Monday, October 30, 2006

Las Vegas

We had a great few days in Las Vegas last week. Flew out on Wednesday morning very early up to DFW, then on to LAS, arriving at 09:30 so we had the full day ahead. The flight across the desert was amazing - there really is NOTHING but sand for about three whole States! We flew over the Grand Canyon on the way in, which was very impressive. Sadly I had neither camera nor window seat so no pictures this time. We will have to go and do a helicopter tour sometime. Plenty of people are doing it - there is a constant stream of helicopters flying over the city all day, every day.

We had a limo waiting for us at the airport, which whisked us the short distance to the Hard Rock Hotel. This is very cool - everything about the place is based on rock music. There are guitars everywhere, the corridor lighting is made of cymbals (must have cost a fortune; cymbals ain't cheap!), the lifts have leopard-skin-coloured carpets and leather and chrome walls. Sounds tacky, right? The thing is, it's so over the top it is actually really well done, and a mere taste of what awaited us in town!

After dumping our bags at the hotel, we thought we'd walk down the the Strip. Alan has been in Vegas a couple of times before but this was my first visit. So off we set... and walked, and walked, and walked. Las Vegas is deceptive - what we thought was going to take us 10 minutes actually took us 30 minutes. The Strip hotels were plainly visible from our hotel but they are SO HUGE that they look a lot closer than they really are.

We got there eventually and started along the line of hotel/casinos. They are all themed after something or another and the juxtaposition of cultures and styles is riotous. You can hop from Arabia to Paris to Italy to Ancient Rome to Ancient Egypt in minutes. Every hotel is themed right down to the finest detail and you can really lose yourself in some of them. They all have giant casinos in the bottom; you walk in off the street right into the slot machine halls. Alan says they're a lot quieter than they used to be since they have done away with the machines paying out coins - they print bits of paper now which you take to a cashier to collect your winnings.

Most of the hotels have shopping malls inside too. These have to be seen to be believed, as they are done out inside as though you were outside. The shop frontages are built in a European style; the ceilings are painted with sky. The shops are a mix of things you might find in malls around America, as well as plenty of designer clothes and upmarket shops.

At night, of course, the whole place lights up in fabulous colour. Every building is lit up, there are signs everywhere and the town comes out to play. There are many sideshows and entertainments along the Strip, such as the pirate battle outside Treasure Island, the volcano at the Mirage and our favourite, the fountains at the Bellagio. These play every 15 minutes at night, they are lit up and controlled in time with music. They make astonishing patterns, they're very beautiful and are also impressive in a technical sense, it's an amazing piece of engineering.

I have no decent photos of the Bellagio. I have a lot of crap ones which I'm not showing you here - it's really hard to get a decent shot when the place won't fit in your lens and you're being blown away by how cool the thing is that you're watching! You can all go here for the succinct explanation or here, click on 'Attractions' and choose the Fountains to find out more about them. I also recommend you go here to see the Google Earth satellite image - you can clearly see the fountain generators in the huge lake out the front. Look a bit to the right and you'll also see the 1/2 scale, 540-ft tall Eiffel Tower replica at Paris Hotel. Impressive, isn't it?

Stay on Google Maps a minute and scroll north up the Strip; follow it until you find the Wynn hotel - a curved, orangey coloured tall building. Check out the large golf course behind this. And remember we're in the middle of the desert. We had a very nice meal at the Wynn on the Thursday night, with the guys who had invited us to be in Las Vegas. Alan was presenting a talk at the software company Synopsys's conference. So the Synopsys guys took us out, to this very fine French restaurant. Thanks, guys!

If you continue northeast a bit, you'll get to the Las Vegas Hilton. This was on my to-do list as they host the Star Trek Experience. This is very cool indeed. You walk inside, and the whole casino floor is done out like the Promenade deck on Deep Space Nine. There is a Quark's Cafe, Garak's Tailors (for souvenir shirts, of course), the whole nine yards.

The Experience itself consists of two rides. These use a mix of live actors, pre-scripted computer screens and various props/pyrotechnics/wind machines/seats that jab you in the back and make you jump! In the first one, we were taken on board Copernicus space station, which was then attacked by the Borg. They had us taken onto a shuttlecraft which tried to escape, but the Borg drew us into a Cube and tried to assimilate us. The second ride started with us being beamed aboard the Enterprise, where we walked through the Bridge, with Commander Riker talking to us from the viewscreen, the down in the Turbolift to another shuttlecraft. This was a full-on motion simulator, so the doors closed, the lights came on outside to reveal us sitting in a shuttle bay. The outer doors opened, we lifted off and out into space, into the middle of a battle with some Klingons! Ducking, diving, wheeling, looping flying frenzy ensued which was great fun. The whole Experience was very cool; well worth doing.

Up this end of the Strip also lies the Sahara hotel, and outside here is a Driving Experience. For the very reasonable sum of $10 you can drive two vehicles on their custom built track. So we each drove a Corvette around the racetrack, and then a Hummer H2 arund the off-road circuit. I discovered that driving off road is much more palatable when you're actually doing the driving!

So, that probably covers most of our time in Las Vegas. We were both very tired by the end; sore feet from walking so much.

And by now you're wondering if there's any pictures. Of course there are! here, here, and here.

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