“ Las Vegas attraction „
On our recent trip around Arizona, Utah and Nevada we, unfortunately, had to make a stopover of several nights in Las Vegas. Being proper "country" people and generally avoiding cities wherever possible, Las Vegas is our idea of a nightmare, but to coincide with surprising my mum there for her 60th birthday we had no choice in the destination and so resigned ourselves to 4 nights and days of intense heat, crowds, noise and oppulence. I won't go into our general Las Vegas experience as this is a review of the Fremont Street Experience rather than the city itself. I know many people love the city and could return time after time and to be honest I can see why, but it's not for us. Two days would have been more than enough for us and after 4 whole days of it suffice it to say all of our expectations of the city had been met and we were chomping at the bit to get out of the place and back onto our road trip!
There were a few things we enjoyed about Las Vegas; The Bellagio, both inside and out, the attractions at various hotels including the Venetian and the Flamingo (biggest koi carps I've EVER seen!) and dinner at Roy's, a Hawaian Fusion restaurant, being the most memorable. But by far and away the best part of our stay there was our final night trip to Fremont Street in the "old strip".
THE REAL LAS VEGAS
Generally regarded as the Real Las Vegas, this is how the city used to be. The oldest casinos and hotels are based here and when you think of the old-fashioned gangster movies and films such as Casino, this is where they were all filmed. It is not a place you find by accident when staying in Las Vegas as it's about a 10 minute taxi ride from the new strip, but it is most definitely worth a visit. Rather than the oppulence, elegance and over-the-top-ness of the new strip it is much more characterful, relaxed and down to earth, with bright lights everywhere and way too much to look at.
We were there on a Saturday night for dinner at an amazing restaurant called Hugo's Cellar, in the basement of The Four Queens casino. According to our friendly taxi driver, in the past it was a favourite haunt of the mafia and nowadays consistently comes in the top 3 of best restaurants in the city. The meal was one of the best I've ever had (and it should be for the prices they charge!) and really put us in the holiday spirit and wanting more. Luckily for us, our exiting the restaurant timed with the main attraction of night time Fremont Street, the light show.
As I said, we got a taxi from our hotel to Fremont Street (well, just off Fremont Street, as it's totally pedestrianised) and it cost around $30 including a tip. I think there are also buses that go there but as were staying right at the far end of the new strip at the MGM Grand we decided a bus would take too long so opted for a taxi. On the return ride, however, because there were six of us and we needed two taxis, we ended up being caught by a taxi tout who herded us into an American style school bus limousine, absolutely pimped out to the max with leather seating all around the edges, drinks in the fridges, neon lights and a pole for dancing in the middle! At a cost of just $45 it was much cheaper than getting two taxis and ended our night, and stay in Las Vegas, off in a fantastic fashion, but I have to say that I have never felt so "chav" as when I got out of it in front of our hotel!!
THE FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE
The entire street is covered with a canopy which, every hour on the hour after dark, comes alive and turns into one great big massive tv screen. Apparently it is the biggest screen in the world and contains more than 12 million LED lamps. Imagine Your local high street being covered with a canopy, Queen music blasting out from speakers all around you and a light show going on above your head. Imagine thousands of people out on a Saturday night, most with a drink or two inside them, trying to dance and singalong with the music but look up and watch the show all at the same time. Are you picturing it? Well you're still not even close to how the real thing was! It was absolutely phenomenal. The atmosphere was brilliant, almost carnival like with everyone enjoying themselves, singing and dancing in the middle of the street. And the best part? All of this was absolutely free of charge, anybody could wander into the street and watch the show and become a part of a huge street party!
When the show finished you could almost feel the disappointment in the air, but it comes on again regularly throughout the night so many people hung around for the next show. We decided to wander up the street to see more of the old fashioned style casinos and really experience downtown Las Vegas, a much more relaxed and laid back place than the newer part of the city.
Whilst the main attraction of the area is the light show and this - again according to our friendly taxi driver - brings in over 100,000 visitors a week, there is plenty of other things to see and do whilst visiting Fremont Street and it really is a people watching paradise. There are various shops, bars and cafes etc, as you'd expect on a busy tourist street. There are also free, live concerts, a zip wire which you can ride down the length of the street. None of us partook of that particular pleasure, although my mum was tempted to maker her 60th birthday truly memorable but wimped out in the end! From memory, to go on the zipwire cost around $20, but for $50 you could go unlimited all day long. It looked like everyone that went down it enjoyed it, but a word of advice girls, don't go on it if you're wearing a skirt...you're suspended about 50 feet above the heads of thousands of people!
