Fabulous Las Vegas

14 01 2008

Although almost everyone has heard of Las Vegas, many people have never actually set foot into this almost magical city in the desert. The reputation of this city has at times reached mythical levels, as it combines so many superlatives. Also known as Sin City, Las Vegas is infamous, seedy, glamorous, and lavish all at once. Even among those who have visited, the city has transformed so much in the last twenty years that they may not recognize it. Once a city of vice known for quickie divorces that was controlled by the mob and an eccentric tycoon, the city has become the premiere gambling and convention capital of the world. Gigantic themed mega resorts line the famous Las Vegas Strip, aka Las Vegas Boulevard, while older, more historical hotel casinos hug the downtown area. Once the mega casinos began moving in, a real city rose to support the growth, driving up the real estate market in this area.

Welcome to Las Vegas!

Since the city is located in the middle of nowhere in the desert, everything must be flown or trucked in, which contributes to the artificial, over-the-top, and man-made feel of the place. Gigantic water features in many of the hotels, most notably the musical Bellagio fountains and the waterfalls at Wynn, almost seem to represent the human conquering of the desert.

Las Vegas from the Plane

A view of the strip from the plane. This photo is from 2005, so it excludes some of the newest resorts.

Our first visit to this strange but wonderful city was in 2005. My first impression of Las Vegas was that it felt like an adult Disney World. Since virtually every hotel has a casino, only adults are allowed into most of the hotel areas. However, every hotel has a strong theme that is pervasive in all of its decor and entertainment.  If it’s your first time to Las Vegas, count on at least an entire day just walking through and gawking at all the different casinos.

Paris, the Venetian, New York New York, Excalibur, and Luxor are among the most obvious themes. Even the former crown jewel, the magnificent Bellagio Hotel and Casino featured in Ocean’s 11, is based on the Italian countryside outside of Lake Como. Some of the wackier hotels are Circus Circus, the Rio, and Excalibur.

Bellagio

A view of the Bellagio from a Paris hotel room.

New York New York Casino

New York New York

The theme of the newest mega resort, Wynn, is over the top luxury as far as I can tell. They have an 18 hole golf course on the Strip and several waterfalls, all in the middle of the desert.

Wynn

Steve Wynn’s latest creation… Wynn.

While gambling is its major source of revenue and its most prominent feature, Las Vegas offers much more than just gambling. All kinds of entertainment abound, including Broadway shows, magic shows, variety shows, and traditional revues, not to mention concerts and Cirque du Soleil. We have personally experienced Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE (review here) and Penn and Teller, the comedy magic team, and have highly enjoyed both performances.

Penn

In addition, over the last few years Las Vegas has experienced an explosion in the culinary sphere. Almost every celebrity chef has at least one restaurant in Vegas, including such luminaries as Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, and even Bobby Flay and Emeril. There is truly something for everyone, and something to do 24/7 year-round.

Furthermore, because of the international clientele, there is truly a wide variety of food to choose from, and ethnic foods are fairly authentic.  Case in point, Las Vegas is a huge destination for tourists and businessmen from Asia who love to gamble, particularly the Chinese. There is even a small Chinatown in the suburbs of Las Vegas. Each casino has at least one Chinese restaurant and a Japanese place, sometimes more. We recently returned from our latest trip to Las Vegas the week before Christmas, and found that both Wang Lee-Hom and Jacky Cheung were performing. The casinos are in the business of getting guests to stay as long as possible, so it is only logical that the Chinese food in Las Vegas is quite authentic.

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