Visiting the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas

Earlier this month, my Darling and I took a one week vacation to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Vegas was quite the experience, but the Grand Canyon is really what took the cake for us, so let me begin with telling you this: the worst mistake you can make when going to Vegas is to not plan enough time to rent a car and drive out to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Secondly, let me warn you about flying with Air Canada Rouge on any flight longer than three and a half hours. What you may have read about them is true: the seats in their planes are thin and narrow and they do not incline. Also, be aware that if you are seated a few rows in front of the wing on their Boeing 767, you may end up in a row with no windows, even if you have paid to select your seat in advance and a window is shown on the seating plan!!! I am an okay flyer as a rule. I used to hate it, but got over my fear of flying a few years ago. One thing I have not gotten over, however, is my claustrophobia so my darling and I always select our seats in advance when we fly to make sure we are seated together and that I have a window to sit by. Lo and behold, when we got to our seats I found myself sitting next to nothing but the wall of the plane. That did not go over well at all. The windowless seat coupled with the cramped quarters and the fact that the flight took off at 7:30 in the morning, which meant we had to wake up at 4:00 A.M. to be at the airport for 5:00 A.M., and then could only sleep by opening our tray tables and laying our heads down on our crossed arms made for a very long, miserable flight. My darling’s opinion is still that he would rather take a direct, yet grossly uncomfortable flight on Rouge rather than a connecting, more comfortable flight with WestJet or Delta. My opinion is that I would rather spend an hour connecting through Atlanta or Toronto before getting on a long-haul Rouge flight ever again. You have been warned and I have only touched the tip of the iceberg with my complaints regarding this airline.

Thankfully, once we made it to Vegas for the first leg of our vacation, things went very well. Our first home in Vegas was the Venetian Hotel and Resort. There is nothing but suites at the Venetian and they are very, very comfortable. Their pool is lovely, there is some amazing, if pricey shopping in their mall and the decoration is very well done without being too kitschy. The one thing that was a bit too much for our taste was the opera singing gondoliers in the artificial Grand Canal.

Our second home in Vegas was the Paris Hotel and Resort. We were not as impressed with this hotel as we were with the Venetian. The feel of the place was different, the staff did not seem as happy and the guests were not as laid back. Also, being french speakers, we were disappointed in the lack of effort the developers had put into the French signs in the hotel. It all just looked so fake compared to what we had seen in the Venetian. We were also quite disappointed by the pool, which was in the shade until 11:00 P.M. and the fact that the towels and deck chairs were very worn out. We were expecting the Paris to be a notch below the Venetian, but it turned out to be more of a big step down. We got very good deals on both resorts since we booked weeknight stays at both and the Paris was less expensive, but not that much cheaper that we were expecting such a big difference in quality between the two establishments. If ever you have to choose between these two resorts, I would definitely recommend you spend a bit more and stay at the Venetian, especially if you can get a bed and breakfast deal like we did.

Our main mission in Vegas was to visit as many of the resorts there are we could and our favorites, aside from the Venetian, were the Cosmopolitan because of the modern chic decoration and the clientèle, the Wynn because of its decor and the Cherry on the Sundae was the Bellagio. If you only have time to visit one resort outside of your own in Vegas, make it the Bellagio. It’s decor is elegant without being overdone and Chihuly’s Fiori di Como and the indoor garden are a dream. We went to the Bellagio four times in the five days we were in Vegas and still were not tired of it after leaving it on our last night in town, so we were thrilled when we managed to snag a table on the terrace at the restaurant across the street from it for our dinner so we could take in more of its fabulous fountain shows. There are 30 different fountain shows set to music in the large artificial lake, so make sure you can stay for several or that you make a few trips back to the resort to catch as many of them as possible. You can find more information about the fountains and the schedule of shows here.

Some other great attractions in Vegas are the volcano at the mirage, which erupts every half hour as of 5:00 P.M. and the bird sanctuary at the Flamingo Resort and Hotel. We visited the bird sanctuary twice and went to see the Mirage volcano three times, which is the number of visits that were necessary in order for us to get a good view. Take that as a fair warning, the Volcano is very popular! As for the bird sanctuary, it is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you have young children.

As for shopping in Vegas, there is something for every budget. You will find high-end to Haute-Couture labels in the malls at the Bellagio, the Venetian and Ceasar’s Palace and a mix of high-end and regular labels at the Fashion Show mall and Las Vegas North Outlets. Fashion Show is massive though, so make sure you know exactly where your store is before you go so you don’t get discouraged looking for it!

On a foodies note, it is very easy to find good food in Vegas, which I was very happy about. Our favorite restaurant was by far Mon Ami Gabi, which is housed in the Paris resort and is where we snagged that terrace table across from the Bellagio. The food, drinks and service were impeccable and the ambiance was lovely It was a very fitting end to our Vegas vacation and well worth the 45 minute wait. If you don’t want to have to put up with a long wait for your table, make sure you book one ahead of time! We also enjoyed Spago at Ceasar’s Palace which is at the shops level. Be aware that if you have sensitivities like me and cannot tolerate too much grease, get hives from high fructose corn syrup or are allergic to MSG (Monosodium Glutamate), you will be looking at about 35$ per person per meal. It is worth the price though, because this was the first time in ages that I made through an entire vacation in the States without a single hive or serious digestive upset. The only other places in the US where I have been able to pull off such a feat in recent years are NYC and Vermont!

