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Four days in Vegas, baby

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  •   11-06-2014  11:10 am

Four days in Vegas, baby

Canada has earned top spot as the number one international market for Las Vegas, and overall, the destination welcomes more than 40 million visitors annually.

But up until last week, I wasn't one of them.

I must admit, it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to visit Sin City. Why? Well, for one, I'm not a gamer.

It was not long after picking up my luggage at McCarran International Airport's Terminal 3 that I came across slot machines for the first time. And as we ventured into the city, I couldn't help but wonder what could possibly fill our itinerary aside from placing bets and playing cards.

"Disneyland for adults"

The Medieval setting of Excalibur contrasted with the gold colours of Mandalay Bay

When starting our descent, the pilot of WestJet flight 1076 from Montreal warned us: "What you see below is still Earth; not another planet."

Looking out the window, it was what can only be described as lunar landscapes beneath us, purple rock mixed with a yellow-coloured sand. And then in the middle of this unusual place, the Mojave Desert, there appears Las Vegas.

Driving down Las Vegas Boulevard (commonly known as the Strip), I was 'wowed.' Like many Canadians, I've seen pictures and witnessed the destination appear in various TV shows and films, but it didn't prepare me for such a spectacle. Yes, the city itself is a show, where you'll get a taste of Paris, New York, Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, Monaco, Egypt and beyond, all within six kilometres.

There are 150,000 hotel rooms available in Las Vegas, the majority located along the Strip and many displaying that Vegas-style opulence and glitz.

But it's the entertainment and pleasure within the city limits that keeps Las Vegas calling, and I was ready to see what it has to offer because the idea of being in a dark casino, unaware of time or space, isn't my idea of a good time.

All bets on dining

A sampling of the tapas at Aria's Julian Serrano Restaurant

Put 'table' and 'Las Vegas' in the same sentence and you've got me thinking of blackjack or roulette.

But the truth is, there are great experiences to be had at the dining table, which came as a pleasant surprise to me as we began to immerse ourselves in the destination. (I purposely avoided research and guide books before making my way to Vegas, eager to make my own conclusions about the city.)

The day I arrived, we had a gourmet dinner at Aureole restaurant, located at Mandalay Bay. This was not just any meal - it was a six-course menu accompanied by French Champagnes, different options paired perfectly with the various menu items, which included sashimi, Mozambique prawns and risotto with sea urchin. We were joined by Harley Carbery, director of wine (who manages the restaurant's winery - 42 feet high to 60,000 bottles!).

Needless to say, my first on-location experience in Vegas did not disappoint, and throughout the trip, other great gastronomic journeys ensued.

We also dined at Julian Serrano Restaurant at Aria, where the Spanish chef took our pallets to  the land of flamenco. A dance for the taste buds too, the tapas served were in small portions as to showcase the flavours boldly. Tuna cones, gazpacho, paella and duck confit are all choices to consider when planning a visit to this restaurant.

In a bit more relaxed atmosphere, the Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill (Caesars Palace) or Comida (downtown) will offer less expensive alternatives. The first is like a classic English pub, while the second offers the delights of Mexican cuisine.

Whether clients are arriving for the first time in Las Vegas or they're return visitors, there will be something culinary to discover or rediscover at the city's endless number of restaurants.

Las Vegas, the circus

Zarkana

After a great meal, there's nothing like a show to help digest.

Once again, Sin City surprised. Wherever you turn your head, a light panel reminds you that in any direction, there is entertainment abound. Whether given by an international star like Britney Spears, Rod Stewart, Shania Twain or the Blue Man Group, anything is possible. Safe to say, my fear of boredom in Vegas was quickly absolved.

This is also home to Cirque du Soleil, which though born in Canada, now has eight permanent shows along the Strip and during this visit, I was treated to see Zarkana at Aria.

With such endless options for entertainment, visitors must have deep pockets to take it all in; the good news is, there is plenty to see and do for more budget-conscious travellers as well. For example, the famous fountains of the Bellagio attract crowds in droves. And then there is the Mirage fountain, which erupts like a volcano almost every half hour in the evenings. 

At Flamingo, we visited the Wildlife Habitat, an exotic, landscaped garden with fountains and rocks, where visitors can observe exotic birds, fish and turtles.

Las Vegas from the air

In the Grand Canyon with Maverick Helicopters

To put things in perspective, I recommend seeing the city from above, with spectacular views and total thrills.

New to the Strip is The LINQ, a $550 million retail, dining and entertainment district by Caesars Entertainment. It is anchored by The High Roller, one of the world's largest observation wheels standing at 550-feet, which takes 30 minutes per rotation and offers 360-degree views of Las Vegas and its surrounding scenery. As you can imagine, the view of the city is beautiful and impressive. The half-hour experience costs about US $35.

For the lesser cost of a drink, travellers can instead opt for the views at MIX Lounge, located on the 64th floor of Mandalay Bay, another option for those hoping to enjoy the best views of Vegas.

The more adventurous in nature will likely be thrilled by the new VooDoo Zipline. From 450 feet in the air, this is now one of the most popular - and undoubtedly most memorable experiences - the city has to offer, as it soars between the Rio towers at 33 miles per hour on a secure line and riders travel down from the higher tower to the lower end, secured into a seat with a buckle and harness.

The icing on the cake was a helicopter flight to the Grand Canyon (with landing and champagne lunch on site) with Maverick Helicopters. The four hour experience, dubbed the 'Wind Dancer' tour, highlights the beautiful scenery at the top of the Mojave Desert and the Grand Canyon. This is a "must do," although an investment at US $529 per person.

I get it!

In just four days, I quickly came to understand why Las Vegas is such a popular destination. The city succeeded in showing off its diversity, from world-class entertainment, adventurous experiences and unforgettable dining. Contrary to my initial perception, it was then no surprise to learn that 70 per cent of visitor spend in Vegas goes to sectors other than gaming.

And I bet that I'll be back...

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