Copy My Trip: loving Las Vegas

Lonely Planet contributor, Alicia Johnson, just returned from Las Vegas. Here, she shares some tips and insights for anyone planning a similar trip of a lifetime in the Nevada desert city. 

Sometimes, going to Las Vegas for a little pampering, delicious meals and watching one of the best musical artists put on a masterful show is the trip. 

I hadn’t been to Vegas in decades, and since most of what I remember is long gone, I treated this trip as my first time. It was a quick four-day affair with a packed itinerary of uniquely Las Vegas experiences, and I was excited to see, smell, hear and taste it all. Here’s a snapshot of my trip. 

Lonely Planet destination editor Alicia Johnson cooling off in the Bellagio pool © Alicia Johnson / Lonely Planet

Where did you stay? What was the vibe?

The Bellagio baby! It’s one of the most iconic hotels on The Strip and the perfect backdrop for any Las Vegas stay. The rooms were large and plush. Besides the roomy bathroom, with perfect lighting, my favorite spot to relax was the comfy seafoam-colored lounge chair with matching ottoman. 

Stretching across 77 acres with nearly 4,000 rooms, the Bellagio Hotel and Casino feels like a small metropolis. There are high-end stores, restaurants, conference halls and, of course, the steady hum of casino activity mixed with the bright lights of the slot machines. 

Like most of Las Vegas, the vibe at the Bellagio is whatever you want it to be. Want to get into the thick of it? There’s always action at the tables or night clubs like Club Pirvé or The Pinky Ring by Bruno Mars (I’ll get into that later). 

Looking for something more subdued and tucked away? There’s The Vault, a dimly lit, hidden bar right off the Bellagio casino floor serving incredible cocktails (try the La Vie En Rose or the Doves & Devils Margarita) and small bites (I still dream about the truffle spaghetti). 

Aside from the stunning chandelier above the bar, everything else is bathed in darkness, adding to that “if you know, you know” feel. 

What about a cool dip? The Bellagio pool is a beautiful place to relax and was a welcome respite with the over 100-degree temperatures. For this trip, I sipped refreshing drinks and lounged on the covered deck chairs in a private cabana. 

Most memorable meal in Las Vegas? 

Las Vegas has slowly rebranded itself as a foodie enclave. Gone are the days of the $0.99 all-you-can-eat buffets, now the city attracts some of the best and the brightest chefs to flex their culinary muscles. The offerings are endless – in four days I sampled a little bit of everything.

There was the prime rib and the sweet potato with chilies at Cathedrale; the fried calamari and Lettre à Coco at LPM; and the cannoli and the chicken parm sandwich at Parm Italian. However, it was the meal at ORLA at the Mandalay Bay that really blew me away.   

I’m a sucker for Mediterranean cuisine and this was one of the best meals I’ve had. Being part of a group that didn’t mind sharing made ordering fun. We were able to get a bunch of different items off the menu.

The top contenders for me included: the orzo with spicy duck, whipped chickpea hummus with fresh pita bread, macaroni bechamel (the pasta is cooked facing upwards), the kebab platter, and the crispy brussels sprouts. And I can’t forget the saganaki (Greek cheese) topped with roasted wild mushrooms and honey and set on fire right before we ate it. 

Outside view of the Garden Table (under the red hot-air ballon) located in the Bellagio Conservancy and Botanical Garden. There's a second yellow hot-air ballon suspended above the garden. There are green plants, flowers and small pond in the foreground.
Dining at the Garden Table (under the red hot-air ballon) in the Bellagio Conservancy and Botanical Garden © Alicia Johnson / Lonely Planet

Most scenic experience of the trip?

The most scenic experience was the moment I walked into the Bellagio. The Conservatory and Botanical Garden is filled with red, yellow, purple and orange flowers and trees with a curtain of green leaves draping from the limbs. The theme is Bellagio’s Opus, and the centerpieces were three magnificent hot-air balloons positioned throughout the garden. 

