Sin City's charms are more alluring than ever, discovers Megan Singleton.
With the Kiwi dollar still riding high against the greenback, a trip to Vegas is now so doable that Kiwis are heading there in droves to pick up cheap jeans, makeup, gadgets and to try their luck on the gaming tables.
The first thing that hits you when you land in Sin City are the pokie machines at the airport for last-minute gamblers waiting for flights out.
Those who have any money left feed coins into their new addiction while arrivees look on aghast as they wheel past. One week later and those new arrivals are now sitting on the stool pushing their last quarters into the slots.
I love this city. It's kitsch, brash and fits every cliche you've heard about it. It's true that the city never sleeps. It goes into a light daze between about 7am and 9am for the all-night revellers to recover, but that's about it. I've been three times and never manage to see and do all the things I want to.
It might look like one street edged in hotels and casinos with overbearing billboards, buskers and replicas of global landmarks, but you'll be sorry if you think a little pair of strappy heels will get you around it. For one thing, the Strip is 6.5km long, the other is that you can lose yourself for half a day in one casino alone - and that's just trying to find the shops.
In recent years, Las Vegas has morphed into a classier destination with Michelin chefs at five-star restaurants, new sleek hotels rising from the Strip, decadent day spas, exotic swimming pools, designer shopping malls and seven resident Cirque du Soliel shows. Then there are the usual world-class events, such as boxing matches and performances from the likes of Jay Z, Kanye West, Celine Dion, Adele, Katy Perry and comic Jerry Seinfeld.
But if you're planning your first visit to Las Vegas, embrace its over-the-top reputation and don't miss these five things:
Gatecrash an Elvis wedding
There are hundreds of Elvises here. Some operate out of their own chapels, some are ring-ins when a wedding rush is on, some tour the malls and others busk on the street. But Brendan Paul is the closest lookalike I've seen, plus the man can sing. He walked a second-time bride up the aisle and sang Love Me Tender while the couple's two witnesses and me sat in the pew. Then came the vows: "I take you to be my hunka hunka burnin love; I promise never to step on your blue suede shoes." It's hard not to shed a tear.
Fire a submachine gun
Guns and ammunition are sold from under glass counters in Nevada, and it's not uncommon to see guys walking around with a gun on their hip. So join the populace at The Gun Store and fire a few rounds. This is an indoor shooting range featuring everything from Glocks and Magnums to semi-automatic weapons, and an owner who trains movie stars. You can also choose from a selection of posters - I chose Osama bin Laden and got him through the beard with my Magnum, before shredding him with the MP5.
Have a poker lesson
If you're not sure how to play the game that everyone is fixated on, get a lesson. I managed to convince the powers that be at Bellagio to take me into Bobby's Room, where the high rollers play, to learn how to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. As long as you have a handle on the terminology (flop, turn and river) you should be able to wing it. Or better yet, stand behind some young guns and watch, then head to the roulette wheel and have a spin.
See Cirque du Soliel
If you have time for only one show, make it a Cirque. With seven resident shows in custom-made theatres, each one is so different - and some are better than others. They say the first Cirque show you see is the one you'll always be in awe of, so I say head to either O at Bellagio - where the stage turns into a giant swimming pool, Mystere at Treasure Island - the first Cirque show in Las Vegas, or Ka at MGM - with a stage that tilts up vertically leaving acrobats scrambling to stay on. Breathtaking.
Get a spray tan
To truly strut your A-list stuff, book a spray at Sunset Tan at the Palms Hotel. Yes, the same company that had a reality show on on E! channel. The day I went, a red carpet event was about to be held and squealing teens and paparazzi were waiting. I was inside waiting my turn among the blonde goddesses who were doing their finishing touches before said event. At 157cm (that's 5'2") I was more hobbit than haute, but after Alexa (my sprayer) swiped abs across my stomach (which I'd never seen before and will likely never see again) and defined my biceps with another clever swipe of the brown coating, I was ready to flash my winning smile with the best of them.
Further information: Air New Zealand flies twice daily to Los Angeles with connections to Vegas.
Megan Singleton travelled to Las Vegas with assistance from Air New Zealand.