Viva Las Vegas

My fiance and I spent a fun-filled weekend in Vegas.


Viva Las Vegas

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by notso62 on February 20, 2008

A weekend in Vegas? How could I say no. Even though I had never been before, I knew a 2-day get away would be a great way to scratch the surface of this famously touristy town.
I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do everything that I had planned for because of the time constraints on my travel- but once in Vegas I was certainly encouraged to try to squeeze it all in.

Vegas To Do List Item #1)Put a bet in a slot machine: CHECK! As soon as I got off the plane, slot machines greet you in the airport waiting areas. It was way too easy to scratch that item off my to do list.

Vegas To Do List Item #2)Eat dinner at a celebrity chef restaurant: CHECK! CHECK! Celebrity chef's abound in Vegas; Emeril, Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, etc, etc. It was very easy to make a reservation through the hotel concierge or through opentable.com. Most of the restaurants had some open seating even when making the reservation just hours before (though most suggest if you want a preferred time to make them well in advance).

Vegas To Do List Item #3) Shop Till I drop. Check! Check! Check! Between the Forum Shops in Caesar's Palace, The Fashion Show Mall, the high-end shops at the Wynn, the beautiful concourse at the Venetian, and the carefully edited selections at Mandalay Place-- I definitely left Vegas with more luggage and a lighter wallet.

Vegas To Do List Item #4) See a Show. Check! When we were there, we were lucky to be able to get tickets to the Las Vegas Comedy Festival that happened to be going on that weekend (we saw Chris Rock).

Vegas To Do List Item #5) Ride the roller coaster at NY/NY. Check! Unfortunately, cramming all these activities into one weekend meant we ended up on the roller coaster after eating at a celebrity chef restaurant. Though illness was averted, I would suggest planning these events in the opposite order if they are both on your to-do list. ${QuickSuggestions} Information abounds on the internet about Vegas- some helpful travel sites include visitlasvegas.com and vegas.com. Look there for possible package deals and special offers.

Vegas is extremely busy on holidays and around major sporting events (Superbowl, March Madness, etc). If you're looking for a deal on hotels or flights, try to avoid these times.

Many shows have same-day tickets available for a discount at the kiosks on the strip. If you don't have a particular show and seating preference, it might be worth it to wait and try your luck at the last-minute tickets. ${BestWay} Shuttle Service: There are several shuttle services that go directly from the Airport to hotel stops on or near the strip. These cost about - and can be easily obtained upon arrival at the kiosks outside the airport terminal.

Taxi: Taxi to strip hotels from the airport is about -. Taxis to the strip hotels from other strip destinations will run about - depending on hotel proximity.

Monorail or Tram: There are two free trams operating during scheduled hours in Las Vegas- one connecting Rio and Bally's; the other connecting Mandalay Bay, Luxor, and Excalibur. The monorail is /ride with stops at the MGM Grand, Bally's/Paris, Caesar's Palace/Flamingo, Harrah's/ Imp Palace, LV Convention Center, LV Hilton, and the Sahara.

Rental cars: Not advisable due to plentiful alternative transportation and high cost of valet and parking services.

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by notso62 on April 10, 2008

One of the first buildings tourists see upon arriving at McCarren International Airport is the shimmery gold three-wing tower belonging to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. From the plane it would seem that the hotel is almost walking distance from the airport, but it is soon learned that it is so massive that it just seems closer than it appears. A twenty minute cab or 40 minute shuttle bus ride is needed to actually get to the entrance of the Mandalay Bay from the airport. The longer than expected car ride from the airport was my first instance of experiencing "lost time" in Vegas- but it certainly wasn't the last instance.
Once inside the Mandalay Bay, I was completely overwhelmed by its enormity and extravagant interior. An aquarium sized fish tank with all sorts of beautiful tropical sea creatures and palm trees decorates the area where the concierge and hotel check-in are located. One might forget for a second that they are in fact in Vegas and not Bora Bora or Tahiti when taking in these tastefully-done decorations.

The marble-lined lobby is only the beginning of this hotel's extravagance. There is a beach (complete with sand and a wave pool), a shark tank exhibition (a seperate fee- but well worth it), a huge casino, a top-notch shopping concourse, and several four- or five- star restaurants. You don't even have to leave the resort to entertain yourself!

The casino at the Mandalay Bay is pretty laid back when it comes to scenes. There were far less patrons here then there were at Caesar's Palace on the same weekend- perhaps due to this casino's end-of-strip location. The casino is very nice though and you'll find the same type of gambling that you would elsewhere. I personally liked the less-crowded feel to it and the fact that this casino uses the same "player's club" card as the MGM Resorts.

