When I tell people that I’m going somewhere alone, I tend to get one of two reactions:
- That’s crazy!
- You’re so brave!
When I told people that I was going to Las Vegas alone, their reaction was a unanimous ‘1. That’s crazy!’
People go to Las Vegas for stag-dos, hen-dos, for the pool parties and to gamble away their son’s inheritance money (I saw it in a Louis Theroux documentary once).
I’m not a big drinker, I’ve never gambled in my life and I am not a party animal. I was going to Las Vegas for my own reason. That reason was Britney Spears.
You know? Pig-tailed, Lolita-like, lip-syncing Britney, with the killer dance moves and the mega-watt smile?
I had purchased a Piece of Me ticket from viagogo. According to the ticket, I was now James Kirschner.
I’ve been a Britney devotee since I was a child so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see her perform at her residency in Vegas.
‘See Britney perform’ was on my Adventure List and I was afraid that if I didn’t see her soon, I’d miss the chance forever. I would also have loved to have seen Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Elvis and although Britney isn’t of their calibre, there is something of the legend about her.
Vegas intimidated me more than any other city I’ve ever visited. Only Bangkok comes close and that was because it was my first solo trip AND it’s a tangled mass of wires, buildings and people.
The experience of flying to Vegas with Virgin Atlantic was different to any other. There was a real buzz on this plane. The air hostesses warned us not to drink too much, everybody cheered and whooped as we took off and a group of guys on their stag-do filled me with murderous rage as they progressively descended into the depths of debauched drunkenness.
As you approach Vegas, all you see is arid yellow land, and then suddenly, the Strip, like a mirage, comes into view. Exhausted and excited in equal measure, the passengers departed the plane and it began to dawn on me quite how alone I was. Groups of revellers filled every nook and cranny of the airport. I had fortunately flown with a fellow solo traveller, but he was heading onto LA. Fortunately, Americans have this jovial earnestness that endears you to them and everywhere I went, the drivers, clerks and passers-by were helpful and courteous.
Harrah’s Hotel and Casino
I had booked a shuttle bus with Bell Trans via Expedia and they drove me directly to my hotel, Harrah’s. Fearing that I’d spend my time in Vegas sat in my hotel room eating room service night after night or weeping inconsolably at a slot machine with only $5 to my name, I decided to fill my time with trips, all booked via Expedia.
Exploring the Strip
My first night was spent in a haze of jetlag. To my body, it was 5am. To Las Vegas, it was party time. I explored a few casinos in a weird state of fatigue and elation. Each of the casinos on the stretched Strip embraces a different theme. Circus Circus displays a manic clown at the entrance, Paris has somehow recreated the romance and splendour of Parisian streets within its casino and the Luxor is a giant pyramid that at night shoots a blue laser that can be seen from space. The Venetian does what it says on the tin. It packs the glamour and intricacy of Venice beneath a painted powder blue sky, where yanks sail you in gondolas across artificially blue waters. This place is a trip and you don’t need to have had a drink to fall down the surreal rabbit hole. Vegas kind of makes you feel like you’re on something even when you’re just eating an apple.
The Hoover Dam
By bed time I was shattered but I was up early for my trip to the Hoover Dam. The trip from the Strip to the Dam was around 45 minutes, but you stop off at the famous Las Vegas sign which was smaller and closer to the ground than I’d imagined. We passed through the town of Boulder, renowned as an artistic, community-oriented town before carrying onto the behemoth that is the Hoover Dam. Let me tell you, the view of the dam truly is something. The dam is a tantalising sweep that makes your knees feel weak and the colours of the water are so exquisitely blue. Dramatic, jaw-dropping and that heat – wow, the heat in Nevada is scorching. It feels like your flesh is being barbequed as you explore.
As I wandered, I discovered more about the building of the Dam and the history of many of the men who gave their lives in order to complete the build. It was this Dam that tamed the mighty Colorado River. It was hard not to be impressed.
Big Bus – Panoramic Night Tour of the Strip
That night, still delirious with jetlag and wickedly hot, I boarded the Big Bus for the Panoramic Night Tour of the Strip. I had seen this recommended on another blog and thought ‘that sounds like a bit of me.’
The Strip is a different character by night than it is during the day. Vegas is designed to be seen at night. Beneath the unforgiving midday sun, Vegas still heaves with bodies and its rhythm remains in full swing but there’s a subdued, sleepy, surreal quality. By night, the city bursts to life in a heady mix of light, music and sumptuous visual artistry. The casinos themselves look like wonders of the world and whether you view them as tacky or tempting; you can’t help but have a visceral reaction to this city.
This trip was the highlight of my entire Vegas experience. As well as exploring the Strip, we headed downtown, passing the Pawn Shop and Wedding Chapel Row, where everyone from Elvis Presley to Britney Spears has been married. Britney married Jason Alexander at the Little White Wedding Chapel and you better believe that I squirreled away this little nugget of pop history.
Even at night, the air was sticky and hot. It feels like the sleaze of Vegas is all over you. I became buddies with Sean, a Utah native in town for business. As our bus pulled into Freemont Street, we got to take in the Freemont Street experience for ourselves. The legendary Golden Nugget Casino was an intriguing find whilst the light show at Freemont Street, accompanied by the biggest Pina Colada I’d ever consumed in my life, became emblazoned in my memory.
