On the road again, casinos to canyons

By 줄리 잭슨 (Julie Jackson)
  • Published : Oct 30, 2015 - 17:29
  • Updated : Oct 30, 2015 - 17:35
This is a second and final story on the two-part travel series following a weeklong West Coast road trip from the bayside city wonders of San Francisco, California, to the frills and thrills of Las Vegas, Nevada. -- Ed.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada / GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Arizona -- Known as the city where jet-setters are openly encouraged to let go of their inhibitions and indulge themselves in the seedier pleasures of life, Las Vegas is called the sin city for all the best reasons.

Following the seaside splendors of the sunny California coast, this weeklong American West Coast road trip has taken us from the bayside city of San Francisco, along the crashing waves of Big Sur and through the hottest region in all of North America in Death Valley.

Next stop, the out-of-nowhere desert oasis of Las Vegas, Nevada. 

A nighttime skyline view of the hotel and casino metropolis of Las Vegas, Nevada. (Visit Las Vegas)
From the hottest region in North America to the brightest city on the planet, it’s only about a 2 1/2-hour drive from Death Valley to the gambling mecca of Vegas.

With no restraints on public drinking and casinos open round-the-clock so you can gamble until you hit-it big or find yourself taking out a second mortgage, it’s little wonder why Vegas has the unshakable reputation of being one of the most infamous party capitals in the world.

Although the city still thrives on its ever so popular catchphrase of, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” boozing and partying is not all the urban jungle has to offer. 

Vegas is also known as the luxury hotel capital of the world -- home to six of the world’s top ten largest hotels. And without question, one the city’s most iconic hotels is none other than the historic MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

The massive MGM Grand not only features the largest casino in Vegas, it is the third largest hotel in the world with more than 5,000 guest rooms.

Promising its guests an unforgettably posh stay with its most-recent $160 million hotel renovation in 2012, the MGM Grand is not only home to some of the finest rooms on the Vegas strip, but also has some of the finest dining hotspots in the food world.

Never will your taste buds dance and rejoice more than a life-altering meal at the MGM’s world-renowned L’Atelier De Joël Robuchon. You don’t need a sophisticated palate to know good food. So foodie or not, dinner at this restaurant will assuredly be seared in your memory bank for a lifetime.

The three-star Michelin Guide restaurant is one of the hotel’s shining crown jewels. Backed by the esteemed chef Robuchon, the culinary artist has so far accumulated a total of 25 Michelin Guide stars -- the most by any chef in the world. 

One of Chef Joël Robuchon’s signature dishes at the three-Star Michelin Guide restaurant, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. (MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino)
One of the best options to experience the finest the restaurant has to offer is to splurge on the 10-course seasonal discovery menu, which offers a small portioned-taste of all the chef’s best recipes. This includes his signature caramelized free-range quail stuffed with foie gras, served with a side of his world famous silky smooth mashed potatoes. Simply a work of art.

Other favorites include the fingerling potato topped with smoked salmon and a dollop of one of the culinary world’s most prized and expensive delicacies, Oscietra caviar; as well as the king crab a la plancha, with passion fruit reduction drizzled with green curry sauce.

Needless to say this five-star meal will be accompanied by an equally grandiose bill, so be warned. But then again, what’s Vegas without a little extravagance?

If racking-up your credit card bill on fine-dining excursions is not quite your cup of tea, then consider a night out on the town at one of the city’s hundreds of daily live shows.

Whether it’s action, comedy, acrobatics or just your traditional live music concert, you are almost guaranteed to find something that will tickle your fancy.

Currently headlining in the big sin city is none other than the princess of pop, Britney Spears, with her “Piece of Me” tour.

Playing nightly shows at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on the Vegas Strip, Spears’ concert can be summed-up in one phrase -- lip-synctastic.

While you will certainly not be blown away by her vocals as the pop star does not make even the slightest attempt to sing live, Spears is still a pop icon in her own right. The show is a worthwhile throwback moment in music history as it brings back revamped versions of some her all-time favorite hits including “... Baby One More Time,” “Crazy” and “Oops! I did it Again.” 

