What is it about Las Vegas that makes everyone yell… VEGAS! V-E-G-A-SSSS!!! It is a universal response from every demographic. Man, the marketing company that came up with that did a phenomenal job. Utilizing the memories and essence (for those too young to remember) of the Rat Pack era, mixed with the enticing ‘anything goes’ slogan, Vegas attracts every age group for the same purpose… to pay big bucks to do something they normally wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, or would never even consider. If you’ve been to Atlantic City or Lake Tahoe and think you know what Vegas is like, believe us, you are wrong. The presence of slot machines does not make all destinations that offer gambling equal.
So it’s your first trip and you’re wondering what to expect? Well if you have anything in common with 2+2, it will probably entail elements of this common scenario: Dress to the nines on a Tuesday night, keep $20 cocktails flowing and then dance on a rooftop until the sun comes up. Eat lobster accompanied by a martini for breakfast, check out some baby lions (in the MGM Grand), solve a murder case (at the CSI exhibit), and then have an exquisite meal by Joel Robuchon at L’Atelier, followed by a little risqué burlesque show and a little luck. $100 on black baby!
After breakfast overlooking the Bellagio fountains at Mon Ami Gabi (ok, maybe more like lunch), try indoor skydiving, followed by a trip to the shooting range with an automatic machine gun. Before dinner, gamble and dance poolside to thumping house music at one of the many posh pool complexes. For the evening, revel over the experience of the best sushi in the world at Okada. Then finish the night with drinks at an ultra lounge like Blush, while batting around the idea of finally getting some ink and/or a leap off the side of the Stratosphere… you know, something low key. By this time you are broken. Your eyes are blood shot. You are nauseous from the mixture of (very) above average drinking and blistering sun. At this pace, three days is usually all most normal people can handle. 72 hours of living like it’s your last days on Earth.
But we… well we are Vegas pros. Now is the time for you to recoup and keep it indoors. It’s time to shop! How many Louis Vuitton stores can a girl frequent in a day? Well that is a good question and much to your husband’s dismay, Vegas is the perfect place to put it to the test. Almost every high end hotel (think Encore, Wynn, Bellagio, Venetian, Caesar’s, Aria) features a strip of boutiques, if not a full mall of them. Personally, A cannot get enough of the Esplanade connecting the Wynn and Encore. Although small, this shopping corridor focuses on the big names only. Chanel is always the first stop, followed by Dior, Gucci and then Louie. High end red soled shoes, gadgets and home décor are all there too. The Vegas strip has got to be the most concentrated center of luxe shopping in the world. Even if you aren’t there to buy, stroll the shops, have a Chanel make-up demo, ask to see those Louboutin’s in a size 8 and try on the most extravagant diamond necklace you can find at Tiffany’s and Company. I guarantee they will say yes to any of these requests… all while sipping a vodka on the rocks.
In between exploring the shops at the various hotels, L has created an art out of slipping away undetected and hitting the casino. Vegas hotels are all maze-like… giant, excessive and full of flashing lights to suck you in. It is simple to get lost inside, and while you are lost, you might as well purchase something you definitely don’t need or test your luck at anyone of the thousands of slot machines or tables. Of course there is every game you ever heard of, plus tons of variations on the traditional games. L is a fan of blackjack, but together L+M cannot be pried away from the craps table. Those two get wild, loud and fun when they are on a roll!
As everyone knows, what makes the Vegas strip so electrifying is the variety of hotels lining Las Vegas Boulevard. There is one for every taste and purse with options ranging from the wacky (New York, New York and Excalibur), to the tacky (ugh, Circus Circus is gross!), to the party meccas (Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock), to the renovated and revitalized mid-range options (Paris, MGM Grand, Mirage), to the absolutely extravagant (Encore, Wynn, Bellagio, Venetian, City Center Complex). The awesome part about hotel rates in Vegas is that they can be totally flexible the more you visit and gamble at the venue. After years of frequenting the latest towers of the massive Caesar’s Palace complex, we switched our home base to the Encore (A Wynn Property) after we received a deal we just couldn’t refuse. We haven’t left since. In our opinion, it’s the ultimate hotel on the strip!
