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Vroom Vroom Vegas – Spring 2018

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— May 30, 2018

Vroom Vroom Vegas – Spring 2018

  • THE ALLURE OF LAS VEGAS is not that it keeps reinventing itself, but that it does so in such contradictory ways—and gets away with it.
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 Sin City has had the chutzpah to try to transform itself into a family-friendly town, and then back into a racy destination where “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”—with all the naughtiness that tagline suggests.

The city’s marketing strategy isn’t its only seemingly illogical and enigmatic dynamic. Consider MGM Resorts International’s CityCenter, a complex of hotels, condos, gaming, conference space, retail, and dining. At an $8.5 billion cost, the complex is the city’s, perhaps the country’s, priciest development project; yet CityCenter has garnered more than a few gold LEED certifications for its eco-friendly practices, including for water and energy savings. In similar contradictory fashion, a short drive from the snail’s crawl gauntlet of endless bright lights and stimuli called the Las Vegas Strip will take you to eye-catching desert landscapes and the serenity of nature.

Las Vegas, at least parts of it, is still reinventing itself. It is catering to the burgeoning millennial market, a move that once again is somewhat paradoxical: Vegas is a grandiose city of excess and free-flowing spending, and now it’s marketing to an often budget-conscious demographic. But millennials themselves are somewhat contradictory in their behavior: despite their shallow pockets, they are known to withhold large personal purchases, such as for a car or home, to spend on adventure and thrills. And there’s no shortage of those in Las Vegas. You might say the marriage between millennials and this city is made in heaven—or at least in a downtown Vegas chapel with an Elvis impersonator officiating.

Where to Satisfy Your Need for Speed

Vegas has myriad outlets to let you pursue thrills at high velocities, from zooming along a zip line to driving exotic cars at “Fast and Furious” speeds around a professional racetrack. I wasn’t going to indulge in each of these but sought out the one mobile adventure that would meet my short menu of prerequisites: I wanted to get out in the wild and trade the predictability of a racetrack or zip line for a less-defined trail. I also wanted to stay somewhat short of extreme speeds while still leaving my comfort zone. Off-roading with an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) fit the bill.

After checking online reviews, I signed up with Las Vegas ATV & UTV Tours (lvatvtours. com), whose savvy instructors and trail guides found the right balance of safety and thrills. I also liked the location: Nellis Dunes National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation area, with more than 10,000 acres, was just 15 minutes north of the Strip and not far from Nellis Air Force Base, which meant there was a pretty good chance of seeing fighter planes overhead.

After a safety lesson and a cautionary note about leaving undisturbed any desert tortoises we might encounter, our group of about a dozen riders made our way, single-file, for a few hours of fun on wheels. Caught up in the excitement, I leaned into a long 45-degree slope rather than leaning back, and the extra speed got my adrenaline going.

We alternated between rocky canyon trails and sand dunes. At one point our group, save for a few slackers in the back, rode up and down the dunes in a circle, bringing to mind the circus motorcycles that ride in giant ball cages— though with less risk. I never spotted any fighter planes, but there was enough to exhilarate me on the ground to stave off any disappointment over their absence.

If you’re hungry for more speed, there are other options. Dream Racing (dreamracing.com) lets you get behind the wheel of an exotic car such as a Lamborghini, Ferrari or Porsche Race Car, with packages from four to 40 laps around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. You can also do a “Battle Drift” ride involving you and a friend going head-to-head as ride-along passengers as two drift cars jostle for position like something out of a movie chase scene.

ExoticsRacing (exoticsracing.com) operates its exotic and race cars on three tracks in Vegas: a 1.6-mile track with two fast straightaways and eleven turns; and professional driver-designed 1.2-mile and 1.5-mile tracks with turns that mimic those of top racetracks. The Richard Petty Driving Experience (drivepetty.com) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway features a range of options; its most intense is The World Champion, six back-to-back eight-minute solo racing sessions with pit stops and feedback from your spotter.

