Realistic Dining in Las Vegas

Las Vegas has some of the best-and most expensive-restaurants in the world, all within an approximate 4 mile area. From Emeril Lagasse to Bobby Flay to Guy Savoy, to all of the lesser known celebrity chefs, there is a wealth of culinary experience from which to draw…but not for the average tourist, especially if traveling with kids. That’s a whole different ballgame.

For those quick to point out that one shouldn’t even be taking kids to Sin City in the first place, there really are many great things to do there for those under 21, and many families do take kids with them when visiting. So what are the best options for eating meals that are more “normal” than fancy cuisine at greatly inflated prices?

Vegas was always known for its buffets, but they are no longer the cheap eats of the past. Expect to pay upwards from $15 for breakfast, $20 at lunch and $25 per person for dinner at resorts on the strip. (Children under 12 usually receive discounts.) A breakfast buffet could be the best choice if your family enjoys breakfast foods and has a busy day planned. After eating at one of those, most folks aren’t hungry until late afternoon. A buffet’s obviously not for anyone who isn’t a big eater, but even picky diners can find a something to meet with their approval. Plus, buffets aren’t all that much costly than buying items a la carte from a resort coffee shop. (Coffee, milk, juice, and a croissant or muffin can cost $10 per person,) Overall, the value is significantly greater.

However, if a family has opted for breakfast at Denny’s (on the strip near the Venetian) or McDonald’s (near Denny’s and in Circus Circus and Excaliber) with the idea of splurging on a nicer lunch, there are choices in the upscale food courts of the Venetian and Caesar’s Palace. Here, prices are a bit more hefty ($4 for a slice of pizza, for example), but the ambience of being in beautiful surroundings and looking out into the casino may be worth it. The Miracle Mile Shops in Planet Hollywood and the eateries in New York New York also provides small kiosks and tables that offer assortment to all family members at less cost than sit-down establishments.

Most strip resorts’ casual restaurants have wide menu selections, but expect to wait either in line or wait for meals, which take time that you could spend elsewhere. Usually, the portions are large, but the average Vegas hotel room rarely offers refrigerators (or even coffee makers, for that case). Most entrees start around $10.

For those who are looking for a themed, chain-type restaurant appealing to both kids and adults, Vegas is home to the Rain Forest Café, House of Blues, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Café, and Margaritaville. Expect to pay at least $15 per person and spend at least an hour.

Should your itinerary take you to downtown Las Vegas, you’ll find down-to-earth prices for full-course dinners and satisfying food. However, it may not be worth the $30 round trip cab fare just to go there for one meal. On the other hand, combining dinner with the Freemont St. Experience, and shopping for moderately priced souvenirs, may be worth it.

It’s not impossible for a family to eat well at a reasonable cost while in Las Vegas, but it does take a little research-and probably a bit of walking!

What about “unrealistic” dining experiences? You know, the ones that start about $100 a person per meal? Every resort has several upscale dining facilities, with names that are recognizable throughout the world. Since my family and I did not frequent those restaurants, I cannot offer opinions, but other’s views may help in your choice. Check with on-line review sites to get an idea of current pricing and offerings at places that allow the dining experience to transcend into once-in-a-lifetime dining memories. That’s what great about Vegas-it has something for everyone-all at the same time, and all in the same general area.

(Note-On a recent trip to Las Vegas, the author’s sit-down restaurant choices were the Flamingo Resort’s Paradise Garden Buffet, the Flamingo Tropical Breeze Café, Rain Forest Café, Bay City Diner and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago.)

Steve Wyrick: Real Magic

If you are considering a magic or illusion show as one of your entertainment choices while in Las Vegas, you may want to consider “Steve Wyrick: Real Magic.” This recent visitor highly recommends it!

I must admit that, until this trip, I’d never heard of Mr. Wyrick. My guide book focused on Lance Burton for his fame, and other shows for their assorted offerings and convenience. (Some are in the afternoon and others offer more than one show per day.) However, in January 0f 2007, Steve Wyrick opened in his own theater, the Steve Wyrick Entertainment Complex in Planet Hollywood. After many years in the business, and 10 in Vegas, he will also be getting his own behind-the-scenes reality show, set to film within a few months.

Mr. Wyrick is an affable, good looking performer, with an innate ability to relate with his audience and involve them in his production, even if they aren’t participating in his acts. He does this with many personal reflections and stories of his past, such as using actors to portray his family while he was young and learning magic tricks. By the end of these 90 minutes, one can’t help feeling that they really “know” Steve Wyrick.

