Best of Vegas: Trip 6

Having been to Vegas many times (this was my 6th trip), I've compiled a Best of Vegas List to help newcomers.

Best of Vegas: Trip 6

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

This was my sixth trip to Sin City, and I’ve stayed enough places and experienced enough experiences to put together my own Best of Vegas list, which is how I’ve written the review.

The best of this trip were:

1. Day trip to Skywalk at Grand Canyon West: It’s a little scary, but fun! It’s a relatively new attraction, so it’s not overwhelmed by hoards of people. You’ll have some time to reflect about your place in the universe as you look out over Eagle Point from the glass bridge.
2. Day trip to Red Rock Canyon: I got to breathe some fresh air and enjoy the landscape. It was quiet, very un-Vegas, and beautiful. It’s a mere 25-minute drive from the Strip, and yet it seems like you’re in another world entirely.
3. Freemont Street: We spent a whole day there gambling, and managed to break even. The minimum bets here are low, the dealers are helpful and the slots are more liberal.
4. Mix Lounge: I got some great photos of the Strip from this cool vantage point. ${QuickSuggestions} I have a whole journal on this, but my first advice to people is to take the time and LOOK UP! Vegas pays attention to details, and if you just look at what’s above you, you’ll be fascinated by the ceiling art.

If you want to go to the hippest restaurant, you’ll probably want to reserve a seat in advance.

Check with your concierge to see if you can get on a list for any lounge or club you want to frequent. It’ll save you a wait in line for places like the Ghostbar.

ALWAYS ASK for an upgraded room. It can’t hurt, and almost every time I’ve been to Vegas, I’ve asked – and received – a Strip view.

Bring your cash with you, rather than getting it from the ATMs. Yes, there are ATMs everywhere, but they all have a very hefty fee. The house always wins on ATMs, too. ${BestWay} Cabs are relatively cheap, and you’ll need them. It’s a deceptive skyline. You think that Paris Hotel is RIGHT THERE, but you’ll walk for a half hour and realize you’re still not there yet.

Bring those walking shoes. Take water with you when it's hot.

Best Hotel on the Strip: Mandalay Bay

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

Everyone has their favorite hotel in Vegas, mine is Mandalay Bay. Here’s why.

First, people are often scared off by it’s location at the end of the Strip. That just means fewer drunken idiots trolling the hallways at night making a ruckus and trying to get into the wrong room. (That happened to me on the last trip.) I just don’t think that the location is that inconvenient. There’s a free tram to run you from Mandalay to Luxor to Excaliber, which gets you closer to center Strip, plus, cabs are a’plenty. Even if you stay in the "heart of the action," the hotels aren’t THAT close to each other. I’d still take a cab between say the Venetian and Paris – especially in heels.

Second, it’s got that luxurious feel without some of the kitsch that the theme hotels put off. It feels very tropical paradise without overtly throwing it in your face. The casino is large and well-ventilated and the lobby is majestic and classy. The rooms are roomy, the bathroom suites are large and if you don’t appreciate the huge flat-screen in combination with the Strip view, why aren’t you at the Motel 6? I’ve read complaints about the service – but I’ve never experienced anything but helpful and knowledgeable folks here. Here’s a tip – if you check in on a peak day at a peak time, of COURSE you’ll have to wait, get over it. I even asked the housekeeping staff to remove the down bedding (allergic) and they took care of it within a few hours.

And can you say BEACH POOL? I still think that hands down, this is the best pool area on the Strip. The wave pool is loads of fun (body surfing anyone?) and the lazy river makes for a cool way to catch a current. In crazy Vegas style, it’s cheaper to buy an inner tube to use on the lazy river than it is to rent one, but my tip is to pack a Wal-Mart one in your bag and blow it up when you get there. Watch out for the waterfall if you don’t want to get soaked! There are other, normal pools around, too, if you want to be bored to dea . . . I mean, traditional.

There are also lots of restaurant choices within the hotel. If you can’t find something to eat here, give it up.

As a five-year veteran traveling with a first-year Vegas virgin, the Vegas virgin agreed that he thought we made the best hotel choice for the best deal. Check the hotel Web site to get the best rates (our package deal was $707 with round trip air from VA).

Runner-Up: If you’re wondering who the runner-up would be for best Vegas hotel, see my entry from my last trip for the Venetian.
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89119
(702) 632-7777

Best Steak in Vegas: BOA Comes in Third

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

Each year that I return to Vegas, I go on the hunt for a good steak. I believe in at least one splurge meal per trip, and if I’m going to splurge, I want some red meat.

