“You either LOVE Vegas or you HATE Vegas,” a cowboy in an outdoorsman vest told me as we stood in the lobby of Encore Hotel, waiting to check into our rooms. After the trip, I can confidently say that I love Las Vegas– for what it is.
The city’s values may be troubling for some visitors. I cover this more throughout the article. Las Vegas, aptly nicknamed “Sin City,” is a destination designed to capitalize on basic human urges: greed, sexual desire, and instant gratification. The casinos claim that big rewards are only one wager away and scantily-clad showgirls sell everything under the sun. Then there’s the Las Vegas Resorts which have everything that guests could possibly want: casinos, nightclubs, several fancy restaurants, and many designer clothing stores.
In this series Portraits of a Places, we try to capture the vibe of different cities so you can’t decide whether you want to travel there. in this one we try to answer the question: is Las Vegas Worth Visiting?
Casino Resorts and Hotels In Las Vegas
The Las Vegas Strip has many casino resorts, most famously: Caesars Palace, The Bellagio, and The Venetian. These resorts are extensive with a collection of restaurants, bars, retail stores, dance clubs and entertainment venues. Caesars Palace has a Roman Empire theme, the Bellagio is a luxury hotel known for its fountains, and The Venetian looks like Venice, Italy.
When walking past the many stores in The Venetian, one gets the impression that they are on the streets of Venice Italy. The ceiling is made to look like a daytime sky and a man is rowing a boat through an artificially made canal. The odd thing about this part of the resort is that it actually felt as if you were outside. As I walked through the fake city streets, I wondered if there will be more spaces like this one after the apocalypse when we’re all forced to live underground.
I stayed on The Strip at the Encore at the Wynn Hotel which is attached to the original Wynn hotel. This hotel doesn’t have a very pronounced theme but there was great nightlife and restaurants. I ate dinner at Casa Playa, drank cocktails at The Tower Suite Bar, and danced at the XS club. Afterward, I entered the Tower Suites elevator, clicked floor 5, and called it a night. Staying at Encore was amazing because anything I wanted was only an elevator ride away.
The hotel you choose to stay at in Vegas can make or break your trip. The reason that people go to Vegas is to do tourist activities that are located inside of the resorts. The appeal of these resorts is the convenience they provide to guests. If you’re in Vegas bouncing from resort to resort to do different things– it’s truly a nightmare of a city to navigate. Walking down the Las Vegas strip felt somewhat unsafe and everything was very far apart. However, the pedestrian bridges that stretch over the Las Vegas strip do make it easier to travel from one casino to another. To see a map of these bridges, click here.
If you decide to walk the streets of Vegas on your own, be prepared for the club promoters handing out flyers promising that “girls drink free from 10pm-12am.” Overall, I found walking the streets of Vegas to feel unsafe even when I did use the pedestrian bridges. It was also difficult to find our Uber drivers; certain resorts have special Uber pickup locations and they can be hard to find. These two factors make the resort you choose to stay at very important. Make sure to pick a resort that has plenty to do so that you can enjoy Vegas without the stress of traveling from place to place.
What is the food like in Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is a city that attracts some of the greatest culinary talent in the world. The city’s fame creates a highly competitive restaurant scene, which lends itself to some incredible eats. Celebrity chefs and restauranteurs including Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, and Gordon Ramsay have restaurants there.
During my stay at Encore, we ate at coastal Mexican food restaurant Casa Playa. It was beautifully decorated by hanging orange flowers on the exterior. We did a photoshoot in front of it! I’ve never eaten a meal quite like the one that I had at Casa Playa. I had a Dorado fish filet wrapped in a banana leaf. It was topped with green mole and served with a side of chayote squash. We also enjoyed a mezcal sampler that came with orange slices and chocolate to pair with the different mezcals.
I also ate at Prime Steakhouse in the Bellagio Hotel. I had a Filet Mignon with a baked potato. My steak came out a bit rare but it was still good. Then our table shared the Truffle Mashed Potatoes and the Glazed Market Mushrooms. Our table had a clear view of the famous water show in front of the hotel. There is an artificial lake with fountains that shoot up and sway side to side. The water feature is accompanied by lights and music that you can hear if you’re standing outside.
We also attended a private party at Elvis Presley’s Penthouse. The food was incredible. Every room had small dishes of food that you could pick up and take. There were also a couple of buffets. Guests could take as much food as they wanted. There were selections of steak, pasta, venison, tomato soup & grilled cheese. There was a desert room with every desert imaginable and a candy land-themed room. Everything that I ate was absolutely delicious. I have never been given unlimited access to sushi in the way that I had that night.