He utilizes audience participation in a number of ways-he pulled one young lady to the stage to join him at a table for a glass of wine and a course of several card tricks-which were displayed on large monitors behind him. On a few occasions, he requested items from the audience members-one including borrowing someone’s engagement ring-and used another individual for help with another very involved trick, as well as a child for another act. In every case, he gave something to the participant (and in the case of the child, a videotape of her involvement). Yet, due to the relative smallness of his theatre, it did not appear that being up on stage would be intimidating, especially since Mr. Wyrick creates the feeling of intimacy; it’s easy to feel that one is amidst friends.

Lest you think that this is another one-man show in a fairly plain and low-keyed setting, with minimal sets and accompaniment, think again; after all, this is Vegas. There is the glitter and glitz in his sets, of course those talented and beautiful backup dancers, and music which appeals to all ages. There is nary a pause between numbers, and Mr. Wyrick’s variety of illusions has been planned to keep viewers from losing interest for even a minute. His screens, props, and professional accoutrements assure that a viewer will leave the show feeling a sense of personal involvement.

My personal favorites involved the “portrait” of the model that came to life, the girl in the tank, and, like most people, the final moment in which he displays his ultimate magical abilities. An unexpected treat was being able to get autographs and individual photos taken with Steve Wyrick after the show. Not many headliners wish to take the time to thank those who have come to see them perform in this way, so it just adds to the overall endearing character of Mr. Wyrick. Although his dancers are sexy, and the show is by no means dull, his show is family friendly, with no profanity or suggestions that make a parent shudder. In fact, it seems that like most high caliber entertainment, Steve Wyrick: Real Magic has universal appeal.

My family and I were able to get discounted tickets for a Sunday evening performance at the half-price outlet near Planet Hollywood, although it meant waiting in line for a half hour about 2 hours before it was to start. But, with everything in Vegas fairly close, we had plenty of time to return to the Flamingo, change, and make it in time.

With his supreme confidence and excellent skill, Mr. Wyrick is well deserving of this new phase of his career. Here’s hoping that after the country sees his new TV show next season, he will become just as highly recognized as David Copperfield and Criss Angel, because he’s quickly moving into their league.

(Note-“Steve Wyrick: Real Magic” takes place at 7 and 9 PM, but days vary. Tickets are priced between $75 and $100, and discounts may be available.)

Vegas-Running on Sex and Money?

As one of my articles focusing on Las Vegas, I’d like to delve more into my 13 year old daughter’s view of things: namely, that it runs on sex and money. (I wonder if I’d have picked up on that at that tender age…)

Now, it isn’t that I didn’t expect this, in such a huge area, where these two aspects of life scream at every moment and opportunity, this point is brought home much better than any ad or spoken word could ever convey. When one steps foot off a plane and sees a few hundred slot machines, it hits a person that gambling really is big, big business, albeit fairly one-way.

Then, when a visitor must walk through a casino filled with between 2000-4000 slot machines and poker tables, just to get into any hotel lobby, it’s obvious what the priority is. All of the examples I’ve heard were true, from the little old ladies hypnotized at the penny slots to the high stakes poker tables with their glamorous clientele. But, except for one occasion, I did not hear anyone win big.

The money-angle is so obvious in Vegas it hits a person in the face. Where else are there back to back, 5 star resorts filled with the best that money can buy? With acres of marble, mosaic, statuary, fountains, landscaping and artwork, most first time visitors wander around in a suspended state of disbelief. Add the dozens of high-end designer stores and restaurants charging $200 for a fixed price meal, and you’ve got the makings of a city that demands a lot of money for and from its guests. For the first couple of days, I thought I liked Vegas more than New York, but by the time I left, I’d changed my mind. New York does require a lot of money as well, but seems grounded by the fact that people really live there, and as such, there are deli’s and convenience shops that are fairly reasonable in pricing. Not so in Vegas. I didn’t even see a pharmacy the whole time I was there, and who the heck is going to walk several blocks off the strip just to get a glass of milk under 3 bucks?

