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.
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 now set the standard for hotels.
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 .
''This hotel," he says, "touches all the buttons a luxury traveler would want.''
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 . 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 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 , 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.