This year, I looked at all the "Best" lists on the Internet for the best steak, and in almost every list, the BOA Steakhouse in Caesar’s Palace was listed among the top five. So I made reservations online for BOA for a 6:30 dinner on a Thursday night. While busy, I was surprised the restaurant wasn’t packed, but maybe that was a day-of-the-week thing.

The décor was very modern with straight lines, and appealing in browns, whites and reds, with some bare tree trunks – I interpreted it as moderately Asian style.

We were seated immediately, and our waiter came by in his crisp uniform to tell us about the specials and take our drink order. He was quite personable, and talked to us about our trip, what was on our agenda, his studies, what the locals do in Vegas, etc. If I had to rate the restaurant on service alone, this would've been one of my best experiences ever.

We waited a bit longer than I’d like before we were served our dinner. It took about 35 minutes of waiting and eating bread before the meal came out. I ordered a fillet mignon (a shocker for my regular readers, I know) and my boyfriend ordered the seared tuna. Both were a tasty choice for each of us, but my steak was just slightly more well-done than I would’ve liked (I ordered it medium well.) But it was covered in herb butter and was served with their own version of A-1 sauce, so it was quite tasty. My boyfriend LOVED his tuna, said it was some of the best he’d had in a while. He said it was "sushi-grade" (I don't like fish, so whatever that means.) Between us, we split a baked potato (the sides are big enough for two.)

There’s a price to pay for good taste, the entire dinner (and we didn’t order drinks) cost about $100. We expected to pay that though, so we weren’t surprised or anything.

During my trips, I’d have to say that the best steakhouse in Vegas was Prime in the Bellagio, and the runner ups are the Delmonico in the Venetian and BOA.
BOA Steakhouse Ceasars at The Forum Shops
3500 South Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
(702) 733-7373

Best Breakfast Buffet: Le Buffet

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

I think I’ve written about this buffet for every trip to Vegas I’ve made – and for good reason. It’s GOOD!

The buffet itself is in the Paris Hotel. Expect a wait. Depending on what day of the week (Saturdays are busier) and what time you go (earlier is better) the wait may not be so bad. It’ll cost you $14.95 per person, which I realize isn’t the expected bargain Vegas buffet, but this is the best breakfast you’ll get during your stay. And also think that you’ll need to loosen a button or two on your pants, so you may be too full to eat lunch, so you can save there.

Once you’re seated, a waiter/waitress will come by and take your drink order, and then you’re off! My advice is to take a pass and see what’s on the menu before committing to an item. For example, you may see scrambled eggs with bacon, but there are scrambled eggs with ham further down.

It’s got your traditional breakfast buffet fare – eggs, home fries, bacon, oatmeal, breads, etc. But let’s be honest here. The best things about the breakfast buffet are the CREPES. Go to the back of the buffet first, and look for the person in the chef’s hat. There may be a line – it’s okay! Stand there patiently, because there’s a yummy treat at the end. When the crepe chef pours the batter and flattens it out, pick out your filling, and think ahead for your toppings – you don’t want to dawdle. My favorite way to eat my crepes are to get them filled with raspberry sauce, then topped with powdered sugar, some chocolate sauce and some sliced almonds (the crunch really adds to the experience.)

You also get to eat your crepes in a French village environment, with a painted morning sky above your head.

You do not want to miss this breakfast.
Le Village Buffet
Paris Las Vegas Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
(702) 946-7000

Best Burger: The Burger Bar

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

If you get a hankering for a Kobe beef burger with truffles and foie gras, and you’ve had a good day at the slots, you can plop down $60 bucks and tickle your taste buds. If you’ve gone bust, however, don’t worry, the black angus beef burger is a tasty alternative for $9.

This place is always hopping – we didn’t walk past it once that it wasn’t full or have a wait outside. Lunch is probably the easier time to grab a booth and a bite. It’s located in Mandalay Place, the shopping area that now conjoins Mandalay Bay and the Luxor hotel.

There are some pre-programmed specials, but most people build their own burger experience. Pick the beef, pick the bun and pick the sides from The Garden (spinach, avocado, etc.), The Grill (peppers, caramelized onion, etc.), The Ocean (salmon, anchovies, etc.), The Dairy (mmmm, cheese), The Farm (bacon, prosciutto, etc.), The Pantry (pesto, salsa, etc.), or The Earth (truffles, mushrooms, etc.). Then you’ll want to pick your fries, because no burger is complete without fries. They have skinny fries, fat fries (neither having to do with how you’ll feel after), sweet potato fries, zucchini fries and onion rings. I had the skinny fries – they’re just like Burger King.

