Las Vegas – Grand Canyon helicopter ride, ‘LOVE’ & ‘Le Reve’

Sopping wet Strip in Las Vegas

Sopping wet Strip in Las Vegas

Vegas, baby! – The next adventure in a previously uncharted territory begins. Most of our travelling friends have been to Las Vegas, so we came armed with plenty of advice and enthusiasm…and a very long list of ‘must see and do’ items.

But before our arrival in Vegas, we were fortunate enough to begin our holiday in a very stress-free manner by staying overnight in the Rydges Hotel at Sydney airport – no rushing, just an amble across the road to checkin, a wander up to the Etihad lounge (which opened in March – so all is new and schmick), jumping to the front of the line (thanks to John’s ‘gold membership’), plonking ourselves in premium economy and being handed a glass of sparkling white before take off (the second for the day, after the one in the lounge). Not a bad start to the vacation. Also love that I could begin watching a movie immediately, and not give a hoot about the rest of the passengers jostling to their seats and fighting for overhead locker space.

Had our first experience flying with Delta on our connecting flight, Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Had heard mixed reviews from friends, so was a little dubious. At checkin, we were ‘encouraged’ (read ‘told’) to use the checkin kiosk, which (as I knew it would) proved problematic – maybe because we are Australian…whatever. When an attendant came to our assistance, he messed it up further (by cancelling John’s flight), but he then bent over backwards to fix it, and what was once the only Delta flight of our trip not in economy plus, became just that, which meant extra leg room for the lanky dude next to me in the plane. Nice.

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After 19 hours, we made it to Vegas and the Vdara Hotel. This was one of the best recommendations from dear and experienced Vegas friends – an ‘all suite’ hotel with no casino, and no smoking. Technically not on the strip, but only just off it, the Vdara is part of the City Center complex and MGM group, right next to the Bellagio. We checked in to a room on the 16th floor in a corner suite, which unfortunately, did not have a view of the Bellagio fountains (not high enough). Disappointing, so rang down to the front desk, was told that something would be available for the following night, and would we like to move then? Yes, we would. So we did our thing (see later in post for details) for the morning and early afternoon. Arrived back at hotel, checked with front desk, where a team member contacted housekeeping at 3:50pm for a time for when the room would be ready. We were told to come back down with our bags in 40 min. We got changed for our show, packed up, and returned 50 min later. What then ensued was a back and forth between the desk and us and the bar trying to get things sorted over a period of an hour and a half. What eventuated was a competent woman who apologised for the mix-up and miscommunication, and the offer of a complimentary upgrade to a one-bedroom penthouse suite, but without a view of the fountains – would this be acceptable? Why, yes, it would. Thank you, Julie. And our drinks at the bar and the daily resort fee would be complimentary for our inconvenience. Why, thank you, Julie…again. Human error happens, but it’s how a business deals with the error that matters – and for us, we will now always stay at Vdara when in Vegas. (And, by the way, the room DID have a view of the fountains from its prime 54th floor position – it was just off to the side, not in optimum viewing angle.)

Here endeth the upgrade story. So, for the rest of the Vegas journey…

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On our first night we headed to The Mirage to see The Beatles’ LOVE by Cirque du Soleil. We kicked off the evening with a truly yummy vegetarian pizza at California Kitchen in the casino – didn’t need the bread or salad (the portion sizes are already doing my head in!), before heading through the slot machines to the theatre. LOVE was one of the most amazing pieces of theatre either of us have ever seen. John has written his account of the experience of this show and two other shows HERE, so check it out (the ‘here’ is not quite ready – will update soon). All I know is that I have NEVER managed to stay awake in a show the day of arrival in a new international city, and this one had me on this weird ADHD child journey – pilfering my attention from one moment to the next – and each moment, I was buzzing like I had had too much red cordial! It was poignant, thrilling and fun – what a perfect start to our Vegas visit.

