My First Trip to Las Vegas: Is It Worth the Hype?

After returning from my first trip to Las Vegas, I was tasked with answering the usual post-vacation question– “how was it?” People who have never been to Las Vegas were secretly curious about whether I would divulge my “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” stories. Just how wild and crazy did this little lady right here get in Vegas? They didn’t have to come right out and say it, but I know they secretly wanted to know.

On the other hand, my other friends that previously visited Vegas were more curious about how I digested everything the infamous city had to offer. Well, for everyone wondering how my first trip to Las Vegas went, or for any other Las Vegas virgins out there that may have lived a slightly sheltered life like me, fasten your seat belts as we enter my version of wild and crazy– more like “obeying the speed limit”– edition to Vegas.

But, don’t worry! Although I didn’t personally live on the wild side, I got a solid understanding of where the wild side begins and ends in Vegas. Simply, here are my thoughts about Las Vegas:

There is something in Vegas for everyone — the old, young, boring, wild, mellow, sheltered, and daredevils, respectively. Vegas is what you choose to make it. If you want wild and crazy, there’s a place for you. If you want relaxed and chill, then there’s a place for you too! Let’s just say that I saw entire families with kids, the elderly, and everyone in between enjoying parts of The Strip. Like I said, there’s a place for everyone.

Overall, after sorting out my feelings, the pros, and the cons, I can definitely say I will be back!

Oh Las Vegas, you are very different, but I like you a lot.

Here are some more details and pictures from my trip. Enjoy!

Lights, lights, lights: To be expected, The Strip was grand, bright, and full of food options, fashion, entertainment, people, characters, and lots of bright lights. If I’m being totally honest, I should admit that I was very underwhelmed in my first hour in Vegas. I checked into the hotel around 7:30pm from the backside, right behind The Strip. I was expecting to see more people, more madness, more… I don’t know, but it just wasn’t what I expected. The area just seemed like any other city.  I couldn’t wrap my head around the hype in the first hour. But then again, I had not yet hit The Strip. I could see the bright lights from my hotel but it seemed surprisingly normal from where I stood. The Mr. had traveled to Vegas numerous times, so he kept reassuring me to  “wait until we get to The Strip.” What was lying right outside the front of the hotel started to sound exciting. So, ?I let go of the early judgement and decided to give The Strip a chance to woo me. Once we walked onto The Strip, it slowly started to make more sense…

Everything is bigger, brighter, and louder in Vegas. As I walked along The Strip slowly taking in the first night, there was so much to see that I couldn’t capture it all. As I tried to reconcile my preconceptions with the reality of Vegas, I spent most of my first night feeling out The Strip and determining whether we would make a good fit.

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Behind the lights and inside the resorts and malls were just as ornate and grand views as presented on the outside. It’s a game of who can do it bigger and better, and I liked it. For example, all images below were taken INSIDE buildings. Yes, even the gondola ride and what looks like a statue beneath a blue sky!  (hover over the image for exact locations).

Freedom of Alcohol: Did you know that Nevada allows people to walk around with open containers, cocktails, and “refreshments” in Las Vegas and on The Strip? Also, did you know that the casinos serve free unlimited drinks (small tip per drink if you wish) as you sit and gamble? Well, I definitely had no idea! And this my friends is one reason why I say Vegas is what you make it. If you want to walk around drinking 24 hours of the day, in the shower, on the street, in restaurants, and even in your bed, you can. If you’re a more occasional drinker like myself, there’s a place for you too.

Casinos everywhere, obviously: There are casinos and smaller places to gamble everywhere– in most hotels, the airport, smaller establishments. Everywhere! This should be obvious, right? Then again, it’s Vegas!  This is the second reason why I say Vegas is what you make it. However, you had better have a good idea of what you are willing to gamble and LOSE in Vegas or else you may find yourself crying on a curb because you “lost it all!” Rule of thumb: Don’t gamble what you can’t afford to lose. Personally, I had fun on the penny slots and the machine version of Craps– which I taught myself laying in bed on the second morning there. Call me boring but I wasn’t willing to risk too much money, if any at all. Overall, I did pretty well on Craps!:)

The only thing I wasn’t quite prepared for in the casinos was the cigarette smoke. I’ve become accustomed to living in Boston with quite strict laws on where people can/cannot smoke — mostly not in buildings. Well, all casinos that I visited allowed indoor smoking. Luckily the ceilings are very high and there is pretty good ventilation so it doesn’t linger on your clothes when you leave! However, if someone chooses to sit at a machine next to you and light one up, there is nothing you can say to the person. If I don’t go back to Vegas, this would be the one small factor to blame. I had tons of fun in the casinos, but I don’t want to die from second-hand smoke. If you are a smoker, Vegas is your heaven.  I guess I will have to not become too paranoid about the health of my lungs if I want to spend my days winning big bucks in the casinos!

