Las Vegas: The Land of Excess

Posted on September 13, 2013

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Las Vegas really is one of those places you have to see to believe. It’s a place of constant visual stimulation — everywhere you turn is something to new to marvel at, something to make you go “I’ve never seen one of those before.” And, even without the help of the stifling desert heat and constant drinks in your hand, everything takes on a much larger-than-life-aura.

I was fortunate to travel to Sin City for work and decided to stay a couple extra days as a vacation with Katie. Ten days in total. It was an amount of time that anyone who heard how long I was staying agreed was too much time in Vegas. But, not being born a gambling man (and never showing an inclination to become one), I figured I should take advantage of the company-provided airfare and get to know the city a little better.

The view of The Strip from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The view of The Strip from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Las Vegas is a city of excess. If it’s been done successfully somewhere else, it’ll be done bigger and more extravagantly in Vegas. One should be able to adequately gauge this within minutes of landing and seeing the rows of slot machines greeting arrivals at the airport. Seeing The Strip from the airplane, and traveling there from the airport, you get the sense that this is a sort of Disney World for adults. Hotels shaped like buildings in New York, the pyramids in Egypt, and even one with an Eiffel Tower built into it — each mega-hotel endeavors to be bigger and more over-the-top than the previous. And each tries to lure tourists into never leaving the hotel confines (and, honestly, it’s not a bad idea — as soon as you leave any hotel you’re met with heat that feels like you’re standing under an exhaust pipe and crowds that put the Red Line at rush hour to shame) with gambling, dozens of restaurants and world-class shows. My dad made the apt comparison — each mega-hotel is like a cruise ship on land.

It’s interesting how Vegas embraces this lack of culture as its own culture. Nothing is real in Las Vegas, it’s just a bigger or smaller copy of something else. Where else in the world can you, in a day, ride a Venetian gondola, go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, stand next to a replica of George Clooney and watch a volcano explode? As you walk down the street, people pretend to be other things (Mickey Mouse, Transformers, Sylvester Stallone, Homer Simpson and, my favorite, Pee-Wee Herman with bike) so you can pose with them for a picture (and the inevitable tip). It’s in this copying of other places that Vegas derives its own hodgepodge identity, one where anything goes.

And anything that can go, does. Prostitution (so I hear), alcohol, smoking, gambling, in any combination, are all fine. A typical night of wandering around the strip can entail buying a beer at Walgreens (where alcohol is normally priced; in the casinos you’ll drop about $7 for a Coors Light), cracking it open as soon as you leave the store and drinking it as you weave through the crowds where the ugliest men and women on earth are trying to shove in your hand cards advertising “women on demand,” occasionally trying your luck (and always losing at) games of chance in smoke-filled casinos.

There’s a nearly infinite number of things to do and see in Vegas, and while there for work and with Katie, I managed to hit up a pretty good sampling:

The fountains at the Bellagio.

The fountains at the Bellagio.

  • The fountains in front of the Bellagio and the volcano erupting in front of the Mirage are absolutely not to be missed. The fountains go off every 15 minutes at night and are choreographed to a different song every time. When trudging down The Strip and seeing every square foot occupied with something, it’s astounding to see such a big artificial lake in front of the hotel. And, while standing next to a volcano in Las Vegas in the middle of August doesn’t sound like the most climatically sound idea, it’s worth experiencing for the final blast of fire which you can feel in the parking lot.
  • Cirque Du Soleil shows have become a staple of Las Vegas entertainment. Figuring we should experience a little bit of nudity during our stay, but keep it classy, Katie and I saw Zumanity, Cirque’s take on burlesque. We weren’t disappointed, with top-notch acrobatics and plenty of adult content to boot.
  • If you’re going to Vegas with the idea of gambling and eating for cheap, head to downtown. An eight-mile bus ride, old Vegas has some of the older casinos (read: better odds) and still some spectacles. Check out the Golden Nugget’s pool, which features a tube slide through a shark tank. Also, at night the world’s largest jumbo-tron gets lit up above Fremont Street. It’s kind of neat, but I would have much preferred downtown Vegas’ second choice for revitalization. Sadly, the main reason we went downtown, the Fremont Experience zipline, had closed.
  • If you take the shuttle from the airport to your hotel (about half the price of a cab), the company gives you a little booklet filled with ads and coupons. Katie and I found a two-for-one deal to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower (normally about $20 each). It really is a cool view of The Strip, and if you go up at night be sure to catch the Bellagio fountains from up high — it’s a totally different experience from the ground.

    I think George is giving a drink to America's new sweetheart.

    I think George is giving a drink to America’s new sweetheart.

  • Some guy on the street was handing out coupons for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, so we checked it out. While I thought the walkthrough was a bit brief,  the whole museum is basically a series of photo-ops to stand next to your favorite celebrity (or your favorite celebrity of the ones available). One of the nice surprises was that you’re able to go up and touch the statues (I’m talking to you, guy behind Brittney Spears).
  • One activity you will assuredly do in Las Vegas is eat well. With a world-class array of dining establishments, you could easily spend a world-class amount of money stuffing your face. Some of the bigger-named places I visited were Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR (which was OK) and Bobby Flay’s Mesa (very good). Going back to excesses, Vegas is also the land of buffets. One of the best is the weekend brunch buffet at the Wynn. Don’t think, just go.

It’s more than a little disorientating to live in a fantasy land like Las Vegas for ten days and then have to return to the real world. But, at the end of the trip’s duration, I was done with the heat and crowds and ready to return to a land of reasonable prices. I think Vegas is one of the very few places that has something for everybody, so if you have the time (and the money), check it out.

Please note: I made it the whole post without a “What happens in Vegas” reference. Talk about restraint.

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Posted in: Lincoln Square