The room we were given at the Mandalay Bay was spectacular. I believe it was a Junior Suite-type of reservation- it had every amenity we could possibly think of. The bathroom was the most awe-inspiring sight; from the plasma-TV above the sink to the marble jacuzzi-sized tub. The high-end toiletries and robes waiting for our arrival were also a nice touch. The bedroom itself had modern fixtures, linens, electronics (TV and Ipod dock) and a spectacular view of the strip from the floor-to-ceiling windows on the North side of the building.

The staff at the Mandalay Bay were all very professional and helpful. Our room was cleaned to the point of being immaculate everyday with a proper turndown service included. The concierge and valets were very helpful about giving directions and arranging transportation. Even the cocktail waitresses in the casino area were always pleasant and filled drink orders soon after I sat down at any given slot machine.

The Mandalay Bay offered a pleasant stay and I would definitely opt for this luxurious accommodation again for future trips to Vegas.
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89119
(702) 632-7777

Hyakumi

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by notso62 on April 10, 2008

Who would have thought one could find a tranquil restaurant in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas? Hyakumi is a Japanese restaurant with a serene and peaceful feel. The bamboo hut-like design and rice paper screens provide the perfect backdrop for a quiet dinner a deux.

Hyakumi is not only great for peace and quiet though- if you’re with a group or feel like being more social you can try reserving a seat in the more-boisterous teppan-yaki section of the restaurant. Here the chef prepares your dinner before you and your table on a open grill. Frequent flame flares make this very entertaining.

When my fiancé and I went to Hyakumi, we were seated at a private corner table that was set traditionally with white linens, candles and a lovely orchid center piece. Our server was very quick to take our order and bring our drinks and food to the table.

I decided to be adventurous at this restaurant and try one of their signature cocktails called the Lychee Martini. It was fantastic- the perfect blend of lychee juice, vodka and three lychee nut garnishes. My fiancé stuck with the wine, which he also enjoyed very much.

Sushi, sashimi, and other traditional Japanese plates comprise most of the menu. Portions for each type are more than adequate to feed one person—mixing and matching is not a problem with the starting prices quite low.

If you go to Hyakumi, you absolutely have to try the miso soup. This was the best miso I had ever tried- the texture of the soup was almost thick and hearty (not like watery varieties that I normally get at restaurants). The seaweed and the tofu that they used must have been very fresh too as they tasted much better than this combination normally does. Too bad Las Vegas is not somewhere that you have to eat soup to stay warm- I would eat this everyday if it was.
Hyakumi
3570 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
+1 702 731 7731

Trattoria del Lupo

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by notso62 on April 14, 2008

I had always wanted to try a Wolfgang Puck Restaurant; so while in Vegas we booked a reservation at the Trattoria del Lupo. This is one of Wolfgang’s many outposts in Las Vegas; the most famous of which is Spago at Caesar’s. The Trattoria del Lupo is located at Mandalay Bay so was most convenient for us since we were staying at that hotel.

Having watched way too many episodes of “Cooking with Wolfgang” on the Food Network, I had come to expect his food to possess a certain California or Fusion style. However, the Trattoria del Lupo is strictly Italian even though it carries Wolfgang’s name over the restaurant sign. I found this to be slightly disappointing since I thought I would be in for something unexpected. The menu is filled with traditional fare that you would expect to see in any upscale Italian restaurant; including Pizza Margherita, Ravioli, and Papparadelle pasta with meat sauce. There was one unusual dish which included a pork chop and pork belly combination glazed with apples. However, most of the menu was unadventurous.

Getting past the contents of the menu the actual food that my fiancé and I ordered was pretty good, but slightly overpriced. I had the Capellini “Al Pomodoro Fresco” which arrived with a ton of fresh basil and gorgeous diced tomatoes, but was probably not worth the $20 price tag for pasta and vegetables. My fiancé had the aforementioned pork chop and apple glaze combination which rang in around $40. He said his dinner was excellent making that dish almost worth the extra dollars.

We made our reservation for Trattoria del Lupo at opentable.com a few hours before we got hungry for dinner. We had no problem booking this slightly last minute reservation and when we arrived at the restaurant we were surprised to find it mostly empty. There was one other large party there and several people in the bar, but this restaurant wasn’t nearly as busy as the other popular celebrity chef restaurants on the Vegas strip. Perhaps the emptiness reflects my “over-priced” sentiments, but then again it could have just been an off-night.

Upon arrival, the host allowed us to pick the type of table we would sit at; either inside the restaurant or outside on the indoor patio. The inside of the restaurant is separated from the outside by large glass doors, so there really isn’t a difference in ambiance since it is all so open. We chose to sit out on the patio and people-watch during our dinner since this restaurant is located on a busy concourse at the Mandalay Bay. White table cloths, formal service, and upscale appetizers and bread courses completed the elegant scene.

