My plane ride to Las Vegas for my Thanksgiving break started off as purely uneventful — till I casually started chatting with the couple sitting next to me.
It turned out that I was sitting next to a Cuban couple that was going to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in Vegas, popularly called Sin City. Two Cubans and a Pakistani on a plane in the United States is an odd combination at the very least but it ended up being a memorable journey.
The Cuban husband had a very animated personality. He proved to be very entertaining especially during the times the plane was in turbulence. Each time the plane dangled he would yell, “Save my life!” Snide glares from the passengers around would shut him up and he won’t stop cracking self-made Cuban jokes that only made sense to him.
Ignoring him, Hen, the Cuban wife, asked me my reason for visiting Vegas; her face shaped into the same bizarre expression that everybody gave me when I told them I’m going to spend my Thanksgiving break with my parents there.
Visiting Vegas with parents can be quite boring. But before you start judging ‘my’ vacation when it hasn’t even started let me tell you something: Vegas might be famously called ‘Sin City’ but there is a tremendous amount of fun things that can be done on a ‘PG (Parental Guidance) level’.
The plane lands and everybody starts clapping as the airhostess announces, “Welcome to Vegas — the city that never sleeps!” I yawned. I mean you’re telling me about a city that doesn’t sleep? I am a Lahori, and yes, I have seen New York and London (the other cities also known to have the same sleep problem). But I was in no mood of experiencing another insomniac city.
I grabbed my carry-on and said good-bye to my Cuban friends.
As the cab driver drove towards the strip in the afterglow of the sunset, I could see bright lights of the city zooming in. The sight of the strip in Vegas brought with itself an overwhelming feeling; it was too bright, too flashy, overpoweringly inviting — and yet so artificial.
My parents, who had visited Vegas before, naturally assumed the role to become my tour guides and, hence, my sojourn in the state of Nevada started with a tour of their favourite hotel on the strip, Caesar’s Palace.
I am an ardent Roman history buff, so Caesar’s Palace ended up being my favourite place on the strip too. The sculptures were majestic and the colosseum was regal. There was an extended covered walkway, themed to look like ancient Rome, and was surrounded by forum shops. The roof of the walkway is designed to look like a sky with clouds flying by naturally. Each time there was a cloud cover, it would get slightly darker. The walkway was elaborately decorated with sculptures of Roman gods and fountains. Asian and Arab customers were seen in abundance at all the branded shops and, interestingly, very few Americans were seen there.
I tried my luck at becoming rich in Vegas when my father reluctantly —and not very generously — gave me a one-dollar bill to ‘waste’ in a casino game. It was a Sex and the City game where you were supposed to pick your favourite character from the TV series and play a casino game. Being a fan, I selected Carrie Brandshaw and lost at the first attempt.
Rejection brought out my ambitious side and, a day later, at a different casino, I found myself inserting another one-dollar ticket in a slot machine to see how far I could go.
Initially, I started winning. But soon I found myself losing. And, I knew it was time to stop.
Gambling is one of the biggest obsessions in the world — there are people in Vegas who are seen in casinos 24/7 and there are huge lines outside ATMs in those areas all the time. The drinks are cheap and waitresses are dressed according to the theme of each hotel.
Casinos are a showcase of luxury and fantasy. Clearly and luckily, this didn’t charm me enough to stay there for too long. I decided to be a tourist again and got charmed by the dancing fountains outside the hotel Bellagio.
The highlight of my Vegas trip was watching the show, Mystère. It was a Cirque du Soleil production, featuring a fusion of circus acrobat skills, dances, opera and comedy skits. Never in my life have I seen a circus performance so unique where acrobats are performed so immaculately that it was hard to believe it was real.
All the costumes were inspired by nature. My favourite was the firebird. When it flew, its red feathers and accents gave the impression of embers flying through the air. There were odd-looking Spermatos and Spermatites that were dressed in elongated costumes that bulged in the centre and had this tendril-like feature on the head that looked incredibly unique.
All the hotels on the strip are themed in a way that they reflect a certain place. I was fascinated to see Paris Paris and Venetian. Paris Paris, as the name suggests, is themed on the city of Paris with a very own little fake Eiffel Tower where tourists happily take pictures thinking in their minds they are actually in Paris. I did that too.
Venetian is themed on the city of Venice. There is a river that flows in the hotel and gondola rides are a specialty. My gondola ride was the time when I thought that coming to Vegas with parents was probably not a great idea. Since they had already taken that ride before, they suggested I take a solo tour. While I was enjoying a fake gondola ride on a fake river, my father followed me around on dry land as far as he could and took pictures. He would smile, call out my name, wave and ask me to pose each time I made an eye contact. This happened numerous times and eventually I had to tell the couple I was riding with that I am a big celebrity back home and these are just paparazzi following me around in Vegas. They laughed. I felt better.
Vegas is a great place to go to if you are fond of gambling. If you are a nature lover, the artificiality of the place might overwhelm you like it happened with me. The hotels might be themed in a certain way but they are nothing like what the real thing is — if you have seen it.
A lot can happen in Vegas if you let it happen. You find wedding chapels at every hotel, boulevard and avenue. Prostitution is legal, and you can find alcohol everywhere you go. You see scantily dressed dancing girls and bar waitresses at almost every hotel at all times, that after sometime you just know you’re in Vegas!