Another place that got a lot of attention was The Heart Attack Grill, unsurprisingly. Words really can't describe this place! It's a huge diner type restaurant sited on a corner plot with big signs all over its frontage stating things like "our hamburgers contain 9500 calories", "we only accept cash because you might die before your cheque clears" and "fighting anorexia since 1996". Personally we were a bizarre mix of enthralled by the place and disgusted in equal amounts! It's biggest draw is that people weighing over 350lbs eat for free and it has a big weighing platform by the front door so you can weigh yourself before you go in. The worst part was that whilst we were sitting in the bar opposite having a pre-dinner drink, at least half a dozen people actually weighed themselves, qualified for the free meal and went inside. The scales themselves attracted dozens of people from kids, to muscle-men to tiny ldies who just wanted to be smug and show everyone watching that they only weighed 100lbs! It was a real eye-opener and it disturbed me considerably that it was encouraging people to stay weighing more than 350lbs so that they could eat free every night.
Everywhere you go in Fremont Street is crowded and the later you go the bigger the crowds. I never felt threatened there at all and the atmosphere was a really friendly upbeat one, but if you're visiting with children I would advise much caution. It would be very easy for them to get lost if they're of walking age and it really was way too crowded to be able to manage pushchairs very easily. Having said that, if you are in Las Vegas with children it really would be a highlight for them to visit this downtown area and I can guarantee their eyes would be on stalks!
Disturbing restaurant aside, the Fremont Street experience really was the highlight of our stay in Las Vegas. The new part of town is very much more showy and all about being seen and - more importantly - being seen in the right clothes and it really was far too materialistic and bling for myself and my husband. Don't get me wrong, we enjoyed ourselves and are glad we saw it but definitely wouldn't go back a second time. Fremont Street, however, was another story. Old-fashioned glitz, bright lights, loud rock music, happy, friendly people all having a good time rather than worrying about what the person next to them thought of their sandals! When people refer to it as the "real" Las Vegas you can really understand why, it's like taking a step back in time when you look at the casinos and surroundings, but being thrown well and truly into the here and now when the overhead light show starts. Words really can't even begin to describe the atmostphere of Fremont Street and the whole experience of being there and I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit here if you're in Las Vegas.
The Fremont Street Experience was one of my favourite things about Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas, I love the lights, the brashness and the newness of the place that comes in massive proportions. But Fremont Street is old style Las Vegas - how it used to be before modern money took over - and it has one great attraction in the light experience that was created in 1999.
==So What Is It?==
The Fremont Street experience is essentially a sound and light show that takes place above the street every night on the hour, every hour from sunset until midnight. As I said, the Experience was built in 1999 in a bid to bring in some of the millions of tourists that visit The Strip each year to the downtown area. All along the street is a ninety foot high archway that contains over twelve million LED lights, which transform the 'ceiling' into a huge TV screen.
==Is It Worth Visiting?==
The short answer is absolutely. The long answer is as follows: (!)
Getting to Fremont Street from The Strip is very easy as there are buses that run along Las Vegas Boulevard and into the downtown area at least every ten minutes. It is cheap enough too - you simply buy a ticket from one of the ticket machines at each bus stop and board. The tickets are about $2 and last for a couple of hours or you can get a 24 hour bus pass for about $7. A couple of hours could be enough, if you time it right - remember the show starts on the hour and it lasts for about six minutes - but if you want to explore the area a bit and visit some of the casinos there, I'd recommend spending the extra for a day pass. If you do this you can also use it to stop off at some of the hotels to the northern end of The Strip (including The Stratosphere and Circus Circus) which are a long way on foot if you are staying in the central area near Bellagio and Caesar's Palace.
The show is sponsored by a consortium of the hotels on Fremont Street and so they play their part in making the show what it is by turning off all of the lights in their casinos just before the show starts. I think this makes all the difference and is a fantastic idea. For me it did a lot to build up the excitement and create atmosphere before the show. There is something slightly spine tingling about seeing the city of lights go dark.
