It’s Vegas, Baby — and a Dolphin Named Lightning
By Shari Hartford
There are places on this ginormous planet that I’m not anxious to visit. I admit to being shallow…I don’t do “roughing it”, I prefer cities to wilderness, room service to foraging and a Jacuzzi to a cold outdoor shower. I happily leave the adventure travel experience to my fellow writers. Give me a high-rise—with stunning views and Frette sheets– anyday!
Somehow Las Vegas landed on my Don’t Go List. Maybe I was envisioning frantic gamblers sitting glazed eyed at slot machines and bands of frat boys weaving through the crowds of larger-than-should-be citizens looking for another show and another drink. Okay, I’m a snob, in addition to being the aforementioned shallow.
Yet curiosity finally got the better of me and in early spring I gave in and hit the strip to see what I was missing. Some of it stayed in Vegas. Some of it I report here.
Headquarters turned out to be the enormous MGM Grand Resort. I was lucky enough to stay in one of the new Stay Well rooms. The extremely comfortable beds, Vitamin C infused shower, air purification system and energizing light made the day-into-night Vegas lifestyle easier on the mind and body.
Historically, Las Vegas was not known as a food mecca. Certainly not if you were looking for something more than budget buffets. That was then. This is now. Every major chef, cuisine and famous restaurant have taken root and cemented the city as a foodie’s destination. The choices are myriad and as sophisticated as any major city. I had a truly memorable dinner at Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steakhouse, located in The Mirage. The ambiance is plush and the food superb. We sampled a variety of menu options and all were delish, but the chilled seafood platter, featuring crab, shrimp, mussels, smoked salmon and tuna, the roasted duck breast with smoked pear and the roasted salmon were stand outs. If you go, no matter how stuffed you think you are, make room for the Drunken Monkey Toffee Pudding…decadent and well worth the calories. There’s enough walking in Vegas to justify more than a spoonful.
Another memorable meal was lunch at the Double Barrel Roadhouse on the Strip. This relatively new cavernous restaurant, with indoor and outdoor space and a catwalk for live music is equally good for its food and large cocktails, wine and beer. The appetizer tower was huge and filling but that didn’t stop us from ordering entrees…sliders, BBQ chicken lettuce wraps, mac and cheese and burgers. I walked past a table where a plate of nachos the size of a hubcap was waiting to be devoured. Incredible as it may seem, we didn’t have an inch of space left for dessert…although the deep fried s’mores were calling my name.
The sirens song of Las Vegas is the nightlife. There is something for every taste level, every age and every interest. I’m not much of a night owl; I usually curl up with a good book or “Law and Order” and call it an evening. But when in Vegas…. We sampled the cocktails at Whiskey Down in the MGM Grand. Hard liquor? Me? Yep! The special cocktail with rye, lemon juice and white peach syrup went down just fine, thank you very much. Then it was off to Beachers Madhouse, also in MGM. This nightclub/vaudeville-like spectacle/circus was unlike anything I had ever experienced. We settled in, ordered more drinks and watched the “show”…although the lines blurred as to what was show and what were other happy patrons dancing and singing. I can confidently say that the high-wire little person bartender was definitely show. Add to that scantily clad servers and you have an adults-only venue. I didn’t make it for the main show on the stage. Just as the party was getting started, I gave into jet lag and called it a night. Damn, I should have pushed myself longer!
But, for me, the highlight of my quick trip was Painting with the Dolphins at the Mirage. The experience started with a tour of the facility where I met the dolphin trainers as well as Lightning, the dolphin who would be my painting buddy. After some instruction on the proper form for holding the painting canvas and choosing my color palette it was time to go to the main pool and get started. The trainers explained how this was not just an experience for the guests, but a learning tool and exercise for the dolphins themselves.
The trainer guided me through the process. Lightning held a specially designed paint brush in his mouth and moved his head along the canvas as he “painted.” He was rewarded for his excellent behavior with numerous mouthfuls of fish. He was also game to sidle up and let me feel his tail, rub his belly (felt like a peeled hard-boiled egg) and look deep inside his mouth. I swear he was smiling!
All too soon it was time to say farewell to Lightning…and to Vegas…and return to my home, the other city that never sleeps. Lightning’s painting has a place of honor in my apartment as a reminder of all that I didn’t leave in Vegas.
For general Las Vegas information, see lasvegas.com.
Shari Hartford is the former managing editor for Diversion magazine, where she wrote about travel in the northeast and cruising. She is currently a freelance writer and editor based in her hometown of New York City.