I havent been to Vegas in years but recent events have brought me back to town solo.
Of course I came during the hottest week of the year so far. Afternoon high temps were 115 F with 5% humidity. That 5% doesn’t mean a whole lot when that 115 hits you in the face like a furnace every time you step outside.
The one free day I did have I tried to pack in as much as I could.
I started off the morning with a 5AM wakeup call to get picked up for a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon from Papilion. Traveled about 25 minutes to the Boulder City Airport by bus from Vegas. The helicopter ride was smooth as a car ride. The lack of rain or clouds meant there was no turbulent air. The helicopters have special clearance to fly through the Grand Canyon and then land 4000 feet deep into it. The tour company then provides a Champagne “breakfast”. Don’t get too excited though. Breakfast consists of an indidual wicker picnic basket with an apple, cherry or cheese danish, a piece of fruit and a piece of peppermint candy and a bottle of water. They did deliver on the promise of Champagne though. You could take the Champagne straight or have a little orange juice to make a mimosa.
To drive to the Grand Canyon on a bus or by car from Las Vegas is about 5 hours. By helicopter flying across the desert from Nevada into Arizona is 30 minutes. To me that is a no brainer decision, but it is not cheap. My tour cost about $300. If you drive you are devoting an entire day to the Grand Canyon. Take the first flight on a helicopter like I did at 7AM and you’re back at the airport by 930AM ready to do something else.
Next up was shooting some real guns. Nevada is the only state where it is legal to shoot automatic weapons. Seems only fitting. There were a number of places that offered packages of different weapons you can fire, accompanied and coached by a trained firearms expert. I choose Machine Guns Vegas for the simple reason that they gave you the chance to fire a RPG (rocket propelled grenade).
For anyone who has played Duck Hunt on Nintendo all the way up to Doom, Quake or Call of Duty on your computer or console system, the chance to fire a real automatic weapon is something you may have thought about but didn’t know how to do. One word: Vegas.
Machine Gun Vegas has a cool modern club feel to it as soon as you walk in, with pretty women who get you to sign the standard disclaimer and waiver in case anything goes wrong. Then you get to pick your package of weapons to fire, with names like Seal Team 6, Femme Fatale, World War II and MOB. The packages include guns from that era or would be used by that group. In my case I chose the Seal Team 6 package, firing guns actually used by US Special Forces.
I had never fired a gun before and was surprised to not nervous before getting my hands on my first gun. My instrcutor told me exactly how to hold the gun and directed me to shoot at the target in the gun range. Squeeze the trigger and POW! It was amazing and scary at the same time. Play out your Rambo fantasies in safety and comfort.
Next up was something a little more educational. The National Atomic Testing Museum details America’s nuclear history, from the Manhattan Project, the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan during World War II and the use of nuclear power as an energy alternative.
There is another exhibit in the same building for an additional fee called Area 51. It goes into the whole history of the secret military installation in Roswell, New Mexico that many believe hold evidence of aliens that have visited Earth. Whether you believe or not, it’s pretty interesting.
Being in Vegas for the first time in 7 years, I came to some realizations:
Vegas is an “adult city”
As much as you hear Vegas is a family destination, I don’t think it is. There are things to do for kids, but the major forms for fun are made for 21 and up. Gambling, drinking, shotgun weddings, firing shotguns and strippers, among other things. I still fail to understand bringing kids to Vegas unless parents can’t get a babysitter. It’s probably cheaper to keep them at home too.
There is such a thing as UNDERpacking
This is for Vegas or anywhere really. In an effort to lighten my load I didn’t bring any dress shoes. Mistake! I found out about one of my favorite hip hop artists was going to be performing at a club on the Strip. I got in line to get in my last night in Vegas and was told by the bouncer: No sneakers allowed! I had not brought any decent shoes and wasn’t going to buy some at that late hour. Lesson learned. Bring some dress shoes/non-sneakers, and maybe even a nice shirt with a collar even if you don’t think you’ll be out partying. You never know what you might discover is happening that you’ll want to go to.
Transportation around Las Vegas sucks
Along with your hotel and airfare budget, you better have a budget for taxi cabs. The Strip has the monorail but it only goes down one side of Strip and does not go all the way to the end. If you start at the Sahara at the north end of the Strip and want to get to Mandalay Bay, you’ll have to get out at the end of line of the monorail, cross the street and get on another monorail. I’m not exaggerating when I say crossing Las Vegas Blvd could take you a good 10 minutes. If you hate walking this may not be your destination spot. Cabs are plentiful but they will add up if you need to travel much beyond your hotel. If you’re off the Strip you must make sure you have a regularly running shuttle bus to the Strip.
So Vegas continues to be one of most popular destinations in the world, and with good reason. There is so much to do that you’ll try to pack it all in a few days but probably won’t get it all in. With the few disadvantages listed, you have to really plan before you get there or you’ll be paying for extras you may have been able to avoid.