Not the gambling type? Check out these myriad Vegas attractions to keep you buzzing from the Strip to Fremont Street, morning til night.
At one point, casinos in Las Vegas were designed to be an “attraction” to entice customers. The resorts of the new Vegas have moved away from trying to recreate foreign vistas, such as castles or an Egyptian pyramid (the Luxor). Cases in point: New York New York, Paris Las Vegas and finally, the Bellagio, modeled after a Tuscan waterside village. Today’s newest resorts are sleek, glassy and modern. Fabulous neon signs that advertised a specific hotel are rapidly disappearing. I still love the oversize neon pink flamingos in front of the Flamingo Las Vegas, which completed a room remodel earlier this year, but that too may be replaced with gigantic advertising screens that rotate shows, restaurants and shopping. Still, the one attraction that should not be missed is driving along the Strip at night, either by taxi, shuttle or bus. Avoid driving it yourself though, as traffic is thick and aggressive.
You can also use the tram to stop at key locations and gawk at the multitude of bright lights. Stop in for dinner at the Tropicana Resort and Casino, which still provides affordable eats. Or see the mysterious sphinx at the Luxor, with the world’s brightest beam of light shooting into space from the apex of the hotel pyramid.
Some additional Vegas favorites are the golden towers of the Hotel at Mandalay Bay, Merlin waving his magic wand from a tower at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino, and the golden lion guarding the entrance of the MGM Grand. Once inside the MGM Grand, amble past the Lion Habitat, a 5,345-sq. ft. facility that may get you nose to Plexiglas nose with the beasts. Walking along the Strip you can catch a nighttime roller coaster whizzing through the skyscraper of the New York New York Hotel and Casino as you spot the classic façade of the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. The pedestrian bridge crossing the Strip between the MGM Grand and New York New York is a great place to stop and admire the view of the row of hotels.
Next door to the MGM Grand is the Showcase Mall, featuring two of my family’s favorite shops. M&M’s World thrills kids with colorful bins of M&Ms that can be mixed and matched at whim, as well as floors of M&Ms merchandise. Don’t miss the upscale chocolatier, Ethel M. The Everything Coca-Cola store offers ice-cold glass bottles of the classic beverage, an ice cream bar for Coke floats and a wealth of Coke-shaped memorabilia to bring back for your kids’ friends. The store is accessed via a Coca-Cola bottle-shaped elevator that, as you rise, plays the fizzy sound of Coke being poured over ice.
A second pedestrian bridge between Bellagio and Bally’s Las Vegas looks out to the Roman statuary and fountains of Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas’ wonderful neon hot-air balloon and three-quarter scale Eiffel Tower, the fountain in front of the Bellagio, the old-style neon explosion of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon, and the colorful neon columns at Bally’s. We love the outdoor patio of Mon Ami Gabi, where we can watch people as we admire Bellagio’s light and water show while comfortably enjoying our lunch.
Your final stop should be on the boardwalk in front of Treasure Island Hotel and Casino as you wait for the updated, acid-rock style “battle of the Sirens of Treasure Island and their male counterparts.” To the left, you’ll feel the heat as the Mirage Hotel and Casino’s volcano bursts into flame every 15 minutes. To the right, the golden arc of the Wynn Las Vegas lies across the street from a gigantic LED “cloud” that shows what’s going on inside the Fashion Show Mall, including the occasional live runway shows, which are fun to watch. Located just outside the Apple store, the runway rises from the floor during show time.
Turn away from the fashion show, and you’re surrounded by the cluttered art of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. When it was being built I received a guided tour of the studio in charge of building all the artwork. I saw dozens of artists who were painting, sculpting, drawing and firing pieces that were destined to grace the walls, ceilings, floors and the façade of this wonderful, whimsical construction. Excessive? Yes, but I love it.
Inside the Venetian, walk through the streets of Venice to find shops, restaurants, street performers and the hotel’s famous fake water canals. Then, for a complete contrast, relax at Bouchon restaurant and ask for an outside garden table. Or, cross back over to Treasure Island and head left to the Forum Shops to ride a pair of circular escalators. Head right and down a floor (if you can’t resist riding to the top) and meander the streets of old Rome. Night turns into day, with spectacular recreated sunsets and sunrises every hour as giant gods converse on the hour. At Fall of Atlantis, beside a 50,000-gallon aquarium, King Atlas mediates between his own children, yet he eventually fails and brings on the destruction of the legendary city—it’s a good lead-in to a discussion on the terrors of sibling rivalry, and the people-watching couldn’t be better.
Neil Leifer Gallery is a must-stop for sports nuts. Leifer took the iconic photographs of Muhammad Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston and Secretariat winning the Kentucky Derby. Boys will also love a stop at Exotic Cars, a two-tiered showroom with some of the world’s most exotic motor cars including Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Bentleys.
Finally, head downtown to the Fremont Street Experience, a LED-screen canopy featuring original light shows. Stop by the Neon Museum, which has resuscitated 11 classic neon signs from Las Vegas’ heyday. My favorites are the vaquero astride his palomino horse from the old Hacienda and the giant Aladdin’s lamp from the old Aladdin.
Destinations: Las Vegas