It has something for everyone. A glittering oasis in a desert framed by distant mountains, Las Vegas sparkles at night like the dream city of Oz. Glowing lights and pulsating neon drench its hotels and casinos in rainbow hues, while their over-the-top architecture dazzles with the allure of an adult fantasy land. Where else can you find an Egyptian Sphinx and Eiffel Tower just a toss of the dice from the Statue of Liberty? Like competing magic acts, Las Vegas keeps reinventing itself, becoming more fabulous with each incarnation. And from the legendary “Strip” to “Glitter Gulch” at the heart of downtown, this city’s exhilarating energy continues nonstop. For women who love being guests at one of the best year-round parties on the planet, Las Vegas is the perfect escape for a good time with your honey or a getaway with your gal pals. And if you want to bring the kids along, there are plenty of attractions the whole family can enjoy.
The sky’s the limit
In Las Vegas, part of the fun is exploring the showy casino resorts themselves, many of which have free or very affordable attractions. Getting around is easy, too: many hotels along the three-and-a-half-mile Strip are within walking distance of each other or connected by a monorail, and there’s also a bus that shuttles up and down the Strip and runs between the Strip and downtown. Begin your explorations with a panoramic overview of the city from the revolving restaurant and lounge atop Stratosphere resort’s space-needle- style tower. Or take the elevator to the observation deck atop the 50- story replica of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas. If the kids are along, take them to Circus Circus resort’s Adventure dome theme park, which has a roller coaster and other rides, a midway of carnival games with prizes, and free live circus entertainment, such as trapeze and tight-wire acts. More family fun awaits you at the MGM resort, where the MGM Grand Adventures theme park is like a movie-set village but with real shops, restaurants and rides. Even if you don’t sign up, it’s fun to watch others swinging from the dizzyingly high arch on the “Screaming Sky-Coaster.” Keep cameras ready for the costumed singers and dance troupes performing in the village streets.
Next to MGM, the Tropicana resort’s free Wildlife Walk is open 24 hours a day with plenty of exotic animals to watch, ranging from showy toucans to pygmy marmosets (tiny monkeys). The Tropicana Bird Show is also worth catching. From the Tropicana, cross the “Skywalk” over the Strip to Excalibur resort with its Bavarian-style “castle,” where medieval-style jousting is part of the hotel’s dinner show. It’s an easy walk next door to the monumental Sphinx, which reposes in front of the 30-story glass pyramid of the Luxor resort. Ancient Egyptian style hieroglyphs, murals and sculptures line the walls inside, making you feel you’ve entered the Valley of the Kings. Here you can also see a fullscale reproduction of King Tut’s tomb and a sailboat based on Cleopatra’s barge on the Nile, or take in an IMAX movie (some even in 3-D). Nearby, a copy of the Statue of Liberty beckons in front of the “skyline” of Manhattan, welcoming visitors to New York-New York resort, where a Coney Island-style roller coaster twists, rolls and dives around the complex. When the shopping urge calls, the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace unfurl the “streets” of ancient Rome, where you can browse for everything from souvenirs to the latest fashions.
Steamboat SpringsFrom Rome it’s a short hop to Mirage resort, famous for its “volcano,” which erupts regularly from dusk to midnight. But its biggest stars are the white tigers and other exotic animals in Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden, and the dolphins in a huge pool habitat where you can watch them swimming powerfully underwater. At Mandalay Bay resort, sharks and luminous tropical fish swim around a sunken galleon at the Shark Reef. Swashbuckling and pyrotechnics take center stage at Treasure Island’s free show, where pirates battle it out with seductive sirens. At Sam’s Town resort, the dancing waters and lasers of the “Sunset Stampede” take visitors on a musical journey across the Great Plains to the Gold Rush. Bellagio’s 1,000 fountains perform their sparkling choreography to music by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra and Elton John to Luciano Pavarotti. If you’re in the mood for romance, head to the Venetian for a gondola ride along a quarter-mile replica of Venice’s Grand Canal while your gondolier serenades you and your sweetie. To elevate your party attitude, it’s hard to top Rio resort’s casino, where lavish Carnivale floats are suspended and parade across the ceiling. A grand tour of Las Vegas is a little like a world tour!
More daytime fun
Las Vegas means “The Meadows” — the name given to the spring-fed spot where Spanish explorers, prospectors and pioneers camped on the Old Spanish Trail to Los Angeles. By 1905 the little oasis was an official town and railroad stop, and in 1931 silver dollars were clinking with poker chips on Las Vegas tables as casino gambling was legalized in Nevada — the first state to do so. If your knowledge of gaming is limited to pulling the levers of slot machines, don’t worry: many of the major casinos provide free lessons in everything from blackjack to baccarat, as well as Chinese games such as Pai Gow. Yet there’s more to Las Vegas than gambling and glitz. From historic and cultural attractions to sports and outdoor adventures, Las Vegas is full of surprises. Don’t miss the extravagantly bejeweled costumes and feathered capes at the Liberace Museum — kitschy but what a hoot! Or the Elvis-A-Rama museum. Cruise through the collection of 200 vintage cars at the Imperial Palace resort or the vintage glowing signs at the Neon Museum.
When you want to experience the great outdoors, rent a car and head for the hills: mountains, canyons and colossal Lake Mead and Hoover Dam all lie just a day trip away. You could take a float trip below the famous dam or a “flight-seeing” plane or helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon or Zion National Park.
Be dazzled after dark
From mind-defying illusionists to Elvis impersonators and Broadway-style shows, Vegas nightlife easily lives up to the city’s claim to be the “Entertainment Capital of the World.” Get off to a spectacular start by heading downtown for “The Freemont Street Experience.” Unlike anything else in the world, the 90-foot-high, five-block-long canopy arching over Freemont Street comes alive with millions of tiny, computer-driven lights that create a specialeffects extravaganza of quick-changing images and sound. Watch in awe as colorful images metamorphose to music — birds may turn into zooming planets, followed by dancing musical notes, chorus lines and more — and it’s free.
Steamboat SpringsLas Vegas’ resorts brim with enticing entertainment, too. Catch Elton John or Celine Dion live at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, “Hairspray” or the Blue Man Group’s interactive show at the Luxor or the Tony-award-winning musical “Avenue Q” at the new Wynn Las Vegas casino resort. Cirque du Soleil, the new-wave Canadian circus that interweaves music, water, acrobats, gymnasts, clowns, dancers and trapeze artists, has several stunning shows here, including “Mystere” at Treasure Island, “O” at Bellagio, “Zumanity” at New York-New York and the brand-new “Ka” at the MGM Grand. This world-class entertainment magnet also abounds with comedy clubs, intimate cabarets, jazz clubs and piano bars where you can relax while listening to some of the most acclaimed singers, musicians and comedians in the country.
For a trip filled with good times you’ll always remember, it’s hard to find a more winning getaway than Las Vegas.
By MELANIE YOUNG