The show itself has no particular format or story. It is more of just an independent mini movie that is shown each hour. The shows are different every time and they tend to incorporate soft rock and cartoon like images. They are designed that you can't help but tap your feet and swing your hips to them regardless of whether you like the featured artist. When we visited we saw Queen and Bon Jovi, neither of whom my husband likes but both of which he thoroughly enjoyed. There are huge speakers all along the street, so it really is an experience rather than just a show; you can't help but feel part of the show. All along the street there are hundreds and hundreds of people staring up at the ceiling bopping along happily.
One of the best things about the show is that it is entirely free, so if you are on a budget, it is a great thing to do to pass a bit of time or even an evening if you want to stay and watch more than one show, which we did quite happily.
Seeing the benefits of creating such a big tourist attraction in the area, there are lots of other things that you can do to pass the time between the shows that have appeared as a result. There are many little free standing gift stalls along the street selling everything and everything you can think of in the form of Las Vegas souvenirs - we were oddly mesmerised by a lady who was writing people's names on grains of rice!
There is a huge flying fox type thing that runs along the street underneath the LED arch. It's not cheap at $20 per person, but it is very popular and you will find that any walk down the street is punctuated by the screams and shouts from the people above who seem to be having a whole lot of fun.
Then of course, there are the casinos. The Golden Nugget is kind of Fremont's answer to the big casinos of The Strip. It doesn't live up to its aim of being an upmarket establishment in downtown, but it is glittery and eye catching all the same. You can get one of the famous 99 cent shrimp cocktails in The Golden Gate, pretty much the only thing going for this understated and pretty old casino that has been there since 1901. There is also Binion's Horseshoe which is an old school casino that has no airs and graces and it shows. That said, the casinos here are worth a visit because they are supposed to pay out more than elsewhere and they offer a much more casual experience. To be honest, we absolutely loved spending time in them people watching - you really do get all sorts in this area and it is truly fascinating stuff!
Overall I wouldn't hesitate recommending a trip to Fremont Street because the Experience is fantastic and it is easy to get to and free to enjoy.
I love Las Vegas, and in particular I love downtown Las Vegas. Not for me the huge mega resort hotels which litter the Strip - along with the half built projects and empty lots awaiting development due to the recession. I much prefer the old part of town where the hotels are smaller, the streets aren't a mile a block and the lights are just as bright.
The problem with downtown Vegas is that as the Strip grew and prospered, people deserted downtown for that area instead. You won't find any big name shows in downtown and the hotels here don't have themes or huge shopping malls to pull the punters in.
What downtown does have however is the Fremont Street Experience, which has seen the original casino filled street of Las Vegas transformed into a pedestrian area and covered by a canopy 90 feet above the ground which has a 1,500 foot long LED screen called Viva Vision and which plays host to nightly light and music shows along with several other attractions which make the walk down Fremont Street both enjoyable and memorable.
Fremont Street's nickname is Glitter Gulch, a name which refers to the lights from the old school casinos which dotted the street. It was pedestrianised in 1995 from Main Street down to the point where Fremont Strip meets Las Vegas Boulevard - the road more commonly known as the Strip. You can continue to walk down Fremont Street, enjoying some of the lights, hotels and bars on the way but the further you go the more decrepit it gets and certainly I wouldn't advise you walk much further than 11th Street after dark.
You can easily spend an entertaining evening on Fremont Street with much to see and do. Many people who stay at the Strip take the Deuce bus up to downtown specifically to do the Fremont Street Experience so it can be crowded.
It's become an integral part of my visits to Las Vegas because it's something I've been able to include my daughter in. This means I've not been able to visit the bars but fortunately there's a really good babysitting service in Vegas called Grandma Dotti's which my husband and I used regularly when we visited the city together before his death, enabling us to see the adult side of Glitter Gulch too.
I've been visiting Vegas since 1999 and on almost every trip I have visited Fremont Street, and on some trips staying in downtown hotels.
The Fremont Street Experience is funded by a consortium of some of the hotels and casinos located on the street. Some of these hotels are worth wandering into for a drink, meal or to feed some slots.
What I love about the Fremont Street Experience is the fact it's not just about gambling but also encompasses music, vision and a celebration of the city's past.
Most of my stays in downtown Las Vegas have been at the Main Street Station hotel which is located close to the point where Fremont Street begins. The two hotels which mark the start of the Experience are the Las Vegas Club and the Golden Gate.
