for my first time in vegas, why not during the new year's holiday? if you're gonna do over-the-top sensory overload, no time like when it's as crowded as possible. it's supposed to be second only to nyc/times square in terms of number of people gathering.
anyway, first day+ was hanging with a friend who lives in henderson. mellow, just eating, drinking, watching hockey.
the vegas experience starts the next day, thursday. meet up with my friend j (knew her in miami, now she's a photography student at parson's in nyc) and get to the hotel, the excalibur. there's a medieval theme that's definitely played out in the architecture, and to a point in the entertainment and a few of the restaurant names. the rooms themselves were fairly generic. just a small faux medieval tapestry hanging on one wall, and the bedframes had vaguely gothic/olde englishe style carving.
anyway, the strip hotels, especially the newer ones (bellagio, wynn, venetian, paris, new york new york ,mgm grand luxor, mandalay bay, cesear's palace) were HUGE. some were set a good 3-5 minute walk back from the sidewalk.
each had a different vibe (theme aside). the mgm grand felt old-school/old money. dark lighting, wood paneling, chic (almost deco) design. across the street, the tropicana goes for middle-brow cheese. slot machine noise is all you hear, there's $5 blackjack with a lively crowd. played a few hands and had the coolest dealer -- a laconic and world-weary asian dude. great counterpoint to the boisterous crowd at his table. playing the same game at the $10 or $25 tables at luxor was stuffy and boring. at new york new york somewhere in the middle.
the bellagio and wynn are going for super-high end style. nice touches in each...marble flooring with cool in-lay, luxurious pool areas. at wynn it was almost defeated by this gigantic animatronic frog. the mirage (home to sigfried and roy) has a jungle theme augmented by a beautiful (live) tiger on display in a zoo-like area as you walk towards the main casino floor. felt kinda bad for the cat...smallish area, people gawking. at one point he was pawing at the door to get back to his secluded area, but the keepers must not have seen or heard him. looked just alike a housecat trying to get past a closed door -- on his hind legs and pushing/pawing.
the eating was good and (surprisingly) expensive. at the newer hotel restaurants you get good food, but for more than you'd pay at a conventional restaurant in a city. but then, this on a major holiday weekend and without any comps. but good sushi at a place in cesear's palace, and a good new year's dinner at wolfgang puck's restaurant in the mgm.
we took one day and hit lake mead and the hoover dam. awesome, especially the trails around the lake and the colorado river leading towards it. the hoover dam is an awesome engineering marvel. the design of the buildings and statues reflects its deco-era construction.
the older part of vegas, the downtown, is decidedly unglamorous. very bright neon lights flashing quickly. it's the golden nugget, four queens, glitter gulch strip joint. much more down-to-earth vibe. the fremont street experience light show is ok...more a technical marvel, but worth seeing. also, per usual, i found a good dive bar (at the art bar) and a good mexican place (casa don juan). kinda places locals go to, decidedly non-touristy.
new year's eve itself was ok. lots of events in every hotel. the strip (las vegas blvd) is blocked to traffic and people can walk on the street. by 11pm it's packed, to the point where it's impossible to walk all that far. fireworks up and down, including a synchronized display from new york new york, the mgm, and excalibur (they're each at the corners of the strip and tropicana ave).
getting anything done takes forever. it's a long walk to anywhere from inside the hotels. getting out is a chore (a design feature to keep you in) and with the crowds and the urban design it's like a quarter mile to to get from the hotel lobby to a street corner.
verdict -- worth going for the experience. i'd like to go back when it's less crowded and when room rates aren't at gouging levels (our rate for the 31st was 3x the rate for the 29th). might have spent more money on dinners and shows if the room hadn't set us back so much. but they still got lots of my dough.