Rediscovering Las Vegas
From “Sin City” to a world-class city, Las Vegas has undergone a major transformation over the past several years. It’s embarked on a mission to go beyond its infamous reputation and expand its audience in order to remain one of the world’s leading tourism destinations.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) announced that in 2013 $3.6 billion was invested into new attractions, amenities, and experiences. The rise of luxury resort hotels, award- winning restaurants, a downtown revitalization, and other revamping initiatives, helped Las Vegas attract nearly 40 million new visitors in 2013.
With so many new and exciting things unfolding, Las Vegas craves to be rediscovered. Yes, you can still get caught up in shenanigans, but now is a great time to explore how much more Las Vegas has to offer.
It’s hard to top that kind of an experience, but Vegas will welcome you back from the Grand Canyon with a long list of exciting new things yet to be discovered. Catch Wicked at The Smith Center, Sing along at the Britney Spears Concert, or dance the night away at LiFE Nightclub; the possibilities are endless.
It’s never been easier to travel to Las Vegas; especially from South Florida. On October 29th, JetBlue celebrated the launch of its new direct flight from Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL) to McCarran International Airport (LAS). The airline celebrated with a cocktail launch party on the 28th at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and charmed passengers with games and giveaways during the inaugural flight.
Where to stay
Selecting a hotel in Vegas can be overwhelming. In 2013 the city had 150,593 hotel rooms; a number which
grew with the addition of several new hotels. Among those hotels is the Delano Las Vegas which opened in September. Formerly, THEHotel at Mandalay Bay, the Delano Las Vegas is a collaboration between MGM Resorts International and the Morgans Hotel Group; the creators of the Delano South Beach.
While there are some South Beach influences, the Delano Las Vegas stands apart by paying homage to the Mohave dessert. Two enormous boulders greet you when you enter the hotel. The lobby is a harmony of warm woods and giant columns draped with white sheers. A rug with a depiction of the Colorado River guides you to the front desk as you pass a suspended rock sculpture by Korean artist Jaehyo Lee. There are 1,117 luxurious room suites, a 14,000 square-foot-spa called The BATHHOUSE, and no casino in sight. The ambiance is zen-like; an escape from the frantic energy found just outside the hotel doors.
Las Vegas is climbing the culinary ranks at tremendous speed. Delia’s Kitchen in the Delano is a great place to begin a culinary journey around the city. The farm-to-table concept offers scrumptious items like Blue Crab Benedicts made with artisan brie, spinach, and roasted tomato; and the Tuscan Kale made with organic quinoa, Chenel goat cheese, sun-dried cranberries, and walnuts. For coffee lovers, the Delano’s 3940 Coffee and Tea cafe, is the perfect place to grab artisan roast coffees, teas, fresh juices, and specialty drinks like the S’mores Mocha.
Continue your culinary journey at Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Meaning “revelry,” Jaleo is the creation of famed Chef Jose Andres, the mastermind behind the Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Miami. He’s evoked the authentic flavors of Spain in an impressive array of tapas and paellas while creating a complete sensory experience. A massive paella grill centerpiece high-jacks your visual focus from the moment you enter. An aromatic symphony of spices dances around the room and the food is vibrant and full of robust flavor.
For a more intimate dining experience, head to La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway at the Wynn. La Cave’s menu showcases contemporary American cuisine and small-plates created by Chef Billy DeMarco. The dishes were created to harmonize with their extensive wine collection that includes 250 bottles and 50 wines by the glass. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu but there are two items that must be ordered: the mushroom grits and the bacon wrapped dates.
A ten minute drive from La Cave is Lao Sze Chaun at the Palms Casino Resort. This authentic Chinese restaurant was created by Chicago Chef Tony Hu. Chef Hu brings his success to the Vegas strip with an expansive selection of Chinese dishes. The menu is wonderfully overwhelming with more than 100 beef, chicken, pork and seafood options. When in doubt, start with the dim sum followed by Tony’s Chicken with Three Chili dish.
Buddy Valastro, internationally acclaimed chef and reality TV star of the Cake Boss, opened his first Italian Restaurant, Buddy V’s, at the Venetian. The menu offers Italian-American classics from Valastro family heirloom recipes like Grandma’s Meatballs and Nona’s Lasagna Al Forno. With pictures of the Valastro family along the walls, it feels like you’ve stepped into his grandma’s house for a family dinner.
You can’t have a culinary adventure in Las Vegas and not go to a buffet. Consider visiting the mother-ship of all buffets at Caesars Palace for brunch. Not only has it been voted best buffet in Las Vegas, Brunch at Bacchanal is a good deal if you love champagne. On Saturdays and Sundays brunch comes with unlimited bubbly. From chicken and waffles to Japanese curry, and everything in between, this buffet is every foodie’s dream come true. Try everything and anything that catches your eye but leave some room for the mouth watering dessert station.
Vegas off the strip
Some of the best new things in Las Vegas are hap- pening off Las Vegas Boulevard. About 15 minutes north of the strip is Downtown Las Vegas, home to Fremont Street. Fremont Street is the original “strip” from when the city was founded in 1905. Today, part of this historic street has become the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block canopy-covered entertainment district featuring a plethora of new activities and live musical entertainment that co-ex- ists with some of the city’s most legendary casinos.
The centerpiece of the Fremont Street Experience is Viva Vision, the world’s largest video screen that’s suspended from the canopy. It’s 1,500 feet long, 90 feet wide, and contains a mouth dropping 12.5 million LED lights. If you think a giant video screen is impressive, wait until you see SlotZilla. SlotZilla is double zip line ride that shoots you out of the world’s largest slot machine like Superman. The ride isn’t as scary as it looks and it’s a great way to see all Fremont Street below.
Not far from the Fremont Experience is Container Park, a new shopping and entertainment center that is home to 39 shops, restaurants, and bars. It was cleverly built from 43 repurposed shipping containers and 41 locally manufactured “xtreme cubes.” Inside Container Park is the Tree House, an interactive play area with over-sized blocks and a 33-foot-tall slide. It’s a family friendly environment with many dining options like The Perch, a charming restaurant offering delicious “fabulous, not fussy” dishes.
Las Vegas shows are in a league of their own; no budget is too big, no show too extravagant. Enter KA by Cirque du Soleil, one of the most expensive and technically advanced theatrical shows in the city. KA tells the story of imperial twins who are separated as children and must undergo a rite of passage filled with tribulations on the path to self-discovery. KA takes place in a $135 million theater built inside the MGM Grand specifically for this show. There isn’t a traditional stage, instead, there is a hole; an abyss of mystery from which multiple platforms rise up from and move around in bewildering ways. It’s an engineering marvel that inspires wonder. Performers leap out beside your seat without warning, the costumes themselves tell a story, and the acrobatics are breathtaking.
Above and Beyond
One of the best things about visiting Las Vegas isn’t in Las Vegas at all. A six hour drive east of the strip is one of the country’s most incredible treasures; the Grand Canyon. Many hotels offer organized daily trips. However, if you’re on a time crunch a helicopter is a fun alternative. Companies like Sundance Helicopters, can get you to the Grand Canyon in about 45 minutes.
Sundance offers a variety of packages and pricing levels. If you want to feel like a superstar go for the VIP Deluxe. This package is 3.5 hours from start to finish and will give you dazzling views of the Las Vegas strip, the Grand Canyon, Valley of Fire, the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and the Colorado River. When you arrive, you will enjoy a Champagne picnic 3,200 feet below the rim of the canyon.
Click here to view post on the January/February 2015 issue.