A scene from Cirque du Soleil’s production of “KA” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Cirque du Soleil)
However, if thrilling action is more your game, then Cirque du Soilel’s “KA” show is a must-see. While many Cirque du Soilel performances highlight unworldly and high-flying acrobatics, “KA” is an incredibly large-scale production that emphasizes more storytelling and showmanship than the typical circus stunts.

The KA Theatre at the MGM Grand cost a whopping $165 million to create the location’s grand cathedral-like stained glass props that surrounded the audience.

Along with the gorgeous, action movie-set-like theatre that brings actors out to the audience, the show’s next main reeling attraction is the viewing of the “Wheel of Death.”

Weighing 4,535 kilograms, the wild contraption is comprised of two independent sets of circular, rotating cages that the show’s artists climb abroad and perform the craziest tumbling acts.

For those looking for other high-flying Vegas treats outside the theatre scene, try a spy on newly-built High Roller at the LINQ Promenade. It is the world’s largest observation wheel, offering drinks and some of the most spectacular night views of the city.

Needing more of an adrenaline pump? Slotzilla at downtown Vegas’ Fremont Street Experience offers a unique zip-lining experience, allowing guests to screech and wince as they soar over pedestrians in the world’s largest canopy and light show.

Now for a little breather from the glitz, lights and sounds of slot machine coin drops, the next and final stop on this road trip itinerary is to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World -- the Grand Canyon. 

An aerial view of the Grand Canyon National Park via a Papillon helicopter tour. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
There truly is no place like it in the world. And located just four hours from the city, a visit to the Canyon is one of the most sought-after activities for Vegas travelers. Whether you drive yourself, hop on a tour bus or opt for an air tour, seeing the at least one of the Canyon Rim‘s is an absolute must.

The majestic Grand Canyon stretches 446-km long and up to 29-km wide with a depth of more than 1,800 meters. Impossible to fully experience all at the canyon has to offer in one day, or even two, a popular tour method is to visit the Canyon via air with a quick helicopter tour. 

Papillon offers daily tours from Vegas flying guests over the Canyon’s West Rim. The tour boasts stunningly aerial views soaring over deep rocky voids split by the silky blue Colorado River. However, although a helicopter ride is a great way to view parts of the Canyon in a grander scale, some may feel a bit unfulfilled by experiencing the natural marvel in cramped quarters without being able to have your feet on the ground. 

A view inside the stunning natural wonder of the Upper Antelope Canyon at the Grand Canyon National Park in Page, Arizona. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
For those wanting a more personal contact, my all-time favorite is a drive to the almost celestial, vibrantly smooth slot canyon curves of Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.

Look, touch and be blown away.

A photographers dream, there are no words that can fully encompass the jaw-dropping scenes of this natural wonder, which is owned the Navajo Nation. The interspersing of rocks and sand during times of flash flooding in the slot’s narrow passageways lend to the Antelope Canyon’s trademark, wave-like and remarkably smooth rock formations, with beams of sunlight shining through each of its crevasses.  

Attracting hordes of tourist trying to squeeze their way through the narrow cresses of this visually mind-boggling canyon, the emotional excitation may feel diminished by the fact that guided tours are a requirement to visit both the upper and lower Antelope Canyons. This, however, wasn’t always the case.

“Once upon a time the canyon used to be free and open to the public, but people didn’t respect the land and would try to scratch their names into the rocks,” said one Navajo guide.

“Just look around, have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” he asked as he glided his hand across the silky orange grains of one of the canyon walls. “This land is a natural treasure and it must be protected. But above all, it should be respected as a blessing from nature.”  

By Julie Jackson, Korea Herald correspondent (

Helpful links:

Visit Las Vegas:
MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino:
Papillon (Grand Canyon helicopter tours):

Recommended eats:

L’Atelier De Joël Robuchon: MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
Sage: Aria Resort & Casino
Lago: Bellagio Hotel & Casino
Bacchanal Buffet: Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino
Martorano’s: Paris Las Vegas Hotel

Read part one of the travel series:
“On the open road, from the Golden State to Sin City”