Want something slower than a racetrack? You’ve got several zip-lining options. With the SlotZilla (vegas experience.com/slotzilla-zip-line) “Zoom Line,” you’ll ride Superman-style eleven stories up, for the length of five blocks, beneath the huge overhang display of the downtown Fremont Experience. At the Rio all-suite Hotel and Casino, you can soar up to 33 miles per hour on the motorized VooDoo ZipLine (caesars.com/rio-lasvegas), taking off from VooDoo Lounge on top of Rio’s 50-story Masquerade tower and riding 800 feet before a return trip backward

Find display of the downtown Fremont Experience. At the Rio all-suite Hotel and Casino, you can soar up to 33 miles per hour on the motorized VooDoo ZipLine (caesars.com/rio-lasvegas), taking off from VooDoo Lounge on top of Rio’s 50-story Masquerade tower and riding 800 feet before a return trip backward.

Where to Do Yoga Like Never Before

As you engage in your own yoga poses, you can glean inspiration from the elegant movements of bottlenose dolphins through the Yoga Among the Dolphins class offered by The Spa at The Mirage Hotel & Casino. Your Downward Dog and other poses take place beneath large picture windows at the underwater viewing area of the property’s Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. The hour-long class includes use of a yoga mat, a post-class smoothie and day pass for the spa and fitness center. The class is available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Call 702.791.7146.

Whatever heights yoga lifts your spirits too, add 550 feet if you do Yoga on the High Roller. The High Roller, taller than the London Eye or Singapore Flyer, is the world’s tallest observation wheel, giving occupants of its 28 pod-like cabins sweeping views of the Las Vegas Valley. The yoga class is led by a professional instructor, and there are no jarring movements, as one revolution of the wheel takes a half hour. One class lasts two revolutions. Call 702.322.0593.

At $3,500, the priciest of the Vegas yoga options is also the most intense: HeliYoga, which is almost what it sounds like. Almost, because you don’t quite do yoga on a helicopter. Rather, through this partnership of Las Vegas yoga studio Silent Savasana and Maverick Helicopters, a chopper will take you to the stunning red rocks of Valley of Fire State Park, about 60 miles northeast of Vegas. There, you will be set upon the park’s highest peak for a 75-minute class with dazzling views of the red sandstone formations. Each HeliYoga excursion takes a total of 2.5 hours. Visit maverickhelicopter.com/heliyoga.aspx.

Where to Hike

The Southwest’s national parks and rock formations were painted with varying brushstrokes and very different dashes of color, making it a no-brainer to visit more than a few area hiking trails. “Within 60 miles of Las Vegas, you can snowshoe four-foot drifts, swim in a lake or photograph wildflowers—all on the same day,” writes author and hiker Deborah Wall in Base Camp Las Vegas: 101 Hikes in the Southwest (Imbrifex). “Ramble in Red Rock Canyon, hike in Valley of Fire, or enjoy crisp alpine air in the Spring Mountains.”

That said, the same park can boast vastly different scenery (even if it is not the Grand Canyon), and the Red Rock National Conservation Area just outside of Vegas has become one of my favorite hiking spots for this reason. I have hiked among massive boulders and rested my bones on majestic slopes in Red Rock. Sometimes just a drive around its 13- mile perimeter has been enough to soothe me. Red Rock has become something of an old friend, but I look forward to expanding my reach to Valley of Fire, whose enticing name conjures up images of the brilliant orange rocks and trails on which I hope to hike someday.

Where to Shoot Hoops with Construction Equipment

The many pieces of construction equipment on a South Rancho Drive lot 10 minutes from the Strip might make you expect another spanking new high-rise casino hotel is going up. Look closer, however, and you’ll see that the operators of the excavators and bulldozers on this five-acre lot are novices. Moreover, what they’re doing with the equipment has nothing to do with building construction: they’re moving large tires around and digging random holes. Welcome to Dig This (digthisvegas. com), a self-described heavy equipment playground.

Offered a bulldozer or an excavator for my session, I chose the latter—a machine with a hydraulics-driven brontosaurus-like neck. This is Vegas, after all, where bigger is better. Before long, after a safety orientation and warmup of easily digging a few bathtub-size holes, I was tilting my air-conditioned cab in the air by pushing the bucket down on the ground, navigating short mounds and dropping basketballs in the middle of the truck tires I had carefully stacked minutes earlier. The most intense Dig This option: the Aggression Session, during which you get to crush a car.

