In my fantasy of Las Vegas, I am sitting at mahogany-trimmed red felt table wearing a cocktail dress and a feather boa. It doesn’t matter what kind of table–blackjack, roulette, craps, whatever–as long as I’m dressed to the nines, with a martini in one hand and a cigarette holder in the other. I picture myself on an incredible winning streak, with an entourage who cheers me on as I say things like “hit me again” and “bet it all on black.” There’s a man in an oversized cowboy hat sitting at the table, too. In my fantasy of Vegas, there is always a man with a thick mustache and an oversized cowboy hat.
I had the opportunity to actually visit Vegas this past spring. I packed into a Volkswagon Golf with four friends and no air conditioning, and it was a long, hot trip that resulted in both the engine and tempers heating up. But when the Vegas skyline came into view, we knew it was worth it.
As we drove down The Strip, my fatigue from the four-hour drive evaporated into excitement. My mental picture of Vegas had always combined all of the casinos into one giant mega-casino: as I sat at my table with the man in the oversized cowboy hat, women swung from trapezes overhead, gangsters and actors mingled about the crowds and large renditions of international landmarks decorated the background. Now driving down this famous road, I was able to see these casinos as individual units. My head hanging out the window, I stared in awe at the blazing letters of the Tropicana, the shiny gold façade of Mandalay Bay and the giant Sphinx sitting in front of the Luxor. Vegas does indeed have it all, it’s just not all under one roof.
My own hotel was The Flamingo. With its neon pink façade, The Flamingo is the perfect cross between old Vegas kitsch and new Vegas amenities. It seemed a good choice to live out my Vegas fantasies—and after the long, hot drive it seemed a good spot for a cool drink beside the pool. We dropped off our car in the guest parking lot (a long walk from the lobby, but secure and easy to find a spot) and hauled our luggage to the front desk. We were confronted with a line-up reminiscent of airport immigration, but in less then 10 minutes we had our key cards in hand.
Our room had a great view of the lush gardens and pool below. There is an additional $20.00 charge for rooms facing The Strip, but the view of the gardens was beautiful and quiet. If you’re not interested in overlooking the bustling life of The Strip, then the less expensive option is the better choice.
I headed straight for the pool—or at least tried to. The signs in the lobby that claimed to point in the direction of the pool led me to the casino. I saw a few other guests in swimsuits, ignored the misleading signs and followed them to the pool. I chose a chaise lounge next to one of the four pools, and almost immediately was offered a drink by the poolside waitress. After a few margaritas and a swim through the waterfall, the four-hour ride with no AC was a distant memory.
Refreshed and mildly tipsy, I was ready to hit the town. It was time for me to live out my Vegas fantasy. But it was here that I realized a few flaws in my grand plan. First, I didn’t own a cocktail dress, or a feather boa. Second, I don’t smoke. And third, I had a restrictive budget, so an evening with the high rollers was not realistically in my future. Not willing to let reality discourage me, I gussied myself up, ready for a night of fun.
My first stop was the Bellagio, where I marveled at the colorful glass sculpture suspended from the ceiling. My friends and I strolled along the polished patterned floors past the many designer boutiques, and into the casino. I was amazed by the diversity of the crowd in this sophisticated casino—some patrons wore suits, others wore shorts and flip-flops. Dress code aside, the casino exuded elegance.
Having been in Vegas now for 4 hours, it was high time to start gambling. I started with a bank of classic-looking slot machines. They had such great names: Lucky Seven, Double Diamond, Wild Cherry. We gambled and enjoyed a few drinks, and then decided to brave the Manhattan Express—a roller coaster built on top of New York New York.
Situated on the roof of the hotel, the Manhattan Express reaches speeds of up to 67 MPH and heights of 203 feet. The entire ride is a thrill, from the slow crawl up the first hill, which offers a stupendous view of the city, to the heart-pumping dives and twists, which had me screaming involuntarily. Flush with adrenaline, I was tempted to go for a second ride, but decided there was more of the city waiting for me.
I browsed through casino after casino: Aladdin, Paris, Bally’s, The Barbary Coast. I played a few slots and soaked in the wild, vivid décor of each. The lights and sounds were as intoxicating as the free drinks. I noticed, however, the minimum betting value for the tables always seemed to be $10. This was distressing. I had a limited budget but didn’t want to give up on my Vegas fantasy. I decided to hit the old part of the Strip in an attempt to find some cheaper tables.
