To many, Las Vegas conjures up images of gambling, booze and scantily clad women…and that is certainly an element of the Vegas experience. But Las Vegas offers much more than the stereotype suggests.
How about a world class exhibit of Impressionist paintings, featuring Monet, at the Bellagio Hotel Fine Art Gallery? While you are there check out the huge, free fountain display in front of the hotel often set to classical music with an ethereally choreographed ballet of hundreds of water jets dancing in time to the music.
The Bellagio Hotel is named for the charming village of the same name on Lake Como in northern Italy. The hotel’s Conservatory mirrors the superb botanical garden adjacent to the original Italian town, a whimsical and artistic free indoor attraction that even features a large framed painting composed of live plants.
The Venetian Hotel does a credible job of simulating Venice with its half scale Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Square, bell tower, canals and other icons of Italy’s aquatic city. There is also an innovative display which features the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci built exactly to his designs. These range from flying machines and parachutes to industrial tools and weapons including a tank and a type of machine gun.
The Egyptian-themed Luxor Hotel offers not only an impressive selection of fun, but educational exhibits as well. “Bodies…the Exhibition” has a large array of dissected human bodies carefully preserved through a special (and thankfully formaldehyde-free) technique. The cadavers are tastefully posed in various positions and the signage and self-guided audio tour give a fascinating background of how the human body works.
The adjacent “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” boasts hundreds of artifacts retrieved from the wreck of the luxury liner a number of years ago including a 50 ton chunk of the hull with intact port holes as well as many smaller artifacts. The displays are housed in replicated portions of the ship giving a feel for how the doomed vessel functioned and how different classes of passengers lived…and died. It features an eerie finale simulating how it would have been on that iceberg-shattered night in April, 1912. In fact all visitors are issued a passport affixed with the name of a Titanic passenger and get to check and see if they perished or were rescued.
The “Mob Experience” at the Tropicana (one of the early Mafia established resorts in Vegas) is a must-see as both a fun and thoughtful exposition of the history of the mob and mobsters involved in Vegas including “Bugsy” Siegel, “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky and others. Many of these mobsters’ personal effects are on display. All visitors get a passport and go from Ellis Island as immigrants, interact with actors and make choices that determine their ultimate fate at the end of the experience. You could be “made”, i.e. become a full member of the mob, or you could get “whacked” or executed. Just don’t “rat out” Big Tony, even by accident, unless you’ve arranged for witness protection.
How did I do? Let’s just say that in one day in Vegas I died twice, once by going down with the Titanic and once by being machine-gunned down by a couple of mobsters.
If you’d rather interact with the aquatic version versus the human version of a shark, look no further than Mandalay Bay next door to the Luxor. Its “Shark Reef” is actually a thoughtful look at the fate of the world’s oceans combined with the opportunity to walk through a Plexiglas tube that goes right through a large tank full of sharks, rays and other reef denizens. The Great Whites look like they’re sizing you up for dinner. There is a mesmerizing back-lit tank full of colorful jellyfish and many other displays including a rare Komodo Dragon.
“CSI: The Experience” at the MGM Grand gives visitors a chance to solve murders by using the latest forensic techniques. You can access all the latest technology and get reports to help solve the case, but to do so you will need to do your homework and learn what tests are relevant, how they’re done and what kind of information you can expect to see in the test results.
Even some of the Vegas shows have an intellectual edge. Cirque de Soleil productions are always thoughtfully done, but the erotic production, “Zumanity”, at New York, New York will challenge you emotionally and intellectually, as well as titillate. Look for Freudian and Jungian themes embedded in the ethereal dance and acrobatic routines. You may even have to examine some of your own sexual preconceptions. There’s a large audience participation component and you may be surprised what a gray haired lady accountant or couple from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan might say or do in public! Not for the prudish.
Don’t forget that Las Vegas is next door to some of the world’s most geologically interesting regions, with the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon easily accessible by car, bus, helicopter and airplane. Those who have limited time can take a couple of hours by helicopter or airplane to fly over the remarkable pre-Cambrian, billion year old canyon or you can plunge into its depths for lunch or even white water raft. Brace yourself though as the water is very cold.
Closer at hand is the engineering marvel that is the Hoover Dam. A tour through the inner workings of the dam gives visitors an intriguing look at how the water and electrical supply of Vegas and further afield is maintained. There is an almost palpable energy that most will feel when deep within the bowels of the structure as if your body is sensing the huge pressures and magnetic surges surrounding it.
Other worthwhile activities include a visit to nearby Red Rock Canyon with its beautiful and bizarre Joshua trees that look like they belong on an alien planet. You can also tour a gold mine in El Dorado Canyon or take a trip to Death Valley, one of the hottest places on the planet ( I want to test that out with a raw egg to see if I can actually fry it on a rock!)
Whether your tastes are mind candy or eye candy, good food or fine wine, Vegas has something to offer all visitors. Check it out sometime. Tell ‘em Big Tony sent you!
A Gallery Of Images From The Trip
Click The Thumbnails For Full Size Images
All photos © George Burden – All Rights Reserved
If You Go: Las Vegas Tourism
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