Best of Las Vegas: 14 Favorite Moments

Elvis (okay...his wax replica) hasn't left the building at Madame Tussaud's, and there are lots of other famous people keeping him company. Gail Mooney/drr.net
Elvis sang "Viva, Las Vegas," wishing there were more than 24 hours in the day to spend in the city that set his soul on fire. But some respond by saying, "Yeah, it's not my kind of thing." For me, that's like saying the Grand Canyon isn't your kind of thing. Sure, the latter is one of the great natural wonders of the world, but Las Vegas is the great unnatural wonder of the world. It's a life experience like no other. It has to be seen to be believed, and to see it is to experience it. And once you have, you may be singing along with the King, because even in a 24/7 kind of town, there aren't enough hours to handle it all. My favorite picks should help you manage this sprawling mass of fun.
View Next Slide
The Las Vegas Strip at night. Ryan Fox/AGE Fotostock
The heart of the city, a 13-block stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South, is lined left and right with behemoth hotel casino resorts, all wonders of excess and each with its own particular absurd delight, from gaudy outside decor to attention-grabbing free attractions to a theme run amok. It's less spectacular during the day, but the lights at night are so head -spinning you might be too distracted to take it all in. Truth be told, it's too far to walk in one go, so plan to do it in stretches.
View Next Slide
The Roller Coaster at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. rezsox
It's Vegas, after all, and even if you don't want to drop a dime (though isn't that partly what you came here for?), you'll want to see what's inside those flashy facades. The trend has been toward resort spas on steroids -- what would be quiet good taste were it on a smaller scale -- but there is still plenty, from ancient Egypt and Rome to medieval Venice to a scaled-down New York City to keep you agog. Remember, in other cities, hotels are built near the attractions. In Vegas, they are the attractions.
View Next Slide
Mustang Sally is among Glitter Gulch's most famous icons. Gail Mooney/Masterfile
The original heart of the city, the pedestrian-only section of Fremont Street comes as a relief after the overwhelming Strip. Sure, there's still sensory overload, but the scale is such that by comparison, it's practically small-town Main Street. Each casino is an easy distance from the next, the crowds seem less daunting, and you don't have to jostle for position to view the overhead Fremont Street Experience light show.
View Next Slide
This slideshow is brought to you by our advertisers:
Click NEXT to continue reading.
Stuff yourself silly at one of the city's many buffets; it's a quintessential Vegas experience. Paul Cichocki/FremontStock.com
All-you-can-eat, low-cost buffets have long been a symbol of the city's bargain vacation status. Vegas is no longer a bargain, but the buffets remain, though similarly increased in price. Still, the sight of rows of prep stations, offering varieties of international and American cuisine, not to mention mounds of shrimp and prime rib, remains a sybaritic treat. And though prices have gone up, so has quality -- and it's still cheaper than multicourses at a costly restaurant. The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas Buffet is tops in appeal, though also in price.
View Next Slide
Inside Jet Nightclub. Paul Cichocki/FremontStock.com
Vegas rivals L.A. and N.Y.C. for in its nightlife scene, with every hotel offering multiple nightclubs, lounges, and bars that draw hordes of partiers vying for attention behind the velvet ropes. You have to endure long lines and high prices, but the wild abandon inside is why they came up with that "What happens in Vegas..." catchphrase. The hottest of the hot right now is Marquee, a massive, multi-room club with a little something for every taste.
View Next Slide
Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada Frommers.com Community
An unexpected oasis in the midst of the Strip's pleasurable madness. Visitors can watch these playful mammals swim and frolic in a meticulously designed environment; they'll even interact a bit thanks to cute and lively trainers, glorying in the best job in Vegas. Take as long as you like to enjoy the dolphins' company; if you are really lucky, they might even play ball with you.
