For some Sodom and Gomorrah – for others the most exciting city in the world: Las Vegas. What exactly makes Las Vegas such a myth? And how did the city of casinos, wedding chapels and table dance bars become what it is today?
The best way to reach Las Vegas (and not only from Germany) is by plane. When it opened in the 1940s, McCarran International Airport was located far outside the city and was little more than a flat sandy runway with only one terminal. Today, with over 40 million passengers and nearly 60,000 aircraft movements annually, it is one of the largest airports in the world and is located practically in the middle of the city. McCarran Airport has two special features: Firstly, there are numerous small casinos and one-armed bandits already at the airport, and secondly, a small terminal is reserved for the US military, which handles air traffic to the mysterious Area 51 from here, among other things.
You can fly to Las Vegas from practically all German airports, but only directly from Frankfurt am Main. The flight takes about 12 hours and costs less than 700 euros if you are lucky and book very early. If you make a stopover, it will of course be cheaper.
What should you do before you fly? It’s best to look for accommodation while you’re still in Germany, because hotels often offer a package including accommodation, food, a few tokens and tickets to shows or amusement parks. Looking for a hotel on the spot might be a bit difficult, firstly because you are almost overwhelmed by the abundance of offers, and secondly because it is sometimes difficult to get a room in a nice hotel at peak times. So be sure to book in advance!
Public transport in Las Vegas is rather poorly developed. There are only 38 bus lines (for comparison: Berlin has 198 bus lines in a smaller area) and no underground. However, this is not important for most tourists, as they will mostly be travelling along Las Vegas Boulevard anyway, commonly known as Las Vegas Strip or simply Strip. Here, the bus connections to all sights and casinos are very good, and the Las Vegas Monorail, a monorail, also runs here:
A little tip: you can safely save yourself an organized, expensive city tour. All major attractions are located on or around the Strip. Line 301 of the double-decker buses called “The Deuce ” runs up and down this street. And if you sit on the top, you can enjoy a perfect view of the huge hotels and amusement parks. Especially worth this trip at night, when all the lights are turned on. And another tip afterwards: A day ticket is only slightly more expensive than a single trip. So better buy the day ticket right away.
Exploring the city on foot is not very advisable. This is not because of crime,but simply because of the very long distances. The part of Las Vegas Boulevard alone, where the largest casinos are located, is just under 7 kilometers long. This does not sound like much, but in summer at 40 degrees in the shade (of which there is rather little on this route) is a real ordeal. It is all the more pleasant to stroll along the Strip in the evening after sunset, for example from the Luxor hotel to the Monte Carlo or from the Bellagio with its water features to the Flamingo. As a guideline, you can make 3 to 4 casinos without the walk becomes a violent march. But, of course, this also depends on one’s own constitution. You can also see people jogging along the strip in the midday heat…
The first time you visit Las Vegas, you immediately notice that everything in this city is new. There are no old buildings or traditional churches. This is because Las Vegas was only founded a good 100 years ago and has grown rapidly since then.
Las Vegas is located in the middle of Nevada, a state in the southwest of the USA that is shaped by the desert climate. It got its name from a Mexican scout looking for a route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Angeles. He gave the area, which he first entered in 1829, the name Las Vegas, which means “the floodplains” in German. If you think of the tranquil Shire of “Lord of the Rings” when you hear this name, you’re pretty wrong!
If you search for Las Vegas on Google Maps and zoom out a little, one thing becomes clear pretty quickly: There is nothing but desert around the city, the whole map is brown. But because there was a little water and the railroad had to stop on its way from the east to the west coast, a fort of the US Army was established here. This fort and a few farms in the area were the only houses when the city of Las Vegas was founded in 1905 on the side.
During the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Nevada government legalized gambling in 1931. The construction of the Hoover dam near Las Vegas, which began in the same year, made it possible to supply a larger number of people with water and electricity. To find work on the large construction site, many people (especially men) moved to Las Vegas. They often came without their families and had nothing to do after work in the initially very small town, but had money. Resourceful businessmen built the first casinos to take their money from the workers.
