I heart Las Vegas. A lot. I spent a ridiculous amount of time there in my twenties. I remember most of it. I am not much of a gambler, but I love the shows, the food, and the shenanigans. Plus, like Vegas, I really come alive at night. There is something special about the energy there. The lights, the dancing, the drinks – it’s an adult playground. You forget your troubles and that your job is waiting for you when you get back. You also forget the value of a dollar. Every luxury brand and expensive restaurant is waiting to empty your wallet. It can feel like a temporary dream.
I first stayed at The Riviera, which was just demolished to make way for a convention center expansion. The Riviera was vintage. Built in the mid-50’s, it was one of the original hotels. Musty carpet with seasoned dealers and an old school Elvis rockin’ out on a cheesy stage. It was a little questionable, but I dug its ratty charm. I liked to think that the energy of the Rat Pack was still in the air. Movie stars and mobsters enjoyed this once-glamorous desert hideaway. It was also nice because the dealers were friendly. This wasn’t their first deck of cards and they didn’t mind giving you tips. The house still won, but we felt better about it. I am glad I got to enjoy that space before it only became a memory. (Check out Martin Scorsese’s movie Casino, if you need a refresher).
I have also stayed at the old Holiday Inn (not there anymore), the Paris, MGM, Mandalay Bay, and my absolute favorite, The Mirage. Paris was lovely. I was there for a work conference and the sweet guy at the front desk upgraded me to a large corner room with a perfect view of the Bellagio fountain. I was very young wearing a low-cut top and a big smile. The Paris Hotel is classy and I am a fan of their Mon Ami Gabi restaurant. Wine and Quiche Lorraine make me happy.
MGM is great – both the hotel proper and the suites behind. I have gazed at their lion habitat a few times and enjoyed their spicy little show, The Crazy Horse. Dirty, but not too much. Mandalay Bay is a good choice, but a bit far. I had my bachelorette weekend here many moons ago.
The Mirage, though, is my home away from home. I love their rooms, the steakhouse – Stack – is fantastic, I love the Secret Garden, the Beatles’ Love, and the nightclubs are pretty fun but not overcrowded. The Secret Garden is a mini-zoo out back behind the pool. It’s larger than you think with tigers, elephants, and a whole dolphin habitat. The lobby has a beautiful tropical atrium that feels lush and exotic. The volcano outside still erupts at night. Concierge never disappoints. If you want to get into a happening club like Tao (Venetian) or Mirage’s own 1 OAK, they make it happen. There is nothing more fabulous than walking to the front of the line and telling the doorman you are on the list.
If you love to shop, The Mirage is right next door to Caesar’s Forum Shops. They have high-end stores like Louis Vuitton and mid-priced like Fossil (my go-to for travel crossbody bags, by the way). There is a free show all the way in the back near The Cheesecake Factory called The Fall of Atlantis. The animatronic gods of fire and ice battle it out for domination. You can also grab a good bite at the shops – Carmine’s has a very yummy Italian menu served family style.
Like the Atlantis show at Caesar’s, there are many free shows in Vegas. Treasure Island has an outdoor dance show on their pirate ship, The Bellagio still has its massive fountain show (gorgeous at night), and the aforementioned volcano eruption at The Mirage. Also, several of the hotels have lobby gardens worth the stroll. This includes The Bellagio and The Wynn to name a couple.
Cirque de Soleil has made quite the stamp on Vegas. I have seen Mystere at Treasure Island, KA at MGM, and the Beatles’ LOVE at The Mirage. KA really blew my mind. I also saw Le Reve, not technically Cirque, but in same genre. Le Reve was awesome. Pick seats behind the splash zone. For a great mix of comedy and magic, I recommend Penn and Teller at the Rio.
For those of you coming to Vegas with a family, I recently stayed at The Hilton Grand Vacations on Las Vegas Boulevard. It is not far from The Riviera’s old stomping grounds. The rooms are spacious, there is no casino, I didn’t smell a single whiff of smoke, and there is a great pool for the kiddos to splash around. It’s walking distance to The Wynn so we were not short of sophisticated socializing. We had a kitchen and a full fridge so we could easily stock up and feed our traveling toddler. I loved how low key it was. You could head out for adult time on the strip, while your little one is safely watched by a friend in a quiet suite.
Both The Hilton and The Mirage are reasonably priced hotels with rooms starting at or slightly below $100 per night. Once there, always have guest services set you up with tickets for shows and attractions, it’s usually cheaper than at the box office. I have flown to Vegas on JetBlue out of Long Beach and you can catch some pretty good rates, but I usually drive up the I-15. Nothing like packing your car with food and booze to last you through a rowdy weekend. Cheers, travel friends!