Viva Las Vegas!
Text and photos Anne Coombes
It’s often said that Vegas isn’t so much a city as a state of mind. Since the city’s advertising slogan assures us that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” we’re encouraged to throw caution (and money) to the wind in pursuit of pleasure. Sin City is all about indulgence and impulse. Leave behind your inhibitions and pack your party clothes. Needless to say, it’s the ideal venue for a stag or hen party, guaranteed to provide tales you and your co-conspirators can wink over for years to come.
Glamorous Las Vegas really does have something for everyone, though. The gambling capital of the world once had a reputation as a playground for the wealthy, but it’s now one of the top tourist spots in the U.S., catering to all budgets and all tastes. Unquestionably, it’s dazzling. Where else can you find reincarnations of Paris, Rome, Egypt, New York, and Venice — not to mention Camelot — all within a few minutes’ walk? Billions of dollars have been spent on turning Vegas into even more of a sensation, gilded in fountains, colonnades, and vast frescoed ceilings. Reality is replaced by spectacle; it’s the ultimate escape.
Of course, there’s gambling, but Vegas also boasts amazing nightclubs and restaurants to tempt even the most die-hard dieter, musical concerts featuring the likes of Celine Dion and Tom Jones, and a host of superb shows. Most hotels also have extensive gardens and pools, perfect for relaxing. Moreover, there are beautiful spa facilities to enjoy for as little as $25 entrance, with top masseuses and cosmetologists waiting to indulge you. The Fijian pamper plan at the MGM Grand features a sugar rub, a Swedish massage with body butter, and a facial for just $195. You can then float off for a serenaded gondola ride down the Venetian’s Grand Canal or view fine art (the genuine article — not reproductions, like so much else in Las Vegas — on loan as part of exhibits organized by various art museums) at the Bellagio’s gallery. If shopping therapy is what you’re after, feast your eyes on the latest Gucci, Dior, and Cavalli, on sale at Caesar’s Palace Forum. Or pop across the road to an all-American Macy’s department store for bargain prices.
You’re rarely in doubt that Vegas is a gambling destination. The first slots make their appearance at the airport arrivals lounge! Hotels’ gaming floors are so huge, you can quite easily become lost — a ploy surely designed to keep you there. Smart VIP areas are set aside for much higher stakes. Vegas occupies a bittersweet place in American culture, known as much for its grand losers as its winners but if you gamble responsibly, setting a limit for what you are prepared to lose, there’s little to fear.
Whether you fancy Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, or traditional American fare, you’ll never be stumped for choice in Vegas. The MGM Grand alone has a dozen restaurants, two overseen by Chef of the Century Joël Robuchon. His 16-course tasting menu costs a fearsome $385 but features such sublime dishes as truffled langoustine ravioli, served with lemongrass roasted lobster and sea urchins. For a mid-morning treat, head to the Paris Hotel for a sumptuous fruit tart or gateau at one of its patisserie cafés.
High-kicking, besequined showgirls have graced Vegas since the town’s early days. For a spot of adults-only titillation, get tickets to the Folies Bergere or the Crazy Horse Paris show. Contemporary eroticism comes courtesy of Zumanity, performed by the amazing Cirque du Soleil. Hen parties will have a ball with Thunder from Down Under, Australian male strippers who reveal all, to nightly squeals of excitement. Unmissable is Lloyd Webber’s glitzy Phantom of the Opera, staged in a $40- million custom-built theater and Cirque’s Beatles tribute show, Love. Their performances receive rave reviews. (For advance discount rates and buy-one-get-one-free specials, check http://broadwaybox.com/lasvegas.)
Cocktail heaven is located at the Bellagio’s stylish Petrossian piano bar, while Centrifuge at the MGM provides 21st-century thrills: a huge spinning centerpiece and high-energy dancing on the bar. The advertising asserts “you’re invited, your inhibitions aren’t” and recommends you “immerse yourself in a sea of sensual sophistication.” Trip along to Rain, at The Palms, which is a favorite with Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson. Both sport glass walls looking down on the Strip, the city’s main drag. For a more traditional club feel, try Studio 54, modeled on the NY original.
With the Kids
Vegas isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you think of a kiddie-holiday, but, in fact, it’s not a bad choice for family vacationing. There’s pool-time fun during the day as well as a few animal attractions that appeal to young-uns. For example, Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay houses more than a dozen breeds of sharks and sea turtles, as well as 12 saltwater crocodiles. Get up close and personal via the walkway tunnels.
Caesar’s Palace and the Mirage also have tanks — home to the usual suspects, including sharks and rays. The Flamingo keeps a flock of spindly-legged pink birds, along with African penguins, black swans, guinea fowl, and ducks to keep them company. It’s a charming place for a stroll, with koi carp and catfi sh to ogle as you walk over the small bridges. The Secret Garden at the Mirage features white tigers, lions, and dolphins, and there’s a lion habitat, enclosed inside a glass tower, on the casino floor of the MGM Grand. Children and adults alike are enchanted by the Bellagio’s stunning fountains, which play throughout the evening to the accompaniment of soul-stirring music.
The Excalibur and Treasure Island are perhaps the best hotel choices for families. The latter has a nightly pirates routine, complete with fireworks, while the former presents its highly entertaining Tournament of Kings dinner show.
WHERE TO STAY
A double inside the Luxor’s glass pyramid, with its sensational views of the Strip, can be had for as little as $120 a night. A suite at the acclaimed Venetian costs around $200, and a penthouse stay at the elegant Bellagio, inspired by Lake Como in Italy, ranges from $750-1000 a night. Midweek nights are always cheapest. Where money is no object, there’s The Palms’ Sky Villa, modeled on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, with an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the Strip, an enormous rotating bed, and its own spa and cinema room ($40,000 a night). The Hardwood Suite, complete with a basketball half-court, and the Kingpin Suite, featuring bowling lanes and a pool table, are perfect pads for stag parties.
Bebe, Banana Republic, and BCBG Max Azria, at the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes
Neiman Marcus and Macy’s, at 3200 Las Vegas Boulevard.
Chanel, Prada, Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent at Via Bellagio
Manolo Blahnik, Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton, and Cartier at the Wynn Esplanade
Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Fendi, Dior, and Just Cavalli at Caesar’s Palace Forum
Delta is offering a roundtrip economy fare from Moscow in November for $1,400 (changing planes in New York). Business-class fares cost around $4,500.
For more information, go to http://visitlasvegas.com.