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Viva Las Vegas

Spent a few days in Sin City this past week. Interesting time. It's my third trip to Vegas, and the first that I stayed there more than 2 hours (don't ask). As cheesy and cliche as it may be, Vegas is actually a lot of fun.

Naturally there are the infamous buffets, though at the newer places they are more than 4 bucks (and the food is proportionately much better as well). The Flamingo, for example, has Alaskan King Crab and snow crab on their buffet every day, which my wife enjoyed tremendously! Not being much into seafood, I enjoyed a wide variety of other things. I have to say that I consider the buffet to be just about the perfect dining experience. I'm not into large servings of one thing, I want little bits of a bunch of different things. That makes me very happy indeed. My taste buds have a short attention span, what can I say. However, I also have a low tolerance for low quality food, and I was pleasantly surprised that the nicer hotels had food that was at least on par with Olive Garden in terms of quality. We slept during the day and made the rounds at night (when the temps dropped to a chilly 97 F!!!) and the crowds were not too bad, though our next trip will have to be in fall or winter, summer in Vegas is just too draining. We went to most of the places on the strip, to comparison shop for the next trip.

Stratosphere. Not bad, but awful location (it's at the FAR end of the strip). The slots are reasonably loose, video poker is good, and the rides on top are VERY HIGH UP. The roller coaster is apparently the highest one in the world, but it's fairly weak. It only goes around the top of the tower twice, and it only hits about 35mph. There is a bit of a thrill just being up that high, but as a coaster it leaves a lot to be desired. If you are not into heights, avoid the Big Shot. This is one of those rides that they strap you and three other people in a row and shoot you up in the air, you bounce a few times, then come down. Not a big deal normally, but when your launching point is 110 stories up it becomes a different story. Not for the faint of heart. Food was indifferent, but Roxy's (retro 50's diner was decent).

Circus Circus. White trash heaven. Nuff said.

Treasure Island. Great show, pretty run of the mill in all else. I wouldn't stay there simply because it really didn't have anything to distinguish itself, and fantasy-themed hotels really don't do much for me anyway.

Caesar's. You can't go wrong with Caesar's. Great ambience, good slots, a better variety of poker than Strat (Strat only had 5 card stud and only one table going when we were there). Flamingo. Surprisingly one of our favorites on this trip. They can't compete with the newer places for flash, but their buffet and the atrium filled with an assortment of birds (including penguins and flamingos), the koi pond, the great pools, the lush greenery, etc etc really do stand out. This one is on the list of possibilities for next trip.

Tropicana. Better than Circus Circus, but not as good as Stratosphere. The only thing they have going for them is location, and even then Caesar's, Flamingo, and MGM have them beat.

MGM. LOVE the lion habitat!!! Studio54 was closed for a private party when we were there, but MGM has an overall great package, with some of the best regular shows around.

Mirage. We didn't get to the Mirage in time to see the cats, but we did get a nice look around and I'd say it comes in a close second to Caesar's in terms of atmosphere. Comfortable and classy without being stifling.

New York New York. I expected cheap cheese and was very surprised. The designers did an incredible job with this! I felt like I was in a Disney property. No detail was overlooked. They even had steam coming from manhole covers in the floors. Visually overwhelming, you feel like you are walking the streets of NY. Plus the slots are great and they have the absolute best variety of foods there (thank you for il Fornaio!!). The roller coaster is pretty good, and apparently is rated as one of the best in the world. We liked it enough to go on twice in a row. NYNY also has one of the better arcades on the strip if you're into video games. A lot of places have about a 20x20 room with a couple of games from the early 90's, but NYNY dedicated a huge section of the second level to it, if you have children you could keep them entertained for days in this place. Circus Circus bills itself as the place for families (they have an indoor amusement park), but if you want something with some class stay at NYNY instead.

Excalibur. Another Treasure Island, though not as low rent as I expected it to be. It actually was pretty nice, but not my style.

Bally's. I was unimpressed.

Venetian. Old world class. The lobby boasts a ceiling that is I believe a replica of the Sistine Chapel (or possibly St. Paul's). It is set far back from the strip, and there is a gondola ride through the hotel. It reeks of elite money and style, but I frankly thought it was more the kind of place you'd want to vacation in overlooking the ocean, not in Vegas. It was a little to museum-y for my taste, though I'd love a place just like it in S.F. or London.

Bellagio. A slightly less overwhelming version of the Venetian, and their water show is simply astounding. Very classy place, with a great indoor garden, but lacking something in "oomph" and style. It was a little too subdued.

Mandalay Bay My friend Jamie always stays there, and he recommended it to us. It is at the other end of the strip from Strat, but better located than Strat. There is a tram from Mandalay to Excalibur, so you can get around fairly well. Mandalay acheives what Bellagio and Venetian strive for. High end luxury but still friendly and accessible enough that it feels like Vegas. Their salon and spa are rated one of the top 5 things you MUST do in Vegas, and with good reason. You could spend your whole week in the salon of Mandalay Bay and not miss a thing.

We also went downtown to see the Fremont Street Experience, which is pretty cool, but the hotels there are simply no comparison to the strip.
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