Thursday, February 27, 2014

Las Vegas Day 2

Las Vegas

Day 2
Las Vegas - The Strip - Fremont Street and the Neon Museum

Now on for day two in sin city....

My second day in Las Vegas began relatively early after a quick morning stop at one of the several Starbuck's located at the Luxor Hotel and Casino and then I was on my way under the clear blue sky for a quick walk over to the Mandalay Bay tram (the tram stop at the Luxor was out of service). You may be wondering why I didn't just walk over to the New York New York Hotel and Casino, well that's because I was a bit confused and thought that the tram was the monorail, which I quickly learned was not. So after a short ride on the complimentary tram service to New York New York I walked over to the MGM Grand and found my way to the monorail (to get to the station requires a long walk through the casino and shops).

Now it might have been because I was using the monorail on a weekday, but the place was a virtual ghost town, and both times I rode the monorail I had the car all to myself. It was a smooth, air-conditioned ride that took me from one end of the strip to the other. During the ride I flipped through a complimentary coupon book that I got from a kiosk on the platform and found a discount coupon for a ticket to the Stratosphere Tower.

Now my plan for the day was to take the monorail to the last stop, take a ride up to the Stratosphere Tower, then grab a cab to the Neon Museum and spend the rest of my time downtown on Freemont Street. After hopping off at the last stop, aka the Sahara stop as the station is next to the former Sahara Hotel and Casino, I saw the Stratosphere Tower from the platform and was excited to walk over, that is until I saw how sketchy the area was outside of the station. Luckily there were two other young folks from Louisiana who had the same idea as me and we all walked together.

On the walk over though, I got to snap away at a couple of neat old Las Vegas kitsch neon signs that I would've otherwise missed if I decided to take a cab.  

And finally after about a 5 minute walk we made it to the Stratosphere!

After a short walk through the casino and up a flight of stairs you can buy your ticket (don't forget your coupon if you took the monorail) to take an elevator to the top. After buying your ticket though, you go through a quick photo op and have your bag checked, then finally you wait your turn to take the elevator up to the top, popping your ears along the way.

The first stop is at the 108th floor where you can sit, have a drink at the bar and look out over the desert oasis that is Las Vegas and the mountains beyond. This is also the level where you can watch the bold and brazen take a leap from the sky jump.

And if looking through glass and seeing people drop isn't thrilling enough, walk up one more level and take a step outside on the 109th floor observation deck for an even better view of the Las Vegas Strip from a vantage point over a 1,000 feet high.

The view is absolutely amazing and the entertainment is even better as you watch faces of adventurous folk brave the thrill rides that plunge over the side of the tower.

You can stay up there for as long as you like and I took advantage of that, but before long it was time take the elevator down to the bottom and grab a cab to check out the Neon Museum.

Let me preface this by saying that if you're going to Las Vegas you must take some time out and visit the Neon Museum. However, I should also add that if you plan on going, even in the off-season on a weekday, buy your ticket at least 3 weeks in advance online because they sell out fast. I booked two weeks before my trip and almost all the time slots were sold out.

The museum is relatively new and is a collection of all the old neon signs of Las Vegas on and off the strip. Most of the signs don't work and are in the process of slowly being restored. Before the tour starts, make sure to walk over to the little sitting area in front of the parking lot to read up on some interesting facts and see the Neon Boneyard Museum sign up close. You can learn some of the neat trivia behind the sign (each of the letters that make up the word "neon" come from some legendary hotels from Las Vegas's past).

Our excellent tour guide told us about the history of Las Vegas through the neon signs, which are artfully placed on a meandering path. We learned about everything, from how the desert oasis city of sin came to be to how institutions like the Mafia played a role in shaping the city's past. And, of course, we learned how neon signs work.

When I eventually go back to Vegas, I definitely plan to go  for a night tour, which they offer.

Formerly the La Concha Hotel. Presently the museum's lobby.

When I was researching travel information in Las Vegas before going, they all mentioned one thing: taxi cab drivers long hauling their fares. Well, I was very lucky that never happened to me. In fact, every cab driver was incredibly friendly and warned me about the other taxi companies and to always make sure your driver never takes a freeway.

After I was done at the museum I called a reputable cab company for a pick up and a drive over to Freemont Street (the museum isn't that far away, but unfortunately it too is in a sketchy area). My driver was, as you'd guess, extremely friendly and even gave me tips and ideas for things to check out while I was in town. One of those things was to see the free and temporary Elvis museum, A King's Ransom, which was on display at Binion's on Freemont Street.

The museum itself is, um, a little odd. They had some cool artifacts like some of his more famous jumpsuits, rings and glasses. It also had its' fair share of some slightly weird ones, like a tube of chapstick and a bottle of Mylanta used by the King. Still pretty neat to check out and the complimentary entrance fee doesn't hurt either.

After visiting the King's Ransom at Binion's I grabbed a bite to eat and a pint and walked up and down Freemont Street, which was a really neat and, um, shall we say, interesting experience. You can walk up and down and be entertained by street performers and live bands, grab a yard long daiquiri, and a wee batch of deep friend oreos or just plop down in front of a slot machine and gamble your nickels and dimes away.

Eventually though, I decided to leave and see some more of the legendary strip by taking the Deuce, a public bus that travels up and down the strip for a relatively modest fee. It does take a while to get anywhere but that didn't matter because I finally got to see Circus Circus! While most people wouldn't be terribly excited to see an older, slightly more dated hotel of the strip, I was because not only is this the hotel my grandparents would stay at when they used to go, but it's also home to some great scenes from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (book and movie alike). So let's get down to brass tacks and have an inebriated stumble under the brightly lit awning a la Raoul Duke and his attorney, just minus the mescaline and ether, because I did! 

After visiting Circus Circus I hopped on the Deuce again and walked around. I ended up in front of the Mirage just in time for the volcano show and it was beautifully impressive. Then as I turned around I got a wink and a nod from a passing Captain Jack Sparrow and made my way over to the Venetian, which comes complete with a grand canal and gondola rides. By the end of the night I was convinced that Las Vegas is essentially a large scale drunken adult Disney World.

Unfortunately, my night was cut short due to the fact that I had to wake up at an early hour for an all day tour through Death Valley. So it was back to the monorail to make my way back to the Luxor.

Stay tuned for another Vegas post.

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