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The Four Queens of Las Vegas, Las Vegas Nevada

Louise Speaks:  Picking one fabulous hotel in a sea of fabulous hotels is like trying to pick an ace out of a deck of cards.  But if you are forced to narrow it down, there are four that have come to be known as the Four Queens of Las Vegas.

The Bellagio  www.bellagio.com is the indisputable “Queen of Diamonds”.   An Italianate palazzo named after its storied namesake on Lake Como.  Elaine and I happened to go by the Bellagio on Lake Come while in Italy, and it too is a sight to see.  The Bellagio in Las Vegas floats on its own 8.5 acre man-made lake.  It somehow manages to be over the top yet remain within the bounds of good taste.  With more than 3,000 rooms on 36 floors, the Bellagio is one of the largest casinos in town, and contains some of the best restaurants in the city.  The Bellagio was the most expensive hotel ever constructed at the time it was built with a price tag exceeding $1.6 billion dollars.  The marble you see everywhere would do Medici proud.  While relaxing at the Bellagio, you can marvel at the romantic lure of the pool and courtyards.  A Mediterranean-infused  fresco masterpiece – unquestionably Las Vegas’ most inviting pool area.  Go for a relaxing dip in peerless azure waters. Five definitive pool courtyard settings invite you to splash into serenity.  Spas, an exquisite garden vista café, private cabanas, and poolside massage treatments are also available to complete this outdoor oasis. 

The newly remodeled resort rooms offer guests a fresh, elegant collection of newly redesigned deluxe accommodations. Each of the three distinct color palettes further enhances the AAA Five Diamond guest experience at one of the world’s most iconic resorts.  Created by the talented team at MGM Resorts International Design Group, the new rooms reflect an updated, elegant feel pairing modern conveniences with the warmth of home.  Three unique designs elicit a distinct sensibility based on the colors and patterns utilized throughout each concept.  You will forget you are in a desert when you see the outdoor fountains using more that 1,200 water cannons choreographed to create a liquid ballet, the best free show in town. 

The  Wynn Las Vegas  www.wynnlasvegas.com is typified  as the “Queen of Clubs”. Staying here makes you feel like part of an exclusive members only society.  Steve Wynn, the hotel impresario who also built the Bellagio, added another billion to his previous record, yes that means the Wynn cost $2.7 billion dollars to build.  Mr. Wynn came up with the idea of  this sensually curved bronze skyscraper looming large over the neighbors.  Packed with every luxury imaginable, from high tech gadget embellished rooms, elegant restaurants, and it’s very own Ferrari and Maserati dealership on site, it even boasts its own man-made mountain and a fountain that empties into a 3 acre lake.   The resort covers 215 acres.  A highlight of the countless amenities is Wynn Golf and Country Club, boasting a golf course right on the Strip, a course that is restricted to very lucky hotel guests.  The Wynn is considered to be one of the finest hotels in the world

At Wynn Las Vegas  they are privileged to have an extraordinary resort full of indulgences and amenities for guests to enjoy.  From fine dining, exclusive shopping and sensational shows to posh pools, serene spas and chic nightlife, guests can discover that everything you love in a vacation spot is here under one roof.  Personal and intimate by design, Wynn offers an eclectic collection of nooks and neighborhoods that reveal surprises and memorable moments around every corner. Not only will you find their environments and amenities extraordinary, you will also find them comfortable and mindful of your unique interests as well.

Wynn Las Vegas prides itself on its ability to provide an exceptional guest experience. Inside the 50-story, 2,716—room resort you will find luxury and intimacy  at every turn.  The 614-foot  high hotel has 45 floors, and the 2,716 rooms range in size from 640 sq ft  to the villas at 7,000 sq ft .  The resort offers award-winning accommodations, signature restaurants, exciting leisure activities and nightly entertainment.  The secluded European pool at the Wynn allows for topless sunbathing, it doesn’t get more European than that. 

Caesars Palace   www.caesarspalace.com/is an oldie but a goodie.  It has everything a Las Vegas Hotel should have.  This hotel receives the title of “Queen of Spades”.  Originally built-in 1966, it has had several billion dollars worth of upgrades and additions that have kept its profile high and polished enough to keep up with the newcomers.  These renovations and additions have turned what was once a Roman wonderland into a gleaming palace.

In 1962, Jay Sarno, a cabana motel owner, used US $35 million dollars that had been lent to him by the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund to begin plans for a hotel on land owned by Kirk Kerkorian.  Sarno would later act as designer of the hotel he planned to construct.  Building of the 14-story Caesars Palace hotel began in 1962.  That first tower would have 680 rooms on the 34 acre  site.  Sarno struggled to decide on a name for the hotel.  He finally decided to call it Caesars Palace because he thought that the name Caesar would evoke thoughts of royalty because of Roman  general Julius Caesar.  