But no matter where you decide to call home, the beauty of Vegas is that all of the hotels are open to the public. Walk right in to check out the décor, gamble in the casino, browse the shops, and dine in the restaurants. In the past couple of years, some hotels even opened their pools (or portions of them) to the public for afternoon beach bashes (Wet Republic @ MGM Grand, Rehab @ Hard Rock or Bare @ XS in the Encore), waterside concerts (the Beach @ Mandalay Bay) or luxe cabana rentals (Encore, Caesar’s Palace, Bellagio). So even if you are unfortunately heading to sleep at Circus Circus, you can still be the man elsewhere.
If you are looking for a more relaxing experience than some of the rawkus, afternoon parties, try out one of the spas at these ultra resorts. Most are enormous with endless treatment rooms, plunge pools of various temperatures, saunas, steam rooms with different scents and even snow rooms. To say they have thought of everything is an understatement. We’ve frequented many of them, but have been consistently impressed with the Qua Baths at Caesar’s and the over the top décor of the Wynn Spa. We even purchased the smell of the Wynn Spa for our home so we can be mentally transported to Vegas for an evening. You will enjoy every detail they have put into making these retreats your sanctuary for a day.
Of course it wouldn’t be the entertainment capital without the array of live shows offered throughout the strip. There are countless Cirque de Soleil themed performances scattered throughout some of the bigger hotels (we really liked Ka and The Beatle’s Love), ‘Broadway’ plays and musicals (The Rat Pack is Back, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King), magicians and variety shows (Blue Man Group, Chris Angel, Rick Thomas) and of course, many a naughty review (Holly Madson’s Peep Show, Crazy Horse Paris). Plus tons of traveling comedy and musical performances from all of the big names you know well. If you are looking to be the star of your own show, head downtown to old Vegas for some vows at the world famous Little White Chapel where celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Michael Jordan have all said ‘I Dos’.
If you aren’t a performance kind of person, you can also find plenty of unique expos in the area. The Bellagio always has breathtaking fine art exhibitions with works by Monet and Van Gogh and other greats. The treasures of the Titantic are also on display, as well as the super freaky Bodies exhibit (Real human bodies displayed by organ system). We had fun analyzing ‘crime scenes’ in the interactive CSI: The Experience display based on the popular TV show. If you like ocean life, take a peek at the sea creatures swimming around at the Shark Reef aquarium in Mandalay Bay. There is plenty to do when you need a (quick) break from the mayhem.
However, if crazy is really what you live for, the top of the Stratosphere has some of the most vomit-inducing rides we have ever set eyes on. Located at the tippy top of the highest building on the strip, death defying thrill rides project you off the side of the building. The worst by far is the free fall where people who have lost their minds are dropped off the side of the building, plummeting at top speed on a thin rope, past diners eating at the Top of the World restaurant. L+M insist they are doing it next time. A+K strongly disagree. If you want to do something exciting, but a lot less mental, ATV riding in the desert is a popular activity located off the strip, especially for the coveted gatherings of the bachelors. Follow that up with a little range practice with a dessert eagle hand gun and you’ve got yourself a party!
But in the end, our favorite feature of this oasis in the desert is the food! It is outstanding. Of course everyone knows about the buffets, but it’s not quantity that we are talking about. Almost every hotel on the strip can boast an impressive, quality line up of fine dining establishments. The celebrity chef is king here and all of the big names have at least one establishment in the city, if not two or three. We literally have a list of the ‘must-dine’ locales that we hit up every time we come, but it’s getting harder and harder with every visit. We cannot keep up with the frequency that awesome, new spots are pop up. Below we have provided our absolute favorites. These places will not disappoint!
