Las Vegas – Look at Me Now

Written by Diane Webster.

I was shocked the day I realized that it had been eight years since my husband, Bob, and I had been to Las Vegas. It seemed like just yesterday (ok, I know I’m getting older) when we were going to Las Vegas at least once a year and were “regulars” at the Caesars Palace slot tournaments. It was definitely time to go back and we decided to go for a week. We had a lot of catching up to do and wanted time for some of Vegas’s other famous sites, like Hoover Dam, which we somehow never managed to see.

Wow! I expected to see changes, but in Vegas, lakes are created, palaces built and new worlds erected in a mere eight years time. If you haven’t been to Las Vegas in a while, you simply must go.

The first thing we noticed was how much the geography had changed. The strip has been extended and a crop of new casinos now exist around the once lonely Tropicana. Even within the area we recognized as the strip, new, beautiful properties have taken the place of the old Sands, Dunes, Landmark, Hacienda, and Pioneer. Caesars Palace used to be the plushest property in Vegas. I’d be hard pressed to know which one deserves that title now. We stayed at the Mandalay Bay, certainly a contender for the title, but I suspect that the Bellagio, Venetian, Paris and the ever-expanding Caesars are all in the running. Our hotel had a wonderful assortment of swimming pools – a wave pool, lazy river current pool, a large “regular pool” and a whirlpool. I’ve heard that there is a topless pool – but, much to Bob’s disappointment, we didn’t find that one. My overall impression was that Vegas had definitely up scaled and grown up.

At the time of our last visit, there was a campaign to promote family travel to Vegas. Save for a few specialty casino’s, most traces of that are now gone and Vegas is back to doing what it does best – providing an adult fantasy world. More of the shows and open lounges are clearly adult orientated. We walked by a lounge called Shadows that had a huge back-lit screen revealing the shadow of an apparently naked woman dancing behind it. Your little ones might prefer shadow puppets, but there were plenty of adult men that seemed happily entertained. While Vegas is now catering more to adults, there are still plenty of activities children will enjoy. The shift to adult entertainment simply means you’ll want to plan more carefully and Classic Travel will help you with that.

The up scaling of Vegas is obvious not only in the beautiful properties, but in the food and shopping. You can still find many reasonable buffets, sandwiches and the like, but if you want to try something different, the options seem endless. World renowned chefs have restaurants next door to each other – it’s like a food court of fine dining! Wolfgang Puck has four restaurants there (we ate at two of them–one twice), Emeril Lagasse, Charlie Palmer and many, many, more. And, you can get into these places easily! We would usually stop by in the afternoon and make a reservation for that evening. Try that in New York! We even went to a few places without reservations. We did that at Emeril’s and were told that their tables were booked, but they had seats at the bar. We took them, and the food was not only delicious, but we enjoyed the company of the servers who shared stories with us while preparing appetizers for the packed house. I also recommend The House of Blues where the food and decor are eclectic, and a delight. My favorite on this trip was Wolfgang’s Trattoria Del Lupo. In my two visits there I tried the oven baked shrimp appetizer, leek soup, ravioli, baby lobster tail with risotto (the best); and for my husband – they have pizza – it was perfect! On my birthday, Bob had made arrangements for a desert. When I arrived, our server, Jason, was extremely pleasant, and greeted me with “Happy Birthday”. When it came time for dessert, he presented me with a beautiful tiramisu with a candle, happy birthday written in chocolate sauce on the plate, and a card from Wolfgang. I was in hog heaven!

Fueled with a good meal, you can hit the shops. Where was that big jackpot when I needed it! The shopping has been greatly expanded beyond the Fashion Mall (which is still a very nice mall) to include shops within the casinos like Tiffany’s, Armani’s, Channel’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t win enough to buy anything there, but I did succumb to my biggest weakness. Shoe lovers beware; you’ll find entire shops of Ferragamo, Gucci, Rockport, and at least three Kenneth Cole stores—there is only so much a girl can resist! The shops are an attraction in themselves, but there are other attractions within the casinos as well.

We did our traditional trek down town and saw the light show. Little has changed downtown, but we always like to pay tribute to the area where it all began. We also went to the Monet exhibit at the Bellagio; took the Gondola ride at the Venetian; and went to the Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay. We volunteered to watch, and rate, a new pilot TV show (with Jason Alexander) at the MGM–I always wondered who got to do that. I’m not sure if it’s because it coincides with the attention span of the average Vegas traveler, or because they want to keep you playing in the casino, but most exhibits last about a half hour to an hour. I was riding in the elevator with a man who told me he saw Cirque Du Soleil the night before. I ask him how it was, and he said, “The first half hour of it was fine, but then it went on…. and….on”. See what I mean! Mind you, I agree–there is so much to do (yes, I love to gamble too), that anything that keeps you away from the slots or tables for over an hour seems too long.

We’ll be back to Vegas soon. We realized how much we missed it, and how much we missed by being away for years. Really, it’s just so much fun that even a week didn’t seem long enough. As for Hoover Dam, well… there’s always next time.

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