Visiting Las Vegas for the first time can be quite overwhelming. There are the lights, the sounds, the massive casino resort hotels that go on forever, the crowds on the sidewalks, the jumbotrons, the drinks, the slot machines, the music – it all combines to cause almost complete sensory overload. There are so many choices: where to stay, where to drink, where to eat, which shows to see. Just walking around is a challenge since everything is designed to distract and attract.
Since visiting Las Vegas at least two times per year for the past 10 years, I’ve naturally developed some favorite places to stay, drink, eat and visit based on quality, atmosphere, and service. If day- or night-clubbing is your thing, go ahead and click away to another article since this one focuses mainly on relaxation in Sin City. Of course, there is much more to see and do in Las Vegas than what is covered in this short article: Downtown, Hoover Dam, premium outlet shopping, and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts are just a few examples. I’ve said nothing about gaming since that subject could fill terabytes of disk space. All of the recommendations in this article are based on my personal experience and no compensation whatsoever was given for my reviews.
Where To Stay In Las Vegas
The Las Vegas strip has no shortage of massive casino hotels; however, some are much better than others. In my experience, here are the best:
Encore (at Wynn). Pros: Beautifully designed hotel and property; attentive service; great food and beverage options; luxury not found anywhere else in Las Vegas; all rooms are suites; relaxing; very good smoke filtering systems with scented air. Cons: Even with room discounts, it always costs more to stay at this property.
Cosmopolitan. Pros: Beautiful, hip hotel with a high energy level; very good food and beverage options; centrally located at City Center; some rooms have large walk-out balconies and views of the Bellagio fountains; great pools. Cons: Very loud at night due to the night-club crowd; rooms and hallway areas sometimes show signs of wear and tear.
Vdara. Pros: Sleek and contemporary; non-smoking; non-gaming; centrally located at City Center directly across from Aria; easy bridge access to Bellagio; street access to Cosmopolitan; hotel has a small horizontal footprint so getting to the room from the lobby is quick; friendly and attentive service; dog friendly; less expensive than other options yet still feels luxurious. Cons: Limited food and beverage options; pool is somewhat lacking in ambience and cocktail service.
Bellagio. Pros: Beautiful property; luxurious; the fountains; the conservatory; very good food and beverage choices; centrally located between City Center and Caesar’s Palace; beautiful pools. Cons: Public areas can be very crowded with people (not guests of the
hotel) just looking at the
fountains and conservatory.
Buffets In Las Vegas
If buffets are your thing, there are several hotels that have it covered. I’ve tried other buffets (not listed here) in Las Vegas with great disappointment and in one case, got severe food poisoning. The three options listed here are the only buffets I have found to be consistent in quality and value.
Wicked Spoon Buffet At Cosmopolitan. Superb food with the best presentation (individual mini-portions already prepared) in Las Vegas; lots of vegetarian options; American; Italian; Asian; gelato bar; bottomless beverage option available for
The Buffet At Wynn. Excellent; premium selections (steak, seafood); wide variety (American, Italian, French, Asian); bottomless beverage option available for
The Buffet At Bellagio. Very good; massive, traditional buffet with American and Asian selections; large peeled shrimp; bottomless beverage option available for an up-charge.
Dining In Las Vegas
The restaurants listed here are personal favorites, but there are many, many more with great food and service.
Bardot Brasserie At Aria.
Superb French cuisine by Michael Mina; excellent service; champagne cart; absolutely delicious Oak-smoked Duroc pork chop; attentive craft cocktail service at the bar.
Javier’s At Aria. Delicious, upscale Mexican food served in a beautifully designed dark space located right off the casino floor; coin style margaritas. My only wish is for friendlier service at the bar.
Vice/Versa At Vdara. Convenient lobby bar/café with outdoor seating options; attentive service; delicious and inventive bar bites (including lobster sliders); happy hour deals and a monthly craft cocktail special.
Holstein’s At Cosmopolitan. Great burgers with many topping options; everything is house-made from the buns to the ketchup; very good french fries.
