Jenny Southan discovers you don’t have to gamble to get your adrenalin pumping – there’s plenty of thrills and spills to be had on the Strip
1. MGM GRAND LION HABITAT
One good thing about Las Vegas is that even if you have back-to-back meetings in the day, you can still experience everything it has to offer at night – in fact, this is when it really comes to life. However, the Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand shuts down earlier, so start your tour here.
The MGM Grand, located on the Strip, opened in 1993 as a Hollywood-themed resort, with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s famous feline, Leo the Lion, as its mascot. Originally the main entrance was through the mouth of a huge cartoon version of Leo, but this was taken down as it was reportedly putting off superstitious Chinese people, who considered it bad luck. Now you can visit a family of Leo’s descendants in a glass-walled enclosure in the MGM Grand casino. Although the lions live on an 8.5-acre ranch 19km away, up to six of them are released into the habitat daily, and coming face to face with one is scarier than you might think. There is a glass tunnel you can walk through, and sometimes the handlers get in and play with them as if they were giant kittens. Open 11am-7pm daily; free entry. 3,799 Las Vegas Boulevard South; tel +1 800 646 9143; mgmgrand.com
2. HELICOPTER RIDE
Sundance Helicopters is based less than 4km away at McCarran International airport, and for US$220 you can experience a twilight city flight over Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, and back over the Glitter Gulch and Strip, with limousine pick-up and drop-off. A 35-minute ride in a chopper is the ultimate way to experience the city, and from the air, you get a great sense of what an amazing place it is – a sprawling mess of jewel-like lights in the middle of a barren desert.
Door-to-door, allow yourself two hours for the whole experience, and don’t forget to bring your passport. Once you’ve been weighed and checked in, your pilot will explain the safety procedures on board. Headsets on, your graceful journey will be accompanied by Sundance’s carefully selected playlist of songs – from Sheryl Crow’s Leaving Las Vegas to Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas – as you sweep over the glowing mega-resorts below. Tel +1 702 736 0606; sundancehelicopters.com
3. MIX LOUNGE
After your limo has dropped you off at the entrance to The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, take one of the lifts up to the 64th-floor Mix lounge. This hip nightspot is staffed by ice-cool beauties who are more aloof than affable, but the views from the outdoor terrace make it worthwhile, and the Red Bull cocktails will keep you buzzing. In the centre is an oval-shaped crimson bar with black leather stools, and next to that is a line of glowing circular tables. It’s open from 5pm, and DJs playing hip-hop and house music set the groove for late-night partying. There’s a US$20 cover charge during the week for non-hotel guests (US$25 at weekends). Mandalay Bay, 3,950 Las Vegas Boulevard South; tel +1 702 632 9500; mandalaybay.com
4. NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Take the free tram on the casino floor of Mandalay Bay to Excalibur, where an external walkway will take you over West Tropicana Avenue to New York, New York hotel and casino. Have a good look at the replica Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty outside, and listen out for the screams of people riding the 62-metre high rollercoaster that weaves between them – because that’s where you’re heading next.
From 10.30am until midnight, daredevils allow themselves to be strapped into a mock yellow taxi that speeds at 108 kmph on snaking tracks around the hotel towers. You may think the slow ascent to the top of the first vertex is the worst part, but before you know it, you are plummeting 45 metres down and hanging on for dear life as you loop the loop. Two minutes later it’s all over, and the chances are even the most fearful people will want to do it again. Tickets cost US$14. 3,790 Las Vegas Boulevard South; tel +1 800 689 1797; nynyhotelcasino.com
Take a walk down the Strip, past the hustlers brandishing paper flyers for hot girls and the staggering groups with three-litre flagons of margarita hanging around their necks, to the Bellagio hotel and casino. Outside is its famous lake and fountains, featured in the movie Ocean’s Eleven, where you can watch 300-metre high jets of water “dance” to Broadway show tunes.
Head into the casino and stop by one of the world’s most renowned poker rooms. It hosts the World Poker Tour and anyone can take a seat at one of its many daily tournaments. But the real lure is Bobby’s room at the back – squeeze past the crowded tables and take a peek. Those familiar with the game will easily spot the godfather of poker, Doyle Brunson, wearing a white Stetson – he’s a regular here. This high-stakes hangout is for the wealthiest around – you have to put down at least US$20,000 if you want to play. 3,600 Las Vegas Boulevard South; tel +1 702 693 7111; bellagio.com
6. VOLCANOS AND SEA BATTLES
There are many free spectacles along the Strip, but one of the best to see at night is the volcano at the Mirage, a few minutes from the Bellagio. From 8pm until midnight, on the hour, groups gather by the lake in front of the hotel to watch as plumes of flames shoot from the water. Atmospheric music booms from speakers hidden in the undergrowth and the mock volcano bursts into life with jets of orange smoke and fire.
Next door, at Treasure Island, Siren’s Cove comes to life at set times throughout the evening – 7pm, 8.30pm and 10pm, plus 5.30pm in winter and 11.30pm in summer. The huge galleon moored here is the set for an explosive clash between scantily clad “sirens” and the pirates they are trying to lure. (Both these shows are weather permitting.) Mirage: 3,400 Las Vegas Boulevard South; tel +1 702 791 7111; mirage.com. Treasure Island: 3,300 Las Vegas Boulevard South; tel +1 702 894 7111; treasureisland.com
For more information go to visitlasvegas.co.uk