Las Vegas

Aqua show set to make a splash in Dubai

Dubai has long been known as the Las Vegas of the Middle East and for good reason. Both are desert cities that have exploded from dusty outposts into tourism empires boasting tall observation towers (say hello to the Stratosphere and Burj Khalifa), dancing fountains (take a bow the Bellagio and the Dubai Fountain) and super-sized shopping malls.

And the similarities don’t stop there. Dubai is continuing its bid to rival La Vegas with its first permanent show this summer. Step forward La Perle, an aqua-themed, Cirque du Soleil type extravaganza which will be staged in a purpose built Las Vegas style theatre, themed around water in Dubai’s new Al Habtoor City development.

Expect to see La Perle performers wowing 1,300 theatregoers with impressive aqua and aerial feats, including diving from 25 metres in the air and flying across the stage at speeds of 15km/h. (www.laperle.com/en/)

But it’s not just the new theatrical venture that is helping ensure this dazzling desert kingdom remains firmly in the tourism spotlight.

The former fishing village has been selected to host World Travel Awards Middle East Gala Ceremony (https://www.worldtravelawards.com/event/middle-east-2017) on the 29th October 2017 at Armani Hotel Dubai.

This will be the second time that World Travel Awards – dubbed the 'Oscars of the travel industry' - has visited Armani Hotel Dubai, following a glittery ceremony back in 2011.

The first word in luxury, the last and most of those in between, Armani Hotel Dubai – the debut hotel from fashion designer Giorgio Armani – occupies 10 of the 160 floors in the iconic Burj Khalifa compromising 78 rooms and 82 suites, which come in 11 different sizes.

Announcing the decision, World Travel Awards Founder and President Graham Cooke told World Travel News: “It will be an absolute pleasure to return to Armani Hotel Dubai.

I can think of no better partner for our Middle East event than the Armani Hotel Dubai, whose only goal is to ensure guests are spoilt non-stop and leave with a smile.”

View the post here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+Discoverdubai365/posts/GRpWNYxyif1

 


Kaye Holland

What happens in Vegas

Wondering where to ring in the New Year? Look no further than the glitzy, desert oasis of Las Vegas that doesn’t know the meaning of ‘over the top’.  Here are 10 reasons why Vegas is worth a visit but just remember: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas writes Kaye Holland

Visiting Vegas is easier than ever
Travelling to the desert town that exploded from a dusty backwater into a fast moving global playground back in the 80s, is more affordable than ever thank to Norwegian Airlines. The low cost airline launched direct flights from London Gatwick to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport on 31 October 2016 with return fares starting from as little as £179.30. Result! www.norwegian.com

Stroll the strip
Ambling along the Las Vegas strip - packed as it is with audacious hotels - is arguably the highlight of any Vegas itinerary. Don’t miss watching the dancing fountains at The Bellagio (whose stunning ceiling is composed of 2000 handblown flowers by celebrated artists Dale Chihuly) do their thing. Then check out Caesars Palace (www.caesars.com) - a Greco-Roman fantasyland that has featured in enough movies to have its own star on Hollywood’s walk of fame.

Go gambling
Nevada was the first state to legalise gambling back in 1931 and visiting Vegasand not playing the slot machines at some crazy hour in the morning is akin to popping to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower or rocking up in Rome and refusing to check out the Rome Colosseum. You get the gist. Won big? It’s time to hit bars like Red Square at Mandalay Bay where you’ll be reminded of the power of plastic surgery.

