Welcome to the land of drive-through weddings, flying Elvises and million-dollar questions. Las Vegas: It’s not just for weddings anymore. There are many, many flights in and out of Vegas from Houston. In fact, one in four visitors here is from Texas. That means you’ll feel right at home. Heck, you might even run into some of your neighbors here.
When you head to the airport for a 6 p.m. flight, you’ll actually get to Vegas by 7 p.m., Pacific Time. The green beaming lights of the Luxor greet you from the air and beckon you to the famous strip. The hotels are so overwhelming that it’s really hard to determine where to stay, they all look alluring.
As my dad says, “They wouldn’t all be so big if people didn’t lose a lot of money here.” That may be true, but it sure does make for some beautiful hotels.
Choose The Venetian, well, because of the shopping. Where else will you find Venice-style canals, Kenneth Cole and Cache? You are also only a couple of heeled steps from the Fashion Mall that includes Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Macy’s and more.
If you’d like to be farther up the strip, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay is the hottest ticket. This swanky address uses the same casino as the Mandalay Bay, but has a separate resort pool and spa. You’ll feel like a rock star just standing in the lobby.
Walk the strip and see the sights In front of the Mirage, the waterfall explodes into a fire-brimming volcano at the top of each hour. This is a great photo op. You can also peek in and see the famous Siegfried and Roy royal white tigers – yes they are still on display.
At Caesars Palace, the statues of the Greek gods come to life and tell their story. The dancing fountains at the Bellagio spray to the beat of the music. “Proud to Be an American” will bring a tear to your eye every time. This is also the home of the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil “O.” Stop in the bar and have a bellini, and then enjoy the flower gardens that are meticulously maintained for your enjoyment.
Try your luck downtown We love to go downtown because the stakes are lower. That’s right, you’ll find dollar black-jack tables and even penny slots. It’s great if you’re just getting the hang of gambling or if you’ve already squandered your savings away. The Fremont Street Experience offers a free light show every night.
It’s not all gambling
Make sure you are one of the first people in line at the Stratosphere, Las Vegas and you can take a one-of-a-kind ride. The needle at the top of the building has four seats on each side. Those strapped in to these lucky seats get to shoot upward using nearly four Gs of gravity. Like being in a fast-moving elevator, you definitely lose your stomach on this ride. From the lookout area, you get a great view of the Las Vegas Strip. (There is a roller coaster here, but if you have to choose one, choose the one in New York, New York.)
For a great poolside adventure, dive into the Mandalay Bay. The beach theme is executed with a circular wave pool that will take you away for hours. And yes, that’s real sand you feel between your toes.
Rita Rudner has found a permanent home at New York, New York. As you wait for her performance, you hear a strange sound. At first you don’t know what it is, until you realize it’s the roller coaster that goes through the lobby (the one you should ride). Rita’s show changes slightly with the season, but her constant theme of poking fun at the differences between men and women shines through.
Lately, any chef worth his weight in poker chips has landed in Vegas to make his mark. And most every hotel has a steakhouse. The Hard Rock Café, although off the strip, is no exception, and AJ’s Steakhouse does not disappoint with fine cuts of meat and a great lounge atmosphere.
For one of the finest dining experiences around, try Michael Mina at Bellagio. The seafood spectacular is all about presentation. It took three staff members to present and prepare our tuna tartar, mixing all ingredients at the table.
Or, dine right next to Bellagio’s dancing fountains at Olives. Chef Todd English does it again with his Mediterranean offerings. For a different view of the fountains, Olives offers a perfect respite from the hot Vegas sun – and the fountains entertain you every 30 minutes.
Le Café Île St. Louis in the Paris Hotel is open 24 hours and has a great selection of sandwiches and salads. For an upscale escape, the Four Seasons is an out-of-the-way culinary adventure.
One of the new additions to restaurant row at The Venetian is AquaKnox, global water cuisine. This high-energy location cools you down with flowing water on all sides and the freshest seafood flown in daily. The seafood plateau includes mussels, oysters, ceviche, lobster, stone crabs, prawns and clams.
Stop by the outdoor café Mon Ami Gabi. Reminiscent of an actual French café, here you can enjoy coffee and watch passersby. Don’t miss the wine cart that comes around. The Mon Ami Gabi Beausoleil is light and fruity – perfect for a hot day.
Cross the walkway and enter the lion’s den for a lion’s share of food. Years ago, when you entered the MGM Grand, you actually walked into the mouth of a lion. Apparently, this was considered bad luck by Japanese tourists, and the entrance was changed. Each casino has one, and this evening we chose the MGM Grand Buffet. You can select from pizza, pasta, fish, steak, salad fixings, fruit and dessert.
If you’re hungry for an upscale steak, Drai’s in the Barbary Coast is a mainstay on the strip for a reason. With prime Angus beef and a wine list to match, Drai’s is always a winner.
One of the most famous buffets in town is at the Rio. If this line is too long, we suggest the seafood buffet. It costs a little more, but the food is fresh and the options abound.
Dance all night at the MGM’s Studio 54. This two-level dance club greets you with three dance floors, swinging girls and red-leather-clad dancers on pillars. The music rotates and includes much more than just disco.
The swank Tabu ultra lounge features a bar lined with glass-enclosed bottles and three rooms of square tables and couches. Interesting note: The girls with the biggest hair always seem to dance on the tables.
Mandalay Bay offers some of the best nightlife around. Entering the ever-so-trendy Rum Jungle reveals just how far a bars’ décor can go. The inside wall has a waterfall, and girls in white bathing suits dance overhead in cages. The show really begins when the girls perform trapeze-like tricks swinging from the ceiling. And if you’ve made your move to the VIP list, the Foundation Room at the Mandalay Bay offers a great view of the strip as well as private rooms.
To get a complete view of the skyline, try VooDoo Lounge at the Rio. Live jazz music belts out nightly, and there is usually a line to enjoy the vantage point. Everyone dances till dawn at Cleopatra’s Barge in Caesar’s Palace. The V Bar at the Venetian is a one-room ultra-trendy bar with long rectangular couches, chairs and a swanky vibe.
Try Skin, the pool area turned hipster club at the Palms Hotel. Go-go dancers entertain behind lit colored walls and on platforms in the center of the pool.
There are many world-class spas in Las Vegas. The most famous is Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian. You can work out in the gym for $35 per day – so, you might as well just sign up for a facial and massage. That way, you can work out and enjoy a treatment. H