After dinner is when Vegas really lets loose. It’s hard to imagine it getting any looser, but it’s true. It seems that in Vegas, even those guys that hate to dance, or your parents that always told you to turn down the music, are found flocking to venues with blaring beats. Night life comes in many forms and often caters to a demographic of various ages (Hey high rollers are usually not fresh out of college). Most of the mega clubs like Pure and XS play a mixture of remixed Top 40’s… songs that everyone knows. While finding true house music can be more challenging, clubs like Jet and Tao often have at least a room dedicated to it. Expect long lines and annoying bouncers, unless of course you know someone or you can find the right guest list. For years we saw the line in front of Pure at Caesar’s Palace and thought no way are we waiting on that… until one day we had dinner at a sushi restaurant in another hotel that just happened to also own the club. A business card from the restaurant manager and we were in for free, bypassing the two and a half hour line. I guess it is who you know.
To feel like you are in the middle of the action, but with a more chill vibe, the ultra lounge is a perfect fit. DJs spin more melodic and/or less dance-y versions of the club music, while crowds line the bar or lounge on couches. Lines are often much shorter, if not non-existent, and the door men are far less annoying… it’s a win-win! We love heading to the Mix Lounge at the top of The Hotel @ Mandalay Bay. The views of the strip are ridiculous and you can even snag a private table outside on the thin balcony at the top of the hotel. Plus it’s worth it for the trip to the bathroom! The stalls have full wall windows overlooking the night sky from 64 stories up. If you’ve had too much to drink, it will surely make you dizzy. For a more lively lounge, our go-to is Blush Boutique Nightclub at the Wynn. We’ve seen many an awesome performance there, with our last trip yielding a show stopping DJ set by Mix Master Mike of Beastie Boys fame. No matter where you go, everything is open until the wee hours which make the decision of heading back to your room very difficult. In the end, the nightlife usually wins with you surrendering back to your bed at some time around 4am.
Anyone feel mentally exhausted yet? Anyone fired up and ready to go? If we did this right, you should feel both. Beat up and yearning for more. The allure and luster of Las Vegas is that everyone can sample a piece of the high life. The surroundings are over the top, the service is impeccable and the fun is never ending. Whether you love an extended weekend of madness, drunken debauchery and thrills, or you are planning on spending a week dining in great restaurants, viewing world class shows and spending all of your money on luxury items and card games, Vegas can accommodate you. Everyone loves a taste of this Disney World for adults, from 2+2 to our parents (who may be more in love with the strip than we are!).
For vacation packages, hotel bookings, restaurant reservations and show/event tickets check out www.LasVegas.com.
There are literally endless options in Las Vegas, but the following suggestions are our handpicked favorites!
- Encore and Wynn- Our hands down favorite hotels. Elegant, energetic and full of the best dining, dancing and fun. A fabulous pool and spa! Overwhelming crowds are minimal since it’s located at the end of the strip.
- Bellagio- The exquisite interior and exterior of this iconic property makes it a very close second. This resort is sure to exceed all of your expectations.
- Caesar’s Palace- Just enough wild and just enough refined; this hotel is perfect for being in the middle of the action. They’ve been adding towers to this property yearly so you are guaranteed to always have a beautiful room. Plus the pools and their cabanas are top notch.
- Venetian- A fully themed hotel, however executed with taste. Designed to make you feel like you are strolling the streets of Venice with a cloud painted sky, ornate ceilings and walls, impressive sculptures and real gondola rides right through the mall (complete with singing!).
- Mandalay Bay- A tropical theme with luxe details like you are in a fabulous complex in a remote island. Its claim to fame is definitely its beach, with sand covered wave pool and lazy river.
- Citycenter- The latest addition to Las Vegas Boulevard. This ‘city’ is a series of skyscraper style luxury hotels and condos plopped down right up to the side walk. Once you are standing in front of the Aria Hotel and the buildings surround you, you will definitely feel transported. However, from the street, it just looks out of place.
- Sinatra @ Encore- A classic fine dining establishment with impeccable service.
- Wazuzu @ Encore- Asian standards in an elegant setting.
