By Michael Baginski
Beyond keeping up with Karly (our host and a speed-walker of the first order), Las Vegas is meant to be experienced at double speed. The current concept of “slow tourism” does not apply here.
The desert city, of course, offers no shortage of possibilities to keep the body moving – and notably many of them do not include gambling. In fact, on a recent visit, we blitzed the burg in just less than 72 hours and didn’t set foot in a casino – save that every route from point A to B in a hotel-resort invariably leads past the gaming tables and rows of one-eyed bandits.
That’s not to pooh-pooh poker or shrug off the slots – judging by the crowds, the casinos seem to be doing just fine if you’re interested; rather, our purpose was to forge a new script for the Strip, and experience Vegas in a less-traditional way, proving that one doesn’t have to be Kenny Rogers (“the gambler”) to have a good time.
Here then is my guide – good for a long weekend getaway, but certainly expandable to a longer stay – designed to reflect our experiences, and also to touch on some of the most obvious touchpoints for short-stay visitors:
Sin City has quickly become Win City with the NFL Raiders and NHL Golden Knights now mainstays on the scene. We caught the latter playing Calgary, and while plenty of Flames Jerseys were in evidence at T-Mobile Arena, it was definitely a home crowd (not a given in the franchise’s early days) who are fully committed to the team and the boisterous experience on offer (drummers, mascots, inflatable castles on ice, etc.) An unlikely tradition comes during the national anthem as 17,500 fans belt out the team’s name at ear-splitting volume in synch with the line: “… gave proof through the KNIGHT! that our flag was still there.” And why not? The Knights are Stanley Cup champions! Games are easy to get to with the arena located just off the Strip beside the Park MGM hotel.
Following hockey’s arrival in town in 2017, Vegas welcomed the football Raiders from Oakland in 2020, playing at the impressive new Allegiant Stadium, a short Uber from the Strip. While not yet achieving the success of their hockey cousins, the team is still capable of dropping 63 points on an opponent (a franchise record) like they did when we attended. And even with a night game, we still had time to get to the airport in time to catch the Rouge redeye back home to Toronto.
Tip: Leave big bags/purses or backpacks at the hotel – they are not allowed in stadium and must be checked (at a cost).
While there is no NBA team in Las Vegas, that eventuality is considered by most to be inevitable in the future, and in the meantime the Las Vegas Aces compete in the WNBA (we would have required a fourth night for that).
And though our timing was off, Vegas has also hit the jackpot for signature sporting events like Formula One racing (the inaugural event took place in November and returns Nov. 21-23, 2024), and the upcoming Super Bowl (Feb. 11). As for the NFL championship, David Han, Canada’s sr. account rep. for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, once enthused, “It is probably going to be the biggest event this planet has ever seen. It’s more than the Super Bowl – it’s the Super Bowl in Las Vegas!”
In a destination of big, shiny, and new, The Sphere is the latest attraction to dazzle residents and visitors alike. A next-gen entertainment venue, it is said to be the world’s largest spherical structure with an Exosphere that consists of approximately 1.2 million LED pucks, spaced eight inches apart, making it the largest LED screen and an ongoing piece of ever-changing art on the skyline. Each puck contains 48 individual LED diodes, with each diode capable of displaying 256 million different colours, prompting it to be called “living architecture.”
The venue officially opened on Sept. 29 with a concert by U2 (the band remains in residence), with other concerts and events on the ongoing schedule. In between are showings several times daily of the sensational “Postcard from Earth,” a multi-sensory cinematic history of the planet directed by Darren Aronofsky, shot in 18k resolution specially for The Sphere’s 15,000 sq. m. interior video screen, wrapped around in 270 degrees, and featuring climate control (blowing breeze) and shaking seat. It’s like an enhanced 2024 version of Ontario Place’s inaugural IMAX films, or “Soarin’” at Disney.
The two-hour experience also enables guests to engage in a number of interactive exhibits in the Atrium before the film (where drinks and cocktails can also be purchased).
Tip: Arrive early, the lines are shockingly long (though move quicker than one would expect). Tickets must be reserved in advance; Hotel packages including The Sphere are available at the adjacent Venetian hotel.
From concerts to magicians and comedians, and even performances that defy description, like the Blue Man Group, evening stage shows are part of the fabric of The Strip – not least Cirque du Soleil, which boasts no less than seven separate productions in Las Vegas. We attended “O” at the Bellagio, which is consistently one of the mostly highly rated. Based around water (a play on “eau” in French if that never clicked in), the experience is described as “a tapestry of creativity, surrealism, and romantic theatre (where) the grace of water and the idea of infinity inspire world-class divers, synchronized swimmers, and acrobats to create an experience that is simply magnificent” – or “magnifique” to stay in the spirit of the Quebec-based troupe.
Located a short drive from the Strip, AREA15 (not to be confused with Nevada’s alien-oriented Area 51, though signs playfully proclaim “This area does not exist”) is an award-winning entertainment venue featuring immersive activities like ziplining, simulated golf, (not simulated) axe throwing, escape room, and much more, along with food, bars, cafés, quirky retail shops, an arcade, and a movie theatre. Timeout has called it the “the most innovative venue in the US.”