Make a pilgrimage to The Little White Wedding Chapel
Where do the A listers get hitched when in Vegas? Say hello to The Little White Wedding Chapel - the site of several ‘surprise celebrity’ weddings. The late Peaches Geldof got hitched here after a whirlwind romance, while pop princess Britney Spears married childhood friend, Jason Alexander, at the Chapel in 2004 only to have the union annulled 55 hours later. www.alittlewhitechapel.com

Retreat to Red Rock
When the neon lights of the Strip get too much – and trust TNT, they will – escape to the Red Rock Canyon. Less than an hour’s drive away from the slot machines of the strip, the spectacular cliffs and canyons make for a refreshing change of scenery. www.redrockcanyonlv.org

The enviable climate
It’s tough to identify an off season in the city that famously never sleeps but a few days in the Nevada desert where residents are basking in blue skies and searing temperatures while back in Blighty, everyone is succumbing to thecough-ice is a tempting prospect. Our message? Pack the t-shirt and sunnies and get going.

Pool parties
Las Vegas’ riotous pool parties are legendary - there’s a party every afternoon with the raucous antics continuing well into the wee small hours. (Make no mistake: Vegas is a destination that knows how to have a good time). The Marque at the Cosmopolitan (www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com) is currently the hottest, hippest party in town:  expect to see blondes with legs like pipe cleaners drinking and dancing, while bronzed, buffed blokes banter at twice the decibels of normal levels of conversation. Alternatively make for Mandalay Bay(www.mandalaybay.com) and join the fabulous sun, tanned bodies sipping killer cocktails to live DJ while reclining in a gorgeous cabana.


Show time
Right now the buzz is all about Britney Spears. The Louisiana native’s non-stop hits bonanza - Britney: Piece of Me - at the 4,500-seat Axis theatre in Planet Hollywood is garnering rave reviews and rightly so. Watch the undisputed princess of pop belt out all the classics - think Baby One More Time, Oops I Did It Again et al - plus new tracks like Make Me against a backdrop of a ring of fire. Performances take place on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with tickets starting from US$84. Visit www.caesars.com to book.

The fabulous food scene
Vegas’ never ending buffets and free flowing drinks are all still present and correct but the desert city has, in 2016, gone decidedly upmarket and embraced fine dining. Looking for somewhere top treat your taste buds? Head to Hakkasan (www.hakkasanlv.com). Spread over five floors in the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, the high endUS$120 million Chinese restaurant/club hybrid has hosted the A list likes of J Lo and Pharrell who come for the silver cod and to die for dim sum, in an interior that has been constructed from laser cut marble. Be prepared to battle for a booking but, if you get one, you won’t be disappointed.

Shop to it
Excellent retail therapy is another reason to visit Vegas. If you’ve struck it lucky on a shot machine, seek out The Shoppes at Palazzo (www.grandcanalshoppes.com) - packed as it is with over 60 international designers including Jimmy Choo and Tory Burch. For those of you who don’t boast the budget of a footballer, The Fashion Show Mall (www.thefashionshow.com) is where it’s at. Nevada’s biggest mall is thronged with enough (affordable) shops, bars and restaurants to easily fill a few days.

 

 

America's overzealous ID policy

Can-America-Survive-If-Americans-No-Longer-Agree-On-A-Core-Set-Of-Shared-Values-Photo-by-DrRandomFactor

As regular readers will know, I adore America. I find the food (think bagels in the Big Apple, barbecue ribs in Texas, clambakes in Boston and organic fare in California), diverse scenery (beaches, big cities and native American sites sit side by side) and enthusiasm of the people utterly irresistible. But I am not so hot on America’s over zealous ID policy which basically requires you to carry your passport absolutely everywhere.

I’m the wrong side of 30 and while I might still feel and on occasions act like a twenty something, the reality is that I definitely look like what I am: a woman in her thirties. Yet I still get ID'ed everywhere I go in America  - be it a daytime pool party in Las Vegas (Nevada), a casino in Temecula (California), concert in Palm Springs (California) or - most recently - a honky tonk in Fort Worth, Texas.

At all of the aforementioned the clipboard Nazis have demanded to see some form of picture ID. As a Londoner who hasn’t been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, I don’t own a car (a luxury for anyone living in London) and therefore don’t have a driving licence.

