Sin City: Visiting Vegas

I recently returned from my first trip to Las Vegas and man, what a crazy place.

I feel I should be upfront about the fact that Vegas wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of places I wanted to go, but it was definitely on the list, if for no other reason than it’s a rather iconic city and I wanted to say I’ve been there. When I was invited to attend a conference there for work, I jumped at the chance to go. Why not?

Vegas to me was an overwhelming sensory experience – everything from sight to sound to smell was an omnipresent assault, and not just from the casinos. Every store on the Strip – even the normally plain vanilla Ross and Marshall’s, drugstores, and fast food places – got the bling treatment and was covered in flashy lights. I joked with my husband that I would need to sit in a dark, quiet, and unscented room when I got home just to detox and give my senses a rest.

Et tu, McDonald's?
Et tu, McDonald’s?

My husband and I got into town in the afternoon, giving us a day and a half to explore before I had to attend the conference. McCarran International Airport was rather interesting…just in case you forgot what city you landed in, the slot machines throughout the airport and ads everywhere for shows was a dead give-away. 🙂

Rio Hotel and Casino Las Vegas
Home Sweet (Smoky?) Home for a Few Days

As soon as we got to the hotel, I realized just how accustomed I had become to smoke-free environments, thanks to Florida’s Clean Indoor Air Act. And I rather missed it.

The Rio’s lobby, which was really a casino, was packed, even on a weekday lunch hour, and chatting with the desk clerk was a bit of a shouting match to be heard over the din of the machines, the music, and the general noise of the crowd. Our room was blessedly quiet (and smoke-free).

Hitting the Strip

We settled in and hit the Strip after a quick courtesy shuttle ride from the Rio and I was immediately awed by the sheer bigness and loudness of…well….everything.

Las Vegas Strip
A View of The Strip from the Top of the Eiffel Tower

The Strip is pretty tame by day, but the vibe starts shifting early evening towards a more adult (and inebriated) crowd. While I don’t know that I would call it a family friendly environment exactly, it wasn’t that bad for the most part.


All up and down the Strip are people whose job it is to hand you cards advertising escort services. They do this funny little double-slap with one of the cards against the stack and then pop the card out in front of you as you walk by. I assume the slap is to attract your attention, but with a card slapper stationed every 10 feet and all doing the same thing, you tune it out after a bit.

Still, I admired their style and practiced motion with their cards, even as I raised an eyebrow at some of their business names. One of the tamest was the Orgasm Clinic. It wasn’t until I looked at some of the cards that people had dropped on the ground that I realized that they had pictures of naked women on them – but then, what else would you expect?

Street Performers

There is no shortage of photo ops on the Strip with a variety of costumed characters who stake out a piece of pavement and set up shop. I saw Star Wars characters, Despicable Me minions, showgirls, several “living statues”, Sesame Street characters, and yes, a few Elvis’s too. Any of them will be happy to pose for a picture with you for a tip.

Musicians, magicians, dancers, and people who think they’re dancers (yes, I’m thinking of you, Large Older Man with Beer Belly) all scope out a spot on the sidewalk, set a tip jar, and get to work.

The Bellagio Fountain Show

What visit to Vegas would be complete without watching the amazing fountain show? I had an Ocean’s 11 moment watching it at night at street level.

2014-01-03 17.34.50

We also watched it during the day from about 40 stories up at the top of the Eiffel Tower.


Penn & Teller Show

Maybe I watched too many episodes of Celebrity Apprentice when Penn Gillette was on, but I wanted to catch the Penn & Teller show while I was there and so we did. First let me say that the show was fantastic. We were sitting in the third row, maybe 20 feet from the action on stage, and still couldn’t tell how they did their tricks.

The highlight of the show for us was when Penn called my husband up on stage to impersonate him so that Penn could be in the trick with Teller. Being onstage wearing a Penn wig and introducing the act in front of 1,500 people was probably his idea of a nightmare, but he did it and it was great!

After the show, Penn and Teller both graciously hung out outside the theater talking with fans (well, Penn talked while I’m sure Teller remained silent) and taking pictures. I was lucky to get this one with Penn.

Me and Penn Gillette
Me and Penn Gillette

In a nutshell, Vegas didn’t disappoint.

It was everything I expected it to be. As I looked at the incredible architecture of the casinos and hotels, the lights and giant Times Square-like street screens, and the celebrity faces plastered everywhere advertising their shows, I was impressed at what people have been able to build in a sandy rim surrounded by mountains in the desert.

Everything screams money and excess, albeit sometimes a little too loudly for me. All in all, I had a great time and hope to get out to see the Grand Canyon next time I go.

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