Monday, July 27, 2009

Las Vegas Getaway: Guest Post Part 1

Deacon Does Las Vegas
Thanks to Hope and Anne for letting us guest blog this column – Vegas has long been a favorite city, and we returned in July for our annual pilgrimage. This time, we brought along our boyfriend, a Vegas newbie who’d long been protesting the trip. By the end of a week, he was begging for more – here’s the secret:

Travelocity advertises hotels for “as little as $26 a night.” Thanks, but that’s not for us. We had reserved a suite at Encore Las Vegas, the newest tower of the Wynn resort, a towering gold behemoth across from the Fashion Show Mall. Totally worth the cost – every room is a small suite, featuring luxe amenities (ask for their hairspray if it’s not left in your room- amaaaaazing), super soft bedding and huge bathrooms, complete with TV.

The best feature? Touch of a button bedside service that activates privacy functions, opens floor-to-ceiling blackout shades, and turns on and off lights. Unlike some Vegas hotels that mistake overt gilding for class, Encore mixes style and modern comfort with elegance.

Be sure to ask at check-in about upgrades – a panoramic strip view room on an upper floor is as little as $25 per night more. Strongly recommended is the $50 per night upgrade to the Tower Suites, featuring private check in and concierge, as well as access to private dining, pools and more.

Perhaps due to its newer construction, Wynn and Encore feel much more airy and spacious than other properties, and décor looks updated and fresh. As expected, the hotel features a full complement of onsite including a delightful pool with outdoor gambling (beware, the European pool has optional topless bathing), a full esplanade of shopping with names like Cartier, Chanel, Hermes, Dior and more.

If you’re visiting soon, consider booking a trip July 30-August 2, when Beyonce rolls into town for an intimate concert series in the Encore Theatre. The hotel is rolling out the red carpet with surrounding events including a House of Dereon pop-up shop, an informal modeling show and even a Beyonce music video TV channel!

The downside of Encore is that it is quite a hike from the hotel to other casinos and attractions – it’s a near 10-minute walk just to access Wynn. Then again, you get to pass shops like Chanel and Manolo on your way – it’s not so bad at all. Cheap Thrill: Search sites like or sign up for e-promos to get discounts – we found rates of $109 a night plus a $50 resort credit, while advertized rates online went for $179 and up.
Freebie Alert: Consider package deals – Vegas is one of the best cities in the world for these offers, which can include perks like slot credit, spa treatments, show tickets and dinners, the value of which often exceed the cost of a hotel.

Other Options: If I wasn’t to stay at Encore/Wynn, I’d book a room at the newly-opened Palazzo (ask for their concierge floor, similar to a Ritz-Carlton club level). Some of the fantasy suites at Palms, including the Playboy suite and the Barbie suite, would also be ideal for a bachelor/bachelorette party. If you’re really on a budget, upgrade with a AAA or government discount at hotels like TI and Mirage – you can often score suites in off-peak times for under $100 a night.

Welcome to the city of sin – and a rival for the title of the city that never sleeps! Obviously, Vegas is a haven for nightlife of all kinds, but there’s plenty to keep you occupied during the day as well. Here are just a few of our suggestions for can’t-miss entertainment:

Shows – You’ve got to catch at least one show while you’re in Las Vegas. Anything by Cirque du Soliel is a great bet, but O (at the Bellagio), set on a spectacular moving water stage, and LOVE, an intimate in-the-round performance set to Beatles music, are two personal favorites. If you’re in for something a little more naughty, consider tix to Peep Show at Planet Hollywood, a topless revue starring a rotating list of celebs – Mel B (former Spice Girl) and currently Holly Madison of Girls Next Door fame. For the truly adventurous, round up your girlfriends for Striptease 101, a humorous yet sensual class that shows you how to shake it till you make it. Cheap Thrill: Tix 4 Tonight (visit the Fashion Show Mall location) offers day-of, half price tickets for available shows. Visit in the evening and you can often score “advance” passes for next-day shows as well. Freebie Alert: Don’t miss some of the area’s best free attractions – the nightly exploding volcano at Mirage, the “Sirens of TI” pirate show at Treasure Island (watch from the outdoor bar overlooking the boats), or the hourly moving statues in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.

Should you weary of shopping, spaa-ing, and gambling (more on that in a minute), consider a trip down the strip to hotels like New York New York or Circus Circus, which offer good ol’ fashioned amusement park fun. Warning: these thrill rides are not for the faint of heart – I nearly passed out on the NY NY coaster, which winds outside the hotel and features 360 degree loop-de-loops.

By now, we’ve all seen The Hangover – it’s easy to imagine a night of decadence. The “it” club of the moment is the aptly-titled XS at Encore, featuring sexy poolside tables. Other popular spots include Tao at the Venetian, Pure at Caesars Palace, and Tryst, at Wynn.

We enjoyed cocktails at Ghostbar, also at The Palms, which overlooks the entire strip from the hotel’s 50-somethingth floor. The Mix, at Mandalay Bay, has a similar view.


Even if you’re not a gambler, consider at least budgeting a few Benjamins for your trip. Every hotel shop features several “basic strategy” cards for as little as $2, teaching you the bare-bones of casino games like Blackjack and Craps. Many properties also offer morning gaming lessons (usually before noon, don’t sleep in!).

We spent many an hour in the sports book, playing the ponies, but you can also place wagers on your favorite team to win, say, the World Series, often catching odds of 200-1 or more – which would make about a $4k payoff on a $20 bet.

Of course, there are slot machines – whoo! Wynn offered a variety of slot tournaments during our stay, where guests could win their share of a $10k grand prize daily. The day we departed, a $100k weekend contest was taking place, with no entry fee. Cheap Thrill: Penny and nickel slots – just beware that one “max bet” on these machines is often $3-$5, not 3 to 5 cents. Freebie Alert: Sit and play any game to drink for free – just tip the server.

McLean Robbins is a freelance fashion, spa and travel writer. Find her work daily on

Check back tomorrow for more on McClean's trip to Las Vegas: food, spas, and shopping!

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