Las Vegas: The Entertainment Capital of the World

September 1, 2015, Feature, by Rod Dickens

The 680-acre Floyd Lamb Park, pictured here, is a welcome oasis in the desert of northwest Las Vegas. The Vegas Strip and the old downtown offer visitors a wide variety of excitement in a city known for its bright lights, gaming, all-you-can-eat buffets and entertainment. But there’s more to Las Vegas than meets a casual observer’s eye. 

Peel back the table games and slot machines, the Elvis impersonators, the neon lights and top-name entertainers, and you’ll see another side to this desert oasis — because visitors come here not just to play, but to work, as well. Of the 40 million-plus visitors annually, more than 5 million are conventioneers. In fact, more than 22,000 conventions are held here annually and attendees do their fair share to take up temporary lodging in any of the city’s 150,000-plus rooms.

When not in meetings, education sessions or walking through the exhibit hall during the 2015 NRPA Annual Conference, some attendees certainly will endeavor to enjoy the traditional Vegas experience. But, for those looking for something a little different, there’s plenty to see and do.

The “Other” Strip Experience

Construction of the Flamingo Hotel in 1946 ushered in what would become modern day Vegas and the beginnings of Las Vegas Boulevard South, aka, the Strip. In the two decades that followed, famous hotel/casinos such as the Sands, Sahara, New Frontier and the Riveria took their place along the 4.2 miles of asphalt.  

The Flamingo is the sole survivor of the Strip’s early heyday. The others fell prey to the construction of mega hotels and resorts in the 1990s, replaced by such names as the Luxor, Venetian, Mirage, Bellagio and Mandalay Bay to name but a few. 

A hike down the Strip from the Tropicana to Circus Circus is both good exercise and good sightseeing. A stop at The Bellagio Conservatory and its airy atrium, for example, offers a nice retreat for flower lovers. Time the walk during evening hours and the resort’s water show provides an extra bonus. The Mirage has its own evening extravaganza, as well, a Volcano that erupts every hour on the hour after dusk. 

The Palazzo’s two-story waterfall atrium and seasonal flower display are another must-see for nature lovers. But if wildlife is your passion instead, swing by the Flamingo’s Wildlife habitat. Catch a glimpse of the birds that inspired the hotel’s famous sign and watch the playful antics of their other fine-feathered friends. 

Or, maybe a midday ride on the High Roller is more your speed. Touted as the world’s largest observation wheel, this 550-foot-tall attraction offers an unparalleled view of the Strip and downtown, day or night. One complete rotation takes approximately 30 minutes and riders travel in style in any of 28 air-conditioned pods.

If you’re happier a little closer to terra firma, a float down the Venetian streetscapes in a gondola is something you may not want to pass up. Both indoor and outdoor rides are available and provide a scenic passage under balconies, beneath bridges and beside cafes.    

Feeling extra ambitious? Consider golfing at any of 40 area golf courses or burning another couple miles of shoe leather and heading down to Freemont Street. Along the way, history buffs may want to pop in at the hit TV show’s “Pawn Stars” shop at 713 South Las Vegas Avenue before making their way to the Freemont Street light show experience.  

You can avoid blisters by taking the tram from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur and crossing over the Strip to the MGM where you can pick up the Monorail. The Monorail travels from MGM Grand to Sahara Ave., seven days a week.  

Additional City Sightseeing

Known for its gaming, fine dining, excitement and entertainment, the Strip can also be fun for those visitors looking to keep things low-key. Below, find a handful of suggestions for a laid-back Las Vegas afternoon.

The Aquarium at the Silverton Hotel: Fish lovers will enjoy this stop. See 5,000 exotic fish, numbering 160 species from around the world, in a 100,000 gallon-plus aquarium. The hotel is 5 miles from the Strip at the intersection of Blue Diamond Road and Industrial Road.

Start clowning around at Circus Circus: Enthusiasts of the James Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever” will recognize this venue, said to be the world’s largest permanent circus. Shows feature trapeze acts, jugglers, skaters and, of course, clowns. 

Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Garden: Satisfy your sweet tooth and curiosity at the same time by visiting the only Ethel M Chocolate factory in the world. Tour the factory, enjoy a free sample and then walk off the extra calories next door at the 3-acre Botanical Cactus Garden. The factory and garden are located in Henderson, a 15-minute drive from the Strip. Store hours are from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. 

Hersey’s Chocolate World: Still have a sweet tooth? Then return to the Strip and stop in at Hersey’s Chocolate World at New York, New York. This 14,000-square foot, two-story attraction features more than 800 candy and chocolate delights, along with an 800-pound milk chocolate Statue of Liberty. The store opens at 9 a.m. 

M&M World: There’s more than candy at this stop next to the MGM Grand. In fact, there are four floors of brightly colored candy, memorabilia and other gifts. On the third floor, visitors can even personalize candy with their own message. 

Fall of Atlantis: Located at the Forum Shop in Caesars, Fall of Atlantis wows observers with fire, water and 9-foot tall talking statues. A nearby 50,000-gallon aquarium is home to 300 saltwater fish. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

Marjorie Barrick Museum: A collection of contemporary art and displays of pre-Columbian pieces welcome visitors to this museum located on the University of Las Vegas campus. Open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m.

Madame Tussauds: See more than 100 wax life-like celebrities at this museum located at the Venetian. Opens at 10 a.m. year-round.  

Mob Museum: Officially called the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, this museum tells the story of the mob’s rise and fall, along with law enforcement’s response. The museum is located downtown at 300 Stewart Ave., and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Thrill Rides for Kids of all Ages

Need a shot of adrenaline to keep you going? Here’s a handful of attractions that are sure to shake up your day and get your heart pumping. 

Adventuredome: Located in Circus Circus, this theme park is enclosed beneath a 5.5–acre glass dome. Enjoy rides that will both the young and young at heart. One in particular, the Canyon Blaster, crams four inversions into a single ride. Another, Chaos, whirls passengers in three ranges of motion.

Big Apple Coaster: Looking some heart-stopping action away from the casino tables? Visit New York, New York and hop on the Big Apple Coaster. Said to be the world’s first coaster with a 180-degree “heartline” twist.

Big Shot: Experience the yin and the yang of blasting straight up 160 feet and then free falling back to earth. That’s the Big Shot experience at the Stratosphere. If you want something a little more sedate, then Insanity, also at the Stratosphere, will deliver by dangling you over the edge 900 feet above the Strip. 

Desperado: How far will you travel to experience one of the tallest roller coasters in the country? If 40 miles is within your range, then drive to Buffalo Bills in Primm, Nevada, where a 225-foot drop at a 55 degree angle awaits your arrival.

Wet ‘N’ Wild: Two pools and 10 water slides at this water park will help everyone beat the heat. Located at 7055 S. Fort Apache Rd., in Las Vegas.

Whether you fill any spare moments during the 2015 NRPA Annual Conference with a stroll down the Strip or a stop at one of the intriguing attractions mentioned here, you’re certainly in for a dose of extra fun. We hope these activities add to your experience in Las Vegas and inspire you with great ideas!

Rod Dickens is a well-traveled freelance writer.