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Our next morning continued in this vein – we had a Maverick Helicopter ride over Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon and The Strip. It included landing 3,500ft into the canyon for a spot of bubbly and pastries, before heading out again to Eagle Point and Guano Point (where they once had an industry in gathering bat shit – seriously – even had fancy steel constructions that lowered men down the wall of the canyon to the caves to scrape caca off the walls!). The one disappointment of this amazing trip was the missing “brief introduction to the Hualapai Indian legends and culture” – that was non-existent, and was the reason we upgraded from the other versions of the trip. Slight disappointment there, Maverick – maybe they should change their advertising ‘blurb’. Our pilot was very cool – Matt. He used to be a radio announcer and a medivac pilot. Interesting life.

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After our helicopter tour, it rained. Yes. It rained. In Vegas. It rained on and off for 3 days! – in a place that usually gets about 4 inches of rain a year!. And it’s not a city built for much rain – all the external escalators went on strike! Not an issue for us, but for those less mobile (or less fit), it caused a few problems. And there were certainly drainage issues to contend with. But we soldiered on…

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Exploring Caesar’s Palace and the Forum Shops was next on the list. Was more than a tad gobsmacked at the al fresco atmosphere that is actually inside – these fake shop streets that have blue sky above with a smattering of clouds, which all fades to a lovely pink to simulate sunset as the day goes on. This phenomenon is not unique in Vegas, this was just our first exposure to it! We had lunch at Spago’s, which provided some decent vegetarian options: Spago classic chopped vegetable salad – diced fresh vegetables, provolone cheese, red wine vinaigrette and a quinoa and faro salad – field greens, feta cheese, cucumber tomatoes, green goddess dressing. We also decided to indulge in the “crispy calamari” – Fresno chilli, scallion, lemon-garlic aioli…this one was disappointing – too much deep fried fat flavour overrode anything else.

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We ventured out into the rain again until we hit the Bellagio, and discovered a lovely little inside route back to our hotel – less moisture that way, just more slot machines and tables. After our room eviction followed by our upgrade, we walked most of the length of the Strip to Wynne in just enough time to make the 7pm show of Le Rêve…only problem was – we had tickets to the 9:30pm show. Shut up! So we went for another meal at Andrea’s – an incredibly trendy Asian fusion restaurant with a perfect selection of food, especially for us. They had the most delicious greens I think I’ve ever tasted: wok-fried broccoli and garlic and ponzu, char-grilled asparagus with preserved lemon and truffle-salted edamame. Brilliant pinot grigio, too (wine list was on an ipad – how cool is that?). Fourth meal of the day, but who’s counting?

Now, some people (even local taxi drivers) think that Le Rêve is a Cirque du Soleil show, but it isn’t. It certainly has its roots in this once unique genre, and has the same director as many of the Cirque shows (including their famous ‘water show,’ O) in Franco Dragone, but it is from a different production company. [SIDEBAR: google the history of the Picasso painting ‘Le Rêve’ which was Steve Wynn’s inspiration for his casino and this show.]

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Not really sure how to describe this show. The fact that it was all done in a big, deep pool (one million gallons) with mechanised, moving set pieces and many, many actors/performers/divers/swimmers was alone enough to have me engrossed, but there was more. I know that the beauty of it touched me, and the grace and strength of the choreography connected with me on an emotional level, but it was what appeared to be incredibly dangerous moments that had me responding in guttural, breathy ways that demonstrated my concerns, my fears and my enjoyment in audience code. It’s obvious that the breathtaking solo dives from up to 20 metres in the air were impressive and risky, but what was probably less apparent to some is that the multiple underwater moments, with many performers needing air support simultaneously, were more risky. [SIDEBAR: every 6 months the show is re-choreographed to keep it fresh for repeat customers.]

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The footage on YouTube of the underwater ‘show’ – with the divers waiting with air for the performers is quite extraordinary. But glad I didn’t go with the package that included watching this live action on a screen while the show is happening – it would’ve been too much of a split focus – there was so much happening on stage, that I wouldn’t been able to do the ‘backstage’ stuff justice (and would’ve missed something important above the water).

So far, Vegas is exceeding expectations…

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About bontaks

Nic is the the 'Bon' part of 'Bontaks.' Together we are Nic and John - two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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