I was super pleased to find out that the entire restaurant is non smoking – a new Vegas statute only allows smoking in the casinos. Oh, that one day, we’ll be able to lose our money smoke-free as well. But it sure makes Vegas eating a more pleasant experience. Each booth has a TV to entertain you while you eat, not to mention several bar TVs. The wait staff knows their stuff and can help you decide if you need a recommendation, and you’ll never have an empty plate or glass in front of you.

Everything in Vegas costs more, so if you want a $3 burger, there’s a McDonalds next door in the Luxor, along with a Little Caesar’s Pizza. But if you want a gourmet burger and a great atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed with the Burger Bar.
Burger Bar
Mandalay Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89101
(702) 632-9364

Best Longer Day Trip: Grand Canyon West & Skywalk

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

When the lights and sounds of Vegas gets to be too much, renting a car and heading to points unknown isn’t difficult. If you want to spend a whole day away from Sin City, Grand Canyon West is less than 3 hours away – plus, you get to traverse the Hoover Dam on the way, walking over it, jumping from Arizona to Nevada in a single bound, etc. If you’re really dedicated, you can call in advance and arrange a whole tour of the Dam. In addition, you'll get to drive through the Joshua Tree Forest, and those trees are really unique.

Since March of 2007, there’s a new reason to make the trek to the Grand Canyon. If marveling at a massive striated hole in the ground isn’t enough to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, now you can marvel at it while you’re standing on a glass bridge that lets you look into the cavernous depths. It’s called Skywalk, and it’s the new thrill-inducing way of seeing Grand Canyon West.

You’ll pay a bit of a price, though. It’ll cost you $20 just to park your rental car at the Grand Canyon airport, which also serves as the visitors center for skywalk. There is then a $29.95 fee to enter on to the Hualapai land, giving you access to both Eagle Point (where the rock has the shape of a flying eagle) and Guano Point (yes, it’s named after bad dung, which was “mined” from the location.) That fee will let you look at the Skywalk, but if you want to actually step on the Skywalk, that’ll run you another $29.95. But heck, you’d loose that in the tables in an hour on the Strip, isn’t it better to actually spend it on something?

Skywalk has some limitations to be aware of. If you’re looking forward to the perfect photo from Skywalk, you’ll have to buy one, because no cameras (or anything that can be dropped over the edge, cell phones, wallets, etc.) aren’t allowed – they’ll give you a locker for your droppable belongings. They will, however, allow you to have as many photos taken of you on the Skywalk as you’d like to pose for. The problem with that, in my opinion, is that they’re constantly asking people to get out of the way of the wide-angle lens. Good for those in the photo, bad for those on the bridge.

You can stay on the Skywalk for as long as you’d like, however, and style the little paper booties that they give you. I figure the paper booties serve two purposes. First, shoes don’t scratch the glass and keep it pristine for the rest of the visitors, and second, we dust and clean it off as we walk. I will say that the walking on glass suspended 700 feet over the canyon is a bit daunting at first. Silly me, I stayed on the side of the bridge for a while (which is still glass, just not see through, duh) but eventually got brave enough to walk over the clear glass and look down.

The gift shop has lots of “I did it!” paraphernalia for you to buy, and I think such an experience deserves a souvenir.
Grand Canyon West (Grand Canyon Skywalk)
Pierce Ferry Road To Diamond Bar Road
Peach Springs, AZ, 89146
(928) 769-2219

Best Shorter Day Trip: Red Rock Canyon

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

If you want to get out of Vegas, but you don’t want to spend a whole day in the car, there’s an excellent experience to be had just 25 minutes outside of the city in Red Rock Canyon. Not only is there a landscaping wonder to behold there, you can also pay a visit to Red Rock Resort and Casino – just in case you hadn’t gambled enough and just wanted a change of scenery. I find the resort to be a great place to grab a bite to eat after a morning of hiking.

By Vegas standards, Red Rock Canyon is a cheap thrill – only $5 gets a car through the gate for the entire day. Once inside, there’s a 13-mile, one-way loop that starts with the Visitor’s Center. And make sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center, because that will be your last opportunity to get beverages for your hiking endeavors, and also to use a restroom that is not an outhouse with a stool. So make good use of it!

Mostly because we weren’t smart enough to get our beverages in advance, we drove the entire loop one time first (to go back to the Visitor’s Center for water) and then went around again, using the newsletter we were given when we bought our ticket to decide what we wanted to see.

Along the loop there are several “stops” where you can park the car, get out, take some amazing pictures and even do some hiking. There are trails for both the faint of heart and the fanatics. I highly recommend stopping at the first trail at the Calico Hills. Once you see the rocks here, you’ll know where the name came from. The red rocks are huge, and lots of fun to climb on – both with your feet and with climbing equipment, if you’re so inclined.