At the same time, with the abolition of Prohibition, the large mafia families in the eastern United States, the so-called Cosa Nostra, lost a lucrative source of income and were looking for new fields of business. They became aware of gambling, which until now was just a side business in the whispering pubs.
The mafioso Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel came to Las Vegas in the early 1940s and had the idea of building not only simple gambling halls, but hotels with integrated casinos to attract people who did not live nearby. He convinced his bosses in New York of his plan, got a million dollars and the construction of the “Flamingo” began. When the casino was completed, the construction cost was over 6 million and the opening was a flop, despite the appearance of Jimmy Durante, then one of the most popular entertainers in the US. When the rumor arose that Bugsy Siegel had embezzled $ 2 million, his fate was sealed and he was murdered by his donors.
The irony of the story is that under new management, but with the same concept, the casino made a profit of four million dollars in the first year, so the construction costs were recovered after a year and a half.
The life and death of Bugsy Siegel in the Oscar-winning feature film “Bugsy” with Warren Beatty in the lead role is quite impressive, although not quite true to reality. Even though the movie is a bit older, it is definitely worth seeing for those who are interested in Las Vegas and a must-see for tourists planning a trip there.
A large part of the state of Nevada is a restricted military area and not populated. When the US government was looking for a test site for its new atomic bombs in the 1950s, it found what it was looking for in Nevada. Quite unreasonable from today’s point of view, a large stream of tourists developed in the following years who wanted to see the explosions. It came in handy for the tourists that there was a city nearby that offered casinos and other leisure activities in addition to hotels: Las Vegas. The city, and with it the Mafia, which built more and more casino hotels, profited from this coincidence.
For the Cosa Nostra, gambling was a very lucrative, if sometimes rather bloody, business. They diverted profits from the casinos before they were reported to the tax authorities. This black money was then transported in cash to the east coast. At the same time, individual groups repeatedly tried to gain dominance over the business and did not shy away from murder. In addition, high bribes had to be paid to politicians for the gambling concessions. This criminal system only came to an end towards the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, when money couriers were intercepted, investigations were launched against the bosses of the mafia families and many of them were sentenced to long prison terms. This chapter was particularly bloody because of the many murders and Las Vegas had long since acquired its nickname “Sin City” by this time.
Again, there are two film tips: In “The Godfather – Part 2”, in addition to the family history of Don Vito Corleone, the story of the new godfather Michael is told, who moves his activities entirely to Nevada and is confronted with the difficulties listed above. Also well worth seeing is the film “Casino” with Robert DeNiro, which deals especially with the end of the Mafia rule over Las Vegas at the beginning of the 1980s.
Since the Mafia families lost their gambling licences at that time, new owners were sought for the casinos. Now began the era of the big entertainment corporations like MGM, Cesars Entertainment or Blackstone, who own most of the casinos in the city today.
These corporations are successfully working to change the image of the city from a place of sin to a city of entertainment. While gambling is still the backbone of Las Vegas, overall it has become very family-friendly. Large amusement parks with roller coasters and water slides, children’s programmes, elaborately designed theme hotels and many restaurants have changed both the cityscape and the target groups. Whereas tourists used to come to the casinos primarily to gamble, this is now only an extremely lucrative side effect: whole families come to enjoy themselves and in the evening the adults just play a round in the casino. Despite the decline in the number of real casino tourists, the profits of the companies increase due to the higher number of tourists overall.
Practically nothing of the city’s wicked image in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s can be seen today. Las Vegas looks more like a kind of Disneyland with countless attractions and casinos. The hotels are almost all located in two streets: Freemont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, which is briefly called the Strip.
The older and smaller is Freemont Street. Here are some of the most famous casino hotels in the city such as the Golden Nugget or the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino. Both hotels have a special attraction: in the Golden Gate you can eat a shrimp cocktail for 99 cents, which has been offered here since 1959 with the same recipe and at exactly the same price. And in the Golden Nugget there is a pool, the plexiglass slide of which runs across a huge aquarium with real sharks.
Also, the well-known Vegas Vic, a 23-meter-high statue, can be found on Freemont Street. This illuminated cowboy with blue jeans, yellow-red shirt and movable arm is one of the landmarks of the city. He has had to give up part of his hat since the mid-1990s, but there is a good reason for this: in 1994/1995, a 450-meter section of the street was covered with a vaulted dome up to 30 meters high, the Freemont Street Experience.
