TravelAmerica

Diva Las Vegas: Our girl is a big winner as she lives it up in Sin City

AmericaBy Nicola Tallant
Viva Las Vegas
Viva Las Vegas

It’s my kind of city.

Built by the mob, Las Vegas has a history soaked in organised crime and a reputation for bad boys and fast women.

But today the buzzing Nevada oasis is a bustling, bright and cosmopolitan resort that has moved on from its gritty past and is now as much about fine dining as high rolling.

Vegas has been immortalised so many times in the movies – from Viva Las Vegas, starring its favourite son Elvis Presley, to Martin Scorsese’s Casino, which follows the exploits of a gambler, a mobster and a hooker and, more recently, the hilarious Hangover, which sees a group of stag party revellers wind up in a whole lot of trouble.

In reality Sin City is softer and far more sophisticated than its reputation suggests and is as much a resort for the family holiday of a lifetime as it is for a girlie getaway.

I’ve always wanted to go to Las Vegas, but I never expected how much I would love the place. I’m counting the days until I can go back and am seriously considering taking the kids.

I flew with Aer Lingus from Dublin to San Francisco – an incredibly pleasant and roomy flight (with a book about psychopaths I have been trying to find the time to read for ages). A bite to eat and a few glasses of vino and I was out for the count, dreaming of Josef Mengele and his ilk. That’s my kind of relaxing – it takes all sorts to make a world.

A quick transfer at San Francisco to Las Vegas and I was soon landing in the heart of the Nevada desert and about to cast my eyes on the bright lights of Sin City.

Nicola at the famous Las Vegas sign

And it is certainly spectacular, with its massive signs and neon lights on every street corner advertising some of the world’s most-famous shows and casinos. Massive hotels dot the skyline, the mountains loom all around and a sense of adventure hangs in the air.

The Delano Hotel is an ideal base for any trip to Las Vegas. It is a cool relief from the dry heat outside and super contemporary. The rooms are big and luxurious and all are suites with stunning views of the city below.

The hotel, like many in Las Vegas, is vast and features shopping, massive temperature-controlled casinos, restaurants, cafes and even fast food areas.

You can see how, with a few drinks and a decent game of blackjack, it would be easy to forget to go out.

But for those not wanting to get caught up in the whole gambling buzz, the Delano has an outdoor pool club area with wave pools, beaches and cocktails galore.

Dinner on night one was at the Bardot Brasserie, an elegant French restaurant at the nearby Aria Hotel. We dined on foie gras, steak tartare, pate and escargot followed by filet mignon, cote de boeuf and a variety of salads. 

I’m going to blame the long flight, and not my age, for having to admit that I hadn’t the energy to hit the town and retired to my suite before I had a chance to place it all on black or red.

Day two began with breakfast at Wicked Spoon – a buffet of everything from American to Asian specialities, cooked fresh or served chilled.

It was then off to Neon Museum which is a project in the making for Las Vegas and an interesting history of the town the mob built. A guided tour of the museum, which is a collection of all the old neon signs of Vegas, some dating back to the earliest days, is peppered with stories of mobster Bugsy Siegel – an original founder of Murder Inc. – who first opened the famed Flamingo, singer Frank Sinatra and his links to the mob and the evolvement of the city it is today.

Container Park, a small shopping complex, is one of the newer additions to downtown Las Vegas, where street art and murals are on display on walls and old buildings.

Lunch at the famed Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen and Bar was a selection of true American classics, with burgers, wings and tacos, along with craft beers.

The restaurant is located just beside the High Roller Observational Wheel, which is Las Vegas’s version of the London Eye with views across the city and desert.

Fleur French restaurant, by famed French chef Hubert Keller, is in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, which is interconnected to the Delano, so it was just a short stroll through reception and past rows of slot machines, poker and blackjack tables. 

The restaurant is quite relaxed and the kind of place you could stay for the night but we had reservations to see Cirque du Soleil performing Michael Jackson’s ONE.

The show is incredible, like nothing I have ever seen. At one point Michael Jackson himself appears on stage and I wonder has all the food and drink gone to my head. 

But it’s a hologram – and the computer-generated image of the king of pop even dances with the performers.

Lest I should get too immersed in fine dining and culture, I took myself off to tables for the night with veteran Travelbiz editor Gerry Benson, who had promised to school me in the game of blackjack. Two hours later and I was still on a winning streak with the drinks flowing and my chips coming in.

Day three starts at 5.40 am – I kid you not – but it’s worth the early morning. 

A helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon is one of those bucket-list dreams for most of us – and it doesn’t disappoint. 

As we soar above one of the true wonders of the world, the ground below looks like the surface of the moon. Our Papillon Helicopter pilot talks us through the geography of the incredible Canyon and proceeds to land the chopper, so we can enjoy an early morning glass of bubbly.

The trip is truly fab and gives me a glimpse of the desert outside Las Vegas and the conservation areas like Red Rock that are surely worth a visit. I vow to come back and spend time on a ranch with the cowboys. 

Surely the Sunday World could do without me in Dublin and I could track down gangsters here as Vegas correspondent!

For a relaxed lunch after the chopper trip we go to Nine Fine Irishmen at New York New York and later, when there is time to explore the strip, I enjoy a few cold ones in this traditional bar.

We catch one more show, Million Dollar Quartet, a story of a Las Vegas love affair with Gerry Lee Lewis and Elvis before dinner at Lago – a stunning Italian eaterie overlooking the famous Bellagio fountains. 

They dance in the darkness as we eat some of the best pasta dishes I have tried in ages.

My mentor Gerry Benson has already left, but confident I can handle myself at blackjack I invite two of the group to join me at the table and vow to teach them all I know. 
Within seven minutes we are wiped, not a dime left from hundreds of dollars of chips. But that’s what Las Vegas is all about; if you come just to win you sure as hell will go home disappointed.

The following day all good things have to come to an end. 

We fly back to San Francisco where Aer Lingus Business Class back to Dublin completes the best city break I have ever been on. :

For more information on Las Vegas contact The Las Vegas Convention & visitors Authority or click on website lasvegas.com. 

Aer Lingus fly daily from Dublin to San Francisco with onward connections to Las Vegas with partner airlines, United and JetBlue. Fares start from €269 each-way, including taxes and charges. For more information visit aerlingus.com