A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about las vegas strip

A Southwestern USA Expedition: Las Vegas Strip


View Southwest USA road trip on zzlangerhans's travel map.

Ever since 2017 we've adopted a consistent schedule of traveling during the kids' school breaks. We've taken short trips during the winter and spring breaks and either one or two longer trips in the summer, and it's worked out very well. We were putting a fairly sizable dent in the long list of places we still hadn't seen. Then in 2020 COVID came along and we went an entire year without any travel at all. By spring 2021 Mei Ling and I were vaccinated and it was possible to strategize around the epidemic. Our first post-viral expedition was a week in Belize, a country which had virtually eliminated the disease by strict border controls and tightly-enforced masking. It went well but we hungered for a longer and more intense road trip. I had the Eastern Europe itinerary I had originally planned for 2020 but at the time that was one of the worst-hit areas in the world. Even Western Europe seemed logistically dubious, Asia was locked down, and South America was unthinkable. It was clear that our best bet was domestic travel and there was only one region we hadn't visited that could support a month-long road trip. I had planned on leaving the American Southwest a couple more years until the kids were more capable of hiking and other adventurous activities, but it became clear that we really had no choice if we wanted the kind of travel experience we had become accustomed to. Somehow we'd have to make it work.

I devised my usual ambitious itinerary to include as much of the region as possible without skipping anything important. After checking weather patterns I quickly realized that summer is not the ideal time to visit Nevada and Arizona. I was determined to include Las Vegas but it had to be our point of entry in early June. That way we would at least have a chance at seeing some two digit temperatures. I had wanted to include Phoenix but didn't find enough there to justify the risk of overwhelming heat so it got axed. The Sonora Desert region may end up a future winter or spring break destination. Santa Fe, a city I've never found my way to despite an enduring fascination, was the other non-negotiable stop. It didn't make sense to travel to the Southwest without visiting the famous national parks of Utah. Salt Lake City therefore became the third vertex of the triangle of major cities that formed the skeleton of our itinerary. Small towns and national parks would fill the time between city explorations. Persistent research uncovered more and more interesting sights and activities and I soon realized we were about to have a very busy month on the road.
large_5aa7b330-e3f3-11eb-93d4-3b4c872e9e56.png

Even though we didn't have to worry about serious cold weather we had more than the usual luggage. This was mainly because of all the hiking clothes for five people. We needed the water-resistant hiking boots with a solid grip and the fast-drying wool socks. I also bought everyone long hiking pants with a zip-off at the knee that converted them into shorts and long sleeve shirts like landscapers wear. I figured the long sleeves would keep us cooler in direct sun. We ended up with two large suitcases and one smaller roller instead of one large and two small like we usually have, in addition to the carry-ons. I was looking forward to a nonstop to Las Vegas from Miami but in the end we were forced to connect through Los Angeles on the outbound flight. At least we would have a direct flight home for the red-eye on the way back.

As we flew from LA back east towards Las Vegas, I watched the unfamiliar landscape passing beneath us. Irregular arrays of mountains almost devoid of vegetation looked like a model constructed from clay. Between the grey and brown sierras were enormous man-made metallic fields with irregular shapes. Were they solar power plants? Military air bases? I still have no idea.
large_IMG_6322.JPG

Once we arrived my main concern was whether our rental car would be there. I'd been hearing a lot of horror stories about rental car companies being short of cars and people showing up at the counter to be told that the car they had reserved wasn't available. Fortunately I needn't have worried - the agent took me to a whole row of SUVs in the garage and let me pick whichever I wanted. We chose a Ford Equinox that seemed to have the most trunk room. I was so relieved to have a car I completely forgot to ask the agent if any of the vehicles had a true four wheel drive.

