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Visiting Hoover Dam from Las Vegas

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While most people visiting Las Vegas come for the bright lights, there are many options for short excursions out into the surrounding area. Visitors to the area can take advantage of car hire in Las Vegas to swap the city for the spectacular canyons. This is actually how we visited Hoover Dam and Lake Mead when we were in Vegas a few years ago!

One easy day excursion, involving just a 30 mile trip to the southeast of Las Vegas, is to the Hoover Dam. You can sense immediately what a monumental feat of construction and engineering it is, but taking the time to understand what went in to accomplishing this feat makes it that much more remarkable. Dating from the early 1930s, Hoover Dam borders Arizona and Nevada and impounds Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country. It is still considered the world’s biggest dam. Little wonder that it is a National Historic Landmark and a tourist attraction drawing almost a million visitors a year.

Hoover DamThe idea of a dam in the area had been around since the early 1900s, but three decades passed before the completion of the dam. Novel techniques for the time were employed and the project was fraught with difficulties, culminating in the cost of over a hundred lives. Despite this, the dam was completed ahead of schedule.

The dam was built primarily to control flooding while also providing a source of irrigation water. Today, the dam provides water for a population of around 8 million people and irrigates more than a million acres of land. But another reason for construction was to provide energy in the form of hydroelectric power, and it is this which generates the necessary proceeds to pay off the construction loan and maintain the dam. Hoover Dam became the largest hydroelectric power station in the world in 1939, and more generators were added through to the 1960s.

Hoover DamBut the dam is not just impressive in size and scope; it is also a work of art. Graceful Art Deco designs adorn the towers and spillways, while you can also marvel at the 30 foot high bronze sculptures and vast polished ‘star map’ floor of the Nevada plaza. Decorative motifs are based on those depicted in Native American paintings, textiles and ceramics, including depictions of animals, birds and environmental phenomena such as rain and lightning. Other artworks depict the workings of the dam.

Access to the dam is by tour only – visitors can opt to take the complete one hour tour, which covers the visitor center, power plant and dam passageways, or the shorter power plant tour. Both tours take in the power plant, where visitors are taken hundreds of feet down through the rock, before viewing the huge pen-stock pipes, which transport 90,000 gallons of water a second; afterwards, an elevator takes visitors back up for a sweeping view down to the power plant and generators. Visitors on the full tour also pass through the winding tunnels inside the dam. Numerous interactive exhibits explore the workings of the dam in detail. An observation deck in the visitor center allows for amazing panoramic views of the dam itself, Lake Mead and the Colorado River.

Lake Mead from Hoover DamHoover Dam is set in a spectacular location and it is this of course, as much as the dam itself, which makes the trip so memorable. Lake Mead is a wonderful spot for boating, cruising or other water-based activities, including fishing, swimming and water-skiing. You can also hike and camp in the area, enjoying the superb contrast of the lake and the surrounding desert.

Practical Information

Hoover Dam is open daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Some parts of the dam are not accessible to those with wheelchairs or scooters, and the complete tour does not admit children under eight years. Tickets can be purchased on the day.

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Why Las Vegas is the perfect destination for a long weekend getaway

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From the minute you land in Las Vegas, it feels unreal. There you are, in the middle of the desert, red sand as far as the eye can see, and yet you are standing under the bright flashing lights of the Strip, surrounded by thousands of people piling into the world’s largest casinos and top restaurants, with the allure of money so thick you can feel it in the air. Vegas grabs you, sucks you in and, within days you are ready for it to spit you back out.

The first time we went to Vegas in April 2010 we didn’t expect to love ‘Sin City’. Neither of us gamble and we travel in search of authentic travel experiences – not the gluttonous extravagance of Las Vegas. And yet somehow, we fell in love with the city just about the minute we stepped out of the plane into the scorching desert heat and whisked away in a cab along bright lights of The Strip to our hotel.

vegas new york new yorkThe only reason we ever ended up in Vegas in the first place was the fantastic flight and hotel packages we discovered while looking for an economical way to fly from London to Los Angeles. Round trip flights to Las Vegas, just a four-hour bus ride from Los Angeles, were far cheaper than a one-way to L.A., and that included seven nights accommodation right on the Strip. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. We never did use that return ticket, but no matter if you are looking for a last minute getaway, a cheap vacation later this year – there are always incredible bargains to be found to get to Sin City.

