It really does happen in Vegas

Yes, you can get to Las Vegas, Nevada, from Grand Cayman. And you don’t even have to be an avid gambler to enjoy the city, which is the adult version of DisneyWorld. Just be sure to pack lots of moisturizer and ChapStick. 

 

I won’t even begin this article with that tired cliche of ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’, because it shouldn’t. 

It’s a fascinating city filled with colourful character and characters. 

While I’m not a big fan of late flights, our journey began on a Sunday when we caught the 4.45pm flight from Grand Cayman to Houston, Texas, and then on to Las Vegas. The trip was a surprise from husband Glenn, who made arrangements through Pat Amante at Longitude Travel. 

I strongly advise to book first class as the seats are more comfortable and there is plenty of leg room. The overall flight is less than eight hours and, in my humble opinion, well worth it. 

I didn’t learn until we rechecked our bags in Houston that our final destination would be Las Vegas. That’s when the baggage handler looked at the baggage ticket and said “Oh, going to Las Vegas.” Glenn had managed to keep it a surprise up until that point. I was surprised; but certainly not disappointed. 

Bedtime came sometime after 2am and our holiday officially began on Monday when we caught up with good friend Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, which owns 10 casinos in Vegas alone. He was one of the co-conspirators of the trip and gave us excellent advice. 

“You’re 1,800 feet above sea level and in the desert. Drink lots of water,” he said. 

We did. 

If you plan to go, arm yourself with lots of moisturizing lotion and be sure to keep a tube of lip balm on you at all times. I’ve lived on or near an ocean my entire life and the arid basin of Vegas put my skin and hair to the task. Humidity is a good thing! 

Vegas is a growing retirement and family city and is the 28th most populous city in the United States with an estimated population of 583,756 as of 2010. The 2010 population estimate of the Las Vegas metropolitan area is nearly 2 million, all nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. 

On the days we ventured out onto the Strip, the sidewalks were filled to overflowing with tourists. We hailed a few cab drivers – a couple of them natives – who gave us the insight on life outside the Strip and recalled days of old when Vegas meant downtown and the likes of the Golden Nuggett. 

I guess the best thing about Vegas is you don’t have to be an avid gambler to have fun. 

Our first show was Monday evening at the Mirage – The Beatles Love by Cirque Du Soleil. The show began promptly at 7pm, so we arrived a wee bit early with complimentary tickets from our friend. 

The show was excellent. It’s a mostly graceful and elegant marriage of movement and song that reinforces the greatness of the music created by the Beatles in the 1960s. The acrobats are phenomenal from the performers on the ropes to the quartet of skateboarders vaulting steep, 12-foot ramps to the song of “Help”. 

The show began with a capella vocals on “Because” that exploded into “Get Back.” The characters were introduced on a rooftop set suggestive of the “Let It Be” concert, which collapsed into debris to the sounds of World War II bombing. 

The Fab Four also provided abstract narrative, thanks to outtakes of studio chatter or lead-ins to live radio performances. 

The loose story of the production traces The Beatles’ biography in broad strokes through the band’s founding and climb into superstardom, their psychedelic and spiritual works and their break-up in 1970. The finale is a joyous celebration of The Beatles’ “reunion” that the show itself represents. 

The show’s landscape is inhabited by fictional characters plucked from The Beatles’ lyrics. Sgt. Pepper, a central figure, encounters many familiar faces, including Lucy in the Sky, Eleanor Rigby, Lady Madonna, Father McKenzie and Mr. Kite. The “Here Comes the Sun” scene features a character resembling Krishna. Similarly, several scenes include mop-topped, dark-haired figures in black suits. The international cast totals 65 performers. Each song or medley is the name of a scene. 

Created by French designer Jean Rabasse, the Love theatre at The Mirage houses 6,341 speakers and 2,013 seats set around a central stage. Each seat is fitted with three speakers, including a pair in the headrest. The sound system was designed by Jonathan Deans. The stage includes nine lifts and eight automated tracks and trolleys. A total of 28 projectors are used. 