As far as the other enticement…well, along the strip are folks giving away cards and flyers which promote nude shows, and vehicles of all sorts carry the same ads. A man cannot walk down the street without having something shoved into his hands, even if he is already with a woman. Huge billboards showing g-stringed behinds boast the topless reviews, and even the headliners have sexy poses plastered over entire sides of buildings. Girls in provocative costumes stand outside of casinos, and we even saw a showgirl (in all of her buxom feathered glory) in our hotel lobby. (Upon which my daughter exclaimed, “I feel so inadequate!”) During our very first hour in Vegas, as we walked in a single line through the packed, Saturday night crowds, my daughter was approached by a 50-ish man who was not shy about his intentions, and I’ve no doubt a proposition would have been forthcoming if my husband hadn’t caught up with her and made his presence known. Just when I though we were out of these particular woods, a woman at the airport approached my daughter as we were waiting to leave, for the sole purpose of telling her that prostitution was not legal in Las Vegas. (Now, why she felt the need to do so, I’ve no idea.)

Oh well, we all know what makes Vegas run, so the good thing is, it’s not trying to hide anything. But there are other more positive aspects to the city as well, and I will gladly give them their due.

For example, it’s easy to get around Vegas, with all-day bus passes and monorails and trams, and one can find just about any type and range of eating establishments. Even with kids, a family can have a great time, with so many attractions-many of which are free. In fact, it’s worth seeing at least once, because there just can’t be anyplace else like it on earth…sex and money aside.

Cirque du Soleil’s Vegas “Love” Production-Not just for Beatles’ Fans

If you’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil production, you may be wondering what on earth a circus troupe could do that’s worth the high cost of the ticket. Well, for one thing, it’s not a “circus troupe” as such; it’s actually a group of highly skilled entertainers (dancers, gymnasts, acrobats and aerialists) who present the most fascinating and lavish productions in the world.

Now, I must admit that I have only seen 2 of their shows, but I hope to eventually see more. After the first (brought to my hometown a few years back), I was at a loss when trying to describe it to others. Somehow, saying that it was a combination of acrobatics, aerials and dance did not seem to define it. Even commenting on the dance, music and acting did not do it justice, either. My only complaint was that I couldn’t fully watch everything in entirely, as so much was always going on. At almost every given moment, there are at least two areas of activity. Audiences easily have good reason to return, since it could take more than two viewings to catch everything.

I was hoping, however, that wasn’t the case with “Love”, at the Las Vegas Mirage-and it wasn’t. Sure, there was a lot happening at the same time, but there was a bit more cohesiveness about the choreography. Not only that, in a smaller, theatre-in-the-round theater (formerly Siegfried and Roy’s arena), it was easier to view the production from a clear vantage point. I do not feel that I missed much, but there was still a huge amount happening on stage that I wasn’t able to fully follow during much of the hour and half production.

With back to back Beatles’ music (original, but remixed and in a-capella versions), it is a constant display of light shows, dancing, aerial acts, acrobatics, skating, acting and mime-all done in the most imaginative and colorful manner possible representational to the 60’s. The performers astound, as to be expected, and one is left wondering about not only their individual expertise, but at the collaboration among the set directors and choreographers to have created perfect timing in the face of what appears to be mayhem.

I will offer my favorite numbers:
“Something”-A male dancer with 4 female trapeze artists, with exquisite choreography utilizing perfect synchronicity.
“Lucy in the Sky”-A solo, female aerialist ballet with dazzling, glittering lighting in which the performer’s glittering attire corresponded with the brilliancy of the “diamonds”.
“The Benefit of Mr. Kite”-A spectacular, fantasy filled act that can only be said to mimic
a chemically-enhanced circus experience that perhaps John, Paul, George and Ringo enjoyed, but that Cirque du Soleil alone is able to visually create for all of us.

By the time the words “We hate to see you go” are heard in the last number, not only does the audience feel the love, but the cast appears to feel the same. With an extended curtain call while confetti spills down on all, it’s indeed something that John, Paul, George and Ringo would have found to their liking. It’s almost impossible to leave without a smile, humming some tunes, or both.

Even if you’ve never been a big fan, in all likelihood, there will be something in the production that will touch you. Just like with classical music, their music is timeless and appeals to all ages and backgrounds.

Some folks may find it a bit high priced, but, even the less expensive seats are great. In fact, some viewers have reported that they actually prefer the seats in the higher elevation to take in more of the production. My family and I reserved our tickets online, directly with the theatre, with no problems. The Mirage’s waiting area consists of a long space with under-lit floor tiles, beneath an arch of rainbows, with a silhouette of the Beatles as the focal point at the end…It’s a great photo-op, but you’ll need to revisit during the day when no one is waiting to have it to yourself. As expected, there are many memorabilia items in the connecting gift shop, as well as the CD, so you’ll be able to relive the experience and enjoy it even more.