Friday, January 20, 2017

USA 2015 - Day 14-16: Las Vegas and Hoover Dam

Sin City with the family

Day 14 and we're on our fourth and last state - NEVADA - to visit it's largest city - LAS VEGAS. Smacked in Nevada's Mojave Desert, this resort city is famous for its nightlife, numerous casinos and entertainment options. We narrowed it down to the the city's main street, THE STRIP, an area that is quite familiar to us being big fans of the series CSI Las Vegas and having seen parts of the The Strip in movies like Jason Bourne, Now You See Me, Ocean's Eleven and Thirteen to name a few. And who wouldn't recognize famous iconic places like the Pyramid, Bellagio and its Fountain Show, and the Stratosphere (this was where we stayed). So here's breaking the "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" cliche and sharing our visit there with you... 

Destination: THE STRIP

Address: Las Vegas, Nevada

Getting there: From Zion National Park, take I-15 S. It's about 165 miles (2.5hr drive). If you're coming from Southern California, travel time is about 4 hours (between 250-320 miles depending on where in Southern California you'll be coming from) via I-15.

Cost: There are numerous FREE attractions to choose from as well as pricey ones for those who are willing and able to splurge. For our visit to the Gambling Capital of the World we tried to get the best of both worlds, except gambling, of course. It was tempting though.

Las Vegas, which literally means "The Meadows" - abundant in the area in the 1800s, is a city notorious for its vices but is also a haven for a number of family oriented entertainment. Gone were the meadows of centuries ago though, replaced by casinos and hotels and entertainment buildings. A vibrant city frequented by local tourists who want to have weekend fun and by international tourists for its famous food, attractions and to simply have a good time.

This was our first glimpse of where our accommodation for 2 nights in Vegas was. The tallest freestanding observation tower in the US and the second tallest in the Western Hemisphere (topped by CN Tower in Canada), the Stratosphere Tower is the signature attraction of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino. The hotel rooms are not in the tower itself but in the building next to it. 

2000 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas NV 89104
Phone#: +1800-09986937

When I was looking for a place to stay in Vegas I didn't expect to find reasonably priced famous hotels.I was under the impression that it was too costly to be able to stay at any of the iconic hotels in the city. I was wrong. The boys specifically requested that we stay in a "good" hotel (read: 5 star) because they didn't want to find any dead bodies under their beds if we were to choose low cost motels (motor hotels). Although it's not one of the top hotels in Las Vegas, I think our stay in Stratosphere has given us an experience we will never forget.

  • located at the northermost part of The Strip so from there going south is a goodstart off point to explore the city highlights. The only attraction north of it (that we went to) is the Freemont Street Experience which is just a 10minute drive away.
  • view from the Observation Tower is the best being the highest building in the city. (pictures below)
  • for the adventure/thrill-seekers, there are rides at the top of the Observation Tower to add more to the adrenaline rush. Guests of the hotel can get special discounts/packages
  • it has the Top of the World restaurant which gives diners a 360 view of the city. More of this and our dining experience later.
  • The only one I can think of is that the main lobby is a bit confusing to get to. We had to go through a maze of the gambling floor tables lugging our bags along, getting more than a whiff of unwanted cigar smoke. The check in counters were located at the far end of the floor and, depending on the number of guests checking in, it may take quite a while to check in. Other than that, we're totally ok with this hotel.
When we finally got our keys, we headed to our rooms (lift areas can also be confusing), put our things down and jumped into the bed for a quick rest. Then we headed out again to visit one of the two premium outlets in our list.

Las Vegas North Premium Outlet
875 S Grand Central Pkwy
Las Vegas, NV 89106-4541

We didn't plan to stay for a long time. We just wanted to check out what sales they have, if any. And to kill time before we go for our early dinner reservation at the at the Top of the World Restaurant.

2000 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas NV 89104
For reservations: 702 380 7711

At 844 ft, it is the only revolving restaurant in Las Vegas and has attained the reputation of being one of the most romantic destinations in town. We've just arrived in Vegas and we've already covered several superlatives. Isn't that great?!

I booked our reservations a month in advance just to be sure we don't run out of tables. We initially wanted to go for late lunch/early dinner (lunch menu is slightly cheaper) but decided we wanted to stay a few more hours of the morning at Zion and allot enough travel time from Zion to Vegas so we opted for the not-so-earlydinner time slot instead. We also had to take into account the sunset timing so we could view it from the Observation Tower.