Caesars has 3,960 rooms in six towers: Augustus, Centurion, Roman, Palace, Octavius, and Forum.   The Forum tower features guest suites with 1,000 square feet  of space.  The hotel rooms in Caesars Palace’s six towers — Forum, Roman, Centurion (which is currently being transformed into the world’s first Nobu hotel, anticipated to open in fall of 2012), Palace, Augustus and Octavius — are as spacious and lavish as any palace accommodations should be, with marble bathrooms and several amenities among the top-rate offerings.  The most recent one to open is the 668-room Octavius Tower, which offers guests a more boutique hotel experience with a private entrance and a separate lobby.  Plus, rooms here boast an innovative technology package that allows direct communication with concierge, housekeeping, room service, transportation, valet and other hotel service providers. From the moment you walk through the doors of Caesars Palace, you know you’ve arrived at the most prestigious resort in the world.  Impeccable service and luxury; all the little details that make the difference between an ordinary visit and a spectacular experience can be yours.

Finally, the “Queen of Hearts” goes to the Mirage www.mirage.com for its special place in the zeitgeist of Las Vegas.  Also built by Steve Wynn and the first of the modern Vegas hotels, it’s white and gold towers soar from the desert like the oasis evoked by its name.  It is an escapist property, with a lush indoor rain forest of lagoons and waterfalls and palm trees soaring 60 feet beneath a glass dome.  Where else would you expect to find the house of Siegfried and Roy’s White Tiger Habitat?  Even though there is no longer a white tiger show, you are still able to see the white tigers in their natural habitat.  Outdoors, the hotel’s faux volcano, one of Las Vega’s signature attractions erupts every 15 minutes; a free street show you just have to see.

When the Mirage arrived on the scene in 1989 it changed everything for Las Vegas .  At the time, the Mirage was the most expensive hotel-casino in history, with a construction cost of $630 million dollars. The hotel’s distinctive gold windows get their color from actual gold dust  used in the tinting process.  Its construction is also considered noteworthy in that Wynn had set a new standard for Vegas resorts, and is widely considered to be the father of today’s Las Vegas.  The Mirage is a 3,044 room hotel and casino resort located on the Las Vegas Strip.  The Mirage is connected by a free tram to Treasure Island and the marquee in front of the Mirage is the largest free-standing marquee in the world.

The Mirage’s guest rooms feature rich hues and imported fabrics in a refined atmosphere of sophisticated comfort.  Many are available with breathtaking views of the tropical pool, majestic mountains or the Las Vegas Strip.  This AAA Four Diamond Award-winning resort completed a fresh new makeover in August 2008 of all their guest rooms.  These smartly redesigned rooms feature stylish comfort complemented with ultra-modern amenities and chic upgrades.  Each room has been revamped to provide the perfect retreat for relaxation.  Simple lines with an ergonomic design are detailed to give it a high-touch feel, providing you with a comfortable space to make yourself at home.  Without the Mirage,  none of the other queens would exist.

These four hotels truly do set the stage for Las Vegas.  Just walking through them and admiring the decor, not to mention the shops, restaurants, galleries, and points of interests, turn these hotels into a Las Vegas attraction.  I would rate these hotels and the experience an A.  Now the plan is to stay at least one night in all of them.

AM…page 727          The Bellagio made the Int. Book on page 660

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Las Vegas Nevada Strip

Louise Speaks:  How many times can you see the Strip before it gets tiring?  I’ve seen it from an airplane, from a window 64 stories tall,  driving down the middle both during the day and at night, and walking the strip until I thought my feet were going to fall off.   I still love hanging out on the strip and never get tired of it.

There are many ways to experience the strip.  Try walking it, if you are able.   Remember there are two sides to the strip so in order to get the real experience you have to walk up on one side and down the other….that means double the trip.  You can always drive from casino to casino but parking is not always easy.  The strip also has a cable car and the bus system is excellent…you can even get an all day bus pass.  When driving, only the passengers are going to experience the journey, the driver, well lets hope they keep their eyes on the road as the taxi drivers here are worse than in New York.

The Strip is actually only 4 miles long, but when you are walking it or stuck in traffic, it feels like it is 20 miles long.  People watching is probably the most entertainment you will find on the strip in a world of glitter and glamour.  You will be over come with pleasure palaces, quick hitch wedding chapels, and cheap all you can eat buffets.  Of course every building has gambling and that never stops.  You can literally gamble anyplace, anytime, and anywhere.  This is where Bugsy Siegel laid down the law and the Rat Pack laid down the style.  It is also where Howard Hughes hid out and where Elvis made his last stand.  But, maybe sadly all that is changing.  The tacky wackiness is slowly changing to top of the line luxury hotels defined more by marble and crystal instead of neon signs.