Where to Unwind

Vegas has one of the best collections of spas centered in one place, and it’s our goal to sample them all. Until then, some of our favorites include the 30,000-square-foot Spa at Mandalay Bay (mandalaybay.com/en/ amenities/spas.html), simply because it was first where we discovered you can get the most amazing rest after a regimen that includes a little time in the steam room, sauna and hot tubs (it’s got two at different temperatures), capped off with a dip in its cold plunge pool for as long as you can withstand the chill. We’re also partial to the beautiful Spa at Mandarin Oriental (mandarinoriental.com/las-vegas/the-strip/luxury-spa) for the amazing personalized treatment by its spa attendants, who check on you intermittently to make sure you are staying hydrated and otherwise happy. The off-Strip Red Rock Spa by Well & Being is a winner for its inviting private pool area with free cabanas and creative offerings, such as a meditation with a professional violinist. Finally, we give the Best Spa Art award to the Reliquary Spa at the Hard Rock Hotel (hardrockhotel.com/ las-vegas-amenities/reliquary-spa.php) for the wall art hanging in its lounge: a mandala with the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” arranged in a circle, to be enjoyed, perhaps, after using a Stairmaster to nirvana. All the aforementioned spas offer stellar treatments as well.

Where to Drink

A multi-award-winning off-Strip bar and steakhouse, Herbs & Rye (herbsandrye.com) is not much to look at from the outside but oozes charm and history inside with its classic cocktails based on different eras, beginning with the “Gothic Age,” spanning about 100 years after American Independence, through today’s “Revival” period. You can even get Prohibition-era drinks, making its bar menu theme “timeliness.”

Another solid spot offering a retro vibe, The Golden Tiki (thegoldentiki.com), with its subdued colorful lighting, fish netting, and thatched-roof décor, will remind you of the South Pacific, or of many American lounges of the 1950s. DJs spinning surf music and indie rock tunes, like “The Cult Song” by Shannon and the Clams, add to the odd island mood. So do waitresses who serve up magic tricks along with the superstars of the place—classic cocktails such as a Mai Tai and Singapore Sling or Golden Tiki originals like a Trial by Fire, with Elijah Craig small batch bourbon, Clement Coco rum, chardonnay syrup, fresh lemon juice, and chocolate bitters.

PBR Rockbar & Grill (pbrrockbar.com) at Planet Hollywood serves cocktails in 100-ounce bowls, like the Wild Thing, with Stoli Crushed Pineapple Vodka, orange juice, and a Malibu Rum floater. Each drink is meant for six people, so drink responsibly and bring a crowd to share this monster. The huge bowls aren’t the only large vessels in which PBR Rockbar & Grill serves its drinks; it also features a 42-ounce boot and 88-ounce guitar, among others.

Help Lions Stay Fed

Until early 2012, visitors to the MGM Grand could watch lions—the brand image of the resort and movie studio of the same name—frolic through thick glass windows in a lobby enclosure. The lions never spent a night at the resort but were transported each day for eleven years by their owner, exotic animal trainer Keith Evans. When MGM Grand began a renovation, however, the lions found a permanent home at Evans’ ranch, about 10 miles south of the Strip, in the Vegas suburb of Henderson. Today, the Lion Habitat Ranch (lionhabitatranch.org) houses about forty lions and is open to the public. Guests can hand-feed the lions, but in the safest of circumstances: they are surrounded by a trainer on each side, and the guests push food through a tube in a thick plastic barrier between themselves and the lion enclosure. Guests pay for such encounters, and fees collected by the Lion Habitat Ranch help feed these majestic creatures. It’s a treat to see them so close. The facility also houses a giraffe who wields a paintbrush in his mouth and makes rudimentary paintings that are for sale.

Worthwhile Excursions

California and Death Valley

This being the Southwest, one of the country’s most beautiful regions, Las Vegas makes a great hub for visiting some area destinations that are gems. At its closest, the California border is only a half-hour from Las Vegas, so it makes sense to head west. While a drive to Los Angeles can exceed four hours, Death Valley National Park is only about two hours from Vegas. Death Valley can be an endurance test, depending on what time of year you visit, and makes for a breathtaking day trip.

