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By James Glasbergen
Glittering lights, beautiful sunshine, spectacular scenery...my 2-week trip to Las Vegas and Arizona had it all. We spent the first 5 days in Las Vegas, the so-called "City of Lights." Between all of the casino/resort attractions and various shows, there was plenty to do both day and night. There was a lot to see just outside the city as well, including the Hoover Dam. Next, we were off to Phoenix for a day of sightseeing and a hockey game. Then it was on to Tucson for a taste of the Wild West at Old Tucson Studios and some desert life at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Of course, for a true taste of the Wild West, we had to visit Tombstone, which served as the center of America's Wild West in the late 1800s. We ended the trip with a short stop at the Grand Canyon, a can't-miss for travelers to Arizona. From the bright lights of Vegas to the Arizona desert, the diversity of attractions and warm sunshine makes this region a place worth visiting!
As our plane touched down in Las Vegas, it was hard to miss the bright lights of “The Strip,” a 4 mile stretch of towering hotels and casinos on Las Vegas Blvd. The airport is only a short jaunt from the downtown core, so we could actually see the Luxor and several other hotels on the South Strip as we taxied into the terminal.
A few days before leaving for Las Vegas, I called an airport shuttle company to make a reservation for our arrival, but they told me that reservations were not necessary. I was told to just collect our baggage and go outside to meet one of their representatives who would call an accessible vehicle for us. What they failed to mention was that they only provide service during the day (at least in Terminal 2, where we flew into), and since we arrived at around midnight, there was nobody there. When we went outside to look for someone, there was a huge line-up of people waiting for taxis, but we did not see any officials, so we went back in and tried unsuccessfully for about 20 minutes to get a hold of the company on my cell phone. It was not until after we gave up on the company that we went outside and realized there was an airport official hailing cabs for everybody (which explained the line-up of people we saw), so we just went up to him and he called an accessible taxi for us.
We stayed at the Barbary Coast hotel and casino, which was quite small and very cheap, but you can not beat its great mid-Strip location. Our room was fairly large. There was a king bed that had a solid platform underneath and it, as well as ample space for a rollaway bed (, , ). The bathroom was a decent size and included a good roll-in shower (, , ).
There is no shortage of interesting things to see on the Strip. We spent four of the next five days taking in as many of the attractions as possible. One of my favorites was a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower at the Paris, which offers a great birds-eye view of Las Vegas. The King Tut exhibit at the Luxor was also interesting as it is an exact replica of King Tut's tomb in Egypt. I was not nearly as impressed by the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, which at $16 per adult was easily the most expensive attraction we visited on The Strip. In my opinion, if you have been to one aquarium, you have been to them all, and this was no exception.
The coolest of the free attractions was the lion exhibit at the MGM Grand. There were two lions laying on a glass tunnel, so you could actually go underneath them and see them from underneath as they lay there. Another interesting free attraction was the fountain show at the Bellagio. It would be hard to miss that for anyone who takes a stroll along the mid-Strip. The shows are frequent and the high-spraying fountains can be seen from quite a distance. Of course, all of the different hotels/casinos are attractions in and of themselves. It is worth walking the Strip just to stroll through unique places like the Venetian, the Paris, and the Luxor.
I could not go to Las Vegas without taking in some shows, so we spent our evenings taking in a variety of acts, from comedians David Spade and Howie Mandel to Elton John, the Phantom Las Vegas, and Cirque du Soleil's Beatles show "Love." Good wheelchair seating was available at all the venues. Admission was not cheap for most shows, though. It didn't take me long to realize that one does not need to gamble in order to blow a lot of money in Las Vegas!
Prior to coming to Las Vegas, I made a reservation for two day tours with a local sightseeing company. The company had a coach tour bus with a hydraulic lift, but it had to be booked at least two days in advance. Unfortunately, we got a phone call in our hotel the night before we were supposed to go on the first tour, and we were told that the lift broke down and would not be fixed that week. They felt awful, but we were out of luck. Fortunately, there was another sightseeing company that also had a bus with a lift (). However, they also required 48 hours notice to book the accessible bus, and since we only had three more days in Vegas, they could only accommodate us for one tour. So, I will have to visit Red Rock Canyon on another trip. It was disappointing, but at least we got to do one tour--one is definately better than none.
We were picked up at our hotel for a day trip to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. The trip out to Lake Mead only took about 45 minutes. Once there, we boarded "The Desert Princess," a Mississippi-style paddlewheel boat which took us on a one hour cruise on Lake Mead. There was an accessible ramp to board the boat (), but unfortunately I could not go up to the upper deck since there was no elevator. There wasn’t really any room to sit outside on the lower deck, either. So, I was stuck sitting inside the ship on the lower level. I could still see enough out of the window, but on a nice sunny day, I am sure the view from outside on the top deck was infinitely better (if it were not, everyone on the boat would have been sitting inside with me instead of out on the top deck). The highlight of the cruise was a fairly close up view of the Hoover Dam, although for some reason I thought we would get closer. All in all, the cruise was ok, but if you are doing the cruise just to get a good look at the Hoover Dam, you are better off just driving directly to the dam alone.