But this Freemont Street Experience is not meant to keep the rain out – there is very little of that in Las Vegas anyway. The underside is equipped with 12.5 million LEDs and, together with 220 speakers, produces a gigantic light and sound show. It offers visitors from all over the world a unique experience that only exists in Las Vegas.
The Freemont Street Experience was a response to the construction of the mega-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip in the early 1990s, which attracted many visitors away from the old, smaller casino hotels.
No other city in the world has as many hotels as Las Vegas. And nowhere else there are more rooms for tourists. 14 of the world’s 20 largest hotels are located in Las Vegas. If you only take these 14 together, you come to almost 60,000 rooms. And they’re full almost every night. This is certainly also due to the fact that there is cross-financing between the casinos and the hotels: that is, with the income from the casinos, the hotels are subsidized, so that the rooms can be offered quite cheaply.
The largest, most important, most famous and most spectacular hotels we present here briefly.
At the beginning of the street there is no hotel, but a sign: Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas. This world-famous landmark of the city stands right on the highway that leads into Las Vegas, and conveniently this highway is also the Strip.
The Mandalay Bay consists of two towers with a characteristic golden façade and almost 5000 rooms and suites. There is also a huge pool with wave facility and artificial beach, several restaurants and the Shark Reef aquarium. The 12,000-seat conference centre has also hosted numerous boxing matches and pageants.
As the name suggests, Luxor is all about Egypt. In front of the hotel on the street you will find a somewhat scaled-down version of the famous Sphinx of Giza (albeit still in its original state with nose and colourfully painted) and an obelisk with the name of the hotel. The rooms themselves are located in a 107-metre high black pyramid. The hotel has well-known theatres where, among others, the Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil have performed. The most striking feature of the Luxor Hotel, however, is the beam of light that shines vertically into the sky from the top of the pyramid. 39 xenon spotlights, each with 7000 watts, produce a beam of light that, in good weather, can be seen from an aeroplane flying over Los Angeles (about 450 km). And because it shines every day, it has become an important landmark for pilots.
The Excalibur Hotel is built in the style of a medieval castle and named after King Arthur’s sword. In addition to nightly jousting and many restaurants, the Excalibur has one of only two McDonald’s in the world that serve Pepsi instead of Coca Cola.
In the relatively unspectacular Tropicana Hotel you will find a small exhibition on the subject of the Mafia and Las Vegas, where you can see items belonging to Bugsy Siegel, among others.
The MGM Grand is one of the most famous hotels in the city. With its eye-catching green façade, Hollywood theme and golden lion statues modelled on the lion from the opening credits of MGM films, everything here exudes the glamour of the movie capital. In addition to the huge casino area, the hotel is known for its large-scale events. The hall, which is modelled on Madison Square Garden in New York, has hosted concerts by Elton John, Barbara Streisand, Beyoncé and Madonna. But it also hosted the boxing match with the highest pay in history, totalling about $77 million, between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar de la Hoya.
Here the name says it all. In New York, New York you could think you were in the metropolis at the other end of the USA. There are replicas of the Empire State and the Chrysler Building, and of course the Statue of Liberty is not missing. Besides the usual shopping malls, casinos and shows, New York, New York offers a very special attraction: a roller coaster that winds around the individual buildings. At the time of its opening, this ride, called “The Roller Coaster”, was the longest and fastest looping roller coaster in the world.
The Monte Carlo actually only refers to the famous gambling metropolis on the Mediterranean in its name. At most, the façade is somewhat reminiscent of the casino there. Nevertheless, this hotel can also draw attention to itself with a few attractions. The pool landscape features the “Lazy River” current channel and there is also a wave pool. A highlight is certainly the pub, which offers six specially brewed beers. It is also interesting to note that the hotel was badly damaged in a fire at the beginning of 2008. But there is no sign of it today.