When I arrived, I wanted to get closer to see the installation up close, but it was filled with people so I headed to my room, knowing I’d need to return either early in the day or late in the day to enjoy the garden. A little before 9am the next morning (as expected, no crowds) I was seated inside one of the hot-air balloons (the one not suspended high in the air) having brunch in the gardens.

It was a lovely setup keeping in theme with the flowery decor. I dined on avocado toast with pickled onions, flakey cheese-filled pastries and tried caviar for the first time (I’m undecided). I sipped mimosas and was talked into a slice of cheesecake topped with whipped cream and raspberries. 

The Garden Table experience seats six, and offers a brunch option with Sadelle’s or a dinner option with Michael Mina. Brunch has four sittings a day (7am, 9am, 11am, 1pm) and costs $125 per person ($195 with bottomless mimosas). Dinner runs Wednesday through Sunday with two seatings at 5.30pm and 8.30pm. 

Needless to say, you have to book this exclusive seat well in advance of your trip. But trust me, it’s worth it. 

Bruno Mars stands in front of a microphone, holding a creme and white guitar. There's a black curtain in the background.
It’s strictly “no phones or cameras” at the Bruno Mars concert and his Las Vegas nightclub © MGM Resorts International

What was your favorite activity from the trip?

For this trip, there was one reason I was in town – Bruno Mars. A friend of mine saw him years ago in Colorado and it remained at the top of her list of best concert experiences.

With that in mind, I knew that even though the concert was on a Wednesday night at Dolby Live at Park MGM, Mr. Mars was going to show out. And dear friend, he did just that. I was on my feet most of the night, swaying my hips and singing along as if I was in Bruno’s band.  

The place was packed – and with all our phones locked in individual bags, the energy was focused right where it needed to be.

After the concert, I headed to The Pinky Ring, Bruno’s nightclub in the Bellagio. It opened earlier this year and physically represents what Bruno embodies. It’s a funky old-school ‘70s vibe, there’s fantastic live music and, of course, a dance floor. And, if you’re lucky (I was), Bruno will stop by after his concert to sing with the house band.  

For those wondering, the club didn’t feel overly pretentious or sleazy (a common reputation for any nightclub, especially in Vegas). That Wednesday night, most people just wanted to have a good time.

A word of warning: no phones are allowed. They won’t lock them up, but you may be asked to leave if security catches you trying to film something.  

What was the most touristy thing you did?

Of course it was the fountain show in front of the Bellagio. Has Ocean’s 11 taught us nothing? Despite being tired and needing to pack to fly out the next day, I was staying at the Bellagio.

And as it was after 8pm, I didn’t have to wait for long – there is a show every 15 minutes. Even though I’ve seen it before in person, and in the movies multiple times, the show couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face.

Most under-the-radar activity you enjoyed?

I hesitate to write about Particle Ink at Luxor Hotel & Casino because I’m going to struggle to describe it. Yes, writing is a large part of my job, so I should be able to do this, but when you experience something so eccentric, you realize words can’t fully capture it. 

The show uses light in ways that seem impossible, like a can of spray paint emitting beams of light. There’s intricate choreography, aerial work, 3D projections working in tandem with live performers. You will be moved from room to room, to not only flow with the storyline, but to get a sense of the scale of this production. It’s a bit of a mind bend, and I loved every second of it. 

Interior shot of Bruno Mars' club - The Pinky Ring- at the Bellagio Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. There's a giant glass chandelier in the middle of room and a large bar with a mirror in the background.
For experiences like sipping cocktails at The Pinky Ring in the Bellagio Resort and Casino, you do need to make reservations ahead © MGM Resorts International

Best tip for someone who wants to plan the same trip?

Since there’s always something going on, Las Vegas is the perfect last-minute destination, but to take advantage of some of the city’s more unique and special experiences, booking in advance is a must.

If you have a notion of going to Vegas or you’re a person who hits The Strip often, it wouldn’t hurt to put your name down on a few waiting lists now. 

Alicia Johnson traveled to Las Vegas courtesy of the Las Vegas Tourism Board. Lonely Planet staff members do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage. 

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