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Feminine View:  Doing 'Vegas Without Gambling

Sheila Rosenberg

College friends of mine and I were in Las Vegas recently for a few days. Our friendship goes back many years to when we were all college freshman together. We now live in different parts of the country – West, Southwest, and Midwest. We have kept the friendship going by taking biannual and sometimes annual trips together.

This is our second trip to the city of gambling. But, for us, there is more to do than gambling in Las Vegas today. The Strip is so different than when I came here 20 years ago. We simply didn’t spend any time on gambling while there.

We’re not adverse to gambling; we just found other great things to do that appealed to us more.

In recent years, Las Vegas has increased its cultural offerings tenfold. We did it all  – eating in great restaurants, sitting on outdoor patios where we could people watch, being seen in nightclubs where the cool people go, strolling through lush gardens with fanciful giant bugs, enjoying live theater, and staying up till 3:00 am in a luxurious casino lounge sipping a liqueur.  Our senses were joyfully on overload!

We made our temporary home at Bally’s Hotel and Casino, which is right across the street from the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, the home of the famous Fountains of Bellagio. We were fortunate to see the Fountains water and music show every day and every evening as we passed by them whenever leaving our hotel. The Fountain shows repeat the music and water presentations using the spectacular fountains firing at a variety of heights and angles synchronized to music. The shows run daily mid afternoon to midnight every 15 minutes or every half hour, depending on the time of day.

It seems any media coverage of Las Vegas always features these fountains. Now I understand why; they are splendid and not something one sees everyday. They are spectacular both in the daytime with the water rising and falling in time to the songs shimmers against the sunlight and in the evening under the glow of the lights of the Strip.

Nightlife in Vegas is still so exhilarating and ultra high energy! We started each evening in the very urbane champagne bar called Napolean’s with a cocktail and the complimentary prime rib sandwiches. Napolean’s lives in the heart of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel’s Le Boulevard area with everything Parisian. Large windows let you gaze out onto the Paris “streets” of cobblestone from plump leather and overstuffed couches and chairs. Live jazz is performed nightly.

The bar is designed so the music is not too loud for talking and not too crowded for seating. For me, Napolean’s exhibits the type of old world elegance one used to see in the 40’s always associated with high society and culture. The clientele  every night we were there was an older over 40 crowd. We fit right in!

Another evening we hit one of the hottest spots of the moment in Vegas – the Ghost Bar Night Club located in the Palms Hotel Casino. The Club is not large and was loud and crowded. But the clientele were well UNDER 40 – unlike us. It’s located on the 55th floor of the Hotel with spectacular views of the city below.

Ghost Bar is an ultra-hip bar famous for its high profile celebrity guest list. Is that why all those serious young men in black suits greeted us at the entrance to the Club? Best dressed bouncers I have even seen at a club.

It has a roof top deck with a see-through acrylic floor called the “ghost deck” looking through to another lounge below. It seemed that everyone in the club wanted to see and be seen on the “ghost deck”, but only one or two brave individuals were willing to actually stand on it. And none of them included us! It was just too scary to think about the possible scenarios when you look beneath the plexiglass floor you are standing on to see the floors below!

Late one evening we went to a very hip, trendy restaurant called Nine in the Palms Resort Casino. It’s supposed to have great steaks while being very contemporary in design. We went there just to have an after dinner drink and see another hot spot in Vegas as it's known as a place where you can dine and socialize. I remember lots of illuminating lights in the restaurant area.

We were seated in the bar area which was very comfortable but noisy with lots of folks standing around us at the bar. But, the atmosphere was definitely mod, hip and fun, and we loved being there to enjoy it.

Another evening we were in a soothing and restful lounge in the center of Le Boulevard in the casino of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel having a very late night drink. In fact, it was the early morning hours of the next day! With the painted blue sky and clouds on the vaulted ceiling above us it very much seemed we were living the moment in the daytime.

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the city has expanded its offerings beyond gambling to a well-rounded dose of art and culture. The Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino has featured collections from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia and New York’s Guggenheim Foundation.

Before we left for Las Vegas, we learned the Claude Monet art exhibit was on loan to the Bellagio Hotel and Casino Art Gallery. It was definitely added to the top of our list of things to do while in Vegas. On an afternoon excursion we meandered leisurely through the Monet exhibit at the Bellagio. All of us enjoy the Impressionist painters such as Monet, Renoir, and Delacroix. 

The exhibit has apparently been on loan to the Hotel from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ world-renowned collection of works by Claude Monet. This is the first time in ten years the Museum has agreed to loan paintings out to any group from its collection of works by Monet. Certainly support to how much Las Vegas has changed from being known primarily for gambling.

