The rush starts with the jaw-dropping moment you fly over the spectacular Las Vegas Boulevard and catch your first glimpse of the larger-then-life, barely real-looking resorts in the Nevada desert.
As our Virgin Atlantic flight started its last descent, I was explaining to one of my fellow passengers how I was envious he was about to taste Sin City’s wonders for the first time.
Saying that, I’ve been lucky to visit the entertainment capital of the world a few times, and each time I do, I still get that same ‘Vegas virgin’ feeling. New hotels, casinos, restaurants, clubs, pools and shows open daily, and with tourism on hold for much of 2020 and 2021, Vegas is now welcoming guests back with open arms.
After flying in with my friends Joe and Jonathan, the three of us were “all set” (as the Americans love to say) for some fun. In Vegas, all your senses are heightened, even, bizarrely, your smell. And although this may seem like a peculiar thing to point out, each of the city’s resorts has its own distinctive scent — some considerably more pleasing than others. Thankfully, the two hotels I stayed in were fragrantly fresh, as well as being reassuringly familiar from my previous trips.
First up, I checked into the iconic Bellagio Resort & Casino, which has revamped its luxurious guest rooms since my last stay. What has thankfully not changed are the spectacular fountain views, which continued to give me goosebumps every time I drew back the remote-controlled drapes.
For the second half of the week, I was a guest at one of Aria Resort & Casino’s redesigned Sky Suites. This sumptuous AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star accommodation provided a tranquil and much-needed sanctuary above the Strip, while being close enough to jump back into the thick of the action.
Being a Sky Suites guest also meant I was picked up and dropped off at the airport by limo, and granted access to the dedicated lounge, with its 24-hour refreshments, concierge and secluded Sky Pool. Another sense explored at the resort was my sense of touch, as I booked in for a midweek Ashiatsu Massage at The Spa at Aria.
The therapist, supported by bars on the ceiling, massaged my back, shoulders and neck with her feet, using a blend of Shiatsu and Swedish techniques. Away from the Sky Suites, there isn’t much respite for the ears in the ‘city without clocks’. But if you are in the mood to party, the entertainment starts early.
For clubbers, the ideal way to unlock the best day and night life is by purchasing one of Tao Group’s Las Vegas Party Passes. By wearing these wristbands, the three of us were able to jump the queues at eight renowned venues, including Hakkasan and Wet Republic at MGM Grand, Omnia at Caesars Palace, Jewel at Aria, Tao and Tao Beach at The Venetian, and Marquee at The Cosmopolitan.
We spent a night with a table at Jewel to watch DJ CLA, while our Sunday afternoon dancing session was spent at the Asian-inspired tropical oasis, Tao Beach Dayclub, where we had a daybed, and joined hundreds of other revellers beguiled by DJ Justin Credible.
If you’re a sports fan, you shouldn’t visit Vegas without checking out the sight-for-sore-eyes Stadium Swim pool amphitheatre at the brand new Circa Resort & Casino. We ordered buckets of ice-cold Coronas to watch the big American sporting event of the week, the Kentucky Derby, on the jaw-dropping 143 x 40 foot, 14 million megapixel LED screen.
If there’s one sense that will be truly satisfied in Vegas, it’s in your tastebuds, as the city is home to some of the world’s finest restaurants, fronted by Michelin-starred and celebrity chefs.
Michael Mina at the Bellagio is the best seafood restaurant in the city, and we nibbled on everything from caviar and clams, to oysters and lobster on an epic culinary journey. The next evening was also very special, as we enjoyed a reservation at The Mayfair Supper Club.
The food was remarkable (I’d particularly recommend the Wagyu prime rib), but what made this place different to anywhere else was the live entertainment, as The Mayfair evolved from a swinging prohibition-era jazz club to a late-night dance party with a multi-piece band, dancers and singers.
Over at Aria, Jean George’s Steakhouse remains one of the only steakhouses in the US that serves up Kobe Wagyu A5 beef, one of the most revered meats in the world. Pair that with the delicious appetisers and a couple of homemade sauces, and you’re in for a flavoursome feast. Elsewhere on the Strip, Sugar Factory American Brasserie has recently moved from its former home at the Fashion Show Mall to Harmon Corner.
Thankfully, the Insta-worthy food and drink remains extremely tasty and enormous fun, with the popcorn shrimp, colourful burgers and, of course, nitrogen-infused goblet cocktails as impressive as ever. Late nights can easily become early mornings in Vegas, and there’s no better brunch spot than Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, on the dazzling shore of the Bellagio lake: we washed down big-eye tuna tartare, smoked salmon and pancakes with bottomless mimosas, before the server brought over Sparkplug cocktails (hazelnut liqueur, vodka, and espresso) to send us on our way.
Also at the Bellagio is Sadelle’s, where we enjoyed steak and eggs Benedicts and bellinis, coffee and crepes. At Aria, the Salt & Ivy breakfast highlights include crispy chicken and waffles, and a crunchy orange and cranberry parfait; while one morning when needing to grab-and-go, we picked up breakfast burritos and freshly squeezed fruit juices from Bellagio Patisserie.
On our final evening in Vegas, we had a special preview of Cirque du Soleil’s first new production on the Strip in two years, Mad Apple, at New York-New York. We spoke with the brains behind the show, British producer Simon Painter, who told us to settle in for laughs, music, magic and mayhem in the company of comedian Brad Williams, freestyle rapper Chris Turner, vocalist Xharlie Black and an ensemble cast of high-flying acrobats, soul singers and street performers. Simon is the first to admit this cocktail of high-octane entertainment may not make an ounce of sense at times — but like Vegas itself, it’s guaranteed to be sense-sational.
LAS VEGAS FACTFILE
■ Virgin Atlantic has a five-night trip from £1035pps direct from Heathrow to Las Vegas staying at the 5-star Aria Resort, departing January 22, 2023. Visit virginholidays.co.uk.
■ Aer Lingus fly to Las Vegas from several different cities. See aerlingus.com.
■ For more information on Aria Resort & Casino go to aria.mgmresorts.com.