What happens in Vegas is plenty

Posted August 18, 2008

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— It’s a sure bet that if all Las Vegas offered was gambling, it would not be America’s most colorful and popular city destination. After all, more than half of the states today offer some type of legalized gaming.

Vegas lures with top-name entertainment, restaurants with celebrity chefs, weddings and honeymoons, reunions, area sightseeing, movie premieres, golfing and curiosity about one of world’s most dazzling and glittering cities.

Las Vegas tallied 39 million visitors in 2007. Singles, couples, groups and conventions set a record for the city that never sleeps and advertises “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” – emphasizing this city is for adults and adult lifestyles.

For some, Las Vegas’ desert location creates opportunities to use the city as a sightseeing base. The Valley of Fire State Park, for example, a one-hour drive from the city, is little publicized but has 150-million-years-old red sandstone formations that look like some other planet.

The Shows

Cirque Du Soleil – Five different versions dot the Las Vegas landscape. We choose the original – Mystere at Treasure Island Casino. Acrobats swirled about the often-changing stage set, and for 90 minutes, the audience laughed, gasped and applauded. Drums pounded, a luminescent cube rolled, jumpers flitted about like flies on six tall, steel poles, a pair of brothers exhibited super-human strength, bungee cords flexed, trampolines were hopped and an aerial high-bar act performed. A mischievous clown and over-sized baby cut the tension with numerous antics.

Lance Burton: Master Magician – Magic shows are easier to find in Las Vegas than a poker game. We chose Burton, who performs at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, because he has been a name performer ever since he arrived in town in 1982 at age 22. With down-home humor – he’s from Louisville, Ky. – he told jokes, vanished from the stage and reappeared in the balcony seemingly instantaneously, drove a Corvette through the air, landed on stage and drove away. Burton invited several young kids on stage, getting laughs as he interviewed them and dazzled the audience with several illusions. His magic is such you know it’s not true, but you don’t know why.

Crazy Girls – For more than two decades, the Crazy Girls revue has been at the Riviera Hotel and Casino. Unlike the tackier strip clubs easily found in Vegas, Crazy Girls was our choice to see beautiful women in a choreographed adult show with various themed stories. The 10-woman cast danced and performed several vignettes to a mixed audience of adult men and women, and the show included a male juggler who interspersed comedy with his acrobatic handling of knives, bowling pins, dishes and other paraphernalia.

Penn and Teller – Seeing them perform on television made us want to see them live at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, where they have been doing a magic-comedy act for the past five years. The football player-sized Penn talks while diminutive Teller is the perfect silent partner, mining laughs with animated facial features and body language. They debunk, maybe, their magic tricks and incorporate into the show the firing of a .357 Magnum, juggling jagged liquor bottles and awing audience members brought onto stage. They describe themselves as “a couple of eccentric guys who have learned how to do a couple of cool things.” They have been together for more than 30 years and personally chat with the audience after the show.

The Meals

Periodically, some of the best chefs in the world gather in Las Vegas – many live there – for culinary events, cook-offs, book launchings or other celebratory happenings surrounding the art of food preparation and fine dining. A good meal in Las Vegas can be as satisfying as drawing a straight flush in poker.

Alex – Located in the Wynn Las Vegas, this is a AAA-rated Five Diamond restaurant so posh it should always be considered for the most special of occasions – like the wedding or anniversary dinner. The menu is French, the waiters hover and help, the prix fixe menu by Chef Alex Stratta comes with suggested wine pairings and the windows overlook a garden that says countryside, not Vegas. The restaurant is below a sweeping staircase made for grand entrances. The reminder that it is actually in Las Vegas in the Wynn comes when you get the bill. A great place to eat after you have gambled and won.

Roy’s – Everyone knows when you visit a new city, the best places to eat are patronized by locals. Roy’s was a 10-minute cab ride from The Strip to sample Roy Yamaguichi’s world famous “Hawaiian fusion cuisine,” an eclectic blend of Hawaiian ingredients – the fish dishes are special – combined in unique ways and prepared using Asian cooking techniques. With 32 restaurants worldwide, Roy’s creations have captured diner’s palates. The chefs at each restaurant had several dishes that are prepared exactly as Roy would but are also allowed to serve their own recipes. It was our most memorable meal in a relaxed, informal atmosphere with a friendly staff and great food.

Strip House – Wanting to eat at least once in a restaurant known for its steaks, we picked Strip House, located in the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. The atmosphere is rich and racy, with sultry silks, rich leathers, soft pink lighting, Studio Manasse silhouettes – all reminiscent of burlesque in the 1920s and 1930s. Executive Chef John Schenk cooks steaks like a parent dressing a baby – with love and care – yet he is most proud of his scallops, flown in daily. Another signature dish is a 24-layer chocolate cake so tasty and rich it should come with a heart attack warning from the surgeon general. Waitresses wear designer cocktail mini-dresses and have extensive knowledge of the menu.

Nob Hill – The MGM Grand has at least 19 places to eat, and we chose Nob Hill, so named because its menu reflects dishes traditionally found in San Francisco. Celebrated Chef Michael Mina, who was San Francisco Magazine Chef of the Year in 2005 and has partnered with Andre Agassi to open concept restaurants, offered a menu that included a classic cheese fondue appetizer, entrees North Beach cioppino and grilled Hawaiian Walu, finishing with desserts that included tangerine soufflé with ice cream and a chocolate-banana bread pudding. Everything was delicious, and the crowning touch was Intelligentsia fresh-roasted coffee that was reminiscent of San Francisco’s coffee house servings in the 1970s – before Starbucks.

The Hotels

The Signature – The frenetic pace of Las Vegas and its nonstop neon glam and glitter can be as exhausting as an all-night gambling binge. MGM’s The Signature is an oasis of calm connected by a lengthy hallway to the casino, and consists of three 576-suite towers with no gambling and no smoking – a Vegas rarity. Suites are junior, one or two bedrooms and all have kitchenettes and overlook a swimming pool surrounded by landscaped gardens that signals privacy and relaxation. Each tower’s lobby design differs. Ours had a black-onyx front desk, dark cherry wood trim, a white Italian marble floor and soft chairs and couches in the center. The look is clean and modern. Our room had a push-button up/down flat-screen TV that disappeared into a wooden bureau. High-speed Internet access, two phones, June Jacob’s spa amenities, 300-thread count sheets, down comforter and plush robes make guests feel like high-rollers. The 24-hour concierge service fits for the “city that never sleeps.”

Skylofts at MGM – A tour of the AAA-rated Five Diamond Skylofts keeps guests close to the Vegas action, unlike the serenity of The Signature. A private elevator from the casino floor leads to the 51 lofts that range from 1,400 to 6,000 square feet and cost from $800 to $10,000 a night. It’s a celebrity refuge MGM calls “a home away from home.” Lofts resemble a city townhouse with rooms on the 29th and 30th floors, a 24-hour butler, 14 different types of pillows and enough amenities to make an oil-rich sheik envious.

The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino – Most of our seven-day stay was at The Venetian, Las Vegas’ newest AAA Five Diamond hotel and one of the largest on the strip, with 4,027 units, a challenge for any business trying to provide top-notch service when the average Vegas stay is 3.5 days, yet the Venetian did it. Surrounded by man-made canals with gondoliers rowing guests around just like in Venice, Italy, the hotel’s size accommodates 20 restaurants, more than 50 upscale shops, five art galleries, two museums and performers in St. Mark’s Square and along the Grand Canal.

At the end of our stay, we had seen shows, eaten at fine restaurants, stayed in highly rated AAA hotels and even gambled a little bit. The wonderful memory is a highly favorable one.


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