I recently had my first experience in Las Vegas. My mother-in-law was celebrating her birthday and decided she wanted all of us to take a trip to Vegas to celebrate with her.
It was the first time anyone in our group of six had ever been and we had a great time.
We had many of the classic Vegas experiences, and then we also took advantage of the opportunity to see some of the more unique things.
It was a four-day trip, and I think it takes at least two days to get oriented and comfortable with how things work in Sin City. Here’s a recap of our trip, including some things to check out and things to avoid.
ARIA Resort & Casino
We stayed at the luxurious ARIA Resort & Casino, which is located in the heart of the Las Vegas strip. The property is beautiful and seemed to be one of the more upscale hotels in the city. It features one of the nicest casinos and has a simple layout, unlike some of the bigger properties, such as Caesar’s Palace.
Our room offered a decent view of the city and was very spacious, including a large bathroom.
If you’re on an expense account or celebrating a special occasion, this is a great option. It’s one of the additional locations of the Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami, and you can experience their famous stone crab claws in Las Vegas. It’s very expensive, but it’s a first-class dining experience in every way.
Located in the Forum Shops by Caesar’s Palace.
Javier’s offers upscale Mexican food. It’s located next to the casino inside the ARIA, and it’s great how they’re able to create a separate atmosphere despite the restaurant being within such close proximity to all the casino tables and machines.
Warning - This is some of the most expensive Mexican food I’ve had for the quality. Rick Bayless isn’t walking through that door at Javier’s.
You can’t come to Las Vegas and not try a crazy all-you-can-eat buffet, and I’d highly recommend Wicked Spoon. The brunch buffet offers an outstanding variety of breakfast and lunch options, and it’s a bargain at $26 per person. My favorite part of this meal was seeing how many items are individually prepared, which is a welcome change from the mass-produced junk you typically find at buffets.
Located in the Cosmopolitan Resort.
Boulder City Brewing Co.
After spending the first half of the day at the Hoover Dam, we stopped for a late lunch at Boulder City Brewing Co. They offered patio seating, which was great for the beautiful weather we had that afternoon, but the food was mediocre. If you’re ever in Boulder City, I’d recommend finding something else.
If you’re going to do some gambling in the sports book at the ARIA, I suggest grabbing some pizza from Five 50 while you watch games on ARIA’s incredible assortment of TVs. Many critics consider it to be the best pizza in Las Vegas, and my slice of Margherita was definitely a winner.
Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR
I couldn’t fit it in the schedule to try a burger from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, but I did get to have one of the milkshakes. It was one of the most unique and flavorful shakes I’ve ever had and I was extremely impressed. You better be doing something unique with a $10 milkshake, and BurGR manages to pull it off.
Located inside the Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino.
THINGS TO DO
It’s comparable to Times Square in that it’s fun to do at least once, just to see the incredible scale of it. The hotels are amazing to walk through, and I think my favorite for touring was the Bellagio. Between the unique architecture, fountains and gorgeous gardens, the Bellagio is a fantastic property. You won’t want to miss the nightly fountain show in front of the Bellagio, which runs every 15 minutes on the weekends.
This is one of the longest running improv shows in the city but I’m not sure why. It’s a one man stand-up monologue that’s basically about all the stereotypes in a marriage. It’s overly staged, predictable and boring. And it’s located in Harrah’s, which is basically everything bad about Vegas combined in one space.
Cirque de Soleil
We saw the LOVE Cirque de Soleil show at The Mirage and I loved the music, costumes and choreography. There wasn’t quite as much acrobatics as I was expecting, but still enough to keep you incredibly entertained. For anyone who’s a fan of The Beatles, this is a great way to spend a night.
For an experience where you can get away from all the lights and branding of the strip, rent a car and head out to the Hoover Dam. The dam is only about 45 minutes from the city, but it gives you a chance to see some of the natural beauty of Nevada and visit one of the true marvels of American design. The sheer size of the dam is something to behold.
Old Las Vegas/Downtown Container Park
Old Las Vegas is the Vegas that’s portrayed in bad movies. It’s cheap, trashy, sleazy, and just all-around weird. In my opinion (and probably rude judgement), it’s the Vegas for the people who can’t afford the real Vegas.
However, just a couple blocks from this cheesy strip is the Downtown Container Park, which was my favorite thing in the entire city.
It’s where you’ll find Vegas locals and unique local businesses. It’s an entire park/mall area of shipping containers that have been repurposed and remodeled into restaurants, galleries, and shops. Without seeing it, it’s difficult to describe. Check out their website and I can’t recommend the Container Park highly enough if you get the opportunity to visit.
We packed as much into our Vegas Vacation as we could. It was a great way to celebrate a birthday and a city that manages to live up to the hype.
Other Vegas Resources
Las Vegas Restaurants
Me on the airplane...
Me upon check-in at the hotel...
Me after winning $20 in the casino...
Our group at the Hoover Dam...