Foremost among the options is Omega Mart, the newest interactive experience from Santa Fe’s groundbreaking art collective, Meow Wolf. Featuring unique and unusual work created entirely by international and local artists, the installation mimics a convenience store where any can of soup or sliver or sushi on display may prompt a unique guest experience.
“When a phone rings, we want you to answer; if there’s a door, walk through it,” Michael Duffield of Meow says, explaining that the venue is best described as an “immersive, interactive art exhibit in the prism of an Omega Mart store.”
Indeed, there are “portals,” like walk-in freezers or a janitor’s closet, that make Omega Mart as much a fun house as an art gallery. And not limited to convenience store contrivances, some of the portals lead to a “factory” in the back – a space that has been “touched” by 328 artists.
“I think seeing a tattooed chicken, and then ending up here (in the factory) is a kind of cool adventure,” says Duffield. “It goes from the silly to the sublime.”
Omega Mart also offers VIP guided tours and offers scavenger hunts for groups.
Like everything else, dining in Las Vegas is a smorgasbord of options and experiences – ranging from extravagant food courts (like the one in Resorts World) to a who’s who of celebrity chef restaurants offering the latest and greatest in culinary adventures.
Recommended: FUHU Las Vegas (also in Resorts World) offers a high-energy, experiential vibe based on contemporary Asian cuisine and elevated mixology. The venue’s vibrant, multi-dimensional design features retro touches and modern, Chinese-inspired details, and a lush indoor-outdoor dining room and patio available for all-day dining. The menu features a wide variety of Asian-inspired dishes, including seafood, steak, and sushi, plus specialty cocktails and sake.
Sadly, the days of the cheap and cheerful Vegas buffet are long gone, but the tradition continues in accordance with the city’s new aura of utter opulence. There are dozens from which to choose, including at most of the major casino-resorts.
For our part, we bellied up to the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas, considered by some the most attractive of the all-you-can-eats with its new entrance adorned by palm trees imported from Florida.
Inside, there are 16 live-action cooking kitchens and an updated menu of 120 dishes that check off almost every food category (as well as dessert), including a new eggs Benedict station, and both plated and self-serve offerings are available.
There are separate seatings for brunch ($54.99 p.p. plus tax) and the Daily Seafood Gourmet Dinner ($74.99) with patrons permitted “up to two hours of limitless indulgence.” Endless pour beverage packages are also available at an additional cost.
Conclusion: Worth every penny (including for a subsequent membership in Weight Watchers).
Paris, Venice, and New York are among the destinations represented along the Strip; for London or Dublin, a trip to Flight Club will happily do the trick. The venue is a rare pub along the Strip (located in Grand Canal Shoppes across from Treasure Island – use the Sand Avenue Bridge entrance), but one with a sharp focus: darts. Guests can play a series of provided games (with electronic scoring) for US$20/hr. Tapas style-food and drinks are extra. Playing isn’t required and a large carousel bar adds to the ambiance. Reservations are suggested online at flightclubdartsusa.com.
Hotel-hopping in Vegas is like window shopping – an activity where you don’t have to buy, but are happy – amazed, gobsmacked, bewildered? – just to look. With this in mind, we checked out two new resort/hotels that are certainly worth the trip:
After years (decades) of deliberations and delays, the shimmering 67-storey Fontainebleau opened in mid December with the distinction of now being the tallest hotel in the city’s glittery resort corridor. With a cost of $3.7 billion, the expansive property features 1,300 slot machines, 128 gambling tables, and a total of 36 first-to-market concepts from acclaimed chefs and restaurateur partners including Evan Funke, Masa Ito, David Grutman, David “Papi” Einhorn, and Alan Yau – as well as world-class shopping, seven pools, lavish spa, and a LIV nightclub.
Based on a premise of “timeless elegance,” the resort boasts a bowtie theme that pays homage to the standard neckwear of Morris Lapidus, architect of the Miami resort that opened in 1954.
Resorts World International
Until the Fontainebleau came along, RWI had been the newest kid on the block on The Strip – specifically its north end, which has now been totally transformed by the two neighbouring resorts. Resorts World is three hotels in one resort – a four-star Hilton (1,700 rooms) and five-star Conrad (1,500) and Crockfords (332 rooms, part of Hilton LXR), the latter brand imported from London and described as an ultimate ultra-luxury property that features a more curated, personalized experience for guests.
On our tour, RWI’s Cathy Vhu broke down the hotels – which are separate, but feed into the shared casino, shopping, dining, theatre, and pool/spa areas – as business class (Hilton), first class (Conrad), and private jet (Crockfords). Notably, the gaming area, unlike most in Vegas, is bright and airy, with Vhu stating, “We wanted to stay away from dark and stuffy.”
A destination unto itself, the US$4.3 billion Resorts World International – packed with cowfolk for Rodeo World 2023 when we were there – is set on 35 hectares (site of the former Stardust) with plenty of space still to be developed, including an outdoor area that will host music festivals by later this year.
Since opening in 2021, Zhu says more and more people are visiting Vegas for entertainment, like concerts, and mega events like Rodeo World, as well as its glorious food. Or simply to relax.
And while she concedes that gambling is still synonymous with the city, for the multitudes now coming for other things, it’s something that “just happens to be there.”
First published at Travel Industry Today