Vision quests aside, the Anasazi Indians who populated the southern regions of Nevada 2,000 years ago could hardly have foreseen the glitz and glitter that would eventually define this particular valley. Today, few destinations match the sheer intensity of Las Vegas, where the bright lights, stunning shows and dreams of instant riches attract a year-round mix of leisure and business travelers from every corner of the world.
The name Las Vegas is Spanish for “the meadows,” and reflects the natural springs and plentiful native grasses that flourished across the landscape at the time scouts arrived in the early 1800s. Mid-century, Mormon missionaries established a supply fort here, marking Las Vegas as a halfway point between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. A number of artifacts and the ruins of the original adobe fort can be viewed downtown at Old Vegas Mormon State Historic Park, at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington Avenue. As recently as 1929, and spanning the years the Hoover Dam was undergoing construction, the United States Bureau of Reclamation used part of the remaining structure as a testing laboratory.
By 1885, the State Land Act was offering parcels of land in this part of Nevada for a staggering $1.25 an acre, enticing farming families westward and establishing the area as an agricultural center. By the latter part of that century, the discovery of precious metals and minerals led to a mining boom, and a railroad dash to match. In 1905, the city of Las Vegas was officially founded. The completion of a main railway line linking the southern portion of California with Salt Lake City led to further development.
In 1931, the state legislature legalized gambling in Nevada, but it was the Hoover Dam project that was really responsible for boosting the population of Las Vegas. Construction workers from other areas of the country relocated for work and stayed on once the dam was complete. The addition of military and defense installations in the surrounding desert following the start of World War II led to an additional spurt in growth. It was after the war ended, however, that tourism took hold, with a burgeoning resort hotel and entertainment industry joining forces with casinos and firmly establishing Las Vegas as a premier business, vacation and gaming destination.
Along with the acceleration of the gaming industry came a growing mob presence. By 1941, the nefarious gangster Bugsy Siegel had found his way to town. His close personal association with organized crime figures on the East Coast — including Meyer Lansky, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello and Charles “Lucky” Luciano — had led to an assignment in the desert to set up a wire service connected to horse racing. Four years later, Siegel and Lansky became co-investors in the El Cortez Hotel. Aware of the potential for hotel casino profits, Siegel invested in a bigger property, more centrally located on the Strip, called the Flamingo. After taking over the development company behind the building project, and putting plans seriously over budget and behind schedule, he was forced to borrow additional funds from mob sources in order to open. His inability to recoup funds in a timely enough manner supposedly led to his nowlegendary execution in Los Angeles in June of 1947 — just one of dozens of stories of dastardly deeds in the desert that have made Las Vegas so legendary.
Barely eclipsing the mob’s presence was the arrival of Hollywood. With the controversial opening of the racially integrated Moulin Rouge in 1955 and the unveiling of topless show girls in 1957 in Minsky’s Follies at The Dunes, Las Vegas gained a risqué reputation as a setting for all manner of debauchery and corruption. Adding to the allure — and the reputation — was the arrival on the scene of the infamous Rat Pack. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Dean, Frank, Sammy and their rotating crowd of famous pals brought a level of Hollywood excitement to town that grew exponen tially year by year, with additional thrills regularly provided by celebrity events including Elvis Presley’s 1969 opening at the former International Hotel (now the Las Vegas Hilton).
These days, the Las Vegas torch has passed from Dean, Sammy and Frank to George Clooney, Brad Pitt and company — but the glow of high-stakes glamour hasn’t faded in the least. Regardless of which direction you turn in Vegas, you’ll find plenty of flash.