Back at Harrah’s, we sat at the piano bar and watched the duelling pianists. Basically, you write your song request on a piece of paper and hand it to the pianist of your choice (with a tip). I didn’t realise this at first and, having handed over my request with no tip, wondered what my chosen pianist had against ‘New York New York’ by Frank Sinatra.
When I finally heard the mellow piano and the croon of the pianist, I felt immense happiness. Now I was in America.
The Grand Canyon – South Rim
With about three hours of sleep to boast of, I woke up at 5am to prepare for my trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This was a backbreaking trip booked with Sweetours. Our guide, Walter Dirden, was fast-talking, street-smart and superbly funny. Now, I love a long road trip; I love to see the scenery change, to listen to music as the coach gallops along and to make friends with my fellow passengers, especially Sam and Cathy – shoutout to Texas! It seriously produces the nicest people! But I must forewarn you that this is a long trip. It’s about a six hour drive there and back and you spend around three hours at the canyon. You can take a much shorter trip to the west rim if you are short on time or not a fan of long journeys.
Historic Route 66 – Into Arizona
Fortunately, you do get to stop along the way at many gems. The most incredible part of the trip for me was stopping in Seligman on the historic route 66. We stopped off at Angel Delgadillo’s barber shop and I felt like a kid in a candy store. There was route 66 merchandise absolutely everywhere; license plates, bags, ashtrays, shot glasses, clothing. I was in heaven. I picked up a few souvenirs for my dad who has always had a love affair with all things American.
The canyon itself is impossible to summarise succinctly. There are so many adjectives to describe it. Sweeping, dramatic, majestic. Apparently, one lady described it as ‘meh.’
As you explore the track surrounding the canyon, the terrain and its colours shift. You can take endless pictures and catch a completely different image. You can also explore the canyon by helicopter, mule or horse. The deeper echelons of the canyon contain Native American artwork and I’d absolutely love to have seen it. It’s definitely worth staying close by for a few days so that you can really take in the enormity of the canyon. Three hours merely scratches the surface of what the Americans endearingly refer to as ‘the Ditch.’
Britney Jean Spears
The following day and my last full day in Vegas was Britney day. I spent the day exploring a few more casinos with a friend, marvelling at how each contained the same fundamental ingredients (casino, bar, shops) but yet felt so different from the last thanks to the varying themes embraced by each casino. It’s also fascinating to learn about the sordid history of Vegas and for that reason I’d recommend the Mob Museum.
After filling myself with nachos, steak fajitas and beer, I headed to the Axis at Planet Hollywood where I waited to see Britney Spears in a queue of Godney fans for what felt like an age. Once you get let into the foyer, you can purchase Britney-oriented merchandise or enjoy an overpriced drink. You can also look at original Britney outfits. As I looked at the Toxic and Oops… outfits, I couldn’t help but think how TINY little Brit-Brit had been at the height of her fame.
Finally, as I stood at the front of the Golden Circle, Britney emerged on the stage, a goddess before us. She opened with ‘Work Bitch’ (I never liked this song) and worked through an impressive set list. I saw far too much of her dancers buttocks that I could have imagined and Britney’s performance was lethargic, aloof and disinterested with a lot of arm waving and hair tossing, but even so, to see her felt like a huge adventure list tick and I’d see her again, even if only to support her. The piece de resistance was a fairytale rendition of Toxic, during which Britney, suspended from the ceiling, flies from the branch of a giant moving tree. She didn’t engage with the audience beyond a ‘How ya doin’ Vegas?’ and she wasn’t the Britney of my youth but there is still something very watchable about Ms Spears.
In my hotel room, I watched an episode of Forensic Files. When the narrator spoke the immortal lines, ‘there’s no bigger fear than being in a strange city, and being hacked to death by a murderer’, I decided it was time to turn off the television.
Leaving Las Vegas
Sunday and time to go home. I was amazed that I’d only been in Vegas since Wednesday. So much had happened and I had no idea how to process it all. Similarly to New York, Vegas is a city that can ware on the senses. It’s a short-time city, a fling, a place where you can enjoy limitless alcohol, pool parties and strip clubs but also a place with much natural beauty including Red Rock and the Canyon. Coming from narrow, cramped London, Vegas is such an open space and it demands attention.
In hindsight, Vegas is not a scary city, it’s just a city on a big scale. I came to Vegas as a lone female traveller wondering what the hell I was doing and I left feeling re-invigorated in one sense and more than a little sleep deprived!
Vegas is isolated in its madness; it’s in the middle of sun-baked nowhere and perhaps that’s why what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas (well, nowadays it goes on Facebook!)
If you’re considering going to Vegas alone and thinking 1) That’s crazy!…my advice is, just do it! Vegas is safe, friendly and bursting with fun. If you aren’t the type of person who wants to drink, gamble and accept solicitation cards all night, you can still get a lot from Vegas – trust me. There’s more to sin city that meets the eye. Of course, if you want to sin, you can do that too.
All my love