After seeing the debauchery of Sin City firsthand, the neon-lit mirage planted in the middle of Nevada desert falls short of the swanky mental image I formulated from movies like Casino and Ocean’s Eleven. The energy, extensive shopping, and hustle of Las Vegas did not disappoint, but the seedy feeling that goes beyond even the lowest budget strip shows and chain-smoking grandmothers gambling away their social security checks hangs over the city like a tour group over a $9 buffet.
The Vegas strip seems almost divided at the city center with the Sinatra-era icons like the Flamingo and Caesar’s Palace on the north end and casinos New York New York and Excalibur catering to a younger demographic on the south side. The former each have distinctive personalities but I highly recommend the Bellagio (even if it is just over a decade old) for its carnivàle atmosphere with paper balloons and men in smoking jackets. The Flamingo as well for its lack of pomp and old school vibe even if it is a bit run down. The original carpet walked on by decades of tourists still covering the Flamingo floors may or may not be a selling point.
On the south end, the number of families is offset by singles and couples behaving as those who are young, dumb, and full of fun do. These casinos, while grand and extravagant in their own right didn’t have the nostalgia of old Vegas and unless you recently hit puberty, it’s possible you will end up feeling like the old person at a club on teen night at any of these casinos. Beyond gambling and shopping, the buffet and bar industries also thrive in Vegas, and I had the best meal of my life on the 11th floor of the Eiffel Tower Paris Hotel, a half-size replica of the original that overlooks the Bellagio Fountain.
Pedestrian bridges crossing over the strip provide a quick pathway to more opulence and excess while stooping against the concrete walls of the bridges are beggars holding signs asking for help because they are stranded or hungry. Some play music for coins, some pat the dogs in their laps, and others hide their embarrassed faces while hoping for the best.
Las Vegas is
an expensive town and the contradiction of well-fed families and wealthy
tourists subtly turning their heads away from the darker reality of the city was
not lost on me; but like anything, you quickly grow immune and the shadows
blend into the neon and sparkle. You even grow immune to the shirtless teenage
boy covered in city grime catching crickets to eat, oblivious to the laughter
The shopping complexes go on for miles and are something like 5th Avenue cum strip mall. The shops sell everything from high end designs where no one seemed to be shopping to $3 souvenir flip-flops, probably due to many tourists packing their sexiest shoes and quickly replacing them as there is at least a half mile walk between casinos.
I don’t mean to criticize elements of Vegas if your experience was “The. Best. Vacation. Ever!” as there is something for everyone and that is part of its appeal. Exploring outside of town in search of Area 51 and nearly getting arrested for trespassing on government property was a high point of mine, the details of which I am not at liberty to discuss.
Vegas has been called Disneyland for adults, which is appropriate as I have heard Disneyland is crowded, expensive, and earns most of its money from fantastical characters making promises they will never fulfill. Even with grand pseudo-European structures, posh and pretentious hotel rooms, and a quality of shopping that the average Vegas vacationer probably can’t afford, you will find more culture in a brick of blue cheese.
Vegas is worth seeing once to take in the experience firsthand and rid yourself of the fantasies you’ve seen in movies, but for a relaxing vacation, do yourself a favor and go anywhere but Vegas Baby.