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Wait, this is a non-smoking hotel. And there’s no casino?” I asked the bellman.
I was staying at the Signature at MGM Grand, a series of three all-suite hotel towers located behind the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino.
The bellman nodded and told me that some people spend whole days in Las Vegas without ever stepping into a casino.
Whoa, this isn’t my daddy’s Vegas.
With the bellman’s words still ringing in my ears, I decided to take on the seemingly impossible task of creating a Las Vegas itinerary totally devoid of casino interaction.
Town Square Las Vegas
In order to take advantage of the uncommonly breezy Las Vegas weather, I headed over to the brand-new Town Square Las Vegas, an open-air shopping center that debuted this past November. When I arrived, parents were strolling along the pedestrian pathways while their children were making tracks for the Children’s Park, complete with treehouse, fort and the Princess Tower playhouse.
I spent a good hour browsing through some top-brand retailers, lusting after the iPhone at the Apple store, mentally redecorating my home with furniture from upscale Robb & Stucky and contemplating just how much I actually needed the sparkly Hello Kitty messenger bag at MetroPark, a trendy store for fashionistas younger than me. Eventually, I succumbed to the lure of my favorite retailer, Borders Books, where I thumbed through a guide to beating the odds in the massive Las Vegas section.
Remembering my no-casino edict, I settled for an orange juice and a magazine, and parked myself on a bench in the central square, so that I could enjoy the center’s small-town-America feel as birds chirped, dogs barked and kids played around me. Selecting a location for lunch was my most stressful decision of the morning. Would it be Brio, a Tuscan-style restaurant, Tommy Bahamas, Claim Jumper or Yard House, with its selection of 160 beers on tap? Eventually the lure of southern-fried seafood won out, and I made my way to Louis’s Fish Camp for a mint julep and the largest soft-shell crab I’ve ever seen.
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay
After lunch, I made my way north on the strip to the beautiful Mandalay Bay Hotel with the express purpose of seeing the Shark Reef attraction. In my mind, I’d envisioned this to be a small attraction, but my expectations were totally blown out of the water, all 1.6 million gallons of it.
The facility has 14 major exhibits and nearly 2,000 animals. Visitors wander through thematic experiences which recreate a submerged, ancient temple and a sunken ship in shark-infested waters. Shark Reef does have the requisite walk-through tunnel, and the facility’s attention to detail makes the experience a very enjoyable one. Shark Reef is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, making it the only facility with that accreditation in Nevada.
I’d already botched my no-casino plan by wandering through the Mandalay Bay, so I now set my eyes to a no-gambling edict, which allowed me to check out the new Palazzo Las Vegas.
My main reason for visiting the Palazzo was so that I could catch the 10 p.m. showing of “Jersey Boys,” the story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. Before the performance, I had enough time for dinner and was torn between the cheese and raw bar offerings at Morel’s, with its risque artworks, or the lure of exotic margaritas at Dos Caminos. Eventually tequila beat fine wine, and I was soon munching away on chips and guacamole.
Finally, singing Sheerrry, Sherry baby, the only three words I know from that particular Four Seasons hit, I took my seat at the “Jersey Boys” theater. If you’ve ever bought a best-of album and been amazed by how many hits you actually recognized, you’ll understand the “Jersey Boys” experience. The musical memories kept coming: “My Eyes Adored You,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” By the first-act finale of “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” even the elderly foreigners next to me were singing along.
I ended my gambling-free day with a long soak in my Jacuzzi-brand bath tub, enjoying a glass of wine and the turn-down chocolates while making big circles on my map of the strip, identifying just which casinos I would hit on tomorrow’s agenda.
As Las Vegas continues to grow, so does the city’s transportation options. The popular Las Vegas Monorail has recently announced that it plans to extend service to McCarran International Airport in 2011. Almost 44 million passengers arrive at McCarran International Airport each year, and nearly 70 percent of those visitors head directly to the Strip. With 40,000 new hotel rooms planned for Las Vegas in the next few years, the need for faster, more reliable transportation options will also grow.
The monorail’s expansion currently includes five proposed stations with two stops at McCarran — the first at Terminal 1, the existing main terminal, and a second at the soon-to-be-built Terminal 3. The entire airport extension will be 4.2 miles long — slightly longer than the existing stretch between the MGM Grand and the Sahara.
The Signature at MGM Grandwww.signaturemgmgrand.com
Town Square Las Vegaswww.townsquarelasvegas.com
Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casinowww.mandalaybay.com
The Palazzo Las Vegaswww.palazzolasvegas.com