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Destination: Las Vegas

Posted by , 23 December 2010

Getting there and staying Downtown

Getting there and staying Downtown

The city has become a lot more accessible over the past 12 months, with the introduction of a new direct flight route between London and Las Vegas’ McCarran International airport. And you’ll be surprised how close to the strip the airport actually is, so don’t worry about massive taxi costs to get you close to the action.

We headed away from the strip for a couple of nights, and stayed Downtown. Downtown is actually original Vegas, where the first hotels were, and Fremont Street was the main street in the city back in the 30’s and 40’s. While you may not find 5* accommodation down here, no-one comes to sit in a hotel room. We stayed at the new Cabana Suites at the El Cortez, just off Fremont Street. Naturally there was a casino in the hotel, with low minimum bets to ease us in early doors, but the new separate suites were stylish affairs within easy walking distance of Fremont Street for more to do.

The biggest draw of Downtown is the Fremont Street Experience. Having lost business to the strip, Fremont Street decided to do things slightly differently, and pedestrianised the main street for four blocks, reducing the sort of crowding you get around the mega-resorts and making it easier to move between casinos. They also covered the whole section with a curved LED screen – the world’s biggest – in keeping with the bright neon lights that define the area. Spectacular light shows give the street a real lively feel at night.

As far as casinos in the area go, the Golden Nugget has a large floor totalling 1,400 slot machines along with an array of tables, the new poker room featuring 13 tables and a sports bar. There are also a few classy food outlets such as Chart House, which stands out thanks to its bar that wraps around a 75,000 gallon aquarium – so big that FHM thought we better lay off the cocktails as we saw a scuba diver swimming around in it. Which actually happened, we’re assured. You can also use their swimming pool complex which includes a water slide through a shark-tank (yes we really wanted a go) and on a higher level the H20 poolside lounge above the 200,000 gallon tank allows you to enjoy the poolside party experience.

It was here that we dipped our toes in to the casinos of Vegas. As first timers it was good to use a casino with lower minimum bets – opening up with $10 on roulette – and learn some of the etiquette around the table. It can almost be seen as a training zone, but those who won still pocketed enough to pay for a night at the upstairs Gold Diggers club; while having lost, we didn’t feel like our wallet was significantly lighter.

We stumbled across a few hidden gems in the area after leaving the casino too. Feeling like a few drinks we were recommended the Downtown cocktail bar, just on the intersection of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard– which if you follow South far enough becomes the strip, but there’s a section of nomansland that you’d be advised not to get caught in. The bar was a dark, funky place playing down-tempo music, and completely hides you away from the bright lights of the area. After knocking back a Seabiscuit – a cocktail they claim to be a favourite of Sean Connery – we headed outside to step it up a gear again. And we found the newest addition to Fremont Street, the Flightlines zipwire. Basically flying over thousands of people on the street, we descended from a height of 67 feet for four blocks at about 30mph. Coupled with the light show above our heads and the people below it’s what you’d imagine being on stage with Swedish House Mafia would be like, only slower.

Chatting with Mayor Oscar Goodman over a vodka martini we found out about the upcoming Mob Museum too. This is going to be in the centre of downtown, and he admitted he’d used a lot his contacts from his past as the lawyer to the mob to secure exhibits and items for the museum. It tells you all you need to know about the different outlook of the city when it is run by an ex-attorney to local mafia…Suitably informed and prepped, we thought it was time to head to the strip to see what’s what.

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