Dress comfortably, especially in the daytime: I was a little worried about how to dress before arriving. My perception of Vegas was filled with images gathered from celebrity social media feeds, reality shows, movies, and the various bachelor/bachelorette party photos posted on my friends’ social media feeds. One thing I knew for sure was I didn’t feel like wearing party dresses and heels all day every day! Thank God for the Mr and other friends telling me to pack some cute comfortable outfits. Why? Well, (1) The Strip is every long, (2) most places require you to walk, (3) the hotels are so large you will inevitably need to walk a lot within the resort, and (4) sometimes you just want to be comfortable! Unless you are going to a particular event, party, club, restaurant, or you simply prefer the high fashion life, do not feel obligated to dress up in your best party outfit every day. I kept it casual in the day and only dressed up based on which restaurant or lounge I was going to at night. Since we went in late February, the weather was not even close to peak heat-wave summer temperatures. It was about 73-74 degrees in day and 55-60 degrees in the evenings– too hot for long sleeves in the day and too cold for short-sleeves in the evening. There were awkward shifts of temperature, but I made it work.

Daylight Time is Just as Fun: Vegas definitely comes to life at night. When I went to bed at 1am/2am Vegas time (4am/5am back home), Vegas was still very, very, very alive! I felt like an old grandma going to bed that early, but we can thank jet-lag for that. Personally, I love seeing new things and enjoying the beauty of a city, so daytime walks and adventures are just as appealing to me as romantic nightly dinners.

I thought Vegas would be dead in the day, but I was absolutely wrong! I must say I loved daytime and nighttime Vegas equally as much.

The Food is Amazing, everywhere: The good thing about having a lot of businesses competing with one another is that close competition makes everyone put their best foot forward! There were many different food options at every price range on The Strip. If you want fast-food chains, you got it. If you want to pig out at a buffet, there’s a home for you. If you want average priced food from a restaurant, bar, or lounge, you better not suffer from indecision. And finally, if you want to go all out on a upscale fancy restaurant, there’s plenty of options. Vegas understands that people like to drink and will also need to eat to sober up! With that said, food options are available 24/7.

In addition, most hotels will give you a credit to cover breakfast so that you only have to worry about lunch, snacks, dinner, and drinks. I don’t want to bore you with the food porn pictures from all the places I ate, but I must shout out one amazing meal that I had at Ruth’s Chris– a very upscale establishment worth every penny! The steak alone ranks at the top of the list for best meals ever eaten at any restaurant in my life! Post Ruth’s Chris, we grabbed cupcakes from Sprinkles– also one of the best cupcakes I’ve had in my life.

The smoke in the casinos could keep me from returning to Las Vegas, but the amazing food might offset the risk of second-hand smoke. Hmm, dilemma– die early or die happy?

Deals: As soon as you hit the hotels on or off The Strip, people are trying to lure you with a deal, discount, and entertainment of all sorts. As soon as I entered the hotel, I saw slots, tables, lights, and then boom– a lovely welcoming committee. I thought it was the hotel check-in staff, but I was mistaken. It was a friendly group trying to get me to go to a time-share presentation at one of the neighboring properties. Feeling duped, I initially declined and found my way to check-in. Despite the initial annoyance, there were many great deals available. From shows to food to gambling to cocktails and adventures, there were lots of discounts and deals everywhere.

One weird things that caught me off guard were the people in the streets clicking small flyers at me. About every 100 steps, someone would click a flyer at the people walking by. On it was a picture of a naked girl or exotic dancer and the location of places you can go to enjoy the X-rated landscapes. I personally declined, but I’m sure one of you out there might want to walk on the wild side.

