It was back in June 2000 that Virgin Atlantic introduced a twice weekly air service between Gatwick and Las Vegas. The enterprise was considered risky by some. An extravagant inaugural, even by Sir Richard Branson”s standards, set the tone for a real success story. Today Virgin flies daily with a Boeing 747 and has been joined by bmi with a three times weekly service from Manchester. MAXjet the business class only carrier out of Stansted has introduced twice weekly flights and says that forward bookings are most encouraging.
There is little doubt that Las Vegas, now a true leisure resort and not just gambling, has caught on with the British. Yes, you can make a quickie marriage , the laws of Nevada very liberal in that respect (the Graceland Wedding Chapel offers Elvis, Champagne and wedding cake ” registration and marriage in 60 minutes), and the Grand Canyon, 90 minutes by air and four hours by road, is one of the seven wonders of the world. The whole extravaganza of the place is what makes it so attractive. It is the British who are the number one when it comes to international tourists, nearly half a million last year.
For now Las Vegas carries on much the same as it has done for the last two decades. Much gambling, extravagant stage shows and cheap (by UK standards) eating. Hotel prices have crept up and unless you are a high roller where you might get looked after, accommodation will form a substantial part of your budget. The MGM Grand may have 5,000 rooms but checking in and out is easy. Not so at the Aladdin, another massive complex, where the builders are very much in evidence. However down in the basement, if that is the right word, the magnificent shopping mall is circular, 'Desert Passage' (above) a one mile walk back to where you started from, a subterranean treasure trove for those with good credit card facilities.
Presently dominating everything at Las Vegas is CityCenter, a $7bn architectural masterpiece due for initial completion by 2010. Moving quickly ahead on a 75-acre site bounded by Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip), and the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo hotel complexes CityCenter combines hotels, dining, entertainment and retail outlets, plus residential properties. Behind the project is MGM Mirage, owner of the Bellagio, where a huge model of the complex is now on display. Early in the New Year they will be taking deposits on the condominiums. The sales argument is that these properties are no gamble but a real investment. As a visitor you cannot miss the site in the very centre of the city, but it is best seen via the popular helicopter tour, a must for most visitors.
Everything about CityCenter is mind boggling. It is claimed to be the largest construction project currently under way in the United States, and the largest privately funded, equal to the combined size of three major New York City landmarks Rockefeller Center, SoHo and Times Square. With ”Love”, the new Beatles show playing to packed audiences, the developers have been quick to catch on. Elvis. The Vegas icon will be permanently remembered in CityCenter with another Cirque du Soleil extravaganza.
A 60-storey, 4,000-room hotel and casino will dominate the complex but room has been found for what the Americans call ”a boutique hotel”, the Mandarin Oriental, with 400 rooms (much the same as London”s Grosvenor House) which will also feature 227 condominiums. Two 37-storey towers will each house more than 350 modern residences ranging from 500 to 2,600 square feet and available in studio, one- and two-bedroom flats and penthouses. Atop each striking tower, residents and guests will enjoy an amenities floor featuring unparalleled view of Las Vegas complemented by an ”infinity edge” pool, fitness centre, spa, cabanas and a patio for outdoor entertaining. The brochure is lush. ”Steps away, residents can partake in upscale dining, lavish shopping, exhilarating nightlife and entertainment that only Las Vegas can deliver.” More accommodation is provided by the Vdara Condo Hotel combining fully furnished lodgings in and what are essentially private apartments. The 50-storey tower will host approximately 1,543 residential units including studios, deluxe studios, one-bedroom suites and one- and two-bedroom multi-level penthouse suites, ranging from 500 to 1,850 square feet. Amenities and services for residents and guests will include a luxurious spa and salon, pool with cabanas for added privacy, a fitness centre, restaurant, 24-hour concierge service, state of the art conference and meetings facilities, in-room dining, housekeeping and valet parking. Residents also will have the option to rent out their units on a nightly basis. There is no gaming in this hotel or the Harmon, with 400 luxury rooms and 228 condominium residences from 800 to 4,200 square feet available as one- and two-bedroom flats and penthouses. The Harmon is designed by (Norman) Foster and Partners, also responsible for Beijing, Hong Kong and Stansted airports.