Heading to Las Vegas two months after the Mandalay Bay shootings – the deadliest (civilian) mass shooting in American history – you’d have to be a sociopath not to think of death.
But eventually, like the people in Vegas do with their “Vegas Strong” slogan, you have to think about moving on with life. And though death is the ultimate and irretractable ending, there are other endings, too. I headed on a plane there, Claire Boothe Luce’s The Women style, the week my divorce was final. I needed to move on with life.
Even moving on with life, I had a microcosm of moving on while in Vegas: my very first night, I slipped on some nasty marble flooring, severely spraining and gouging my foot and ankle. I had to make an instant decision: go home or stay and make the best of things. I chose to stay.
Hobbling around at home weeks later, I can assure you that what happens in Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Vegas. Spending the rest of my time there in a wheelchair, I gained an appreciation for those places and moments that aren’t ADA compliant: even at major tourist attractions, the disabled can be excluded from fully enjoying things.
What to eat
The Aria Resort and Casino (along with other MGM properties) has become a foodie destination. Since I’m not a gambler, but I am fascinated by gastronomy, that worked for me. Though choices include Asian and Mexican restaurants, I mostly explored Mediterranean cuisine and a gourmet steakhouse. See and be seen in the colorful open construction of Julian Serrano Tapas. It’s perfect for sharing small or large authentic Spanish plates with friends.
With a wide selection of well-balanced cocktails and sangrias, they’ll help you find the perfect go-with to accompany a range of vegetable, beef, pork, seafood and straight from Spain charcuterie plates. You’ll need 40 minutes’ prep time to order one of their paellas, including one with rabbit and snails!
You’ll feel like you traveled to Paris even before you step into Bardot; even the portico has that European street feel. The most minute details are attended to for you to experience authentically French brasserie cuisine. The butter that comes with bread service is Echire from Deux-Sevres, accompanied by sel gris. You can order their onion soup gratinee with luxe over-the-top — but why not — touches: beef short rib, poached eggs and black truffles. They utilize Coravin technology to offer rare wines by the glass.
It’s a different French style of cooking at world-renowned chef Alain Ducasse’s Rivea, located in the Delano Las Vegas. The cuisine here leans on the casual, light but chic food that he’s cooked in Monte Carlo. There are lots of curved lines in the furnishings, along with picnic-like tableware. Raw Chilean sea bass is marinated with several citrus fruits. Fresh, perfect produce rushed in from California. John Dory, prawns, rockfish and calamari join together in a super delicate bouillabaisse. Tournedos Rossini is authentically French, but definitely has that Vegas nod to luxury: it’s a filet topped with foie gras and practically a sheet of black truffles.
The Bellagio is home to Lago by Julian Serrano, his take on light and refreshing Mediterranean cuisine. Sit by the window, for a front row view of the famous fountains. Start with a fun cocktail.
I find that many “mixologist” cocktails try too hard to hearken back to Victorian times, with their sharp alcohol flavor and muddy look. The Sgroppino has a dramatic presentation, with the server pouring Prosecco over Limoncello sorbet and a cocoa butter sphere! They offered a lunch special when I was there: al dente linguine with super fresh, abundant lobster in a light, fresh tomato sauce. For dessert, chocolate hazelnut mousse is topped with edible gold! That’s some Las Vegas for you.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten is another of the most celebrated chefs in the world. His eponymous steakhouse in the Aria – Jean-Georges Steakhouse — prides itself in accessing some of the finest ingredients in the world and adding subtle twists to their classic preparations. He is known for fusing Asian flavors into his food, as well. A “Japanese Old Fashioned” cocktail incorporated Japanese whiskey, as well as ginger, for a peaty, Scotch-like take on the classic drink.
Chef Jean-Georges is also known for his master of sauces; I tried some of his famous ones, including salsa verde, miso butter, habanero butter and his own steak sauce — rich with tangy tamarind and chili flavors.
Speaking of steak, this restaurant is only one of eight in the USA to serve A5 Certified Kobe beef from Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe City, Japan. At $60/oz, with a 3 oz minimum, this is a luxury, for sure. But hey, some high rollers get big slabs of it! I tried a little bit. It’s very rich, without being greasy or fatty. They serve it simply seared, with some sea salt. I tried it with the various gourmet sauces and really liked it with the habanero butter: the spicy, buttery sauce was a great compliment, with the heat cutting the richness.
What to do
Las Vegas casinos have a large footprint, and for most of the time there, I was either being wheelchaired around by Aria security or hobbling in searing pain. At Mandalay Bay, the transportation director saw me tumbling out of a cab and asked how I was doing — presumably, ascertaining if I were drunk. With tears in my eyes, I told him of my travails.
He instantly commandeered a motorized scooter for me and gave me a lesson. I still managed to get stuck in an elevator, had to get out of the chair, where it proceeded to run over my foot five times. I couldn’t get the elevator doors to stay open to exit, either.
Finally, a group of big, hearty, very long-haired gals with Southern accents came to my rescue. In my mind, I thought of them as being my “mountain girl angels.”
If you live in a city where our museums are free, it may be a little sticker shock to see an admission fee for an art gallery, but I appreciate the opportunity for some high culture in Sin City. The Bellagio Fine Art Gallery currently is hosting an ancient Samurai armor exhibit. It’s incredible what long-ago artisans did with leathers and straw and even, that they did it at all: they clearly firmly believed that appearances and utility were indivisible.
Michael Jackson One Cirque de Soleil is at Mandalay Bay. Combining music, lighting, dancing and acrobatics, the concept is four young “misfits” discovering pivotal aspects of Jackson’s life. Like Las Vegas, like Mandalay Bay, Jackson himself evoked mixed feelings with the public during his life. While no really salacious aspects were incorporated, they did touch on the incessant tabloid coverage he had to endure. I had forgotten about all of the Elephant Man stories. The performers were agile and amazing; there was even an amputee who had thrilling moves.
The Spa at Aria became my oasis/classic sanitarium. Open until early evening, it’s also a good place to chill out if you have jet lag or you’re scheduled for a red eye flight. Most of the relaxation and treatment areas are separated by gender, with a few things co-ed.
There are three small indoor pools, each with a different temperature. This area, along with the red cedar sauna and eucalyptus steam room, is clothing optional. The outdoor pool is a co-ed area, so you at least have to be wearing a spa bathrobe, if not a bathing suit. With the balcony, definitely position yourself not to fry in the desert sun. There’s a heated infinity pool, a great place to check out the sunset!
There are two coed “meditation” rooms. The Shio salt room has floor-to-ceiling pink, glowing salt walls, New Age music and vibrational therapy. Salt rooms are said to help with health, mood and inflammation.
I lay back on a chaise lounge like a Raggedy Ann doll and tried some deep breaths.
Next, I shuffled to the Ganbanyoku stone bed room. These were several special heated Japanese black silica rock beds, said to emit healing far infrared rays. Nobody else was in the very darkened room with stone floor and stone slabs, topped with bamboo neck pillows. It seemed quite like a mausoleum. It would be impossible not to be contemplative and meditative under the circumstances!
Christmas choral singing at McCarran Airport