When Nicole and I told friends that we were headed to Las Vegas for a few days, the recommendations came pouring in. Tops on the list? The Fremont Street Experience. The FSE is essentially a covered outdoor mall that was created in the 1990s as a way to bring visitors back to Fremont Street (also known as “Glitter Gulch” due to its preponderance of neon signage), the original Las Vegas destination before the Strip took over the casino market. Everyone, it seems, loves this Las Vegas attraction—and they were sure we would love it, too. Some even suggested spending multiple evenings there.
If you read the reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp, you’ll see that most of the one-star ratings are from people who thought the downtown location was sketchy (it is, sort of, but I never felt unsafe) or who were angry that they’d brought their children to what is still very much an “adult” experience (hello—this is Vegas!). I didn’t have an issue with either aspect of the FSE. In fact, I’m usually drawn to less-than-perfect, kid-free areas!
As much as we appreciated everyone’s advice, I have to admit: Neither one of us enjoyed this “experience” all that much. Okay, hate is a strong word. But I have no desire to go back. Here’s why:
Kind of boring. We arrived at the FSE on our last night in Vegas, ready for some serious entertainment. From what we’d heard, there was no shortage of things to do, from live shows, to casinos, to the canopy zip line. I had considered trying the zip line (which has been featured on multiple reality shows—not that I watch those, of course). Sadly, funds were running low, and I opted out, hoping instead to watch others fly across the ceiling. But we never saw one zip liner the entire time we were at FSE. And, aside from a few mediocre street performers (living statues and the like), there was little to do except people watch. And who wants to stand around watching tourists all night?
(Note: A number of locals raved about the free live music shows at the FSE, but nothing was going on while we were there. It’s possible some live music might have given us a more positive impression.)
Old Vegas without the grit. We all know that I love anything dark, dirty, ugly, or weird. Glitter Gulch—home to Binion’s, the Golden Nugget, Four Queens, and several other classic old casinos—promised to deliver all those things. The FSE connects these casinos under an LED canopy with the goal of making outdated gambling halls—which can’t compete with the Strip’s over-the-top, modern casinos—a safe, fun destination again. I can totally appreciate that. Yet I found the experience oddly empty. If you’re going to try to draw people to “Old Vegas”, why not play up that history more? Instead, the old casinos seemed just as sad and stale as you might imagine, even if the FSE is giving them a financial lift.
(Note: If you venture outside of the actual FSE, you can view a number of restored vintage neon signs. However, the so-called Neon Museum isn’t actually a real, physical facility.)
Lightshow letdown. One of the biggest draws of the FSE is its nightly light show, and we were really looking forward to it. With 12.5 million lights and a 550,000-watt sound system, this was going to be awesome! As the clock struck 9 p.m., we joined hundreds of other visitors and craned our necks to watch the canopy in anticipation. An electric guitar screeched. Bass thumped. And then… Oh. It’s “Livin’ On a Prayer”. Well, okay. Who doesn’t love some Bon Jovi now and then? I’ve seen other light shows set to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, so why not. Except… unlike other shows I’ve seen, there were no cool, brightly colored lights dancing across the ceiling. No shapes—unless you count Richie Sambora’s disembodied head. Instead, we were basically watching a “concert” reminiscent of an oversized Rock Band animation. Must be the pre-show, right? Nope. That was it. Ten minutes or so of Bon Jovi songs. No artistry. No amazing light configurations. Bah.
Will I return to Las Vegas? Absolutely. But I won’t be back to the FSE. Of course, your mileage may vary—we know a bunch of people who just adore this experience. Me? I’d rather spend my time on the Strip.