By: Scott Smith and Sandra Wells
Las Vegas is in the process of coming back, for better and worse. As always, there is something for everybody–and a lot more of them, more desperate for fun than ever. Yet, as of the end of July, many shows had not yet relaunched. Cirque du Soleil’s first returns are “Mystere” (Treasure Island) and “O” (Bellagio). Magicians David Copperfield (MGM Grand) and Chriss Angel (Planet Hollywood) are performing. Bally’s has a classic Vegas stage show, “Extravaganza,” and there are plenty of comics and hypnotists (Anthony Cools is both at Caesars), as well as one of the world’s best ventriloquists (Terry Fator at New York, New York).
Many hotels also have entertaining and educational features (where we stayed, the pyramid hotel Luxor, there were exhibits on the Titanic and human anatomy, while anyone on the Strip can watch the always-wondrous Fountains of Bellagio). You can find over 500 other ideas at the official visitor site (from a place to shoot machine guns to a room to experience minus 5 degrees below zero): https://www.visitlasvegas.com/things-to-do/.
We opted to fill our single day there at two new and unconventional programs for the adventurous.
Area15 https://area15.com/experiences/ is a warehouse of virtual reality and other immersive artistic experiences two miles from the Strip (yes, the name is a play on Area 51, the highly-classified Nevada Air Force testing range in southern Nevada, where conspiracy theorists claim crashed flying saucers and their dead alien pilots have been analyzed). Among more than a dozen options were walk-through 3-D versions of Vincent Van Gogh paintings and two that utilized infinity mirrors, lights, and music, Museum Fiasco (created by Barcelona artists) and Wink World (by Chris Wink, co-founder of the Blue Man Group). These open at noon.
But at 10 a.m., the largest attraction in the complex opens, Omega Mart https://www.omegamart.com/, which at first seems to be an ordinary grocery store. Then you notice that most of what is on the shelf is a little weird, such as Nut-Free Salted Peanuts and (plastic) Tattooed Chicken. You can scan a card at points that lead you into tall tales about the supposed founder. What appears to be a refrigerator door or a tent is the access to three levels of mazes and black-lighted rooms, a Wonderland that elaborates the story. Kids and the kid in everyone will be delighted (note that closed shoes are required to go down the slides). Meantime, those who came of age in the 60s-80s might not get much past the first area, where a visions of cosmic Buddhas, alll-seeing eyes, and galaxies of the imagination are projected on a huge wall, guaranteed to induce sober psychedelic experiences.
After escaping back to planet earth, we checked in at the Luxor, napped (Vegas can be an exhausting place), and headed out early to make sure we were arrived on-time for a show receiving rave reviews, Absinthe https://www.caesars.com/caesars-palace/shows/absinthe. It is named after the highly-alcoholic, anise-flavored spirit derived from plants. Its bohemian reputation comes from being favored by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, and Lord Byron. The show is held in an air-conditioned circus tent in front of Caesars Palace and there are no bad seats (but don’t sit in the front if you are shy, since the hosts do get the audience involved). Half of this was a combination of burlesque (non-nude, but risqué), accompanied by X-rated jokes that had even the seemingly most conservative members of the audience hysterically laughing. But then came the real reason for the show’s cult following. We have reviewed many Cirque shows and have seen acrobatics that were really stunning. But in its own simple way, Absinthe delivers the unexpected, notably the trapeze artists, the man who keeps climbing higher and higher on stacked chairs, and the last act, a demonstration of astonishing strength and balance.
Because of the logistics of trying to get around at the right times, we did not make it to the mural-filled downtown arts district or the nearby Fremont Experience, the much-heralded $32 million upgrade of the world’s largest video screen (shows on the hour from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.). Those are two reasons this report is just Part One (next time we might even follow the dream of every visitor to Lost Wages, pulling the handle of a slot machine, expecting to be able to retire on the outcome).
Getting around the New Vegas
The Missing Persons’ lyric “Nobody walks in LA” can be tweaked for the New Las Vegas: “No one should walk in Vegas.” We learned that lesson on our recent trip and a transportation strategy is the foundation for any successful visit. Everything looks close, but that’s a mirage, since everything is outsized and just getting across streets means long lights or hiking over bridges. We should have known better as one-time columnists for Las Vegas Magazine, but hadn’t been there in 10 years and were only vaguely aware of the massive building projects that combined with pent-up demand to make moving around more challenging than ever. Self-parking used to be free to entice gamblers–now it is expensive and far away from wherever you want to go. Plan activities in and around your hotel or schedule extra time to take Uber or Lyft (we had trouble connecting with them at the Luxor, but found taxi rides inexpensive). Buses along the Strip are frequent and there is a monorail: https://www.lvmonorail.com/route-map/.