I say no to Sin City, yes to nature.
By Charlie Huisking
During a delightful afternoon last week, I watched gondolas glide along the Grand Canal, stopped for some supremely rich chocolate gelato and had lunch in an outdoor cafe on St. Mark’s Square. And all of this was in the Nevada desert!
Dinner at St. Mark's Square in the Venetian Hotel.
Yes, I wasn’t in the real Venice (which can be so unpleasantly smelly and hot, after all), but in the climate-controlled artificial Venice at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
Now, Las Vegas is the last place on earth I thought I’d ever find myself. I don’t gamble, I don’t drink and I don’t like to shop. But I decided to accompany a convention-going friend for a few days, just to see what all the fuss was about.
And I’ll tell you upfront, I’ll never go again. I thought I might find some kitschy appeal in the over-the-top garishness of the place. But no, I just found it garish. And depressing, particularly inside the casinos, where artificially enhanced women flirted with packs of swaggering young guys who had obviously seen too many episodes of TV’s Entourage.
But I must say the Venetian was a welcome oasis. It may be hard to describe a 7,000-room hotel decorated with gold leaf and ersatz frescos as charming, but I loved the place. The re-creation of St. Mark’s Square is handsomely done, and the lighting and the fluffy clouds on the ceiling really make you think you’re outside. Every hour, opera singers, jugglers and other entertainers perform in the square, and the men steering the gondolas learned their trade in the real Venice.
I also spent a lot of time in the hotel’s branch of the Canyon Ranch spa, where I enjoyed a massage and worked out on the exercise bike.
One night, we walked along Las Vegas Boulevard, past a line of sign-waving hawkers promising to deliver “Girls Like This in your Room in 20 Minutes.” But we had a more high-minded goal, catching a performance of Cirque du Soleil’s O in the nearby Bellagio Hotel. It was fantastic! This is the production in which the amazing performers dive into a massive onstage pool and swing from the sails of flying ships that hover above. The production values were incredible.
Eager to encounter some natural beauty, I took a one-day trip outside of Las Vegas to the Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks in Utah. It was a long day with six others in an SUV operated by Adventure Photo Tours. We left at 6 a.m. and didn’t return until 9 p.m. But the spectacular scenery made the long drive worthwhile. I particularly loved Bryce, where you overlook thousands of red, yellow and orange pinnacles and other rock formations known as hoodoos. It’s a magical, inspiring place, even when you’re sharing it with crowds of other awestruck visitors from around the world.
Bryce Canyon National Park
In Zion, you’re not looking down, but up, at towering red rock cliffs that loom over the valley. This place is so popular in summer that you must leave your car in lots outside the park and board shuttles that take you through the park. It’s quite an efficient system. You can hop off to explore a canyon or hike to a waterfall, and you usually don’t have to wait more than a few minutes for another bus to pick you up.
The pinnacle of Bryce Canyon.
Naturally, it was quite a culture shock to return to Las Vegas that night. Maybe that’s why I was particularly happy when my jet took off from the Las Vegas airport the next day. Leaving Las Vegas felt mighty good to me.