After the cruise, we got back in the bus and made the short drive over to the Hoover Dam. Once there, we were given free time to walk around on our own and tour the area. It is actually a very heavily trafficked area as there is a main road going right over the dam which connects Nevada to Arizona. We actually had to drive over this road a couple days later on our way from Las Vegas to Phoenix. Traffic is often backed up because of the security measures they take for everyone driving over the Hoover Dam. We did not spend a lot of time at the dam, just long enough to walk around the area and grab a bite to eat in the café.
After five days in Las Vegas, we made the 8-hour drive to Phoenix, Arizona. We rented an accessible minivan from a company in Las Vegas (, , ), and they conveniently dropped it off at our hotel the morning we checked out.
In Phoenix, we stayed at a hotel close to the airport. There was a nice queen bed in the room that had plenty of space underneath it for a lift (, , , ). The bathroom was a good size, but the roll-in shower had a considerable lip at the side of it which made rolling into the shower difficult (, , , ).
We began our only full day in Phoenix with a trip to the Desert Botanical Garden, which was only about a five-minute drive from our hotel. After about an hour of walking around and viewing every type of cactus imaginable, we got back in our van and drove another five minutes to Scottsdale.
I am not much of a shopper, but it is hard not to get into the shopping mood when you are in Old Town Scottsdale. The Old Town consists of a few streets of small shops. It did not take us long to realize that the price tags on all the items were only a guideline, and only an unsuspecting tourist would be foolish enough to pay full price for something. The minute we showed interest in something, there was always someone there trying to sell it to us, and as soon as we started to walk away, they said they would offer us a “deal.” Usually they would call their boss to see what kind of price they could give us. Most stores we went to advertised 50% to 70% off certain items to begin with, and of course all sale prices were "only for today." It was all a little suspect, but the point is that you just have to go to them and tell them what price you are willing to pay, and walk away if they will not take it. They might grumble about it or act as if you are comitting highway robbery, but more often than not you will walk away with your item at a good price. Besides, they would not sell it to you if they were not making a decent profit on the sale.
After dinner at a nice Scottsdale restaurant, we drove over to Glendale to catch a Phoenix Coyotes hockey game. Vehicles that have a disabled parking permit are allowed to park in the lot right next to the Glendale Arena. The wheelchair seating at the arena was fairly good, although not spectacular. Our seats were located in the last row of the lower bowl. The only wheelchair seating that was closer was a section right up against the glass, but those seats were reserved for season-ticket holders.
The next day we made the two-hour drive to Tucson. Since we had been on the go pretty much every day of the trip so far, it was nice to just spend the afternoon in the sun by the pool at our hotel. We spent the next three nights at a hotel near Tucson Airport.
Unfortunately, we had another one of those unexpected surprises at check-in. Whenever I book a hotel for myself, I always doublecheck with the reservationist to make sure that I am booked in an accessible room with a roll-in shower, and this hotel was no exception. However, when we arrived in our room, there was a bathtub in the bathroom, not a roll-in shower. So, we went back to the front desk, and the front desk receptionist apologized and sent us to another room. However, it was the same problem. Back at the front desk, the receptionist once again apologized and then did a little investigation to see which accessible rooms had roll-in showers and which had bathtubs. Sure enough, all of the accessible rooms that had roll-in showers (, , ) were occupied, and one would not become free until the next day. Of course, I had my little e-mail with me where the reservationist clearly promised me a room with a roll-in shower, but the receptionist did not even need to see it as it said right in his computer that I requested a roll-in shower. So, he got on the phone with his boss at home to find a solution. The rates that we were booked at were $79 for the first night and $109 for the remaining two nights. His boss offered us the first night free if we accepted the room with a bathtub, and then they would move us to a room with a roll-in shower the next day. I would have accepted that, and in fact I was just about to say “sure,” but then I blurted out, “how about the first night free and $79 for each of the two remaining nights?" The receptionist looked at us as if he was afraid to ask his boss, but he did anyway and his boss agreed to it, so we came away with a pretty good deal. I did not get a shower the first night, but at least I saved myself about $140 plus tax. It just goes to show that it never hurts to ask!