The imposing CityCenter Las Vegas consists of three hotels (Aria, Vdara and Mandarin Oriental), the shopping centre “Crystals”, where there are an enormous number of shops, high-end boutiques and restaurants, and the two “Veer Towers”, which mainly house condominiums. All the buildings in this complex, inaugurated in 2009, together cost almost 7 billion euros.
The dominant building of the CityCenter is the Aria Hotel. At 183 metres high and with 4000 rooms, it is the only building in the centre that also has a casino. In addition, a gigantic spa area, three swimming pools, 36 meeting and conference rooms and the Cirque du Soleil entertainment show await guests in this luxury hotel.
The second large hotel in the complex is the Vdara. It consists of 1500 suites, all very luxuriously furnished and costing between 150 and 2000 dollars per night. Shortly after its opening, the hotel hit the headlines: Due to the curved shape of the building, the sun’s rays collect like in a concave mirror and a bundled, very hot beam of light, derisively also called “Death Ray”, is thrown onto the pool area. This has already caused some visitors to suffer burns that go beyond a normal sunburn. However, the owners have now remedied the situation with additional sunshades and denser planting of trees and bushes. So you no longer have to worry about literally getting burnt.
The most inconspicuous and smallest hotel in the complex is also the most expensive: the Mandarin Oriental luxury hotel has only 392 rooms, but they cost between 525 and 4250 dollars per night. How much the really big suites cost is not stated on the website, but at these prices you can roughly imagine what a night in the largest Mandarin suite might cost. From here you get a wonderful view of the Strip 22 floors below.
Much more interesting than the current, relatively uninteresting Planet Hollywood Hotel is its predecessor: The Aladdin. Built and furnished in the “Baghdad style”, this hotel had a gigantic neon wonder lamp as its landmark. It also hosted the wedding of Priscilla and Elvis Presley in 1967. Unfortunately, since the renovation and removal of the original theme in 2007, nothing remains of either the lamp or the Wedding Chapel.
The highlight of the Paris Hotel is a 2:1 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. Originally, the tower was to be built in its original size, but this was prohibited due to its proximity to the airport. One foot of the replica breaks through the ceiling of the casino and thus stands in the middle of the room. There are also replicas of the Paris Opera and the Louvre.
Modern and simple by Las Vegas standards, The Cosmopolitan has a short but interesting history: During the financial crisis, the owner ran out of money. The biggest lender was Deutsche Bank, which decided to finish and run the casino on its own. So it happened that Germany’s biggest bank suddenly got into the casino business. But as is so often the case, it turned out that it’s better to keep your hands off something you don’t understand: since it opened in 2010, the Cosmopolitan has been steadily making a loss and Deutsche Bank sold the hotel-casino to an investor in 2014 for 1.7 billion dollars. The pure construction costs, by the way, were 2 billion dollars. A pretty big loss for the bank, which actually never loses in gambling…
The Ballagio is one of the most famous hotels in Las Vegas. It is modelled on the town of Bellagio on Lake Como in Italy and has an artificial lake covering over 3 hectares. Every day between 3 p.m. and midnight there are water shows several times an hour: water fountains, some of them 140 metres high, from 1200 jets and 4000 lamps combine with a piece of music to create a performance that no tourist should miss. However, the Bellagio is best known for the films Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s 13, large parts of which were shot here. Curiously, the casino does not appear in the middle film, Ocean’s Twelve, but the final scene was shot in a villa on Lake Como, very close to Bellagio.
Even if Bally’s looks rather inconspicuous compared to the huge hotel and entertainment complexes in the surrounding area today, it is nevertheless of decisive importance for the development of the city. When it opened in 1973 under the name MGM Grand, it was the largest hotel in the world with a good 2000 rooms and one of the first mega resorts in the city. In 1980, a fire broke out in one of the restaurants and quickly spread, killing 84 people. This accident is still the biggest disaster in the state of Nevada, but it also had positive effects: Hotel safety standards were raised enormously almost worldwide.
