Cape Town - British swallows migrate to South Africa during the cold UK winter. They fly through western France and eastern Spain pass Morocco, the Sahara desert and the Congo before finally settling down for the summer in sunny South Africa.
This winter, inspired by the swallow, I took the trek to a warmer place. A much warmer place – 40 degrees warmer in fact.
Situated in the Nevada Mojave desert, Las Vegas is a real-life oasis – a type of Disneyland for grown-ups.
It’s the city known for its 24-hour entertainment, flashy casinos and instant-wedding chapels – but does Vegas really live up to its Hangover-movie-expectations? I simply had to find out.
This is the story of my big fat Las Vegas vacation!
What do I need to visit Las Vegas?
South Africans travelling to Las Vegas should have a valid passport and American visa to visit the city that never sleeps. To get a visa you need to apply for one with the American embassy located nearest you.
TIP: You need to apply for your visa before purchasing your tickets or finalising your travel plans.
You can make an appointment from Monday to Thursday. Waiting time for appointments vary from city to city but on average you’re looking at a 3 day waiting period before landing a spot.
When arriving for your appointment ensure that you have all the necessary documentation with you. This includes: A valid passport which has unused visa pages, (Also bring all prior passports), the application confirmation page from the DS-160, the appointment confirmation page, A recent front-facing, 50 mm x 50 mm photograph.
Go here to book your American visa application now.
How do I get to Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is far, far away. But like really far. So far in fact that there’s a 9-hour time difference between South Africa and Nevada. This means your family and friends back home will be getting ready for bed when your day is just getting started.
This also means that your journey will probably take place over two days and might even include a few stop-overs and connecting flights. It’s important to make sure you set your watch to the local time at your destination so that you don’t miss your flights because you are in the wrong time zone.
TIP: If you’re travelling with an iPhone it should change time zones automatically. Always check a clock in the airport lounge to make sure your phone is showing the correct time. If your iPhone isn’t showing the correct time, check your settings at: Settings > General > Date & Time > Set Automatically.
I was lucky enough to travel to Las Vegas with British Airways in their business class section known as Club World. This was my first time experiencing business class and what a luxurious experience it was. I know not everyone is able to afford this but I can’t deny the fact that it made my journey so much more enjoyable.
The Club World experience gives you access to the British Airways travel lounges with free snacks, drinks and WiFi. At some airports you will also have access to spa treatment facilities and showers. On the plane you get to spread out in a fully flat-bed that ensures you are well rested when you arrive at your destination – this is great for those who struggle with jet lag as your body gets the rest it needs.
Read more about flying to Las Vegas here.
Where do I stay in Las Vegas?
For tourists Vegas consists of two parts: Downtown Las Vegas and the Strip. Downtown is the CBD of Las Vegas and the old school part of town. This is where you’ll find the instant-wedding chapels and some older casinos.
The Strip is the newer part of Las Vegas with all the mega-hotels like The Bellagio, ARIA, New York-York, Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Paris and many more. Most of the luxurious hotels have casinos in them. Interestingly enough Las Vegas is quickly gaining more popularity for its other attractions rather than the gambling side of things. This has resulted in a lot of new hotels popping up that don’t have casinos in them.
You’ll definitely find something to fit your budget in Las Vegas. I was once again spoiled and got to experience the VIP side of this city. Staying at the Bellagio Hotel and driving around in a limo is not something I ever thought I’d get the chance to try out. It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Bellagio is part of the MGM Resorts group and is situated on the Strip. The hotel, with its Italian-style décor, has 3 933 guest rooms which include 512 suites. The Bellagio has five outdoor pools, four whirlpools and 51 private cabanas situated in a Mediterranean courtyard setting.
The hotel is perhaps most famous for its magnificent ballet of dancing fountains choreographed to music and lights. The more than 1 200 dancing fountains enchants guests and visitors with performances every 30 minutes from 15:00 to 19:00. After 19:00 until midnight the famous fountains perform every 15 minutes to music ranging from Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli to Michael Jackson and world renowned DJ Tiësto.
TIP: Make use of complimentary Wi-Fi wherever you go in Las Vegas. The Bellagio has Wi-Fi in all low-rise public spaces, including pools, casino, lobby and restaurants. There’s also Wi-Fi available at the following MGM Resorts destinations: Bellagio, ARIA, Vdara, The Shops at Crystals, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Delano Las Vegas, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor and Excalibur. The MGM Resorts WiFi system in Las Vegas is highest-performing, next generation wireless LAN in the hospitality industry.
Get more details about hotels here.
How do I get around in Las Vegas?
It’s surprisingly easy to get around in Las Vegas. There’s really no need for renting a car if you are staying for a week or less and really just want to enjoy the immediate area.
The easiest way to get around the Strip is obviously by foot. But the days can get hot and at night the sidewalks are extremely crowded. The Strip is one long street and really easy to navigate.
If walking isn’t your thing you can always take the bus. The Las Vegas Deuce is an affordable bus service on the Strip managed by the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC). The Deuce travels up and down the Strip 24/7 and stops at almost every hotel.
If you prefer you can use the Las Vegas Monorail which has several stations along the Strip. Start your journey at any of the seven Monorail stations and hop on or off at any station.
Use your Uber app to get around town in an easy and comfortable way. With almost all the hotels offering free Wi-Fi it’s really easy to connect your app and set off on your trip within minutes. Most hotels have a special Uber pick-up and drop-off zone making it very convenient to travel. Regular metered-taxis are also available but these are more pricey.
What can I do in Las Vegas?
It would be impossible to mention everything you can do in Las Vegas. The possibilities are endless and the entertainment never stops. There’s everything from Britney Spears live on stage to Cirque du Soleil's magical shows to an aquarium with sharks.
Although most people think of Las Vegas as a gambling destination it’s really much more than that. In fact only a small percentage of visitors come for the gambling, the majority visit Vegas for the live entertainment and amazing restaurants.
By far the highlight of my trip to Las Vegas was a helicopter flight with Maverick Helicopters through the Grand Canyon. Halfway through the trip we stopped in the canyon for a champagne lunch. Flying into Arizona and exploring the majestic Canyon from the sky was unforgettable. (Watch my flight through the Grand Canyon here.)
Apart from the amazing trip in the helicopter my second favourite part of Las Vegas is the food. Vegas has turned into a rather serious foodie destination with more Michelin star chefs than you can count on both hands. The city offers everything from popular fast food to five-star elegance. You can eat everything from American, French, German, Italian to everything else you could imagine.
Is Las Vegas worth the trip?
I have to be honest and admit that Las Vegas was never top of my travel list. It was a place I loved seeing in TV shows and movies but never imagined ever visiting.
But after my trip I would go back to Vegas at the drop of a hat.
It’s the perfect fun destination, great for bro-cations, honeymoon getaways or even just an escape from reality. If Vegas wasn’t on your travel list before, you better add it now.
*Disclaimer: This trip was sponsored by British Airways and MGM Resorts.
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- WATCH: Flying through the Grand Canyon in a helicopter