Whether it’s the lights, the late night options, or the desert heat, there’s nothing quite like a Vegas vacation. I took my first trip to Vegas in 2009, while a college student on a fixed income. I planned the trip for my, then, girlfriend’s 21st birthday, and didn’t quite know what I was getting into. We stayed at New York, New York Hotel and Casino and didn’t stray too far from the hotel – only going as far up the strip as the Bellagio fountains, and as far down as the Luxor. I had chosen the hotel because she was from New York City, and thought it would be a sweet homage to her home state, but no other research went into the decision.
While we had a wonderful time, I didn’t truly experience Vegas until my next visit five years later for her best friend’s 25th birthday. Since then, I have tried to return to Vegas yearly, if not every other year, because although each trip is completely different, I never have a bad time. I am going to compile highlights from all of my trips in this post to help guide you on your next, or first, Vegas vacation.
Although I have different experiences each time I visit, there is one staple that remains – Hash House A Go Go! I didn’t discover this jewel of a 24 hour foodie’s dream until my second trip to Vegas. Since I discovered it I have been, at least, once each visit. While there are multiple locations, I prefer the one at The LINQ opposed to the Rio (which usually has shorter lines). Be warned, this staple is very popular and has long lines during busy times, but I have gotten in pretty quickly late night and for dinner. If you plan to visit I suggest the sage fried chicken benedict, the chicken and waffles, or one of their massive desserts.
I, as you will see, could go on and on about Vegas, but this post is more about the places I liked, and didn’t like, while there. I will also add more as I continue to visit, but you can be pretty sure you will see other posts on Vegas from me…just with different topics.
It’s pretty amazing that I have been to Vegas so many times and have only stayed at four hotels and one AirBnb. But once you find your favorite you stick to it.
New York, New York Hotel and Casino – This was my first hotel in Vegas, and I haven’t been back to stay. I liked the ambiance of New York city streets inside a hotel, and some of the offerings (plus I won some money), but the beds were hard and uncomfortable, and the room was sooooo far from the elevator. Although this is a regular occurrence in most Vegas hotels, the walk to our room was VERY long. I must say that I did love the massaging bar soap they provided, though, and our strip view was great.
Monte Carlo – This hotel is no longer around, and is now Park MGM. Honestly, I am not sad to see it go. It had charm on the outside, but the loud music and scantily-clad servers at the Mexican restaurant and margarita stand outside was a completely different vibe than the geriatric interior. The room was fine, but I wouldn’t have stayed there again.
The Mirage – This hotel is my absolute favorite on the strip. It is located center strip, which makes it very convenient to get to everything on the strip. It is also across the street form The LINQ, which has a new dining and shopping area with the arrival of the High Roller observation wheel. It’s just a coincidence that the hotel is across the street from my favorite Vegas food spot. The rooms are updated and modern, and the beds are comfortable. You never really spend too much time in your room, but it’s nice to have a comfortable room to relax in when you are.
The Four Seasons Las Vegas – Let’s be honest, nothing beats the Four Seasons. The beds are comfortable, the service is excellent, the food is delicious, and the long walk I mentioned earlier is almost non-existent. This casino-free hotel is located within the Mandalay Bay, only on certain floors of the hotel accessible only by special elevators, and has private access from the Mandalay Bay casino for registered guests. So why isn’t this my favorite? Because it’s so far down the strip that it’s almost inconvenient, especially for those late night Uber rides from the main strip. It’s my second favorite hotel on the strip, and if I was ever in Vegas to relax this is where I would stay.
Cirque du Soleil is HUGE in Vegas, but I have yet to see one of their shows. Here are some of the ones I have seen in the meantime.
Pitbull – This show was a great way to get your night in Vegas started. I wouldn’t see it again, but the theater was nice (Planet Hollywood) and the music was predictable. He only did small clips of his pre-suit-baggy-pants-and-white-tees songs, you know, the ones I enjoy more than his new stuff.
Celine Dion – EPIC is all I can say. If you have the chance make sure to see Celine.
