Sure, Las Vegas is mostly famous for gambling and for its many opportunities to drink your face off. But in recent years, as hotels have become increasingly competitive to draw folks in, they have started offering all kinds of luxurious ways to while away the hours off the casino floor. Recently, I was offered the opportunity to try out some destinations tailor-made for relaxation, fun, and indulgence—including spa stuff, fine dining, and attractions—and the following are my recommendations for ways to splurge on self-care in Sin City.
Maxin’ and Relaxin’
If soaking, steaming, shvitzing, sleeping, and sipping tea in a fluffy robe sound like your idea of a good time, check out the Qua Baths and Spa at Caesars Palace(3570 S. Las Vegas Blvd.). In keeping with the Caesar’s theme, Qua is evocative of an ancient Roman bath house and provides three soaking pools of varying temperatures, a giant hot tub, and a sauna across from an invigorating Arctic Ice Room. I took the ultimate nap on a heated stone lounge chair and enjoyed sipping in solitude in the no-phones-allowed tearoom. Visitors can nab an all-day pass for around $55 (prices vary by day and are cheaper for hotel guests) or you can book a spa treatment and access to the Baths is included. I tried out Qua’s decadent, 80-minute Cleopatra’s Golden Goddess Facial ($375)—an exfoliation treatment, followed by a 24K gold mask for the face, neck, and hands and a warm paraffin foot wrap—and I emerged feeling like queen of the Nile.
While the environment at Qua is perfect for quiet, meditative repose, the cabana I visited at The Scene Pool Deck at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino(3667 S. Las Vegas Blvd.) is better for party people who want an outdoor clubbing vibe. With two different swimming pools (one for families and one for adults only), a wave pool for surfing, two bars, a live DJ pumping high-energy dance music, and 31 cabanas and daybeds The Scene is totally a scene. And if you really want to live that luxe life, a cabana ($200-$350) is like having your own little living room next to the action all day long. These poolside tents have couches, pillows, towels, a safe for your valuables, a flat-screen TV, and a fridge stocked with water and fruit. Plus, a server is at your disposal all day to bring you whatever a la carte drinks and snacks you may want from the bar. Soaking in the Jacuzzi, then retiring to my private couch just a few feet away to watch Golden Girls while wrapped in towels, I knew I was living my best life. But buyer beware: this experience varies according to season. In the summer, I’m told the party gets wild and super crowded. I was there in March, and folks were quietly sunning themselves and taking turns in the hot tub because the unheated pools were too cold to swim in for more than a quick, bracing dip.
Food Glorious Food
For fans of chef shows and cooking competitions, Las Vegas is a wonderland because so many food-world celebs have restaurants where you can actually taste the delicacies they’ve made famous on TV. Everywhere you turn, there’s a Gordon Ramsay outpost of some kind. But the Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis has always been much more my style, so I couldn’t wait to try out her chic Italian eatery Giada at The Cromwell Hotel (3595 S. Las Vegas Blvd.). In a swank dining room overlooking the strip, I munched on perfectly roasted baby peppers stuffed with goat cheese ($14), I marveled at the savory rigatoni with vegetarian bolognese ($28), and I obsessively hoarded the generous bowl of crispy Brussels sprouts with pink peppercorn honey ($11), taking most of them home to finish for breakfast. But it was Giada’s famous lemon ricotta cookies with lemon glaze ($12) that truly stole my heart. For a hardcore citrus lover like me, these were perfect morsels of deliciousness, and I was thrilled when the gracious server sent me home with the recipe. (It’s also available online here!)
While Giada is upscale, the food and the service is comfy and homey. In contrast, the dining experience I had the next night was by far the fanciest dinner I have ever had (and probably will ever have—even if I live 100 years). Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace (3570 S. Las Vegas Blvd.) is the only place in America where you can taste plates designed by the famed French restaurateur and dining here is more of an ornate culinary processional than a traditional “meal.” At a table overlooking the lights of Paris Las Vegas' Eiffel Tower, my partner and I experienced a mind-blowing 14-course tasting menu ($385 per person) served by an army of suave gentlemen in formalwear. The parade of food lasted over two and a half hours and included champagne, caviar, black truffles, edible gold, coconut six ways, salmon served on a block of ice, and paper-thin octopus served under a glass dome filled with cold smoke (a dramatic presentation I can only describe as black magic for your mouth). Being a simple gal at heart, my favorite dish was a comforting artichoke and black truffle soup served with an aromatic toasted mushroom brioche for dipping. We were pampered so completely, taken care of so attentively, and the food was so creative and special, I was almost in tears by the time the dessert cart—loaded up with macarons, crème caramel, rustic blueberry cake and more—made its final lap around our table.
Of course, great meals don’t have to be fancy, and I had some super satisfying casual meals as well. For top-notch diner fare 24-hours-a-day and some truly over-the-top milkshakes garnished with crazy stuff like cronuts, cotton candy, and birthday cake ($16), visit Café Hollywood at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino (3667 S. Las Vegas Blvd.).
