Jun 082012

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?

Apr 202012

On Saturday morning I woke up at an ungodly hour for Las Vegas–like 8 a.m. But I was rested and excited to start my day. Michael, the poor boy having crawled into bed at 4 a.m., was still asleep so I snuck out and went to the gym in the Monte Carlo. The gym was small and crowded when I got there. My plan was to run on the treadmill or use the elliptical but they were all full so I hopped on the exercise bike instead. It was that new fancy Tour de France spin bike and it was super nice.

I got in a fantastic bike workout in about an hour and then headed back to the room to get cleaned up.

Michael was becoming one of the living around that time and we showered and went downstairs to the Cafe in the Monte Carlo. I’d eaten there once before with my friend Robyn but we split a huge piece of chocolate cake, so I had no idea if the meals were actually decent. ;) I ordered a boring breakfast–two fried eggs with bacon, sourdough toast and hashbrowns (I ate a few bites only of those) and lots and lots of coffee.

The food turned out to be really good at the Cafe. After breakfast we played tourist. This is the fourth vacation to Vegas so I’ve seen most of the touristy things but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy doing them every time! Vegas is seriously what you make it. You can have a blast–AND save money–or you can live decadently and indulge. Either way, you can have fun.

So tourists! We walked around the Strip for most of the day. It was pretty overcast but muggy and warm. Neither Michael nor I had ever been to Aria or City Center (they were still building it last time) so that was first on the list. It looked like a really nice place but nothing really stood out as amazing to either of us. But, if you want, you can buy a humongous dragon made entirely out of chocolate.

Next, Michael wanted to check out the poker room at Caesar’s Palace and then I wanted to see the Bellagio atriums because there are always cool flowers and art there.

Finally, it was lunch time. We’d ended up at the MGM so we got sandwiches at Tom Collichio’s ‘Wichcraft restaurant. I ordered the gruyere and caramelized onion panini on rye bread and it was delicious. The rye bread was a bit overpowering; I felt like a sourdough bread would have been better, but I was famished and starting to feel cranky from low blood sugar and fatigue.

Michael says this picture says “Lisa’s cranky, feed her.” And I concur.

After lunch we split up and Michael played poker while I did some shopping and gambling on my own. He had a surprise for me for that evening, but I didn’t know what it was yet. After a few hours, we met up at the hotel room to get changed for dinner and the surprise!

For dinner we went to Wolfgang Puck’s at the MGM. We split an order of the cheeseburger and it was to die for–one of the best burgers I’ve ever had–far surpassing anything that I thought was great in Portland. It had a caramelized onion JAM on it and avocado. Every messy bite was totally worth every single calorie I ate. LOVED it.

We also split the mac n’ cheese, which was just ok (not as good as Martha’s) and the Brussels sprouts.

We ordered too much food. Period. There was no way we could have eaten all of that, which was a shame because it was all delicious. The Brussels sprouts were cooked in oil, garlic and I think the juice of a lemon or orange. I definitely saw orange zest on them.

I had a hard time stopping eating, they were so good. After dinner we went to The Mirage to see the Beatles Love show! That was Michael’s surprise and it was a fantastic one! I’ve never seen a Cirque show in Vegas and that was the one I really wanted to see. We had some time to kill before the show started so I played some roulette (and quadrupled my money).

The show was absolutely amazing. I can’t believe how much I am gushing over my weekend in Vegas, but truly it was one great time after another. We were seated in the 5th row of the theatre and every single moment of Love was mesmerizing and exciting. The music was great and there were too many moments to count that I had tears in my eyes. What an amazing, wonderful, spellbinding evening.

Needless to say, we both collapsed into bed as soon as we got back to the Monte Carlo and I wasn’t conscious until 10 a.m. the next day!

QUESTION: Have you seen any Cirque shows? What was your favorite?