Elton John – Another epic show. Unfortunately, I went during his last week in Vegas before his pre-retirement tour, so there won’t be another opportunity to see him.
Zombie Burlesque – So, this show I wasn’t expecting to like. I went with family to a show they wanted to see at the smaller theatre in Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile. When we arrived, we saw kids in line and started getting a bit concerned. It turns out that theatre has three shows going at the same time, and others are much more family friendly. Although I didn’t think I’d like it, this show was really funny and had just the right amount of nudity to not feel embarrassed as you watch it next to your parents.
The High Roller – This observation wheel is the best observation wheel I have ever been on, but again, it’s the only one too. If you are afraid of heights, or have limited mobility, I don’t suggest it. You have to enter the wheel as it’s moving, so it may pose an issue for those who can’t jump on. I would hope they do stop the wheels to be accessible to everyone, but I don’t honestly know. I suggest going at night to see the lights of the city from above, they also have an open bar option if you don’t want to stop drinking for the 30 minute ride. It’s also totally ok if you miss this attraction, I don’t think I would do it again.
Hotel Attractions – You may have heard of the Bellagio fountains, but that’s not the only hotel attraction on the strip. The Mirage has it’s erupting volcano, The Venetian has it’s gondola rides, the Luxor has it’s Pyramid, New York, New York has a roller coaster, the Stratosphere has a high flying bungee jump, and there’s always Circus Circus’ circus (try saying that one three times fast). There are so many different attractions, but the only one that’s a MUST SEE is the Bellagio fountains. And if you heard about the Treasure Island Siren’s or the MGM lions don’t look for them, they’re gone.
Full disclosure, I’m not a big club person, but I have visited the following three clubs/lounges.
VooDoo Nightclub – Beautiful views on top of the Rio, but the music was horrible. Didn’t have any drinks, so can’t comment.
Foundation Room – This club is tiny, I mean TINY. The view is nice from the outside portion (which is almost as big as the interior), but I wouldn’t rush to go back. I was there for a private event so I can’t comment on drinks or entertainment. But I can say the food they had was also lack luster.
Skyfall Lounge – Located in the Delano hotel, Skyfall is a very nice lounge with multiple levels and a small balcony with great views. One of the best parts of getting to Skyfall was the elevator ride up. If you’re afraid of heights don’t turn around in the elevator, but if you aren’t, make sure to look out onto the strip in the glass enclosed elevator on your way up. Again, I was there for a private event, so can’t comment on music or drinks.
Again, full disclosure, I have never been to any of the pool parties in Vegas, but I have visited a lot of pools. Below are my experiences and recommendations.
The Beach at Mandalay Bay – I had been wanting to visit the beach for years, and when I finally did it didn’t disappoint! There is real sand, a wave pool, and a lazy river. Can’t wait to go back.
The Four Seasons Las Vegas – Again, it’s the Four Seasons. The cabana waitress was very attentive, and the drinks were delicious. The pool was small and relaxing, just what I needed that day.
Planet Hollywood – This was my second favorite pool, and it may have been because of the music. I had a great time and it wasn’t too crowded. We had a cabana, but it would have been easy to get a chair if we hadn’t.
The Signature at MGM Grand – Ehh, it was a pool. I don’t remember much except that I was told I couldn’t lay in a cabana even though there were only 5 people other than my group, and it was 60 degrees outside. I also was exhausted and two months pregnant with horrible morning sickness, so maybe that’s why I remember it so clearly.
Restaurants change often, so here are a few that are still around that I have eaten at. There are many more, but these are the ones that should be mentioned.
Hash House A Go Go – GO GO as soon as you get there! You already know how I feel about this place. Again, I prefer the one at The LINQ.
Chayo – Located outside of The LINQ, this Mexican restaurant was my choice for breakfast one morning, and I wasn’t disappointed. The food was really good, and the service was fast. I have walked by in the evenings and it gets packed, but my meal was delicious and the people watching in the courtyard was fun.
