Before we knew it, our time in California had come to what felt like an abrupt end. In just six short days we were all theme-parked out, we had ventured through what felt like the entirety of Hollywood and we had experienced In-N-Out burger, so it’s safe to say our time there was done. We were headed onwards to the state of Nevada to witness the one and only Las Vegas. The most cost effective mode of transport to the desert was a Tufesa bus, running at only $10 per person – an absolute bargain, as we were also excited to do the trip via land travel, in an attempt to see more of what the country had to offer. Although we arrived in Vegas an extra hour and a half before we were due (a bus which arrived ahead of schedule, unbelievable right??), the trip was nowhere near as exciting as expected – there was literally empty desert, desert and even more desert with the occasional motor inn or service station to break it up. But alas, we had arrived in one piece and the coach was quite comfortable to travel in; no complaints from us here!
Now, obviously we can’t tell you everything that went on the next four days – what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But what I can tell you, it was a blur of bright lights, old American retiree vacationers, entertainment on every corner, all of our favourite foods and a beautiful stay in the Hilton Doubletree Tropicana Resort. Arriving into the Tropicana, I swear all eyes were on the backpackers, confused puzzled faces of holidaymakers wondering exactly what was our business in a Hilton resort. Lucky for us, my parents (veterans of Sin City itself) decided to go the extra mile to ensure that our stay was awesome and pitched in for our accommodation, money to go towards eating out and for Christmas had bought us tickets to Cirque Du Soleil’s ‘O’ – the only Cirque show to take place within a pool, and a bucket-list item for both of us. No amount of ‘thank you’s’ are quite enough, as Las Vegas is definitely no backpacking destination and most of the entertainment revolves around having some serious coin and this helped us really enjoy our time.
We dropped our bags off to our room, admired our sweet balcony view and king sized bed (bit of a luxury coming from a six bed dorm!) and quickly set off onto the strip. One tip we have for anyone staying in the Tropicana, or any Hilton Doubletree accommodation is to take advantage of the daily Doubletree cookie which is complimentary for every guest. The Hilton has this amazing recipe for a choc-chip and walnut cookie, they are baked fresh daily and kept warm so the chocolate is just slightly melting – can honestly tell you, Blake and I took advantage of this daily because they are just heavenly.
We were super lucky with the weather, no rain and quite warm in the day – the cooler nights didn’t tend to bother us too much, as you can just escape the cold and duck into the nearest casino or hotel and walk up the strip that way – and explore all the casino’s we did! To be honest, after a while they all start to look the same from the inside – each casino floor is set out the same with the different tables or slot machines everywhere you look, all the way down to the identical signs, right down to the exact same font, labelling your directions in each casino. However the outside decor’s are impressive and we quite enjoyed the fact that each property has a different theme and related entertainment centred on that. Blake had said that the Bellagio Fountains were his ‘must-do’ in Vegas whilst he was there and I had to agree they are incredibly impressive, so we set out to watch the night show after slowly perusing our way down the strip. In just forty-five minutes of wandering, we ended up seeing three shows and were impressed by every single one. It truly is an incredible spectacle and amazing to think there are so many different routines and songs they have choreographed the fountains to, ensuring that you are never bored and making it tough to see the same show twice. We capped off the day, which had absolutely flown by, visiting a burger place we had endeavoured to try: ‘Johnny Rockets’, which served up typical old-school American diner food and did not disappoint with its burger meals.
Day two arrived after an incredible sleep in an absolute cloud of a bed, as we awoke totally refreshed and ready to see all that Vegas had to offer, as we had only made it as far down the strip to the Bellagio last night (aka. Not very far at all). We hiked it out to the incredibly touristic, yet totally iconic ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign, and boy was it actually a decent hike. Turns out majority of people drive or cab down, but we got in a quick work out and saved some coin, so a win-win after all. In true Vegas style, we saw a newly wedded couple getting their wedding pics in before the sign – there literally could not have been anymore Vegas stereotypes within the one framed shot. A few quick pics later, taken by a guy who was taking everyone’s photos in exchange for tips, we had ticked off another Vegas bucket list item and began the long hike back to the main strip. More wandering, more observing and more free entertainment – we watched the Mirage Volcano night show, only visible twice a night and thankfully, we were walking past at the exact right time completely unplanned. This was actually more incredible than it sounded, it sounded a bit lame and overrated as a ‘volcano eruption’ show: instead the fire and fountains provided an incredible spectacle and it made sense as to why it drew in such a large crowd. No trip to the USA would be complete for us without a visit to the Cheesecake Factory – the larger-than-life portions at ridiculously low prices, the extensive menu that serves literally everything and of course, the cheesecakes themselves make for one of our favourite American stops and safe to say we treated ourselves in Vegas by stopping in. One ridiculous sized entrée nachos and a tasty pasta dish later, we had left no room for cheesecake and walked out carrying a bag for lunch tomorrow!
