LAS VEGAS – I used to think I wasn’t a Vegas guy.
That seems to be changing.
The scale of the city, with its towering hotels and spraying fountains and oceans of pulsing lights, can be overwhelming at first. But the more I get to know it the more I find it to be a truly remarkable place. People came here years and years ago when there was little but rocks and dry desert scrub, and they’ve turned it one of the tourist meccas of the world. And also the most popular U.S. destination for Canadians.
All of this is all merely kind of a background note to say my latest visit to Vegas, and third overall, was easily my favourite. This place has grown on me, and here are some great takeaways from my latest trip, sponsored by the folks at Expedia.ca.
I used to collect posters and photos of sleek sports cars when I was a kid. Then I became a father and started swooning over the newest model of mini-van, with automatic doors and sleek wheel designs. Yeah, I know.
I haven’t thought a lot about cars lately. But the Expedia.ca folks had me try out a morning in January with World Class Driving.
The concept is that for a price (roughly $300 US and up) you get to spend a few hours driving the cars of your dreams around cool locations outside of Las Vegas; spots like the open roads of Lake Mead or the incredible (more on this later) colours of Red Rock Canyon.
I got to take out a ridiculously fast Ferrari Italiano, which looked like a sleeker, more angular version of the Batmobile and drove like a rocket; all rumbles and power thrusts and machismo to spare. It was fun, and the car handled great. But I was more than happy to change over to a Porsche Carrera, which I quickly lowered the top on as it was something like 15 C, albeit a little windy. But this is what Canadians do, so down came the roof.
Simply put, the car was glorious. It was powerful but I didn’t feel like I was strapped to a nuclear warhead. Instead, it was smooth and cornered like nothing I’d ever driven before. Two minutes into my ride, I was grinning like an idiot.
We pulled over to change cars. My next turn was supposed to be a Lamborghini. But they said it was more fierce than the Ferrari, so I took a pass. Yeah, not many folks turn down the chance to drive a Lamborghini, but I figured I’d already found my new dream car.
Later that same day we took a four-hour tour out to Red Rock Canyon with Pink Jeep Tours for a much slower-paced, natural experience. I’d been to the Grand Canyon before with Maverick Helicopters, which dropped us off halfway down the canyon and served us sparkling wine and let us walk about a bit, admiring the Colorado River and the towering cliffs. It was awe-inspiring, but Red Rock Canyon is just as cool in a different way.
We stopped to admire the deep red and sand-coloured rock of Calico Ridge, which has massive striations in the rock and huge, crumbly boulders that look like something out of a Nevada desert Rorschach test. There was a bride and groom clambering on the rocks below us for photos, while kids and families climbed steep ridges and free climbers made their way up sheer rock faces. Very cool.
We also took a short walk down a trail along a small creek and spotted ancient native American hand prints on a rock wall dating back thousands of years. The late afternoon light in the desert is something to behold; all shadows and playful light and deep reds and purples and indigo. It’s a photographer’s dream.
I absolutely adore The Beatles and fall in love again every time I see the Cirque du Soleil Love show at The Mirage. It’s almost beyond description and just a total blast to see. I also loved seeing Matt Goss at Caesar’s Palace on a recent visit. On my latest sojourn to Sin City I accidentally discovered a band called Post Modern Juke Box, which takes modern tunes like “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen and turns them into vintage sounding, swinging tunes sung by vampy-dressed women with a killer backing band.
I did the Grand Canyon tour with Maverick Helicopters a few years ago and found it magical. We touched down inside the canyon on native American ground for a half hour or so and had champagne. Mostly I just watched the ancient Colorado River make its way through a canyon ground down into brilliantly coloured bands of red and yellow and black-and-brown coloured stone and rock through millions of years of flowing water and ice and sun and rain and occasional snow.
I was so moved by the experience that I even wrote something of a poem or haiku, since lost thank heavens.
This time my chopper experience was a 15-minute night ride high in the sky over downtown, a short but thrilling experience that revealed The Strip in all its excessive, wonderful, colourful, neon and searchlight glory. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the second row right behind the pilot, which is the best spot of all I think as the pilot keeps The Strip on his left on the way north and again on the way back.
Folks in the front seat did well, but if you go I’d recommend trying to avoid the middle seat in the back or the right-hand seat in the back as you’ll have a blocked view of The Strip, albeit a pretty wide open view of the glowing lights of the suburbs and a nice outline of the nearby mountains.
We flew Air Canada rouge from Toronto to Las Vegas, and they were generous enough to pay for our flights. I’ve flown the airline before and find it just fine. I do miss the seat-back television screens you get on most full Air Canada flights, but I downloaded the Air Canada rouge app recently and was able to watch some TV shows on my iPhone. Most folks bring a tablet or an iPad, but you also can rent one for $10 and watch all sorts of movies and TV shows or listen to music. There’s no USB charger like you find on many Air Canada planes, but there is a power outlet available in all the rows I’ve seen. Some folks miss it as it’s dark and down at the bottom of the seats in front of you, but they’re there.
One thing I didn’t know is that there’s no duty free shopping on Air Canada rouge flights, so if you want to stock up on jewelry or liquor you’re best to do so at the airport. An added bonus of flying into Vegas is that you can buy duty free liquor AFTER you’ve landed on your flight from Canada. So no worries if you don’t have time at the airport prior to boarding your flight.
I’ll have more on Las Vegas and some great hotels in my next posting later this week….
Look for these and other activities on the Expedia.ca website!