A PINK Cadillac with dry ice, please? A blinky ring and a borrowed bouquet? And what did you say your name was, minister? Elvis. Elvis Aaron Presley... and with this pout, I thee wed.
We all have our little fantasies and sometimes they come true. Had things gone differently, a stretch limo should have collected me from Heartbreak Hotel down at the end of Lonely Street.
Instead, since this was all about two special people renewing their vows, our Las Vegas launchpad for lurve had to be The Mirage. A lodging named after a shimmering illusion in the desert is so Vegas, if not quite us.
Still it was hard to tear ourselves away from the only casino hotel on the Strip with a dolphinarium, caged tigers and a working volcano. But when a legend in a white jumpsuit is awaiting your arrival at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel....
Our driver, Barbara, after lauding us for being hitched for 73 years or something similar, drove us north, pointing out the cultural highlights... “Yeah, there’s the Little White Chapel where Britney got married that time for however many days it was.” The ride was super smooth, but we felt all shook up. This was the unknown.
From a string of competing wedding chapels we had chosen the Viva, voted Nevada’s best for 2012. A converted motel, it houses an entire wedding industry with a costumier, fancy florist, a Fifties vintage diner and outdoor reception areas. Our ceremony, though, was to be a quickie.
It was a bonus to discover our particular Elvis had tied the knot between Noel Gallagher and Meg Matthews. But then he is Ron Decar, doyen of Vegas Presley impersonators. Versatile, he doubles up as Dr Frank-N-Furter in the Chapel’s Rocky Horror Show service. And as Bond, James Bond. Licensed to marry.
There are so many themed weddings and vow renewals available – Alice Cooper, Ancient Egyptian, Liberace or Vampire, you takes yer pick. The Pink Caddy option appealed most. Why? This is the only place in town where you can drive into the chapel with Elvis in a 1964 Pink Cadillac convertible.
We didn’t expect to be fogbound, though, as the Caddy swept through the drive-in doors and Elvis, blasting out That’s All Right Mama, swept us through billowing dry ice and into the limelight. There followed some good-naturedly cheesy sentiments (we blushed), a ring ceremony (it lit up and blinked) and two further King classics, Love Me Tender (we smooched) and Viva la Vegas (we rocked, rolled and pouted). It’s all captured on video, which we’re only sharing with close family and a therapist.
On the way back to the hotel, Barbara asked us how it had been for us and we honestly had to admit it was huge fun... and, among the strange dance moves, strangely moving.
Another big plus in a feelgood day was being pictured poolside with Osborne, one of the Mirage bottlenose dolphins, We signed up for the Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden VIP tour, which took us behind the scenes in the dolphin habitat, including into the underwater viewing area.
We were less enamoured of the adjoining zoo housing tigers and white lions despite the obvious care and room for manoeuvre the animals are given. The basis for this habitat is the remaining big cats from the variety show a duo called Siegfried and Roy ran at the hotel until 2003 when Roy was seriously injured by one of their tigers. With the show’s closure went a piece of old Vegas.
These days the big entertainment draw at the Mirage is Love, the Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles show. Love is all we need, we told ourselves, to cap the Vegas nuptials and, yes, it was spectacular and perfect.
It this Venice? The Grand Canal is on the first floor of The Venetian!
We visited several rival hotels – the upmarket Bellagio with its mock-up of Lake Como with musical fountains and The Venetian, which boasts a first floor Grand Canal complete with gondola rides. The Bellagio has its own Cirque du Soleil extravaganza and the Venetian The Blue Man Group and fine dining options for evening diversion.
But there’s still no hiding the massed ranks of poker players, slot machines and crap tables, the round the clock gamblathons are LV’s raison d’etre. I was gobsmacked by the garish neon promenade that is the Strip but found the fanatical solo casino punters immensely dispiriting.
The Mirage kick-started the trend for casino hotels as mega-entertainment/dining complexes over two decades ago and it’s not quite as polished. But we were rather fetched by its bustling charms – its check-in desk dominated by a huge tropical fish tank, its equally tropical garden pool and wacky shops like the K for Kardashian emporium and, of course, the iconic volcano that erupts on the hour throughout the evening.
Among its eating opportunities we seized on NYC import Japonais, for ultra-traditional sushi, great sashimi and salads and skewers off its robata grill.
For atmosphere it didn’t rank with our final port of call – Piero’s, off-Strip near the Convention Center. Before it became Piero's in 1988, its predecessor, Villa d'Este, was a favorite haunt of mobster Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, sidekick "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein and their Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.
Mob movie classic Casino was filmed there in 1994, including a scene in which Joe Pesci, who played a hood based on Spilotro, tossed Sharon Stone's character down Piero's backstairs. The table where Pesci, Stone and Robert De Niro dined regularly during the shoot is made much of as are the Rat Pack connections – Sinatra and pals used to convene upstairs.
The Piero’s of today is rather more sedate, though its penumbral interior is frequented by long-time Vegas denizens who must recall the “bad old days”. Chicago, which I visited earlier in the year, plays down Capone but Vegas is upfront about its gangster-run past. A recently-opened Mob Museum houses a daunting collection of memorabilia (http://themobmuseum.org).
Inside Piero’s the classic dishes from those days remain – along with terrific service. It was the wrong season for signature soft-shell crabs, flown in from Miami, but we both ordered osso buco, the main most folk go for and toasted our “Vegas vows” with some blood-red Italian wine. Tomorrow, not the dessert, The Desert.
This is the first of a four-part series tracing Neil’s road-trip through the South-West States. Next up: Canyon Hopping In Utah.
Virgin Atlantic flies twice a week direct from Manchester to Las Vegas (and daily from London Gatwick to Las Vegas) and is offering return Economy fares from £723 per person. For further information contact www.virginatlantic.com or call 0844 2092 770.
Neil stayed at The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Room rates vary considerably throughout the year. Visit www.mirage.com.
Tickets for the Cirque du Soleil’s Love $79-$180 before tax and service fee. www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/love/tickets.aspx
Admission to Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden, adult tickets $19.95, children 4-12 $14.95. Discounts for MIrage guests. For VIP tour details visit www.miragehabitat.com/pages/vip_tour.asp.
For details and rates of Bellagio visit www.bellagio.com and The Venetian www.venetian.com.
Japonais in the Mirage. www.mirage.com/restaurants/japonais.aspx
Piero’s, 355 Convention Center Drive, Las Vegas Nevada 89109. www.pieroscuisine.com.
Getting hitched there:
Viva las Vegas Chapel weddings.
Packages between $450 and $1,200.
For Las Vegas tourism advice go to www.visitlasvegas.co.uk.
Manchester Airport parking:
Neil Sowerby left his car park in T2 Long Stay. Here are all the options:
VIP Valet – drop and collect your car right next to the terminal and get fast tracked through security. Your car is parked on site.Meet and Greet – drop your car off with staff next to the terminal and collect on your return. Your car is parked on site.
Multi-storey car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ultra-convenient multi-storey car parking right next to the terminal. Park and walk under cover to reach the terminal.
Long stay car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ground surface car park offering free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.Shuttle Park – secure parking at great rates for cost-conscious travellers. Free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.
JetParks – low-cost parking option run by Manchester Airport, fully manned 24/7, parking from £2.99 per day. Visit www.manchesterairport.co.uk/Shop/MAN/Parking.
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