In August, Britain's Prince Harry was spotted getting wet and wild with selected bosom buddies at various alcohol-fuelled pool parties in Las Vegas. He got on down at the Wynn Hotel's XS nightclub, challenged American Olympic champion swimmer Ryan Lochte to a race in his jeans and wore a "let's get wild" vest belonging to someone called Lauren's bachelorette party.
The Vegas pool party concept launched in 2004 with Rehab, the original "day club", at the Hard Rock Hotel, and is now a focal point of wild weekends for America's youth. The craze has taken off in recent years, with all the major hotels along the strip now boasting party pools.
"Where do these party people go when they need a wee?" my mother had asked, before I set out to sample the scene. A valid point, but not one that troubles me much as I recline in the 40-degrees-Celsius heat on a sunbed at Encore (another club where Harry partied), mojito in hand, nodding to the electronic beats cascading from the two-metre high speaker stacks across a tableau that brings to mind the words "only in America".
Las Vegas weekends usually revolve around nighttime forays into a world of hedonism. Casinos don't have windows or clocks on the walls, so weary punters don't actually know when it's time to hit the hay and just keep on pumping their money into the slot machines. Lately, however, they've discovered a new way of revelling, and one that doesn't lead to vitamin D deficiency - it's known as day clubbing.
MY POOL ODYSSEY BEGINS at the Marquee Dayclub at The Cosmopolitan hotel - on a terrace packed with sunbeds, jacuzzis, liposuctioned bodies and a moderately sized pool that is overlooked by palm trees and glitzy 60-storey hotels, iridescent in the sun.
After walking there through the hot desert winds, I am glad to jump straight into the pool. At its edge, besides US$500-a-day sunloungers, US$3,500-US$5,000 will secure you a Grand Cabana. These soft-seated chillout zones seat up to 15 people, are open sided and come with sun shades, flatscreen televisions, minibars loaded with beer, water and soft drinks and private infinity pools. A pitcher of margarita or mojito costs US$48, a beer or bottle of water US$8.
Kaskade, in the DJ booth, bangs out standard Vegas fare - chart music meets Balearic-style beats and soaring synths - but the music is really just a background soundtrack to the people-watching. And unlike in, say, Paris or St Tropez, at Vegas pool parties people look around to check whether other people are looking at them. What's more, it's the men who are the real attention-seekers. The dress code for the guys is long Bermuda shorts and taut, rippled torsos. For women it's micro bikinis, wedges and tattoos. Shades obligatory.
I ask the manager whether he sees wild stuff happening here. "Oh yeah, we positively encourage it."
Drugs? "Oh, no, drugs aren't allowed."
Sex? "No sex either."
I wonder if he's just being on message … I'm pretty sure the couple over by the palm trees aren't just shaking hands.
In contrast to Marquee's laidback but expensive vibe, the mayhem at Encore Beach Club is mind-blowing. With 1,000 people in attendance on any given Sunday (swelling to a capacity 3,000 on a big holiday weekend), the sprawling mass of bodies is something to behold. In the booth next to us, six scantily clad forty-something all-American gals tell me they visit every year to have some time away from their husbands and show off their tummy tucks, boob jobs and belly-button piercings.
Around us, a huge crowd fall about, drinks in hand, posing, flirting, laughing and grinding like extras on a Yo! MTV Raps video shoot.
Meanwhile, around the DJ booth, stick-on tattoos of the DJ, Morgan Page, are in evidence. From Los Angeles, he has twice been nominated for a Grammy award. Shaun, a seasoned dayclubber from Ohio, fires off a list of other big name international DJs who play the circuit: Tiesto, Deadmau5, SkyBlu from LMFAO, Benny Benassi - they all come here on the big weekends, and clubbers need to book ahead to attend. Memorial Day at the end of May is the biggest weekend, but Labor Day in September and Spring Break are also frantic.
On a normal day, entry to Encore costs US$50 for men and US$40 for women, but those doing it in style will get a big group together and hire an upper-tier bunga-low, for US$15,000 to US$30,000 a day. This includes a private pool party and a vista from on high of an ocean of writhing bodies.
Sundays are the big day for pool parties, and Wet Republic at the MGM Grand - where Harry was spotted - is one of the biggest. When I arrive, the army of bouncers at the door appear to be in the grip of an almighty power trip. One is complaining that all the "hoes" in the "line-up" (queue) are "p***ing him off". His colleague suggests he takes a break.
While door policies are no more restrictive than at most nightclubs - and you're unlikely to be turned away - Mark Kmetz, a promoter at Liquid day club at the Aria hotel, tells me the best bet for a guaranteed good weekend is to ring your hotel before arriving and book a senior host or promoter to help you out by ensuring smooth entry to all the clubs and reserving sun loungers. Vegas is many things, but it is not restrictive: if you come to party, and are ready to pay for it, you'll be welcomed.
Inside, there are plenty of washboard stomachs on display - and flab, too. The cabanas overlooking the pool and main stage are populated with what can only be described as supermodels and sports stars. A contestant from American TV show The Bachelor is partying hard in the pool, surrounded by a harem of girls.
What to do amid such a scene? Float in the pool, dance to DJ Bad Boy Bill's hip hop classics, have a water-pistol fight? Alternatively, you could hire a daybed (for up to four people), sip a Corona and just take it all in.
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