The ultimate Fantasy Land is not in Orlando or Anaheim, but in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had always wanted to go. I had these visions of this beautiful place with luxury hotels offering all the amenities with a casino somewhere on the property. Little did I realize that it is a city built up with unsightly skyscrapers along a single road, the Strip, and the initial impression is generally, uninviting.
What truly surprised me began when we got off the airplane and there was a ring of slot machines. If you come with a child… well don’t, but if you do, be sure they don’t run right over to the glittering machines because a security guard will tell you immediately that your child is not allowed near them. As one father responded, “Then why do you put them right off of the gates!"
I should explain that it was a birthday gift from my children that we would all get together in Vegas without grandchildren who are all underage.
We stayed for five days and four nights staying at two different hotels. Here came another shock. The hotels are huge and the casinos serve as the lobbies. You have to walk for a quarter mile past slot machines and gaming tables just to get to the room elevators.
The first hotel we stayed at was the Bellagio. Here I must say we lucked out. At registration it took quite a while until we could get a room. Everyone else was checking in quite quickly so I questioned the receptionist who said that she was trying to get us a better room. Since we were checking in with my younger son and his girlfriend they asked if we would mind sharing a space. At first I thought NO! But, then we found that it was two bedrooms which sounded okay. When we got to our suite on the 34th floor we found a huge living room with two great bedrooms which each had two bathrooms, a his and a hers. In case four bathrooms were not enough they gave us a powder room for good measure. There was also a stocked bar and a large dining table to eat our breakfast on. The Bellagio décor is quite fitting for Fantasy Land, including a ceiling of colored glass in the lobby by Dale Chihuly and a Japanese garden where I saw several Japanese taking pictures probably to show their friends back home who had never seen anything like it!
The next morning we moved to the Aria Hotel with a slightly shorter distance from the front desk to the room elevators but about half a mile through the casino from the garage to the front desk. The Aria, with its towers has 54 floors (here our room was only on the 12th) with a total of 4004 guest rooms. They were expecting 1,425 people to check in on just one day. Multiply this by all the hotels on the Strip, the visiting population is an incredible 40 million visitors a year. In the case of a recession like 2008 and 2009 the losses can be immense!
Lest I leave the wrong impression there are lots of things to enjoy in Fantasy Land. The hotels all have swimming pools and some have several. There are gyms and quiet rooms, which one needs after the noise of the slot machines and the musac or live music blasting through the casino. One designed space that I found very inviting was at the Venetian Hotel where they have a gondola rides and spaces evoking a Venetian Palazzo.
There are some great shows in Vegas. The first that we saw was one of several Cirque de Soleil extravaganzas. This was an Eastern fantasy called KA telling a heroic tale of twins who embark on an adventurous journey to fulfill their destinies. The acts were amazing, Here is one of the high flying demonstrations.
We also saw one of the headliners, Jay Leno. He was, in my opinion, much funnier live that on his TV show. Like most of the celebrities he had someone open for him who was also excellent, Finis Henderson, an impersonator of all the famous vocalists such as Sinatra, Elvis, Michael Jackson etc. After the show we were standing around outside, (when you are a group of 8 nothing happens quickly) and who should walk out not in the suit and tie he wore on stage, but casually dressed, as we were, Jay Leno, who said hello to all the stragglers. When one of my kids announced that this was a birthday present for me he shook my hand in congratulation. I didn’t wash it for a week!
In order to see the old Vegas we went to the Neon Museum which is a bone yard for old electric signs both neon and incandescent. Today LEDs are favored. I understand that at night a few of the signs can still be lit, but evening tours were booked up through the summer. We then walked through a bit of the Old Las Vegas which is not the Vegas of today. What we saw looked very 1950’s with no evidence of the town that was founded in 1905 and incorporated in 1911. Later it was run by the Mob and slowly became the Strip of today with huge resorts owned by corporations and foreign investors.
My three kids and their significant others treated us to all these events. The finale was a late night ride on the world’s largest ferris wheel at the LINQ where the kids got us tickets for a “car” with all you could drink as you watched the panorama below a perfect farewell to Fantasy Land.