Sunday, October 21, 2012

Top 5 Las Vegas Strip Hotels - #5: Wynn

(The final installation in my top 5 picks for Las Vegas Strip hotels that shouldn't be missed in 2012-2013.  It was hard to pick, because there are a couple of hotel/casinos that are soooo close, but this is what I round out my count with.)

Steve Wynn created the Las Vegas themed mega casino when he opened The Mirage in the 90's.  From then on, he sculpted bigger and better themes, with great service and beautiful surroundings.  Vegas hotel/casinos are like oases in the desert, and they are fantastic things.

You don't have a crystal peacock outside your lounge?

When he created Wynn, he went with RED.  The slot club is called RED, and the colors are red.  The color red has great importance in Asian cultures, and they are definitely a big part of the Las Vegas big spenders.

The hotel is beautiful, inside and out.  The bronze glow of the curved structure reflects the clouds, the sun and the desert mountains around it.  A mountainside waterfall and gorgeous flowers and trees entice you to enter the doors.  A beautifully decorated walkway leads you past shops and into a lovely conservatory (not huge like the Bellagio's, but seasonally changed and reflecting muted beauty befitting of a truly classy hotel).

Casino in the background - like someone's backyard!

Off to the left of the small conservatory is a beautiful lounge/bar area called Parasol Up/Parasol Down.  As the name suggests, it is actually TWO lounge areas:  one upstairs, overlooking the Lake of Dreams and right off the casino floor, and one downstairs, with a  large seating area and a patio that opens out onto the Lake of Dreams, which is great for relaxing when the weather is just right...or April and October, if you're not sure.

If you love beautiful light fixtures, visit Wynn.

The casino itself is muted red, and not very noisy.  The table games are surrounded by red chairs, and the carpeting keeps everything quiet.  I have good and bad luck in this casino.
Pretty light fixture over a bar, near the casino floor.

There is a large poker room here, with frosted glass so the gawkers don't bother the gamblers, and a Ferrari collection on display in the same area.

Outside the Sinatra restaurant

The hotel boasts some pretty high-end restaurants: Switch, Sinatra, Botero, and the Country Club to name a few.  On Sundays, the Wynn Country Club has one of the best theme buffets around:  The Jazz Buffet.  I took my mom to this buffet for her birthday in March, and I have to say it was one of my two favorite Vegas meal experiences to date.  See my review here: Jazz Brunch

Shrimp and Grits, how I love you!

Jazzy entertainment while you eat

A beautiful view of the Wynn Golf Course

A crystal dragon graces the wall at Wazuzu restaurant.

In addition to the Sunday Jazz Brunch, The Buffet at Wynn is also a great place to dine.  Breakfast, lunch or dinner - I've tried all three, and enjoyed them all.  It is one of the pricier buffets in Vegas, but definitely has a great atmosphere a fantastic selection of food, including King crab legs.  You can check out one of my reviews here:  The Buffet

The pool area is beautiful, surrounded by trees and gorgeous, private seating areas and cabanas.  I have never taken full advantage of Las Vegas pools on any of my 30-odd trips, but if I did this would be one of my top picks for a pool I'd spend a day at.

Pool area

Wynn is definitely not the largest hotel and casino on the Strip, but it is certainly one of the most understated, classiest places I've ever walked into.  Visit if you get the chance, and you'll want to visit again and again.

Top 5 Las Vegas Strip Hotels - #4: The Venetian

(Post #4 in my top 5 Strip hotels to visit in 2012-2013.  Enjoy the photos - I have lots of them for this hotel - as well as the links, and be sure to schedule a trip soon so you can visit them all!)
It's "The Venetian" - see the 'THE' at the top?

The Venetian Hotel and Casino, built by Mr. Sheldon Addelson for his wife, who loves Venice, is a beautiful place. It stands on the spot where the famous Sands Hotel once stood - the hangout of The Rat Pack in the 50's and 60's.  

Do I sometimes wish The Sands was still there?  In a way, yes.  I began my Vegas visits in 1997, right after The Sands had been imploded on live TV and construction of The Venetian began, so I didn't know about it until I started doing my research.  Still, it's a beautiful building, with lots to do and see throughout.

