The flight into Las Vegas is offers a view unlike any other, especially at night. Just wait until you see the Vegas Strip. As those neon-clad palaces rise out of the desert, two things come to mind. On is universal optimism—everyone’s a winner on the flight into town. The other is that scene at the end of Ocean’s Eleven (the Clooney version … beg your pardon, Mr. Sinatra) when the crew walks out of Terry Benedict’s casino vault with $150 million stuffed in gym bags.
So Brad Pitt’s not in your traveling party? And you haven’t hatched a complex, yet foolproof plan to knock off three packed houses on fight night? No matter. Las Vegas holds something for everyone, from people watchers (cost = free) to high rollers. Don’t forget about what’s waiting for you off the Vegas Strip. There’s plenty of action away from the casinos; all you have to do is look for it.
Now there are those who would plan their trip around a show: Cher, Elton, Cirque de Soleil. Let’s assume you’re not one of them. (Or maybe you are, in which case you’d better book those tickets now. They’re selling like hotcakes.)
In between the shows, the shopping and hours spent poolside, you just might have time to catch a few cards, pull some slots or just watch from the rail. After all, you’re in Vegas, baby, to see, be seen and find a little action in the casinos.
For your next trip to this desert playground, tear out these pages and tuck them in your pocket. You’ll hit the hotspots, find some hidden gems, and (hopefully) you won’t have to fly home wearing nothing but a barrel.
Places To See
Wynn Las Vegas: $2.7 billion, AAA five-diamond /Mobil five-star masterpiece at the north end of the Strip. Designed “from the inside out,” you won’t see any pirate battles, dancing fountains, or roller coasters from the sidewalk out front. Inside you’ll find the city’s only Ferrari-Maserati casino/dealership (there’s a $10 admission fee unless you’re a registered Ferrari or Maserati owner); the spectacular Lake of Dreams; the Wynn Art Collection with works by Cezanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Manet, Matisse and Picasso; 15 restaurants and more than two dozen high-end shops.
The Venetian: Built on the site of the legendary Sands Hotel (the staff loves it when you ask to see the Copa Room), this massive homage to Venice comes complete with motorized gondola rides along a signature canal. Visit the Las Vegas Madame Tussaud’s and the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum then hit the Grand Canal Shoppes or get your fill in one of the resort’s 17 restaurants.
Mandalay Bay: A tropical paradise featuring the 11-acre Mandalay Beach, which might as well own the title “Best Pool of Las Vegas.” Try one of two restaurants at the beach, or one of the resort’s 22 others, including Aureole where the dry-aged beef will star in a meal you won’t soon forget. Aureole’s four-story wine tower is a vision, with its own Wine Angels—stewards who ascend the tower to retrieve your bottle. There’s also a House of Blues here, but the coolest part is the House of Blues Foundation Room on the hotel’s top floor, with a killer view of the Strip.
Places To Be Seen
Pure, Caesars Palace: Swanky and oh-so-upscale, Pure at Caesars Palace is a series of contemporary rooms filled with music and beautiful people. The main room, a dance club version of a “clean room,” is a vision in white. White curtains frame the dance floor. The finishing touch is the raised platforms surrounding the floor, which hold comfortable over-sized beds for socializing. The lucky few (and we mean the very, very lucky and the very, very few) get the opportunity to visit the Red Room—Pure’s exclusive VIP room. If you’re not lucky enough to see it in person, check it out online at vegas.com/nightclubs/pure/.
Rain Nightclub, The Palms: One of the newest hotel casinos, located near the Strip, houses one of the most unique nightclub experiences in Las Vegas. Rain is 25,000 square feet of special effects, mosaic tile, glass, bamboo and fog machines. A 16-foot wall of water, with dancing jets, makes the name a fitting one. Feeling like a VIP? You can enjoy one of the many private cabanas that overlook the main dance floor or try out the water booths, patent leather banquettes filled with water.