Caesars Palace, which opened in 1966, quickly hit the headlines when the then very popular motorbike stuntman Evel Knievel fell badly on landing after jumping over the fountain and suffered several broken bones. Caesars Palace is also a good illustration of the size of the hotels in Las Vegas: In 1981 and 1982, Formula 1 racing was held in Las Vegas. However, they did not build their own racetrack for this, but simply used the car park of Caesars Palace! After various extensions and renovations, the parking lot no longer exists. In its place are, among other things, the pool landscape, the theatre called “Colloseum” and other towers with hotel rooms. And all this on a former car park! Here it’s time again for a film tip: The Hangover series was filmed at Caesars Palace. These very successful and funny films show the effects that a bachelor party in Las Vegas can have.
The Flamingo is one of the most historic hotels in the city. It was with this very hotel that Bugsy Siegel inaugurated the gambling boom in Las Vegas. With the 200 rooms it had at the time, it would seem small today, but at the time it set new standards. No buildings from that time have survived and the hotel has grown into a huge complex through extensions, which does not have to fear comparison with the other mega resorts. The flamingo enclosure in the middle of the complex, from which the name is derived, is a tradition.
The Quad is a rather inconspicuous hotel. In recent years, it has undergone major renovations and the original Asian decorations have been removed. Today, it only remains in the hotel towers, but is gradually being removed here as well.
Harrah’s is not particularly spectacular either, but at least it still has a real theme: carnival. Certainly, like The Quad, it will benefit from the huge entertainment mile that was created between the Quad and the Flamingo in 2014. Here stands the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, at 167 metres.
Everyone knows this name: The Mirage stretches up to the sky as a three-winged, golden hotel tower. The golden colouring of the windows is real, by the way: gold dust is added to the liquid glass during production. However, that is not the reason why the Mirage achieved world fame, two Germans made sure of that: Siegfried and Roy performed their show in the hotel from 1990 to 2003. Even today, you can still see the white tigers of the magicians in the hotel’s own “Secret Garden”.
Treasure Island has unfortunately given up its main attraction: Until October 2013, a large and elaborate pirate fight took place several times a day in an artificial lake located directly in front of the hotel, which was attended by many Las Vegas tourists (probably also because it was free). The owners decided to discontinue the show, and the casino’s motto is also to gradually disappear. Too bad, because this way the hotel will probably become as unspectacular as Harrah’s or The Quad.
The Venetian and The Palazzo belong together. The Palazzo tower is not only the tallest building in the city, but together with The Venetian, it is also the largest hotel complex in the world with 7128 rooms. While The Palazzo is relatively simple but still clearly furnished in Venetian style, in the Venetian you really feel like you are in Venice. Not only have the world-famous sights such as the Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Square and the Campanile been recreated here, there are also canals in front of and inside the hotel where you can be driven around by singing gondoliers in typical Venetian gondolas. In addition, of course, there are numerous restaurants, a shopping mall and a Madame Tussauds wax museum in the hotel.
The Wynn Las Vegas opened in 2005 with the claim to be the most luxurious hotel in town. Whether this is really true cannot be judged by someone with a smaller wallet, but the fact that there is pure luxury in the hotel is true. Spacious rooms and suites, Maseratis and Ferraris in the fleet that can be rented (for an appropriate fee, of course) and star chefs in the restaurants. With the necessary small change, you will want for nothing at the Wynn. And while the 18-hole golf course on the premises is only open to guests, all art-interested non-guests can visit the private collection of hotel owner Steve Wynn and marvel at works by Manet, Gaugin and Picasso. Like the Venetian, the Wynn also has a sister hotel: the Encore. This has one of the largest outdoor pool areas in Las Vegas.
Together with the Flamingo, the Riviera is one of the pioneers in Las Vegas. It opened in 1955 and was one of the biggest attractions in the city with shows by Dean Martin and the Marx Brothers. Even though this glamour has faded somewhat in the meantime, the Riviera is still one of the good hotels on the Strip, where big shows and concerts still take place regularly.
The Fontainebleau is an outwardly almost finished hotel tower at 224 high. The investors ran out of money in 2009 and the construction was stopped. The complete interior is still missing and since the 1.5 billion dollars needed for completion have not yet been collected, construction cannot continue. Here you can see the effects of the financial crisis on Las Vegas live.