 

And I really don’t feel comfortable carrying my passport out and about 24/7 - not when there’s really no need for me to do so. On a good day (read: when I am well rested and don’t have dark circles under my eyes), I could perhaps, at a push, pass for 30. But under 21? I think not!

 

Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking that I get stopped in the States because I look like a suspicious sort? Possibly - but I'm not the only one. In Fort Worth, an amenable looking couple who clearly had a good two decades on me got stopped outside of Billy Bobs Honky Tonk and, when they were unable to produce a passport or picture ID, turned away.

 

And last year in Las Vegas at the Marquee Dayclub Pool at The Cosmoplitan Hotel, a respectable looking man old enough to be my Grandfather was refused entry because - yes you’ve guessed it - he didn’t have his passport on him.

 

Of course some people like being ID’ed (they claim it makes them feel young again). Some people are odd. In my mind, America’s “check everyone regardless of how old they look" policy is more than a little ludicrous.

 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for ID’ing anyone who looks like they could be three years above or below the minimum legal drinking age (21) in America). But to ID those of us who are evidently twice or thrice as old as the youngest legal drinkers, is - for want of a better word - bonkers.

There’s a lot I love about America but I'd like its culture of constant surveillance to be replaced with a good dose of common sense.

The other side of Cancun

Kaye Holland discovers that there's more to Cancun - the Mother of all Mexican resorts - than first meets the eye It’s hard to believe that just four decades ago,  Cancun - on the thinly populated south east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula - was little more than a sand barrier and jungle.

cancun_area_map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast forward 40 years and Cancun – much like Las Vegas and Dubai – has risen out of the sands to become a mega resort whose white sands, high rise hotels, salubrious shopping malls and super clubs attracts more than four million visitors a year.

 

The Four Tops might have sung about going loco down in Acapulco back in 1988 but today it’s Cancun where the party people come in their droves to drink and dance Ibiza style at clubs like the legendary Coco Bongos.

coco-bongo-cancun

Culture snobs may sniff but Coco Bongos (which can accommodate 1800 revellers) is a fun-fest alright – expect DJ booths, a glitter balled dance floor, hormones and hedonism.

 

But contrary to public perception, Cancun isn’t all about party nights and sleeping late. If, like me, you’re after a tamer time you could head out to Isla Mujeres  or to Ciudad Cancun aka Downtown.

 

The downtown area (which is on the mainland whereas the Hotel Zone is on a sandy spit of an island) couldn’t be more different from the Zona Hotelera if it tried.

IMG_2547

It’s not particularly pretty (you won’t find too many tourist brochures urging you to head here) but what downtown does have is lots of local character making it great for those tired of tourists, tourist menus and inevitable tourist price hikes.

 

Travelling here (you’ll need an afternoon to get there and do it justice) from the Hotel Zone by bus feels like a bit of an adventure – albeit a vanilla one. To get the inside story on Downtown Cancun, check out Avenida Tulum – the main (and most interesting) road. It’s short on standalone attractions but high on atmosphere.

IMG_2511

 

A couple of places worth knowing about… Mercado 23 is a good place to pick up authentic souvenirs (happily you won’t find any corny T-shirts proclaiming ‘I heart Cancun’ here) as well as inexpensive clothes (a girl can never have too many bikinis) and food items. Next throw yourself into a feast of local cuisine at the all-night food market – home to some of best taquerias (taco stalls) in town. But if you’re the type who needs a table cloth and cutlery with your evening meal, Perico’s is the place for you. In fact every diary should have a window for dinner at this long running restaurant where family recipes are served with a show consisting of comedy skits, live marimba and, on my visit at least, a lively conga line. Before leaving downtown (although there are some charming small hotels such as Hotel El Rey del Caribe should you decide to stay), enjoy a drink at one of the (very local) bars that dot the periphery of Plaza de Toris.

IMG_2514

Essentially Ciudad Cancun is no landmark holiday destination but if you need a break from the jet skis, sunburned crowds, banana boats and babble of the Hotel Zone, Downtown delivers.

