Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Las Vegas For Families: It's So Much More Than A Gambler's Paradise...

LAVEGAS is a city full of excitement and loaded with so many places to see and experience. However, when you only have a few days to visit, it gets complicated as you try and decide on what to do with limited time. It's difficult choosing from hundreds of hotels, restaurants, and attractions, but we've gathered up a pretty good first-timer's list and hope you accept a few of our selections. As always, we couldn't feature everything we wanted to in complete detail, but this list of favorites will give you a head start.

Bellagio Hotel (www.bellagio.com)...

The epitome of luxury and excellence, Bellagio is a visual masterpiece. This hotel and casino is certainly at the top of their game. From the moment you pull in to their grand resort, you know it's something pretty special. As you enter, their front desk adorably awaits you. Behind the check-in desk is a beautiful garden, decorated with flowers and balloons to lift your spirits immediately. Fiori di Como, the hand-blown glass flower art sculpture, adorns the 18' high ceiling and was designed for Bellagio by famous artist Dan Chihuly. It's stunning, created with over 2,000 pieces intertwined with each other. I would need pages to respectfully review the Bellagio, but I'm trimming it down to basics. The rooms are delightful (try to get a Fountain/Eiffel Tower view), shops are dangerously wonderful, grounds are stunning, casino is fantastic, restaurants are top notch, gym and pools are perfection. What more could you ask for? Nothing!

The Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are gorgeous. Their themed floral arrangements change with the seasons. Flowers are meticulously cared for by handfuls of horticulturists at their beck and call. The glass house is filled with adorable, brightly-colored birds. You'll enjoy watching them dance and sing around their beautiful home.

The infamous Fountain show did not disappoint. Awe-inspiring beauty. Water is the star of this free show (I would have paid to see it). Choreographed and timed to music, the fountain show is something you will never see anywhere else, and you will hear many oohs and ahhs emanating from the crowd. Standing on the hotel side of the lake, with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, was a spectacular spot. You can never get tired of watching it, and you don't have to because it plays continuously, at intervals, throughout the day.

Relaxing by their pools is something I could have done for three straight days. Five pools spread out over their beautifully manicured gardens, offered something for everyone, adults and families. Chairs are comfy and nicely spread apart. Grab a quick bite, and/or a cocktail, and enjoy. Vegas can be tough, there's a lot to see and do, and it can be somewhat draining, but as soon as you lay down on one of their lounge chairs, all of your stress wanders away.

The gym was incomparable to any other hotel gym that we have utilized in the last twenty years. Most hotel gyms are disappointing, providing the bare minimum of space and equipment. Not the Bellagio's. It was loaded with everything you could want or need.

Restaurants were excellent, with outstanding choices (see reviews below). Jean Philippe's Patisserie has quick-bite delights (sandwiches, salads, desserts). The chocolate crepes are ridiculously delicious, as are many other delectable desserts. Meals are perfect, all tasty. While you're waiting for your food, turn around and feast your eyes upon the world's largest chocolate fountain... 27' high with 2,100 pounds of chocolate that continuously recycle. A real Willy Wonka moment.


Todd English's Olives (Bellagio). Our favorite restaurant on this visit, Olives didn't miss a trick. Seated on the patio, overlooking the fountains, the view couldn't have been any better. Everything, from the ambiance to the service to the food, was outstanding. Starting off with beef carpaccio (with cipollini onions, scallion cream, and gorgonzola polenta), the best we've had anywhere, the meal just got better and better. Flatbreads were crisp and flavorful with sweet, caramelized onions boosting their flavor up a notch. Their untraditional Caesar salad (with oven dried tomatoes and bacon marmalade crostini) was incredibly delicious, as was the uniquely wonderful Watermelon salad. Next up were the entrees... Linguini Alle Vongole (littleneck clams and white wine sauce), Sea Scallops (with truffle potato puree and sea beans in cabernet reduction), Beef Tenderloin (with tempura asparagus, caramelized onion potatoes in a red wine demi sauce), and Lamb Lollipops ... all mouthwatering. Desserts... loved the refreshing sorbets, and the decadent Chocolate Falling Cake.

