Las Vegas – the iconic oasis of lights that pops up out of nowhere in the Mojave Desert. The city's transformative capability, paired with the odd tribute to the city's colourful past, all culminates in a melting pot of glitz, glamour and cheesiness. Elvis was right when he sang the words "if you see it once, you'll never be the same again" – say what you will, you can't call the city boring.
One of the best features of this 21st century extravagance is the themed hotels, regardless of whether or not you choose to stay in one. The old platitude that Vegas is a 'theme park for grown-ups' is absolutely clear when visiting any mega-resort on the strip: every hotel has a (huge) casino and a few bars, clubs, or lounges. But also – and this is the best part – facades relevant to the theme of the hotel, attractions, huge shopping malls and a plethora of dining options. I walked up and down the strip multiple times – anyone who's been there would know how much easier that is said than done – and compiled this list of some of my favourite hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard, in no particular order:
1. The Mirage
Theme: A cross between a Polynesian island – complete with an erupting volcano out the front – and London during the swinging sixties, thanks to the hotels' hosting of the 'LOVE' Cirque Du Soleil show. Think an illuminated Union Jack ceiling, Beatles-themed cocktails, and red phone boxes. (You know, amongst the tropical rainforest growing in the atrium.) Eateries: A whole host of things, including a Brazilian steakhouse, a New York-style delicatessen, and a frozen yoghurt stall. Shops: My favourites included a clothes store located near the guest elevators, a music merchandise shop and the Beatles' Cirque store next to the theatre. Props for: The Cirque show, by far.
New York New York
2. New York-New York Theme: New York City. Which is a little confusing, considering we were already in America and all, but why not? Their grounds contained scaled-down versions of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building, with a roller-coaster weaving around the whole thing – just to remind you that you're in Vegas. Eateries: Because it was themed as a city with a large range of international dining options, there were cute little alleyways featuring delis, an Italian pizza place, an Irish pub and the like.
Shops: I thought that NY-NY had the quirkiest shops out of the strip's main resorts. I loved Houdini's Magic Shop and the It'Sugar stall you find as soon as you walk in – it was complete with a Statue of Liberty made out of jelly beans! Props for: The layout of the hotel. Finding the shops was a much easier task here than it was in some of the other hotels (where you're often sent on a trek through gaming machines and roulette tables).
3. Paris Theme: Paris in the 1920's.
Eateries: Mon Ami Gabi is the French restaurant at the front of the hotel, which has tables on the sidewalk with views of the Bellagio fountains – great for people-watching! The hotel also has a very popular crêperie (of course), and a nice coffee bar.
Shops: If you follow the cafés past the indoor fountain, there are some nice stalls dotted along the fake cobblestone streets.
Props for: The location, and the views of the city from the Eiffel Tower Restaurant.
4. The Venetian
Theme: Venice, Italy.
Eateries: Italian restaurants and a few nice cafés.
Shops: I can't say that I shopped extensively here, but there's a very interesting mask shop worth checking out.
Props for: Dedication to the theme. The canals would have been sufficient, but singing gondoliers? Elaborate painted ceilings? Al-fresco dining in a fake St. Mark's square?
5. Caesar's Palace
Theme: Italy, complete with a Colosseum.
Eateries: Next to the large fountains (under the painted sky) is Trevi Italian Restaurant. There's also the aptly-named 'Bacchanal Buffet'.
Shops: Amongst Dior, Tiffany & Co., and Fendi there was an incredible music memorabilia shop. There were rare signed posters and vinyl by the likes of The Beatles, Elvis and Buddy Holly.
Props for: Being a Vegas icon.
Honourable mentions go to: Treasure Island for having the much-elusive Vietnamese food I'd been craving; Planet Hollywood for their full-sized mall, Bally's for housing Jubilee!, a quintessential old-fashioned Vegas show; MGM Grand for the nice-smelling lobby and the Rainforest Café; Excalibur for being the hotel of my dreams as a child; the Wynn and Encore for being the opposite of Excalibur; and Mandalay Bay for having a fake beach and arguably the shiniest gold windows in the world.