48 Hours in Las Vegas: A High-Rolling Experience

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But let’s be honest, one could easily just stay put at our hotel of choice, the Bellagio Resort & Spa, a destination in itself. I picked it because of a long-time dream of seeing the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly whose works are scattered about the hotel, but whose chef-d’oeuvre, 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers, decorates the lobby ceiling. However, there are many other reasons to choose the very luxe Bellagio, where we booked two nights with the dancing fountains view—absolutely magical—at the start of our vacation and one night on our return to the hotel with a non-view room. The difference between the two was night and day; it was the wrong place to economize.

Part of the fun of staying here is the sheer numbers of everything. My notes indicated accommodations for 3,933 guests; that should read 3,933 rooms and suites, a figure that became more surprising because staying there did not feel impossibly enormous. There was always someone to get you on the right elevator; walking to the room was not an unreasonable hike and room services were immediate and cordial.

The roster of dining options—19 restaurants—and the super-star, culinary talent under one roof was overwhelming: four James Beard award-winning chefs, three master sommeliers and two AAA five-diamond restaurants, among them serving contemporary French cuisine at Picasso and Le Cirque; steak, seafood or lamb at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Prime steakhouse; upscale Tuscan fare at Osteria del Circo; or tops-on-the-Strip seafood at Michael Mina. Also of gourmet note is the Patisserie Jean-Philippe, known for its cascading chocolate fountain (the highest in the world, no less), but also serving gorgeous biscotti, truffles and macaroons, along with exotic teas and coffees.

Then one learns that the hotel staff includes 140 gardeners. And they have plenty to do, particularly tending to the glass-domed Conservatory & Botanical Gardens that are home to thousands of exotic plants and flowers. Displays are seasonal, and during our stay, guests and visitors following the paths through the flowering setting passed a landscaped pool beneath a full-scale Ferris wheel, with floral bouquet seats. That led to a walkway though a glass aviary with arcing “glass” poppies and hot air balloons sailing overhead, and a topiary fountain of roses, succulents and moss.

The casino-hotel’s signature attraction and one of the best-loved city sights is the Bellagio Fountains, made up of 1,200 water cannons, arranged in lines and circles that shoot water that dances and sways mid-lake, choreographed to music from Pavarotti to Sinatra. “Shows” run 3 p.m. to midnight Monday-Friday, noon to midnight on weekends, every 30 minutes until 8 p.m. and every 15 minutes thereafter.

It was an education to learn that Cirque du Soleil has a whole repertoire of five shows, all commissioned for and available in one city. We caught the fabulous aquatic “O” extravaganza; didn’t have time for the Beatles-focused “LOVE,” and missed by many months the life of Elvis that is now on at the new Aria. The Montreal-based Cirque seems tailor-made for Las Vegas: over-the-top in creativity, talent, imagination and acrobatic dazzle.

As for the game of poker: Bellagio has the reputation of drawing the city’s best players—pros, sharks and big-time players—to the city’s biggest pots.

In this age of “experiential” vacations, choosing Las Vegas was a good bet.

Rates at Bellagio (August and into fall) start at $149 per room. Moving further upscale, a 1-night Romance Retreat package includes a lake-view Cypress Suite, a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, a 50-minute couple’s massage at Spa Bellagio, dinner for two at either Picasso or Michael Mina, and roundtrip airport limo transfers. The cost is $995.