Why on earth would someone who doesn’t like gambling and isn’t keen on cities want to spend 2 days in Las Vegas? My reason is Las Vegas is a great launchpad for a Grand Canyon adventure. I was fortunate to be able to attend a conference in San Francisco in November last year for work and decided to take the opportunity to tick another item off my bucket list: The Grand Canyon. I was very short on time as I had used all my leave on trips to China and Russia & the Baltic States earlier in the year. I discovered that there are Grand Canyon day tours that leave from Las Vegas and that you can pack a huge number of activities into a single day for a very reasonable price.
In the 2 days that I had in Las Vegas, I managed to cram a whole lot of different experiences into my short time there (and in reality most of my time was spent outside of Las Vegas itself).
Red Rocks Canyon Tour
I arrived in Las Vegas on a morning flight from San Francisco, caught a shuttle bus to my hotel, checked in, grabbed a bite to eat at the buffet and found my way to the tour pickup area on the street outside. Within 2 hours of landing I was on my way out of the city to the Red Rocks Canyon. A colleague at work had told me about this beautiful place just a short distance out of Las Vegas and I had booked a Pink Jeep Tour to take me there for the afternoon. It was a small group tour and I got to sit up front (in a pink jeep) with the driver so got magnificent views of the landscape. The canyon has a visitor centre and a 13 mile loop road that you can drive around. If you have more than just an afternoon there are lots of hiking trails and places for rock climbing. We did the drive and our guide stopped regularly to show us desert plants and animals, and special views and sites.
Big Bus Las Vegas Night Tour
After the Red Rocks Canyon Tour I had just enough time to go to my room, get some warm clothing and a few snacks, and walk to the nearest pickup point for the Big Bus Las Vegas Night Tour. I was extremely grateful that I’d met a Big Bus guide earlier in the day who had given me a map and shown me where to go, and that I met another Big Bus guide on my way there who said I could walk over to the pickup point at the High Roller with him. It was a 3 hour tour; we sat up the top of the open double decker bus and a tour guide pointed out all the sights and told us lots of stories as we drove the full length of the main strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) seeing all the amazing hotels and casinos lit up at night. We also stopped for an hour in the old downtown area to see the Freemont Street light and sound show. The show plays on the roof of the covered pedestrian mall area that was absolutely packed with people of every size, shape, colour, persuasion, and dress (or not) – some were entertainers, others just entertaining. I found myself a seat at a bar right on the street and drank a cocktail watching the world go by while I waited for the main show (I’m not sure which was more fun!). This tour was a fabulous way to get a great overview of the key sights of the city at night.
Grand Canyon Adventure
Seeing the Grand Canyon was my main reason for coming to Las Vegas. I had discovered that you can do day tours from Las Vegas out to the Grand Canyon including a bus transfer, plane flight, helicopter flight, boat ride, Skywalk pass, shuttle buses, and lunch for a very reasonable price for what is included. See my Grand Canyon Adventure post for more detail. It was an amazing adventure and a great way to experience the Grand Canyon if you only have a short period of time.
Cirque du Soleil
You can’t go to Las Vegas and not see a show or two. I have always loved Cirque du Soleil shows and the original show Mystere plays in a purpose-built theatre at Treasure Island Resort. I chose to stay there especially so that I could go to Mystere. I have seen lots of their other shows but not this one – and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was absolutely blown away by the performance.
Tips for staying at Treasure Island: I booked on-line and took advantage of their Express Check-in option – this is definitely worth-while as it allows you to avoid the extremely long queues to check in when you arrive and allows you to go straight to your room whereas everyone else has to wait until after 2.00pm or pay a large amount to get an earlier room. The other special that I took advantage of was their Free Buffet meal for each night spent in the hotel – although it wasn’t an upmarket meal there was plenty of good choices and you could eat whenever you wanted. I used my first voucher for lunch on the first day, eating up large before my Red Rocks Canyon tour because I wasn’t sure if I would have time for a meal between getting back from that tour and going on the Big Bus Night Tour (which proved to be a good idea). On my second day I went in for an early evening meal before the Cirque du Soleil show and was able to purchase a nice glass of wine to go with it.
Treasure Island which was a fairly ordinary hotel focused on its casino (but with a lake and pirate ship outside) but many of the other hotels were fully themed and if I had had more time, it would have been fun to explore some of them further and perhaps see another show.
Buying a return ticket for the airport shuttle bus is also a good idea – you just need to let them know what time you want to be picked up. I decided to get to the airport early and this turned out to be a very good idea as San Francisco was fog-bound and all the flights were delayed. When I got there early, the helpful woman at the check-in counter was very concern about me making my international flight home. She booked my bag to go on an earlier flight (that wasn’t departing until mine had been due to depart) so that at least I could just pick up my bag and run to make my connection. She also wait-listed me to go on the earlier flight myself even though all the flights were fully booked. She said they would let me know half an hour before if I could get on the flight, but the answer was no – then at the very last minute they called my name – phew!