My friends and I absolutely adore live theater and performance art. Las Vegas is also making a name for itself in bringing great theater and performance art to the Strip. For an absolutely full sensual theater experience with one of the oldest entertainment art forms in the world as its backdrop, plan to see the “O” Cirque de Soleil show, also at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. It’s astonishing! We went to an early show one evening. There are amazing technical aspects that transform the stage floor into a giant water pool where the acrobats and performers become divers and synchronized swimmers.

Although we had great center seats in the middle of the theater, there didn’t appear to me to be any seats in the vast theater that would limit ones ability to take in the high level of action in the performances. The theater is the size of several movie theaters. The only thing that baffled me was whether there was supposed to be a theme or plot. If it was there, I couldn’t figure it out. I guess I have a need to anchor myself to a theme or plot in my desire to make sense out of a performance rather than just enjoying for its artistry and beauty. “O” had plenty of both!

The Las Vegas Strip in past years was devoid of good places to eat with only inexpensive buffets and all-you-can-eat specials. The only places to get great food when I visited the Strip 20 years ago was in the restaurants in the high end hotels who catered to the high rolling gamblers. The Strip now includes cuisine from every part of the world with some of the world’s top chefs satisfying our zest for different foods.

Apparently since Wolfgang Puck opened Spago’s in Caesar’s Hotel and Casino in 1992, it has started a culinary revolution for dining in Vegas. We went there for dinner late one evening. Along with our usual salads, our group shared one of Spago’s famous pizzas with smoked salmon. It didn’t appeal to us at all. Just too different on pizza for our taste buds.

Spago’s is casual dining with the tables a bit too close together to be comfortable. But, the restaurant is in an open-air setting under an enclosed area of the gigantic Caesar’s Hotel, which keeps it from feeling claustrophobic. It does have a great wine list. And, of course, the wait table staff were elegant in all things you would expect in one of Puck’s restaurants. The food was good but not better than other food I had in Vegas on this trip.

Another day for lunch we ate at Olives restaurant at the Bellagio Hotel in the outdoor patio dining area. Olives has one of the world’s top chefs in Todd English. We made our reservations for a bit later in the day when the restaurant was not crowded so that we would be able to see the Bellagio Fountain shows while we ate. We suggest you make a reservation as otherwise it is difficult to get into the restaurant. The Mediterranean food served there had amazing presentation and it was very tasty.

However, lunch at Mon Ami Gabi was my favorite restaurant. It’s a charming French bistro which is part of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel that offers al fresco dining overlooking the Fountains at Bellagio show on the Strip side. We made a reservation for an early lunch. We don’t suggest trying to get in without one. We got seated just in time to see the Fountains at Bellagio show again and people watch. I never got tired of the Fountains! The food was simple French food served by impeccably polite and polished waiters. Having been to the real Paris in France, I can say Mon Ami Gabi is the closest thing to dining on the Champs Elysee’ that I’ve experienced this side of the Atlantic!

On our last day in Las Vegas we wandered almost breathlessly through the rainbow of color, texture, and fragrance using all of our senses in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino Conservatory. The Conservatory is across the lobby from the front desk. We stopped often to submerge our senses in the smell of gardenia and the lush, magnificent living garden of exotic plants and flowers weaving throughout the gardens. Built in the midst of the garden are gazebos, ponds, and bridges.

You can easily forget you are in Las Vegas with such soul enriching and lush surroundings. Apparently the Conservatory recreates nature representing each season of the year all year round. It was spring in the Conservatory when we were there with gigantic snails skulking in the plants and large butterflies flying high in breathtaking colors.

As far as gambling while in Las Vegas, we just never got around to it. We obviously found many other high intensity activities with just the amount of diversity we wanted to keep us happy! Gambling just didn’t make it on the schedule! Maybe our next trip there. We will be going back!

The Fountains are considered the #1 free attraction on the Strip. They are contained in the quarter-mile long lake in front of the Hotel on the Las Vegas Boulevard side or Strip side.

About the Author:

Sheila Rosenberg, Ph.D., spent 35 years in Adult Education and Adult Literacy Education.  She has also spent the past 25 years writing and traveling - turning her favorite hobbies into her occupation.  As avid traveler, Shelia has visited cities around the glob including living and working in South Korea and South Vietnam for two years.  Places she have visited include cities throughout the US and to Mexico, France, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, England, Puerto Rico, and Aruba. Sheila who resides in Texas specializes in writing about the history and cultural aspects of a travel location.  (More about this writer.)




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