Resorts World is still a construction site. Here, however, work is going on vigorously on the second largest hotel in the world. When it is completed, which is planned for 2016, the hotel will have 6580 rooms and a casino area of 16300 m2. Special attractions in this China-themed hotel will include an indoor water park, an aquarium and an animal enclosure with real panda bears.
This hotel forms the northern end of the Strip and puts another exclamation mark on it. While the hotel and casino are housed in an unspectacular-looking building, the 350-metre-high Stratosphere Tower stretches into the sky above. The restaurant and the viewing platform at the top of the tower rotate around their own axis once an hour, so you can enjoy a perfect all-round view. But you won’t look in vain for action up here either. With “Insanity – The Ride”, a chain carousel, you are blown over the edge and hang out in the open at a height of 350 metres. And with the Big Shot, you can be shot 40 metres into the air at the top of the tower above the restaurant. The Stratosphere Tower also offers the world’s highest sky jump.
Most of these casino hotels have opened in the last 20 years. If you’re wondering where the old, disreputable Las Vegas has gone, you’ll get the sobering answer: this Las Vegas no longer exists. To give you an overview of the casinos that are mentioned in films about Las Vegas and in old newspaper articles about legendary boxing matches and breathtaking shows, here is a compilation of well-known hotels that have since been demolished or (as is usual in Las Vegas) blown away.
But first there is another film tip: In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with Johnny Depp, a sports reporter visits Las Vegas together with a friend to report on a car race. The omnipresent drugs result in a lot of crazy situations, but at the same time the film is also a swan song to the USA in the 70s and to the old Las Vegas. By the way, it is set in the Stardust and the Riviera.
The Dunes opened in 1955 and was a Las Vegas fixture from the start. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland performed at the hotel, and it also hosted the city’s first topless show in 1961, causing an uproar among the management. With 16,000 visitors in the first week, it was such a resounding success that other casino hotels also added such shows to their programmes. The first Elvis Presley impersonator also performed here, at a time when Elvis Presley was still alive.
In 1993, the hotel was blown up. This was seen by many people as the end of an era, as the hotel had long been under the control of the Mafia. With the demolition, the era of organised crime in Las Vegas finally came to an end. The Bellagio was built on the site of the Dunes.
The Sands was considered “the” casino par excellence in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Its “Copa Room” concert hall, in which only 500 people could be seated around a round stage in the middle, was legendary. Due to the narrowness, the audience sat only a few metres away from stars like Sammy Davis Jr, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong and often the artists mingled and celebrated with the audience after the shows.
Like so many other old casinos, the Sands eventually couldn’t keep up with the giant amusement palaces and closed its doors in 1996 and was blown up. The Venetian now stands in its place.
The story of the Desert Inn is somewhat grotesque. Actually, this casino turned a good profit for many years and numerous stars came to perform in the concert hall. The hotel celebrated its 50th birthday in 2000 with a big party, but shortly afterwards it was sold to a new owner, Steve Wynn. He decided a few months later to demolish it and build his new hotel “Wynn” on the site. So this profitable, charming hotel was closed and demolished (the latest additions were less than 10 years old) and the very luxurious but relatively anonymous “Wynn” was built in its place.
The New Frontier was the second casino in Las Vegas to open its doors and set some milestones for the city in its almost 60-year history. Elvis Presley made his first Las Vegas appearance here and Siegfried and Roy got the chance to make a name for themselves at the New Frontier. Again, the story of its closure is somewhat incomprehensible. After a change of ownership, the hotel was closed and blown up in 2007, although it was actually still profitable. There were plans to build another mega resort on the site, but these were scuppered by the financial crisis. The site of the New Frontier remains a wasteland and overgrown to this day. But at least one person could be happy about the closure: the Las Vegas-born singer of the rock band “The Killers”, Brandon Flowers, bought the almost 60-metre-high nameplate of the casino to put it up on his property.
With a good 1000 rooms, the Stardust was the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1958. It was also considered Las Vegas’ first mass casino thanks to its relatively low prices and was famous and infamous for its involvement with the mafia in the 1960s and 1970s. As the hotel had become too small in 2007, with 1500 rooms in the end, according to the owners, it was blown up. The western tower was the tallest building on the Strip with 32 floors. Only the famous neon sign of the Stardust can still be seen today in the Neon Museum Las Vegas, everything else had to make way for Resorts World, which is currently under construction.