The next morning, we drove 1.5 hours south to spend the day in Tombstone, the so-called "Town too tough to die.” As the heart of the Wild West in the late 1800s, the town of Tombstone has become legendary, with countless movies portraying the adventures of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
We started with a visit to Historama, located next door to the OK Corral. For $7.50, you can purchase tickets to both Historama and the OK Corral, site of the legendary "Gunfight at the OK Corral." Historama is a good way to start your visit to Tombstone. The 20-minute multimedia presentation is narrated by Vincent Price and retells the town's history, focusing largely on Tombstone's bad old days as the center of the Wild West. Next, we went next door to the OK Corral. Every day at 2 p.m. they have a reenactment of the famous gunfight on almost the exact spot where it took place. The shootout erupted when Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Wyatt’s 2 brothers went to confront five men, and three of the five ended up dead. The reenactment is supposedly the most authentic recreation of the actual event as it happened. It was short, but definitely entertaining.
Next, we walked over to Helldorado where actors perform a fictional gunfight a couple times each day. The gunfight is supposed to be more funny than realistic, but it was one of the worst $4 I have ever spent. We were very tempted to leave early, but I was determined to stay and get my $4 worth. It didn't happen though. Not only was the show bad, the wheelchair seating was awful. The set was located at the bottom of the hill, so visitors actually had to go down a bunch of steps to get to a grandstand, which was situated on the side of the hill. The wheelchair seating was located at the top of the hill and off to the side, which made it a little difficult to hear what the actors were saying. It's a good thing the show was not very good... it made the poor wheelchair seating a little easier to take. The only good thing about the seating was that it allowed us to make a quick exit at the end of the show.
Next, we made our way over to the historic Bird Cage Theatre, which once served as a saloon, theater, gambling hall, and brothel. Tickets were $8 per person to tour the famous theater. Once inside, we were able to walk around and view many artifacts dating back to the theatre’s hayday in the 1880s. Of course, the first thing you notice upon entering the theatre are the 14 bird cage-like cribs that hang from the ceiling, which gave the theatre its name. In the 1880s, this was where the "ladies of the night" would do their business. $20 would buy a man a bottle of whiskey and a lady for the night. There were several other notable items, including one of the town hearses, the original grand piano which has stood in the Bird Cage Theatre since 1881, and the original faro table where Doc Holliday played and dealt faro. Unfortunately, the stage was not accessible, and neither was the stairway going down to the basement. However, there was an accessible pathway outside that lead down to the poker room in the basement.
We made two other stops in town before calling it a day. The first was a quick visit to the Tombstone Epitaph, Tombstone's famous newspaper, where one can view old newspaper artifacts and machinery dating back to the days of the Wild West. Admission was free. We ended the day with a visit to the Tombstone Western Heritage Museum. The museum was full of interesting artifacts related to Wyatt Earp, the shoot out at the OK Corral, and other Tombstone events. Admission was $5 per adult, and like the Tombstone Epitaph, it was wheelchair accessible.
We started our second day in Tucson with a short 20-minute visit to Mission San Xavier Del Bac, a beautiful Roman Catholic church built in the late 1700s. It isn’t very big so it did not take us long to walk through it, but it was still a worthwhile stop. Admission was free and it was wheelchair accessible. Next door to the church is a small hill that offers a nice view of the church, as well as a replica of the grotto in Lourdes, France. The hill is a little tough to navigate in a wheelchair as the slope was fairly steep and consisted of sand and gravel. I did not have much of a problem getting up the slope in my electric wheelchair, although I did have my friend holding onto my handlebars to give me an extra push on the way up and make sure that I did not slide off course on the way down.
Next, we were off to Old Tucson Studios, a theme park/movie set used for countless western movies since 1939, including several John Wayne flicks and movies such as The Outlaw Josey Wales and Tombstone. The park offers a number of attractions for visitors. We started out at the Grand Palace Hotel where they had a short video presentation of all the movies that were filmed at Old Tucson Studios. That was followed by a guy named Cowboy Bill strumming his guitar and singing some western cowboy favorites. We were not overly enamored by either performance, but we were able to get some lunch from the saloon and eat it during the shows, so it was not a total loss.
Next, we made our way over to the Hollywood Stunt Demonstration, a 15-minute show where the Old Tucson stunt team showed us how stunts were performed in the old Western movies. It did not exactly live up to its billing as a "high-flyin’ action-packed bang-up of the show!”; it was more like three guys acting goofy for 14 minutes and then showing us about a minute of cool stunts at the end.
After the show, we made our way to the train station and hopped aboard the train for a ride around the Old Tucson Studios lot. The train had an accessible car at the back, including a ramp to board it (). However, the overhang on the side of the roof was extremely low, so I had to lean forward a great deal in order to get inside (). Once inside though, there was quite a bit more headroom. The train ride itself was fairly interesting. It only lasted 15 minutes, and it basically circled the property and took us through areas you cannot visit on foot.