The Restaurant is located on the 106th level of the Observation Tower where designated lifts bring guests up. Since they were still preparing our tables, we headed up to the Observation Deck for the sunset we wanted to witness. Access to the Observation Deck is USD20 but for the room package we took, we had unlimited free access to the Observation Deck. Diners at the Top of the World Restaurant can also have free access to the Observation Deck.

view from the top of the highest building in Vegas at 430pm

Sticking to our plan, we stayed at the Observation Deck to have enough time to witness the gradual change in surroundings. In broad daylight we could clearly see many iconic buildings along the strip and the mountain area along the horizon. As it became darker towards sunset, the colors along the horizon changed to golden orange and the flickering lights of the buildings below gave the city a more vibrant look. Just beautiful. 

We wanted to stay there longer but our table was ready. We were seated by the window, perfect 360 view of Las Vegas. And to our surprise, our table was served by a fellow Filipino - that's customer service extraordinaire with a dash Filipino hospitality. What else could we ask for? 

We browsed through their menu and ordered New York Steak, filet mignon, salmon, prawns and scallops, and yukon gold fries. We were initially worried that Ira might not finish his steak because aside from being a picky eater, he also doesn't eat that much. We were quite surprised that he not only cut his steak like a pro but he was also able to finish it all! He didn't even have to wait for the tower to make a full 360 for that. So when he was done he started exploring....

 This view plus great food really made our experience one in a million.

family photo op before we begin feasting on these delectable dishes

 One last look before we bid adieu to the Top of the World.

I can say this was the highlight of our Vegas trip. It was definitely a splurge we don't usually spend on food but we have to try things at least once in our lives, don't we? This one was worth it! 

We rested, again, after a sumptuous dinner and awesome view of the city watching the sunset. Then headed out to the nearest attraction to our hotel.

200 Freemont Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101

A 24-hour pedestrian mall with casinos, restaurants, live entertainment, shopping options and adventure activities. The main feature of this Vegas attraction is the barrel vault canopy 90ft high and about 1500ft long - also known as the LED display canopy. 

from parking on our way to the Freemont Street Experience

thousands of neon signs lining up the Freemont Street area

crossing the road to get to the main street where all the action is

and there it is, the giant LED canopy. Waiting for the show to begin.
The Freemonth Street Experience

free live bands were performing simultaneously on the two stages.
When you have already gotten enough of country music
you can simply walk to the other side to listen to hard rock.
As we were walking our senses were bombarded. Aside from live music, eating and drinking, shopping and gambling, there were also live street magic. Ira was not that much convinced about the tricks though.

A word of caution for visitors to the Freemont Street Experience. Some "sights" may be disturbing. Censorship is highly encouraged. If you're bringing your kids along, be lightning quick in stirring them away from sights not intended for their age, or be prepared to explain just in case you're not that fast in spotting the 'artists" on the street. Some dress up as wholesome fairies while others have minimal clothes to show for.

After our Freement Street experience, we said we could still go for a ride along The Strip before we ended the night. It was already 11pm, the night could still be considered young by the youngsters. This was Vegas after all. For us though, we just wanted to do one sweep of the Las Vegas Blvd and we're done for the night. So we drove from the far north at Freemont Street to the far south of The Strip. 

Address: 5200 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, Nevada 89119
famous, must-see, must-take-a-photo-with landmark 
We were lucky to be the one of the few cars at the carpark just in front of this landmark. Less crowd meant more time to enjoy unblocked view and photo op with the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. Our final tick off the Vegas bucket list, at least for the night.

And here we capped our first night in Las Vegas.

Day 15 - Off to Hoover Dam and more of Vegas Strip

The Hoover Dam, also known as Boulder Dam, was built during the Great Depression from 1931 to 1936 and was the largest dam of its time. It is a National Historic Landmark and a well-renowned structure. It has also been featured in famous movies like Transformers, San Andreas and even Superman. 

A visit to Vegas is almost, always, paired with a visit to the Hoover Dam. After all, it's just about 30 miles away. When my husband first visited Las Vegas, he also drove to Hoover Dam for a day trip. Some things have changed since his last visit though. Then, he was able to drive across the Hoover Dam. Now, it is no longer open to through-traffic.