What we quickly found out was that the city is not just one ‘type’ of traveler. In fact, Las Vegas is for everyone, perfect for gamblers, of course, but also for families, romantic getaways and big bashes with groups of friends a la The Hangover. Here are our top tips for a perfect city break in Vegas:

vegas strip at night with paris

For gamblers

No matter where you stay, you almost always will have a world-class casino right on the main floor of your hotel. The top casinos are in the iconic Paris Hotel, the celebrity-friendly Mandalay Bay, and of course the most luxurious casino, the Bellagio. The Venetian, the giant gambling floor at the MGM Grand, Roman-style Cesar’s Palace’s casino and the Luxor are also worth a visit – even non-gamblers can appreciate the unique design and vibe of each one.

Vegas Casinos

For foodies

Vegas is well-known for its excellent restaurant options, and real foodies can experience the world’s best chefs, as long as you make reservations well in advance. Most worth a taste is the exquisite New French cuisine at the Guy Savoy at Cesar’s Palace, Joël Robuchon’s restaurant in the MGM Grand or the Picasso in the Bellagio. You can taste some sensational Japanese food at Raku and Sen of Japan, the best steak in the U.S. at N9NE Steakhouse or modern Italian cuisine at Nove Italiano, located on the 51st floor of the Palm’s Fantasy Tower. The Mandarin Oriental is home to TWIST by Pierre Gagnaire, the famed Three-star Michelin chef’s only restaurant in the United States, plus the Foundation Room, originally a ‘members only’ secret on top of Mandalay Bay, is now open to everyone. For those who are not into fine dining, your options are even wider- from great people watching spots on the strip to the all-day buffets inside the casinos. Our favorites include Cesar’s Palace, Paris and the Carnival World Buffet at the Rio Hotel.

For party goers

Most people know that Las Vegas is synonymous with clubbing, and Sin City certainly gets its name from what goes on after dark… This city has some of the most excessive parties in the world, with top night clubs including the XS at the Encore – the hottest club in town right now with it’s indoor/outdoor pool party space, and Tryst at Wynn, which boasts a 90-foot waterfall and a lagoon. Studio 54 at MGM Grand combines a nightclub setting with a Cirque du Soleil act with a spectacular troupe of dancers and of there is Moon at the Palms Fantasy Towers, famous for its celebrity spottings and unforgettable views over the Strip from 50 stories above. Other Vegas classics include Pure at Cesar’s Palace, Tao at The Venetian and the Eye Candy Sound Lounge at Mandalay Bay.

vegas dancer

For nature lovers

Las Vegas might not seem like the greatest destination for nature lovers, but at second glance there is so much to admire just beyond the bright lights! The Grand Canyon’s West Rim can be visited on a day trip, and if you don’t want to spend hours in the car, you can even take a helicopter there. Car rentals are cheap and plentiful though, and the Red Rock Canyon Nature Reserve just outside of Vegas is a hiker’s paradise, plus offers a 13-mile scenic drive with magnificent vistas over the canyon and the desert beyond.

Red Rock Canyon Nevada

For non-gamblers

While Vegas might be mainly known as a gambling destination, there is actually plenty to do for non-gamblers, as well! We already mentioned hiking around Vegas and clubbing at night, but there are more than enough attractions to keep you entertained during the day: Adrenaline junkies can enjoy the many theme parks, such as at Circus Circus, the roller coaster at New York New York or the breathtaking rides on top of the Stratosphere Hotel. Vegas also has fantastic shopping options, like the Via Bellagio, the Forum Shops at Cesar’s Palace or the Fashion Show Mall with over 250 shops and restaurants. Who could forget one of Las Vegas’ main attractions – the world’s greatest shows that can be seen here – like Cirque de Soleil, Blue Man Group, some of the more infamous ‘adult’ shows like The Chippendales and top music headliners like Shania Twain, Boyz II Men, Celine Dion or Santana and magic shows by Criss Angel or David Copperfield. For more ideas how to fill your days and nights in Sin City, check out our top ten (non-gambling) things to do in Vegas here.

Have you been to Las Vegas? What’s your favorite thing to do or see there?

Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas

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Stranded in the desert

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As budget travelers, taking a bus to get from Las Vegas to Los Angeles seemed a fabulous idea. When we found a bus company that offers five to six daily trips between L.A. and Vegas for only $30 one-way, we booked right away. What we didn’t realize was that after a 30 minute detour of being stranded in the desert and one unscheduled stop to drop off what we think was a family friend of the driver, this bus ride prepared us for the ups and downs of the type of travel coming to us in Central America.