Our Airbnb was close to the strip but not really within walking distance. It was a third-floor walk-up in a dingy, stained, concrete block of apartments but the price was right. The journey up the stairs with two 50 pound suitcases was miserable but the apartment itself justified its high Airbnb rating. It was emblazoned with full Vegas decor from the purple lighting to the pop art to the neon sign. It was also cool, comfortable, and immaculately clean. By now it was well after midnight Miami time so we headed directly to bed in order to be ready to begin our adventure in the morning.
large_IMG_6342.JPG

One of the little perks of traveling to the west is that the time change works in our favor. Despite our late arrival we were all up bright and early the next morning. Unfortunately we squandered our early start by driving half an hour to a breakfast restaurant far from the Strip that appeared on several top ten lists I'd read. The restaurant turned out to have pancakes and a build-your-own omelet station that reminded me of my hospital's cafeteria. We were the only customers.

I had decided to kick things off with an early morning tour of the Strip. One reason was that the temperature would be hitting 99 in the late afternoon, and this was projected to be the coolest of our four days in Vegas. On our last day it was going to be 108, but thankfully not until we had already left town. The other reason was I just couldn't wait to put my feet onto Las Vegas Boulevard. I'd done so much research and I had such a long list of things to see on the Strip that I knew I couldn't concentrate on anything else until I had that out of the way. One odd thing about the Las Vegas Strip is that there are quite a lot of casinos that allow you to park for free. That list is constantly changing so it pays to do research ahead of time, because the ones that do charge are quite expensive. We chose Planet Hollywood because it was the southernmost of the places we wanted to see on the Strip. I figured once we'd worked our way all the way north to the Wynn we could take one of the free shuttles back to where we'd parked.
large_a04624a0-eb4e-11eb-b6e4-7795fdcd3dda.png

As soon as we walked out of the garage and into the Miracle Mile shopping mall we got our first taste of the buffet of visual delicacies that the Strip had in store for us. The high, curved ceiling of the upper level is deftly painted to simulate the evening sky and the exteriors of the stores are crafted to resemble an Arabian marketplace. The overall effect is quite beautiful and convincing, and I had the kids half-believing it was the real sky even though they knew that it was early morning.
large_IMG_5877.jpg

The only thing I wanted to see inside Planet Hollywood was the Tipsy Robot, a bar where customers order drinks from computer screens and robotic arms mix them from an array of bottles above them. The kids weren't allowed through the doors and although the exterior walls were glass paneling the robots were too far away to get a good look. I sent Mei Ling in to order a drink but she was worried about the number of customers inside. She figured she'd pay and then it would be an hour before her drink was made so we left empty-handed.
large_IMG_7056.jpg

Everything on the Strip is on an enormous scale so walking distances are much further than they appear on a map. The full city blocks are half a mile long. It seemed like we were walking in Planet Hollywood forever but eventually we spilled out onto the Strip and were greeted by the view of the Eiffel Tower replica and hot air balloon of the Paris Las Vegas Casino. Our first destination was the Bellagio which was directly across the Boulevard. We walked along a beautiful covered walkway with a great view of the Bellagio Fountain and Las Vegas Boulevard until we reached the entrance to the hotel.
large_IMG_6376.JPGlarge_6e2bb3a0-efbc-11eb-b25c-cde89f663ab2.jpg

Inside the Bellagio the lobby has a ceiling installation of colorful glass flowers by renowned sculptor Dale Chiluly. Adjacent to the lobby is the Conservatory which is a large open area with a greenhouse roof filled with exuberant displays of flowers and plants as well as dramatic sculptures. On the periphery of the Conservatory were boutiques and restaurants. In any other city it may have seemed ostentatious but of course in Vegas it was absolutely on point and a great introduction to what we would see for the rest of the morning.
large_IMG_5886.jpglarge_IMG_7059.jpg

We walked back up Las Vegas Boulevard and cut through the faux Roman ruins and gardens of Caesar's Palace. The grounds of the casino hotels were enormous and I was starting to realize that even though my planned tour looked very manageable on the map it was going to be rather hard on the kids. Once we reached the LINQ promenade we took a quick ice cream break and then had a pleasant walk down the busy promenade with the High Roller Ferris wheel in the foreground. Over our heads were the cables of the FLY LINQ zipline but it was still too early for them to be running.
large_IMG_6437.JPGlarge_IMG_5890.jpglarge_IMG_5892.jpglarge_IMG_6456.JPG

