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Whirlwind weekend: Vegas, baby!

This is what a whirlwind weekend in Vegas feels like.
This is what a whirlwind weekend in Vegas feels like.
Stratosphere

They say New York is the city that never sleeps, but let's face it, Vegas comes in a very close second! So what can you do with just 24 hours in Vegas? Turns out the answer is—a lot. My friend Roberta and I headed to Vegas early on a Friday with three things on our mind: blackjack, burlesque, and Bellagio fountains. Was our mission possible? We were about to find out.

We arrived at Mandalay Bay's TheHotel mid-morning after a jaunty four-hour drive from LA. (And even though I've made the drive umpteen times before, I still get a kick out of going past Zzyzx Road and the ghost town Calico—I think that was where the Brady Bunch had their infamous outing.) Though the drive was enjoyable, TheHotel was a welcome sight. My absolute favorite place to stay in Vegas, TheHotel offers a modern, classy respite from the casino madness that awaits adjacent at Mandalay Bay. Swathed in soft neutrals and dotted in modern art, this upscale boutique hotel boasts a smart collection of suites that happen to be the largest standard rooms in Vegas at 725 sq. ft. and up. Pair that with the heavenly bed, 42" plasma (plus bathroom LCD!), and free guest admission to the swank Mix Lounge, and I'm sold!

After a bit of requisite lounging and squealing about our Vegas excitement, we made our plan for the day. First stop via monorail? Harrahs for some blackjack. (I'm not overly superstitious, but I've learned by experience that Harrahs is my "lucky" place!) After playing for about an hour, I was up by $115, so I figured I'd quit while ahead and sidle over to the Venetian for some grub. We were craving Italian, but a canal-side restaurant called Taqueria Canonita caught our eye. Mexican in a haven of Italia? Why the heck not!

We started with two apps: the ceviche trio and queso fundido (a cheese lover's must), topped off with a delish sangria/margarita hybrid that I'm dying to recreate at my next soiree. In keeping with my shrimp fetish, I ordered the $20 Cazuela de Camarones Y Almejas (grilled skewered shrimp and clams with blackened tomatoes, Marisco broth and tomatillos with white rice and grilled bread). Ever the carnivore, Roberta ordered the Carne Tampiquena, a lovely skirt steak creation with sauteed peppers, onions, and cheese—served with cilantro rice and black beans. It was soon quite clear why the restaurant has twice been voted Vegas' "Best Mexican Restaurant" by the Review Journal! The food was fantastic, and it was fun watching the gondoliers float by serenading the Venetian guests.

Next on the agenda was a trip down to the Stratosphere at the northernmost part of the Strip, where our goal was to test out the thrill rides that sit atop this Vegas landmark. For the less daring among us, tickets are available for $15.95 to simply visit the 100 story-high viewing deck and enjoy the sweeping panoramic views of neon desert. Those who prefer a little adventure can opt to try one or more of the rides for anywhere from $21.95 - $29.95. We only wanted to do one ride, so we weighed our options: the X-Scream, a giant teeter-totter placed perilously 866 feet above the strip; Insanity, which suspends you face down while whirling in circles; and Big Shot, a thermometer-esque ride that bounces at warp speed as you white-knuckle it and scream into the Vegas abyss. None are for the faint of heart, but we deemed Big Shot to be the most survival-friendly! It ended up being a blast, and I didn't even lose that tasty lunch.

It was almost time to head back to TheHotel to get ready for dinner at the Foundation Room, but not before a pitstop at the Bellagio to watch the fountains drench and dance. I fell in love with the fountains after seeing them in Oceans Eleven, and make sure to stop by every time I'm in Vegas to summon my inner Clooney. Shows are held every 15 - 30 minutes and are worth the wait--the lights, music, and water choreography are destined to dazzle!

Hard to imagine eating so soon again after our Mexican feast, but Vegas is all about gorging after all. We had reservations to check out the Foundation Room, the House of Blues' snazzy private club at the top of Mandalay Bay. (The view from the outdoor deck is to die for!) Strangely, the restaurant wasn't busy at all; in fact, we were one of only three tables sat in our part of the dining room. This was in stark contrast to other times I'd eaten there, so here's hoping Vegas bounces back from its slump soon! The food was absolutely delectable and the service top-notch—they even gave us a complimentary app and dessert wine as a thanks for our patronage. A+!

We could have stayed and lounged all night, but we had a show to see: a "Peepshow," to be exact! As a fan of both burlesque and "The Girls Next Door," I've had this popular Planet Hollywood show at the top of my to-see list for quite some time. One of the hottest tickets on the strip, the show stars Holly Madison as "Bo Peep," an unlucky-in-love damsel who just needs a little help from her sexier friends to find her inner bombshell. (She succeeds soap star Kelly Monaco in the role.) The vibe was great—fun crowd, high energy, upbeat pop music, and cocktails, natch. Once the show started, I was totally mesmerized. Far from just a skin show, "Peepshow" featured a fun storyline, charismatic performers, and playfully raunchy humor. Not to mention some sick aerial stunts—from a dripping wet man cavorting above a bathtub to a blindfolded woman swinging over the crowd on a suspended hobby horse (to Ginuwine's "Pony," no less!). Definitely a sight to see!

Though the show is definitely the perfect precursor to any wild Vegas night on the town, we decided to head back to the room and chill out for a bit with a champagne nightcap. After all, we'd packed a weekend's worth of action into one day! I can't wait to return for a longer stay and see what else SIn City has in store.

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