Living The Las Vegas Life
(Story previously published in Canstar weeklies)
In 1829, a traveling party in the Mojave Desert noticed green areas fed by artesian wells. They decided it would be a good resupply point, and named the place ‘the meadows’ in Spanish. In May 1905, Las Vegas was officially founded as a city, and when Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, Vegas began its rise as the gaming capital of the world.
All first-timers must witness The Strip, a seven-kilometer stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard, home to some of the world’s largest hotel, casino and resort properties. The MGM Grand has four 30-story towers and more than 5000 guest rooms. The front entrance features the largest bronze statue in the US – a 45,000 kilogram bronze lion, measuring 13.7 meters tall, perched atop a 7.6 meter pedestal.
One of the best views of The Strip is from up above. The brand new 168 meter tall High Roller is the world’s largest observation wheel, and crown jewel of The LINQ, Vegas’ newest outdoor entertainment district. Each of the High Roller’s 28 glass-enclosed spherical cabins holds up to 40 people, offering breathtaking views in the 30-minute ride. At night, it standouts amid the dazzle, with 2000 glowing LED lights ever-changing colours.
Seeing a Cirque du Soleil show is another must-do. Zarkana is absolutely fascinating, yet creepy, with ghosts, serpents, spiders, and mythical medieval sets. An eclectic collection of weird eccentrics and incredible acrobats performed astonishing stunts to electrifying music, all the time keeping me wondering ‘how in the world can they do that??’
Fremont East District is located in the heart of downtown, named after the historic street that started it all. Fremont is brimming with iconic locations, legendary casinos, vintage neon signs, performers and a multitude of shops, restaurants and kiosks. Free entertainment includes stage performances, street buskers, and the Viva Vision canopy 27 meters overhead. The biggest screen on the planet uses 12 million lights and 550,000 watts of sound to project concerts and light shows along the entire stretch of Fremont.
Just 27 kilometers west of town, Red Rock Canyon is an outdoor paradise with a 21-kilometer scenic drive, nearly 50 kilometers of hiking trails, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing. It also has rattlesnakes, scorpions and spiders. My guide Brandon from Escape Adventures had vast knowledge of the desert, and showed me plants you could eat, use as medicine, make ropes from, and even get trippy on. It was like hiking with Survivorman. We saw petroglyphs and pictographs, passed by a seasonal waterfall, and stopped at a flowing creek from one of the canyon’s 40 springs.
The key to the valley’s vibrant history is water, and there’s no better place to learn about it then Springs Preserve. Through interactive science and nature exhibits, including one that simulates a real-life flash flood, Springs Preserve commemorates environmental history while providing a vision for sustainable future. Natural desert landscape and award-winning botanical gardens make the backdrop for hiking trails, programs and workshops, year-round events, dining, and more.
One of the things I dug the most in Vegas is called Dig This, where you operate heavy equipment. I was terrified at first, but once I climbed into the cab of my yellow and black Caterpillar 315CL Hydraulic Excavator, got my headset ‘wired in’ to instructor Walt, and got my hands on the stick shifts, all fear was abandoned. I found the experience strangely empowering and incredibly fun as I motored around the yard, dug trenches, stacked tractor tires, and played bucket basketball against Casey from Baton Rouge. I’ll bet it’s the most fun you can have in Vegas with construction boots on.
While people love the buffets in Las Vegas, I made it my goal to venture beyond, and see what else there was in terms of dining.
Julian Serrano in the ARIA Hotel serves tapas – or small plates – in classic Spanish style. One of my favourites was the goat cheese salad, with heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, fresh mint and almonds. The mixed seafood ceviche came with a side of taro root chips, perfectly accompanied by a glass of Riesling. The crispy artichoke was crusted and deep-fried, topping off a delicious dining experience.
For fine dining with a large group, Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak at The Mirage is ideal. Their meats are prepared entirely over an open flame, using wood-burning ovens and charcoal grills, and my prime filet was cooked to perfection. For sharing side dishes, we tried roasted mushrooms, sugar snap peas, asparagus, and warm king crab.
Las Vegans loves their pizza, and there’s no shortage of places to go. Five50 Pizza Bar offers Sicilian-style pizza by the slice or 16-inch pies. The forager came with mushrooms, bacon, and whipped Romano cheese. They also serve an impressive selection of local and regional craft beers, handmade pastas, and charcuterie selection.
Flour & Barley Brick Oven Pizza has an outdoor patio with spectacular view of the High Roller. The arugula salad with oven roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes, shaved parmesan, and toasted pine nuts was so good, you’ll want to recreate it at home. The meatballs were tender and juicy, and the calamari had just the right amount of tangy lemon encrusted in the breading.
Park on Fremont gastropub has innovative bar fare, an eclectic art collection, and truly laid-back vibe. For appetizers, we tried the mac and cheese balls, fried pickles, and chicken bar bites, and also enjoyed sangria by the glass.
Seeing as it is Las Vegas, I had to try one buffet – and I’m glad it was Wicked Spoon. Tucked away in the brand new Cosmopolitan Hotel, they had everything from sushi, to kale salad, shaved roast beef, grilled Brussels sprouts, turkey-apple sausage, and more, including chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert.
The surprise highlight of my visit to Vegas was Fizz, the brand new champagne lounge in Caesar’s Palace. The décor is simply captivating, with sparkly chandeliers and massive paintings. This sophisticated socializing spot opened in March, and was designed by Elton John’s partner David Furnish.
After all the eating, get away for a while at Vdara’s ESPA. The ‘On the Rocks’ treatment is 110 minutes of pure paradise, with body brushing, exfoliation, and massage using essential oils and hot volcanic stones. The Spa Salon at ARIA is a soothing retreat where you can lounge outdoors in the infinity pool, lie on Ganbanyoku heated stone beds, or rest in the Shio Salt Room.
For an escape away from The Strip itself, check into the luxurious JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort. They have 50 acres of gardens and waterfalls, sprawling outdoor pool area, and 11 restaurants onsite like Ceres for buffet breakfast and Shizen Japanese Restaurant for sushi dinner. Spa Aquae has hot and cold plunges, steam rooms, and full menu of treatments including shorter offerings like a 25-minute neck, back and shoulder massage, or 25-minute foot massage.
While you may not always win at the tables and machines, you’ll never lose with the luxury to be found in Las Vegas.