I just returned from another foray into the southwestern states of the USA, this time to Nevada and the year round playground of Las Vegas. I was here about 3 years ago and could see some significant changes from last time. To set the scene I first went to Las Vegas about 30 years ago and have been an infrequent visitor ever since. There have been many changes over the past few years with the introduction of the themed casino, notably the Excalibur back in 1983 then NewYork- NewYork, Bellagio, Paris, Venice etc, The old hotels and motels (Sahara, Riviera etc) which fringed the Strip are worn out or long gone, replaced by the mega hotels. The Strip I should explain is a more modern area of hotels along a wide avenue, about 4 miles long and has now become the big draw for visitors. The older down town area where we find the Golden Nugget, the Fitzgerald, Fremont Hotel and a few of the older less reputable hotels where Vegas first really came to be is less visited but has a more visceral feel to it; less glitzy glamour and more hardened gambling. Not to say the downtown area isn't worth a visit, the overhead light show of Fremont street is well worth your time and the slot machines in this area are reputed to be a lot looser than those of the Strip.
I stayed in Planet Hollywood this time, this hotel replaced the old Aladdin hotel, the rooms have been upgraded but the footprint remains much the same. Planet Hollywood is well situated in the middle of the strip, it is between Paris Resort and a small street mall which looks like it should have been pulled down and built over a few years ago, then is the MGM resort. Opposite Planet Hollywood is a brand new development featuring the Cosmopolitan resort (they are all resorts now doesn't anyone just build a hotel anymore?) Aria resort and Vdara. They have their own shopping center called The Crystals which houses the most expensive collection of high end stores I have ever seen. I'm sure even 5th Avenue or Bond street couldn't compete with these high end stores. Once I had torn my shopaholic wife away from these stores we were able to explore the Strip and chat with the locals. There are more beggars and street performers along the Strip than I have ever seen before, unemployment is very high at 14% in Nevada and some of the less unfortunate and some of the less stable people have taken to hanging out where the money is. Not always a good move for them as the hotels and resorts don't always take too kindly to these people inhabiting their walkways and sidewalks. Some have taken an interesting turn and dress up as Hollywood personalities, and not just Elvis. We saw Garfield (passed out among several beer bottles-I thought it should have been lasagna) The Mario Brothers again both drunk and passed out but willing to pose so for the public (and a small fee) I saw Superman, Batman, Transformers, Pirates galore, showgirls and some who appeared to have a little of everything on, of course they could have been revelers who stayed out too late and didn't make it home. There were people playing guitars, bagpipes even drums made from waste products and old water containers (they were very good and worth a small donation).
In the casinos the slot machines were unnecessarily cruel, flashing more and taking more while giving nothing back. They don't take coins anymore and they don't give money out in the unlikely chance that you win. Instead they give a voucher that you then have to go find a voucher changer or banker and it becomes easier to just let the money ride which is what they really wanted anyhow. Alcohol is expensive (thank goodness for two-for-one tickets) as is food. The US likes to provide you with copious quantities of food so that you forget that it doesn't taste of much, a couple of the casino's were different. I had some delightful chicken marsala, an excellent breakfast sandwich at "The Earl of Sandwich" (whom it appears came to the USA for the sole purpose of making sandwiches) and a buffet meal at Planet Hollywood which had some Soy and mushroom Halibut which was melt -in-your-mouth amazing.
The shows are overpriced and can all be had for a lot less depending on how you approach them, if you want to spend some time in a lecture on buying a condominium you can get a show at half price-mind your brain may not be working too well at the end of that. This time I saw a Cirque-du-Soleil performance of Mystere and was engaged by the clown performer and ended up with my head firmly taped to my shoulders so I couldn't look at him, while my wife was enjoined to hold up a candle while he serenaded our neighbors. The audience loved it too, which I found strange as they didn't even know me. The show was great fun with amazing acrobatics and some funny gambits. We also saw V the Ultimate Variety Show which was good, but I'd not go see it again. The free show at the Treasure Island casino involving the two outside pirate ships and a group of wenches called "The Sirens of TI" was amazingly cheesy, great for kids but somewhat irritating for everyone else unless you like scantily clad girls and a few pyrotechnics.
Vegas is experiencing a down turn in its fortunes, there are less visitors, less money, less freebies, more unemployment, more itinerants, more dissatisfaction in the locals. There are no big plans for the future, many of the buildings half built are in limbo. Real estate is cheap and slowly dropping, some listings are about half of what they were compared to 2008. This is actually a good time to visit as you can stretch your dollar a little further than before, all the hotels are eager for occupancy and can offer great teaser rates to get you there, even the airlines will cooperate with cut price fares. Once there though hang on to your wallets as there are invisible suction machines everywhere determined to suck every last penny out of your hands and into their coffers. I love it there, but once every two or three years is enough especially If there are no changes in the next few years.
I'd give it a couple of weak thumbs up and a score of 7.5 out of 10 as far as adult entertainment centers go.