Your Guide to Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a crazy place. Even if you aren’t a gambler, I recommend at least one trip in your lifetime simply because it’s such a wondrous, nutty, extravagant place. For example, my parents aren’t gamblers at all and don’t drink, but they’ve been to Vegas a few times (my mom checks out the art galleries and my dad golfs).

Vegas is what you make it. You can go there and completely avoid alcohol and gambling, and still have a fantastic time. There are amazing shows, decadent restaurants, cheap restaurants, and hilarious people watching. Besides, where on earth can you visit Egypt, New York, Paris and Venice all in one day?!

This post is about some of my recommendations and reviews from my experiences. I’ve been to Vegas four times and had very different trips each time.

Where To Stay

My advice: stay somewhere ON The Strip. Trust me, you’ll wish you were right in the middle of everything. First, it’s more fun there. Second, cab rides to the Strip are expensive and add up fast. Save money by paying a little bit extra to have a good location. I cannot stress enough how much of a difference the location makes.

Imperial Palace –

I stayed here the first trip to Vegas. I was with my cousin Anna for my 25th birthday.
Pros: Fantastic location! It’s on the Strip and right in the middle of everything, across from Caesar’s Palace. It was super cheap.
Cons: It’s old, the casino is rundown, smokey. The rooms were kind of like a Motel 6.

The Luxor –

I stayed here with my friend Robyn. Unfortunately the hotel was under major construction so it wasn’t that nice, the construction was loud and annoying and kind of a pain. I’d probably never stay there again.
Pros: Affordable, on the Strip, decent restaurants in the hotel, there’s a free tram that stops at the casino to make it easier to get around, the gym was really nice but you had to pay $25 a day to use it.
Cons: It’s kind of far from everything so there’s travel time, either walking or taking the tram. All those windows in the pyramid? Yeah–it made the rooms insanely hot. The gym was expensive.

The Palms –

Michael and I stayed here for free, otherwise we never could have afforded the place. The room was luxury suite, around $250 a night! Pricey but gorgeous.
Pros: The expensive room was amazing, the bathroom was bigger than the bedroom with an amazing Jacuzzi tub.
Cons: It’s off the Strip and an expensive cab ride every time, the casino was too expensive.

Monte Carlo –

Michael and I stayed here recently. It was a great place to stay.
Pros: It’s close to everything on the Strip, walking distance to MGM and NYNY. The rooms were decent but a bit dated. The gym was decent but small. The casino ventilation was fantastic–not smokey at all.
Cons: The pool area seemed to be in the shadow of Aria and City Center, which could be good or bad. The gym was supposed to be free, but we got there and there was a $20 charge to use it for the weekend, which felt misleading.

MGM Grand –

This was where Michael stayed for years. I think he’s been there at least half a dozen times. I’ve never stayed there but I saw his room.
Pros: Great location, lots of fantastic restaurants in the MGM, decent casino.
Cons: Rooms were old, they are doing construction currently to update the casino and the rooms. They got rid of the lions, which kind of sucked.

When To Go

My first trip was January and I’d packed all Portland weather clothing. When I arrived it was in the 80’s and had to buy a completely new wardrobe!

My second trip was in July and it was hotter than effing hell. So hot. Not quite miserable, but seriously, the heat was like a wall.

My third trip was in November. The days were nice and warm, high 70’s, low 80’s but the evenings were really cool–sweater weather.

My recent trip was in April. I had mixed weather–thunderstorms, humidity and rain for part of the trip but the weather was still warm. Two of the days there it was sunny, clear and 75-80 degrees.

Where To Eat

There are too many fantastic restaurants to go to all of them, even in multiple trips. You can eat well on any budget in Vegas, but my advice is to splurge at least once on a nice restaurant; it’s quite the experience. One tip: do NOT eat the pizza at New York New York; it was the most vile pizza I’ve ever eaten.

Craftsteak – I’ve gushed about this place too many times to count. It’s my favorite restaurant in the world, and probably always will be. Amazing meals. Expensive but worth it.

Wolfgang Pucks – I’ve eaten here for lunch and dinner and had great meals both times. This place has great food and is more affordable “fine dining.”