As soon as you walk up to The Venetian, you see something different:  a "river" out front, , with gondolas you can ride in and singing gondoliers, as well.  You'll find later that there's another gondola ride inside, going through the Grand Canal Shops under a faux blue sky.  Cheesy?  Perhaps.  Something different to do in Vegas?  Absolutely.  Here's a bit of info on the ride we took a couple of years ago: 

Walk in the front doors and you'll be struck by beauty, and, some say, an overwhelming perfume that they find distracting.  Personally, I enjoy the scent of The Venetian, and so does my daughter.  It's her absolute favorite hotel to visit.  Look up as soon as you enter the doors and you'll see ceilings covered with beautiful Venetian reproduction paintings.  It's hard not to walk around with your mouth hanging open, gawking at everything.  It is over-the-top, but lovely.  After all, this IS Las Vegas.

Seriously, how is that not cool?

To the right is the grand lobby and registration area, beautifully done with more Venetian reproduction paintings and an interesting fountain.  While you're staring at everything, you might just encounter some of the strolling performers that make their way from the lobby area back to the Grand Canal Shops, singing and playing Venetian instruments for your entertainment, and dressed in reproduction Venetian costumes.  It adds to the aura of being transported to another place and time...except for the loud, electronic casino nearby, of course.

The lobby fountain - beautiful!

Don't forget to look up in the lobby...

...and down.
Does this remind anyone else of Q-bert?

Walk out into the casino and find every game you could want.  A poker room is off to the left; a food court is off to the right.  All the restaurants on the casino level outline the casino floor, including the Grand Lux Cafe', which is a great place to enjoy some good food in beautiful surroundings, and you can get a seat on their "patio" and people-watch others in the casino if you prefer.  Here's another restaurant review for you:
Grand Lux Cafe'

Above the casino entrance...

Their showroom recently featured Phantom of the Opera, which was a beautiful production complete with the famous falling chandelier.  They haven't announced what will replace Phantom yet, but I'm sure they will have to re-do the theater before anything is put in its place.  I was lucky enough to see the show twice, and I enjoyed it immensely.  I hope they replace it with another fantastic Broadway show.

More art heading to the Grand Canal Shops

If you head up to the shopping level, you'll be faced with the winding Grand Canal Shops.  Here you'll find the second gondola ride I mentioned before.  The famous Rialto bridge is here, and legend says that you will live happily ever after if you kiss your true love on its apex.

The bathroom inside Zefferino's Restaurant - voted the "Best Bathroom in Las Vegas" - why?

Inside the shops is a piazza mimicking St. Mark's Square, a lovely area to relax surrounded by shops and more strolling performers and artists.  More restaurants are found throughout the shopping area, including restaurants owned by Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse, just to name two.

St. Mark's Square - yes, it's inside, I swear

It is very easy to get turned around in the Grand Canal shops if you don't pay attention to where you're going or where you've been; there are a couple of different routes you can take across bridges and around corners.

Before you leave The Venetian at last, be sure to stop by Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, located near The Strip entrance (across from The Mirage).  It can be expensive, but look around for 2-for-1 coupons and take a friend for the best deal - and some great photo ops.  It's one of the only wax museums I've ever been in where you are encouraged to TOUCH the exhibits!  More info here: Madame Tussaud's

This is one of the hotels I've wanted to stay at but haven't.  The rooms are like mini-suites, with a step-down sitting area and beautiful decor.  Recently Mr. Addelson stopped giving out the great room offers as he once did, so I don't know if I'll get another chance to find a great room rate and actually stay in this lovely place.

Goodnight, everyone.
Until next time!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Top 5 Las Vegas Strip Hotels - #3: Caesars Palace

(Note:  This is the third of five postings revealing my choices for the top 5 Strip hotels to visit in 2012-2013.  And, because I love words and photos so very, very much, there are lots of both.  Enjoy!)

Part of the old Caesars Palace sign, now found at the Neon Boneyard.  (Visit it if you can - there's so much to see!)

Throw a coin in the fountain for luck.  Or just have your photo taken there like everyone else.

