LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Gargantuan. Glamorous. Glitzy. Gaudy. Gambling.
And much, much more.
That's what you'll find when you visit the fabulous whirlwind mecca known as Las Vegas. The city that never sleeps is a very fitting description for one of the fastest growing communities in the nation, with close to 40 million visitors showing up last year and more than $30 billion in new projects planned.
Traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard in the
middle of the strip doesn’t slow down at night.
Having a daughter who is a resident there, I've made the journey a dozen times or more. But I'm always amazed at the spectacle of the Strip. From the magnificence of Mandalay Bay at the south end to the tallest structure in Las Vegas, the Stratosphere, at the north end, it's just one great entertainment resort after another.
Presently, the City Center, the most expensive privately funded construction project in U.S. history, is about a year from completion. Valued at more than $11 billion, the 68-acre project sits between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio and is the work of MGM Mirage Corp. It will be a mini city within itself with a fire station, casinos, condos, theaters, parking garage, restaurants, convention center and more.
Our stay this trip was at the Monte Carlo, right next to the City Center's construction, which was not really a problem at all. The people of Las Vegas are used to the renovation and remodeling, and they handle the traffic quite well. Although this is a four-star resort and casino, the price was very reasonable, around $65 a day for the room. Right now, things are a little slow, and there are some very attractive deals out there.
- The Adirondack Museum is located on NY 28N/30, Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y.; www.adirondackmuseum.org or (518) 352-7311. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Oct. 14, plus Oct. 20-21, and Oct. 27-28. (The museum will be closed Sept. 7). Adults, $15; children 6-12, $8; children under 6 free. Admission is good for two consecutive days.
- CANOE TRAIN: Tickner's Canoe Rentals in Old Forge, N.Y., offers a "River & Rail" package where you can rent or put in your own canoe for a four-hour float trip down the Moose River, ending at an Adirondack Scenic Railroad stop downstream for a half-hour train ride back to the Thendara
station near Tickner's. Rates: $36 including canoe or kayak rental and train ride ($16 with your own boat) plus $8 fee per adult, $4 per child. The package is offered Thursday-Sunday;
reservations required. Tickner's is near the Utica exit on the New York
State Thruway; www.
ticknerscanoe.com/ or (315) 369-6286.
- ADIRONDACK SCENIC RAILROAD: www.adirondackrr.com/ or (800) 819-2291. Scenic excursions departing from Utica's Union Station, Thendara Station near Old Forge, Saranac Lake Union Depot and Lake Placid. Special themed rides include "eco lecture," murder mystery and train robbery themes, wine sampling, holiday trains. Schedule and fares vary; most trains run June to October.
- Travel time to Blue Mountain Lake is about eight hours.
Although Las Vegas is synonymous with gambling, there are a multitude of things to do and see - not only in the city, but on the outskirts of town as well. Just 45 minutes west is Red Rock Canyon, which has many geological features and is distinct in its red sandstone formations. You need to be careful hiking down into the canyon because of the extreme heat, sometimes reaching 115 degrees. So take plenty of water and stay hydrated.
Also, one of the nation's greatest wonders, the Hoover Dam, is located about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas near the Nevada/Arizona border and is visited by nearly 1 million tourists each year. It's well worth the time and money to take in the breathtaking view from the dam where you can see up the canyon taking in Lake Mead.
If you are a NASCAR fan, you have Las Vegas Motor Speedway just 15 minutes from the Strip. It's host to a major race every spring along with many other truck and sprint car races.
However, if you don't want to leave the luxury of the city, there's a whole week's worth of entertainment right outside your window. And a lot is free.
Topping the list is the Fremont Street Experience. Not only are there the electrifying overhead light show held every evening at dusk, but the redesigned three blocks from Las Vegas Boulevard to Eighth Street. Expanded sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and banners are just part of the six-month improvement project to bring visitors back to the old section of town.
A must see is the Stratosphere, a 1,150-foot-tall structure with three thrill rides at the top. On a clear day, you can view all four corners of Las Vegas for miles and miles from the observation tower. If heights aren't your thing, then stay in the casino.
The Luxor is distinctive as it's shaped like a pyramid and is decorated in the ornate style of ancient Egypt. The elevators actually travel on an angle as you go to your room.
MGM Grand has the Rain Forest Cafe and gift shop. New York, New York gives you the feeling of actually being in the Big Apple with the Statue of Liberty and the skyline along with many of the popular sites of the city.
Paris has a one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower outside where you can go to the top and see the city. Although not as tall as the Stratosphere, it's still a very impressive experience.
Excalibur is like a castle from medieval times with King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable roaming the grounds. Circus Circus is just that. Plenty of games and rides for the younger set.
The Tropicana features a high wire act inside the casino. The Mirage has a very realistic volcano that erupts and thunders every 30 minutes. Treasure Island has an outdoor "Sirens of TI" show that performs four shows nightly.
Then you have the Fountains of Bellagio, a refreshing addition to your entertainment options, as it is the most complex water feature ever conceived. Caesars Palace has the robotic Race for Atlantis show along with all the shopping and dining you could ever imagine.
Probably the most impressive experience is the gondola rides inside the Venetian. Take a graceful and romantic glide down the Grand Canal, under bridges and balconies, and beside cafes as your singing gondolier serenades.
All of these places are lavish in design, with shopping, cafes, restaurants and theaters with all the top entertainers in the world including Celine Dion, Cher, Bette Midler, Elton John, Barry Manilow and others. Right now, "Phantom of the Opera" and "Mamma Mia," both Broadway shows, are playing to packed houses.
These are just some of the many fantastic places you can visit in Las Vegas. You would be hard-pressed not to enjoy any of the quality hotels and casinos on the Strip.
And then, there are the restaurants! You could pick any of the hotels or restaurants on the Strip and get a great meal. Make sure you check prices first because some are very expensive. I took the family to a great little Italian place in the Fashion Show Mall, called Maggianos. The food was delicious, prices were reasonable and service was terrific. We even had enough to take home for a midnight snack.
Even if you don't rent a car, transportation is not a problem. The Las Vegas Monorail runs 4.5 miles along the strip, or visitors can travel via the Deuce, the city's new double decker bus system. Walking is easy as well. There are walkways across Las Vegas Boulevard at several locations and a monorail between some of the south Strip casinos.
The bottom line is Las Vegas is for everyone today, whether you gamble, want to sightsee, eat or just relax by many of the unbelievable pools that are in this mecca of one of the most talked-about destinations in the world.