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Must-diss and what not to miss in Vegas

- February 2nd, 2009

I’ve been back from Las Vegas since Saturday and though I haven’t exactly recuperated from the whirlwind schedule – all that VIP treatment and lavish amenities were so hard to handle – I have been able to reflect on all that makes Las Vegas special.

My mission was to discover why people flock to the gambling mecca in the desert. I think I’ve found my answer.

It’s all about following basic human instinct and pursuing pleasure. Sure, gambling is still a big draw, but it’s now the second highest grossing sector in Vegas. It’s entertainment that Canadians love. Fabulous shows like Donny and Marie, Le Reve and Love, plus celebrity draws like Jerry Seinfeld, Louie Anderson and even Bette Midler, cater to anyone’s taste.

Even for discerning adults, shows like the Pussycat Dolls burlesque show in Caesar’s Palace, Zumanity, the erotic Cirque du Soleil show, and infinite nightclubs provide kinky fun far into the night.

And Las Vegas treats your tastebuds as much as it does your eyes. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, this city has phenomenal dining by renowned chefs who serve up culinary delicacies in venues as exotic and refined as the food.

Throw in designer labels, large shopping complexes along the Strip and even a family activity or two, and you’ve got your answer – and a memorable vacation.

Las Vegas is a city that’s constantly in flux. The buildings are getting grander and the Strip is getting bigger, but the uninhibited fun at the core of this adult playground is something that will never change. This is what keeps people coming back to the Nevada desert time and time again.

5 Vegas attractions to diss

5. Siegfried and Roy’s White Tiger Habitat: As if the jungle sounds in the background weren’t irritating enough, watching white tigers, lions and leopards pace their fenced-in homes was a sad, and sobering, sight.

4. Chippendales: No, I didn’t catch a live show, but the posters I saw advertising smiling beefcakes from this all-male revue were enough to convince me that this cheese should stand alone.

3. Christian Audigier Nightclub, Treasure Island: The tattoo-inspired Ed Hardy decor of this nightclub and disproportionate amount of men on the prowl were all it took to convince me to stay away. If you’re looking for great night entertainment, try Lavo or Pure instead.

2. Planet Hollywood restaurant: With some of the world’s best cuisine at your disposal, why would anyone choose to go to the horribly gaudy Planet Hollywood restaurant? Tourists would be wise to choose the dramatic and modern Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino if they’re looking for a dose of celebrity.


Breakfast at Trump.

1. Trump Hotel: Breakfast at Trump’s signature restaurant, DJT, just wasn’t what I’d expect from The Donald. The hash browns were dry and a burnt panini made its way to our table. Those who want gaming beware: there are no gambling (or shops) located in the hotel.

5 Vegas attractions not to miss

5. Red Rock Reservation Area: If your stay in Vegas is longer than a weekend, you may feel yourself going a bit stir crazy. Break free from the Strip on a Pink Jeep tour of Red Rock. You’d never imagine such diverse and amazing country could immediately surround the city.

4. Pussycat Dolls Lounge, Pure Nightclub: This naughty burlesque show is a fun escape for men and women alike. Don’t miss the chance to explore Pure Nightclub while here. The club has a fantastic patio and has hosted celebs like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. This may be your chance to rub elbows with the rich and famous!


Pussycat Dolls lounge.

3. Yellowtail, Bellagio: I can’t stop gushing about this Japanese restaurant’s sushi, sashimi and meat dishes. The flavour combinations were so unique and the Yellowtail serrano was like nothing I’d had before: light, tangy and totally fresh.

2. Dolphin Habitat, Mirage: The Dolphin Habitat is great because, not only did I get to pet a frisky dolphin, but the Habitat promotes education and research instead of training the dolphins to put on a show for audience amusement. Plus, the “Be a Trainer for a Day” program allows tourists to interact directly with dolphins.


Swim with dolphins.

1. Le Reve, Wynn: This Cirque-meets-swim class spectacular takes performers from the heights of the theatre to the bottom of a pool and everywhere in between. You’ll sit in awe and wonder how someone could think up the tricks in the show and just how people manage to execute it. Fantastic!

- Nicole Feenstra

Adventures in cuisine

- February 2nd, 2009

I’m back in snowy Toronto and am about to start a diet to shed the five pounds I likely gained while in Las Vegas.

The food in Vegas was like nothing I’d had before. From gourmet sushi, to restaurants of celebrity chefs and brand new venues ready to wow with fresh cuisine, each and every meal was a real treat.

If you’re looking to indulge in the very best eats while in Sin City, and want to spare your wallet some of the sometimes scary per-plate costs, I suggest the following culinary tour of the Strip:


Breakfast at Simon, Palms Place.

Breakfast: The only name you need to know for breakfast is Simon. This sophisticated restaurant is owned by celebrity chef Kerry Simon and is located next to the pools and palms of an outdoor lounge at Palms Place. Try the decadent smoked salmon scramble ($16), huge Belgian waffles ($12) and creamy banana/berry smoothie ($8).


What a view from the windows of Simon!


Milkshake at BLT Burger, Mirage.

Lunch: If gourmet Angus beef burgers at BLT Burger in the Mirage don’t whet your appetite, the skinny, steak or sweet potato fries and creamy milkshakes will certainly do it! Try the restaurant’s namesake, the BLT Burger ($13), with blue cheese and a smooth orange creamsicle milkshake ($7).


Perfect appetizers at SushiSamba, Palazzo.

