Published on Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Cheer, not loathing in Las Vegas

Rachel Roberts, a self-confessed Grinch, succumbs to the Christmas spirit on a December trip to Las Vegas...


"OK, I might not be a garish green colour, but I do have somewhat Grinch-like qualities when it comes to all things Christmassy. So it was perhaps a brave move by TravelMole to send me on a whistle-stop fam trip to Las Vegas in December, one specifically designed to highlight the Nevada destination's festive winter offering.



First up was an ice-skating session at The Cosmopolitan, one of several five-star resorts that grace the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. We joined children and adults whizzing around the rink (a 'pop-up' attraction that transforms the resort's Boulevard Pool each holiday season), before warming our chilly tootsies by modern-style fire pits. Our pre-booked time slot also gave us the opportunity to toast fluffy marshmallows to sandwich between gram crackers and melted chocolate to make s'mores, that quintessential - and delicious - American treat. 


Our own 'skills' on the ice paled into insignificance when we joined around 17,000 fans in the T-Mobile Arena the following evening to watch the Vegas Golden Knights take on the Chicago Blackhawks in a thrilling ice hockey game. Professional Sports teams are relatively new to the city - this is only the Knights' third season. Just two miles away, the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium is set to open this year, marking the debut of the city's professional football team, the Las Vegas Raiders.


With ice hockey tickets starting at around $95, a game might not be within everyone's budget, but you get a lot of bang for your buck on the entertainment front. Quite apart from the frankly jaw-dropping skills of the players (the Knights were triumphant), crowd participation is a thing: sweeping cameras pick out excitable fans to appear on huge digital screens and the sound of supporters' chants and songs regularly rippled through the stands. It's a great night out.


Of course, Las Vegas is known as the Entertainment Capital of the World and hosts a smorgasbord of 'residencies', featuring big-name artists and productions to titillate any taste. Currently, these include Shania Twain, Christina Aguilera, Cirque du Soleil and illusionist Criss Angel. Rumours are swirling that Beyoncé could soon be the next stellar name blowing into town. 


And this Grinch's heart slowly began to thaw at the magical wonderland that awaited within the botanical gardens of the legendary six-star Bellagio Hotel. Plucked straight from a fairytale, the installation's highlights included a carriage drawn by white horses bearing crimson-red plumes, a glitter-crowned ice queen and mischievous elves clambering up ladders. 


Outside, the famed Bellagio Fountain Show is an elegant all-year-round event. We joined others waiting with bated breath for the free display (times vary between weekday and weekends but generally the show takes place every 30 minutes during daylight and every 15 minutes when darkness falls) and the spectacle of over 1000 water jets perfectly choreographed to a soaring music score was both whimsical and soul-stirring.


Although Vegas is predominantly an adult destination, the festive offering would delight children, as would the life-sized gingerbread house in the lobby of the MGM-owned Aria Resort and Casino. The peppermint-tiled creation, made from over 600 pounds of gingerbread and with a flume of candyfloss for a curl of smoke escaping from the chimney, took Aria's patisserie team over two weeks to build. Like Hansel and Gretel, we were tempted to have a naughty nibble but the house is set to return next year with new sweet surprises added. Instead, we enjoyed an exquisite holiday tea, featuring scones, delicate cakes and a variety of teas from the extensive menu.


Talking of surprises, who knew that the city boasts a veritable treasure trove of fine art? On a quirky Indoor Hike around the Aria (in common with most supersized resorts here, it can accommodate up to 3000 guests and Las Vegas offers nearly 150,000 rooms), in between squats, sit ups and jogging, Ciara, our knowledgeable trainer/guide introduced us to the resort's collection, with an estimated worth of $140 million. 


It was quite something to see a large piece by Henry Moore, one of Britain's most celebrated sculptors, in the heart of Las Vegas. Our opinions were divided over what the abstract work, called 'Reclining Connected Forms', depicts - is it a baby in the womb or an odd-shaped bone? Other works cleverly integrated within the complex to engage visitors on a visual and intellectual level includes 'Silver River', by Maya Lin, an American site-specific installation artist. Hanging above the check-in counter, it depicts the Colorado River and is made from the reclaimed precious metal from the waterway itself. It's a great piece to discuss while your room key is issued.


The city also serves up an impressive gastronomy scene, as we discovered throughout a three-hour 'Savors of The Strip' feast-a-thon, arranged by Lipsmacking Foodie Tours. The four-course gourmet dining experience takes in some of the most distinguished restaurants Las Vegas has to offer (including Estiatoro Milos, housed in The Cosmopolitan and renowned for its Greek and Mediterranean-style menu) and our entertaining host also shared insider tips, from secret tequila bars to where to find inexpensive dining deals. Prices start at $199 and this includes wine pairing with each course. You can also add on a nighttime helicopter ride over the glittering lights of the Strip (although you could be too heavy after all of that eating!)


We were glad to have a whole evening to digest the dining experience over at NoMad. The hotel sits within the Park MGM resort and the restaurant is a stylish symphony of old-school European glamour, swathed in rich velvets and dark oak and home to over 25,000 books from the Rockefeller collection. It's popular with the pre-theatre/show/concert crowd who come for the affordable fixed-price menu which includes NoMad's signature - and utterly divine - black-truffle-laced roast chicken. 


Our festive fam trip drew to a close with a stop at immersive pop-up bar Miracle on Spring Mountain. As we joined locals getting into the spirit of the season, this Grinch finally did get all the warm and fuzzy feelings. And it had absolutely nothing to do with the yuletide cocktails, rather charmingly served in kitsch ceramic jars decorated with holly and candy canes."


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