Mar 31

Written by: chris
3/31/2011  RssIcon

Las Vegas: Don’t Dream It – Be It!


There’s a sense of unreality about Las Vegas. First of all, it shouldn’t be here at all of course. This is the Mojave Desert after all. At best, a few roadhouses clustered around the local spring perhaps. Which is all it was for most of its history. In 1940 there were still only 8,000 people here; now there are nearly 2,000,000 in the metropolitan area of the city. And what a city! Glitz, glamour, neon, gourmet dining, lavish shows, luxury resorts…and gambling, of course. Visitors are encouraged to step out of their every day personas and indulge their alter ego. In the words of the song: “Don’t dream it – be it”. Vegas: here we come!

The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas


The magic starts as soon as I pick up my bag at McCarran Airport: I am greeted by a uniformed chauffeuse who whisks us to the Cosmopolitan’s waiting s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d limo for the ten minute glide to the truly impressive lobby of Vegas’ latest star resort. Costing four billion dollars, with 3,000 rooms and freshly opened just a couple of months ago, this hotel is everything a Vegas resort should be: over-the-top pizzazz at its finest.
Our room was magnificent: sliding glass doors open to an private terrace overlooking the southern half of The Strip with views to the snow-capped mountains beyond. A large, decadent bathroom features a sensuous Japanese soaking tub obviously built for two, with those same stunning views over Vegas.

The Sahra Spa and Hammam is a serene oasis of desert rock and falling water where Dara and I retreated into our own private massage heaven. The dining is exceptional: we were indulged at Jaleo, China Poblano and Holsteins (just three out of the 13 restaurants and eateries) each was truly excellent. Best of all, the location of The Cosmopolitan is both central on The Strip and right on The Strip itself…So: time to explore that infamous Strip.


The Hip Strip


Exploring The Strip takes time, reasonable temperatures and good walking shoes. Fortunately, we had all three. Spring sunshine illuminated the seven kilometer stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard known as The Strip which is home to all the big name resorts, the entertainments and of course the casinos. From the Burmese themed Mandalay Bay at the southern end to the CN Tower kindred spirit, the Stratosphere at the northern end, The Strip is a pulsating ribbon of erupting volcanos, dancing fountains and pirate ship attacks.

Where else could the Statue of Liberty (New York, New York) look toward a golden pyramid (Luxor) and be over-shadowed by the Eifel Tower (Paris)? Where else could you take your loved one a gondola ride through the Venetian canals being serenaded by a gondolier? (Well, in Venice Italy actually…but you get the gist). By night, the neon burns brightly, brashly and there’s a barely contained exuberance about the crowded sidewalks. It’s the best people-watching place on Earth!

Love Cirque du Soleil

Las Vegas is Entertainment Central – everything is here from the raunchiest of strip clubs to the most famous performers in the world. Celine Dion was on stage while we were there, but with our 16 year old son for company we opted for Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” at The Mirage. As all who have been to a Cirque show would expect, the staging is mind-blowing, the acrobatics unbelievable, the plot eclectic…and when all this is harnessed to The Beatles music, the result is one of the best entertainments in Vegas…or anywhere else for that matter.
A big hit for all three of us; take a sneak peak at the video clip above. In fact we were so blown away by the experience that we immediately booked tickets for another Cirque performance: Mystère at Treasure Island, where the circus acts were perhaps even more amazing. Check all seven of the current productions in Vegas at:

The Grand Canyon with Maverick Helicopters


From the boisterous crowds of scintillating Las Vegas to the utter serenity of the bottom of the Grand Canyon in just 45 minutes…Culture shock doesn’t get any more shocking than this!

Although the Grand Canyon looks close to Vegas on the map, it’s a grueling 12 hours return drive – not including time on the Rim. Maverick Helicopters has the solution: we experienced their “Wind Dancer” tour which whirls you across the Mojave Desert, over Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam and gently deposits you close to the floor of the Grand Canyon for a few precious, breath-taking minutes of open-mouthed wonder.

Joel was our expert pilot and guide in Maverick’s uber-cool ECO-star helicopter - air-conditioned, quiet, comfortable and with great wraparound glass windows. He popped the champagne in celebration as we tried to take in the full majesty of this natural wonder of the world. There was no sign of another human being to be seen anywhere as the potent Colorado River – its colour living up to its name – roiled its restless, ruddy waters below us.

If you’re in Vegas – just do it. And do it with Maverick, as they’re the only VIP helicopter company in Vegas, and you want to do something as special as this with the very best in town:

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead


From a natural wonder of the world to an engineering marvel of the world…
No Hoover Dam, no Las Vegas - the explosive growth not only Vegas, but of much of the US Southwest was made possible by the construction of the Hoover Dam across the Black Canyon of the Colorado River in the 1930’s. We drove over the crest (nearly 400 meters), peered over the depth (221 meters) and explored the inside tunnels and turbines on a tour…All hugely impressive. Then we toured just a little of Lake Mead’s 885 km shoreline.

It’s still America’s biggest reservoir and has sweeping panoramas of desert scenery and mountain ranges around every turn. But it is also a very clear indicator of climate change and resource over-use: the centre image below shows the dam intake tower and how far beneath the top the water level now rests – you can also see the white tide mark of the former lake level in the background. The latest estimates suggest that Hoover Dam and Lake Mead will be unable to provide water and power by the end of this decade as a result of Lake Mead’s shrinkage. Read my review of an illuminating book for more on this at:

Red Rock Canyon and The Valley of Fire


Lured by the beauty of the Mojave Desert scenery, we rented a car and toured two more fabulous attractions close to Las Vegas. Red Rock Canyon features a 20km scenic loop road from which many hiking trails lead up into the side canyons. We picnicked and hiked the short trail to Lost Creek where a shimmering waterfall cascades to the canyon floor at this time of year.
The Valley of Fire State Park is possibly even more gorgeous than Red Rock Canyon. One hundred and fifty million year old brilliant red sandstone formations stand out vividly against the blue desert sky and their cave-riddled, knobbly formations are huge fun to scamper up for views over the desert.

This was a great trip because of the balance between the immersive decadence of Las Vegas and the incredible beauty of the landscapes surrounding the place. It’s the ultimate yin yang experience!


My thanks to Sunwing Vacations who not only assisted with our flights (non-stop Toronto to Vegas, on time both ways, choice of meals, drinks service, entertainment system, keenly priced and civilized departure times) but also in the persons of their Vegas-gurus, Reg and Maureen, provided invaluable advice as to how to get the best out of Vegas. Thanks too to Alyssa and Erin at The Cosmopolitan, to Joel and Dan at Maverick Aviation and to Kristin at Cirque du Soleil.

Tags: Western U.S.

3 comment(s) so far...


Re: Las Vegas, NV

WOW the new bridge looks spectacular ,that looks like an exciting heli ride also.

By Wayne Robertson on   9/27/2012

Re: Las Vegas, NV

WOW! what an amazing travel destination...... the combination of all the glitz and glamour in Las Vegas where you can see and experience so many wonderful things (and places), and contrast that to the grand splendour of the mountains, canyons and other wonders outside of civilization. Incredible beauty and wonder!

By Heidi Koller on   10/12/2013

Re: Las Vegas, NV

There are so many wonderful things to do and see. The Grand Canyon and the Red Rock Canyon are amazing.
How accessible are all these exotic features from Las Vegas ?

By Bess and Ken Riding on   10/12/2013

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