Dal Toro Restaurant (Palazzo). Whether you are looking for corporate event space, a family meal out, or a romantic dinner, this is the place for your. Loved this unique restaurant, and found it by accident. This wonderful Italian restaurant has fun and varied seating, whether you want to sit on their outdoor patio (right on the strip... great for people watching), or inside. Take a break from your meal and visit their exotic car collection downstairs... perfect for car enthusiasts. You will enjoy the ambiance and your meal. The service is extraordinary, waiters are attentive and on the ball at all times. The food was moderately priced, and the atmosphere was quiet and romantic. Some of their many offerings we tried were: Meatball appetizer (tasted hundreds of meatballs, and this one was above and beyond our expectations), Caesar salad (made just right, with perfect blend of ingredients), Calamari (crisp and light), Steak Al Pepe Verde (amazing combo of flavors, peppercorn brandy sauce, and so tender), Fettuccine Alla Bolognese (to die for), Shrimp Ravioli (mmmmm), Capellini Al Pomodoro (excellent homemade egg pasta choice), and Lasagna Della Nonna (baked pasta with layered sausage, meat ragu, hard boiled eggs, prosciutto cotton, fresh mozzarella). Desserts were so tasty... loved them all.

Bellagio Buffet. There are dozens upon dozens of buffets in Las Vegas. And there are many top ten lists. We gave the Bellagio's a shot just because everything else there was as good as it gets, and we weren't disappointed. The atmosphere was nice and the food great. This gourmet buffet will leave you longing for absolutely nothing. Everything was fresh and they had all the usual dishes that you would expect... salad offerings, prime rib, roasted chicken, fruit, vegetables, meat and chicken dishes, and pizza. In addition to that, there was fresh sushi, king crab and snow crab legs, beef teriyaki and beef stew (both really excellent), beef tartar, Chilean sea bass, briskets, salmon, shrimp cocktail bar, Mexican, Italian, and Asian sections (all delish). As far as desserts, we loved the mini Key Lime pies, chocolate mousse, and the creme brûlée.

Chayo (Caesar's Linq). This new Mexican restaurant will surely satisfy you. First of all, we enjoyed the Linq area, with lots of cute, unique shops, cafes and restaurants. Chayo is fun, beautifully decorated, tvs at the bar, unique artwork, and we love that they have a mechanical bull for their patrons to try out almost every evening. You don't see that around too often! Their food was gratifying... created with unique twists on traditional Mexican food. Everything we tried was excellent. First stop was some tequila and they have a collection that can't be beat! We continued with apps: Homemade chips and salsa (sprinkled with chile for a kick), trio of tacos (crispy shrimp, beef and chicken), Cilantro Soup (very different and delicous), and Queso Fundido. For dinner, the fajitas were phenomenal, steak cooked perfectly and accompanied by greaseless peppers, onions, prickly pear cactus (yes, you read correctly) and roasted corn. Fabulous. All of their steak dishes will melt in your mouth, they're that amazing. The Rib Eye tacos are filled with big chunks of tasty steak. The Lobster tacos are the best you'll ever try. The Avocado Corn Chopped Salad was so flavorful and full of different textures. And we enjoyed the Churros with chocolate sauce, a very different dessert.


Stratosphere SkyJump. Going up the elevator to the roof top of this hotel (855 feet high up) is scary enough. Standing on a tiny ledge and jumping off is a whole other thing. The SkyJump is one of the most exciting attractions in Vegas and it will test your every nerve. You are basically jumping off the top of the roof while attached to a bungee cord. It's terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Although the rides doesn't last long, it will provide you with a 'bucket list' experience that you will be thrilled you conquered.

Stratosphere Trio of Rides - Big Shot, Insanity, and X-Scream. Each cutting-edge ride is unique that you'll want to do all three. In addition to the rides, the views from the observation deck are priceless. The word insane (no wonder why one of the ride utilizes the word) comes to mind (in a good way). Start off and get your adrenaline pumping with Big Shot, a ride that shoots you up to the clouds (or it feels like you are). Then move on to Insanity, a 'rocket-shaped' car that shoots out and drops you 25 feet off the side of the building at different angles, 855 feet above the ground. It makes you feel like you're going to shoot across the building, and then abruptly stops. Save X-Scream for last (you need to slowly get your nerve up). This crazy ride has you seated in a claw-like machine. It swings you over the side of the building (as you are slanted somewhat facing down) and then spins around. Pretty scary stuff.