Caesars Palace is the Grand Dame in my top 5 list.  Opened in 1966 and renovated in 2005, this hotel and casino has stood the test of time.  Rather than play out its popularity and see its demise because of a lack of interest - and guests - it has become bigger and more popular than ever before.
Statue outside the main entrance

The area that makes up Caesars Palace as a whole is large and imposing; its footprint is the largest of any other hotel and casino on the Strip.  The sports book is one of my very favorites because it is open to the casino floor with dozens of TVs on the walls and at each chair, so there is no problem finding the sporting event you want to watch, when you want to watch it.

The Colosseum is the main show venue in Caesars, and it has hosted such big name acts as Celine Dion, Elton John (seen him - loved him), Cher (seen her - enjoyed her), and Rod Stewart.  It is a huge venue, and there are lots of price points for tickets to the shows.
Some of Cher's costumes.  What there is of them, anyway.

Of all the Caesars Entertainment (CET) properties, Caesars Palace is the most expensive.  They've got to pay for all their expansions and renovations somehow!  But with a new high-end buffet (Bacchanal Buffet), and a "hotel within a hotel" (Nobu) opening soon, there's always something new and interesting to see, do, or taste.
Trevi fountain, which is right next to...the Trevi restaurant.

There are many restaurants to try in Caesars Palace, from high-end dining like Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, The Palm, Rao and Wolfgang Puck to more affordable dining like Central, Trevi and Max Brenner.  In addition, they have a food court right off of the casino floor, and a small cafe' near the sports book that can fit the bill for a smaller budget.  Some great places to that I've tried - with reviews and photos: 

Goldfish at Beijing Noodle #9

I enjoy decorating my own vanilla ice cream bars with toppings at Max Brenner's.  This is an order for one person.

Once you've finished stuffing your face, take a stroll over to the Forum Shops...and prepare for a long, loooooong walk.  The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace covers almost 1 million square feet (that's 1,000,000,000 square feet if you want to be more impressed with the number) and include the original section with about 350,000 square feet and the new, 3-story addition closer to the Strip that has over 550,000 square feet and includes a circular escalator.  And remember to wear comfortable shoes - the 'cobblestone' floors are very rough on your feet.
I'm sorry...I forgot what I was saying.

It is extremely easy to get lost in the newer part of the shops because there are lots of dead-ends on each floor, and some the walkways don't seem to line up exactly with the original part of the shops.  Add the gawking factor to this and it's certainly easy to lose yourself - or a companion - if you don't watch where you're going.  The "sky" turns from dawn to full day to dusk in the span of about an hour, and you could find yourself looking UP instead of watching where you're going.
The senators say...keep shopping!

Once you find your way back to the casino area with all of your purchases, keep your eye out for Caesar and Cleopatra, escorted by the Centurion guards.  They are more than happy to pose for photos, and they can be found anywhere in the casino as well as the reception area, so keep your eyes open.
Caesar says the exit is that way...

Tired from all that walking?  Sit down and gamble.  There are many games to play, and many areas to play them in.  Some parts of the casino are more private and are almost like smaller casinos within the larger one.  In addition, the Pussycat Dolls (or reasonable facsimiles) have their own Blackjack pit near the sports book and the Seahorse Lounge, so you could always sit and watch them if you don't want to gamble.  Sorry...I don't have a photo to share.  Seriously, I don't.
NOT the Pussycat Dolls

If you don't want to gamble, you can head to one of the bar or lounge areas.  The Shadow Bar has girls shown dancing "in shadow" behind screens, which is somewhat interesting, because I'm beginning to think they are using a projector now and there aren't actually any girls behind the screens anymore.  Either that or the girls seem to just be doing the same moves over and over again.  It is located near the sports book if you're interested in finding out for yourself.

In my opinion, the prettiest lounge in the casino is the Seahorse Lounge.  It is also located near the sports book (and the Pussycat Dolls Blackjack pit, if you care) and has great seating areas for meeting friends - or finding your lost traveling companions.
There are seahorse decorations in the Seahorse Lounge.  
Not surprising, is it?

Something else I just realized I don't have any photos of...the cocktail waitresses.  They have some of the cutest uniforms of any the casinos on the Strip.  They're white, toga-like, not too revealing, but very flattering and fit the theme of the hotel.  Sadly, I never remember to take a photo of a friendly cocktail waitress, but I'll try to remember to take one next time.
An Asian woman was trying to pray when I took this photo.  She was not happy with me.  Still love the photo!