Places To Find Your Inner Doyle Brunson
The Mirage: The Mirage was the first of the modern mega-resorts on the Strip and it’s still one of the best. The poker room, immortalized in the movie Rounders, features 30 tables, a non-smoking atmosphere, and peerless management.
Bellagio: Here you might find the actual Doyle Brunson, and countless other poker pros, since many of them refer to the Bellagio poker room as “The Office” and the high-limit table as “The Big Game.”
Caesars Palace: An elegant, spacious room (8,500 square feet with a separate tournament area) that caters to players of all experience levels, at a variety of betting limits.
Places With Lots Of Slots
The Palms: Routinely ranked as having the best-paying slots in town, The Palms boasts more than 2,000 machines with limits as low as a nickel. For no-fuss / no-muss gamblers, you won’t need a giant cup full of grimy coins here. Players pay and play using paper tickets.
LVH (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton): This could be the only place on Earth where Star Trek and Elvis, who played here until his death in 1977, meet. Check out the wide range of slots (ranging from a penny to high-limit), Megabucks, and Super Megabucks machines. And blast off in the SpaceQuest, a space station-themed casino with its own unique brand of slots.
Vegas Club: Go straight to the back of this casino, located in the heart of the Fremont Street Experience. There you’ll find an entire section of the casino, quiet and secluded, dedicated solely to slot machines, with limits from a nickel to a dollar.
Places To Play The Ponies Or Bet On The Colts
Bellagio: The race and sports book in the Bellagio, unofficially, has the most comfortable leather chairs in town. It’s a great place to place a wager, pull up a seat and watch about 20 games at once. But get there early; there aren’t nearly as many chairs as there are fat-cats who’d care to sit.
Caesar’s Palace: A sports lover’s paradise. The Caesar’s “book” is actually divided in two, with separate areas for horse racing and sports betting. A dozen 50-inch plasma screens provide crystal clear viewing of all the sports action. If you’re watching with friends, check out the sports seating area, where you can command your own flatscreen TV.
LVH (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton): Known (and trademarked) as the SuperBook®, this 30,000-square-foot behemoth is Nevada’s largest sports wagering venue. With seating for more than 300 guests, 40 giant-sized projection TVs, and the ability to broadcast more than three dozen sporting events at the same time, the possibilities for sensory overload are endless. And when you’re talking about sports, sensory overload is a very good thing.
Places To Play On A Budget
Casino Royale: Downtown Vegas routinely sets lower minimum bet limits than the Strip — after all, billion-dollar resorts aren’t paid by penny slots. But wedged in between Harrah’s and The Venetian, right in the middle of the Strip, is this little slice of downtown-style gambling. Casino Royale routinely runs $3 and $5 craps tables, and pays up to 100x odds. Look for $5 blackjack tables here, too.
El Cortez: The recently renovated casino, downtown on Fremont Street, hasn’t lost any of its Old School charm. You’ll find about 1,000 slot machines, quarter roulette, craps with 10x odds, and an ample number of single- and double-deck blackjack games that still pay the full 3:2 on your bet when you hit a blackjack. Beware, many casinos have reduced the blackjack payout to 6:5 on single-deck games.
The Orleans: Located a couple of miles west of the Strip (the south end), is an all-in-one-stop for gaming and entertainment. More than 3,000 slot machines, a 24-hour Keno lounge, and, at times, $3 blackjack. Here you’ll also find a bowling alley, an 18-screen Cinemark movie theater, and the Orleans Arena, home to the Las Vegas Wranglers developmental league hockey team.
In its second century, the once-sleepy railroad town is now the fastest growing city in the United States, fueled by the massive growth of the hospitality, gaming and entertainment industries. From the Rat Pack to Blue Man Group, the Entertainment Capital of the World is a master of reinvention. And while the skyline is seemingly always changing— with a new mega-resort opening almost annually—that nighttime view from the airplane window still incites goose bumps.