Where we stayed: Planet Hollywood Hotel | rate it 2/5 | +v's: excellent location, roomy room | -v's pricey, dated interiors, stuffy
How long: 3 nights, 2.5 days
How we got there: 1 hour plane from San Francisco
How we left: 3 hour plane to New Orleans
City highlight: Grand Canyon helicopter ride
We arrived late into Sin City, aka Las Vegas, and headed straight out. The route from our Planet Hollywood hotel room to the Strip was forcibly only via the smoke-filled casino which by 8.30pm was littered with pokie players and roulette rollers. As we emerged onto The Strip the dazzling lights, thumping music, flamingo girls, naked painted ladies, giant drinking vessels, and metallic Lamborghinis hit us straight away.
A stroll down towards the North end of Las Vegas Boulevard (towards the Wynn) and back again is well worth the 8,000 steps. Our advice though, avoid eateries directly off the strip - we made this regrettable mistake in an extremely hungry state on night one. Do not go to Guy Fieri, you'll be disappointed, after all mac'n'cheese does not belong in a burger!
Day two we spent at the North Premium Outlets, otherwise known as shopping paradise. These outlets are dam good. Luxury brands are even discounted (c.25%+), with Nike, Under Armour, J Crew, Kate Spade, Ted Baker, Kenneth Cole, La Coste, Sunglass Hut and heaps more (175 stores in total), discounting c.50-70% off. We shopped up a storm, and six hours later emerged from the outlet centre weighed down with new, glorious goodies. We also browsed the Fashion Show Mall which has a chaotic Macy's and Nordstrom, but it's just a typical mall. However, the discovery of Johnny Rockets there was a god send - that burger kicked off our "American Burger Stakes" where we rated six of Americas fast-food burger joints (if you're interested, aTwtQ's instagram and facebook have the summary).
If you are visiting Las Vegas, shows are a must. Las Vegas' casinos bring in US$6 billion per annum for Nevada State, and there are more hotel rooms in the city than in the whole of Europe, so you can just imagine the stage shows that are put on to attract visitors. Our first of two shows was Pen & Teller at the Rio. It was a mind-boggling, comical and genuine magic show - a must see. And Pen came out to greet his fans afterwards and took a selfie with us.
The sheer scale of finances that are poured into entertainment in this city is evident in the Bellagio's theatre, home to Cirque de Solai's 'O' show. The retracting water stage is spectacular. The cast are unbelievably nimble and graceful and their costumes are stunning. The music and singing is live, with the lead singer and her back-ups belting out their brilliant voices from their own stage. The water, the fire, acrobatics and props in the O show make for a memorable event.
We had a lovely meal at the two Michelin Star, Picasso, on the edge of the Bellagio's grand water fountains. It made for a stunning outlook from our table. We dined in the company of Bellagio's private $330 million Picasso collection, under the watchful eyes of security. The paintings are right there for guests to enjoy right up close; they are a huge draw card as is the food which was absolutely divine, and works of art themselves. We had the pre-theatre, three course set menu for US$75 each (ex-drinks, tax and tips). Just get there between 5.30 and 6.00pm to take advantage of this deal. The grape Panna Cotta with ginger sorbet was delish.
The highlight of Vegas for us was our helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon with Maverick Helicopters. It is probably the best $500 I've spent and I couldn't imagine viewing the Canyon's raw beauty in any other way. The photos from this trip are gorgeous, so there are plenty more at the bottom of this post.
The spectacular rock formations in the Canyon are truly amazing. I eagerly looked for wild Mustangs over the desert plains to no avail, but the plains' ridges, rocks, cacti, wispy grasses and Lake Meed make for a beautiful sight. We flew over small lake side villages, the town of Boulder and the Hoover Dam, before rising over the tall walls of the Canyon and commencing our decent down into the 29km wide valley. We landed in the middle of the Grand Canyon, sipped champagne and took in the peace of our surroundings. Layers of rock zig zag in shades of burnt orange, kayakers paddle gracefully down the muddy river, and the 1.1km sides of the Canyon towered grandly above us. The helicopter gave us an insightful perspective on how Vegas' infrastructure supports it's c.2 million population, and 40m+ tourists per year in the middle of the Nevada desert. The Hoover Dam, expansive solar power farms and America's largest man-made lake, Lake Meed, contribute power and water. Sadly, Lake Meed is at its lowest level ever due to reduced mountain snowfall and rainfall, which averages just 4 inches per year, and is expected to hold just 20 years more of water supply at current levels.