There is some confusion at El Rancho. This is because there were several casinos with this name. The first opened in 1941 and had the largest dining room and casino in town at the time. Shirley Bassey made her first appearance here and Paul Newman married his wife Joanne Woodward in 1958 in the El Rancho’s Wedding Chapel. In 1960, the hotel burned down. In 1980, the former Thunderbird Hotel was renamed El Rancho. This relatively unspectacular casino was best known for its owner’s ties to the Mafia and closed its doors in 1992. Today, the ruined Fontainebleau stands in its place.
The Landmark was not on the Strip, but in a side street. Nevertheless, it was spectacular because of its appearance. Apart from performances by some famous artists, the blowing up of the tower has gone down in popular culture. And here is another film tip: Mars Attacks! by Tim Burton. This film, whose plot revolves around an alien invasion, is partly set in Las Vegas. Jack Nicholson plays Art Land, a somewhat crazy casino owner, who experiences the Martian invasion and the destruction of the casino in his hotel, the Landmark. This scene in the film is the original blowing up of the real Landmark Hotel. In addition to Nicholson, the film also features Tom Jones, who takes the piss out of himself and his many years of performing in Las Vegas.
As alluded to in the descriptions of the casinos, there are a number of famous singers and actors who have made appearances in Las Vegas. From the 1960s to the 1980s, it was common for artists to sign contracts with the casinos that were extremely attractive financially on the one hand, but also very long-term on the other. Tom Jones, for example, played in various casinos for more than 25 years. Here you will find a small compilation of artists who have left their mark on the city.
Besides the casinos, shows and amusement parks, Las Vegas has even more to offer. The wedding chapels are world famous. Since Nevada has very lax marriage and divorce laws, a real wedding industry has been established since the 1970s. And there are no limits to the imagination. You can get married in one of the normal churches in the city, find a Wedding Chapel on the Strip or in one of the big hotels, or you can simply do a drive-through-wedding, where you drive up to a counter in your car like at McDonalds and get married. If you want it a bit more elaborate, that’s no problem either. The registrar or pastor dressed as Elvis or Michael Jackson, in a Klingon costume or in Hawaiian style with raffia skirts, all no problem. An average of 115,000 weddings per year show that this type of marriage is extremely popular, not only in the USA. In Germany, however, you have to register a marriage in Las Vegas in order for it to be officially valid.
But it’s not only in the city that you can experience a lot. Lake Mead, dammed by the Hoover Dam, is one of the most popular recreational areas in the USA. You can rent boats there for day trips or houseboats for a whole holiday. Hiking, fishing and swimming are also possible at and in this artificial lake.
Death Valley, one of the hottest spots on earth, is also not far from Las Vegas. Here you can see, among other things, the rolling stones whose mystery kept (amateur) scientists busy for many decades. On the way to Death Valley is the ghost town of Rhyolite. At the beginning of the 20th century, 10,000 people, more than in Las Vegas, lived here and mined gold. When the mines were empty, the town’s fate was sealed and by 1919 all the inhabitants had left Rhyolite. Due to the dry climate, the stone houses of that time are very well preserved and the town is now an open-air museum worth seeing.
Two large canyons lie within a short distance of Las Vegas: Red Rock Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Many tourists take advantage of the city’s relatively inexpensive hotels to see the surrounding area as well. And the Grand Canyon in particular should be included in a visit to Las Vegas. 450 kilometres long, up to 30 kilometres wide and almost 2 kilometres deep – here you can clearly see the power of water: it has dug the river bed deeper and deeper into the rock over millions of years. Also interesting are the remains of the Pueblo Indians, who built their villages in rock crevices at the edge of the canyon.
Probably the most unusual leisure activity is offered to locals and tourists in winter: Skiing! A good hour’s drive from the city centre is the “Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort” at an altitude of 2600 metres. While the temperatures in the city are usually still a pleasant 10 to 15 degrees during the day even in winter, the ski resort is considered very snow-sure. You can only do that in a few places on earth: go skiing during the day and sit outside by the pool in the evening without a jacket.