Las Vegas (11/23 - 11/27/04) Part II

Associated parks:

If you want great steel coasters, the place to go is Orlando and not Vegas. But if a huge amount of entertainment options appeals to you, the middle of the Nevada desert should be your destination of choice. During the course of our trip, we did a lot of non-coaster things- many of which are documented here. Beware- this is going to be a long one (as if I were actually able to compose a short TR)!

Hoover Dam

I’ve seen it in pictures a hundred times but nothing prepared me for the immense size of this engineering marvel. If you’ve never been there before, do yourself a favor- shell out the money for the semi-self-guided tour. While it consists of a few stops that aren’t too far from the ones you can visit by walking around the area of the dam on your own, it does include a short presentation on the history of the dam, a longer one outlining the benefits of the dam project and a trip down to one of the generator rooms… that latter of which is mind-boggling because of the sheer immensity of it all. Equally mind-boggling is the thought of the giant dam turning a deep river bed into an enormous lake that is something like 500’ deep.

If you are like me and have a thing for architecture and engineering (or just natural beauty), don’t miss out on this. Its only forty or so minutes outside of Vegas (maybe a little longer if you hit some traffic as you drive down the mountain to the dam) but worth every mile and every dollar.

Zion National Park

We wanted to go to the Grand Canyon but ten hours of driving made that a tough accomplishment during the course of a single day. Instead we drove 2.5 hours north on Interstate 15, past a ton of gorgeous natural scenery, to what is probably the most breathtaking thing my eyes ever encountered- Zion National Park. For just $20 (per vehicle), you are free to spend the day driving around, taking pictures and hiking along miles and miles of winding paths. Needless to say it was well worth it.

I’m not big on nature stuff but I found Zion to be amazing, bordering on surreal. Words or pictures can’t do the place justice and if you’re ever in the Vegas area with some time to kill, I highly suggest visiting what can best be described as a national treaure. For something natural to leave my jaw on the floor is certainly saying something.

Red Rock Canyon

Located about twenty minutes to the west of Vegas, Red Rock Canyon isn’t nearly as impressive as Zion but it’s still a sight to behold. As is the case with Zion, you drive into the park and are free to admire the scenery and hike on trails once inside. Red Rock even allows you to climb the “red rocks” for some pretty interesting photo ops! The only thing different is the fact that Red Rock features a single, one-way road through the park while Zion features a tangle of two-way roads that branch out and give you access to many areas of the park. Not ones to hike, we just drove the 13-mile loop to make the occasional stop to admire the views and snap a few pictures. It’s a weird feeling to be so close to Las Vegas but so far away from it at the same time. Places like Red Rock make me wish that I were into hiking as many of the trails looked like a lot of fun.

While Las Vegas lacks a traditional theme park (how’s that for a paradox?), many of the casino resorts along the Strip can be considered theme parks without the coasters. With a variety of restaurants, shows and exquisite décor, places like Bellagio, Mirage and Venetian feel like adult-oriented Disney attractions!

The Bellagio

Bellagio left me in awe just as Hoover Dam and Zion did, but for entirely different reasons. Walking through the building, you can’t help but feel as though you hit the lottery. The entire thing is so big, so ornate and so overwrought that I couldn’t help but stand there with my eyes popping out of my head. Incredibly detailed tile floors, a botanical conservatory & garden (with a stunning fall harvest-style overlay) and a huge collection of blown glass flowers on the ceiling make the place feel more like a palace than an attraction for the common tourist. And the Fountains of Bellagio show outside is every bit as impressive as people say it is. Since all of these things are free, there’s really no excuse to pass them by. Nothing says Vegas better than beautiful excess!


The Fountains of Bellagio show seems to get the lion’s share of attention on the Strip but Mirage’s Volcano is equally impressive. Sitting in the middle of a lagoon surrounded by lush vegetation, the 54’ volcano shoots smoke and flames into the air while fire covers the surface of the water. And if you venture inside of the resort, you’ll find an aquarium behind the reception desk, a domed rainforest and one of Siegfried & Roy’s tigers on display. Get there earlier in the day (meaning: not after 5:00) and you can check out Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. We missed both but will be checking them out next time.

Treasure Island

I had heard many things about the Treasure Island, err… TI show. TI was hyping their revised performance, now called “Sirens of TI” and it seemed like a safe bet- 45 minutes before the show was about to begin, the sidewalk viewing area was already packed with onlookers. It had to be good, right?

Not really.

I’m not at all familiar with the premise of the show’s previous incarnation but I can imagine that it was a battle between two pirate ships that results in one of them sinking into the lagoon. There are still two pirate ships in this “new” show but one of the ships is filled with sirens that seduce the pirates into coming over with strip club-quality pole dancing so they can attack their ship and steal their “treasure” (I use the term loosely because the “treasure” seems very ill-defined, given the theme of the show). I can understand the cannon fire and the subsequent sinking of the pirate’s ship by the sirens, but what I don’t get is why the pirates climb aboard the sirens’ ship afterwards and everyone breaks into a dance. It’s as if the old family-oriented show was deemed too childish for TI’s new adults-only demographic but didn’t want to spend money on a new presentation so they left the old effects and placed on top of it something that feels like a cross between a Britney Spears music video and Pirates of the Caribbean. What could have been a high-quality action-filled showdown on the high seas was instead an amateurish pile of pop culture crap that deserves to get tossed on the pile of boardroom-contrived embarrassments that includes Nick & Jessica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Clay Aiken.