Visitors who try a self-guided trip often wrestle with how to pare down the number of Death Valley sites to see for enough time at each and perhaps leave time for a little hiking. You can also try a guided tour. Detours (detoursofthewest.com) leaves Vegas at 7 a.m. and returns at 5 p.m. after taking visitors to Badwater Basin to view the lowest point in the western hemisphere and walk across the salt flats, as well as photo stops at Zabriskie Point and Artist’s Palette overlook, a tour of the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch and a taste of history at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel. You can do a day trip to Death Valley in California.

Southern Utah

A drive north just a couple of hours from Vegas will put you in Southwest Utah, which boasts some of the most beautiful reddish-orange landscapes thanks to the buildup of iron in its geology. Red Mountain Resort & Spa (redmountainresort.com) in Ivins, Utah, with spectacular hiking, just steps from its doors, is a great place to soak in the state’s natural resources as it offers rappelling and encounters with wild horses. I settled in with Tai Chi on a promenade of stepped rocks and hiked through slot canyons and along trails of red rock, sand and lava rock in Snow Canyon State Park.

The region’s colorful landscapes beckoned me to get on an off-road vehicle again. This time, I tried a UTV (utility task vehicle or utility terrain vehicle). Unlike an ATV, which is open and typically holds a single rider, sitting atop a UTV is a frame of safety bars and a roof; it can carry up to six riders. Strong online reviews led me to ATV & Jeep Adventure Tours (atvadventures.com), whose guide, Joseph, was a stickler for safety and maintaining strong communication among vehicles. The ascent up the Red Plateau of Sand Hollow State Park was thrilling, as was traversing rocky paths and steep dunes. We had occasional stops for spectacular views of lakes and mountain ranges. As the sunset and shadows shifted, the landscape in front of us took on many moods. I learned that the magic in the ride comes not from the vehicle, but from the terrain and surroundings.

Where to Eat

There’s no shortage of quality food in Vegas. From Giada De Laurentiis to Tom Colicchio, Pierre Gagnaire to Nobu Matsuhisa, just about every celebrity chef is represented by a restaurant in this town. We asked Don Contursi, president of Lip Smacking Foodie Tours (vegasfoodietour.com), to shed light on some of his favorite eateries.

Contursi likes STK (http://togrp.com/ venue/stk-las-vegas), a steakhouse at the Cosmopolitan hotel featuring a DJ each evening, for its nightclub vibe. “It’s a very fun environment,” he says. “The tables are almost set up like booths, like in a nightclub.” For similar reasons, Contursialso likes Hakkasan (hakkasannight club.com), a renowned London-based Asian-fusion brand that set up shop in MGM Grand with a massive nightclub, lounge, and eatery. He also recommends Lavo (lavolv. com), an Italian eatery popular for weekend brunch, at the Palazzo, the sister property of the Venetian. “During brunch, it’s very much a party atmosphere,” Contursi says. “They close the curtains and it feels like you’re inside a nightclub. People dance on tables, and there’s bottle service.”

Day clubs and pool parties are also fashionable. “A popular brunch for millennials at the Aria is at Herringbone (herringboneeats.com/locations/ las-vegas), with celebrity chef Brian Malarkey. It’s the only restaurant at Artia that has al fresco dining, and it’s got bottomless mimosas,” Contursi says. “There are chef-driven individual stations, and you can choose carving stations, a raw bar, fresh seafood. They even have a fresh pressed-juice program, and you can have alcohol. In the afternoon they have a DJ. It’s another celebrity hotspot. It overlooks the pool so it’s got a great vibe.” He also likes the ambiance of the Encore Beach Club (encorebeachclub. com) at the Wynn. “The DJs they bring in are the highest-paid talent,” says Contursi, who also recommends Wet Republic (wetrepublic.com) at MGM and the day club at the Cosmopolitan hotel’s Marquee. “There’s a party for the afternoon. There’s a party during dinner. And there’s a party after dinner,” Contursi says.

For his company’s Lip Smacking Boozy Brunch tour, Contursi takes his guests to three brunch spots: Herringbone; Bardot Brasserie (aria.com/ BardotBrasserie), Michael Mina’s French brasserie with a central bar, upscale fare and 1920s vibe; and Giada (caesars. com/Cromwell/restaurants/Gia da#.Wq_RcR3waUk), the first Vegas restaurant by De Laurentiis, at The Cromwell, a great location with its large open windows overlooking the Strip.