- Okada @ Wynn- The best sushi we have ever had in our life! This place is impressive with a full open air wall of the restaurant to allow unobstructed views of the waterfall and imported 600 year old Japanese trees.
- Wynn Buffet @ Wynn- Our only buffet on the list. It’s a pretty amazing meal. We love going right between Breakfast and Lunch to satisfy every craving.
- L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon @ MGM Grand- All we can say is wow. The best French food we’ve ever eaten. Read our review from our New York experience; the one in Vegas is just as delicious.
- Bouchon Bistro @ Venetian- The best kept secret in Vegas. Hidden within the Venezia Tower on the x floor, this Thomas Keller classic serves the most amazing brunch we ever had. We have yet to dine on dinner here because we can never say no to their morning pastries! Chocolate almond croissant!
- Tao Asian Bistro @ Venetian- Awesome Asian in an over the top décor.
- Mesa Grill @ Caesar’s Palace- Bobby Flay’s best restaurant! His knack for introducing southwestern flair in a way that is complex and refined is unbelievable. On nearly every trip we’ve made to Vegas we’ve had both Brunch and Dinner! Here is our review from our visit to his New York Mesa.
- Rao’s @ Caesar’s Palace- It’s nearly impossible to score a table at the New York Rao’s, so we were thrilled when we finally got to try out their classic Italian family style dishes. Manifique!
- Mon Ami Gabi @ The Paris- The best view on the strip. With outside seating overlooking the incredible Bellagio fountain show, tables are worth the wait. Plus the classic French bistro dishes will make your mouth water. We love the quiche for breakfast and a perfectly cooked steak (with a slab of butter on top) for dinner.
- Olives @ Bellagio- The Todd English original with a view of the fountains.
- Prime Steakhouse @ Bellagio- A high end steakhouse with a standard a la carte menu.
- Burger Bar @ Mandalay Bay- A freaking awesome burger and fries!!
- Mix @ THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay- High end dining in a luxe, modern décor with soaring views of the strip from the 64th floor.
- Shanghai Lily @ Mandalay Bay- Yum! Chinese, Vegas style. Shimmery walls, dramatic floor to ceiling drapes and attentive service.
- Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas (Off Strip near Hard Rock Hotel)- The Germany beer hall of Munich imported to Vegas. Bench, communal seating, giant beers and pretzels the size of your head.
- Jet @ MGM Grand- Our favorite true club. It reminds me of being back in New York. Real house music, not just remixed Britney Spears songs.
- Pure @ Caesar’s- A typical Vegas club. Beautiful. Expensive. Top 40’s. Massive line.
- Pussycat Dolls Burlesque Saloon @ Caesar’s- Regular performances by the infamous Pussycat Dolls dance troop.
- Tao @ Venetian- A multi room club with a beautiful rooftop pool level.
- XS @ Encore- The most extravagant club we’ve ever seen. The lines are absolutely absurd and the entry fee is mind numbing. If you’re a dude, expect to pay $250 on a holiday to enter and wait in line for 2-3 hours. This is the type of a place where you just need to splurge on bottle service… it will probably end up being cheaper!
- Blush Boutique Nightclub @ Wynn- A small club, with a lounge atmosphere. Entry fee is reasonable, lines are minimal and vibe is always fun! Plus, they often have great performances.
- The Bank @ Bellagio- Being hot is a requirement. There is no line, the bouncer just picks his favorites and lets you in when he feels like it. Obviously a bit obnoxious, but once inside we had one of the best times we’ve ever had at a club in LV… we are still not sure how we got back to our room and we were staying in the Bellagio!
- Revolution Lounge @ Mirage- Next to the Cirque de Soleil Beatle’s Love show, the décor is throw back, but the beats are all modern. Not a formal club, so it’s great on those crazy Saturday nights where you want to drink and dance but don’t want to spend hours on line.
- Mix Lounge @ THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay- A low key lounge with amazing views of the strip from the 64th floor. The music is danceable, but it’s not really a dance club. Most come to drink and chill.