Rio Voodoo Zip Line. Not for the weak of heart, this attraction/ride is fun and exciting, and a little nerve-wracking, too. You take the elevator to the top of the Rio hotel (at 500 feet in the air) and zip down to one of their other buildings going 33 mph. The view is incredible, especially at night, and although it's a short ride, it's an experience you'll always remember. Going down is really fun, you almost feel like it's not going to stop at the building below. Going backwards is scarier because you can't see where you're going, but it's also a great part of the experience. Being so high up with nothing below your feet is pretty cool. We also liked the fact that the seat holds two people, so you don't have to do it alone if you don't want to. And when it's all over, take your time and enjoy the sights of the strip and mountains. Check it out!

Venetian Gondola and Grand Canal Shoppes. First of all, the Venetian hotel is gorgeous. It's about as close a feeling of being in Italy as many of us will get. The Grand Canal Shoppes are beautiful, created with incredibly detailed architecture as if you were in the romantic city of Venice. You definitely will not feel as if you're in a shopping mall. With clouds painted on the ceiling, storefronts designed as the buildings you would really see in Venice, and entertainers prancing around at St. Mark's Square, it's pretty authentic. After you're done shopping, or grabbing a bite at one of their many food establishments, end your time there with one of their two precious gondola rides. The indoor ride is at the Grand Canal Shoppes, and it will transport you to Italy on a one-of-a-kind experience as you float down the 1/4 mile-long Grand Canal in an Italian gondola. Float beneath bridges as your gondolier takes you for a ride, serenading you at the same time. The outdoor ride takes you on a romantic tour along the lagoon and it's breathtaking at night, with the beautiful lights of the city as your background. What a nice, relaxing way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city!

New York New York Big Apple Roller Coaster. First of all, we love this hotel. It looks like Walt Disney had a hand in building the New York skyline's harbor view that makes up the front of the hotel. The 150-foot Statue of Liberty model, Empire State Building, and Chrysler Building are some of the buildings replicated. As far as the coaster goes, you start off in a 'taxicab' train. Then what awaits you are intense multiple loops, towering drops, a steep hill, an aerial view of the Strip, a short ride through the hotel, and a 144-foot drop. All while doing crazy loops, exhilarating corkscrews, gut-wrenching spirals, and going 67 miles per hour. Exciting New York is definitely being represented properly!

Mandalay Bay Shark Reef. Who doesn't love a good aquarium? This one won't disappoint... it's completely different than most we've seen and the exhibits are so beautiful, very artsy. This awesome attraction is a perfect place to take the entire family, as they go face-to-face with some of earth's most fascinating creatures. The collection of animals is remarkable. You'll see all kinds of sharks (especially loved the tunnel where the sharks and rays swim right above you), turtles, a komodo dragon, jellyfish, lion fish, piranhas, sawfish, a golden crocodile, and so much more. Their touch pool is great, for adults and children, as you can feed stingrays and horseshoe crabs, getting up close and personal with them. For an extra fee, you can even swim with the sharks (if you have a scuba diver's license). All in all, what a great way to spend a few hours of your day!

Eiffel Tower Experience at Paris Hotel. This is a cool thing to do, especially if you time it with the Bellagio Fountain show or the Mirage Volcano show! Take a ride up to the top of the half-scale replica tower and get fantastic 360-degree views of the strip and its flood of neon lights. Enjoy a meal at the restaurant and stay as long as you want. If you have the time, order one of their chocolate souffles... it will be the best you've ever had. No need to actually go out of the country... you'll truly feel like you're in Paris.

Las Vegas Monorail. If you're tired of walking, which can be pretty fun for the first day or so as you explore the strip and all it has to see and offer, the monorail is the best way to quickly move from one end of the strip to the other. Seven stations are scattered up and down the strip, and your needs will be met quickly and efficiently. It's a well-oiled machine and even fun for the kids!

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