Las Vegas

Vegas Strip

Vegas Strip

I’m no gambler but I’ve been to Sin City at least five times (I’ve lost count) since I was a child. I go for the food, shopping, shows, and pretty hotels. I’ve taken a helicopter ride over The Strip, which took us all the way into the Grand Canyon — simply breathtaking. I’ve toured nearby Hoover Dam, which borders Nevada and Arizona. I’ve attended two concerts by Chinese superstars — singers Andy Lau, of Hong Kong (at MGM Grand), and A-Mei, of Taiwan, (at Paris Las Vegas), and several other shows, including O, Cavalia (equestrian/acrobatic spectacle under the Big Top), and others. I’ve visited every hotel and many restaurants on The Strip and a few off strip. Most recently, I was in Vegas just this month, receiving a Member of the Year award from the Asian American Journalists Association at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Speaking of Asians, there are so many of them who visit Vegas, practically every hotel has a Chinese and/or Japanese restaurant and caters to East Asian clientele. I’ll review some of the Chinese restaurants here, plus share the other highlights…

Bellagio

Fountains of Bellagio

Fountains of Bellagio

Fountains of Bellagio ~ An entertaining showcase of impressive, high-shooting fountains set to different music in every show. This isn’t just any ordinary fountain show. These fountains span nearly the width of the pond in front of this classy, enchanting hotel and shoot into the air seemingly as high as the building itself.
O
~ by Cirque du Soleil. Hands down the best live show I’ve ever seen. We got 2nd-row seats — expensive but well worth it. Tears filled my eyes as I watched graceful, gravity-defying acrobats move seamlessly through air, land, and water. The hauntingly inspirational music grabs at your heart and imagination.
Jean Philippe Patisserie ~ Like a fantasy, this chocolate shop and bakery delights with to-die-for crepes, gelato, pastries, cute confections, and the world’s largest chocolate fountain, which draws many tourists who crowd around to snap photos.
Noodles ~ Walls lined with decorative dried noodles of all types stir the appetites of eager customers willing to wait in a long line, even for a late-night meal. This Chinese restaurant that specializes in its namesake reminds me of trendy cafes in Hong Kong.

Carnevale at The Venetian and Palazzo

Carnevale at The Venetian and Palazzo

Luxor

When this novel hotel first opened, it was one of my favorites. I enjoyed staying in a room in the pyramid because of the unique slanted views from the interior balcony. I also loved the Sphinx and the Nile River Tour, a “river” ride that took us through the hotel on a tour of Egyptian art and sculptures. Sadly, renovations have removed many of these Egyptian-themed elements.

MGM Grand

This hotel is just that… grand. Enormous in size, it’s a giant block of green. As in the case of Luxor (and sadly, too), MGM Grand has wiped away almost all traces of its original Wizard of Oz theme that made it so fun. What could be better for children and adults than walking through Emerald City and living out a childhood movie fantasy? I’m glad I went to all these hotels when they first opened, before executives concocted plans to transform them into more mature places.

Excalibur

Fun Dungeon ~ While the adults may enjoy the casino, children and those who are children at heart (including me) love the arcade, complete with traditional carnival games, inside this medieval-style hotel that looks like a fairytale castle.

gondolas outside The Venetian

gondolas outside The Venetian

Circus Circus

Another hotel that lets you unleash your inner child, Circus Circus is, well, a circus. It has a performing circus, a midway with carnival games, and an indoor theme park with amusement rides.

Caesars Palace

The hotel harkens back to ancient Roman times in its art and architecture, from the Appian Way and The Forum Shops to the replica of Michelangelo’s David statue.

Planet Hollywood

The former Aladdin and its Desert Passage shops have been renamed Planet Hollywood and Miracle Mile Shops, respectively. It’s another example of a Vegas hotel transforming its atmosphere — this time from something vaguely out of Arabia to something more in line with Hollywood glamor. One thing’s for sure: It’s still a shopping destination.

The Mirage

Famous for its white tigers and tropical rainforest ambiance, The Mirage has extended its habitat to include dolphins, white lions, panthers, and leopards in Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Outside, a Volcano heats up the night as it erupts in spectacular fashion. This hotel really transports you to paradise, and I’ve stayed there before.