You might meet/see the range of random to the famous on one street: I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Steve Wynn– CEO of Wynn Resorts Unlimited (developer of Wynn Properties, the Mirage, Bellagio, Treasure Island, Encore, and more)– and his wife Andrea for about 30 minutes on our second night in Vegas. It was such a wonderful and inspiring conversation! I am sure if I went to more of the top clubs in Vegas I might have run into some other popular celebrities, but clubs are not my style and I am not a fan girl.

There were other famous figures randomly sprinkled throughout The Strip — Iron Man, Superman, Walter White from Breaking Bad, and many more. Only issue is that all the latter were normal people dressed up like characters who want to charge you for taking a picture with them. If odd characters aren’t weird enough, the homeless people on The Strip will be very alarming. I actually witnessed a homeless man steal some items from the front of a Walgreens and run out being chased by the store’s staff. It reminded me that everything that glitters is not gold. Beneath the hype, wealth, success, and fame hides many people in our communities that need serious help and hope.

Summary: Overall, my perception of Vegas before the trip matched only 25% of what I actually discovered during my first trip. I know there was probably a lot of drugs, high-roller gambling, violence, and lots of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” rendezvouses and sex happening right before my blinded eyes. But like I said, Vegas is what you make of it.  One thing I know about myself is that I love happy adventures but I don’t like wild and crazy. By the end of the trip, Vegas and I figured out how to co-exist. As stated earlier…

Oh Las Vegas, you are very different, but I like you a lot.

P.S. When I return, I would love to visit Downtown and old Las Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience. I’ve heard that both are just as exciting as The Strip!

Until next time…

Have you visited Las Vegas? What were your thoughts? What places should I check out if I go back?

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Why Focusing In Life is So Hard

You want to know why it’s so hard to focus on your own life and ride your own wavelength of zen? Well, I re-discovered the answer today. Wait for it… Wait for it…

It’s because everyone around you is so DARN LOUD!

The Setting

I wrote this post yesterday during a fit of frustration on the plane to a hopefully calming vacation in Las Vegas while attempting to read My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel amidst the cackles and clangor of inebriated passengers as they become new found airline besties.

The Story (and Lesson):

Listen, I’m all for freedom of friendliness, libation, and acquaintance; but by golly, do they have to be so LOUD? Then again this is a country built on freedom of speech, so who am I to tell the new found besties to sacrifice their hyperactive happiness for my peace and serenity. I mentally rummaged through all the fine print I read inside the safety manual. There was a lot of reassuring information about oxygen masks, life vests, safety devices, and “in the event of an emergency” situations, but nothing about being courteous to your neighbors. But wait, isn’t this an emergency? Am I not being forced to sacrifice my page-turning enjoyment to listen to the loudest passengers that have ever flown on a plane, ever? Doesn’t that warrant some kind of rescuing?

With no way to politely ask these chatty birds to pipe down, I decided to make something of this experience and share the lessons this noise has forced me to tackle. What else am I supposed to do? Do you want me to risk a confrontation, get booted off the plane, and possibly get arrested because I had to defend myself against one of these tipsy passengers when they try to punch my lights out? No! I am saying no to violence and that’s my final answer, for now. Instead, I will take a deep breath and patiently hoped for some desperately annoyed passenger to do what I don’t have the gumption to do — ask them to shut up! Oops, I mean to “please, if you would be so kind, might you quiet down a bit?”

As I become more and more frustrated by each screech and shout, the feeling inside reminds me of moments in my life when I’ve felt trapped, frustrated, limited, and a victim of other people inserting noise into my rather happy place. Those were times when I found it most difficult to focus on my journey. Right now, I would do anything to be able to go into my own head and turn up the selective attention dial to “I can’t hear you” mode but nothing is a match for the voices of Godzilla. The more I think about ways I can tune these various conversations out is the more anxious and tense I am becoming. Under other circumstances I would have reveled in the opportunity to eavesdrop on the fascinating conversations around me. Honestly, they are discussing interesting interpretations of life. The two new buddies behind me are shifting in and out of intellectual conversations about love, relationships, passion, religion, happiness, spirituality, God, and new places to experience once we reached our destination. Our other friends across the isle are adding to the noise with topics including food, TV shows, etc. The problem isn’t them per se — well maybe it is because there is no need to shout at the top of your lungs if someone is sitting right next to you– but it is more the fact that I am not in the mood to listen to their stories at this volume at this moment. I want to read my book during this flight and then reflect on life.