Where to go out in Las Vegas?
There are two main places to party in Vegas: The Las Vegas Strip and Fremont Street. The Strip is known to be the new downtown area of Vegas and Fremont Street is the old downtown area.
The Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip is known for its high concentration of new resorts. The architecture of the buildings is incredibly unique. There is one building shaped like an Eiffel Tower, another that resembles King Tut, and there’s even one with a roller coaster that circles around it. If you are looking for a more resort-centered Vegas experience, going to The Strip is going to be your ally.
Start your night with an open bar and stunning city views inside the High Roller Ferris wheel!
Fremont Street is considered to be ‘Old Vegas’ or where the downtown used to be. This is where the iconic Golden Nugget casino is. This area is ideal for barhopping; there are several freestanding bars. To get to this area, map to “The Fremont Experience.” There is a LED screen on the ceiling of the walkway that stretches over a portion of Fremont Street, which gives the impression of it being daylight all the time. There is also a zip line that runs beneath the LED screen– people are flying above the city streets. Near the Golden Nugget, there is a large stage set up outside with a band performing. Fremont Street is the cheap area of Vegas. It feels a lot like Dirty 6th Street in Austin, Texas.
Interested in the history of Old Vegas? Take a tour of the famous Fremont Street.
What are the shows like in Las Vegas?
There are far more shows in Las Vegas than you can see in one trip. During our visit, we chose to see the circus-esque show Absinthe at the suggestion of our hotel concierge (who had apparently seen it five times), as well as Postcards from Earth at The Sphere.
Absinthe at Caesars’ Palace
My boyfriend and I went to the show Absinthe which can best be described as a raunchy circus performance. If you are on a family vacation or don’t appreciate vulgar humor this definitely isn’t the show for you. There are around 10 different circus acts between burlesque and comedy components. The ring leader, named “The Gazillionaire” has a hilariously crude sense of humor. He has an assistant named Wanda Widdles, who is a burlesque performer. The two of them heckle audience members between the different circus acts. At one point, an elderly man from the audience was called on stage to give his wife a lap dance.
Most of the circus acts were sexy and acrobatic– they incorporated aerial silks and often featured performers with sexual chemistry. The tickets to see Absinthe were about $200 each. I would say that this is a fair cost considering the number of performers in the show and the quality of the performance. We found the show to be hilarious and we weren’t alone. At our hotel, two different employees said that Absinthe was their favorite show in Vegas.
Musicians Currently in Residence
At any given time, Vegas has several famous musicians who are in residence at different venues around the city. A residency is a series of concerts performed in one venue. Currently Adele, U2, Garth Brooks and many others have residencies around the city. We were not able to see any of these artists because we went to Vegas in mid December. For a full list of residencies and their dates click here.
Postcard From Earth at The Sphere
Another night, my entire family went to the Sphere to see the film Postcard From Earth. I would definitely recommend going to the Sphere if you’re looking for a family activity. The tickets were around $100 each. The Sphere has a theater that uses stereographic projection to create an immersive cinematic experience. The building itself is a sphere, the outside of it is completely covered in LED panels. In total, it cost $2.3 billion to build. It is a truly mesmerizing component of the Las Vegas skyline. The outside panels show previews of the shows that are offered within the building. While we were there, the outside panels often displayed swimming jellyfish.
Inside the Sphere, there is an immersive movie theater and an interactive atrium. The interactive atrium included a robot narrating how to experience a futuristic sound system that displayed the marvels of acoustic engineering. There were speakers that played different instruments according to where you were standing. For example, standing in one spot, you would only hear a guitar playing a song. If you then took two steps to the left however, you would only hear the same song, but playing a saxophone. It was mind bending to say the least.
Inside the immersive movie theater, there is a screen that has no boundaries– it takes up your entire prefriel vision so that you feel as though you’re seeing something in real life. The Postcard From Earth film had a lot of nature shots from all around the world. These were breathtaking. It felt as though we were actually in Africa watching the animals and under water with the fish.
Due to the poor storyline however, I would recommend that you see a different show at the Sphere. Resident bands also play in the unique theater. A stage is located right in front of where the rounded screen begins and different musical artists play there in a residency. We arrived in Vegas just as U2 went on hiatus from their residency at the Sphere so Postcard from Earth was the only available show..
More Shows and Daytime Activities in Vegas
What is it like to attend a private party at Elvis Presley’s Penthouse?