I would say overall that I enjoyed my dinner at the Trattoria del Lupo though I was disappointed with the prices and lack of creativity in the Wolfgang Puck menu. On our next trip to Vegas, I will probably try Spago instead of coming back to this restaurant as I have a feeling it is more in line with my expectations. However the Trattoria del Lupo is not bad for a quiet dinner at the Mandalay Bay.
Trattoria del Lupo
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89119
(702) 632-7777

Border Grill

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by notso62 on April 22, 2008

The Border Grill at the Mandalay Bay is a hidden gem that I found during my short stay in Vegas. Escaping all the press that some of the other trendy restaurants get and inhabiting a location tucked between the hotel’s wedding chapel and shark reef; it is easy to see why people might not know about the Border Grill’s existence.

Arriving at noon without being fed on the flight from Boston, my fiancé and I were on the lookout for a nice casual restaurant, convenient to our hotel. After exploring the Mandalay Bay we found the Border Grill on the end near the Convention Center. From the outside, this restaurant did not look very inviting (for some reason, it appeared much smaller and closed-in). However, the prices seemed reasonable and we were famished so we decided to settle on it.

Once inside the Border Grill, I was completely surprised by the festive set-up on the outdoor covered patio. There were paper flowers on every table and fun fiestaware-style place settings. The openness of the patio area completely changed my perception of this restaurant; it now seemed bigger than I could have imagined it being from the outside. Also adding to the nice surprises were the fantastic views of the “beach” area outside, making me feel like I was in a different world all together.

The food served by the Border Grill is mostly Mexican or Tex-Mex in style. Both lunch and dinner menus have everyday favorites like enchiladas, tacos, and quesadillas. They also have several dishes that I haven’t seen before on Mexican menus including the Mulitas that I decided to order. My plate came out with prettily arranged sliced Portobello mushrooms, peppers, and other vegetables covered in a salsa-like sauce. The combination was very good and the use of fresh ingredients without a lot of salt-added made this seem healthier than most other Mexican food I have indulged in.

At the Border Grill they seem to have something to fit everyone’s taste. From Vegetarian to meat-lovers, there certainly was a variety. My fiancé ended up ordering the Baja Ceviche which was essentially fish prepared with citrus fruits. I absolutely hate fish, and he hates mushrooms, but somehow this restaurant’s menu left us both satisfied. People watching their wallets should be happy at the Border Grill as well- very few entrees top the $20 mark.

Tortilla chips and salsa are provided at each table setting as is done in many other Mexican restaurants. For an extra charge you can upgrade the salsa to the delicious house guacamole, which speaking from experience was completely worth the few extra dollars. Also worth the indulgence are the contents of the drink menu. They have an impressive selection of tequilas to choose from if you decide to imbibe a margarita. From further down the list, I chose a cucumber mojito- a nice cucumber mix-up of the minty rum original. All mixed drinks were about $10-$15/each.

I would encourage others seeking non-fussy eating establishments with good food to find the Border Grill. I believe this restaurant was a very good value in terms of reasonable prices, pleasant ambiance, and convenience. I would eat here again if I were to stay at the Mandalay Bay.
Border Grill
3950 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89118
+1 702 632 7403

Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by notso62 on February 22, 2008

With the slots and game tables hindering my financial stability over the course of our Vegas weekend, my fiancé and I decided to find less-expensive ventures to fill our Saturday afternoon. Lucky for us a free attraction was right in the middle of our gambling debacle to divert our attention- the Lion’s Habitat at the MGM Grand.

To be fair I will disclose that I am a huge fan of cats (both big and small) to begin with, so perhaps this journal might be a bit biased. But I was legitimately impressed with the display at the MGM Grand. A natural-looking cliff habitat is encased in Plexiglas to allow on-lookers to get up-close and personal with the cats inside. A fun feature is the tunnel (also made of Plexiglas) that runs through the middle that viewers stand in as the lions play above and around. It might sound silly, but it’s pretty amazing to look up and see just how huge the lion’s foot is as he steps above you.

Trainers attend to the two lion cubs as they entertain the crowd. They also give general factual presentations about the cubs in general to educate visitors. The lions are encouraged to play and interact- they have various toys with huge claw marks in them to remind visitors that these are no ordinary kitty cats but ferocious beasts (though they may seem like ordinary house cats when they are just batting a ball around).

Interesting lion facts include that these lions are related to the original MGM mascot lion. There are many "fact" panels that line the exhibit with all sorts of information about these specific lion cubs and lions in general. There is also a nearby gift-shop with tons of lion-themed merchandise (perfect if you’re like me and could never have enough cat-paraphernalia).

The Lion’s Habitat is open during all casino hours, but the Lions are only there during specified times. They are actually bought in daily from a larger habitat outside of town. I’m not sure if they are on some sort of a schedule, but they seemed to be there all afternoon the day I was there.

