First, the noise is an assault on the senses. In practically every hotel in Las Vegas, whether upscale or lowest-of-the-low, you have to pass through the casino to get to your guest room. That means running the gauntlet of slot machines blaring “BrrrrrrrrrrrrrrUP” and “Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!” People are talking and calling out to each other and singing “Sweet Caroline” (dah-dah-DAH) in a boozy boom leaking from the doorway of the spring-break-in-Cozumel-inspired Mexican restaurant. The décor is sleazy, but the prices don’t match – natch.
No one helped you drag your suitcase up the escalator into the lobby, so you wheel it through the crowds toward the elevator, wishing you had worn one of those gauze masks Japanese tourists like to sport on international flights. Being in the lower budget “Resort”-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, the curtain of smoke rivals the air quality on a particularly high smog index day in L.A. – but smells worse. For the ten thousandth time – I am so glad I quit ten years ago.
Being on a non-smoking floor offers some relief, but a few random cigarette butts and ashes add to the cringe factor of the hallway’s stained carpets. Side note: the little pile stayed in place for three days. Oh, and the remnants of others’ room service meals line those same hallways at intervals, seemingly just changing position (occasionally) during the soul-numbing four night stay.
While my room was pleasant and appeared to be clean, the headboard on the bed was made of . . . drum roll . . . white, tufted vinyl. I’m sorry. I guess I have a dirty mind, but it made me cringe and I tried very hard never to actually touch it.
Dear friends, I could go on. Suffice to say, I do not travel to Las Vegas by choice. It’s always for business, this last trip being to produce one client’s conference (who has pledged never to return to this particular venue). So, I am not naming names (client or hotel). I’m not posting photos. And the proverbial wild horses could not drag me back to this particularly icky nightmare on the Strip.
And What I Like About Las Vegas
I finished the conference by fleeing from “Resort”-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named to meet Client #2 for site visits for an event coming up in the spring. When I arrived at my next destination, I felt like falling to my knees and kissing the ground. Two nights at Bellagio, by comparison, was practically a Zen experience.
Yes, I still had to walk through the casino . . . but plush awnings over the gaming tables, and slot machines that seem simply to be set at a lower volume, made the noises associated with slots and gambling significantly less intrusive. In a dry-martini-kind-of-bar just off the lobby, an accomplished pianist played soothing show tunes on a baby grand piano.
People were still smoking here and there (this seems to be a popular habit among gamblers), but thanks to a powerful filtration system, you really don’t smell it unless a smoker drifts right in front of you as you head toward the guest elevators.
If you are fortunate enough to stay at a lovely, high end resort like Bellagio (or Wynn/Encore, or Venetian/Palazzo, etc.), one of my favorite things is the bathroom in each guest room. The bathrooms are generally a (tasteful) explosion of marble, closer to the size of my bedroom at home than the little bath typical of my 1960’s-built house. There’s a huge tub with Jacuzzi jets; a separate and spacious shower with a marble seat; and (comparatively) jumbo-sized, imported shampoo and conditioner and lotion, pristine white fluffy towels, a lighted, magnified makeup mirror, flat screen TV, and more. Makes a girl want to soak and primp and never come out of the john.
On this particular visit, I was put into a Bellagio suite. Oh yeah, baby. Sometimes I LOVE my job. (Actually, I pretty much love my job all the time, I’m happy to say.) So I had a living room, bedroom and two and half baths. Yes, you read that correctly. Off the bedroom were two full bathrooms. One had the Jacuzzi tub, toilet and sink and TV, etc., etc. The second had a gigantic shower/steam setup, also with toilet and sink and TV. The little powder room right by the entrance to the living room apparently is so anyone I invite over for tea or cocktails doesn’t have to invade my private bedroom space. Thank you very much.
I rarely watch TV in hotels, but now that I think of it, this particular suite had four: one in the living room, one in the bedroom, and one each in the two bathrooms. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t one in the powder room, but since I never used it, I could be selling Bellagio short there.
So seriously, the only thing I regret when I am fortunate enough to stay in a place like Bellagio is that I actually have to WORK and can’t just hang around in a room far nicer and larger than I am ever likely to live in, in my “real life.”
Something else I like about Las Vegas is that there are remarkable restaurants. During the second site visit, I joined my clients and our Bellagio hosts (thank you Robert Morton and Sandy Sutherland!) for lunch at Todd English’s Olives. Gnocchi and chicken – delicious. Gnocchi means “little pillows” in Italian, and that’s exactly how soft and sumptuous good gnocchi should be. This was. We later had appetizers at Circo – bellissimo. Then dinner at Sensi, which was fabulous. Our meals were great, but the over-the-top dessert display (I am SO sorry I didn’t take a picture!) tipped “great” into “absolutely memorable.” The night before, we had dinner at American Fish at Aria. If you don’t go for an entire dinner, drop in at the bar there and treat yourself to a drink and appetizer of the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever eaten.
If, like me, you’re not a gambler – there are still reasons why you absolutely should go to Las Vegas if you’ve never been. I would advise you to stay at the best possible hotel you can afford. Yes, there are super cheap deals – but I’m not sure the experience is worth it, and especially if you’re not budgeting to leave a bundle behind at the tables or slots.
Stay some place special if you possibly can, then treat yourself to one of the remarkable shows, from Celine Dion to Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles tribute, “Love.” Have a terrific meal or two. Visit any Las Vegas travel website to see more options than you could ever dream of experiencing, even in multiple visits. Shopping outlets run the gamut from Prada to Top Shop, from the mammoth Fashion Mall across from the Venetian to tony little boutiques and gift shops full of tchotchkes at every hotel and resort.
And if you have time, don’t forget that some of America’s most beautiful desert landscapes are just a short ride from the Las Vegas Strip. Hoover Dam is a marvel. Swoop over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, or rent a car and drive yourself to the Valley of Fire, an amazing park of crimson rock formations only about an hour’s drive from the city.
Okay, so I take it back. I don’t hate Las Vegas. There’s definitely something for everyone, and there’s nothing like it – that I know of, anyway – anywhere else in the world. It’s certainly not a natural wonder, but this uniquely American, smack-you-right-in-the-face city needs to be experienced at least once in every lifetime. Just spring for a decent hotel. I’m just saying.