Driving down the strip in my candy apple red convertible, with the top down of course , with Sinatra blasting in the background and you can feel what Vegas is all about.  Soaking in the sights you see The Luxor pyramid with a replica of the Sphinx out front.  Or how about the giant bronze lions that guard the MGM Grand, the second largest hotel in the world with over 5,000 rooms.  And as Thelma sits quietly next to me, I answer yes when she asks if that is a roller coaster barreling at 70 mph through the Big Apple skyline at New York-New York.  We can’t forget the half scale copy of the Eifel Tower at the Paris Las Vegas.  However, when it comes to the Gondolas on the Grand Canal of the Venetian, there is no comparison to the real Grand Canal in Venice…how do I know this?…well because I have been on a “real” gondola in Venice that’s how.  However, the most thrilling is the Stratosphere, the tallest observation tower west of the Mississippi at more than 1,000 feet tall, with its own roller coaster at the very top.  You cannot drive or walk down the Strip without seeing at least three dozen wedding chapels which account for over 100,000 marriages every year.

The Strip is all dazzling and artificial, but it is a 24/7 place where only the money is real and if the crowds in the casinos are too big at 2 a.m. that just means one thing…it’s time to go shopping.  You just gotta love this place!  Like I said in the beginning, no matter how many times you see it, no matter how many times you experience it, you just don’t get tired of the Las Vegas StripThat being said, The Strip gets a rating of an A.

AM…page 731     Int…page 660

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Dining in Las Vegas Nevada

Louise Speaks:  I’ve eaten a lot of meals in Vegas and I must say the places mentioned in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die” have not been on my list.  In visiting four of the places in the book I must say I was extremely impressed.  You will see some are filled with atmosphere, some just set the mood, and some just have a lot to offer and a lot of food, but then what do you expect when going to a buffet. Read along and you might want to make one of the following dining experiences one of your stops on your next trip to Las Vegas

The Mix  www.mandalaybay.com/dining/mix  is a one-of-a-kind culinary creation and has the city’s best views of the Strip. The Mix is at the pinnacle of style and height of indulgence. It is perched 64 stories at the top of The Hotel, at Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort. The restaurant features contemporary and classic French and American dishes with global accents, as well as signature dishes from Alain Ducasse  restaurants in Paris and Monte Carlo. Try the pressed chicken with foie gras in black truffle sauce; if that doesn’t make your mouth water and leave you speechless, then fine dining is not for you.

The Mix was the vision of Alain Ducasse, one of the culinary world’s most renowned chefs. Even though he may not always be physically present, he keeps a long distance eagle eye on The Mix to assure that the food is as good as anywhere in the world. Chef Ducasse is known for his incomparable French cuisine and innovative dining concepts. Alain Ducasse is without a doubt one of the world’s most decorated chefs. Born on a farm in France, Ducasse began his life in the kitchen working for a number of renowned chefs. At the age of 33, he turned Le Louis XV at the Hôtel de Paris into the first hotel restaurant to be awarded three stars in the Michelin Red Guide. In 1996 he opened the Alain Ducasse restaurant in Paris, and by 1998 became the first and only French chef to have six stars to his name. Ducasse currently heads prestigious restaurants around the world, sits as president of the hotel association “Châteaux & Hôtels de France” and runs country inns in Provence, the Basque Country and Tuscany. On top of all that, Ducasse has also managed to write 16 books, open a bakery/grocery store, and of course, oversee the Mix.

 The Mix was designed by Patrick Jouin and features sweeping staircases, mid-century modern furniture and a stunning 24-foot chandelier made of 15,000 hand-blown glass spheres.  The idea is that when you are eating you literally feel like you are in a champagne glass surrounded by sparkling bubbles.  The ambiance, the view, the atmosphere and the smells coming out of the kitchen left me speechless.  This is a great place to go for just a cocktail, maybe just for desert, but if you want a true Las Vegas dining experience, I would highly recommend The Mix for dinner.  That being said, The Mix gets a rating of A and definitely made our list.

Fleur by Hubert Kellerwww.mandalaybay.com/dining/fleur  is also located inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. This unique restaurant was originally named Fleur de lys and was recently changed to just Fleur. The reason is that Master Chef Hubert Keller, who comes with a completely new and unique type of dining experience wanted to be different from the other Fleur de Lys restaurants. So Fleur by Hubert Keller was born and offers small plates from around the world featuring intense flavors and exotic presentations in a fun, social environment. The Fleur offers casual seating at the bar, lounge and patio as well as a more intimate experience in the stunning dining room, where one can raise the stakes with a 6-course wine pairing and Liquid Gold cocktails. Through the innovative mind of the Top Chef Master comes Fleur by Hubert Keller, his latest fashionable epicurean experience. The restaurant features rejuvenating décor spotlighting an expanded patio, sociable bar, and lounge seating. Enjoy old favorites including Truffled Onion Soup, Lobster Mac & Cheese and Foie Gras mousse with huckleberry gelee among other classic Keller dishes the dishes are consistently cooked with a light hand and an eye on health.