And if authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza sounds like a saucy slice of heaven, make sure to stop at Giordano’s at Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally’s Las Vegas (3619 S. Las Vegas Blvd.) A mainstay in the Windy City for over 40 years, this franchise consistently tops national “Best Pizza” lists. Design your own pie ($22.25 to $32.75), patiently wait about 45 minutes for it to be made from scratch, and then marvel at how much melted cheese these geniuses can fit within the confines of a towering crust.
In Vegas, you can see a different show every night of your stay and barely scratch the surface. And the rides, attractions, and exhibits blooming among the casinos make each different hotel a themed wonderland to explore. As a woman with a deep interest in Elvis, I was intent on seeing one of the city’s renowned Presley impersonators, and I definitely made the right choice by nabbing tix to All Shook Up: Tribute to the King at the V Theater at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino (3667 S. Las Vegas Blvd.). Headlined by award-winning Elvis impersonator Travis Allen, this sweet little show ($39) boasts a live band and surprisingly good live vocals! Allen doesn’t just have the looks and the moves—he sings his way through three decades of hits with remarkable nuance and attention to detail. And when he came out after a costume change in that famous white jumpsuit, mopped his brow with a scarf, gave me the scarf, and then coyly kissed my cheek, I felt more than a little flutter inside.
For a musical experience from this century, I cruised over to see Cypress Hill at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay (3950 S. Las Vegas Blvd.). If you’re cool standing for hours in the sweaty mosh pit down in front of the stage, a general admission ticket at this venue (approx. $30) is a good deal and will get you right up close to some top-notch acts. I, however, opted to enjoy my weed-inspired hip-hop jams from a seat up in the balcony (approx. $55) where I could properly kick back and relax. It’s definitely worth the splurge if you prioritize comfort, and for even bigger spenders, you can reserve a VIP table with food and drink service.
The most entertaining experience I had, however, wasn’t a show at all. It was a totally amazing ride. The High Roller at The LINQ Promenade (3545 S. Las Vegas Blvd.) is a 550-foot-tall, giant observation wheel that slowly rotates high above the Vegas strip. Instead of sitting in a little cage like on a normal ride of this type, riders get their own room enclosed in a glass dome so you can walk around, dance (and yes, drink) while your bubble climbs higher and higher into the sky for a full half hour. Tickets cost between $20 and $47 depending on when you go and whether you want cocktails included. My partner and I had a bubble all to ourselves and we smooched while the whole city glittered beneath us. Romantical!
For many visitors, cocktail culture plays second fiddle to the booming cannabis industry that has been raking in millions since Vegas approved the sale of recreational marijuana in 2017. Dispensaries here sell everything from dried buds to vape pens to edibles to topical ointments for aches and pains, they’re open 24/7, and they have similar inventories but very different atmospheres. Essence Cannabis Dispensary (2307 S. Las Vegas Blvd.) is dingy and crowded and looks like a bodega that only sells cannabis. But this spot does seem to have quite a few cool girls working there. Plus, it’s right across the street from the greatest souvenir store ever—Bonanza Gift Shop (2400 S. Las Vegas Blvd.). A step up from Essence, Pisos (4110 S. Maryland Pkwy. #1) is a dispensary with the feel of a sleek little SoHo boutique. Customers can browse the display cases before consulting with a “budtender” who will help buyers navigate the various formats and strains. (It was here that I discovered it was those pesky sativa plants that kept making me so nauseous and I should probably stick to edible, low-dose indica.) The biggest and most visually impressive dispensary in Vegas is probably Planet 13 (2548 W. Desert Inn Rd.). This massive “cannabis superstore and entertainment complex” looks like an Apple Store for weed, earning it the Best Overall Dispensary award from Leafly.com. Whatever your retail taste, Vegas has a dispensary that can oblige and cabbies and Uber drivers can probably take you exactly where you want to go if you tell them what you’re looking for.
Which leads me to one last tip. The drivers in this town have seen and heard it all—let them know you’re a curious visitor and you’ll probably leave their car with a few amazing stories and some insider recs that only a local would know.
Emily Rems is a feminist writer, editor, rock star, playwright, and occasional plus-size model living in New York’s East Village. Best known as managing editor of BUST magazine, Emily is also a music and film commentator for New York’s NPR affiliate WNYC, and is the drummer for the horror-punk band the Grasshoppers. Her nonfiction writing has appeared in the anthologies Cassette from my Ex and Zinester’s Guide to NYC, and her short stories have been published in Rum Punch Press, Lumen, Prose ‘N Cons Mystery Magazine, Writing Raw, and PoemMemoirStory. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for fiction in 2015 and is working on a novel. Follow her on Twitter @emilyrems.