Las Vegas is somewhere that I’ve been to before, but never really for fun. I’ve spent many days locked up inside its vast conference centres before reporting for Channel 4 News about the latest gadgets being launched at the Consumer Electronics Show. Despite being a city built on vice, the only taste of ‘sin city’ that I experienced was in the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo that is held at the same time, although I went there strictly for work and witnessed some sites that a proud gay man should never see! My only taste of being in the city as a tourist was on a day trip to the Grand Canyon, a short plane ride away from Las Vegas.
So I therefore took up an opportunity to visit Las Vegas for a gay themed fun trip built around MGM Hotels’ LGBT themed Fabulous parties with some anticipation. I wanted to know if there was something that I missed in a city associated so much in the popular imagination with gambling (I don’t gamble), dance extravaganzas (they make me fall asleep) and hookers (don’t even get me started).
I arrived at McCarran International Airport a little later than I anticipated and struggled in a humungous queue to find a taxi. The queue situation wasn’t helped by the size of my suitcase, extra large because I had spent a week in San Francisco earlier. I also just simply pack way too much! When I arrived at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, I was a little disappointed to learn that my suite, yes my suite, was not ready yet. I politely turned down a 1am cocktail while I waited for them to clean the room, quietly pitying the poor man or woman who was having to clean it at such an ungodly hour. However, I then realised that time doesn’t really mean anything in Las Vegas, it is a little strange like that.
After three quarters of an hour or so, I made my way up to the 26th floor and into my suite. ‘Would this be the location some Prince Harry naked escapades?’ I wondered. Unlikely given that I was the inhabitant and I’m not quite that exiting!
As I settled in, I suddenly thought that there was a helicopter buzzing past my room. I’d seen the helicopter tours of the city advertised on my last visit. But the buzzing didn’t disappear, after a little while, I realised that it was just the wind reverberating through the countless skyscraper hotels nearby. theHotel itself is huge, sitting as part of the vast Mandalay Bay resort, there are copious eating, shopping, gambling and swimming opportunities to enjoy during your trip.
The next morning I met with some other gay journalists at a nearby breakfast hangout Serendipity 3. Having had so little sleep, I have to admit the thing I was most interested in consuming was caffeine!
Shortly after we headed to the Qua Baths at Caesars Palace where each of the group would enjoy a massage. As men and women were hosted in separate spas, I wondered briefly if I was expected to completely strip off before say dipping into the jacuzzi, but we each looked at each other and donned swimming trunks. It was trunks that would be the mainstay of our fashion over the coming days, as pool party after pool party awaited us. Although as we made our way out to the spa proper, it turned out it was the only occasion I’ve seen gay men wearing more clothes than straight men as everyone else in the spa was naked.
Duly trunked up, the ten of us were led to a steam room and told to wait for our masseur or masseuse. One by one, beautiful woman after beautiful woman arrived to take the party away for a massage, their beauty wasted on a load of gay men. Then mine arrived, a stunningly attractive man. I’ve never been massaged by a man other than my boyfriend before, so in some ways, I felt a little uncomfortable, particularly as the first thing he said to me was “take off your clothes.”
A local Las Vegas law means that a masseur can never see your entire naked body while performing a massage, so as he shifted from position to position (that I must admit seemed to concentrate on my behind and groin), he was forced to perform an elaborate ritual with a sheet, covering some part of my body even if it meant the obvious was clearly exposed!
Massaged to within an inch of my personal dignity, we headed for a pool party at Planet Hollywood. The weather in Las Vegas in the summer is a little odd, never cold, it isn’t possible to guarantee sunshine. For us this pool party, like much of the time we spent outside was in a hazy/ overcast glow. It is bright enough to warrant sunglasses and definitely sunscreen, unless you wish to endure an unexpected splodge of sunburn, as one of my traveling companions endured.
For the rest of my trip, afternoons, meant pool parties, our others being hosted at Landshark Lagoon and at the Luxor, Las Vegas’s huge tribute to Egypt and the pyramids. They were held as part of last year’s Fabulous LGBT party season hosted at MGM’s resorts. 2013’s season is being held in September across MGM’s properties.
