Introduction

25th February 2005

Las Vegas is the playground of the United States and a city that I've wanted to visit for some years. Bizarre flight schedules allowed me to engineer a free two day stopover in the city on my way home from an academic conference in Monterey, and this turned out to be exactly the right amount of time needed to explore most of the major attractions. Rather than write up a detailed blow-by-blow account of my visit, I've written up my general thoughts on a single page.

I took a flight over the Grand Canyon and a tour of the Hoover Dam during this visit, but there are others that can write these experiences up far more eloquently than I can.

 

Stratosphere Tower

25th February 2005

The Stratosphere Tower is the tallest structure on the Las Vegas strip by a fair margin. Though primarily an observation tower, the building also includes a restaurant and three thrill rides, with a fourth under construction that is due to open in March. Individual ride tickets are available, but these only represent value for money for those who don't intend to ride anything a second time; coaster enthusiasts are probably better off with the pay-one-price wristband deal.

Stratosphere Tower

My first stop was always going to be the High Roller (#385), a roller coaster built on the 108th floor of the tower. The layout of the ride is simple, featuring three circuits of the tower taken at a top speed of thirty miles per hour. The tracking on this ride was quite awkward in a few places, with some noticeable jarring, but the seats were well padded and absorbed the worst of the punishment. At ground level this ride would be fairly pointless, but the height and view adds far more than theming ever could.

From there I took a lift up four floors to the world famous Big Shot, a S&S Space Shot built on the tower roof. Footage of this attraction seen in an IMAX movie was one of the things that got me interested in amusement rides in the first place, and as such I was particularly eager to ride. Being launched straight up two hundred feet from a tower already a thousand feet high was an incredible rush, all the more so when riders experience a massive blast of airtime at the top. The experience was, in a word, amazing, and as I had plenty of spare time I spent the better part of an hour riding over and over again.

My final stop was at X-Scream, an eight person vehicle that slides back and forth on a tilting track hanging over the edge of the 107th floor observation platform. I was expecting this ride to be terrifying, having only recently beaten my fear of falling, but to be honest, it wasn't. Passengers are supposed to think that they are about to travel to their doom far below, but for me at least the whole impending doom sensation turning out to be a massive anti-climax, with the drops being too slow to be convincing. There is no doubt that the view from the front seat was spectacular, and those afraid of heights would have a bad time on this ride, but for me, it was simply boring.

The High Roller closed on December 30th, 2005.

 

Nascar Café

25th February 2005

Premier Rides was the first company to use Linear Induction Motors to launch roller coaster trains. Unfortunately, many of their early coaster designs suffered from numerous rider complaints due to unforgiving overhead restraints. For this reason, the majority of their early installations were refitted with a modern lap bar design, with Speed (#386) being the only exception.

Fortunately, the restraints were only a major problem for a sharp ninety degree bend found directly after the launch track. I didn't notice them for the rest of the course, a vertical loop and a second bank of LIMs that brought the train to an impressive seventy miles per hour, enough to take it all the way up a vertical spike similar to those found on the Mr Freeze coasters. Having said that, even the one turn was enough to limit me to three consecutive rides, though I did return for two more immediately before bed.

The Nascar Café and the attached Sahara Hotel closed in 2011.

 

Adventuredome

25th February 2005

Canyon Blaster (#387) is enclosed within the Adventuredome, an indoor amusement park found within huge pink-coloured glass dome just off the Vegas strip, next to the Circus Circus hotel. From my experience with large corporate parks, it was refreshing to find somewhere I could walk around without having to pay an expensive admission fee.

Older generation Arrow Dynamics coasters are not known for their smoothness. It was a very pleasant surprise, therefore, to discover that Canyon Blaster was an exception to this rule, and at just $6, it was also the cheapest coaster in the area by quite a margin. I only rode once, mostly because I had decided not to buy a wristband, but I'll definitely repeat it on a future visit.

 

New York New York Hotel and Casino

25th February 2005

Manhattan Express (#388) is a remarkably photogenic Roller Coaster built over, round, and even through the New York New York casino in Las Vegas. It is the most expensive Roller Coaster in the area, costing $12.50 for a single ride, so one might have hoped it would be the best coaster in the area. However, it was not to be.

