Vegas for Beginners

By Laura Ann Klein

My first trip down the Vegas strip, I couldn’t even talk to my host because I was too busy pointing, squealing, gasping, and giggling over the grandiose lights, the flashing neon, and the almost absurdist take on places like New York and the Eiffel Tower. I was in love. I fell in love with the fabulous excess of it all.  I adore the frank sexuality, the frank excess, and the unapologetic ploys to separate me from my money.  And I give my money to Vegas freely. Like I’m a Marine on leave in a strip club: I eat, drink, and sleep in luxurious abandon. But I don’t gamble. I’ve never dropped a coin or a bill into slot machine or video poker machine.  Outside of leaving after a rowdy weekend, the only thing that makes me sad in Vegas is watching the desperate and haunted stares many people wear as they plug money into machines or lay it on tables.  Besides, under my devil-may-care party girl persona I don in Vegas, I’m innately sensible and know the Hard Rock Hotel didn’t build itself on the winnings of all those nice people who bused in from California or flew in from Oklahoma.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a woman in an elevator during my first trip. She was a beautiful woman (aren’t all women in Vegas lovely?) with a gorgeous pair of sandals only suited for the boudoir or a casino.

“Your shoes, they are so…so…Vegas.”

“I know! Aren’t they fun! I would never wear them at home, either. Don’t you love this place?!”

“OhmygodImhavingsomuchfun!” Spilled from my mouth like an overexcited six-year-old high on cake and ice cream.

“After the first time I was here, my legs hurt for a week because I couldn’t stop walking around and looking at everything.”

I knew exactly what she meant because I wanted to see it all. Sleep felt unnecessary. To sleep would mean missing something.

It’s impossible to see everything in a long weekend because there are so many sides to Vegas. There’s the strip with the iconic overlarge casino hotels; downtown is starting to come into it’s own with chilled-out restaurants and bars. Freemont Street is a tribute to Vegas in the early years when the mob ruled and everyone wanted to be Frank Sinatra. There’s sexy and swank casino resorts near the strip but considered “off the strip”. Downtown and the arts district has it’s own special vibe, with cute antique shops, local restaurants, theaters, galleries and museums.  Vegas deserves multiple trips to experience the many different sides of this American icon.

But—God forbid—if I had only one more trip to Las Vegas; these are the sites, the restaurants, bars I would want to experience one last time and the hotel I would power nap.

Everyone who touches down in Vegas has to take part in the Freemont Street Experience, the epicenter where all this glitz and excess started, home of the sexy Golden Nugget, The Gold Rush Casino, a zip line and the hourly Viva Vision laser light show.  The street has been turned into a pedestrian mall dedicated to eating, drinking, and gambling. You can lose your shirt and then step out into the street and pose with lithesome young women in full Vegas showgirl regalia. Showgirls not your speed? Darth Vader or a zombie might be willing to pose with you.  A walk through the Golden Nugget is always fun, especially if you land at the Ice Bar where you can enjoy the ambiance of the beautiful pool area without checking in to the hotel.

I couldn’t spend a final weekend in Vegas without doing a drive by of the Gehry building: The Cleveland Clinic for brain health. It’s a shiny impossible structure and every “side” is intriguing.  Another intriguing piece of architecture two miles from the Gehry building is the Neon Museum that is home to fragments of Vegas history. The tour is outstanding and taught me a lot about the history of my favorite playground. It’s also one of the most aesthetically pleasing places I’ve ever been with the careful arrangement of the pieces.

Speaking of sleeping, I don’t do a lot of it when I’m in Vegas so I need to make the most of that time, too.   One of the best places for a good night’s sleep is Hard Rock Hotel.  It’s about a mile from the strip and three miles from the airport. There isn’t any need to seek out restaurants anywhere else between sleeps because Hard Rock offers up a full compliment of dining experiences with everything from the 24/7 diner Mr. Lucky’s, to the elegant 35 Steaks + Martinis.  The rooms at the Hard Rock are generously sized, with exquisitely comfortable beds and pillows so perfect I sighed when I laid my head on it.  The ambiance of the hotel is most definitely that of a posh Vegas party but unlike many of the other hotels actually on Las Vegas Boulevard, it has a more approachable vibe to it. Maybe it’s the steady stream of rock and roll playing throughout the hotel. Or perhaps it’s the friendly and professional staff with an almost psychic ability to please. The pools are legend at the Hard Rock, too.

If you travel to Vegas between May and September you have to stay at a hotel with an array of pools. Amazing, over the top swimming pools are as Vegas as gambling. Hard Rock has five pools, each one with it’s own special vibe, be it the adrenaline driven Paradise Beach or the more laidback Nirvana with it’s romantic ambience. You can enjoy the Hard Rock pools even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel and just want to take a dip, have a drink, and watch the people.

Watching people in Vegas is probably my favorite pastime and it’s free.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My last trip to Las Vegas was sponsored by Hard Rock Hotel but all the opinions are my own.

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