My husband and I recently returned from a trip to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. It was my first visit back to the Strip since I was freshly 21 – so nearly 9 years ago. Let’s just say, it will probably be at least another 9 years for me to forget yet again why I am not cut out for Vegas and decide to make a return trip. That’s the schedule me and Sin City have. We reconnect every 6-9 years, realize it isn’t going to work out, and go our separate ways.
My first trip was when I was about 15. Our family was on a cross-country trek in an RV that was going to last most of the summer. I think it was around 2002 or 2003, and my main concern was making my parents as aware as possible that I was extremely upset they were forcing me on a tour of the US when all I wanted was to spend the summer with my boyfriend. Ah, the stupidity of youth. What I wouldn’t give to go on that trip now that I actually realize how awesome it was to see the Grand Canyon, the California sequoias, Yellowstone, and numerous other national treasures. One stop on our tour was Vegas, and our first date was a good one. I wandered the Strip, taking in the amazing decadence of each casino and spending my parent’s money at the shops at Caesar’s. We visited Circus Circus and rode the indoor rides. Between the lights, the shopping and the coasters, I was enamored. I couldn’t wait to go back when I was old enough to drink and gamble. It was a typical first date. We were both on our best behavior.
My second date with Vegas was a few months after my 21st birthday. My mom and my three aunts and I decided to take a girls’ weekend. We had high hopes of winning big and living large. My mom won a few hundred bucks on a slot machine. Me – I lost my modest budget of $300. I’d never seen money vanish so fast. And that’s when I learned that I hate gambling. That, and that you really shouldn’t gamble if you aren’t emotionally stable enough to lose. As a poor college student working two jobs, I worked too darn hard for my money. There is nothing worse for my competitive and logic-based brain, and my anxiety-laden psyche, then trying to figure out how to find some semblance of skill and strategy in games of pure and random chance. I did, however, enjoy the shows. We saw Bette Midler and she was absolutely fabulous. We all took a trip up the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, Bette & faux Paris weren’t enough for me to continue a love affair with Vegas. When our flight was cancelled and we were forced to spend an unplanned night in a crappy motel room off the Strip, I was cursing Vegas and vowed never to return.
Nine years had passed, and now that I was a fairly successful adult with disposable income and a wonderful husband as a travelling companion, the faults I found with Vegas in the past seemed just a matter of circumstance. I thought that this time I’d be able to set a budget and be okay if I lost the money set aside for gambling. I was wrong. By the time I’d saw my final chip lost to the roulette table, I was near tears. Why, for the love of all that is good, could I not win once?! Slots – lost. Roulette- lost. Blackjack – lost $300 in a blink. I mean, come on! I was losing my money so fast I wasn’t even able to have any fun with it. Finally, after our third date, I learned that Vegas and I just aren’t compatible. I am not one of those types who likes the thrill of trying to win big. I’d rather just keep my money. Should Vegas and I attempt to reconnect again, I’ll stick to dining, shopping and shows. The casinos and I just aren’t meant to be.
It wasn’t all bad. I scored a cute pair of black booties at a steal. I ate the most delicious Spanish tapas in the gorgeous Aria. We laughed (and cringed a bit) during a variety vaudeville and Burlesque act called Absinthe. We got a dose of political satire and incredible slight-of-hand from Penn & Teller. When the soul-sucking casino games drew our final dollar from us, we retreated to our room and paid way too much for a pay-per-view movie, but there is nothing better than curling up with my honey. After all, $20 for nearly two hours of entertainment is quite the bargain in Vegas. Alone and away from it all, Brian and I got a chance to really connect and have a few deep conversations – one while we gazed over a panoramic view of the Strip while dining on Alaskan king crab legs and filet. Oh, and we saw Britney, bitch.
Maybe I’ll give that crafty vixen one more try after all…
If you are looking for a non-gambling centered visit to Vegas, full of food and entertainment, here are my recommendations:
- If you are travelling from the East Coast, reminder that Las Vegas is on virtually the opposite side of the country. It is waaay closer to California than I remembered. We still managed to tough it out and fit in a great dinner and show. To get you in the Vegas mood, and help motivate you through the three hour time difference, do yourself a favor and check out Julian Serrano at Aria for Spanish tapas. The rioja was delicious (I only was able to have a sip because I’m preggers, but it was amazing!), the braised oxtail was the best thing on the menu, the pan con manchego was scrumptious, and there were a number of other dishes I wish I could have fit in. We made reservations, but it wasn’t too crowded on a Friday in January.
- Next, keep yourself entertained with the fast-pace and raunchy humor of Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace. Be prepared for graphic descriptions you wish you could be unheard, but some of the most incredible acrobatics you will ever see. Not suitable for children.
- Do yourself a favor and contact The Massage Couple for a wonderful in-room massage. They offer a 90-minute massage and take the stress out of reading through a million spa reviews. Prices are much more reasonable than the hotel spas (most of which aren’t that well-rated). If you prefer a spa environment, and price isn’t a concern, then there are a number of great places to check out. Either way – take some time to relax.
- After a relaxation session, head to Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris casino for a terrific French brunch. The ambiance is really great, and the food was amazing. We recommend the baked goat cheese and mussels. The fresh French baguettes are addicting, and the chocolate mousse is superb. Reservations are a must!
- For the evening, pick one of the many concerts. We saw Britney, but there are a ton of others to choose from. A Vegas concert is more intimate than you’ll find other places. The Axis at Planet Hollywood, for example, only seats 4,600. Because they are shows with long runs, the stage and props are always spectacular.
- For breakfast, pick a buffet. They are all fairly comparable. We hit up the Spice Market at Planet Hollywood because that’s where we were staying. It was pretty decent and had a range of cuisines. (We don’t recommend the PH as a place to stay, however. Rooms were nicely sized, but our floor reeked of cigarettes, housekeeping was lousy, and they were stingy with towels. There are much nicer places to stay.)
- Instead of gambling, shop the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood. There are tons of sales, and your $500 will go much farther! Just be sure you have room to take all your loot home.
- For your last evening, catch a magic show. We saw Penn & Teller at the Rio. Be prepared for some political comedy and impressive slight-of-hand. If you are more into vanishing airplanes or gimmicks, then there are several other magicians to choose from. If you do wind up at The Rio, which is a little off the strip, then The Voodoo Steakhouse offers a good meal (although a little pricey). The view is pretty impressive and gives you a panoramic of the Strip. We split the Land & Sea so Brian could have his steak and I could have some delicious crab legs. There are certainly better meals- and at better value – so don’t make the trip unless it’s convenient.