Next, we took in another gunfight demonstration, which took place at the Town Square Bank. The show told a fictional story of a doctor and a sheriff who confront an outlaw, and of course everything ends up in gun smoke. This was actually one of the best gun fight demonstrations we saw on our whole trip (along with the shootout at the OK Corral reenactment in Tombstone).
We ended our visit to Old Tucson Studios by joining a guided tour of the lot. A guide walked us around the property for 30 minutes talking about the history of the Studios and pointing out many notable areas used in movies. Incidentally, I had no trouble getting around the lot in my electric wheelchair. The grounds consisted mostly of a hard dirt with some gravel mixed in, but I found it fairly easy to navigate for the most part.
By 2:30 p.m., we had seen pretty much everything there is to see at Old Tucson Studios, so we drove a little bit up the road to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This is not a museum in the traditional sense of the word, though. It is actually a zoo, complete with plants and animals representing all aspects of the Sonoran Desert. It took us about two hours to get through the whole park, and that was moving at a fairly steady pace. I am not one to sit and stare for long periods of time at animals--“been to one zoo, been to them all” is my philosophy, although I will admit this place is different than a typical zoo. So, people who want to experience the park in depth may want to allot more time for themselves. In any case, the close proximity between Old Tucson Studios and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum makes it easy to visit both parks in the same day.
After a couple days in Tucson, it was time to make our way north to the Grand Canyon. My hope was to depart Tucson early enough so that we could stop along the way in Sedona for a little sightseeing. Many people find Sedona even more scenic than the Grand Canyon as the reddish color of the rock is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, we did not leave Tucson until early afternoon, so it was almost dark by the time we got near Sedona. So, we decided to forgo Sedona and instead make a quick stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument. Despite the name, this monument is actually not a castle, but rather an old cliff dwelling where the Sinagua people set up a two-story “residence” in the 14th century. We were admitted into the park free because we showed up about 20 minutes before the park closed. In my opinion, that was perfect because we certainly did not need more than 20 minutes to see the ruins. The park was accessible. There was a nicely paved path () that led from the visitor area to the area at the side of the cliff where you could get a pretty good view of the dwelling (, ).
We did not arrive at our hotel until around 9 p.m. It was a very nice hotel, located just outside the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. The room was quite spacious, and the bathroom included a roll-in a shower (, , ).
The next morning, we drove into Grand Canyon National Park to spend the day exploring the South Rim. Upon entering the park, we had to pay a $25 entrance fee for our vehicle. It is interesting to note that any U.S. citizen who is eligible to receive federal benefits because of their disability is entitled to receive a Golden Access Passport. This free pass entitles its owner (and accompanying passengers) to free admission to all U.S. National Parks. Of course, since I am a Canadian citizen, I did not qualify and therefore had to pay the $25 fee. However, they did give us an accessibility guide which told us which of the lookout areas were good for access and which were not. Since most of the shuttles are not accessible, they also gave us a parking permit so that we could drive to areas where the regular public could not drive, namely Hermit Road. The permit was just a yellow piece of paper that we had to put in our windshield, and it contained a four digit code which we used to open the gate at Hermit Road.
We started out by turning left onto Desert View Drive and heading for Hermit Road. We actually spent most of the day on Hermit Road, stopping at most of the scenic outlooks along the way. Most of the outlooks had pretty good access. Most pathways were paved, although some paths had bumpy sections to them (, ). There were also several outlooks where steps were involved to get out to the outlook. Again, the accessibility guide labels quite clearly which outlooks are more accessible than others, and you really do not need to stop at every outlook as the view does not change much from outlook to outlook. We did not get to Hermits Rest--the last stop on Hermit Road--until late afternoon, so we quickly got in our van and drove back the other way so that we could take in as much of the view along Desert View Drive as possible before the sun went down. While there was probably a fair bit we did not get to at the South Rim, not to mention the entire North Rim, we certainly felt that one day was enough at the Grand Canyon. Of course, to see the true beauty of the Grand Canyon, one would have to take a helicopter ride or hike down right into the canyon, but viewing the canyon from a car at the top is not all bad either. The only thing to remember is that the elevation at the South Rim is approximately 7000 feet, so don't forget to bring a jacket!
That was it for the sightseeing on the trip. The next morning we made the 5-hour drive back to Las Vegas, where we dropped off the van and spent one final night before flying home. We managed to see a lot in 2 weeks, and I was happy to discover that Las Vegas really is as accessible as it is hyped to be. I also now understand why so many people choose to spend their retirement years in Arizona. The weather could not have been better. Sure, July and August are hot, but there is something to be said for 330 days of sunshine every year and warm temperatures year-round. With such great weather and so much to do in the region, it won't be my last trip to Las Vegas or Arizona!