The natives, ie, Jessica’s fellow Americans, look down a bit on bus travel, so it wasn’t a surprise that we got our fair share of “You’re taking a what to Los Angeles? Why not fly, or drive?!”. Slightly stubborn and set on our money-saving ways, we waited proudly in line waiting for our public transport  to pick us up at the Stratosphere hotel  in Vegas.

When the bus pulled up, it was not a long-distance coach, but more like an inner city public bus. At the point when we discovered our driver didn’t speak even a word of English, it did not bother us in the least. That is, until after a rest stop smack in the middle of nowhere, when we crawled back on the highway at 40mph and rode the shoulder for 20 minutes without any announcement being made.


The only other people who seemed to notice were the Australian backpacking couple who boarded bright-eyed with stars in their eyes. The rest, commuters who regularly take this trip, didn’t raise an eyebrow. In fact, our nearest neighbor kept her headphones stuck in her ears, continuing on with her high, off-pitch singing of classics such as “I’m Every Woman” by Whitney Houston and several hits by the Commodores.

After moving to the shoulder and driving at a snail’s pace for twenty minutes, we finally found ourselves at a near-deserted tire service in the middle of the desert. It was the only building around for miles and the fireball in the sky was burning down at well over 100 degrees. Our driver could not communicate with the passengers and we had no idea whether we would continue and if so, how long it would take until we set off. We thought this an appropriate initiation ceremony to our new lives as permanent travelers…Go with the Flow!

The commuters might have been angry about the delay to their journey, but for us this was first time that we realized that we’re actually on the road, and our trip had begun! This was only the first many bus rides, one of many delays, one of many adventures.

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Las Vegas: Get outta town!

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One of the best things we did in Las Vegas was get outta town. This was not only for the sake of our livers and our wallets, but for sanity’s sake as well. The landscape of the Nevada desert provides such an beautiful, peaceful day or two escape from your trip to Sin City.

Red Rock Canyon

Rent a car and drive just twenty minutes westwards out of Las Vegas and you’ll find yourself in a completely different world: instead of hotels and Black Jack tables you’ll be surrounded by the red rocks of this fascinating nature reserve.

It’s $7 per car to enter the reserve and you can simply follow a 13 mile one-way scenic drive through the mountains.

There are numerous view points during the drive, with hiking trails beginning at each one of them, varying from 30 minutes to 4 hour hikes – so don’t forget to bring your hiking shoes, and sun protection, as you’ll be exposed to the desert sun everywhere.

Helicopter or Plane Tour to Grand Canyon via Hoover Dam & Lake Mead

When looking at a map, the Grand Canyon doesn’t seem too far away from Vegas – it’s 180 miles to be precise – however, the streets that you have to take to get there add up to 280 miles – which is quite a ride.

The helicopter and ariplane tours offered along The Strip are a very comfortable and exciting option, rather than sitting in a car or coach for 4 or 5 hours each way, you’ll be picked up at your hotel, driven to the airport and put in a small business plane or helicopter and flown to the Grand Canyon.

Most trips include a flight over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Starting at around $150 per person (without landing at the Canyon), going up to $300 (including one or two landings at the Canyon and a champagne lunch there) the trips can get pricey,  but well worth it!

Note: If you decide to do a plane tour over the Grand Canyon, make sure you’re booked on a plane that has the wings above the windows – otherwise there’s no point in paying for the trip.

Hoover Dam & Lake Mead

If you decide against a trip to the Grand Canyon, an easy trip to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead are easily done in a day, and even as quick as a morning trip out and you can be back at the slot machines after lunch.

Crossing the Dam is free, the power station can be visited for $11.

Lake Mead charges an entrance fee ($5 per car, valid for 5 days) for access to the recreational area and beaches, and cruises over the lake to Hoover Dam leave from the Boulder Basin marina, which is the first marina on entering the lake area.

Going in is worth the money if you want to take a boat tour to the Hoover Dam (Lake Mead Cruises offer brunch, dinner and sightseeing cruises), or if you actually want to spend some time on the beaches (not so spectacular) – for views of the lake there are various viewpoints on the way to Hoover Dam that can be accessed without entering the recreational area.

Have you got other tips on what to do on a day trip outside of  Vegas?