 

The year that was

It’s been a busy year and it’s time to take stock. Here travel writer and enthusiast, Kaye Holland, shares her 2013 holiday highlights

Las Vegas
Las Vegas – the desert town that exploded from a dusty backwater into a fast moving global playground back in the 1930s – has gone decidedly upmarket in 2013. Sure the never ending buffets, free flowing drinks and lens friendly reproductions of the Egyptian Pyramids, Eiffel Tower et al are all still present and correct. But Sin City is also revelling in the luxurious side of life thanks to a new new breed of hip hotels (Aria anyone?), fine dining – here’s looking at your Hakkasan – designer cocktails and great golf. The anything can happen playground is also much easier to reach these days: there are direct flights to the flashy new McCarran International Airport, only a stone’s throw away from the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip. Just remember: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Palm Springs
Staying in North America, Palm Springs (the hangout of the Rat Pack back in the 60s and 70s) proved to be a travel highlight in 2013 – the 75th anniversary of the decadent, desert oasis. Surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, Palm Springs stands for everything I love: hot weather, fabulous sun tanned bodies and some of the some of the swankiest hotels and bars on the planet. No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without seeing the homes of the King of Cool and his Rat Pack cronies and taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the summit of San Jacinto. But the real reason you flock to Palm Springs is to drink designer cocktails and dance to fresh DJ spun tunes around kidney shaped pools until the wee hours. Sure, Palm Springs won’t suit everyone – you either get it or you don’t. But if you do, like me, you can’t wait to return.

Temecula
Temecula Valley may not have previously figured on your mental map -  the likes of LA, Anaheim and San Diego typically top the SoCal sightseeing agenda – but when you get there, it’s hard to see why not. Only 90 miles southeast of LA and 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is Southern California’s premier wine growing region and a good place to disappear for a long, lazy weekend. You’ll find around 40 wineries free of crowds and mercifully, without Napa’s perturbing price tags - after all, the last person you want to be chatting to on your hols, is your bank manager. Yet while vines and wines do dominate proceedings, Temecula Valley  isn’t just for oenophiles. Much of Temecula’s appeal lies in its heart stoppingly pretty old town – a beguiling place for camera clad tourists owing to its wooden boardwalks and unique shops.With so much on offer, it can only be a matter of time before Temecula becomes the next Napa so explore, enjoy and get there before everybody else does.

Rio de Janeiro
Rio has always been hot (in every sense of the word) but in 2013, the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) positively sizzled. Pope Francis chose Rio for his first overseas tour in July 2013 while the world’s best footballers will be arriving in Rio in 2014, followed by the Olympic flame in 2016. Despite staying out dancing until dawn in the dance halls of Lapa (Cariocas - aka Rio residents - know how to party and not just when Carnaval rolls round) I returned home energised and happy, convinced that there is no more enticing place on the planet than Rio de Janeiro. This is an intoxicating city of sun, samba, football, food, beaches and Bossa Nova, that truly justifies every word of the hype. And with interest (and prices) in Rio only set to rocket following the FIFA 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, now is a great time to go. Get it while it’s hot.

The Iguacu Falls
Confession time: I very nearly didn’t make it to the Iguacu Falls – being too busy topping up the tan on Rio’s Copacabana Beach, but boy am I glad I did. The crashing cascades occupying an area more than 80m high and 3km wide have the wow factor and no other water falls in the world can compete. Little wonder then that Eleanor Roosevelt gasped “Poor little Niagara” when she came up close at Iguacu.The 275 falls (shared between Brazil and Argentina) are so bedazzling that it comes as no surprise to learn that Hollywood covets them for one blockbuster after another– scenes from Miami Vice, Mr Magoo, Indiana Jones and theCrystal Skull and The River were all shot here. All told the spotlight will inevitably fall on Sao Paulo and Rio when the Olympic flame arrives in 2016, but do add the Iguacu Falls to any  Brazilian itinerary.