Mandalay Bay

An upscale mega-casino & resort that tries to trump Bellagio’s opulence but instead winds up feeling just a bit cold and stuffy for my tastes. The main reason we went here was Shark Reef, which sounded like a miniature Sea World-style attraction. It included a few aquariums but the main attraction was clearly the sunken ship and acrylic tube that gives you excellent views of all different types of sharks. A nice attraction but pretty short for the $16 admission. Then again, compared to the two-minute flurry of pain that is called Manhattan Express (BPOS), it sounds kinda cheap.

Fremont Street Experience

Take old Vegas with its walls and walls of tacky neon lights, put a huge canopy over it that doubles as a huge screening surface (Viva Vision) and you have an attraction within an attraction that can’t be missed. Every hour on the hour, a spectacular light show takes place on the canopy that eclipses just about anything that catches your eye on the Strip. While the canopy makes “old Vegas” feel a little more like a museum and less like the lively place that Elvis and Wayne Newton made popular, I can appreciate the fact that this section of town was preserved instead of bulldozed. I’m not sure I like the idea of an old amusement park being preserved in the same manner but here, it seems to work.

Until our next trip, which will hopefully come sooner rather than later…

*** Edited 12/1/2004 7:39:19 PM UTC by Rob Ascough***

You call that long? ;)

I really wanted to go to Zion when I was in Vegas last month. I plan to go there next time, it looks beautiful.

Actually, what I'd *really* like to do is fly into Denver and drive to Vegas through the mountains, stopping for the night in Utah.

[url=""]My blog[/url] You said, "I'm gonna run you down." I heard, "I'm an orangutan."
I could have written more. Care to see the Director's Cut? ;)

Zion is definitely worth the trip. Driving sounds like a good idea if you have the time... the mountain pass between Nevada and Arizona along I-15 is particularly stunning. The towns/cities of St. George, UT and Mesquite, NV lie between Vegas and Zion but they are rather close to Vegas so if you're going to drive there, you might as well keep on going.

Mamoosh's avatar
Actually, what I'd *really* like to do is fly into Denver and drive to Vegas through the mountains, stopping for the night in Utah.

I've done that drive three times and its nothing short of stunning! Make sure you stop in Moab and visit Archer Nat'l Park.


PS - great TR, Rob ;)

Moosh, then you should e-mail my wife and convince her. She hates driving long distances. I just wanna see something different than boring Midwestern hills and fields now and then... :(

[url=""]My blog[/url] You said, "I'm gonna run you down." I heard, "I'm an orangutan."
Mamoosh's avatar
Den - the drive doesn't have to be all in one day. There are plently of nice places to visit and/or stay on 70 in Colorado and Utah, with lots of history [and in some cases, shopping!]: Silverthorne, Vail, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Green River, Moab, Arches Nat'l Monument....need I go on? Just get a map and show her ;)
Rob, it's always nice to see someone else who enjoys the Fremont Street Experience as much as I do. I honestly think it is one of the best (if not THE best) "night-time show" I have ever seen. I have not seen the newly-renovated versions of the shows as the dome is now capable of showing full-motion video rather than just patterns of lights. Add in one of the most kickin' sound systems and you've got an absolute winner.

I have yet to see the new "TI" show, but the original one was pretty weak as well. It was essentially a commercial for the casino as at the end, one of the pirates would yell "Yarrrrr mateys, now come inside and join us at Treasure Island!". The whole show just came across as lame to me... and with the HUGE sea of people crowding the viewing area, it's not exactly a fun experience in any form!

Excellent TR, Rob. I love reading Vegas TR's as it gets me pumped to go again. Hopefully my February trip will involve a ride on Insanity at the Strat as well!

Ray P.

Mamoosh said:
There are plently of nice places to visit and/or stay on 70 in Colorado and Utah, with lots of history [and in some cases, shopping!]: Silverthorne, Vail, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Green River, Moab, Arches Nat'l Monument....need I go on

I definitely have to give a thumbs up to Glenwood Springs. The hot springs pool there is amazing. It literally instantly melts any tension out of your body. Awesome!:)

As a former resident of St. George, UT I can certainly attest to the amazing natural beauty of the area. I really liked having Zion as my "home park!" A hike along the Angel's Landing trail is as much of a hair raising an experience as you'll find on any coaster!

And the drive from Vegas to Zion is really nice, especially the part through the Virgin River Gorge. But it's also nice to get off I-70 and take the old highway around the gorge through the towns of Shivwits, Ivins, and Santa Clara.

Actually the whole area between the Grand Canyon to the South and the Southern Utah Canyonlands area to the north (the "Arizona Strip") is well worth a visit. You don't even have to bother with Vegas :)

I have heard that Bryce Canyon is supposed to be beautiful so I imagine that we'll be stopping there next time. I think its about 45 minutes further than Zion but that's based on something I remember reading a long time ago. I've never heard of Archer National Park... where is that?

