"Save the best for last" is a popular saying I grew up with and as we left behind the glitz and glamour of LA last year on the final leg of our California road trip and headed towards Las Vegas I wondered if it would be the case this time.
The drive from LA to Las Vegas is breathtaking and I know if you have read my earlier pieces on this trip I have said that before, but this was on a different level. In place of the dramatic sea views along the Pacific Coast Highway are miles of open desert, blue skies and wild, rugged scenery. How can that be breathtaking? Well it just is. You really do feel that it is just you and the elements and for a woman of my age it was a bit reminiscent of Thelma & Louise, but in place of a 1966 Ford Thunderbird and my best mate was a Nissan 4x4, air-conditioning, my husband and teens.
My husband last visited Las Vegas on a road trip with his own parents as a teenager, but for me and our teens it was our first experience. Regardless of how often you may have seen it on TV or in a movie, nothing prepares you for your first sighting. The Vegas skyline looms out of the hazy heat of the desert and is made up of the most incongruous collection of familiar landmarks from other renowned cities' skylines. The Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and the London Eye all sit alongside each other.
America does everything on a big scale but Las Vegas epitomises that more than anywhere else that we visited and that applies to the hotels too. Ask anyone who has been and everyone will have a different opinion on where is best to stay and why. All the hotels are landmarks in their own right and are big and brash. The Excalibur looks like a Disney castle, The Luxor constitutes a Sphinx and a Pyramid and Caesar's Palace needs little introduction. Then there is the Mandalay Bay with its very own Shark Reef. We opted for the more sedate Cosmopolitan, less theatrical but equally as grand and dramatic as the others, with a jaw-dropping chandelier and bedroom views to match.
By day everything looks a bit tawdry and sad in Las Vegas, but by night the city comes alive. Lights flash on every external wall, in fact it is so bright it is easy to become disoriented; fountains erupt into life and jets of water are synchronised with music. Walking along the strip at night is an absolute must to appreciate the full Vegas experience. It is a complete sensory overload but one not to be avoided.
Vegas is synonymous with hedonism, great entertainment and excess. Gambling is what made the city what it is. When banned in California, Nevada made it legal in 1931. So did we gamble? Well yes we did. It is hard to resist. The atmosphere is addictive and particularly after you have had a fabulous meal, a few cocktails and the teens are out of sight! I would love to say we won but as with all things addictive it is difficult to stop and of course probably like many others we got over-excited and lost!
However, although every hotel foyer is filled from morning until night with shouts from tables, the crash of coins or the annoying simulation of a computer slot machine there is alot more on offer.
Las Vegas houses some of the best restaurants and bars with an atmosphere to match. It is home to some of the finest boutiques, they may all be empty by day but by night, the five storey shopping emporiums come alive. Vegas also stages some great shows, some of which have literally been showing for years, including my childhood favourites Donny & Marie Osmond!
The Blue Man Group was our show of choice whilst in town and we were not disappointed. The show combines many different categories of music and art, both popular and obscure and what they can do with some steel drums and paint or a box of cereal needs to be seen to be believed.
I wasn't sure what to expect, but safe to say it was like nothing I had experienced before. It is comedy, theatre, rock concert and dance party all rolled into one. One thing it is not, is logical. Cast aside your inhibitions. It is a time to go nuts and I say that as someone who generally prefers not to do that, well with strangers at least. There is nowhere to hide in this show and audience participation is a necessity but it is not on quite the level you expect. Well worth a visit if you want something that will appeal to the whole family.
Entertainment aside, there is another side to Las Vegas and that is its accessibility to the many natural and man-made wonders of the area and fabulous tourist hotspots, not least the Hoover Dam and of course the fantastic Grand Canyon both of which are within easy reach, which means the madness of the city can be easily balanced by the peace and wide open spaces in the desert beyond. More fabulous views!
Las Vegas is cheesy, sleazy, artificial and excessive beyond all boundaries of excess you may have encountered before. It is completely unique, wonderfully awful and awfully wonderful and that takes some doing. It wasn't the best but for the 36 hours we were there before flying home it provided a fabulous and unforgettable finale to our trip.
This post is the final part in a series on our California Road Trip with Teens. If you missed the previous posts you can view them via the links below.