Getting to Hoover Dam from Vegas, take US hway 93 south to Boulder City (a city constructed to house the government and contractor employees prior to the operations at the dam). From Boulder City, take a left at the second stoplight in town. Continue on US93 for about 5 miles past the Hacienda Hotel and exit at the Nevada State Route 172 (Hoover Dam Access Road). NV SR 172 takes you to the Dam on the Nevada/Arizona border.

For those who want to continue travelling to Arizona, re-entry to Nevada is necessary to access Hway 93 to cross the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge.

Do take note that there are security checks upon entry to the Hoover Dam.

At 12 noon we arrived in Hoover Dam. There is a parking garage at the Nevada side across the road from the Visitor Center (USD10). We decided to drive further away and up the canyon and found free, but limited, parking spaces. Down side is the long walk if you want to go down to the visitor center. For us, it was a good spot to park because we got to see the dam from afar first.  

from where we parked, we could see the two clock towers
Hoover Dam was built at the border of Nevada and Arizona and there are two cylindrical structures which has clocks showing respective times in each state. 

making our way down closer to the dam. You can see there is an almost vacant parking space just ahead of us
We may have foregone visiting Four Corners Monument for the opportunity to stand in the middle of 4 states but we had the chance to be in the middle of two at Hoover Dam.

Arizona clock showing 11:10

Few steps away from the boarder and we have reached the other clock tower, this time it displayed Nevada time which was 

Nevada Clock showing 11:25

a sculpture of a man emerging from the waves with the wordings "Men died to make the desert bloom"
by Oskar Hansen
In memory of the 96 men who have lost their lives during the construction of the dam.

terrazzo floor depicting a celestial map - the important stars and features of the Polar region of the sky as they would have appeared at 8:56pm 2.25 seconds local apparent time on September 30, 1935 when the structure was dedicated by President Franklin D Roosevelt (source:The Quora)

"Winged Figures of the Republic"
master piece by sculptor Oskar Hansen, made from more than 4 tons of bronze;
some tourists rub the feet of the statue for good luck, thus the difference in color
from the rest of the body

saying our final goodbye to the dam.
We've foregone the tour of the dam and the power plant due to lack of time.
We drove back to Las Vegas to visit an

here we were taking a break from all the walking without any shopping

look who has found the one thing that he has been asking for.
Who would have thought that he'd be seeing this here?! Lucky!
Las Vegas South Premium Outlet
7400 S Las Vegas Blvd, 
Las Vegas, NV 89123, USA

Unfortunately, after having snacks at the premium outlet, I felt nauseous and didn't feel I could still go explore the rest of the shops. Can you imagine how frustrating that was??? Not only could I not enjoy shopping at super low prices but we also had to let go of our plans for the rest of our last night in Vegas. That meant no evening walk along the whole stretch of The Strip and watch the Fountain Show at the Bellagio, nor see the Pyramid beam light up the sky, nor ogle at the statues of the Venetian. 

We retired for the night and hoped that I'd feel better the following day.

Day 16 - Goodbye, Vegas... for now...

We left The Strip late morning so we could still walk around and see places we missed the night before.

the boys checking out the machine
We chose to park somewhere in the middle of The Strip and found a perfect parking space just behind the LINQ. We passed through the Flamingo Las Vegas and chose to walk towards the south part of The Strip.  
ready to explore The Strip in broad daylight!

The Bellagio sans the Fountain Show
We were really looking forward to watch the Fountain Show at night and walk the whole
stretch of The Strip too bad I didn't feel up to it the previous night.
are we in Paris or are we in Paris???
the bigger picture, the broader street experience
This would have looked really lovely at night with all the lights.
The main purpose of choosing the south side was this:
M&M's world
S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109, USA

Happy place for everyone in the family. Imagine 4 floors of chocolates in different themes! Aside the M&Ms chocolates there are also a variety of memorabilia to take home. They have soft toys, pens, lip smackers, chocolates, interesting dispensers, etc etc. This place can take up half of a families' day!

This is how we will always remember Vegas - a colorful mix of anything and everything everyone can love.

Till our next visit!
Viva, Las Vegas!

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