Something fun and free in Vegas? Yes, the Lion’s Habitat fits that bill.
Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand
3799 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
+1 702 891 1111; +1

Roller Coaster at New York Hotel & Casino

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by notso62 on April 10, 2008

Of all the brilliant ideas I have ever had, going on the roller coaster at NY/NY after eating dinner probably wasn’t the best one. But the kid in me just could not resist the thrills on the tracks after hearing the high-pitched screams of the patrons as they whizzed by overhead.

The roller coaster at NY/NY operates until late at night making it a nice evening diversion from typical Vegas gambling activities. Their hours are seasonal I believe, but when I was there in November it was open until midnight. However, I would not go on this if you just ate or have already imbibed a bit. This roller coaster may not seem like much from outside views, but it really whips around.

The roller coaster ride itself is short, but exciting. In the 3-4 minutes that it lasts it manages to overturn riders several times, imposes several different directional forces, and shows a spectacular view of the strip before plunging down a steep incline. My hair was definitely a bit wind-blown upon getting off and made me wish that I hadn’t spent so much time getting ready for our evening out.

The most annoying part of the roller coaster experience at NY/NY was perhaps finding the roller coaster experience entry. First you have to go into the casino to find the boarding area. Once inside, the signs that point to the direction of the coaster seem to become fewer as you get close to where you’re supposed to go. This is probably an intentional business strategy of the casino to confuse patrons and encourage them to gamble on the way to the coaster. The staircase that you go up to get to the amusement park area looks like it might be the wrong way, but is it how we eventually got to where we wanted to be.

Once you do find the path to the roller coaster, it’s a fun trip. The carnival-style games and arcade-like alleys lead you to the waiting line. The amusement park atmosphere is slightly cliché, but fun nonetheless. All the typical games are there- the mechanical claw, the whack-a-mole, and skee ball are all accounted for.

For $14 per person you can take a single trip on the coaster, or for about $30 per person you can buy a pass to ride all day (or all night) long. When I visited there was about a 20-person-long line waiting to board and it only took about 10 minutes for everyone waiting to get a chance to ride. This was later in the evening on a Friday, but I would expect that it wouldn’t be that long during other times as well.
The Roller Coaster at New York New York
3790 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
866.815.4365

M&M Experience

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by notso62 on April 22, 2008

Almost every tourist in Vegas carries one of the bright yellow shopping bags from the M&M Experience. This type of observation would normally lead me to avoid such a destination, since the words "tourist trap" come to mind. However after watching a recent shopping profile about the Las Vegas strip with this shop highlighted, I just had to check it out for myself.

Inside the shopping concourse adjacent to the MGM Grand is more than 10,000 square feet of M&M Heaven. The fun begins outside the store where patrons can pose with one of the giant stuffed costume M&M’s that parade up and down the sidewalk. There is also a photo booth where for $5/picture customers can immortalize their visit to this spot with a kitschy chocolate candy background.

Once inside the store, it is pretty easy to see why almost everyone that comes here leaves with some sort of shopping bag. The chocolate smell is intoxicating as soon as you walk in the door and is probably responsible for the majority of the purchases through subconscious smell-marketing. Even I, savviest of consumers who told myself that I could buy M&M’s at almost any other store in the USA before entering this store found myself purchasing all sorts of confections and leaving with one of those ubiquitous yellow shopping bags. Attempts to resist the impulse purchase here are essentially futile.

Highlights of the shopping here include about 30 separate color bins for both regular and peanut M&M’s where customers can make their own custom-color mix. There are also many cute gift boxes with treats inside. On the fourth level (yes, there really are 4 levels of M&M shopping) are products geared towards the companies Nascar sponsorship. T-shirts, key chains, and many other souvenirs below $20 can be found on all levels.

The M&M Experience is more than a store where you could buy anything and everything with an M&M’s logo emblazoned on it. There are several parts of the "Experience" that are meant to entertain the kids (or grown up kids). The third floor has an animated M&M factory with mechanical characters and parts of the "factory" that you could walk to as if you were an M&M going through the coating process. At the end of this free excursion is a 5-minute movie to further educate and entertain visitors. This was my favorite part of the store.

If you have some extra room for candy in your carry-on, I highly recommend a visit to the M&M Experience in Las Vegas. It was beyond my expectations of what a store dedicated to M&M’s could be. Though you might make purchases there that you will later question ("Why again did I need this plastic bear with M&Ms arranged in panda-colors?"), chances are that those expenses will be less than the gambling expenses that you might have incurred over the same time period had you not visited this store. And at least you have yummy candy to show for your monetary loss in this case.
M & M's World
3785 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
(702) 736-7611

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