Monday, June 30, 2014

Here Are Five Good Reasons Why Las Vegas is Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before

Despite my somewhat “hippie” image, I’m a big fan of “Sin City.”  In fact, I’ve been to Las Vegas something like 15 times.  At one time, we went every year for a week.  Somewhere along the line, we decided a week is way too long to spend in Vegas, but we still go pretty much every year, and we still love it.

When friends say they’ve never been, and wonder if they’d enjoy it, my stock answer is, “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” figuring, it’s pretty hard to argue with that statement.  And if they do go, and end up hating it – well, don’t blame me.  I never said you’d like it.  I said, “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”  And I was right – right?

If you’ve never been, you might be asking yourself, “Well, what does that mean?  WHY is Vegas like nothing I’ve ever seen before?”

And, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I am more than happy to give you “Five Good Reasons Why Las Vegas is Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before.”

1.  There Are Fancy Resort/Casinos Everywhere!

Yeah, there are.  If you want proof, just take a look out the window of the plane as you’re landing at McCarron.  If you’re arriving after dark, there’s enough neon out there to elicit gasps from most of the passengers, even those who visit all the time.

There are something like a hundred resort/casinos in and around the city of Las Vegas, Nevada. 

The Strip

Even if you’ve never gambled in your life, chances are there is something for you to see at a Las Vegas casino.  The Bellagio has a pretty decent art museum.  The Venetian has a branch of the world-renown Madame Tussauds wax museum – not to mention its own rendering of St. Mark’s Square, including gondolas.  The Mirage has a dolphin habitat and display of beautiful lions and tigers, some on the endangered species list.  New York, New York has a simulated “NYC” feel to it, right down to the newspaper stands with graffiti on them and the steam escaping from the man hole covers.  Paris has, well, Paris (cobbled sidewalks lead to small cafes and bakeries…as well as plenty of souvenir shops).  Main Street Station has a piece of the Berlin Wall…inside the men’s room.  Caesars Palace has gladiators (each one buffer than the last), The Coliseum (which, rather than hosting executions and other public spectacles, hosts the likes of Celine Dion and Elton John), Trojan horses, and even Cleopatra’s Barge (um, it’s a nightclub).  Virtually all of them have a hotel attached, and feature an all-you-can-eat buffet, some (Wynn, Mirage, Bellagio) better than others.  Just about all of the larger casino hotels have a wedding chapel.  Many boast upscale restaurants, most with celebrity chef owners.

The list goes on forever.

2.  There’s Enough Food to Feed A Mid-Sized Country

As alluded to in #1., there are a LOT of eating establishments in Vegas.  And, as someone who loves to eat, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have my favorites.

When Mike and I first visited Vegas (1993), we ate at buffets pretty much every day.  But, given time to allow our tastes to mature (not to mention our finances), for the most part, we tend to stay away these days.  (That being said, I do have a soft spot for both the Wynn buffet, and the Paris buffet.)

But even without buffets, the dining choices in Vegas can make your head spin.

Do you like authentic Thai food?  Then you need to grab a cab and ask them to take you to Lotus of Siam.  Hailed by many as the best Thai restaurant in the country, this place is on our must-do list every trip.  Located in a slightly grimy looking strip mall on East Sahara, the place is so popular that they make it a point to tell you to make sure you arrive within five minutes of the time of your reservation – otherwise, your table can, and probably will, be given away.  There are articles and discussions all over the Internet about what to order, but among our “go-to” dishes are the Nam kao Tod (crispy rice with sour minced sausage) and Nam Prik Ong, a red chili dip served with vegetables for dipping.  The panang here is also amazing.

Their website ( ) has photos of a lot of their dishes.  This meal is a highlight every time.

There is a restaurant in NYC called Rao’s.  It’s famous for being so beloved that it is literally impossible to get a table there, because the regulars eat there virtually every night.  Never fear – Rao’s has a Las Vegas branch, located in Caesars Palace.  And if the original is better than this place – all I can say is, “wow!”  When we were there last month, I had the Ravioli Purses.  These are pasta filled with Bartlett pear, ricotta cheese, brown butter, sage, and dried cranberries.  I wasn’t entirely sure when I ordered this, but after the first bite, I knew I’d made the right choice.  Absolutely amazing. 

And I didn’t even mention the huge, delicious meatballs!

