They say “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” but after spending a week there for the annual Society of American Travel Writers Convention last week, I couldn’t wait to share all of the adventures that kept me “on the run” in the desert.
The conference was held in Downtown Vegas at the Downtown Grand Hotel. It is part of the updated Freemont Experience that includes multiple casinos, great restaurants, shopping, and cool attractions. We spent the first two days in professional development sessions, including a media marketplace where I got to pitch stories on Tupelo to writers from across the country. The beauty of attending this annual conference is that I have access to journalists who I otherwise would never meet face-to-face, giving me the chance to tell Tupelo’s story and personally invite them to experience all that our unique community has to offer.
Wednesday morning began with a quick 5K run through Downtown Vegas with my new friend, Christine Hopkins from Galveston, Texas. After a long flight, little sleep, lots of rain, and two days inside, it was great to get a training run in while exploring the area. Following two days of learning, networking, and business meetings, it was time to get out and explore what this desert city was all about.
My first tour on Wednesday was “Vegas: Wedding Style.” The tour promised to showcase the wedding industry in Las Vegas, including why Elvis is so popular here when it comes to saying “I Do.” Our tour guide, Joni Moss-Graham with LV Wedding Connection, was a wealth of knowledge on Vegas weddings. The city will play host to over 90,000 weddings this year, whether in a chapel, on a roller coaster, or in a helicopter. When I say, if you imagine it, you can do it when it comes to weddings in this town, it is an understatement.
We started the adventure on The Strip at the Harley Davidson Cafe. Yes, you can get married surrounded by hogs. Brides can walk down the aisle, lined with custom Harleys, and say their vows in front of a window overlooking The Strip. Of course the restaurant is equipped for any size reception before the happy couple rides off into the Vegas sunset on their bikes. The most impressive part of the venue is the massive American flag that takes up an entire wall in the restaurant.
We did check out some of the more traditional options for nuptials in Las Vegas. The beautiful Alexis Park All-Suite Hotel is a non-gaming option where couples can exchange vows in a picturesque gazebo, on a rooftop overlooking The Strip, or by the pool. According to our guide, here they’ll “do anything, as long as it’s legal!”
After breakfast at Alexis Park, we ventured to the Chapel of the Flowers boasting three indoor chapels and two outdoor chapels. Truly a full-service venue, they have packages that include a wedding planner, photographer, a fleet of limousines, reception assistance, and anything else a couple can dream up.
The final stop on the Vegas Weddings tour made it all worth it. The Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel is a sight to see. Whether you are looking for Elvis to officiate your ceremony, incorporate vampires into your espousal, or host a Rocky Horror-themed union, this is the place for you. Ron Decar is a longtime Vegas entertainer who now owns and operates the Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel. He also portrays Elvis Presley. While we were there, he, as Elvis, arrived in a pink Cadillac and officiated a faux-ceremony for two of our tour participants. On 11/11/11 they performed over 230 weddings in one day.
After a morning full of wedded bliss, I chose the shopping tour at the Grand Canal Shoppes in The Venetian and The Palazzo on The Strip for my afternoon. A little retail therapy was exactly what I needed.
That night was our official “Night Out on the Strip,” where we enjoyed dinner and a show with other conference attendees. My evening began with an amazing meal at Tender in the Luxor Las Vegas. The bounty on our table included a charcuterie tray of meats, artisanal cheeses, heirloom tomatoes (which I tried!), a soup trio, bison ribeye, and an array of delectable desserts. We followed the decadent supper with Cirque du Soleil’s Criss Angel Believe. A master of illusion, the show was a great end to a spectacular evening under the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip.
Thursday was our full-day tour so I left the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas for the amazing views of Death Valley, CA. The hottest, driest, lowest national park, the “land of great extremes” was stunning. At over 3.3 million acres, it is the largest national park in the lower 48 states and is home to the greatest elevation change in North America from Badwater Basin to Telescope Peak. On average, Death Valley gets less than two inches of rain a year. They got over an inch of rain two days before we arrived so we were not able to visit the lowest point in Death Valley.
We did visit the Inn at Furnace Creek that was built by the Borax Company in 1927 when borax excavation was at its hilt in Death Valley. Set in an oasis, the hotel is open October through March when the area’s temperatures are milder than the summer’s unbearable heat.
Thursday was our final night in Vegas and ended with a reception at the Mob Museum, just across the street from our hotel. This interactive institution dedicated to the history of organized crime in America was a fascinating and fun venue for our closing reception, complete with mugshots for all.
My first trip to Las Vegas was truly unforgettable and I look forward to exploring this weird and wonderful city again very soon. In fact, I hope my next Vegas trip involves the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas half marathon. What’s your favorite Vegas memory that didn’t have to “stay in Vegas?”