Tao – I have very, very happy memories of this place. I went here with my friend Robyn, Michael and his friend Jeremy. It’s a sushi restaurant and a nightclub. The atmosphere was romantic, trendy, modern and just totally cool. This is the place where I learned to love sushi. Expensive!

Luxor Buffet – I went here for breakfast with my friend Robyn. I remember the food being decent and the options were varied. Middle of the road in cost.

‘Wichcraft – It’s a sandwich place in the MGM by Tom Collichio. It was pretty good but not the best sandwich I’ve ever had.

Monte Carlo Cafe – This was a nice breakfast place. I liked it a lot and we ate there twice. I recommend trying the Cajun Eggs Benedict with andioulle sausage. It was delicious!

Margaritaville – The food wasn’t anything special or memorable but there is outdoor seating right on the Strip.

Hard Rock Cafe – Overrated. I felt like the food was basically a Red Robin and the service was awful.


Things To See/Do

Cirque du Soleil Show – I saw the Beatles Love show and it was breathtaking. What an amazing, amazing show. Wow.

The Wynn – It’s worth taking a peek at because it’s so new and beautiful. If you’re there, enjoy a cocktail “lakeside” next to the waterfall.

The Bellagio Fountains – It’s free! I love the Bellagio fountains. The show runs every 15 minutes or so and it’s beautiful and fun. I think they usually play Frank Sinatra music and the show is better at night.

Tournament of Kings at Excalibur – I did this the first trip and it was SO much fun! It was cheesy but I still liked it. At the time it was about $45 per person and it included dinner (that you eat with your hands) and the Knights of the Roundtable show.

Art – There is art everywhere and some of it is free. Definitely check out the Bellagio, The Wynn, The Venetian and Caesar’s Palace for some amazing art and decorations. The casinos themselves are art too.

Stratosphere Rides – Apparently there are rides, sky jumps and bungee jumping there but I will never do that. Eeek!

New York New York Rollercoaster – Not a fan of rides or heights, so I skipped it. My cousin Anna did it and loved it.

Venetian Gondola Rides – It’s on my “to do list” but I haven’t done it yet. There’s rides indoors or outdoors and it looks very romantic!

Fremont District – I’ve never been. Every trip I plan on going but don’t. It was the “first” Vegas.

Las Vegas On A Diet

Since this is a blog about weight loss, maintenance and exercise, I thought I would cover this topic. Someone asked me how I enjoy Vegas when I am trying to stay on my food and exercise plan. I understand how someone on a weight loss plan would be nervous about going. There is temptation everywhere.

You’re in luck. Vegas is a walking city. The casinos are an illusion–they are so massive that you think they are super close to each other and just a short stroll down the street. That is not the case; the walking you’ll do in Vegas will burn off your drinks at the blackjack table, trust me. Not only that, the casinos themselves are humongous, easy to get lost in, and take forever to walk through.

Most of the newer, nicer casinos have gyms in them but most cost extra money to use. I usually spend the money to get in a workout. But you can also take your fitness outside. When I stayed at The Palms I went for a run outside and had a great time.

Now, the food. The food is the hardest part because there’s so much good stuff everywhere you turn. I didn’t feel guilty about anything I ate because I was on vacation, I worked out first thing each morning and was walking everywhere. I’d be surprised if I gained weight.

Splitting entrees in Vegas with whomever you traveled with is a great way to save money and calories. And if you are in the middle of a training plan when you go on vacation, you can still find time to get your run in! Vegas mornings are really nice in weather and less crowded and fun to run outside in.

I avoid the buffets as much as I can. For a recovering binge eater, a buffet is not a good place for me.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite Vegas tips that I missed? Are you planning on going to Vegas someday?

Died and Gone To Heaven

Sunday morning I slept in and then hit the casino gym for a run. My body was feeling fairly tired after three days of intense walking for hours, but my run was fantastic and fast.

For breakfast we went to some diner in New York New York called America. Nothing special about the place–it was kind of like an upscale IHOP. All I wanted was French toast. And by gods, I got it!

