Living La Vida Las Vegas

Turning 21 is a milestone in anyone’s life, as it signifies one being legal to do a number of things, most notably drinking alcohol in public, gambling at casinos and attending nightclubs. A person like me would ponder at all the possibilities of what to do first (besides legally ordering a drink for the first time), but there is usually one main answer to that question: go on a weekend trip to the Adult Disneyland that is Las Vegas, Nevada.

I knew from the time that my 21st birthday was a few months away I wanted to go to Las Vegas as soon as possible. In fact, I had started the planning of the trip close to two months before the date my friend and I left. 

On August 22, we flew out to Sin City from San Diego. Road-tripping it there was an option, but flying opened the door for more to be done during the two days we were staying for. 

In the mid-morning hours, we checked in at The Mirage, a Polynesian-themed resort located in the middle of the four-mile Strip. The resort is most iconic for its artificial volcano that “blows up” at night every half hour from 8 p.m. to midnight, in addition to an atrium that sports the look and feel of a rainforest.

After a hassle-free check in, we entered our room on the ninth floor that had a beautiful of the Strip, primarily with the Harrah’s and Palazzo in full view, in addition to the High Roller, the largest observation wheel in the world. This view would also raise its worth at night where we could see the top of the volcano erupting.

Our first stop was lunch at one of the resort’s restaurants, BLT Burger. Given that they were tight on open tables, the wait for service was a bit longer than we thought it’d be. Aside from that hiccup, the rest of the experience was great. 

For my drink, I ordered the Sin City Amber, an exclusive beer that is produced and sold only in Las Vegas. It wasn’t the best beer I had ever tasted, but the interplay of the sweet malt and bitter flavors were solid for what they were. 

As for the main entrée, I went old school and ordered “The Classic” combo, a seven-ounce grilled Angus beef burger topped with the usual toppings and a side of fries. The burger was delicious and exceptionally juicy, reminding me once again that burgers cooked medium have the best overall taste. 

After the meal, we went over to the roulette table, mostly to pay homage to the Vegas episode of “Entourage” where Vincent Chase has the tradition of throwing down five dollars on red at the roulette table and always wins. Sporting an “Ari Gold is My Agent” shirt for good luck, it unfortunately wasn’t enough as the ball landed on black instead. My friend however was victorious in his attempt following mine.

Even though my luck at gambling didn’t start off well, I remained optimistic as we headed for the blackjack tables. Noticing that the dealer looked an awful lot like David Cronenberg, I realized this could go either way. Unfortunately I remained on the losing side again, and finally seceded once I was down seventy. Figuring that it wasn’t just my day, I laid off gambling for a later time.

Walking along Las Vegas Boulevard followed afterwards, where we took in the sights, sounds and smells of the resorts near ours. Given that it was close to one hundred degrees outside, we passed by multiple people that were selling cold water out of coolers for one dollar. We never bought from one of them, but at least it was a nice breath of fresh air away from the many solicitors that roam the streets day and night.

Once nighttime began to fall, we met with my friend’s uncle who has been living in the city for just over thirty years. He treated us to dinner at Nora’s Italian Cuisine, a family-owned Italian restaurant located 10 minutes outside The Strip. Mom-and-pop restaurants are tough successes in the present day, but this place has much deservingly been consistently successful since they opened in 1991, and is a must for a tourist to visit.

The perk of my friend having an uncle that had lived in Vegas for three decades had its biggest perk when he got us on VIP lists for clubs we wanted to attend. The first of those was the TAO Nightclub at The Venetian.

Sporting an Asian theme and look, the first floor of the club is more a spread-out lounge than anything else, which we knew would get boring after awhile.

Thankfully with VIP status though, we made our way to the top floor where the real party was. The floor showcased two full bars, a dance floor and a walkthrough outside that had a pleasant view of the Strip facing south. 

With a rum and Coke in one hand and the other pumping in the air to the music, the energy of the place expanded the later the night went on. The DJ was also in tune with the music as much as the crowd was, as he piled on one thrilling song remix after another, and also emceed every half hour to get the crowd pumped up.

After spending close to three hours there, we called it quits to head back to The Mirage because we knew we had a bigger day in store for us beginning the following morning.

Succeeding a morning run to an “overpriced because it’s Vegas” Starbucks, we dressed like we were going to the beach. Of course there’s no beach in the state of Nevada, but there is one place in Vegas that can provide an alternate version of that: Drai’s Beach Club at The Cromwell.

Located on the rooftop of the aforementioned resort, Drai’s embodies the atmosphere of a daytime pool party, albeit with a bit more risqué vibe the later the day goes by. I was extremely thankful that we arrived early because the pool areas filled up extremely quick, and eventually there is little to no room to move afterwards. I’m also glad I brought enough cash with me because their cocktail prices were pretty expensive. 

