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48 Hours on the Las Vegas Strip

I've just returned from a two-day, $489 Delta Dream Vacation, and dream is indeed the operative word. How like a dream it passed!

Forty-eight hours in Vegas allows many things, but it is not for procrastinators or spontaneous types who rise late and improvise. If you aim to partake of the quintessential Vegas experience—and really get your money's worth from your Dream Vacation—you must plan well ahead, and plan within an inch of your life.

You might consider the pace of my trip alarming. I was lucky if I spent a total of seven hours in my Treasure Island bed—but then, I didn't come here to sleep. If the concept of playing Beat the Clock while vacationing strikes you as more nightmare than dream, read no further. To anyone game enough to continue, I offer the following disclaimer, in the words of the artist formerly known as Prince: "I was dreaming when I wrote this; forgive me if it goes astray."

WEDNESDAY, 1:14 A.M.
After approaching the Strip by Gray Line bus from McCarran Airport, my fellow passengers and I are deposited at our respective hotels by the driver, a self-appointed one-man welcoming committee. He supplies a running commentary, pointing out sights like the world's most powerful laser beam, which is green, comes from the fountain of the Hilton, and tonight is operating at only 60 percent of its awesome capacity. No matter: every neon sign in Vegas appears to be going full strength, working up a megawattage blaze of glory. Vegas, not Paris, is the real City of Light.

1:57 A.M.
Most hotels are tomb-quiet after midnight. Not Vegas hotels. At two in the morning the Treasure Island reception desk is as noisy and synapse-jangling as one of the 2,169 slot machines in the casino. It might as well be high noon. (High noon is actually quieter, I discover.) Don't assume staff members aren't on their toes at this hour. For the first time in all my travels, I am asked to present photo ID at check-in.

8:29 A.M.
After napping for a few hours, I decide the hotel is nice enough, with rooms that are plenty big. The principal draw is the "Buccaneer Bay Sea Battle," whose protagonists exchange pyrotechnics five or six times daily and sink a pirate ship to the delight of 12-year-old boys of all ages. The Jolly Roger theme extends even to the carpeting (with a sunken-treasure motif) and restaurants (the staggering breakfast buffet is billed as "a captain's feast for a peasant's wage").

But for me Treasure Island is an amusing sideshow; the main event is the Mirage hotel, minutes from Treasure Island by tram. With its shark tank, dolphin exhibit, tropical rain forest lobby, volcano that erupts every 15 minutes nightly, and carpeting decorated with flowers as lush as a dehydrated desert traveler's hallucination, the Mirage is the place to be.

9:32 A.M.
I may be only half-awake, but Siegfried & Roy's royal white tigers are out cold. Upon stepping off the tram, I've made a beeline to their lounging place at the Mirage, a glass-enclosed habitat "designed to mirror the palaces in India where the tigers roamed free." I'm moved almost to tears by the sight of these snowy creatures dozing like great babies, tongues protruding from their giant mouths, front paws crossed with Emily Post delicacy.

10:26 A.M.
I resolve that the slot machines at my hotel—and at the airport, and in the 7-Elevens—will have no power to tempt me. I have never been fortunate with any sort of gamble, and I am not about to try fooling Lady Luck in her own backyard.

Museum-going presents itself as a virtuous alternative. There ARE "serious" exhibitions in Las Vegas—the Las Vegas Art Museum, the Clark County Heritage Museum, the Nevada State Museum & Historical Society—but who needs gravitas?

My first stop is the Liberace Museum, where Mr. Showmanship's dazzling effects are displayed in three buildings of a strip mall. The pianos, the cars, the miniature cars; the candelabra, the awards, the bow ties; the fur-trimmed, bugle-beaded, feather-crested, bright rhinestone-lined costumes, including one number Lee called his Lasagna Suit ("I always wear this when I'm cooking lasagna so you can't see if I've spilled anything"); the photo-realist portraits of him and of his bespectacled mom; the numerous objets graven with his splendid image—all are here.

11:35 A.M.
My next stop is a natural. Vegas, where everything is the mostest, serves as one of the logical homes of the Guinness World of Records Museum & Gift Shop. (Vegas itself is reportedly the fastest-growing city in the United States.)

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