The Vegas Club isn't really worth visiting. I have stayed here a few times and every time I go back I wonder why the Club is still open as one by one the things that made it worth visiting are taken away. The Club used to have a highly thought of steak house, popular karaoke sessions and a diner which offered a cheeseburger so big you could have it on the house if you could finish it. All are gone now and the floor space given over to the casino has been cut drastically too.
The waitresses have got younger and their outfits skimpier however, so one gets the feeling the Club wants to attact young men with lots of money to drink and gamble away. Some of the dealers double up as pole dancers here if that's your thing.
The Golden Gate is the oldest hotel in Vegas and is famous for its 99 cent shrimp cocktail, which is definitely worth trying out. The problem with the 99 cent shrimp cocktail is they don't sell it to minors - or even allow anyone under the age of 21 into the Shrimp Bar and Deli area where it's sold and it doesn't cost 99 cents anymore either - you now need to shell out $1.99 for your shrimp cocktail. It is lovely however - assuming you like shrimp - and the hotel's sauce is spicy and tasty.
The Golden Gate is home to Du Pars diner which until recently was the Bay City Diner. I have always had a soft spot for this place as it's got old fashioned booth seating and serves decent food at low prices but on my last visit earlier this year I was disappointed with what struck me as a pointless name change when the décor remained the same. If you want a cheap meal day or night Du Pars is worth visiting as it's open 24 hours a day.
Just a little stroll from here you will come across a place called The Girls of Glitter Gulch. This is a strip joint but occasionally you will see some of those girls walking around in showgirl regalia before a performance. Next door is a slot only casino called Mermaids. It has a Caribbean theme and people will try to draw you in by giving you beads but the slots are renowned as the tightest in the state. Mermaids also sells really cheap, and really vile, fried food for 99 cents. I've never tried it but have never heard anyone say a good word about it.
As you walk down Fremont Street you can't avoid the Viva Vision canopy and each night there are several light and music shows on the hour. They tend to follow themes and I have seen shows featuring music from the Beatles and Queen amongst others, with classic rock invariably being the most popular.
The first show of the evening starts at 8.00 pm and it's worth just stopping whatever it is you are doing and looking up at the canopy to enjoy the show. The light shows are amazing and encompass many different themes, from seeing cars racing down the canopy to swathes of different colours lighting it up. The lights which can be found throughout this iconic city advertising different casinos usually feature too. Each show lasts about ten minutes before the music dies down and the canopy returns to a more muted form, invariably advertising something.
The Golden Nugget hotel is worth visiting - it's the largest and most luxurious hotel on Fremont Street and is something of an icon. It's been renovated recently and when you compare it to the basic nature of the Golden Gate you really do notice how luxurious it is in comparison. The Golden Nugget is now home to a glitzy nightclub called Gold Diggers. The hotel has many dining options too. I will finally be staying at this hotel on my next planned trip to Vegas and I have to say it's something I am really looking forward to.
As you carry on walking down Fremont Street you will pass DJs playing music, outside bars selling bottles of beer or cocktails in huge glasses, stalls selling souvenirs - and souvenir stores and you will pass the famed Vegas Vic sign which shows a cheerful pioneer type waving to those who go past. Vegas Vic sits atop the Pioneer Club - a former casino which now operates as a souvenir shop and he's probably the most iconic of the lights in Fremont Street - if not the whole of Las Vegas. He's been imitated but never bettered - and the so-called Vegas Vicky who advertises the Girls of Glitter Gulch just doesn't have his charm.
At 3rd Street there is a large stage where free concerts take place. You can see tribute acts, bands starting out and older, established acts here playing for nothing and I always enjoy stopping here to see what's going on.
Nearby is Binion's which used to be the famed Binion's Horseshoe. Before it went bankrupt and was bought out, you could stand by a display here which contained exactly one million dollars and get your picture taken. It was one of those "must do" photo opportunities and it's a shame it's no longer there. Binion's is a shadow of its former self these days with the hotel tower closed and the cheap steak dinner that used to be on offer is sadly now a thing of the past.
You can still find decent food that won't break the bank on Fremont Street however - apart from the diner at the Golden Gate, the Four Queens offers a prime rib dinner for under $10 for instance although I would recommend if you are walking north up Fremont Street turning right when you get to Main Street and heading to the California or the Main Street Station hotels for excellent food. Just be warned that at peak times you will have a bit of a wait to be seated.