Thomas Keller owns The French Laundry, the Napa Valley institution often called one of the best restaurants in the world.  The Venetian in Vegas boasts an outpost of Keller’s Bouchon, a lovely French bistro with it’s own charms.  And, at least for me, one of those charms is most certainly the Bouchon French Toast (bread pudding style, made with brioche and layers of apples and custard),  which I have for breakfast whenever I visit.

I could go on and on.  Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy are represented in Vegas, as are Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck.  Emeril Lagasse has a few places here (my favorite being Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand), as does Jose Andres (I love China Poblano).  Giada de Laurentiis just opened a place, and so did Guy Fieri.  If you have a “thing” for celebrity chefs, this is the place for you.

Bouchon's French Toast

3.  If You Have Naturally Curly Hair…

…Like I do, then, trust me, you’re going to love the weather in Vegas. 

Yes, it’s hot as hell a lot of the time (during the summer, it hits 100 on a regular basis, and I once walked down the strip in August in 112 degree heat).  But you know that saying, “it’s a dry heat?”  Well – it really is.  There is very little humidity in Vegas.  And for us curly haired girls, what that means is that there are very few “bad hair days.”  In fact, off hand, I can’t recall ever having one in Vegas.

And there is a LOT to be said for that.

4.  The People Watching is World Class

If you’ve read my blog about the subway, then you know I love people watching.  And Las Vegas takes the art of people watching to a whole new level.

In one morning stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard South (aka The Strip), you can easily encounter “working girls,” people still partying at 8:00 AM (sometimes WITH those “working girls”), Mabel and Irving from Middle America, their mouths agape as they walk along the sidewalk in their fanny packs, members of a bachelor or bachelorette party, businessmen in town for a convention (again, sometimes with those….you get the picture)…you name it, you’ll probably see it at some point during your visit.

And when you walk into one of those glittering casinos, you’ll be transported to a world where people watching could be an Olympic sport.  Glamorous couples dressed to the nines play slot machines next to down-and-out folks in rags, turning their pockets inside out in hopes of finding one more quarter.  Hefty ladies in polyester walk along the carpet next to punks with pink hair and leather jackets  It’s a veritable goldmine of diversity!

5.  The Gambling is Pretty Good, Too

Okay, some of you might be saying to yourselves, “well, okay, but does she actually do any gambling out there?” 

Yes.  Yes, she does.

Both my husband and I like to gamble.  We’re not “high rollers,” by any stretch of the imagination, but we do like to play.  I’ve been a Video Poker player for over 20 years, and Mike loves Blackjack, Roulette and Craps.

And, while we can drive a couple of hours to Connecticut to play, the games there just do not compare to what you can find in Vegas.  Without boring those of you who either already know a bit about the subject, or don’t care at all about the subject, one video poker machine is not necessarily the same as another.  They all have what is called a “pay schedule,” which can vary even from one machine to the one right next to it.  And some pay schedules are more player-friendly than others (in other words, one machine might be much easier to win money on that another).

The Holy Grail of video poker players is something called “9/6 Jacks.”  While this game is difficult, if not impossible, to find on the East Coast, it is somewhat easy to find in Vegas, if you know where to look.  I personally prefer a game called “Double Bonus.”  While I can find the not-so-profitable “9/6” and sometimes “9/7” versions of this particular game at my local gambling spots, the best version, “10/7,” is just not available.  I know exactly where to find it in Vegas, and I head downtown to play at Main Street Station at least once or twice every trip.  (All of this is very much just scraping the surface of the wonderful world of video poker.  This blog is not a gambling blog.  Just Google these terms if you are interested in learning more.  You’ll get hits galore.)

Likewise, Vegas is where Mike can find single or double deck Blackjack (in other words, the dealer uses one or two decks instead of the usual six or even more).  He can also find better craps games and better roulette games in Vegas.  (I don’t play any of these games, so I don’t pretend to be able to explain much about them.)

While we both came home “losers” on our recent trip, that is a fairly rare occurrence.  Generally at least one of us returns with a profit, albeit a small one.  And neither of us ever loses a lot of money. So, even though there are casinos everywhere these days, for the most part, there is still no comparison between them and the Vegas casinos, as far as “bang for your buck” goes.

And in Vegas, they are more than happy to reward you for your play.  Free rooms, free food, free shows, they are all there for the taking if you play enough.  (We don’t – but we know plenty of people who do.)

My Personal Nirvana

So there you have it, five pretty good, and pretty diverse, reasons to visit Vegas.  And I didn’t even get to the shows, some of which are amazing!

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