View Next Slide
Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile Shops is one of the best hotel shopping arcades on the Strip. Paul Cichocki/FremontStock.com
Vegas is a shopper's paradise only if you don't demand cute, quirky, and original stores. In other words, chains and other recognizable names rule the day, but rule they do, in shopping centers largely attached to the casino hotels and every bit as extravagantly designed. From Versace to Old Navy, there is something for every budget, and in the case of The Forum Shops, it's all set in an overblown Roman street-scape that adds fanciful (if not tasteful) glamour. Buy some shoes in between rounds of blackjack -- maybe your winnings will pay for them!
View Next Slide
This slideshow is brought to you by our advertisers:
Click NEXT to continue reading.
These rubber-jointed contortionists are only one of the many delights found in Cirque du Soleil's sublime O. Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil
The tacky post-vaudevillian variety shows that were once the standard for Strip entertainment have almost entirely vanished in favor of the great many offerings from the idiosyncratic human circus, Cirque du Soleil. Truth be told, there can be too much of a good thing, and at six different shows and counting (and another was ramping up at press time), not every one is worth the high ticket price. But the good ones certainly are, so much so that it's hard to choose. Right now, my favorite is KÀ at the MGM Grand, a near-perfect blend of Cirque artistry, athleticism, visuals, and storytelling.
View Next Slide
The topless Vegas revue may be dying, but Jubilee!, with its signature showgirls, lives on. Courtesy of Bally's Las Vegas
Classic, over-the-top (not to mention topless) Vegas revues are a dying breed, hedged out by special-effects-laden modern productions and just a modicum of good taste. But if you are nostalgic for some old-fashioned glamour and barely naughty fun, come see the pinnacle of what was once the dominant theatrical art form in town, the shameless and delightful Jubilee!
View Next Slide
An exhibit inside the Smithsonian-affiliated Atomic Testing Museum, one of the best museums in the city. Courtesy of Atomic Testing Museum
With the National Atomic Testing Museum, the city delivers something unexpected and otherwise unique. For four decades, Sin City's neighbor was the country's primary nuclear weapons testing ground. This admirable facility offers perspectives, technical and personal, on the science and implications of the work done there.
View Next Slide
The famous magical duo of Penn & Teller show off their skills and sense of humor at the Rio. Courtesy of Penn & Teller
All the big names in show business did stands of varying lengths in Vegas. And though the decline of the Rat Pack left a longtime hole in the name-brand entertainment market, big deals such as Celine Dion, Penn & Teller, Garth Brooks, and Elton John have taken up residency at various showrooms. Ticket availability varies, as do the performance schedules.
View Next Slide
This slideshow is brought to you by our advertisers:
Click NEXT to continue reading.
For masterful French cuisine in an equally inspired setting, look no further than Joël Robuchon at the Mansion. Courtesy of MGM Grand
A number of celebrity chefs have set up outposts in town, but only at Joël Robuchon at the Mansion (in the MGM Grand) can you dine on the work of the youngest chef in history to win three consecutive Michelin stars. It'll cost you, make no mistake about it, but it's also been hailed by the country's most prominent food critics as some of the finest French food on the continent. You won't regret spending the big bucks.
View Next Slide
Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas Naomi Kraus
Less than 20 miles (32km) from the overstimulated artifice of Vegas is one of the great wonders of the natural world, an impossible set of sandstone monoliths stretching across an unspoiled vista. Take a car through the 13-mile (21km) scenic drive, or hike around on your own and marvel at what is possible given a mere 300 million years or so.
View Next Slide
The pool at the Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino in Las Vegas. Courtesy Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino
There are so many Vegas hotel possibilities, but for a truly relaxing experience, you have to get off the Strip. For pampering luxury, I like the M Resort, an actual boutique property where the rooms are fabulously appointed, the spa and pool are great, and the staff is friendly. And it's just a short drive away from all the major Vegas action. If only they'd lose the "resort fee" -- the sort of money-grubbing best left to one-arm bandits.
View Next Slide
advertisement
advertisement