Though quite terrifying– if you really think too hard about it– there’s something quite calming and spiritual about flying. The views, the perspective, and the fact that my life is in the hands of complete strangers surrounded by complete strangers for hours while thousands of feet above the ground is both unsettling and kind of magical. That is until turbulence hits and I am reminded that death could be imminent. Oddly, I am sure that fewer planes have crashed from turbulence than during take off or landing, but I could be wrong. Anyone know? Well, just as a wrote this paragraph I can report that I am entering the first phase of a full on panic attack, so let’s change the subject back to the chatterboxes behind me.

As I said before, in my mind this plane ride included a specific plan for my time– me, God, reflection, and a book, not writing a blog post about my frustration with the noise. I’m sure I would have found “the best method for tuning out deafening voices” in the book about anxiety but I was only able to get to page 32 before the voices of Godzilla destroyed my focus. Still annoyed but determined, I am deciding to start talking to myself — in a healthy way. “You’re stronger than this. Don’t let them distract you. You had a goal in mind, so stick to it!” Typically I would be completely oblivious to the loud mouths around me as they are drowned out by my music or a movie. However, I forgot my headphones this time! Thankfully my other-better-equal half is always thinking ahead and he brought an extra pair. Nonetheless, I didn’t planned on plugging my ears with noise-cancelling headphones; I planned on having an intellectually stimulating experience with my books. As you can surmise by now, their volume has reached the decibel that would interrupt even the most focused person’s brain frequencies! So, I am taking the headphones, but it is still not working.

I am asking myself over and over, “Why is it so hard to just focus? Why can’t you just push through? Is it really that hard to tune them out or are you just being petty?” Feeling defeated, I am reminded of the times in my life when I felt overwhelmed by the noise around me — times I’ve been focused on something in my life and then every voice begins playing in my head (again, not in the DSM-5 diagnosis kind of way). They are the times in which all the negative, positive, confused, logical, irrational, intellectual, and analytical voices/thoughts tell me how to be confident, worried, certain, and fearless all in the same frequency. Ay dios mios! As my mind is shifting to those moments when I’ve asked the same question –“Why is it so hard to just focus?” — I am beginning to recognize a parallel between my focus, life, and the challenge of tuning out noise. I am not sure I really want to confront it, but here goes. Simply realized, the more voices and noise in my head– including my own at times– is the more difficult it is for me to focus on my own life and my own journey.

Some noises are louder than others — fear, other people’s opinions, opposing viewpoints, societal and family expectations, cultural norms, and internal self-talk. At times, it can just be too loud, too confusing, too opposing, too headache producing, and too tiring to combat. Although annoyed at my clangorous neighbors, I am happy that I had the chance to look myself in the mirror and confront factors that at times make it hard for me to focus. Although a critical exercise, confronting these factors one time on a plane is not going make me a master at tuning out the loudest noises in my life. It is going to require mental maturity and mental martial arts!

Today, I am reminded that I have a lot more work to do. It would be great to block out the noise by creating a magical force-field around my head, but I’m sure that would not prevent me from concocting some ridiculous thinking within my own head.

Today, I have learned two things:

  1. I now understand why people invest in quality noise-cancelling headphones,
  2. no matter how noise cancelling the headphones, it’s much harder to cancel out the noise that exist — or you allow to exist — inside your own head, and
  3. be ready to listen and adapt when life speaks.

The good news is that this lesson has made me more of a noise-cancelling ninja and our neighbors alcohol consumption has finally caught up to them! The four amigos are quietly resting. Maybe now I can get back to focusing on my book or at least enjoying the remaining moments of this amazing view in peace and quiet.

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Get Lost (Every Once in a While…)

“Beep. Beep!” The church vans pulls up and I know for sure that if one particular person is driving the van that week, we were in for an adventure. Working on a weekly rotation, each driver offered a variety of excitement each week. Whether it was leaving a church member because they were taking too long to come out of their house or knocking off side mirrors of cars parked along narrow streets, each week was an experience. However, looking back on those times one person’s interesting driving taught me more about life than I ever realized until now.