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The Paris Resort
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A Chihuly’s Fiori di Como in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel.
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The fountain show in front of the Bellagio

We stayed in Vegas from Wednesday to Friday and on Friday morning picked up our rental car so we could start our journey to the Grand Canyon. Our first stop was the Hoover Dam, which my Darling, being a civil engineer, was very eager to visit. We were planning on taking the guided tour to be able to enjoy the dam to its fullest, but nixed that plan when we found out that the tour cost 30$ US per person, which we found excessive. We settled for walking from one side of the dam to the other and that turned out to be plenty.

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The Colorado River and the power station on the Arizona riverbank seen from the top of the Hoover Dam.
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The Hoover Dam.
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Lake Mead, which is drying up at an alarming rate, seen from the Hoover Dam.

From the dam we drove to Flagstaff, Arizona and took a veer off the most direct route in order to drive down Route 66 part of the way. The drive from Vegas to Flagstaff is quite easy since most of it is in a straight line through the desert, but I would not recommend doing it at night since there are no street lamps.

We made it to Flagstaff around 7:00 P.M. and left for our day trip to the Grand Canyon the following morning after breakfast. Words cannot describe how amazing the Grand Canyon is. I would definitely recommend staying in the National Park if you can. We would have loved to, but their hotel, The Yuvapai Lodge, was fully booked for the weekend we were in the area. Also, do not make the mistake staying at the viewpoints nearest to the park entrance. Go for a walk, the view of the Canyon changes constantly. You should also try to hike down a little if you can, but be forwarned: it is not for the faint of heart. There are no railings along the side of the trail and the further down you go, the steeper and narrower the trail gets. We did not go down very far because I am afraid of heights to a certain degree. We were also short on time and it is much harder hiking up the canyon than it is to hike down due to the change in altitude. Another important note: keep an eye on the weather. Just because it is sunny and warm when you get to the Grand Canyon does not mean it is going to stay that way. The weather went from sunny and warm when we arrive to stormy, to back to sunny and warm to back to stormy and then cool and clear with the seven hours we were at the park. Bring a sweater, hat, water, sunscreen and snack food and most of all, obey the signage in the park. If a sign says to keep off a ledge, do, and when they say you will die if you try to hike down to the bottom of the canyon and up again in one day, they mean it. You can read this article for more about the dangers of the canyon, but please, don’t let it stop you from going, there is absolutely no more risk in visiting the Grand Canyon than any other place as long as you’re smart about it.

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Taking in one of the many breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon.
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A large bird of prey, possibly a condor, flying above the Grand Canyon.
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The South Rim of the Grand Canyon seen as the sun is beginning to set.

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On an ending note, here are a few pointers about visiting Vegas and the Grand Canyon

-Go to Vegas with an open mind. You will see anything and everything there from Conservative Christians yelling through a megaphone that everyone else in Vegas besides them are sinners and need to be saved to very, very scantily clad women who will only pose for a picture with people if they pay them.

-There are people on the sidewalk everywhere trying hand out cards for escort agencies. They will hand out their cards to anyone.

-If cheap show tickets in Vegas seem too good to be true, they are. Only get your show tickets through your resort or the resort where the show is or you will be roped into a timeshare promotional meeting.

-Visit Vegas from Sunday to Thursday, keep out on weekends if you do not want to see all kinds of craziness. We got back from the Grand Canyon on a Sunday evening and saw the Weekend’s leftovers and it was not pretty. Also, rates for hotel rooms in Vegas go sky-high on weekends whereas there are a proliferation of deals to be had on weekdays.

-Expect a few disruptions in your hotel at night. There was a bit of a rowdy crowd in our hallway at 5:00 A.M. at the Venetian on our first night and a guy banging away on the door to the room across from ours at the Paris on the Sunday night we got back. These disturbances never last for long because believe me, someone will call security before you even think to do it and they tone things down very quickly.

-It’s Vegas, if you want a very relaxing vacation, go elsewhere.

-Visit the Grand Canyon while you are in the Vegas area or you will regret not doing it for the rest of your days. The drive is easy and rental cars are dirt cheap in Vegas.

-Drive to and from the Grand Canyon by two different routes to enjoy the varied scenery around the canyon.

-Do not drive out of Grand Canyon National Park after dark, the road is very curvy and there are no street lamps. One wrong turn and you’ll end up over the rim, even during the day some parts of the drive in the park are not for the nervous driver. Take your time, keep your eyes on the road and slow down around curves.

-Watch out for wildlife and distracted tourists when driving.

-Both in Vegas and at the Grand Canyon, be prepared to put up with selfie-stick wielding tourists, there are a proliferation of them.

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