Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bright Lights, Big City

I’m not normally a nervous traveller. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time, both with and without my parents, hopping around the globe. Flying was a freedom and meeting new people was a celebration.

Then 9/11, 7/7, and an overdose happened and suddenly my confidence was shot to Hell. I didn’t want to leave the safety of my own country. Because of it, I missed out on some amazing opportunities.

In mid-2013, I had an email from a friend. Would I like a week in Vegas? Vegas has always been one of those places I’ve wanted to visit. For well over a decade, I pined for the bright lights, the jingling slot machines, and the desert warmth (for the record, I’m not a fan of the heat, nor the sun). I wanted to see what it was like living a higher roller life on a bookies pay cheque.

On April 11th, I boarded my first flight in nearly a decade and, within minutes, was reminded why I love flying so much. There’s a freedom to breaking free to gravity, to feeling the wheels rumble over the asphalt before the ground disappears and the plane makes for the sky. I’d forgotten how nice it was to sit back with a drink and watch a film. I’d forgotten what it was like to make friends with the cabin crew. I’d forgotten what it was like to look out of the window and watch the sea below.

The downside was it was a long flight. Due to cost restraints, I’d split it in two and changed planes in New York. On the upside, I got to show a young girl the New York skyline as we came in to land. She’d never seen it before and it was a pleasure to point out the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. On the return trip, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a gentleman who was making his first trip to the UK. He was coming to see family he hadn’t seen for over thirty years. It was an honour to sit next to him and talk about our lives. It brought tears to my eyes to be the first to welcome him to the UK.

Vegas is exactly as you’d imagine it to be. It’s all bright lights and loud music. There’s slot machines everywhere and adverts for shows and restaurants decorate the cabs and buildings. Unfortunately it’s no longer the Vegas of yore. Gone are the sub-$5 buffets and no longer do you hear the jangle of thousands of quarters dropping from machines. The hotels crank up charges for whatever they can (beware of the “resort fees” if you ever visit. I knew of them before I went but they were still a shock to the poor credit card on my return).

Yet, Vegas is what you make it and I had experiences that I’ll never get again. How many times are you going to be able to stand comfortably at the carrier of a concert? I did and, in the process, managed to shoot 200+ photos of one of my favourite bands (I’m still sorting through them all!). Where else are you going to have free drinks brought to you while you gamble? Yep, did that as well! Partied down on Freemont Street? I can check that off my Bucket List too! (Incidentally, we’re thinking of staying down there next time. Apparently there will be a next time)

I also had the honour of looking around the legendary Sound City Studios, but that requires a blog post all of its own. We also visited the apartment where Megadeth were formed back in 1983 and did a drive by on Studio 606 (Prize to the first person who can name who that belongs to!). We danced on Santa Monica beach and rode the carousel on the pier. We watched the sun set over Hollywood.

Would I do Vegas and LA again? Oh, heck yes! Without a doubt I’d go again. Hopefully, next time, it’ll be for longer…

Rae’s Vegas Tips and Tricks

Here’s a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way.

  • Know the resort fees before you go. These change from year to year and the only way to get out of paying them is if you spend enough over your resort. We were with the MGM group so get a player’s card and use it everywhere you can.
  • The player’s card (M-Life if you’re with the MGM group) will get you discounts and helps rack up points towards your next visit. Keep it on you at all times.
  • Carry water with you everywhere. It’s surprising how quickly air conditioning and the desert heat can dry your throat. Some stores and restaurants will refill bottles for free (Lush in Mandalay Bay were awesome for this).
  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen – ‘cause that desert sun is brutal.
  • Budget about $200 a day for food, drink, and all the pretties you want to buy. Budget more if you’re going to gamble.
  • If you have an addictive personality, know your limits when it comes to gambling. Give your cards and cash to a friend to hold if you’re worried. All casinos, by law, have to carry the number of Gambling Anonymous. Call it if you need it.
  • All the resorts are linked by trams, monorails, and walkways. Be prepared to walk. A lot.
  • If you don’t want to walk, the buses run 24 hours up and down the Strip. It’s $8 for a 24 hour pass.
  • See all the sights. The Bellagio fountains, the Venetian canals, and the New York New York skyline. They’re free so make the most of them!
  • Do Freemont Street. It’s the old part of Vegas and you’ll find lots of like minded people to let loose with. There’s nothing quite like dancing in the street! Plus, it’s cheaper than the Strip.
  • Talk to people because guidebooks only tell you so much.
  • People don’t care what you look like. Dress up to the nines, or go and play blackjack in your onesie!
  •  Go with friends. Or make new ones while you're out there. Vegas is a hell of a lot more fun with company!

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