The Love theatre at The Mirage is said to have cost more than $100 million. 

Even if you’re not a Beatles fan, the show is not one to be missed. The soundtrack to Cirque Du Soleil’s Love won two Grammy awards, so if you get a chance to go, don’t pass it up. 

The next day we set out on foot to take in the Strip and all of its offerings. 

A hawker at one of the discount ticket booths enticed us to listen to their spiel about cheap tickets to the various shows. We could get into Jersey Boys at the Palazzo Casino for half the price of $161.50 per person, but we quickly learned that the seller couldn’t guarantee seating. 

Talking with Jennie Briggs in Murren’s office, she told us she only uses the discount ticket outlets for cheaper shows. Something as big as Jersey Boys deserves tickets being bought at the ticket counter where seating, especially VIP, is guaranteed. 

We did take in another show, the Country Superstars Tribute at the Golden Nugget in famed downtown Las Vegas. The tickets were $65 each and well worth the price. What made the show was the Reba McEntire lookalike. Of course you have to be a great lover of country music for this show, which features country music history tribute singers replicating the likes of Reba, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw and more. 

The five-piece band that backs up these ‘stars’ is absolutely great. And while Glenn and I recognised who most of the impersonators were supposed to be, we were stumped by a couple. But all in all it is a good show; you get what you pay for. 

The only drawback to this show is that it comes on the heels of the Gordie Brown show and he’s notorious for showing up late and getting off the stage late, which means the country tribute show rarely starts on time. Our 9.30pm seating time was delayed about 45 minutes, making it a late night for all involved. 

If you are a true country music fan, then you would probably enjoy this show. If you are on the fence with this genre and style, you would probably be disappointed. 

 

MGM 

While there are numerous shows, activities and events to do and see in Vegas, it is possible to spend all of your time at one property. 

We were booked into the MGM Grand, which is at the end of the Strip. The place is cavernous with many shops, activities, a spa, television studios, a CSI experience and, of course, 5-Star restaurants and lounges. 

The restaurants include Joel Robuchon, L’Atelier, Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Diego, Emeril’s Fiamma, Nobhill Tavern, Pearl, Seablue, Shibuya, Wolfgang Puck, the Grand Wok, MGM Grand Buffet, Rainforest Café, the Cabana Grill, Stage Deli, Starbucks (several of those), Studio Café and Wichcraft. You can spend as much or as little as you like for a gourmet meal or a quick bite to eat while on the run. 

Amenities include the MGM Grand Spa and Health Club, Cristophe Salon, Grand Pool Complex, Wedding Chapel, Gift Card and a floral shop. 

And entertainment abounds from KA Cirque Du Soleil, Crazy Horse, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Hollywood Theater, the Lion Habitat, Wet Republic Ultra Pool and CSI, the Experience. 

Of course gambling is allowed and encouraged from gaming tables to slots, poker, racing and sports to high stakes gaming. 

There were at least a half dozen conventions going on while were staying the week at the Grand where planners can get an overview of the facilities, coordinate catering and banquets, get the inside on productions, take advantage of the business centre and work with a meeting planner guide. 

We happened to be there the week in the run up to the Manny Pacquiao/Shane Mosely fight that was held at MGM on 7 May. By Thursday morning the people started pouring in to MGM where the infamous MGM golden lion was surrounded by a make-shift boxing ring in the lobby. 

When we departed MGM at 5am on the Saturday of the fight, the joint was hopping with people from all walks of life and ages. We could tell it was going to be a stellar event. 

But for us, it was time to come home to the more sedate and tranquil home of Grand Cayman and our own sweet retreat in North Side. 

 

Off the strip 

There are also many, many tours you can sign up for while in Vegas. Here are a few: 

 

Area 51 

Whether or not you believe in aliens, you may find some answers during your tour of Area 51, the popular location among many UFO aficionados. Satisfy your inquisitive mind and enjoy this tour to the world’s most famous military facility, the inspiration of the “X-Files.” 