Ilha Grande
Just when I was beginning to think that the whole world had been completely Google mapped and Starbucksified, I stumbled across the Brazilian island of Ilha Grande – a two and hour half bus and boat trip away from Rio. Far quieter and less developed than the rest of the Costa Verde, this pristine car free island is remnant of an older, miraculously unspoiled world. Yet while Ilha Grande may lack the crowds, it most definitely has the character. The island retreat was once a pirate’s lair, then a leper colony and lastly a penitentiary, holding some of Brazil’s most violent criminals. For decades the island’s less than salubrious reputation deterred developers and consequently tourism is still in its infancy. Translation? Avisit – which involves a thrilling boat journey – remains a genuine adventure. There’s little internet access, no roaming phone signal, an absence of automobiles and ATMS, and a refreshing lack of Western hotel chains.

Paraty
Brazil’s Costa Verde coastline has plenty of places to entice travellers who manage to tear themselves away from Rio de Janeiro but, in my mind, peaceful Paraty – particularly the old colonial centre – is the state’s star attraction. The colonial centre’s cobblestone streets (ladies, don’t even think about wearing heels) are closed to cars, making it an enchanting place to amble around. For Paraty isn’t about sightseeing, though museums do abound, but about wandering the backstreets, stopping for a sweet, strong coffee, eating a long, late lunch and, if you’re feeling flush, chillaxing in an elegant old town pousada. Our pick would be Pousada Ouro, whose high profile past guests include Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall and Tom Cruise. After dark, Paraty resembles something of a party town – barely a month goes by without some festival or other, filling the cobblestoned streets - and places such as Paraty 33, in the heart of the historic centre, are pumping on any given night.

Brandenburg
Brandenburg’s big headliner grabber maybe Berlin but the rest of the region has plenty to recommend too – particularly for history buffs – as I discovered in 2013. The state’s small towns, churches and series of low hills serve as a welcome antidote to the hustle and bustle of Berlin’s bewildering array of bars, museums and modern buildings. For me, Potsdam – with its fabulous fountains, follies, palaces and gardens – was a particular standout. Most people associate Potsdam with the aftermath of the Second World War: Potsdam’s Schloss Celcilienhof is where the victorious Allies arrived on 2 August 1945 to work out details of the division of Germany and Europe. But if you’re after a holiday not a history lesson, make a beeline for the buzzing Dutch quarter – teeming as it is with trendy shops and cafes. Or check out charming towns such as Wolfshagen and Wittenberg – both within easy reach of thebright lights of Berlin.

Dubai
People, perhaps understandably given the emirate’s penchant for publicising its outlandish projects, have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about  malls and modernity. However scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’. Alongside the skyscrapers like the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel,) and the Emirates Towers sit historical sites such as Bastakiaand the creek – arguably the heart beat of Dubai. Here you can watch abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries. For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque (Dubai is after all an Islamic state even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia) before sauntering through the bustling souks.Bottom line? There’s awful lot to discover about Dubai beyond what you know from the glossy brochures.

Abu Dhabi
Dubai may have been confirmed as the host of the 2020 Expo but isn’t the only UAE city creating a buzz. Abu Dhabi - the country’s capital - is making a name for itself at the Gulf’s cultural hub. Sheikh Khalifa has signed up several star-chitects to oversee a plethora of prestigious projects including theworld’s largest Guggenheim gallery – and the only one in the Arab world – and the first ever branch of the world famous Parisian art museum, The Louvre. But Abu Dhabi isn’t all about art. The more subdued Islamic state is also emerging as a sporting haven thanks to the success of the Formula 1TM Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the only twilight race on the F1 calendar. Yet while Abu Dhabi has spent more than US$100 billion on developments and events,  it has managed more successfully than most to modernise itself and remains significantly richer in local colourthan its bling-tastic brother.

What were your 2013 travel highlights? Let us know by posting a comment below!