Fifth in a series highlighting cities to which you can fly nonstop from Boston.
If you want it, Las Vegas has it. Last year more than 39 million visitors came to this glittering, high-voltage city in the desert to dive with sharks, shoot Tommy guns, race Ferraris, swim naked, drink, party, eat, gamble, and get married. (According to the Convention and Visitors Authority, Las Vegas is the number one destination in the country for marriages.)
The city — a virtual Disneyland for adults — will pretty much do anything to grab attention. It’s already invited the royal baby to visit on his 21st birthday, and where else can a former mayor get away with owning a restaurant called Beef. Booze. Broads. Sin City offers anything-goes, 24-hour, hedonistic pleasure.
But, these days, Las Vegas has a high-brow side, too. It’s considered one of the top culinary destinations in North America, drawing renowned chefs and celebrity icons. Entertainment is top-notch, with a daunting choice of star-studded shows, and resorts are posh, with mega-sized pools, chic spas, and high-class shopping venues. There’s gambling, of course, any time and just about anywhere, but you can have plenty of fun in Las Vegas without ever placing a bet.
1. Noon You’ll arrive your first day just in time for lunch. Head to Michael Mina’s Pub 1842 (MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-891-3922, www.michaelmina.net, burgers $15-$18, entrees $18-$47). Named after the year that pilsner beer was invented, this lively pub features more than 50 beer selections, straightforward, well-prepared American fare (think: ribs, steaks, and fish and chips), and arguably the best burgers in town. The peanut butter crunch burger with bacon jam and potato chips is a lot better than it sounds.
2, 3 & 4. 2 p.m. Take a walk down the larger-than-life Las Vegas Strip. Board the Big Apple Coaster for a heart-thumping ride around the New York New York Hotel and Casino (3790 Las Vegas Blvd., 800-689-1797, www.newyorknewyork.com, $14). Check out the Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo Hotel (3555 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-733-3349, www.flamingolasvegas.com, free), with Chilean flamingos, swans, ducks, fish, and turtles. Cross the street to visit Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage (3400 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-791-7111, www.mirage.com, adults $19.95, 4-12 $14.95). The Secret Garden is home to white tigers and lions, black panthers, a snow leopard, and golden tigers. The Dolphin Habitat houses a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. On your way out, watch Mirage’s volcano erupt with explosions and fireballs in a lagoon filled with waterfalls.
5. 5 p.m. You have a long night ahead of you; take time now to rejuvenate with a pedicure or massage at the tranquil Vdara Spa (2600 West Harmon Ave., 702-590-2474, www.vdara.com, massages $90-$280, pedicures $20-$95). The boutique spa, with its quiet, understated elegance, is the perfect escape from the city’s glittery scene. After your treatment, relax in a poolside spa cabana.
6. 7:30 p.m. Foodies flock to Sage (Aria, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., 877-230-2742, www.arialasvegas.com, four-course menu $89), a spacious, sophisticated restaurant, where award-winning chef Shawn McClain brings a strong farm-to-table ethos to his creative fare. Start with kushi oysters served with piquillo pepper and tabasco sorbet, or the Wasyu beef tartare, followed by signature dishes like the Iberico pork loin, 48-hour braised beef belly, or rabbit saddle served with chanterelles.
7. 9:30 p.m. There are seven resident Cirque du Soleil shows in town, but Michael Jackson ONE (Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd., 877-632-7400, www.mandalaybay.com, $69-$160) is the newest and one of the best. A state-of-the-art sound system blasts the king of pop’s iconic tunes, while a cast of 63 performers sing, dance, and do amazing aerial acrobatics.
8. 11:30 p.m. Slip into a back booth at the chic Vesper Bar (Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-698-7000, www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com) for late night drinks.
9. 10 a.m. We expected the Mob Museum (300 Stewart Ave., 702-229-2734, www.themobmuseum.org, adults $19.95, ages 5-17 and students 18-23 $13.95) to be kitschy. It’s not. The $42 million museum, housed in the former federal courthouse, is well done and bold in telling the stories of mobs and gangsters, and law enforcement’s battles to stop them. Three floors contain interactive exhibits, videos, photographs, and artifacts, including the bullet-ridden wall from the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, where seven members of Bugs Moran’s infamous gang were lined up and killed by Al Capone’s gang.
10 & 11. Noon You can’t do Vegas without hitting at least one buffet. Bring your appetites to lunch at Bacchanal Buffet (Caesar’s Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-731-7928, www.caesarspalace.com, lunch $32.99, Sat-Sun brunch $41.99), an over-the-top feast offering more than 500 daily items from nine globally-inspired stations. After lunch, stop by The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, featuring the largest H&M shop in the world, and popular boutiques, such as Harry Winston, Ted Baker, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Escada, Gucci, Guess, Christian Dior, and more.
12. 3 p.m. More than 2,700 tons of sand were trucked in to fill the 11-acre Beach at Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-632-4760, www.mandalaybay.com), featuring a wave pool, a lazy river, and poolside gaming. Grab a lounge chair or splurge for one of the more than 100 bungalows, cabanas, villas, or daybeds for a late afternoon power nap.
13. 7 p.m. Have drinks at Hyde Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-693-8700, www.bellagio.com), an indoor-outdoor terrace with a sleek, modern design, overlooking the famed Fountains of Bellagio, a must-see spectacle of dancing water and gushing fountains set to music. Then head next door to Le Cirque (see above, 702-693-8865, degustation menu $135, pre-theater menu $72) for dinner. The AAA five-diamond restaurant is one of the finest in Vegas. Expect haute cuisine dishes such as langoustine carpaccio with Osetra caviar, sauteed foie gras with white chocolate brioche, potato-crusted sea bass, Kobe beef ribeye, and honey-glazed duck.
14 & 15. 10 p.m. Dress down to end your evening at slightly seedy but always interesting Fremont Street Experience (Fremont Street, 702-678-5777, www.vegasexperience.com), a five-block entertainment complex in the historic downtown area. Check out the bar at Golden Gate Hotel and Casino (1 Fremont St., 702-385-1906, www.goldengatecasino.com), with its throwback Rat Pack appeal (this is where Sammy, Frank, and the boys hung out back in the day). Try retro drinks like the Frankie Two Fingers, which mimics Sinatra’s favorite order when he was at Golden Gate — two fingers of Jack Daniels, a splash of bottled water, and four ice cubes. The casino here is a favorite, too, with dancing dealers in skimpy, fringed outfits.
Stick around Fremont to watch the Light and Sound Show (free) with special effects, videos shown on the world’s largest video screen, and more than 12 million LED lights.
16. 10 a.m. For a slice of Americana, Vegas-style, visit the Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd. North, 702-387-6366, www.neonmuseum.org, one-hour day tours $18 adults, age 6 and under free, night tours $25). The visitors center of the museum is housed in the relocated and rehabbed La Concha Motel lobby, but the real draw is out in the Neon Boneyard, featuring an amazing collection of about 150 vintage signs, including from Moulin Rouge, Binions, the Golden Nugget, Treasure Island, and Stardust.
17. Noon Who knows when your next visit to Las Vegas will be, so make your last meal here a big one, with an al fresco lunch at Le Village (Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-946-7000, www.parislasvegas.com, $21.99-$30.99). The out-of-the-ordinary, all-you-can-eat buffet features live-action cooking stations and made-to-order dishes representing classic cuisine from France. Before leaving the resort, visit the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower Experience (888-727-4758, rates from $7.50 depending on season) for a 360-degree view of the Strip and surrounding valley.
Perhaps you still have time to place a last-minute bet before heading out of town. It could be your lucky day.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.