The next stop on our tour was the Venetian. I hadn't realized until then the outsized Italian influence on the Strip but up to that point all the casinos we'd seen were based on various eras of Roman and Italian architecture. As we walked over the elevated walkway we saw some people filming an oddly-shaped potted plant. As Cleo went for a closer look the plant suddenly stood up and started chasing her. She squealed and fled as the man inside the plant costume laughed. I saw one the the guys filming had a T-shirt with something about TikTok so presumably they were making videos for a TikTok channel. The Venetian had a nice layout with a sky blue canal, gondolas, and fair representations of St Mark's Campanile and the Rialto Bridge but it reminded me more of Little Venice in Dalian, China than the real thing.
large_IMG_5904.jpglarge_IMG_6470a.JPGlarge_IMG_6503.JPG

The kids were complaining pretty loudly about the walk by now but I still pushed them one block further to the Wynn, which reportedly had one of the most beautiful lobbies. However, after everything we'd already seen that morning we were underwhelmed by the long, ornate corridors. We enjoyed one interesting display of colorful orbs made from artificial flowers hanging from a grove of small trees in an atrium. To top it off I realized that Mizumi, the restaurant we'd be having dinner at the next evening, was inside the Wynn so we had wasted that last painful block getting to a place we would be seeing soon anyway.
large_IMG_6481.JPGlarge_IMG_7062.jpg

I had thought returning to the car would be a simple affair as I knew there were complimentary monorail trams between the casinos on the Strip and I assumed we'd be able to hop on one nearby and hop off close to Planet Hollywood. Unfortunately I hadn't done my research carefully because when I asked the valet at the Wynn for directions to the closest monorail he directed me to the monorail operated by the city, all the way back at the LINQ. Two stops later we got off a full block away from Las Vegas Boulevard, another half mile walk. By the time we reached the entrance to Planet Hollywood we'd walked further than if we hadn't bothered with the monorail at all. To add insult to injury, once we reached the garage we realized we'd retraced the whole distance we'd just walked on a higher level and we could have saved a mile by going straight into the back entrance of the garage from the monorail station. The only positive was that no one had collapsed during the walk. Later I figured out that the casino trams wouldn't have been any help either the way they're laid out, but the lesson learned was that especially with kids a tour of the strip needs to be planned very carefully.

We went about our other planned activities of the day away from the Strip and then returned for the events that only occur in the evening, the eruption of the volcano at the Mirage and the water show at the Bellagio Fountains. This time I had learned my lesson and took advantage of the one hour complimentary parking at both casinos. We got there about twenty minutes ahead of the first of the evening eruptions, which are scheduled from 8 to 11 pm on the hour. I expected it to be difficult to get a good viewing spot but the crowd remained fairly sparse. We occupied ourselves in the meantime taking more pictures of the Strip in the gathering dusk. I found the volcano pretty impressive although somehow the kids were more enthralled by a cloud of gnats that buzzed insistently around my hat. I also got fooled by a false ending to the eruption and ended my video before the grand finale.
large_IMG_6636a.jpeg

The Bellagio was a little easier to time since the fountains get activated every fifteen minutes. We still almost missed the time we had planned on because it was such a long walk from the parking lot. The fountain was a bit of a let-down after some of the exuberant and colorful displays I saw in Shanghai and Dalian a couple of years earlier, but it was a good opportunity to see the bright neon cityscape of Las Vegas at night. I realized that we could have timed our evening visit to see the fountains and the volcano as well as everything we had seen on the Strip earlier and spent the morning doing something completely different. Fortunately we still had a few more days to get through our Vegas list but my many mistakes of the first day helped me realize that I was definitely rusty at traveling and I needed to be a lot more careful how I was planning our itinerary over the next month.
large_IMG_7067.jpeglarge_IMG_5928.jpg

Posted by zzlangerhans 20:41 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip las_vegas family_travel tony_friedman family_travel_blog las_vegas_strip Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 1 of 1) Page [1]