Like the idea of putting your money on a winner? Home to those famous dancing fountains, Bellagio is a sure bet when it comes to comfort, luxury and elegance. Choose from guestrooms, suites or villas, all decorated in rich, soothing desert tones. Distractions include a number of exclusive Bellagio shops, an award-winning spa, a conservatory, botanical gardens, pools, an enormous casino, full business services, bars and twice-nightly performances of O by Cirque du Soleil. $$$$
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
tel 888 987 6667
The newest luxury offering in town, Encore opened its doors in December 2008. Located adjacent to Wynn Las Vegas, Steve Wynn’s flagship property, Encore offers 2,034 generous suites with separate arrival and check-in areas for Tower and Resort suites, all of which offer a choice of pool or garden view. Roger Thomas handled the interior design, which optimizes natural light and comfortable, intimate spaces. Features include a luxury spa, sculpted gardens, mosaic tiling, gourmet restaurants, a casino, 60,000 square feet of event space and French Riviera-inspired pools with dozens of luxurious cabanas. There’s also The Esplanade at Encore, with a selection of high-end boutiques. $$$$
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
tel 888 320 7125
JW MARRIOT LAS VEGAS RESORT & SPA
Though mere minutes outside the bustle of Las Vegas proper, this peaceful property feels worlds away. Besides the 36-room, 40,000-square-foot Aquae Sulis Spa, the property has an onsite casino, dedicated golf desk, a waterfall-enhanced pool and 50 acres of landscaped grounds. Spacious guestrooms include walk-in closets, high-speed Internet access, wireless areas, full business amenities and 300-thread-count bedding, plus roomy marble bathrooms with raindrop showerheads and whirlpool tubs.$$$
JW MARRIOT LAS VEGAS RESORT & SPA
221 N. Rampart Blvd.
tel 702 869 7777
The namesake restaurant of James Beard Foundation Award winner Chef Paul Bartolotta, this stylish Italian ristorante can be found at Wynn Las Vegas. Have your handmade pasta as an appetizer, with selections that include ravioli di ricotta con caciotta toscana (sheep’s milk ricotta ravioli with Tuscan pecorino cheese and Marsala wine glaze) and risotto con verdure di stagione e raschera (vegetable risotto whipped with raschera cheese). Main course specialties from the coastal Italian menu include an impressive number of Mediterranean seafood and shellfish options, from gilthead sea bream and imperial snapper to spiny lobster and slipper lobster. Reservations recommended. $$$
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
tel 702 248 3463
LOTUS OF SIAM
If you like it hot, this is the place to go for authentic, award-winning Thai food. Don’t be distracted by the somewhat tattered exterior — even Gourmet Magazine has given this restaurant high accolades. Start with a soup course of tom klong pla-krob, a unique Thai-Cambodian blend of smoked fish, tamarind sauce and fresh herbs. Next, fulfill your wildest curry dreams with the panang, made with coconut milk, fresh and dried chili, Thai basil and your choice of chicken, pork, beef or tofu. Open for lunch on weekdays and for dinner daily. Reservations recommended for dinner. Located close to the Strip. $$
LOTUS OF SIAM
953 E. Sahara Ave.
tel 702 735 3033
Located at the Bellagio, this elegant establishment continues to rack up awards for dining excellence, including seven consecutive years as a recipient of the AAA Five Diamond Award. The kitchen is under the direction of Executive Chef Julian Serrano, who lends a strong Spanish influence to regional French cuisine. The menu changes daily to reflect the market’s freshest offerings, but keep your eye out for specialties including sautéed filet of halibut prepared with royal trumpet mushrooms and roasted sunchokes. For accompaniment, sommelier Michael Schwab has assembled a cellar boasting more than 1,500 of Europe’s best wines.
Should conversation lag over dinner, you can always chat about the real Picassos displayed on the restaurant’s walls. Reservations recommended. $$$$
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
tel 888 987 6667
Enjoy the high-voltage charms of Vegas with the free Fremont Street Experience (www.vegasexperience.com), where a stroll among 12.5 million lights gives you access to free concerts, street-side shows and numerous special events year-round. The extensive LED display canopy covers a pedestrian-only, five-block stretch of the street.
Along the Strip, a number of other free attractions are appropriate for children, including the Sirens of TI, a pirate battle that takes place every evening in front of the Treasure Island Hotel, beginning at 7 p.m., with four shows per night. The Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand provides great views of the resident felines in their massive, glass-encased lair. More cats — this time, white tigers — dwell nearby, in the White Tiger Habitat at the Mirage. Also at the Mirage, the enormous aquarium in front of the Forum Shops affords glimpses of sharks and other aquatic life. Not far away at Circus Circus Hotel, clowning around is the prime objective, with free daily shows.