All readers will be aware that some coasters don't track as smoothly as the rider might like, but even the worst offenders usually make it up to the top of their lift hills without noticeable jarring. This ride couldn't even manage that, and after the third nasty bang on the way up the lift hill, I began to dread what might happen once the coaster picked up speed. The first drop was actually reasonably fun until the bottom was reached, at which point the train started bouncing so violently as to be painful. The only smooth part of the ride was the vertical loop. Some of the directional changes around the course hurt enough to still be painful a few hours later when this trip report was written.

Manhattan Express falls into a small collection of coasters, principally SLCs and Volares, that I never want to ride again. As I disembarked, breathing a sigh of relief, I noticed a sign mentioning that re-rides were available for just six dollars. I found an operator, and politely enquired if this sign was referring to the salary for those willing to ride a second time, and if so, did he not consider that a higher wage might be in order? He didn't understand my joke.

 

Las Vegas Hilton

25th February 2005

I'm not a particularly big fan of Star Trek, but I will watch it when channel-hopping, and I have seen most of the movies. A former girlfriend possessed an alarmingly large number of Voyager episodes on video tape, this is not something I've ever felt the need to do; I keep theme park memorabilia instead! Be that as it may, my friends had advised me that I'd probably enjoy Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton, and I'm pleased to say that they were quite correct.

The main part of the experience is two shows, named Klingon Encounter and Borg Invasion 4D, both of which carry messages asking the audience not to share the secrets, a request I intend to honour. What I will say is that both are extremely well done, putting the customer in the center of the action and using live actors to great effect. Even someone with no interest whatsoever in Star Trek will likely be enthralled by the detail of the sets and the realism of the simulation. The only slight criticism I can bring is price. The shows are not sold separately until late evening, so you are looking at an outlay of $34.95, which seems a little on the expensive side for something like this. While there will be some interested in a repeat visit, which the ticket includes, the majority of people will only be interested in seeing a given show once. Cheaper admission would be welcome.

Star Trek: The Experience closed in 2008.

 

Buffalo Bills Resort and Casino

25th February 2005

Buffalo Bills is located about forty miles outside of Las Vegas, just next to the California border, and is easily reached by car or by a shuttle bus from the strip to the outlet mall across the road.

When it opened in 1994, Desperado (#389) had the longest drop of any roller coaster in the world, and is the largest of the four remaining Arrow Hyper Coaster models (Desperado, Magnum XL-200, Pepsi Max Big One, and Titan). As a ride, it is the smoothest of the three Arrow Hypercoasters that I've been on to date (not that that's saying very much), but it's not in the same league as the more modern designs by B&M, Giovanola, and Intamin.

 

Paris Las Vegas

25th February 2005

Paris Las Vegas

Paris Las Vegas is a casino lit to look like Paris in the early evening, and the effect works reasonably well, the only real failing being the way that the staff opening (or closing) their sentences with words like "Monsieur" and "Madame" but pronounced with no attempt at a French accent whatsoever. The casino has a half scale replica of the Eiffel Tower with an observation deck, whose tickets carry a prominent warning insisting on No Unauthorised Weddings. I'm not sure anyone in their right mind would willingly choose to get married in a fake Eiffel Tower in the middle of the desert, but I digress.

The view from the top was quite good, but was restricted somewhat by the huge number of visitors allowed there at a time. The staff seemed to be happy to bring people up as fast as the elevators allowed (each had paid nine dollars for the privilege) without any thought as to whether there would actually be any room available for them once they got there. I never managed to get a clear view myself; the picture above was taken by leaning across two other people with my camera, which I'm sure they appreciated.

On the way down in the lift, when the operator said "Bonne chance!" in an American accent, I finally cracked, choosing to recite the age old French tongue-twister in my best accent: Les chaussettes de l'archiduchesse sont-elles sèches, which gained me a I'm sorry, mon-sir, I don't speak any French.

 

MGM Grand

25th February 2005

I decided to splurge a little and spend one hundred and fifty dollars on a ticket to attend the Cirque du Soleil show, , in the MGM Grand. My feeling of guilt evaporated less than five minutes into the performance once I began to see the detail in effects, costumes, and indeed the theatre itself. The merchandising was shameless, with programmes costing fifteen dollars, but this was perhaps forgivable given the number of cast members on the payroll. I was in awe at the insane acrobatics and special effects, and on more than one occasion had to wonder how did they do that?

2005


Stratosphere Tower

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Nascar Café

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Adventuredome

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New York New York Hotel and Casino

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Buffalo Bills Resort and Casino

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