We just returned from a great trip to Las Vegas visiting with my husband's Army friends and their spouses. We try to get together with this group once a year to keep the friendships alive and to relax in the company of people who "get it." Being a Veteran (or being married to one) means your life experience is a little different than the general population. Just like parents find comfort in socializing with other parents, or college buddies maintain a unique connection way past graduation, so it is with those that have served in the military. It's a different culture and a unique experience that bonds people together with a pretty strong dose of super glue.
For those that may have read my last post, you may have noticed that this trip came less than 60 days after my husband was released from alcohol rehab. Probably not part of your typical relapse prevention plan...but we decided to go ahead with the trip anyway. Mostly because we already paid for the hotel and plane tickets. And also because we would be traveling with a supportive group of friends that would respect my husband's recovery process.
Turns out that when you're sober in Vegas, the place seems a little ridiculous. The prevalence of alcohol in every single corner of that town is mind blowing. I think nobody ever notices or talks about this because nobody else has ever experienced Vegas sober. At least that's how it feels when you are the one without a drink in your hand. As soon as you get off the plane there are pubs and walk-up stands selling six different flavors of liquored-up slushies. When you sit down to gamble, the cocktail waitresses are offering you free drinks. Souvenir shops sell key chains, snow globes and t-shirts right next to bottles of whiskey and giant, light-up travel cups for your margaritas. Seemingly everyone on the street is sipping a beer or a yard-long daiquiri.
I've done Vegas at age 22, and it was fun. Loads of fun. Mostly drunk fun. But this trip at 42 was different. And sober. And still quite fun. So, if you are done with the stupid drunk phase of your life and thinking maybe Vegas isn't really for you anymore...or you happen to be traveling with someone that is fresh on the trail of addiction recovery, I'll share my tips for how I enjoyed Vegas, sans alcohol.
1. Pick a hotel off the Strip. You can always go to the strip to shop, gamble or get your fill of naked butt cheeks and KISS impersonators. But if you aren't drinking you probably don't need or want to be in the midst of that madness 24-7. Lake Las Vegas is a beautiful and quiet option, though far removed from much of the action that is Las Vegas.
2. See a show. The nightlife in Vegas has nearly infinite possibilities. Every hotel/casino has some sort of entertainment going on at night, in addition to the night club and gambling. On this trip we saw the Cirque du Soleil show, Ka, and it was spectacular. If you're wondering if a Cirque du Soleil show is really worth the money, my answer is YES. The theaters are built specifically for the show. The staging, props, costumes, sound and energy are amazing. During the Ka performance, the stage itself moved up and down, tilted and twisted to mimic the motion of the sea, and eventually ended up completely vertical with actors performing death-defying acrobatics along its face. Stunning.
3. Go hiking. Yes. Hiking. The Valley of Fire state park is a short, one-hour drive from the heart of Las Vegas. The scenery is breathtaking. I'll share a photo with you here, but it just won't do justice to the beauty of this place. You must see it in person. This is probably a seasonal suggestion, because I'm guessing this place would be the opposite of fun in the thick of summer when temperatures are well into the triple digits. But in the fall/winter/spring it's worth the drive. There is gorgeous scenery that can be enjoyed from your car and at picnic spots along the road. Or you can try some mini-hikes that will lead you to hidden beauty, history lessons, and ancient petroglyphs on short, 1-2 mile hikes.
4. Stroll the Strip. It is a spectacle that you really can't skip if you're in Vegas. Yes, there is alcohol everywhere. Yes, you might come across half naked, bedazzled show girls or cowboys wearing nothing but chaps. If you can get past the initial feeling of being left out because you aren't wearing a shot-glass necklace, you can actually have fun shopping and soaking up the sunshine. Not to mention the Olympic-quality people watching.
5. Bring some friends. If you have good friends along for entertainment, you can get away with spending less money and being completely content just visiting and being in their company. I love our Army family because we all have different ideas about what to do, when to do it and how to get there. Sometimes we can herd ourselves into a cohesive group and make it to an activity all together. But if we don't, that's OK. People do their own thing, make plans with one couple or on their own. Eventually we all come back together and have some quality group time, but nobody's losing sleep about skipping an outing to take a nap or visit the spa.
I will admit that being sober in Vegas was a little uncomfortable at first. When we sat down to dinner the first night it felt odd not ordering a bottle of wine. I felt conspicuous walking on Fremont Street, in a circus of Saturday-night activities, without a drop of liquor coursing through my veins. When I sat down at a slot machine with $20 (My high-roller limit for the night) it felt weird to just play and not be anxious about my money running out before I got my "free" drink.
Vegas isn't for everyone. There is certainly all kinds of fun to be had, clean, dirty, sober or drunk. When we were traveling to Vegas I really thought it wouldn't be a whole lot of fun without getting into the action, so to speak. But, I was wrong. It was fun. Lots of fun actually. I'd even do it again. And I'm not sure the hungover gal puking on herself during our flight home would say the same.