The evenings of my trip focused on huge Vegas shows, so on my first proper evening, after an meal of delightful sushi at Mizumi at the Wynn, we headed to see Le Reve (the Dream), at the Wynn’s theatre. This was a huge, water based dance based performance with some of the most spectacular staging that I have ever seen. I have to admit though, that it wasn’t for me. I’m more of a ‘straight’ theatre person and I certainly prefer some dialogue in a performance. If it is your cup of tea, then I certainly do recommend it though.
The following day, after the pool party at the Landshark Lagoon, we headed to a quite amazing place, the Chandelier, at the Cosmopolitan. At points it felt like we were inhabiting some sort of bizarre alternative reality, a 1980s vision of the 2010s. The bar, as the name might suggest is a giant chandelier, with each level boasting a different cocktail menu, most of which you will never have drunk before in your life.
Dinner was at Jaleo by José Andrés at the the Cosmopolitan. This tapas bar was certainly in the more reasonable price range in Las Vegas and it coped amiably with me, a non-dairy eating vegetarian. Perhaps the most interesting part of the dining experience was the fact that many dishes are served in shoes, something I have certainly never done before in my life.
After dinner, we headed not to an aquatic performance, but instead to Zumanity, a raunchy cabaret show by Cirque du Soleil at New York-New York. At times funny, the performance was also at other points pretty offensive, but I guess that was the point. Much like Le Reve, this wasn’t quite me, I suppose I just found it a little crude. I might however, have enjoyed it more had it included more gay references, but this might have been a little too much for the almost exclusively straight audience.
The following day, after a gay pool party at the Luxor, we headed to Gordon Ramsay’s steak restaurant in Paris. The restaurant is an odd tribute to Britain in a hotel themed as the French capital. I guess it was an odd dinner choice for myself too given that I do not eat meat and it’s not where I would have chosen to dine if given the choice for myself. However, judging by my dining companions, the steaks were good. In the spirit of any good restaurant, the staff, all be it with a little prodding, produced food that met my strict dining requirements.
That evening, we headed to my favourite show during my trip, Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas at the Quad. It’s hard for me to explain exactly why I loved this, drag queens are not normally my favourite past time, but then this was probably the best drag queen show in the world. Marino, dressed as Joan Rivers comperes the show which features drag versions of some of the world’s biggest female stars. The show was funny, engaging and completely enhanced by the cocktails being served to us throughout. What I think I liked the most about this evening’s performance over the two previous nights was that it seemed down to earth – the performers came out afterwards to pose for photographs and raise money for charity and everyone seemed to be having a good time. I felt that in someways the shows I had seen earlier seemed less human.
The following morning I checked out of theHotel and departed the alternative reality of Las Vegas for the more mundane world of London. This trip showed me another side to Sin City, avoiding the casinos and conference facilities and instead enjoying the pools, the restaurants and the performances. We were there for a gay themed weekend, but many weeks there are gay themed pool parties to enjoy so it is certainly somewhere that should be considered as a gay travel destination.
As I left, I wondered if the experience would have been different if rather than a trip away with a collection of gay men and women, it had just been with my usual traveling companion, my boyfriend. For tourists, Las Vegas seems to be a destination for stag parties and couples. I’d certainly like to return with my other half, a trip that might even see me drop my long standing aversion to gambling, probably though because he’s a lot more impulsive than me!
- Las Vegas is situated in Nevada
- Gay sex has only been legal in Nevada since 1993
- LGBT people have been protected against employment discrimination since 2011, following the passing of laws 1999
- Same-sex couples cannot marry but can enter into domestic partnerships that have many but not all of the rights of a marriage within the state. Like all LGBT relationship structures in the US, lack federal recognition
- Las Vegas has a developed gay scene, although same-sex couples should feel comfortable in most locations throughout the city
Virgin Atlantic flies to Las Vegas from London Gatwick daily.