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Las Vegas Tip: Exlore the Bellagio

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For those with the faintest interest in Vegas,  you will have probably heard of the Bellagio Hotel. If anything, you know it as one of Terry Benedict’s hotels in  Ocean’s 11 (it stars again in Ocean’s 13). Although being in the middle of The Strip, the Bellagio stands out of the typical Vegas hotels with its unique Italian theme and elegance.

Inspired by Lake Como in Italy, the entire building is built in the style of Italian architecture, including an eight-and-a-half-acre lake featuring the famous fountains and more than 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers on the ceilings of the lobby.

Opened in 1998, the Bellagio is one of the biggest and most elegant hotels on The Strip, and it does not only offer top dining experiences and broad shopping opportunities as well as an art gallery, it also has a wonderful botanical flower garden in its lobby.

The flowers in the botanical garden are arranged creatively, in different forms every season – in the form of snails, frogs, and other colorful displays giving off a wonderful scent.

Jumping water fountains and never stopping watering cans add to the beautiful atmosphere.

Leave the botanical garden on the left side and you will come to what is called ‘the world’s largest chocolate fountain’ in The Jean-Philippe Patisserie, a European-style pastry shop that not only spreads the appealing smell of chocolate but also offers fabulous Italian ice cream. Make sure you bring your credit card though, if you want to try it.With EasyToBook.com, find your cheap hotel in Las Vegas and all over the world!

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Top 10 things to do in Las Vegas: Non-Gambling & almost free!

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We never meant to start our globetrotting adventure in Las Vegas. Instead a series of random circumstances led us to start in Sin City, but after three and a half cold & rainy years in England, the sweltering and sunny Nevada desert seemed the perfect kick-off for our around-the-world journey.

Neither of us are any good at gambling, and with no desire to lose all our savings to slots and booze, we set out to explore how to enjoy the city of Vegas beyond the sin.

Here are our Top 10 Non-Gambling Things To Do in Las Vegas:

1. Stroll up and down the Strip

The 4.5 miles between the Mandalay Bay and the Stratosphere offer nearly infinite people-watching pleasure (and no, that’s not us in those sexy cop uniforms below, ha! ).

Either belly up at an outdoor bar/restaurant like the tequila and taco treasure –  Planet Hollywood’s Cabo Wabo, the silly slots and parrots outside the Flamingo’s Margaritaville bar, or for an Ocean’s 11 replay, score a spot at the fountain in front of the beautiful Bellagio hotel.

People-watching throughout Las Vegas, you are almost certain to see at least one, but probably more of the following: the heaviest (or even thinnest) person you’ve seen in your life, too many tattoos, people from countless countries, the most eccentric, or eclectic groups of rich or poor, lucky or un-lucky bunch of average Joes or crazy Susans and other interesting creatures than you’ve ever seen in your life. Lean back, sip your margarita and enjoy.vegas luxor

2. See Vegas from above on the Eiffel Tower

The Vegas Eiffel Tower (120m/460ft) doesn’t come anywhere near the height of the true blue Parisian version  (324 m/ 1,063 ft) but it offers fantastic views over the Strip, Las Vegas and the desert beyond.

Tickets are $10.50 per person – pick up one of the free Vegas brochures that are available up and down the Strip for a 2-for-1 discount.

3. Fremont Street Experience –  ‘Old’ Vegas

A trip to the Fremont Street Experience inspires the nostalgic, classic Las Vegas of the early 20th century before Sin City became the epitome for bigger, better, more.

Many of the famous hotels and casinos such as the Golden Nugget are still operating and you can feel the special flair that Vegas must have had in the 1950s.

In the 1990s, a roof was built over Fremont Street and area of Old Vegas was repackaged as the Fremont Street Experience in an attempt to draw visitors back after numbers sunk thanks to the explosion happening over on ‘The Strip’. We could give or take that darned roof overhead, but the casinos are more fun, there is more free entertainment, the staff is more friendly and apparently the odds are even better.

4. Explore the magnificent hotels

Competition among the hotels on the Strip is fierce, and Las Vegas is one place where the concept of ‘Less is more’ has gone completely lost.

Every hotel is an adventure in itself! Circus Circus has a big top, New York New York has its Statue of Liberty & Brooklyn Bridge replicas and even a roller coaster.

The Bellagio has its famous fountain show and Italy-inspired design, while the Mirage is home to Sigfried & Roy’s dolphin and white tiger garden and not to mention daily volcano eruptions.In Vegas you can walk by the Egyptian pyramids at Luxor, a near exact replica of Venice at the Venetian with its lake and gondolas, the aforementioned famed French tower at the Paris hotel and casino,  a replica of the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, a pirate battleship at  Treasure Island and and and… who knows what they will come up with next.