The Mirage

The Mirage

Wynn

The Wynn has an Alice-in-Wonderland-like, whimsical feel. The Buffet has 16 stations with foods from different cultures. The food is good but not superb. The dessert bar is delectable, with a wide array of cakes and gelato. Wynn’s grounds provide beautiful surroundings for its upscale restaurants, including Michelin-award-winning Wing Lei and the very red Japanese restaurant set in lush garden settings, Mizumi. The impressive car showroom features Ferraris and Maseratis, but it’s not free to look, unless you’re an owner or soon-to-be-owner of the luxury brands. Encore is Wynn’s twin hotel.

Paris Las Vegas

Famous for its hot air balloon fixture and Eiffel Tower replica, this hotel allows visitors to ride up to the observation deck for a incredible view of The Strip (though it’s not as good as the real thing in Paris, France, which I visited in 1999). Get in line for crepes served through an indoor window. Browse the lovely shops and decor, though my favorite store is no longer there. Still, the hotel boasts one of the most gorgeous lobbies in all of Vegas, with its sparkling, oversized chandeliers and French decor.

Bellagio's fountains with Paris Las Vegas in background

Bellagio’s fountains with Paris Las Vegas in background

New York, New York

This replica of the city after which it’s named, including skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty, also features an outdoor roller coaster that’s prominently displayed against its “skyline.”

Treasure Island

The pirate show outside this hotel used to be the main attraction because of the stunts, pyrotechnics, and excitement. Now, as with most other attractions in Vegas, the show has morphed into a more adult-oriented, less-family-friendly Sirens of TI show (similar in style but with scantily-clad females).

Vdara

This relatively new (built in 2009) non-smoking, eco-friendly, non-casino, all-suite hotel & spa is part of a trio of hotels in CityCenter. Our stay there was peaceful and chic. The room was posh. The only drawback is the lack of a restaurant. There’s a bar and a market/cafe.

our Vdara hotel suite bathroom

our Vdara hotel suite bathroom

Aria

A sister hotel to Vdara, Aria is similar in swankiness, but unlike its sister, has several restaurants and shops, including tapas standout Julian Serrano and excellent Asian restaurant Lemongrass (everything from dim sum on carts to Thai curry). Aria also has its own Jean Philippe Patisserie.

Cosmopolitan

This is the perfect hotel for young people wanting to party and be seen — not the classiest but definitely flashy. It’s full of sparkle and plush decor. And it’s in the center of CityCenter.

Crystals

This high-end shopping mall at CityCenter has Gucci, Fendi, and just about any other luxury brand you can think of.

The Venetian

The hotel with Italian flair has gondola rides like in Venice (again, the real thing is so much better, as I experienced firsthand in 1999), and shopping in the Grand Canal Shoppes.  The captivatingly strange Blue Man Group performs in the theater.

Crystals at CityCenter

Crystals at CityCenter

Palazzo

Adjacent to The Venetian, this hotel is similar in style with a beautiful facade and its own Shoppes at the Palazzo.

Mandalay Bay

Mandalay Bay has an incredible, beach-like pool and shark reef. The hotel evokes a resort-like, relaxing feel that puts you at ease. The Noodle Shop was one of my favorites, but those of us with discerning tastes for Chinese food can tell the cuisine is slightly less than perfect but still enjoyable.

Trump International

Very “Trump” in every way, this towering, gold-colored hotel doesn’t have a casino but does have a gift shop full of Donald and Ivanka Trump merchandise.

me having dinner at Top of the World, Stratosphere

me having dinner at Top of the World, Stratosphere

Stratosphere

You can bungee-jump off the side of this very tall hotel, take a thrill ride dangling from the tower, take in The Strip from atop the high-up observation deck, or enjoy fine dining and just about the same view at Top of the World. We opted for all of the above, except the scary stuff (bungee-jumping and thrill ride). The shops sell affordable goods and target the less affluent or more frugal (I bought two beautiful scarves for $10 each).

Monte Carlo

Elegant hotel with the usual things you’d expect from a Las Vegas hotel — not as memorable as some of the others.