Fabulous Las Vegas is a thrill-a-second paradise

MENACING nurses and killer clowns rush past us in a frenzy of fiendish excitement

Pushing through the crowds we finally reach the Slotzilla Zoomline zipwire, a thrilling 100ft-high ride over the neon craziness.

We're harnessed in safely; the barrier lowers and suddenly we are floating. The horizontal glide is a fleeting moment of serenity.

Affectionately known as "Sin City", Las Vegas is a non-stop feast for the senses.

Back on the ground we head to the Heart Attack Grill in Downtown Vegas, away from The Strip and home of the first of the city's casinos. 

We order the Triple Bypass Burger, Flatliner Fries and red wine that turns up in a medical-style intravenous bag, delivered by waitresses in hospital uniforms.

Outside, under a dazzling canopy of 12million color-changing LED lights, the cafes, shops and live music venues of Fremont Street glow all night.

Vegas had been on our bucket list for decades. Cash - or lack of it - meant we'd never managed the trip.

But a high-octane trip to the Nevada desert no longer means breaking the bank before you even get there.

Staying Downtown, just north of The Strip, as we did, also means more dollars in your pocket.

We based ourselves at the great value Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino, a newly-renovated urban resort complex with casino and rooftop pool.

It's close to The Mob Museum which charts the history of organized crime and all its major players such as Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel and "Lucky" Luciano.

Three floors of this old postal building and courthouse display the dark heart of Las Vegas with wall to-wall black and white photos, archive film and newsreel.

The bullet-ridden St Valentine's Day Massacre wall is the museum's showcase exhibit and tells of the bloodshed on that day in 1929 when rival gangs clashed in Chicago, leaving seven members dead.

Meanwhile, the Neon Museum "boneyard", is where all those tired, worn-out Vegas signs go to retire - and be restored and cherished.

There are about 300, seven of which light up each night, like the giant iconic Silver Slipper. Our guided tour costs about $20.

A combo day ticket will get you into both for about $50.

Also, north of The Strip is Premium Outlets shopping mall, offering bargains from big name brands including Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Nike, Gap, Levi's and Disney.

If you want all the atmosphere of a big game for the price of a few beers, there are sports bars all along The Strip crammed with cheering fans. Take your pick from MLB, NFL or NBA, or perhaps a Premier League match.

Local buses are frequent and cheap (about $8 for a 24-hour pass), there's a monorail system for $14 per day and some hotels offer free shuttles to get you along Las Vegas Boulevard.

We also stay at The Cosmopolitan Hotel on The Strip, where the crystal-draped Chandelier Bar serves its signature tequila cocktails.

Our spacious suite has patio doors to a balcony overlooking the musical dancing Bellagio fountains. In the mornings we let in cool air and watch the sun rise over the distant mountains before heading off to one of the legendary Vegas hotel buffets.

These all-you-can-eat affairs give you the chance to fill up on anything from sushi to ice cream or pies and creamy mash - for breakfast!

Full of acrobatics and artistry, the Las Vegas Cirque Du Soleil shows are also great value with tickets from 40. There are several themes to choose from including The Beatles and Michael Jackson as well as Criss Angel's famous brand of mind freak magic.

Or grab your chance to see global superstars live on stage at the big-name theatres like Caesars Palace and Planet Hollywood. A-list legends playing Vegas this year include Elton John, Celine Dion, J.Lo, Pink, Cher, Rod Stewart, Shania Twain and Lionel Richie.

If you fancy pushing the boat out Vegas-style, head to the famous Mr. Chow restaurant and order the amazing crispy duck.

Or keep it cheap and simple and go for half-price drinks during happy hour, between 5pm and 7pm, snacking on the special $5 Mr. Chow bites.

Afterwards, jump on the gondola ride at The Venetian hotel for 20 or sample a cocktail at the Paris Eiffel Tower bar.

A spin on The Linq High Roller, the world's biggest observation wheel at 550metres, is a fun way to take in the sights, especially if you buy the "happy half hour" ticket for about 28. During the rotation, there's an open bar.

But for the ultimate ride, book in for a night flight with Maverick Helicopters.

Prior to departure we sip champagne in the lounge before taking our seats to enjoy an aerial view of Las Vegas's mega resorts and casinos in all their sparkling glory.

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