One night, we went with my family to a private party in Elvis Presley’s Penthouse inside of the Westgate Hotel. This is where Elvis lived while he had his residency in Vegas. The Westgate remodeled the Verona Sky Villa so that the penthouse is attached to it. The Villa is now 15,000 square feet and Elvis’ bedroom has been preserved for touring. The place can be rented out by hotel guests for $15,000 a night (according to a tour video).
Most of the time, the Villa is rented out for private parties like the one that I attended. The tickets to the party were $1,200 a piece. There was a strict policy against photographing the other people at the party. But we were free to wander through the bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets. If you would like to see a tour, click here. The furniture in the main living spaces were moved out to make space for the food and performers. Every main room had different food offerings and an open bar.
The three wings each had a different theme, I would nickname them the following: Winter Wonderland, Sensual Garden, and USA Pride. Winter Wonderland and USA Pride both had bands; there were more individual performers in the Sensual Garden. There was a woman painted to be a fountain statue with water coming out of her finger tips. She was in the middle of a pool. If you looked at her, she kept your gaze with her white colored contacts and slowly moved her arms around.
In one of the larger bathrooms, there was a live action show with a woman dressed as Ariel and a man dressed as Titan. In the hallways, there were people on stilts covered in plants. There was also a woman with dwarfism, named Lola, who was dancing while wearing a bikini. The performers on stilts and the one posing as a fountain weren’t allowed to talk to guests as a part of their performance but the other dancers were.
In the Winter Wonderland wing, there was a swing band in the main room. The lead singer was a woman wearing red lingerie. In one of the side rooms, there were performers available for photo ops. There were two Russian women dressed up as Mrs. Claus and a muscular man painted to look like Rudolph posing for pictures on Santa’s chair. I sat on Ruldolph’s lap for a funny photo.
Next to one of the buffets, there was an Eddie Trapper (a character from the movie Christmas Vacation) impersonator with a furry gray hat and a cigar. I wasn’t sure who he was. When I asked him what movie he had been in, he said: “I’m an impersonator, honey.” I responded: “Well, you could’ve just told me that you were the real thing!”
Beside the open bar, there was a woman standing on one foot inside of a box. Only her legs were visible. She was wearing stilettos and fishnets– I caught her switching from one foot to the other and was relieved for her sake. I didn’t spend very much time in the USA Pride wing because there was less going on in that area of the Villa.
I do remember that there were women dressed as sexy members of the Air Force. As we walked by, we saw an old man taking a photo with them while his wife stood to the side, spectating. I really enjoyed going to the party but I felt bad for the woman who was in the box balancing on one stiletto.
Outdoor Attractions Near Las Vegas
There are tons of outdoors attractions to explore near Las Vegas. Red Rocks Canyon is only 16 miles away from the city, Hoover Dam is 33 miles away, and Black Canyon is about 41 miles away. These attractions alone make Las Vegas an excellent spot for those who love sightseeing in the great outdoors, or who want a short break from the debauchery of Sin City. Here are a few adventurous ways to explore the natural beauty of the area surrounding Las Vegas:
Is Las Vegas a good place for a family vacation?
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas… unless you are on a family vacation. If your family is open minded and is looking for a unique bonding experience then Las Vegas is definitely the vacation destination for you. If you have kids above the age of 21, who can break off from to go do their own thing, that is ideal. I went with my family to Vegas and they allowed me to bring my boyfriend. This was a great way to experience the city. We went to nice dinners with my family and then went off to explore the city by ourselves after. It was the perfect middle ground.
I definitely wouldn’t recommend going to Vegas if there are people in your family who are under 21. You really can’t do anything in Vegas unless you are of drinking age. People under the age of 21 are not allowed to even stand by a slot machine or beside a bar. They are only allowed to walk through the casino, they can’t ‘loiter.’ This means someone under 21 isn’t even allowed to watch their parents play blackjack. Children are only allowed to walk through a casino if they are accompanied by their guardian. However, different casinos enforce these rules to different extents.
If you do end up going to Vegas with kids– there are resorts with arcades, roller coasters, water activities and movie theaters. One of these is called New York, New York Hotel & Casino. Inside this resort, there is a look alike version of New York City with indoor restaurants that have facades which make it appear as though you are on a New York City Street.
Should I go to Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is exactly how I thought it would be: fun, over the top, and truly unforgettable. It’s a city that is known for its hedonistic values and it certainly lives up to that reputation. There are a ton of awesome shows and musical acts to go see, and it attracts some of the best talent in the world. However, if you’re not much of a partier, you probably won’t enjoy vacationing here. A trip to Las Vegas is definitely the place for a resort-centered vacation full of debauchery and drunken fun.