Saturday, April 9, 2011

(No.144) Las Vegas travel tips: Pt.1

My wife Pat and I were dining in a very pleasant setting beside a fountain at the Dal Toro Ristorante in front of the Palazzo Hotel on Las Vegas Blvd, the famous Vegas 'Strip'. On the table was an attractive little glass vase with several sprigs of flowers resting in water covering a bed of coloured pebbles.

I commented on their delicate attractiveness whereupon Pat informed me that the flowers I was admiring weren't real and the water was a clear polymer -- and of course on closer examination I discovered she was right. In other words the arrangement I had admired was like Las Vegas itself: verisimilitude on one level but, on closer examination, a certain unreality.

That condition does not interfere with enjoyment of one of the world's most famous tourist cities --- depending on one's expectations. We have often been asked by friends why we go from time to time to Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a fair question especially since we don't gamble. A common assumption is that gambling is the only or the major reason to visit 'Vegas'. It is for some people but not for others.

Vegas is sometimes referred to as the live entertainment capital of the world. That description is only mild hyperbole -- if that. In the dozens of hotels and clubs on the Las Vegas 'Strip' is offered an amazing range of entertainment: from Cirque du Soleil and broadway shows staged in large, luxurious purpose-built theatres attached to the major hotels to lounge entertainment and everything in between.

We go to Vegas to be entertained and to immerse ourselves in a place that is, in the proper sense of that much misused word, unique. It is a massive and garish monument to and embodiment of excess -- and fascinating for all that.

While we claim no status as experts on Las Vegas we have accumulated several tips for visitors based on our experience, some of which do not appear in the travel guides. In this and future columns we offer them for the consideration of followers of


For those seriously allergic to or whose green sensibilities are offended by second hand smoke or the mere sight of people enjoying smoking, the best advice is to stay away from Las Vegas. Although there is a ban on smoking in the usual places like theatres and restaurants the casinos are still exempt because their proprietors successfully argued that it would interfere with the attracting of gamblers who are also smokers and who like to indulge their habit while playing the slot machines -- and indeed one sees such people commonly.

In Vegas one customarily has to walk through a hotel's casino to get anywhere -- things are deliberately set up that way, hence exposure to smokers. The extent of public smoking in bars and hotels and on the street will doubtless shock the sensibilities of those who think such socially unacceptable pleasure has been banned everywhere in North America -- NOT in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is chock-a-block with restuarants. Many seem to to be charging grossly excessive prices for mediocre food pretentiously promoted and presented. 'Name' chefs are well represented by branded eateries.

The famous Las Vegas buffet is indeed still a commonplace. As one who enjoys a good buffet my experience has been that the Vegas variety range from the superb (for example, at the Bellagio and Aria hotels) to buffets struggling to achieve mediocrity (e.g., Harrah's). The price of a buffet meal ranges from the Bellagio's $40 per head for weekend dinner (for which there always seems to be a long line of customers waiting for admission) to less than half that price for dinner and even less for lunch and less again for breakfast.

You can get a quite decent buffet lunch or dinner for less than half the Bellagio's inflated price at a number of the 30+ hotels that front on the Vegas Strip (i.e., on Las Vegas Boulevard). One lunch buffet example, not on the Strip per se but close and with its own monorail station, is the Hilton. For still less expensive fare visitors will find that food courts in hotels are becoming more common.

If the visitor to Vegas is interested in restaurant dining that offers well prepared food at a (comparatively) reasonable price, there are many choices. One place we enjoy visiting is on the Strip located just inside one of the main entrances to the Paris hotel -- Mon Ami Gabi. It has a very popular patio facing the Bellagio's 'dancing waters' display; there is usually a waiting list for a table. However dining inside is enjoyable and the menu, while pretending to ape that of a Paris cafe (Mon Ami Gabi is one of a small American chain), is for us more enjoyable.

[To be continued]

by Alastair Rickard