Image: The Venetian
© Venetian
Perks at the swanky Venetian include split-level standard rooms with antique-style canopy beds and oversize marble baths, concierge-furnished suites, use of a 69,000-square-foot Canyon Ranch Spa and access to restaurants like Thomas Keller's Bouchon.
By
updated 5/31/2007 6:08:53 PM ET 2007-05-31T22:08:53

Mammoth hotels with 24-hour casinos. Red-hot celebrity chefs. Luxury shopping. Endless entertainment. Shamelessly lavish hotel suites.

Just another day in Sin City.

''No other city does everything so over-the-top as Las Vegas,'' says Alexis C. Kelley, associate editor of "Fodor’s Travel," the travel guide series. "People come to see the spectacle: the neon lights, the replicas of Paris, Venice, NYC, the beautiful people, the money. But they return for the entertainment value.''

Las Vegas, in which the star-packed "Ocean's Thirteen," opening next week, is set, has seen phenomenal growth in the past decade. Thirty million people visited in 1996; that number jumped to 39 million last year, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). In 2006, gambling revenue increased to $8.2 billion from $7.6 billion a year earlier.

And it shows no signs of slowing down. There were 99,000 hotel and motel rooms in the city in 1996. Last year, that number had jumped to 132,000. Factor in current construction, and this number should climb to around a 171,000 in 2010, according to the LVCVA.

Luxe living
Perhaps the most significant change is that the city now caters to the luxury traveler with high-end restaurants, star performers and luxe hotels on the ascent.

''In recent years, Vegas has started to attract a high-end crowd,'' says Bryan Allison, vice president of marketing at Vegas.com, an online travel and concierge service. ''The people used to a certain [luxurious] type of experience can get that now."

Restaurant Guy Savoy, the eponymous eatery by the French three-star Michelin chef, opened at Caesar’s Palace in 2005. Singer Celine Dion started performing at The Colosseum in 2003--the $95 million theater was built specially for her show. Singer Bette Midler will replace her later this year. Luxury shoppers can peruse boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Manolo Blahnik and Cartier. Upscale properties such as the Four Seasons, the Wynn and the Ritz-Carlton now set the standard for hotels.

Image: Cirque de Soleil
© Cirque du Soleil
Beatles' "Love" by Cirque de Soleil at the Mirage features deft acrobatics set to Beatles songs performed in a custom-built theater with 360-degree seating, panoramic video projection and surround sound.
As a result, visitors currently spend more on creature comforts than on gaming. Ten years ago, Clark County (which contains Las Vegas) got 57 percent of its revenue from gaming. Last year, that number dropped to 47.7 percent. The remainder came from lodging, food, entertainment and other non-gambling spending.

''Gaming is a major part of why people come to Vegas, but it's no longer the dominant reason,'' Allison says. "There is so much more here than just casinos.''

But with myriad choices in Las Vegas, it’s not easy to find the best of the best. Still, with expert help, it can be done.

Wine, dine and slumber
First up: luxury hotels. Greg Ward, author of "Las Vegas Directions," a travel book in the "Rough Guide" series, picks the Venetian.

''This hotel," he says, "touches all the buttons a luxury traveler would want.''

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Even the 4,207-unit hotel's standard rooms are split-level with living areas, antique-style canopy beds and oversize marble baths. If you book one of the suites, you’ll get your own concierge. When you tire of testing your mettle at the Craps table, relax in the attached 69,000-square-foot Canyon Ranch Spa. Then dine at restaurants like Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse.

Where can you find the best suite? If you’re willing to shell out $40,000 a night, Kelly suggests checking into the Hugh Hefner Sky Villa at The Palms. This 9,000-square-foot space is modeled after the Playboy mansion and may be the next best thing if you can’t score an invite to the original in Los Angeles. It has three bedrooms — one with an eight-foot rotating bed — a living room, a media room, a gym and a private spa. You can also chill out on the large outdoor terrace that has a Jacuzzi pool and views of the strip.

If you’re a gourmand in search of a good meal, take the recommendation of the reviewers from restaurant ratings guide "Zagat" and head to Rosemary’s, a New American spot that’s located off the strip and was rated the highest in the 2007 survey (it beat out previous winner Nobu). Reviewers called it “a hidden treasure” and raved about the prix fixe menus. You might start with a twice-baked parmesan soufflé with wild mushroom ragout, followed by a sweet corn soup with chive butter. A crispy striped bass with rock shrimp and andouille can be the main event. The finale? Coconut bread pudding with coconut sorbet and dark chocolate sauce.