A Vegas brocuhure that I was referring to throughout the trip illustrated a show at Fremont Street that was different from the one that we saw so I wondered if it was changed at some point. If that's the case, the Fremont Street show is still very good. As for TI's show, I had no idea that the original show was weak... all I know is that the current one is just plain lousy. And you're right, the huge crowds made it even worse.


When we there a couple weeks ago the show was different every hour, the ones I remember was the Alien one and then a Patriotic one.

The laser light show is sweet plus there was a guy down there that was spraypainting paintings in like 5 minutes, it was unreal, he was painting like Spiderman's face, dolphins swimming in the ocean, etc but it was really cool to see how he first started because it looked like nothing but then he turned it into something really cool.

We were going to go to the Dam but we went to Cali for 2 days instead, maybe next time we head out there we will have to stop by, I gotta do my Eddie "is this the Dam dam tour" or something like that.

Skol Vikings
Let's shoot us some deer Joe Joe!!!!

I thought that all of the shows were combined into one? I could be wrong, I just looked up when it started, not even relating what I was seeing to what I read on the sign.

I saw one of those spraypainters at Seaside Heights over the summer. They use a lot of circles to create outer space-style backgrounds, right? I find it amazing that they have found a way to do in five minutes what I couldn't do if you gave me a decade or two!

Nope, Rob, it is a different show each' yet another way they plan to keep you there longer... ;)

--George H

In that case, I guess we'll be spending more than an hour at Fremont next time we go! There looked to be some good restaurants in the area so I'm sure that it won't be too difficult to find things to do.
You'd be right about the good restaurants on Fremont Street, Rob. There's so many great and often inexpensive food choices it's amazing. At the risk of sounding like a true coaster enthusiast, I'll touch on a few of the better places downtown. ;)

Main Street Station has the Triple 7 Brewpub, a very nice microbrewery restaurant with slightly above average food. There's also the Main Street Buffet, which has a great variety of foods and pretty good prices.

The Golden Nugget has a great buffet which attracts a slightly older crowd... but the food has always been far better than other buffets. There's also the Carson Street Cafe inside the Golden Nugget. It's a 24/7 Coffee Shop with VERY good food at average prices.

Cheap eats can be had at the San Francisco Shrimp Bar inside the Golden Gate. Home of the 99-cent shrimp cocktail, this little dive of a place packs 'em in. Even better inside the Golden gate is the Bay City Diner, which offers up some of the best breakfasts in town at very cheap prices. Don't expect the friendliest service though!

The Las Vegas Club has a great 24/7 coffee shop also. Called the Great Moments Cafe, it's located upstairs inside an often overlooked casino. For $8.99, you get a 24-oz. t-bone dinner. Surprisingly, you don't need a hacksaw to cut the steak. They have many other good deals as well, and if you accumulate 1000 points on a LVC slot card, you get a free Prime Rib dinner there. Free = Good for low rollers like me... even if it did mean I spent over $200 in gambling just to get the free dinner!

And finally there's Binion's Steakhouse, a rather upscale restaurant in a rather downscale (is that even a word?) hotel. Located on the top floor of the hotel, the Steakhouse offers up fantastic steaks and meals at prices inline with your local Morton's or Ruth Chris' location. The view is pretty spectacular as well.

OK, this ended up turning into a novel. Sorry about that!

Ray "Call Me Zagat" P.

No need to worry about the novel... I copied & pasted your post into Word and printed it out to bring with me next time we go! I can't tell you how many times we were wandering around looking for a good meal and decent prices. With limited time and without having done any research, we had no idea where to eat dinner- that's why we ate at two Outback Steakhouses and twice at the same Italian restaurant in Circus Circus. With your list in hand, I'll have a better idea of where to go next time.

Thanks Zagat!... I mean, Ray!

Rob Ascough said:

I saw one of those spraypainters at Seaside Heights over the summer. They use a lot of circles to create outer space-style backgrounds, right? I find it amazing that they have found a way to do in five minutes what I couldn't do if you gave me a decade or two!

That would be it, also if your looking for a good breakfast there is a casino off the strip called Ellis Island, you have to order the "hungry man" breakfast, I won't go into details about what you get but the price is like 5 bucks and you will not believe how much food it is.

The best thing to do is get coupon books, my wife and I ate a lot of buy 1 get 1 free meals while we were there. I was disappointed that they got rid of the Binion Burger (never had one but my father in law loved them).

Skol Vikings
Let's shoot us some deer Joe Joe!!!!

Ellis Island sounds familiar... I think I saw it but I can't remember where it was. Or maybe I didn't? Some things are very clear while others are a complete blur!

Too bad about the Binion Burger, as anything with the name "burger" gets my attention.

It is off the strip down by where the new Wynn casino is being built, it has a green colored sign and it is on the way to Hard Rock Casino

Skol Vikings
Let's shoot us some deer Joe Joe!!!!

Ahhh ok... I figured that it was off the Strip because we drove up and down that thing about a dozen times!

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