After breakfast we walked around outside because the weather was FINALLY hot and sunny! I wanted to soak up as much as possible. It’s amazing what a little Vitamin D does for me. One of the things on Sunday’s agenda was The Wynn. I had never seen it and so we took a cab there since it’s a ways down the Strip. What an amazing hotel.

Steve Wynn clearly deserves whatever mega-billions he has because the casino is outstanding. I could see a lot of the Bellagio in the Wynn, and I guess he designed both. The atrium at the Wynn was gorgeous and smelled like a spring afternoon.

I wandered around and took a bunch of photos, and then Michael and I sat outside for “lunch” in the Parasol Down patio lounge. Michael insisted we sit down and relax because I “never relax or enjoy vacations and do too much.” Truth. I like to cram in as much as humanly possible on vacations because I want to experience everything. I cannot remember the last time I had a “relaxing” vacation. Hmmm. Maybe never?

Words cannot express just how beautiful and relaxing that outdoor lounge was. We were seated by the “lake” on a couch and enjoyed our drinks in the sunshine while staring at the waterfall. Heaven.

I ordered a totally ridiculous drink that was way too expensive, but it was refreshing and worth it. It was called a “Strawberry and Grapefruit Collins” – Finlandia Grapefruit Fusion Vodka, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, strawberry puree, fresh lemon and club soda. Basically, it tasted like a super sweet daiquiri but it was delicious on a hot day.

After we awhile we were both too hot in the sunshine and walked back to The Strip, this time with some refreshing beers for our trek through the madness that is Vegas.

Ahem…I have no shame:

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Michael fell in love with the poker room at Caesars, so I plopped down at the Pussycat Dolls roulette table and was ridiculously lucky before taking myself to the Caesar’s Palace pool to relax poolside in the sunshine.

What a fantastic pool! I wished I was in my swimsuit to fully enjoy it.

A few hours later it was time to get cleaned up and dressed up for my FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD.

It’s so easy to say things like “this was the best meal of my life” or “make this recipe! It’s to die for!” But there are very few meals that actually stand out and you remember for the rest of your life. For me, that meal has been at Craftsteak. The first time I ate at Craftsteak was a few years ago when Michael and I went to Vegas for a UFC fight. Top Chef is one of my favorite TV shows and Michael surprised me by making reservations at Tom Collichio’s restaurant in the MGM. That meal has been in the back of my brain for the last four years. Every steak I have in a restaurant is compared to that meal, which in one word would be classified as orgasmic.

This meal was no different than our first time there. The atmosphere is simply amazing. Romantic, dimly lit, with the aromas of fresh lobster and steak dripping in marinade.

We both ordered the New York strip steak. Last time we tried the Wagyu beef, a Japanese steak that is melt-in-your-mouth amazing. We both agreed that was better, but that is not to say the NY Strip wasn’t fantastic.

We split a side of asparagus that had been seasoned with thyme (fascinating taste) and there was a roasted onion bulb soaking in the balsamic reduction around the meat. Holy, effing, cow. Literally. Every amazing bite was followed by another amazing bite that made me feel like all other meals I eat would be cheating on Craftsteak.

The dinner rolls were steaming hot, light and airy and covered in large pieces of salt. My glass of Malbec wine went perfectly with the richness of the steak. And no, there was no Tom Collichio spotting, unfortunately.

For dessert we shared the flourless chocolate cake with blood orange sorbet and tangerines that had to have been soaked in lemon juice. The tartness of the oranges and the sorbet paired so beautifully with the thick, dense chocolate that I wanted to cry. Best. Meal. Of. My. Life. Did I mention that there was like a homemade marshmallow on top of the cake? Lightly and airy, but also thick at the same time–deceptively looking like whipped cream but with the texture of a freshly baked, oozing rice krispie treat.

Oh my god.

Are you drooling yet? You should be!

After a leisurely and romantic dinner at my favorite place on earth, Michael went back to Caesar’s to play poker and I went to New York New York to clean up at roulette.

Oh yeah!

QUESTION: Describe the best meal you’ve ever had in your entire life…the meal you think about even years later!