I started at the Sahara and then moved to Circus Circus, Slots-o-Fun and The Stardust. I found a few affordable tables, but unfortunately had arrived at prime time. The crowds were impenetrable. I decided instead to enjoy the kitschy décor that I had seen so often in the movies–the flashy bulb signs, the sequin-clad showgirls and the blue-haired tourists glued to their chosen slot machines. It was in the old part of the Strip that I started to notice my fatigue. The air was not as fresh, the smoke a bit thicker and the service a bit slower. Fearing my tiredness would get the better of me, I headed back to The Flamingo for a bit more gambling.
The Flamingo’s tables were still far out of my price range, so I made myself comfortable at an American Bandstand Nickel Slot. Although my dollar lasted much longer on these games, I noticed that the frequency of drink service was not nearly as high. To solve this problem, I devised a pathetic (yet effective) scheme. I pretended to play the dollar slots, where waitresses visited often, and upon receiving my beer, snuck back to the nickel slots. It was a far cry from the high-rolling situation I had dreamed for myself, but it kept the liquor and the gambling flowing (which, to be fair, was also part of my dream).
The next morning, hung over and hungry, I set out in search of the legendary Las Vegas buffet. The line-ups for the many restaurants in The Flamingo were huge, far too long for my impatient stomach. I tried next door at The Imperial Palace, only to be confronted with an even longer line. It was the same at Harrah’s, the Casino Royale, the Venetian and Treasure Island. Frustrated and starving, I broke down and bought a scone and a latte at Starbucks. I brought my disappointing breakfast back to the Venetian, and watched the gondolas ferry newlyweds along the canal.
After a few more rounds of nickel slots at The Flamingo, it was time to hit the road again. As my friends and I pulled out of the city, I looked back at the shrinking skyline and felt slight remorse that my limited budget prevented me from living my Vegas fantasy to the fullest. But while my first trip to real-life Vegas lacked the high-rolling retro elegance of my dream, it had given me enough memories—of poolside cocktails, pink neon, and classic slot machines—to know that when I get rich (only a matter of time) my dream is not impossible. I watched the sun reflect off the shiny façade of the Mandalay Bay, and I knew that I would return one day with a larger bankbook and find myself sitting next to a man in an oversized cowboy hat.
The Flamingo Hotel: A Vegas Original
The Flamingo hotel’s best feature is its location on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, close to both the old and new parts of The Strip. The pink neon façade sits between The Barbary Coast and the Imperial Palace, and faces Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio. This historical hotel, built in 1946, is a descendant of the Bugsy Seigel hotel that helped spur the first Vegas boom. It undergoes regular renovations to ensure its 3626 rooms remain comfortable. Rooms start as low as $55.00 mid-week and $95.00 for weekends.
The hotel features a 15-acre resort-style tropical garden. Tucked between the towers of the hotel it is hard to believe busy Vegas is just on the other side of this serene setting. Complete with four pools, two hot tubs, waterfalls and a series of waterslides, this aquatic playland has something for everyone. The pool decks are lined with lounge chairs, but the chairs cannot be reserved and locations in the sun fill up quickly. The garden also hosts a wildlife habitat that has a collection of more than 300 birds, including Chilean Flamingos and African Penguins.
There are a variety of different restaurants and bars to choose from, including Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, home of a 3-story volcano that erupts margarita mix. The restaurants offer a range of cuisines and prices, from the quick and simple, to elegant fine dining.
Long a home for show-business legends, there is no shortage of entertainment at The Flamingo. Home of Gladys Knight, Second City and George Wallace, shows are offered nightly, and prices start at $65 for Gladys Knight, $45 for George Wallace, and $30 for Second City.
The hotel casino offers 77,000 square feet of gambling fun, complete with more than 2,000 slot machines, 70 gaming tables and a Race and Sports book broadcasting.
The Flamingo’s spa is the perfect way to recover after a night on the town. The spa offers a co-ed fitness center with weights, resistance machines and treadmills, as well as a relaxation center complete with whirlpools, saunas, eucalyptus steam rooms, massage services and tanning booths.