- Encore Beach Club @ Encore
- Tao Beach @ Venetian
- Rehab @ Hard Rock
- Wet Republic @ MGM Grand
- Moorea Beach Club @ Mandalay Bay
- Esplanade @ Encore and Wynn- A concentrated strip of stores that gets right to the point! Only luxe labels and designer fashions. Head here first when you hit the jackpot!
- Forum Shops @ Caesars Palace- High end shops and well known boutiques all with a Roman motif.
- Grand Canal Shoppes @ Venetian- A series of luxury shops within an indoor that feels outdoor mall complete while a winding stream that carries real Venetian gondolas. Boat rides include a serenade.
- Mandalay Place @ Mandalay Bay- A collection of interesting shops in the corridor connecting Mandalay Bay to the Luxor.
- Miracle Mile Shops @ Planet Hollywood- A standard mall with a glitzy flair… perfect for finding something to wear to dinner and the club.
- The Shops @ Cosmopolitan- The newest addition to the strip. Soaring ceilings and contemporary décor with all the mega labels.
- Fashion Show- A massive, although standard mall when you just need your regular stores.
- Qua Baths and Spa @ Caesar’s- The options are endless. Every type of treatment, steam room, fragrance selections… You will feel transported to your happy place.
- The Spa @ Encore and Wynn- A literally designed her house after the décor in this spa. It is a mixture of Middle Eastern lanterns, fluffy bouquets of fragrant stems, mirror plated décor pieces and the most intoxicating smell of jasmine. It is gorgeous.
- The Fountains @ Bellagio- You know ‘em. You’ve seen them in countless movies and shows. When you think of Vegas, you think of those fountains.
- Bodies… The Exhibition- Real human bodies dissected crazy ways… by organ system, by disease, by cross sections. If you have a weak stomach, you better skip it.
- Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
- CSI: The Experience @ Mirage- Solve murder cases by examining the crime scene, collecting clues and doing your own forensics. It’s a cute exhibit for a taste of something different. Not exactly challenging, but fun.
- Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art @ Bellagio- Works from the greats.
- The Eiffel Tower Experience @ Paris- Head to the top of the ‘Eiffel Tower’ at the Paris Hotel for great views of the strip.
- Freemont Street @ Downtown Las Vegas- The gritty underbelly of old Las Vegas now covered over with a domed ceiling for projection of a nightly light show.
- Madame Tussauds Interactive Wax Museum
- Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat @ MGM Grand
- Lion Exhibit @ MGM Grand- Step away from the slot machine for a minute to catch a glimpse of the lions that inhabit the glass enclosure in the casino.
- Sharf Reef @ Mandalay Bay- An aquarium.
- Sky Jump, Big Shot, Insanity and X Scream @ Stratosphere- If you have a death wish, try these rides. All of them involve being projected off of the top of the tallest building on the strip. The Sky Jump actually drops you right off the side of the building so diners at Top of the World restaurant can see you poop your pants on the way down.
- The Rollercoaster @ New York, New York
- Race Car Driving @ Las Vegas Motor Speedway- Drive a race car or sit shot gun as a real race car driver whips you around the course.
- Vegas Indoor Skydiving- Put on a suit and have a giant fan shoot you into the air to simulate the feeling of skydiving.
- Las Vegas Gun Range and The Gun Store- Try out all of those insane weapons you’ve seen in movies. Automatic machine guns, dessert eagles, grenade launchers (minus real grenades)…
- ATV Rides in the Desert- Hit the dunes in an all terrain vehicle.
- Hoover Dam and Lake Mead- A neat tour for all my fellow geeks out there. Learn how the Hoover Dam was built and how it generates power for the people of Nevada.
- Lake Las Vegas- Check out this manmade lake while hitting up a quick visit to the Ritz Carlton Hotel. It is usually sweltering out here… you are really in the desert at Lake Las Vegas.
- Helicopter and Tour Bus trips- Grand Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, Zion National Park, Mount Charleston, Colorado River Whitewater Rafting and Area 51