Honestly though, none of those things bothered me to a point that I wouldn’t return in the future. You get what you pay for with the breathtaking rooftop view, and the eclectic crowd of people there, raise the energy up to a very satisfying degree.

Once returning to The Mirage and relaxing awhile from the several hours in the hot sun, we voyaged down to the southern tip of the Strip, starting with New York-New York.

We didn’t have the intention of gambling there (although I did contemplate it concerning there were cheap minimum betting tables), but instead made our way to the resort’s main attraction, the Big Apple Coaster. I usually wouldn’t imagine a roller coaster at a resort being worth both the price and ride itself, but this one certainly pays off in a number of ways.

After paying the $14 ticket price for a single ride (there is also a $25 All-Day Scream Pass for the die-hard adrenaline junkies), we decided to wait longer by turning to the separate line for the front seat car. 

Once boarded after a patient wait, the thrilling ride ensued, beginning with a 144-foot drop where the speed soon reached its max of 67 miles per hour. Once the drop started, the adrenaline kicked in as we endured an exciting series of vertical and dive loops, and eventually going through a wild 180-degree spiral that transitioned into a half-loop. Essentially if you want to tour the exterior of New York-New York while also getting a rush of adrenaline, the Big Apple Coaster can satisfy that craving, that is also as long you don’t mind having your body get rocked around numerous times from the twists and turns.

Once the dizziness from the ride wore off, we embarked to the southernmost resort on the Strip, The Mandalay Bay. First we attended the Shark Reef Aquarium, which had a diverse assortment of rays, turtles, jellyfish, piranhas and lots of sharks. Getting to see most of the sharks swim right by and over the glass viewing areas is a real treat, especially for the hammerheads.

Afterwards, we moved on to what would be the most memorable highlight of the trip, the Michael Jackson ONE show. Tickets weren’t cheap as I had to shell out close to $300 for two seats, but the high price was an afterthought for how extraordinary the next hour and a half would be.

The show centers on four misfits that are thrust into Michael Jackson’s world and music, and eventually embody something emblematic of the artist’s storied personality. His white gloves, white socks and black shoes, hat and sunglasses represent these aspects.

Throughout the characters’ journey, stage performances set to the King of Pop’s greatest hits are played out, all of which are extremely well choreographed, and have production values that are profoundly vibrant in their design.

Sometimes I had to put my focus at one area of the stage in particular because there was so much action on stage at once. Essentially, I hadn’t experienced a spectacle like this since my first viewing of Jacques Tati’s “Playtime.” 

Most of all besides the constant amount of times my spine chilled from the exuberance of the show, it gave me a newfound respect and admiration of Michael Jackson both as a person and artist. Since returning back home, I have been listening to his music more than ever before.

Once the show concluded, my friend and I decided to walk the two and a half miles back to The Mirage, where we were bestowed the luscious glitz of The Strip’s many flashing lights, in addition to the sight of the Bellagio fountain show. 

Upon arrival back at The Mirage, we decided to watch the volcano show from ground level, and then made our way to the last bar of the trip, the Caribbean-themed Rhumbar. There I ordered the Three Citrus Cooler cocktail, a sweet blend of Bacardi O mixed grapefruit, lemon, orange and mint served with lemon lime soda on top. For larger groups of people, there is also a relaxing outdoor patio amidst an array of palm trees, and also provides a picturesque view of the resorts across the street.

The next morning we had reached the final hours of our stay, and I decided to try my final hand at gambling. I was on my own this time because my friend had hit a low point in his supply of cash. To kick off, I went to the roulette again and bet on red (again). I lost on my first try, but won on the second attempt, and then moved over to blackjack where things took an exciting turn.

First I made the smart move of deciding to cash in at a table that had a $5 minimum bet. That bet soon benefitted me as I went on a steady run of winning more than I was losing. 

At one point, I made the risky move of hitting on a 15, which is usually not the best move a novice player like me would take on. However my boldness paid off in the dealer revealing a 6, thus increasing my hand to the 21 maximum. Best of all, I had everyone at the table shocked, which even included the security guard watching over the table.

After placing my final bet of $15 on the table, I eventually won it back and decided it was best to cash out after winning my biggest hand back. I was only plus 5 above the original amount I threw down, but I call that enough of a success concerning how much most people lose in one day.

Once checking out of The Mirage an hour later, I was shocked at how fast the time had passed by. My friend and I had managed to do more in Vegas than most people our age could pull off in just two days. Overall it was a vacation that will never be forgotten, and it provided a multitude of memories that will last the rest of my lifetime.