Contursi also likes a few off-Strip restaurants, including the popular (“if you’re in the know,” he says) Sparrow + Wolf (sparrowandwolflv. com) by Chef Brian Howard. The restaurant is described as American, with recipes infused with cultural touches based on Howard’s travels. A signature dish is the beef cheek and bone marrow dumplings.

Another favorite is Rollin Smoke Barbeque (rollinsmokebarbeque. com), a bare-bones place with a few wooden picnic tables and tender meats that are smoked to perfection. Do not leave without trying the burnt ends. You may want to indulge in the “all you can eat option”; good luck. Like we said earlier, a city of excess is going to have something for everyone. And Vegas hasn’t forgotten about its vegans and vegetarian locals or visitors. To learn about vegan dining options, from fast-casual to ethnic, visit Vegans Baby at vegansbaby.com, updated regularly.

The Bacchanal Challenge

Vegas has long been known for its huge buffets, sometimes offered as a perk for high rollers but always a questionable choice if you’re trying to stay fit. Or is it? I headed over to what many consider the most extravagant buffet in town for dinner—the Bacchanal at Caesars Palace (702.731.7928)—and gave myself a challenge: Could I sit down for a lavish buffet dinner in a way that was both healthy and made the most of the $59.99 (plus tax) weekend price?

Working against me: the Bacchanal dining area comprises several rooms with a décor of soft earth tones and comfortable seating. The bottom line: the place has great feng shui, meaning the temptation to linger, and eat more, is greater. Working for me: I hate shellfish, and one entire section seems devoted to crab legs. Moreover, I am seated near a man who retrieves plate after plate of crab legs, crushing and crunching them, and emitting disgusting mouth noises, meaning the temptation to leave earlier than I normally would have, and eat less, is greater.

For my first round, I fill my plate with asparagus, a small wedge salad, roasted peppers and, uh oh, a small lamb T-bone. The taste of the lamb is too strong, however, and I take only a bite or two. Similarly, I don’t like the dressing on the Italian salad I’ve taken. So far, so good.

My second round gets bolder: I fill my plate with a piece of salmon, a slice of turkey that is larger than I request, a piece of fried chicken, brisket, and some tri-tip roast with aus jus. The brisket doesn’t measure up to my standards of fine smoked BBQ, so I put it aside. I didn’t fare as well as my first round, but I’m not doing awful. Beyond this, I try a little pho from the Asian section and finish off with gelato from the dessert station.

I probably ate more than I should have for the meal to be considered healthy, and I probably paid more than I should have for what I ate. I failed my Bacchanal challenge, but not miserably.

Where to Stay

A volcano at the Mirage. Gondoliers at the Venetian. Sword-wielding pirates at Treasure Island. These are just a few of the flashy ways Vegas resorts have tried to get the attention of visitors over the years.

With the sites of resort marketing teams set squarely on millennials, however, the pitch today is more restrained. Consider the LINQ Casino Resort (caesars.com/linq), formerly the Quad Hotel that Caesars Entertainment redid. The LINQ boasts rooms with bunk beds, and nothing says budget-conscious like bunk beds for groups of friends traveling together. What’s more, the LINQ is set on a promenade of restaurants, shopping, and attractions that include the High Roller and VR Adventures, a virtual reality attraction that has you flying like a superhero or suffering the fears of a house of horrors.

Similarly recognizing that casinos may not be the first choice for millennials, who opt instead for fresh air and “smart” walkable, urban designs, MGM created The Park (mgmresorts.com/ten/things-todo/blog/walk-in-the-park.html). It has transformed the area between the Monte Carlo and New York-New York into its own neighborhood, complete with a beer joint, a sushi place, gathering spaces and public art.

For the budget-minded, we also like properties on the outskirts of town, especially during busy stretches like when CES, the giant consumer technology show, takes over Vegas and hotel rates skyrocket. We’ve found reasonable rates, and a comfortable, hip vibe, over at Boyd Gaming’s recent acquisition, Aliante Casino Hotel + Spa (aliantegaming.com).

Spring 2018 / DISCOVER

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