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a moving-away party for two very special people at my childhood church. Besides the million questions people asked about where I’ve been and what I’m up to now, it was a lovely event. I knew in advance there was going to be a “tribute” portion of the event, so of course I felt like I had to prepare to say something to this amazing couple (that has happened to know me since birth). Do you know how hard it is to capture everything you want to say about people you’ve known your entire life in TWO MINUTES!? Yes, we only had two minutes because the organizers of the event wanted to prevent a luncheon from turning into an all-night open mic night from 150 people. And to no one’s surprise, everyone spoke way past two minutes. But I digress.

As I thought about all the memories I had of this amazing couple — which are many — the church van rides stuck out when it came to David; it perfectly captures who he is. After riding in the van every week for years, I felt like I knew how to get to everyone’s house and how to drive despite having never set foot behind the wheel. If my 13 year old self ever needed to advise the grown-ups on directions, I was your girl. However, whenever David drove I was lost, confused, slightly scared, and very intrigued.

Confusing turns and back road adventures painted the majority of David’s weekly drive. Yet, somehow we always managed to efficiently and quickly reach the next destination. To avoid lights, get to the next destination with as little traffic as possible, he would take these back roads that my inexperienced mind never knew of. Turn after turn after turn, I was convinced we were lost and going to make it to church way past on-time. Whenever I felt we had taken too my turns to possibly be heading in the right direction, I either whispered to someone or publicly questioned — “are we lost?” David’s response ranged from “no” to “not quite,” but there was never a “yes.” As if he had branded a map of the city in his head, we would some how magically appear at our next destination. We never got lost… (that he every admitted)!

At some point as I got older I finally asked him how he knew all those back-roads. His answer: he learned them by joy-riding through the city and intentionally traveling down roads to see where they would lead. He would get lost but soon find that he would emerge onto a street that was familiar and could lead him back home. It was a sort of deliberate attempt to explore, get lost, and discover new things before finding his way again. What a risk!

Being older now, I recognize the strong link between his success, his faith, and his fearlessness — three essential factors of life. He was never afraid to get lost because, despite which way he turned, he had a strong confidence that he was never truly lost. Such a profound lesson and thought: (1) Be willing to get lost; you never know what successes, shortcuts, and opportunity you will find around the corner. (2) Don’t panic if you find yourself on an unknown street; the worst that can happen is you retrace your steps, ask for directions, or keep going until you see a sign of familiarity.

Reminiscing about these excursions made me think about the degree of faith and fearlessness he had to possess in order get to discover and remember these back roads. We have to ask ourselves — What’s out there waiting to be explored? Why are we so afraid to go off script? There’s something to be said about what he did — he explored when he had time and when “I wonder if I go down this road…” came to his mind. Thinking about his faith and fearlessness made me wonder — What if I take more time to get lost? What will I find?

I recalled the many times I was driving home from an event or store and thought “I wonder what’s down this street…” Overtime, I’ve discovered beautiful parks, neighborhoods, stores, restaurants, lakes, and shortcuts by  willingly getting lost every once in a while.

Most recently, getting lost helped me discover something beautiful and peaceful near my new apartment…

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I arrived extremely early for the apartment showing and parked across from the building. Slightly bored and curious, I decided to see what the neighborhood had to over. To my surprised I stumbled across a private beach, the ocean, and close proximity to other wonderful places to explore. Honestly, the apartment alone didn’t sell me, but the neighborhood, water, views, and places to explore did. It taught me to trust God, life, and to never be afraid to explore; you don’t know what is around the corner, literally.

This probably is very underwhelming to you. Water. What’s the big deal? Well, I love to walk by water, see water (particularly the a beach or the ocean), and sit by water. There is just something very calming about watching the waves, wondering about the life that lives beneath, and enjoying a sunset reflecting off the subtle waves. It’s peaceful and makes me wonder about life, God, balance, and physical and mental relaxation.

 

 

Now if I can only do a better job of applying this to my goals and dreams; I wonder what I will find…

Related Posts:

On the Other Side of Fear

GPS: Shut Up And Fly

Picture Perfect Puzzle Pieces

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