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Winning tables
Las Vegas strikes it rich with fine food and plenty of fun

By Janice Denham
Published: Nov/Dec 2001

World-renowned chefs, including Wolfgang Puck, have brought another level of fine dining to Las Vegas. Puck has two restaurants located in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace/ National Chicken Council photo
Las Vegas has an ace up its sleeve. It is now a mecca for fine food, as well as its traditional pastimes of gaming, internationally known entertainers and elaborate shows.

Walk along the Strip, a seven-block stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard. See the Eiffel Tower, a look-alike Campanile Tower, a not-so-ancient pyramid, a fuming volcano and sparkling water that dances to show tunes and arias.

Expansive resorts on the Strip–including Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Paris, the Venetian and Aladdin–surround guests with reproductions of locations in Europe, Egypt, Asia or an exotic island. The resorts treat all senses, including taste buds.

Food is strong suit

Food is a smart bet in Las Vegas’s winning hand. Superstars like Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Palmer, Emeril Lagasse, Mark Miller, Stephan Pyles and Piero Selvaggio deal winning hands to their restaurant guests.

Puck led the first round in 1992 in Caesar’s Palace by opening Spago, his third restaurant then by that name, with others in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Tokyo. He now has five restaurants with varying motifs on the Strip. Renoir at the Mirage and Picasso in the Bellagio give diners memorable experiences.

Servers take climbing seriously at Palmer’s Aureole restaurant at Mandalay Bay, a AAA Four-Diamond resort. They retrieve wine from a four-story tower that can hold 10,000 bottles.

The Commander’s Palace of New Orleans took up residency last year in a newly opened Aladdin.

Single hotels offer a variety of major restaurants. The Bellagio has 10 restaurants.

In addition to eateries along the Grand Canal Shoppes, with blue sky and gondolas weaving under arched bridges along a quarter-mile indoor canal, the AAA Four-Diamond Venetian resort has a premier Restaurant Row that includes Royal Star.

The Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Paris Las Vegas sits 11 stories above the Strip. The Top of the World restaurant in the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower gives diners a panoramic view.

Dining in Las Vegas still features a buffet meal for as little as $5.99. Dinner buffet with plenty of all-you-can-eat seafood in the new hotels costs less than $20.

A feast for the eyes

Walk off the extra calories and explore the fabulous resorts along the Strip. Wear comfortable shoes–there’s a lot to see.

By October, the high is about 80 degrees and temperatures fall throughout the winter. In spring, highs range around 70 degrees. Summer heat hovers around 100 degrees, but humidity is low and vacationers line walkways along Las Vegas Boulevard to view evening displays.

Checking in at a hotel or resort can be an orientation in the arts. A ceiling sculpture at the Bellagio by Dale Chihuly has more than 2,000 hand-blown forms that create a floral bouquet. Past the lobby is the conservatory, where displays of 7,500 plants, trees and flowers rotate seasonally. Now displayed at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art are the works of sculptor Alexander Calder, who invented the mobile. Admission is $12.

Entertainment for all ages

Although many attractions appeal to the child in people of all ages, visiting Las Vegas is a vacation a child and parent should do together. There’s a lack of programs for children, so parents should supervise their youngsters at all times. Remember that children are not allowed in casinos.

Circus Circus is more child-friendly than most hotels, although it also has a casino. Games on the Carnival Midway surround a circus stage with free performances every 30 minutes from 11 a.m. to midnight. A 384-space RV park is located on the property.

Also at Circus Circus is Adventuredome, a five-acre, indoor theme park that features the new Chaos, a whirling thrill ride, and the Canyon Blaster roller coaster, with a double loop and double corkscrew.

Illusionists Siegfried & Roy prove magic works in Las Vegas. Now in a lifetime contract with the Mirage, they share the show with white tigers and lions. The animals and a dolphin habitat also can be seen in their Secret Garden for $10 admission for anyone 11 and over.

A lion habitat is free to visit at the MGM Grand Hotel. Both are linked to conservation projects.

Mandalay Bay’s tropical environment includes a beach, waterfalls, a shark tank and exotic birds.

One of the most unusual resident shows in Las Vegas is Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio. A 1.5-million-gallon pool seems to disappear instantly as performers entertain in, on and above it. Tickets at $110 and $90 and should be ordered in advance.

David Copperfield, Tom Jones and Wayne Newton are legendary entertainers in Las Vegas. In addition, there are boxing events, major stops for golf, biking and auto racing, plus a marathon in February. In December, the National Finals Rodeo comes to town.

Travel tips

Some visitors favor the downtown area over the Strip. Hotels are smaller and closer to negotiate on foot, prices may be more economical and the scale makes the atmosphere a little cozier. Several times every night, casinos turn off their lights for a light and sound show on the canopy of an enclosed mall on Fremont Street.

Las Vegas is compact. A 15-minute cab ride from McCarran International Airport to the strip costs less than $20. A shuttle costs about $5. A strip trolley ride costs $1.50.

For anyone with time to spare, a trip to local natural sites returns a traveler from the land of make-believe. Lake Mead is known for boating and fishing. The Hoover Dam’s visitors’ center offers a 25-minute film and various guided tours of the dam and power plant. Fees vary by the offering. Spring Mountains to the west are popular for hiking and skiing.

Janice Denham is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

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