By the time you get to 4th Street you will see some lights which in daytime look quite cute but at night are illuminated. These are part of the Neon Museum and feature restored neon signs from the city's past, including the original lamp from the Aladdin hotel and the sign for the long gone Chief Hotel amongst others. I love these restored lighting structures and they are great because you can get up close and personal to them to examine and to photograph.
Up here you will also see the Neonopolis structure, which has sadly been a bit of a white elephant in the area. There are some exhibits from the Neon museum located inside here and Neonopolis used to be home to a multiplex cinema, which I visited a couple of times but it's sadly now closed and there's very little to draw a tourist in now unfortunately.
By the time you hit the Strip the pedestrianised part of Fremont Street, and the canopy, comes to an end but there's still plenty to see. This area is called "Fremont East" and it's an area which has been decorated with more lights and contains several bars including a Beauty Bar which looks like a 1950s beauty salon but is in fact a bar which has the most bizarre seating with hairdryers over your seat. The bar plays host to live music and other entertainment but it does cost more to drink here than at casino bars.
When I first came to Fremont Street in 1999 this area was considered unsafe and certainly it was much rougher then. Over time it has cleaned itself up a bit and there are regular police patrols on bike from the northern end of Fremont Street down to 11th Street to help make tourists feel safe. The Gold Spike, a hotel and casino which housed the cheapest bar in Vegas has been spruced up and the $1 beers are a thing of the past. I used to love coming in here purely to people watch even though it was a dump. The people watching isn't so interesting now unfortunately as the whole place has been renovated.
If you continue down Fremont Street you will arrive at the El Cortez hotel and casino and it's worth stopping by here if you want to visit a traditional casino. Even though the El Cortez is really the last hotel I would recommend on Fremont Street, I've never found it unsafe or full of desperados. Instead I have paid many a visit to the piano bar, and we always enjoyed seeing a harridan of a waitress berate the bar staff for not getting her order right. My husband would be disappointed if the waitress wasn't working when we visited such was her ability to switch from a friendly, smiling type when dealing with customers to really giving her colleagues a hard time when she thought her customers couldn't see her.
The clientele at the Cortez tends to be people who enjoy gambling but generally know when to stop and perhaps the most sensible thing to do when walking down Fremont Street is to follow their lead and stop here, but if you continue there are a couple of low rent establishments I have always enjoyed visiting in spite of the awfulness of them.
Firstly there is the Western Hotel, which is no longer a hotel following a request from the local authority to close it on health grounds in 2008. The casino is a place which is home to the bottom of the heap, with people quite literally gambling their last pennies whether through addiction or desperation. I find this aspect rather disturbing but even more disturbing is the almost vulture like behaviour you see in some of the people who come in here. I visited several times with my husband and enjoyed people watching at the bar but I became concerned when an elderly man who wore quite possibly the thickest glasses I have ever seen asked me what denomination a bank note was because he couldn't see it properly. I had to very quietly inform him it was a $100 bill and to be very careful because several people had spotted it and also noted his poor vision.
The Atomic Liquor Store is a short stroll from the Western and if you want to go in you need to ring a bell. The best thing about this place however is the neon lighting outside and the name pays homage to the atomic testing carried out in the desert not far from the city limits.
Some of the people who frequent these places will engage in conversation with you and invariably they will think you are rich because you have travelled so far. I've never seen anyone mugged or pickpocketed round here but confidence tricksters abound so be on your guard.
By the time you reach this point of Fremont Street the lights are fading and my advice would be to consider turning back and heading back to the canopy area to either return to your hotel in downtown or catch a cab or bus back to the Strip.
There aren't many panhandlers about Fremont Street purely because the city has banned them from begging under the canopy. However in a bid to avoid this rule they now will dress up in cheap costumes such as gorillas or film star characters and demand payment from people have their picture taken with them. My advice if you encounter anyone wearing a threadbare costume - for they are invariably threadbare - is to smile and keep walking. And keep a tight grip on your camera.
Downtown Vegas is fun because you can spend a night here and leave the car at the hotel parking lot. If you want to eat and drink it won't cost the earth and the opportunities to people watch are brilliant. A combination of locals who have seen it all and out of towners who want to gawp makes for a brilliant combination - and I say that as an out of town gawper.
Glitter Gulch has something for everyone and any visitor to Vegas needs to see it - even if it's only once. It offers lights, glitz, music and entertainment and if you don't want to spend any money you don't have to. That in itself probably makes it unique in Vegas.