Hubert Keller was born in France, trained at the Ecole Hoteliere in Strasbourg and apprenticed at the Auberge de L’Ill in Illhaeusern, run by the Haeberlin Brothers. His professional itinerary is a prestigious and international one, including the Moulin de Mougins, where Roger Verge appointed him Chef Saucier. This meeting with the Grand Master of French Haute Cuisine was a decisive factor in his future career. After spanning the globe, in 1986 he became co-owner of Fleur de Lys Restaurants, with Maurice Rouas, and took over the management of the kitchens. Faithful to the example set by his mentor, Hubert Keller offers traditional French cooking with a Mediterranean accent.

The Fleur looked liked a more relaxed place to eat. It is in the walkway and not in a secluded location, although the formal dining room is. The prices seemed reasonable and if you asked for an explanation of the dishes the waiters were willing to give you details. Once you found out what it was, it was much easier to order. There really isn’t any type of atmosphere, but it does provide a unique dining experience because of the small portions of food so that you can try many different items. I don’t really see why The Fleur made Patricia’s book, but it was different. That being said, I would give The Fleur a rating of a C.

Eating in Las Vegas would not be eating if you didn’t include a Buffet. Buffets are still there, and they are better than ever. Long gone are the days of cheap buffets of uninspired foods to fuel another round of penny slot machines. Buffets now are almost considered “fine dining” and get a two thumbs up rating both in quality and quantity. At the top of the Buffet list according to Patricia and her book “1000 Places To See Before You Die” is the uncontested champion, rated number one, The Wynn Las Vegas Buffet  www.wynnlasvegas.com  The artful atrium has everything from Kansas City style BBQ to jerk chicken. There are actually 16 live action cooking stations to cook you what you want and how you want it. Unlike most Vegas buffets, here it’s actually worth saving room for desert. There is actually an active pastry chef on the premises who turns out unexpected treats like mini floating islands and light as air madeleines.

Even though the Wynn Buffet is gorgeous, and has a unique ambiance, my impression was that it is still a buffet, and an expensive one at that. Would I eat there, yes, but would I put it in a book of a place you just have to eat at, no. That being said, the Wynn Buffet gets a rating of a C…it was just okay.

As you may have guessed, I saved the best for last. the  Bartolotta’s  Ristorante,    www.wynnlasvegas.com  inside the Wynn Resort and Casino had it all. If you want ambiance, and romance, and a taste of Italy, you have to eat at Paul Bartolotta’s Ristorante. Here you can dine outdoors in a cushy private cabana by the lake style fountain that features large silver balls floating in the lake that shows every reflection. The two-story windows give you a view of the lake and fountain from every angle. The bar area is almost like a circus carousal with colorful umbrellas over the chairs and upside down umbrellas hanging from the two-story ceiling. The colors just want to make you smile. The circular staircase gives you the impression of just floating down to your table. The restaurant is named after Chef Paul Bartolotta who celebrates the traditions of Italian coastal cuisine by preparing fresh seafood and shellfish that he has flown in daily from the Mediterranean.

Chef Paul Bartolotta is a man known around the world as a master Italian culinary genius. Bartolotta is often singled out for his big personality, fresh fish cooked to perfection, and his signature drizzle of olive oil. Raised in Milwaukee, where the staple food for a school lunch was ham and Velveeta cheese. But not for Paul who packed octopus salad and an eggplant sandwich in his school lunch. This caused a bit of embarrassment in his second grade class. Paul remembers flying in the class door and taking off his coat. He remembers he had that metal lunch pail, and he put it on top of the radiator and ran into class. At about 11 o’clock the whole hallway was sort of smelling funky. In retrospect, it couldn’t have made him prouder, but as a kid it was a little embarrassing. There was always “too much food” at the Bartolotta home, and Paul’s friends used to take advantage of the endless buffet. Bartolotta left Wisconsin for Las Vegas in 2004 to be one of only a dozen top chefs at the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. His fine dining restaurant, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, imports 1.5 tons of seafood per week from Italy and offers up to 50 different species of fish nightly.

Although we didn’t eat here we spent quite a bit of time here. The staff showed us all around the restaurant and allowed us to sit by the lake and just enjoy the atmosphere. Everything was perfect! The linens, the china, the crystal; all were impeccable. What a romantic place to celebrate that special occasion or to just enjoy a quiet evening. From the staff, to the decor, from the ambiance to the view, this place is spectacular! and gives a whole new meaning to Dining in Las Vegas. That being said I would rate this restaurant an A+.

AM…page 729

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