My second favorite stop in the park is about 6 miles in, and it’s the highest point on the loop, offering fabulous views of the rocks – they look like someone took a paintbrush and made a mistake with the stroke of a hand.
Red Rock Canyon
Highway 159 at Scenic Drive
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89124
(702) 363-1921

Best Place to Gamble: Freemont Street

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

Walk down the Strip, and if you can find a table game with less than a $15 minimum bet, play it immediately, because you’re the luckiest person on the planet at that moment. If you’d like to play longer on less money, take a $20 taxi ride down to Freemont Street, and do a search in each casino for the $5 tables (you’re more likely to find them earlier in the day, the minimums go up after about 6 p.m.).

The pedestrian-mostly street is lined with casinos and slot machine rooms, so you’ve got lots of choices. The slots here are definitely more skewed to you winning more often, and to get you in the door, they’ll adorn you with some Mardi Gras beads. For card games, you’ll be able to find some single and double-deck tables.

The dealers here are a bit more friendly and helpful. We had a dealer in Binions named Terry that taught me more about blackjack in one day than I’d learned in 5 trips to Vegas before. I learned that if the dealer is showing a 2, that’s the best card for the dealer and the worst card for the player. I learned that if the dealer is showing a 3, 4 or 5, “if there’s a 10 coming, you don’t want it.” Always assume that whatever the card is under the face up card the dealer has is a 10 or above. And I learned that you should always double down if you have 11 in your hand. I also learned that it’s called GAMBLING and the rules don’t always guarantee anything.

After dusk, you’ll be treated to a nice freebie every half hour, the Freemont Street Experience. The street is covered with millions of lights, which put on a show to music. The show lasts about 5 minutes, and most everything stops to watch. The neon casino lights go out, the people all stop and look up, and any surrounding music ceases. It really is a fabulous show, and earns itself a runner-up position in the Best Free Thing to See in Vegas category.
Fremont Street Experience
Westernmost 5 Blocks Of Fremont
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89101
(702) 678 5777

Best Freebie to See in Vegas: Bellagio Stuff

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

While I didn’t like my stay in the Bellagio (former entry), I think it’s one of the most beautiful hotels on the Strip.

It’s probably also one of the most well-known because of the glorious fountain show that starts at 3 p.m. (running on the half hour) and continues late into the night (running every 15 minutes). Set to music, the water dances and shoots into the sky to the rhythm.

But that’s not all that the Bellagio has to offer. Go inside into the lobby. Look up. There’s a Dale Chihuly glass creation of flowers above your head. That alone should be enough, but keep walking into the Bellagio garden.

The Bellagio garden changes with the season. I’ve been there when they had a fall harvest theme, a Chinese New Year theme, a U.S. Monuments theme, and now a springtime bug/flower theme. It’s like a mini Rose Parade, as everything is made out of flowers. On this particular visit, there was even a butterfly garden with live specimens.

It’s really one of the best locations, and none of these eye feasts will put any dent in your budget at all.
3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89109
(702) 693-7111

Best Vegas View: Mix Lounge

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Carmen on May 5, 2008

As a photo nut, I’m always on the hunt for the best place that I can find to take an amazing photo from the Strip – short of a helicopter.

This year, I discovered Mix Lounge, atop of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, 64 floors up.

To get there, head through Mandalay Bay, towards the Mamma Mia theater. Get on the elevator and prepare for your ears to pop as you ascend to on-high. It opens at 5 p.m., and it’s both a lounge and a restaurant. The Web site says there’s a $25 cover on weekends and $20 on weekdays – but when we went on a Wednesday night around 9 p.m., we didn’t pay anything, which was a good thing, because when we got to the top, it was dead. I felt like we were the only people there – okay by me.

You can reserve a table inside, but the draw here is the balcony and the view down the Strip. I hope you’re taller than me, because there is, of course, a glass wall to keep the crazies and the drunks from falling over, but if you can get your camera high enough, you can get one outstanding view of the Strip.

Honestly, I think I would’ve paid the cover charge, if we’d been asked to, just to get these photos, but I’m glad that we got to go up for free.

There are other great views in Vegas, and the runner-up in this category would be the Stratosphere hotel. It’s at the complete other end of the Strip from Mandalay, where the Mix Lounge is, so you can get a photo from either end. Over the years, the view has definitely changed. To go to the top of the Stratosphere, you’ll pay $12.

Third place goes to the Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel. While you’ll be hard pressed to get a photo of the complete Strip, you’ll get an excellent shot of the Bellagio fountains from above, for around $12.

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