacation in Las Vegas; I know it will be an unforgettable adventure you won’t forget! Have a great time! Safe Travels!