LVB Burgers and Bar – Located in The Mirage, this burger joint was a restaurant I was looking forward to returning to for fried pickles. When I did, it was greasily disgusting. I’m not sure if it was because the restaurant changed (I swore it had a different name the first time I went), or if I just had a bad second experience, but I will never go back.
Hell’s Kitchen – Located outside of Caesar’s Palace, this restaurant is a must for fans of the show. I went with a group and we chose an array of appetizers to share, including the seafood tower, lobster risotto, and others. I am not a seafood fan, but I must admit the lobster risotto was delicious. We sat right in front of the open kitchen, and it was entertaining to watch all the dishes being made and plated. I was so excited by the delicious appetizers and drinks that I was looking forward to my entree, their signature beef wellington. Although the wellington was not what I was expecting, I should have gotten the fillet, it was satisfying, but nothing to write home about. This is a must visit if you are in Vegas and are looking for a quality steakhouse with great strip views.
Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen + Bar – Located outside The LINQ I’d wanted to visit this restaurant for years. I am a huge fan of Guy’s and was really looking forward to finally getting to eat at his restaurant. What a disappointment, I will never go back. That is all.
Hussong's Cantina – Located in the shops at Mandalay Bay, this Mexican restaurant was our choice on Cinco de Mayo. While it’s not authentic, the food was good, and the mariachi was entertaining. I would go back for some more margaritas…and some food, too.
Blondie’s Sports Bar and Grill – Located inside the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood, this sports bar is just as you’d expect. While we just stopped by for a quick snack of wings and potato skins, I remember their potato skins being some of the best I’ve had. If you’re looking for a sports bar be sure to stop by, but don’t expect a fine dining experience.
Mandalay Bay Buffet – My first Vegas buffet, and I’m sorry to say that it will likely be my last. The food wasn’t very good, and it’s pretty expensive considering how much you actually eat, but to be fair, I went for breakfast.
The Sterling Spoons Café – Located in the Silver Seven’s Hotel and Casino off Paradise Road, this restaurant was a shocker. I went with family who wanted a prime rib buffet, and this café happened to be connected to the buffet for those who didn’t want what the buffet was offering and preferred to order off a menu. I got a burger and fries, and I must admit it was the best burger I’ve had in Vegas, and likely one of the best burgers I’ve ever had (and I love burgers). I’m actually scared to go back and order another one just in case it’s not as good as the first time – you know, like those fried pickles.
Gonzalez y Gonzalez – Located inside New York, New York, this cute little Mexican restaurant is pretty basic. I have been a few times, and would go back just for the salsa, it’s good enough to satisfy a craving for Mexican food, although I’d suggest heading to Hussong’s Cantina if you want Mexican and don’t want the hassle of the busy areas of the strip. Also, can you tell I like Mexican food by now?
In and Out Burger – Ok, so this isn’t a Vegas restaurant, but we don’t have these on the east coast. If you want something you can’t get at home, but are on a budget, check out In and Out Burger. You will have to walk a while, or catch an Uber, because there is only one on the main strip (The LINQ), and that one is always busy.
Sprinkles – Ok, so this isn’t a restaurant, but I have a deep love for cupcakes. I first visited their Cupcake ATM while my friend was riding the High Roller (they are both located outside The LINQ). To be honest, I wasn’t a fan at the time. Since then, I have had Sprinkles in DC and Orlando, and love their cupcakes, so I always go back whenever I’m in Vegas. And, to make things better, the ATM is open 24 hours, so you can always satisfy your sweet tooth.
I have to say one of my favorite experiences was dining on the patio at Mon Ami Gabi in Paris, shortly after being dropped off at my hotel by limo, for my wife’s best friend’s 25th birthday. Our flight arrived at midnight, eastern time, and we were ready to hit the strip. We arrived at the restaurant shortly before it closed, and our friend sweet talked the hostess into getting us a table on the patio in full view of the Bellagio fountains. I remember the food was not very good, the shots were delicious – and expensive, and the view and company were amazing! I will never forget that moment; and although I went back to Mon Ami Gabi again in 2018, and had a delicious dinner, that memory of crappy French onion soup and pricey lemon drop shots will forever solidify my love for Vegas.