STK At Cosmopolitan. Dance music (70’s, 80’s, 90’s fun); perfectly grilled steak; delectable parmesan truffle fries that stay hot forever; cocktails. Definitely not a quiet or relaxing dinner, but then it is at the
Lavo At Palazzo. Delicious Italian food; generous portions; good service; beautiful atmosphere. Not to be confused the the nightclub of the same name, which is located on an upper floor above
Cocktails In Las Vegas
Drink prices in strip properties have gone through the roof lately — think $18 plus for a martini and the pour just keeps getting smaller all the time. However, if you’re going to sit at a bar, relax and pay for a drink, you might as well go for the best as I have found pricing is consistent even in the worst strip dumps.
The Chandelier Bar At Cosmopolitan (top level). Friendly and attentive service during the day; can be a bit impersonal and hectic at night due to the adjacent Marquis club crowd squeezing in for drinks before heading to the club; some unusual craft cocktails (there is one drink that changes flavors with each sip).
Lobby Bar At Encore. Always great service with bartenders who will remember what you’re drinking; good bar bites; delicious complimentary bar nuts and nibbles are offered with cocktails; luxurious atmosphere; restrooms nearby.
Mandarin Bar At Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Stunning 23rd floor strip views; craft cocktails prepared in a back room; quiet; dark; sophisticated; an adventure just finding out how to get to the bar; dress
Petrossian Bar At Bellagio. Live pianist; reserved yet attentive service; a trio of complimentary bar nibbles are offered with cocktails; great for people watching as the look-see crowds stroll through the lobby on their way to the conservatory and fountains.
Shows And Attractions On The Las Vegas Strip
Seeing a show, concert, or headliner in Las Vegas is practically a requirement for visiting Las Vegas. Check current listings/schedules for performances at The Coliseum At Caesar’s Palace, The Flamingo, Wynn, The Venetian, Planet Hollywood, Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand since dates and artists vary greatly. Your hotel concierge can also be a resource for getting great tickets to shows.
Beatles Love At Mirage. Cirque de Soleil production running more than five years; visually stunning production accompanied by many of the Beatles’ greatest hits. Check show times and ticket prices online or at the box office.
Fountains At Bellagio. Incredible dancing fountains; shows usually start at 3pm each day and run every 30 minutes until midnight unless prevented by high winds. Free.
Conservatory At Bellagio. Beautiful floral display adjacent to the lobby of Bellagio; changes seasonally. Free.
Volcano Eruption At Mirage. Fire and water combine in this elaborate fountain that seems like a volcano; nightly show every hour unless prevented by high winds. Free.
Lake Of Dreams At Wynn. Visually stunning production adjacent to the Parasol Down Bar at Wynn; combines water, lighting effects, image projection and animatronics for one-song shows every 30 minutes. Free; however, a cocktail purchase is required to remain in the lounge/viewing area.
Getting Around And Other Tips
A car is not really necessary on the Las Vegas strip. Transportation options include a monorail behind the hotels on the west side of the strip, double-decker- and express-buses that run along the strip, as well as abundant taxi cabs. However, be warned that a taxi fare on strip can escalate quickly due to traffic jams. Wear comfortable shoes as walking is the easiest way to get around. Getting to/from the airport can usually be done reliably by taxi cab but always ask the estimated fare before getting in the cab. In the past Las Vegas had a problem with tourists being long-hauled from/to the airport; however, the taxi commission has successfully addressed the problem for now. Otherwise, private car/limo transportation can be arranged through your hotel concierge.
Weekends are very busy in Las Vegas and that’s generally when hotel room rates are higher. Friday and Saturday nights also tend to draw young Los Angeles residents who like to party hard and hotel security staffs seem to spend much effort trying keeping them in line. Weeknights can also be quite busy, especially if there are several large conventions in town but the attendees are somewhat more mature and better behaved. Christmas time in Las Vegas is usually pretty quiet and actually enjoyable if one does not like large crowds. Room rates are generally lowest in December but expect surcharges for buffets around holidays. Avoid Thanksgiving due to the massive influx of families