The casino options are obvious, but Vegas is also a regular tour stop for major music and theatrical acts. Check out show offerings before you go, as tickets disappear quickly and you’ll want to book in advance. Standards include The Blue Man Group (www.bluemanvegas.com), who continue to draw happy crowds at The Venetian. Caesars Palace hosts top concert acts including Elton John (through April 22), Cher (through May 24) and Bette Midler (through April 5). New shows in 2009 include performer extraordinaire Danny Gans at Encore, The Lion King at Mandalay Bay opening May 2 and Peepshow at Planet Hollywood, opening March 30.
Once you’ve left the city’s ever-flashing neon lights, the desert quickly reclaims the landscape. And, while Hollywood might like you to believe that the deep, shifting sands are littered with the remains of those who found themselves on the bad side of a gamble-gone-wrong, the truth is there are a number of fascinating day trips to be enjoyed. Vegas Mob Tours (www.vegasmobtour.com) will show you some of the more infamous sites of shootings, lootings and old-fashioned Vegas-style drama.
Winter temperatures here hover in the low to mid 60s by day; they drop to a chilly 40 degrees once the sun disappears over the sandy horizon. If you find yourself longing for the great outdoors, desert outfitter Hike This! (www.hikethislasvegas.com) offers guided private and group treks through the nearby Red Rock Canyon, along with rock scrambling adventures with environmentalist and Nevada terrain veteran Neil Sobelson.
Take a swing through the sands with Pink Jeep Tours (www.pinkjeep.com), with excursions to Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam, the Valley of Fire, Death Valley and Zion National Park. Rebel Adventure Tours (www.rebeladventuretours.com) can show you the terrain from a Hummer, a horse or a jet ski. They also offer goldmine tours, and whitewater rafting adventures in the Grand Canyon.
For a rock climbing adventure, Desert Rock Sports strong> on West Charleston Boulevard (www.climbvegas.com) can provide guides and rental gear. Sites within driving distance that are worth the trek include Hoover Dam (www.hooverdamtourcompany.com) and Lake Mead (www.lakemeadcruises.com), where you can cruise in style aboard a paddlewheel boat. Dinner, brunch and dinner-dance cruises are also offered. Visit www.visitlasvegas.com or www.vegas.com.
INFO TO GO
Depending upon where you’re flying from — and whether you’re on a charter, commercial or private flight — you can arrive at a number of Las Vegas airports: McCarran International Airport (LAS), Las Vegas Municipal Airport (LVS) and Henderson Executive Airport (HND). If you’ve decided to make an entrance, arrange for a limo or town car prior to your trip — otherwise, all major car rental services are readily available. The drive from the international airport to the Strip can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes, depending upon traffic. While your individual hotel may provide shuttle service, there’s certainly no shortage of taxis available to whisk you toward the bright lights.
Discover why Global Traveler readers named Cunard® the Best Large-Ship Cruise Line for seven consecutive years. For a limited time, book your voyage during Cunard’s Explore with More promotion and take advantage of lower fares*, up to $1,200 Onboard Credit†, Free Specialty Dining for Two^, 50% Reduced Deposit††, and more. Choose from an array of exciting journeys, including Transatlantic Crossings and voyages to Alaska, the Caribbean and Canada & New England.
Envisioned as one of Asia’s most sustainable skyscrapers, a proposed 63-story, mixed-use downtown development project in Singapore takes cues from bamboo forests to create an indoor-outdoor vertical community with public spaces, offices, retail, a hotel, event spaces and luxury residences.
Australia's Whitsunday Islands are an unimaginable destination. As many screensavers or wanderlust-worthy documentaries as you may come across of the 74 continental islands off the central coast of Queensland, located within the Great Barrier Reef
Nashville’s once-modest skyline continues to evolve as its luxury market grows. Lavish hotel properties are added to the landscape while acclaimed chefs stake claim in the robust culinary scene and premier cultural offerings round out the city’s repertoire.
Awareness about fair and sustainable travel continues to grow around the globe, with travelers everywhere considering a destination’s eco-friendly options before visiting. As public consciousness for this important aspect of tourism strengthens, tourists also look beyond just ecotourism and delve deeper into types of travel that allow them to respect the local culture, interact with locals and distribute benefits fairly.
Beginning Feb. 12, Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens presents Tiffany: The Pursuit of Beauty in Nature as the 2023 installment of its Jean & Alfred Goldstein exhibition series. The exhibit showcases the creativity and innovation of the iconic American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.