Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Visit Vegas - and Win!

Four hundred dollars. That's how much money a visitor from Canada and her mother had lost in a few days in Las Vegas. But as they lounged poolside at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, they were both smiling, clearly pleased by the trade they had made: the thrill of possible riches against the loss of four hundred bucks.

But a visit to Vegas doesn't have to mean a loss. It can mean the gain of some incredible and unique experiences. Play your cards right and you can go home with more than you brought, at least in the way of adventure.

Our family discovered that a stay at the Monte Carlo, together with its new outdoor eateries along the Strip, involved no gamble at all. Put together with a few outside entertainments, it was a win all the way. We came home definitely the richer for our time there. Here's a rundown of how to enjoy a low stakes, high win trip to Las Vegas.

Stay at the Monte Carlo

The selection of resorts along the Strip is great, with something to offer from most of them. There are a few aspects of the Monte Carlo, however, that would have us coming back. Primarily, the service and friendliness of the staff was top notch. Any question was answered with a smile. Maid service came before noon, making it a pleasure to return to our room after one of our expeditions. What we enjoyed the most, though, was the outdoor pools area. You read that right, pools plural. Monte Carlo offers three wet experiences. A lagoon pool affords traditional and kid swimming. A lazy river allows float bobbing along the undulating artificial river, and a wave pool recreates a warm-water, gentle version of a beach. One does have to have a high tolerance for loud noise in the pool area, however. Two of the three days we visited, a DJ blasted music at a volume pleasing to the drink-happy crowd, but not so friendly to more sensitive ears.

Eat outdoors along the Strip

With the completion of its multi-million dollar street plaza, the Monte Carlo now offers some fun and delicious eateries, all with a view of the action along the strip and the friendly interaction of opportunistic sparrows. From 3:00 pm on, live entertainment joins the party. Disclaimer: music is always amplified in this area and it will get progressively louder as the day moves on.

Breakfast at Sambalatte

Created by Brazilian coffee-lover Luiz Oliveira, this cafe takes gourmet coffee to the next level. Beans from all over the world are sampled, then roasted right on the premises by barista experts using sophisticated computer applications. Patrons can even watch the roasting through a two-story glass wall, and perhaps hear the signature crack as the beans pop. Along with traditional drip and espresso coffees, thirsty connoisseurs may choose the "steampunk" variety, created in a technical performance of bubbling water and streaming fountains of coffee. Pastries at the Sambalatte are light and rich - several steps up from your typical gourmet chain. $$

Lunch at Double Barrel Roadhouse

With an airy, Texas country atmosphere, the Double Barrel Roadhouse offers a deceptively home-style menu that ranges from burgers to sweet potato fries and smoked chicken wings. But the food is anything but home-style: prepared to crisp perfection with a subtle tang of something extra. My husband's Angus beef patty and my bourbon-glazed salmon made us both wish we had room for seconds. Vegetarians are not left out of the party, with a wood-grilled veggie wrap, chilicojita corn and four different salads. $$$

Snack at 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria

Okay, it's a meal, not a snack. 800 degrees is the pizzeria's answer to a salad bar. Choose your own toppings, or select a chef's recommendation of personal-size pizza. Within minutes, you'll be presented with your own gourmet pizza. Yes, it was baked at 800 degrees, and in a wood-burning stove. We enjoyed artichoke and broccolini while my calorie-conscious daughter had a cheese-less marinara. A variety of salads provided fresh crispness to the meal. $$

Dinner at Yusho Japanese Grill and Noodle House

Dinner at Yusho is not so much a meal as a gustatory expedition. The menu is composed of general sections, such as "Grilled," "Fried," and "Steam Buns." Guests choose items under each section, most appetizer-size, and share with the table. As restaurant manager Joshua Wolf put it, the offerings are "Asian street food with a twist." Indeed. Tangy bites of lemon and vinegar can surprise one, along with an eclectic assortment of offerings: fried duck leg, Japanese pancake, and shishito peppers. We particularly liked the gourmet kimchi. Cocktails are handcrafted with surprising flavors of their own and a refreshing fizz. Based in Chicago, where it's already renowned, this is the first venture to the West. $$$$

Dessert at BLVD Creamery

Organic ice cream is churned daily at this perky ice cream parlor. Flavors range from comfort favorites like s'mores to trend-setting offerings such as pink grapefruit. Arcade machines give the youngsters in your group a chance to do their own kind of gaming. $$

Drinks at Minus 5

You can escape the daily summer 100 degree plus heat by heading to Minus 5 Degrees. Inside the bar, it's minus 5 degrees centigrade (20 degrees Fahrenheit). Why would you want to? It's the exotic experience, says Rupert the manager, who hails from Vermont. "So I'm used to it," he says. Phones are not permitted, because patrons might bust them leaving them on the ice, which lines the entire bar. Lights change color. The decidedly male patrons drink shots through the bust of a woman's torso. If you belonged to a frat, you get it. $36 buys you entry, 2 drinks, a pair of gloves and a coat, since no doubt you left yours at home.

But eating and drinking aren't all there is to do in Las Vegas, assuming you want to avoid losing at the tables. Here are a few family-friendly venues we found fun and worthwhile.

Thrills for the chicken-hearted at the High Roller

If you really want to see all of Vegas, you can do it in 30 minutes flat. With the High Roller, located at the new Linq shopping center, you can see the whole strip at once, as well as the cute towns and expansive wild land beyond. All this from the dazzling height of 550 feet above the ground. But don't let the fact that this observation wheel is the world's tallest scare you out of giving it a go: the ride is gentle enough for people of all ages and courage levels to enjoy. The roomy cabins are completely enclosed and remain stable throughout the thirty-minute rotation. The ride is also narrated by a (perhaps too-cheeky) guide entertaining and educating passengers on how the ingenious attraction was built and what the view encompasses. If you're looking for an epic photo op, this ride would be it.

Education and awe at the Shark Reef

Located in the Mandalay Bay resort at the foot of the Strip, the Shark Reef aquarium stands proud among the many aquariums our family has visited. Within the fanciful Aztec temple ruins here you can find a surprisingly amiable Komodo dragon, gold-flecked piranha, and a million-gallon tank habitat of sharks, rays, and sea turtles - in which the people are the ones in the bowl, surrounded by the animals.

More awe at the Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat

A friendly and happy band of dolphins enjoy a man-made reef and plenty of companionship and stimulation from a team of trainers. We timed our visit to be able to see the dolphins interact with the trainers. They leapt and twirled and were obviously having a ball. Beyond the dolphins, the Garden's big cats live in misted and thoughtfully landscaped enclosures. Along with some beautiful white tigers, we saw some tired male white lions and three playful white lion cubs. (Admittedly, they won't be cubs if you don't visit soon.)


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