Your tour begins with pleasant views of the desert in an SUV ride. You will continue on your journey and see ancient Indian petroglyphs that resemble aliens. Wander around a strange, unexplained dry lake bed, the site of many UFO sightings. 

You will get back on the road and travel along the “Extraterrestrial Highway” and arrive at very remote, Little A’le’Inn. This location has been the host of many documentaries and movies including “Independence Day.” Here, you can find a manual with tons of top-secret Area 51 information in the Little A’le’Inn store. Capt. Chuck Clark, an ex-air force captain, wrote this chilling, yet informative booklet available for sale. 

After a tasty Alien Burger at the inn, things get mysterious as you travel to the location of the renowned black mailbox that represents the entrance to Area 51. After travelling through the Joshua Tree Forest, you will arrive in the perimeter of Area 51. 

See guards nicknamed the “Men in Black” watching your every move and see signs that read, “The Use of Deadly Force Authorized.” As much as the United States denied the existence of Area 51, this tour proves that it does exist. 

 

Death Valley 

See spectacular Death Valley, the largest national park in the United States, as well as real ghost towns in this fascinating, all-day tour. 

Your tour begins with a pickup at your hotel in a comfortable sports utility vehicle. From here, the adventure begins! On the way to Death Valley, you’ll pass through the Goldwell Open Air Museum, which showcases seven enormous outdoor sculptures created from natural material. 

When you arrive at Death Valley, your tour includes stops at Furnace Creek, Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater, Zabriskie Point and more. From the beautiful landscape to unique desert life, you’ll definitely want to take plenty of pictures. 

Return to your hotel in a comfortable SUV while admiring the scenery of Las Vegas. 

This tour is typically available starting the 1st Tuesday in September until the Memorial Weekend in May. This tour is not available Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. 

 

Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam 

Soar deep among the Grand Canyon’s cliffs and have a tasty meal on the grounds of the canyon’s rim. 

Enjoy one-of-a-kind views of the Grand Canyon, one of the great Seven Wonders of the World. Your tour begins with limo transportation from your hotel to the helicopter landing pad. Start your journey with views over Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and ancient volcanoes. Your helicopter will descend 3,200 feet to the canyon floor. Upon landing, have a complimentary champagne picnic hosted by your pilot. Enjoy the splendour of Grand Canyon’s breathtaking views as you eat. The picnic, together with breathtaking views, creates the perfect blend of luxury and romance. You’ll also have time to explore and take pictures. 

Return to Las Vegas and catch aerial views of Lake Mead, Mojave Desert and the glittering lights of the Las Vegas Strip. Relax in a limo back to your hotel. 

Grand Canyon Picnic with EC-130 upgrade 

For an additional fee, guests may choose to ride the EC-130 helicopter. The EC-130 helicopter provides more visibility with wraparound glass, larger cabin space and noise reduction features both inside and out.  

 

Valley of Fire 

If you’re expecting a calm Sunday afternoon drive, then this Valley of Fire two-seated dune buggy tour is not for you. But if you’re looking to put a little pep in your vacation and have the energy for loads of fun, adventure and thrills, then this excursion is perfect.  

Your day begins with a shuttle pickup from your hotel. Then it’s off to Valley of Fire’s Logandale Trail System, one of the top off-road riding areas in the country. Once you put your helmet and gloves on, get ready to venture through the trails that already gained famed in several tour and travel magazines. 

As you’re coasting along the remarkable red sand, see the breathtaking rock formations that the original “Star Trek” shows used for background scenes. If you’re lucky, you may even spot bighorn sheep. 

Riding through these dunes will definitely work up an appetite. This tour includes a lunch and plenty of water so you can feel replenished. 

End the day with a relaxing shuttle ride back to Las Vegas. 

Whenever you decide to go, and whatever you plan to do while in Vegas, hook up with a travel agent to ensure you get the most of your Vegas holiday. 

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