5. Take a ride

Several hotels in Vegas have added an adventure ride to their premises, but the most spectacular rides can be found on top of the Stratosphere tower:

Three extreme rides on top of the 350m (1,149 feet) tower – Insanity, which dangles you over the edge of the tower, Big Shot and X-Scream. If that’s not enough of an adrenaline rush, you can now also jump off the tower with the Stratosphere’s latest thrill: the Vegas Skyjump.

Other rides include:

  • The roller coaster at New York New York
  • The Las Vegas Cyber Speedway at Sahara
  • Various rides in the Circus Circus Adventuredome

6. See a show

Vegas has always drawn the biggest stars of entertainment to have their own permanent show – there is something for everyone: comedy, cabaret, circus, burlesque, hypnosis, musicals… The biggest thing at the moment seems to be Cirque du Soleil, with currently 7 (!) different productions in Vegas.

Here are some of 2010’s top shows:

  • Cirque du Soleil – Zumanity
  • Cher at the Collosseum
  • The Blue Man Group
  • Le Rêve at Wynn
  • KÀ Cirque du Soleil
  • Penn & Teller

7. Shop ‘til you drop

Las Vegas offers some great shopping opportunities for shopaholics: Not only do most hotels have ‘shopping streets’ under their roof (Via Bellagio,the Wynn Esplanade, Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, Mandalay Place), there are also a couple of malls on the Strip:

I. The Fashion Show Mall

Located opposite the Wynn hotel, the Fashion Show Mall has more than 250 shops and restaurants – clothes, shoes, accessories, technology, books, etc – incl. stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Sketchers, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mango, Apple, Levi’s, Nordstrom, Bath & Body Works.

II. Crystals at Las Vegas CityCenter

The more up-scale shoppers will find satisfaction in the long awaited newly-opened CityCenter which includes shops like Prada, Christian Dior, Bulgari, Carolina Herrera, Hermes, Roberto Cavalli, Cartier, Versace, Tom Ford, Miu Miu, Paul Smith and Porsche Design.

Speaking of shopping…

If you are planning a girls getaway or bachelorette party in Vegas, check out my favorite hotels for a girls getaway in Las Vegas on Yonderbound! These hotels are less focused on gambling (some don’t even have a casino!) and focus on spa and relaxation, fine dining, going out and shopping!
Las Vegas Yonderbox

8. Wildlife in Vegas

Even animal lovers get their money’s worth in Vegas – with several hotels having some fantastic animal habitats:

  • Shark Reef (not only aquarium, Shark Reef also displays reptiles, such as golden crocodiles, and turtles at the Mandalay Bay ($ 12.95)
  • Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo Hotel (with Chilean Flamingos, African Penguins, exotic birds, fish and turtles, ducks and swans – in a beautiful lush environment with waterfalls – FOR FREE!)
  • Secret Garden (including white tigers, white lions, snow leopards, and black panthers) and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage ($15.00)
  • Atlantis Aquarium at Caesar’s Palace – divers feeds the more than 100 species of tropical fish including sharks each day at 1:15 and 5:15 p.m (FREE)

9. Get outta town

Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon – check out our Las Vegas: Get Outta Town for more things to do outside of Sin City.

10. Vegas Challenge: The Buffet of Buffets

Success in Las Vegas comes from rising to the challenge. As we mentioned above, the gambling girls we are not. Our challenge, our Everest if you will, was food-based. It was the Buffet of Buffets – a 24-hour pass to seven of the biggest and best gut-busting buffet in Vegas: Caesar’s Palace, Rio, Paris, Harrah’s, Planet Hollywood, Imperial Palace and Flamingo.

While we may have taken the challenge very literally, (the Globetrotter Girls can proudly boast hitting 6 out of 7 buffets within 24 hours!), instead of testing all 7 it might make more sense to try out 3 or 4 in the better hotels. At $54.99 (Jan ’15) the Buffet of the Buffets is still cheaper than even two buffets, would cost separately. Skip the Flamingo and the Imperial Palace unless you want to do all seven to beat us :-). Go to Paris twice if you can, their buffet is by far the best of all.

Looking for an inexpensive hotel in Vegas? Check out Booking.com for their fantastic deals on Vegas hotels – both on and off the Strip!

vegas hotels booking

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