Living well in Vegas can mean spending more than $5,000 on a four-day stay at a luxury hotel, show tickets and meals. Shopping, spa visits and gambling can jack up the cost even more. A night in a standard room at the Venetian is $350 on weekends and $259 during the week; a tasting menu at Guy Savoy is $190 a person before alcohol, tip and tax. Buying a seat in the first ten rows at Celine Dion's show will run you $420.

A pricey playground for sure.

© 2012 Forbes.com

Photos: Welcome to Vegas

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  1. Welcome to Las Vegas

    The Bellagio's fountain show entertains visitors nightly. In the background is Bally's Las Vegas, left, and Paris Las Vegas, which has a 50-story Eiffel Tower replica in front. Over 37.5 million people visit Las Vegas each year. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fremont Street Experience

    Located in downtown Las Vegas, this exciting pedestrian promenade is home to approximately 16 million lights, making it one of the largest LED screens in the world. (Brian Jones / Las Vegas News Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Looking for Lady Luck

    Casion visitors play slot machines at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dunking Elvis

    An Elvis impersonator performs a slam dunk during the 2007 NBA All-Star Game on February 18, 2007, at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAEGetty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Grand casinos

    Lights from passing vehicles are seen in front of the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Poker face

    Jamie Gold, right, of California and Paul Wasicka of Colorado go head-to-head on the final table of the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the Rio Hotel & Casino on Aug. 11, 2006, in Las Vegas. Gold outlasted more than 8,700 other poker players to win the top prize of $12 million. Wasicka won just over $6.1 million for finishing second. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Glitz and glamour

    A Canon display is seen inside the Las Vegas Convention Center at the Consumer Electronics Show. Las Vegas is the nation's top business travel destination, with easy airline access, numerous hotel rooms, low rates, plentiful convention facilities and a wide range of dining and entertainment options. (Karl Polverino / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Over-the-top entertainment

    Performers ride a Volkswagen Beetle across the stage during a preview of "The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil" at the Mirage Hotel & Casino on June 27, 2006, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A New York minute

    The New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas recreates the Manhattan skyline, complete with replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Entertainment mecca

    Kenny Chesney performs "Out Last Night" at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 5, 2009. (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tying the knot

    From left, Elvis Presley impersonator Norm Jones plays guitar as Bruce Barnett of Virginia Beach, Va., escorts his daughter Gayle to her wedding ceremony at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Graceland is the oldest wedding chapel in Las Vegas and offers ceremonies with or without Elvis impersonators. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    The $25 million, newly redesigned volcano display in front of the Mirage Hotel & Casino features 150 choreographed FireShooters sending fireballs more than 12 feet in the air and a custom soundtrack created by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for MGM Mirage) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A night on the Strip

    Hotels and casinos line the Las Vegas Strip. From thrilling roller coasters to erupting volcanos to art museums, Las Vegas' many attractions appeal to people of all ages and interests. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Fight night

    David Diaz and Manny Pacquiao fight during the fourth round of the WBC Lightweight Championship at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 28, 2008, in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won in a ninth-round knockout. (Harry How / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Day at the races

    Rookie driver Shawn Langdon earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of his career at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Richard Wong / NHRA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Fabulous shopping

    The Juicy Couture retail store at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace is seen before the grand opening February 5, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for Juicy Couture) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Stunning shows

    Buyi Zama as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (Joan Marcus / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A slice of Italy

    Visitors take a gondola ride at The Venetian in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Get into the groove

    Dina Buell, left, and Carla Giordano, both from California, dance at the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino during Rehab, the resort's weekly pool party, in 2005 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Let’s get this party started

    Party goers gather for the grand opening of LAX Nightclub Las Vegas in 2007. (Chris Weeks / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Big laughs

    Comedian Ellen DeGeneres performs at a taping of ''Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show'' during The Comedy Festival at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in 2008 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A kingly stay

    The Excalibur Hotel and Casino features a castle motif with newly refurbished hotel rooms. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A dancing fountain

    Visitors are silhouetted against the backdrop of The Bellagio's fountain show on the Las Vegas Strip. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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