Appetizers: Relax in the modern elegance of SushiSamba in the Palazzo and sip a premium sake ($75 and up per bottle), while sampling Brazilian influenced sushi and sashimi. It’s the perfect way to start your evening in Las Vegas. Try the Otsumami, a plate of edamame, green bean tempura and shishito ($16).


Just a few rolls from Yellowtail, Bellagio.

Dinner: Some of the freshest and most delicious sushi I’ve ever had in my life was served at Yellowtail in the Bellagio. My first meal in Vegas, served by executive chef Akira Back, was the one I raved about through the trip. And if the food wasn’t good enough, the views of the Bellagio fountains at night make this a truly special spot to dine. Try the Yellowtail serrano ($23), rock shrimp with Korean chili sauce ($20) and popping spicy crab with pop rocks added to the sushi roll ($16).


Taste and beauty at Botero, Encore.

Dessert: Head to Botero Steak in Encore for a colourful and playful dessert experience at the newest Wynn property. Sample the chocolate lollipops with hazelnut praline ($12), delicate strawberry and lemon ice cream cupcakes ($12) and delicious dunkable PB & J donuts ($12).

- Nicole Feenstra

All prices in American dollars.

Gucci, Armani and Prada, oh my!

- January 30th, 2009

I’ve just returned from the gorgeous Red Rock Canyon tour (trust me, there’s a whole lot more to Nevada than the Strip) and am on my final break of the trip before I head to the Palms for a spa treatment and to Mirage to take in the Cirque du Soleil/Beatles revue ‘Love.’


Gucci, Armani and Prada, oh my!

I’ve never been one to shop much, much to my mother’s chagrin, but the other girls on the trip have scored some major bargains at Las Vegas’ shopping hot spots ($5 Marc Jacobs t-shirts, anyone?), yet another reason why people flock to Vegas. Based on my fellow journalists’ reviews, here’s a quick rundown of the top five Las Vegas shopping spots:

5. Forum Shops, Caesars Palace: The Forum Shops have some of the best selection in Vegas, with designer brands such as Versace and Hugo Boss, as well as favourite like Banana Republic and Guess.

4. Premium Outlets: This glamorous outdoor setting features such high ends brands as BCBG, Burberry, Marciano, Coach and Swarovski, all at killer prices.

3. Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes: Follow the canal as you window shop galleries, Sephora or David and Goliath.

2. Fashion Show: 2 million square feet of boutique and chain shops, like Macy’s and Sak’s.

1. Miracle Mile Shops, Planet Hollywood: A Middle Eastern themed mall with 170 stores and 15 restaurants.

- Nicole Feenstra

Finding calm in the playground

- January 30th, 2009

I’ve learned the value of having a really good hotel room, especially in a city like Las Vegas.

While watching Le Reve, the hauntingly captivating Cirque-meets-swim class show at Wynn, I suddenly felt very crowded, yet very alone at the same time. Perhaps this is why Las Vegas locals don’t live near the Strip. It can be very overwhelming and unabashedly unforgiving.


Le Reve, Wynn Resort. (Photo by Tomasz Rossa, courtesy Wynn Resort)

Yes, in this city, with its endless stream of live shows, pounding nightclubs and clinging slot machines, an oasis of comfort is needed. Thank goodness for this king sized bed and hot tub I have in my room at Caesars Palace.

A tour of Red Rock Canyon, a great Vegas diversion, and a spa treatment at the Palms Resort on Friday will be the ultimate way to ease out of what has been a fantastic, whirlwind trip.

To all those who told me Vegas makes for a great long weekend vacation, I now understand. For some, this playground is a home and for others a long term vacation spot, but maybe the best things in life are best enjoyed in small doses.

My journey is far from over, so stay tuned for more of the best – and worst – of what Vegas has to offer.

- Nicole Feenstra

Escaping the Strip

- January 29th, 2009

My jam-packed Las Vegas media trip is drawing to a close, but there are still a few shows and gourmet dinners to get to.

The week has been non-stop activities and meals out of necessity. There’s so much to watch, photograph and eat on the Strip, and my group and I haven’t even been to the old part of Las Vegas, which locals tell me has tried to revitalize itself as well, with vintage shops, locals-only nights at clubs and art galleries.

But, say I was staying here longer than four days. Say I did get tired of the electric energy and flashing lights of the Strip. What would I do then?

The answer is simple: day trip. And though Vegas is situated in the middle of the Mojave Desert, there are a few high-profile side ventures to experience.

Top 5 Las Vegas day trips:

5. Eldorado Canyon: This secluded area, located at the mouth of the Colorado River, was once the site of a mining boom and may have been previously inhabited by the Anasazi Native Americans. Today, visitors can step back in time with an Eldorado Canyon mine tour.


Hardened sand dunes at Red Rock.

4. Red Rock Canyon: Explore desert, rock formations and a 910 m escarpment just minutes from the Strip at this conservation area. For an extra dash of fun, try the Pink Jeep tour which takes you by the Wilson Cliffs and fossilized sand dunes.

3. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: This huge National Recreation area was built around Lake Mead, a result of the construction of the Hoover Dam, and Lake Mojave. This has become a popular playground away from the strip and is renowned for its desert views, cliffs and hiking.


The desert surrounding Las Vegas.

2. Hoover Dam: Some 3,000 people visit the dam daily and it’s considered an architectural wonder. A guided tour is a perfect accompaniment to your Lake Mead excursion – just bring your walking shoes!

1. Grand Canyon helicopter tour: Arizona’s natural wonder is about an hour by air from Las Vegas. Sightseeing tours can be booked year round through your hotel concierge and those who are more comfortable on the ground can opt to take a coach bus past the Hoover Dam to the Canyon.

- Nicole Feenstra