LAS VEGAS – My trip to Vegas in January was my third in the last four years or so. Yet I had a huge whack of new experiences, which tells you a lot about the choices in this town.
We flew in on Air Canada rouge, which was just fine, and we had hotels and meals taken care of by Expedia.ca.
I had my first trip to the Neon Museum, just north of downtown, where you’ll find a vast collection of old neon signs from places like the old Stardust and Binion’s Horseshoe and other casinos. I went during the day and loved it, but they light up a half dozen of the signs at night so I’d suggest going in the late afternoon; just before sunset. They also have nightly tours and special photo tours, so keep those in mind.
My $30 ticket to the Neon Museum also included a ticket to the Mob Museum, which tells the story of organized crime in the U.S. (and a bit of Canada) in a very factual, no-nonsense kind of way. You can fire off a pretend Tommy gun and learn about mobsters such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.
You also can see part of the brick wall that was the backdrop for the famous St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago. The wall section was purchased by a Canadian developer at one point and installed in a washroom at a Vancouver nightclub, but is now on display at the Mob Museum in Vegas, which of course has its own history of organized crime. And there are some smart-looking mobster-like clothes, which I think I may have seen Don Cherry wear during the break of a recent hockey game. On top of that, you can have your photo snapped in a mock police line-up. (Honestly, I didn’t do anything wrong!)
I also took in the High Roller, the new Ferris Wheel-like ride (which can hold several dozen people and is totally enclosed) just behind Bally’s and the new Cromwell Hotel (formerly Bill’s). It’s a sensational ride with great views, especially on those typically clear Vegas days and almost certainly at night. It’s billed as the world’s largest observation wheel, with a height of 550 feet (168 meters). My hula girl quite enjoyed it, as you can see.
Tickets are $24.95 USD during the day and $34.95 at night.
The wheel, if you like, is connected to Las Vegas Blvd. by a development called The LINQ, a pedestrian friendly stretch lined with low-rise buildings, cool shops and restaurants with sidewalk cafes. A great addition to The Strip, as is the LINQ hotel.
I tasted more sensational food on this trip, including succulent roast chicken at Bardot, a new French bistro at the Aria hotel. Even better was my Brittania burger at Gordon Ramsay’s BURGR at Planet Hollywood, which came with mango chutney, sharp cheddar cheese and arugula for great balance and flavour. Oh, yeah, don’t miss the onion rings; perfectly cooked, ginormous Maui onions with a fabulously crispy coating and dusted with parmesan. They’re 1,000 times better than any onion rings I’ve ever tried.
Equally great was the barbequed brisket and ribs at Big Ern’s BBQ at Container Park, a fun shopping area on Fremont St., just east of the Fremont casino strip. And I had a completely fabulous breakfast at a new café across the street from Container Park called EAT, including a ciabatta bun filled with truffled scrambled eggs and bacon. Definitely a new, hip spot for downtown dining.
I stayed at two hotels I’d never tried before on this trip and visited a couple more, including The Delano (formerly THEhotel at Mandalay Bay), which is quiet and lovely with small conversation pockets in the lobby and a woodsy/natural feel. I didn’t stay there but I’d certainly like to.
I also had a tour of the new Cromwell Hotel, a boutique property that used to be Bill’s Gambling House and Casino, right at Flamingo Rd. and Las Vegas Blvd. The rooms are stunning and so is Giada, the celebrity restaurant started by TV chef Giada de Laurentiis.
I stayed a few nights at Planet Hollywood, which most definitely has the Vegas buzz going on; with sexy dancing girls in the casino and lots of energy. I mentioned BURGR already, and it was great. They also have some pretty good meal deals at the café called Planet Dailies, so check those out. Rooms have dark wood furniture (perhaps too dark if you ask me) and plenty of room. I don’t know who made the bed, but it was as good as I’ve had in a long time. Rooms are made up with a Hollywood theme, of course, and mine had photos and a dress worn by one of the stars of the daytime Soap Days of Our Lives. Next time I’m hoping for a James Bond room, or perhaps Penelope Cruz posters…
The pool, alas, wasn’t open in January. But Planet Hollywood guests can use the pool next door at the Paris resort, and it’s a beauty; a large pool with special swim lanes and a vast patio in the shadow of The Eiffel Tower.
I also stayed at The Tropicana, which has a great retro feel to it and is down at the south end of the strip for easy access to the airport. I loved the deep red accents and the old, red-and-white Chevy Bel Air they have parked out front. I had fantastic ravioli with juicy, succulent short rib at their Italian restaurant, Baccio. They aso have a very good, $21 breakfast buffet that includes juice and coffee and even an alcoholic drink if you desire, plus everything from fresh mango and pineapple to croissants, orange-cranberry scones, a great omelette station and everything from Filipino to Italian specialties. One morning I had breakfast pasta, served with eggs, pancetta and cheese.
If I’d known they served pasta for breakfast, I’d have made a beeline to Las Vegas years ago. As it is, I’m finding my way here more often than I ever expected.