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The famous 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign

Canyons, Casinos and... Aliens?!

By Rachel Watson

Last updated: 17th March 2012

What’s the first thing you think when someone says “Las Vegas” to you? Chances are you’re imagining bright lights, buzzing casinos, pool parties and wild nights… well, all of that is true, as well as so much more. I’ve just got back to work from a 5 night “break” to Vegas and the Grand Canyon, and the trip more than lived up to my expectations – it smashed them!

 

I was in Las Vegas as part of a group of 8 girls, for my friend’s birthday. We were determined to make the most of our time away, and we certainly did that! I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “what goes in Vegas, stays in Vegas” but I thought I’d break that rule and write about my (edited!) highlights, for anyone that’s planning on heading out there as part of one of our fantastic American adventure trips!

The Buffets

Pancakes and ice cream  on a plate with sauce

Ahhhh, the buffets. As much a part of Las Vegas as The Strip, you must eat at a buffet when you visit. Available for breakfast, lunch or dinner at pretty much all of the main hotels, the buffets are the epitome of American excess – and they are awesome! Name practically any food you can think of, and the buffets will have it available for you, with no limit to how many times you can go up – so make sure you’re wearing an elasticised waistband when you visit! You can also opt to upgrade to a champagne buffet (which is also no limits) to make the most of the experience – we did of course, and it was certainly worth it!

 

I chose to visit the breakfast buffet at the Wynn hotel, because the hotel is stunningly beautiful and the buffet famously good. I can’t say I’ve ever had Chinese food or roast beef and gravy for breakfast before, but I did that day… along with eggs, bacon, pancakes, pastries and more, plus more yummy champagne mimosa cocktails than I care to admit!

The Shows

Vegas is all about the shows. If you had the time (and the money!) you could see a different show every night for weeks on end – Circque du Soleil one night, maybe a Michael Jackson tribute show, Elton John or Ricky Martin, the magicians Criss Angel or Penn and Teller – and so many more I can’t list them all. We opted for the girls’ night out legend that is Ms. Britney Spears, and her show at Planet Hollywood. We decided to embrace the occasion and dressed up as different Britney looks through the years, which was hilarious and attracted a lot of happy comments from our fellow revellers! The show was as fabulous as we expected – amazing dancing, impressive stage sets, loads of glitz and glamour and the fabulous Ms. Spears back to her pop queen best!

The Strip

Water jets rise in a water display at Bellagio Gardens in Las Vegas

Hotels surrounded by a rollercoaster track in Las Vegas

The Sphinx at Hotel Luxor in Las Vegas

 

Make sure you explore The Strip when you’re in Vegas. Walking up and down the main street is like stepping into a film set, and you can stroll into any of the main hotels to check out the over the top decorations and do some people watching – or gambling if you’re feeling lucky – in the casinos! There’s the Egyptian inspired Luxor, decadent Bellagio with the famous water fountain show (don’t miss that!), themed New York, New York (which even has a roller coaster in the casino!) The Venetian and Paris, and my personal fave Excalibur with it’s fabulous turrets and knights of the realm décor! There’s also the famous Vegas sign to visit and wedding chapels to nose at, plus the High Roller wheel (like the London Eye but bigger, and with a bar!) and the Big Shot ride at The Stratosphere – one of the tallest thrill rides in the world. I did both, and thoroughly enjoyed High Roller… Big Shot, not so much – aaaaaarrghhh!!

 

The Pool Parties

Pool parties are a Vegas staple, and worth experiencing even if you’re a pale skinned sun avoider like me! We got on the guest list for the party at Encore hotel and joined in the champagne spraying, booty shaking craziness with gusto, and partied to DJ Jermaine Dupri with the best of them (different special guest famous faces play throughout the season). Not my usual scene, but I had a blast and would recommend everyone tries a pool party for the true Vegas lifestyle experience!

People drinking and swimming in a pool at a bar in Las Vegas

As fabulous as Las Vegas is, I also really wanted to make the most of my trip and get out of the city a couple of times, to experience more of what Nevada state has to offer.  My group did 3 day trips between us, and I joined in for two of them…

The Grand Canyon

Rachel posing for a photo in front of the Grand Canyon with arms outstretched

This one needs no introduction. We picked the option of a helicopter trip and despite the obscenely early start it was worth every penny. Our pilot flew us over the Hoover Dam en route to the Canyon, where we landed to enjoy a champagne breakfast before getting back in the chopper to fly over more of the Canyon and take in the breathtaking scenery. It was everything I’d hoped it would be and it’s easy to understand why it’s one of the Natural Wonders of The World. We flew back to Vegas via The Strip, and the contrast of the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon to the modern bright lights and big city of Vegas really brought home just how stunning the scenery we’d experienced was.

A red helicopter in the Grand Canyon

 

 

Area 51 and Rachel

Rachel next to sign with an image of an alien and the text 'Earthlings welcomme little alien'

Rachel and a fellow traveller posing below a sign that reads 'Extrarerrestrial Highway'

You’ve probably heard of Area 51, the top secret government facility deep in the Nevada desert. Depending on who you ask, there is either nothing at all going on there (according to the US government) or a full on conspiracy and alien landing site. Our day trip here included a drive down the extraterrestrial highway, plus stops at a beautiful, eerie dry lake bed, and most excitingly of all (for me, anyway – bucket list alert!) the town of Rachel, the closest town to Area 51 and home of the Little A’le’Inn restaurant and bar. Ever since I found out there was a town named after me (ok, that bit’s an exaggeration…!) I’ve wanted to go, so I was very overexcited when we arrived in the small, dusty town that bears my name.

 

It was fabulous! We were welcomed with open arms by the friendly residents, and enjoyed our Alien Burger and Alien Beer at the Inn. Final stop was the Area 51 cordon – step past this and “use of deadly force is authorised” to stop you, so we stayed behind the line and waved at the security guards parked at the top of the hill who’d zoomed over in their jeeps the moment we arrived. They didn’t wave back… just watched us, riffles in hand, as we took photos at the famous signs and wondered what all the government secrecy was for, if nothing is really going on there…

Horse Riding at Red Rock Canyon

Traveppers riding horses down a rocky path

Four of my friends saddled up for a cowgirl experience and enjoyed a horse riding trip to Red Rock Canyon, about 30 minutes out of Las Vegas. As well as a trek through the rugged, cactus strewn desert the girls had a fab time learning to lasso and eating barbequed steak with their guides, who told them all about the native American history of the area.

I can’t put into words how much of an amazing time I had on this trip. Las Vegas and the surrounding areas is an amazing destination, and covers all bases as far as I’m concerned – stunning scenery, famous sights, great food, and amazing parties. I may need another holiday to recover from this one though…!

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