The last time I was in Vegas, I did not get a chance to witness the old Vegas that is Fremont Street in all its glory, so it was definitely on our list this time around to witness the madness and mayhem. Day three saw us wander our way north to the older side of town, stopping in at the casinos and stores we had yet to peruse – we saw the flamingo’s at the Flamingo casino and we played arcade games and saw circus acts at Circus Circus. Lunch was somewhere in between all this wandering, and we had decided to make a stop into somewhere that Blake had wanted to visit for quite some years now – White Castle. We knew that the menu offered ‘slider’ style burgers, but didn’t want to waste our money on ridiculously American sized food, so we took that with a grain of salt and only ordered a small amount – pretty sure the cashier thought we were either homeless or on diets! The sliders truly are only slightly larger than a 50c coin in diameter, but my gosh are they some tasty burgers! We would definitely recommend the jalapeno slider for anyone who wants a little bit of spice and flavour. The far northern end of the strip is not that exciting, quite bare and has a slightly dodgy feel to it – however we had walked the entire way, it had taken us a few hours and there was no turning back now as we headed on to Fremont Street, aiming to get there for the Fremont Street Experience show which happens on the hour. Dropping by the world’s largest souvenir store on the way (there was literally nothing there that you couldn’t get in a regular souvenir store on the strip), we finally found a bus station and hopped on the double-decker Deuce bus going up the rest of the strip towards the night show.
Fremont Street was truly an experience in its own right, before you even watch the actual ‘experience’ night show. Tacky old-school neon signs light up ‘Glitter Gulch’ much brighter than the modern strip, old casinos filled with smoke clouds line the street, topless girls are on every corner trying to get photos for tips and there are literally ‘street performers’ everywhere – although the most talent we saw was a guy dressed as a baby complete with a mask dancing to a DJ and a guy dressed as a middle finger emoji, holding a sign labelled ‘F**K YOU’ and asking for tips. There was very minimal actual talent and rather kooky bizarre characters all trying to make a quick buck. Drunken middle aged patrons lined the streets, dancing to the sounds coming from the side stages and everyone appeared to be either smiling or laughing (minus the middle finger guy, he just frowned a whole lot). Then came time for the actual main event, and it certainly wasn’t disappointing. Each hour they play a tribute to a different band – we happened to be in time for ‘The Who’ show, and although not incredible fans of their work, the projections onto the roof and light display that went along to the soundtrack were second to none on the huge screen. The most incredible view would have been witnessed by the people riding the Slotzilla zip line – a huge zip line that rides at 34 metres high and runs the entire length of Fremont Street – it would have been the best view to witness all the chaos from above! Dinner was a quick late-night stop into my literally favourite place within the entirety of Las Vegas – the Rainforest Café. Service was incredible, our server Jimmy was super attentive and gave us lots of tips and tricks about Vegas and the food was divine. Safe to say we’ll return again one day, our experience was great!
Our final day had arrived and we were pretty knackered and sick of walking – we had wandered for three days already and had visited all of the main attractions, casinos and malls. So we decided to do the next best thing – drink frozen cocktails! When in Vegas, a visit to Fat Tuesday’s is a necessity – it’s near impossible to walk down the strip and not see a single Fat Tuesday’s souvenir cup or yard glass, attached to a loud drunk American tourist stumbling up the street. Blake and I decided the most efficient way to get the most out of our experience was to mix flavours, and thus the ‘Mango Colada’ was born. Not overly strong in alcohol content, (says Kristin who can’t even handle alcohol!) but massive in flavour, this was an incredible choice and a great way to kick off our day. We even managed to keep the souvenir cup and to this day, it is resting in the hood of my backpack awaiting shipping home.
The evening of our Christmas presents had also arrived, and we were booked to see ‘O’ by Cirque du Soleil for our last hurrah in Vegas. There is honestly no other show on Earth like it, or at least not that we have witnessed and truly the most incredible Cirque performance we have both seen. To combine high-flying, contortion and acrobatics with diving and swimming elements, as the performance takes place within a pool containing 6.8 million litres of water, was truly incredible and definitely unique. It had been a dream of ours to see this performance for quite some time, so to live out that dream was absolutely the best way to end our larger-than-life time in Vegas.
When you’re on a backpacking budget, there’s not a lot else to do in Vegas besides wander and take it all in, visiting the casinos and finding as much free entertainment as possible. I think this made for a long stay, as we weren’t shopping, hardly gambling and didn’t go clubbing – but none-the-less, we still thoroughly enjoyed our time and got to witness all the sights and all that Vegas had to offer. There was never a dull moment and we truly ate like kings and queens for the few days! Before we knew it our time in the United States had come to a sharp end. I slipped my last US dollar into a slot machine at McCarran International Airport (newsflash: that was never going to pay off) and we were off on our way into an entirely different world – Mexico and it’s capital of Mexico City.