Pay them a visit and prepare to be amazed by Caesars Palace.  

And, no, Caesar does NOT live there.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Top 5 Las Vegas Strip Hotels - #2: Cosmopolitan

(Note:  This is the second of five postings revealing my choices for the top 5 Strip hotels to visit in 2012-2013.  Because I like words and photos so much, there's lots of both in each of these postings, so enjoy them all in your own time.)

#2 - Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan Las Vegas is the newest Strip hotel in my top five list.  It's certainly not a traditional themed hotel in the usual Vegas sense, but it has so much beauty and individuality that I really enjoy spending time in there.  Much like Paris' casino, I can't seem to win any money here, but I love to take photos all over this hotel and casino because everything is so interesting-looking, and I'm always finding something new to investigate and photograph.
An impressive sight...

One of the first things you see when you walk into either of the main Strip-side entrances is the Chandelier Bar.  Well, you see MOST of it.  Considering that the Chandelier Bar is, in fact, three stories tall, you can't really see the whole thing all at once.  But, man, is it impressive.  A three-leveled bar surrounded by crystal-draped "curtains", it provides privacy for couples enjoying drinks and intimate conversation, or a spot that allows a party of several people to feel like they've got their own reserved space.  Part of the Chandelier Bar is accessible only via the glass-sided elevator, providing even more privacy for you and your companions.  If you like your surroundings to sparkle and glitter, this spot is for you.
Head toward the back of the casino, and you'll find smaller, interesting chandeliers in every area.  Each section is different, and they are all visually appealing.
Even the table games have their own individual chandeliers.

Near the registration/check-in area is the Vesper Bar, a pretty little area my friend, Claire, suggested for a drink and a chat one day.  It's hidden away, but it's absolutely worth the effort it might take to discover it.  Once again, there are interesting "chandeliers" hanging over the bar, several unique seating areas surrounding it, and lots of interesting art objects to admire (and photograph, if you so desire).
Something cool to look up a while sitting in the Vesper Bar.

These aren't votive candles, but rather well-lit decorations.

 Next to the Vesper Bar is the unique registration area, which is full of interesting columns that change constantly with photos and "movies" that keep you watching and watching, all the while wondering what's coming up next.
 Those are real people in the middle...
You can't help but keep watching to see what's next.

Parts of the casino seem to have very private areas for gambling, and they are arranged almost like they are separate rooms right in the middle of the casino:
A room with a view on the casino floor...

Up the escalator off the casino floor is the second level, where all the restaurants are located.  During my first visit to the Cosmopolitan, my mom, my cousin and I planned on eating at one of the restaurants but were unsure which one to choose since the hotel was still very new.  A decision was made when we saw the menu and restaurant page for Holsteins with its huge, pink cow out front.  That's where we wanted to eat!
Who wouldn't want to eat at a restaurant with a pink cow?

You have to try some of their complimentary truffle oil popcorn while you look at the menu.  Sooooo good!

I had one of my very favorite meals at Holsteins that day; a New England Lobster Roll that was so creamy and good I wanted more.  Sadly, my camera battery died before our food came, so there's no photo, but here's a link to the restaurant review I did: Moo!  I must have a Lobster Roll there again, really.

In addition to the second floor restaurants, there is also a good buffet, which is accessible via a separate, shiny escalator near the Vesper Bar/registration area.  
That's a pretty cool-looking escalator!

The buffet is called The Wicked Spoon, and it's good buffet.  I took my daughter, Hayley, during one of our mother/daughter shopping and show trips, and we weren't over-the-top impressed with it, but it had a good selection of items served in individual, serving-size containers.  My review of our breakfast buffet can be read here.

I have yet to stay at the Cosmopolitan, but I have friends who choose to ONLY stay there because of their great rooms and wrap-around suites with balconies and Strip views, something you can't find at any other Las Vegas Strip hotel.  I just need to find a good price for a standard room with a balcony and I'm there!

If you want to see more photos from Cosmopolitan, check out some of my photos from my 2011 trip: Cosmo photos.  

There are so many areas of the hotel and casino that I still need to explore, too.  I think another visit is in order!