Despite the fact that stepping outside of McCarran airport in Las Vegas feels like you’ve just fallen into a roaring pizza oven, this is a city that can send chills down your spine.
The famous Strip serves up myriad monolith hotels, superstar residencies and uber casinos. It is an assault on the ears, nose and eyes and never more so than at night, when the neon signs glow like frenzied beacons, and the city slams into full party mode.
You can’t ignore the history of a town that saw gambling legalised way back in 1931; the Rat Pack at The Sands, the Mafia dons, Elvis Presley in rhinestones… all have added to the mystique that still attracts more than 42 million visitors every year.
Flying into Las Vegas from London Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic was the perfect start. I landed refreshed and ready to explore a city that is bursting to cater to every need.
I’d been here previously, enjoying the odd game of blackjack before dancing ‘til dawn in dense, DJ-driven nightclubs. This time though, I wanted to feel as if I’d enjoyed a serene girls-only mini-break, and not a fast spin in a casino wash cycle.
Did it deliver? Absolutely, in fact, I’d say I hit the jackpot...
The first resort
With its luxurious boutique sensibility and quirky décor The Cosmopolitan Hotel hits all the right notes for a girls’ weekend. My travel partner and I had a Queen deluxe suite on the 61st floor of the west tower, with a balcony overlooking the dancing Bellagio fountains and much of the Strip. The beds were marshmallow comfy and the en suite bathroom offered both a shower and giant tub (the CO Bigelow toiletries are a cut above the typical soap square). The hotel boasts a full concierge service, three pools, a fitness centre and tennis courts, as well as the Sahra Spa and Hammam, plus a nightclub, shopping mall, many restaurants, bars and, of course, the casino. We ate lunch around the Bamboo pool, enjoying barbecue chicken lettuce wraps as we sipped frozen margaritas. If you’re after a fun atmosphere served with a stylish dash of decadence, The Cosmopolitan is the hotel for you. My tip would be to use the TV check out option in your room, as lobby lines can be long.
The finest of feasts
Everything in Las Vegas is on a large scale, so I sought out an intimate dinner space, and the Bardot Brasserie at The Aria Hotel delivered. Vegas-native Chef Joshua Smith, who has worked in Europe, explained that the design was inspired by The Wolseley Hotel in London. Dark wood, chandeliers and soft-orange lighting add to the classic French ambience. Their artisanal menu is beautifully crafted; we loved the escargots Bardot and duck wings a l’orange appetisers. Sommelier Arthur appeared at the right time to serve up incredible wine pairings; the 2001 Barberani Villa Monticelli Rosso helped the 20oz bone-in rib-eye go down a treat. By the time our melting chocolate macaron dessert arrived I was as full as an oeuf, but what a memorable meal it was.
Roll the dice Craving seafood? Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand is celebrating its 20th year, and offers a twist on Louisiana’s classic Creole cuisine.
What girls’ weekend would be complete without a visit to a spa? The Sahra Spa and Violet Hour Salon, a quiet oasis nestled deep within The Cosmopolitan, was voted the Best of Las Vegas Spa 2015. From the moment you step through the reception area and into the serenity of the spa itself, it’s as if the craziness of Vegas has been stripped away. I was lucky enough to enjoy their outstanding signature massage, which was a much-needed detoxifying delight, and by the time I floated through to the Violet Hour Salon to join my friend for a mani-pedi, I was almost unable to form sentences. We sipped mimosas and afterwards headed back to the spa to enjoy their rainfall Jacuzzi, steam room and cool mist room. It was an exquisite experience.
The ultimate adventure
You can’t get a bigger adventure than a 45-minute helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. It’s 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and a mile deep, and around two thirds of visitors to Vegas make the pilgrimage each year. We booked a private tour with Detours of Nevada, and it was an excellent choice. Our driver James, whom we nicknamed “Indiana James” for his hiking derring-do and knowledge, was fantastic. Be prepared for a long day – we covered almost 600 miles – but with plenty of pitstops, including a lunch pick-up in quaint Williams, it was well paced. I will never forget skimming over the south rim of the Canyon, trying to simultaneously process the sheer scale of the natural wonder before me, and the fact that I was hovering in a chair over a giant hole in the ground. Later, we took photos from viewpoints in the National Park before heading home. It was a nature-busting, connect-to-the-planet kind of day and well worth the early start and road miles.
Roll the dice If the Grand Canyon is too far but you fancy something adventurous, sign up for Dig This Las Vegas and experience the thrill of controlling a full-size hydraulic excavator or bulldozer.
Britney’s big show
Vegas has always been able to attract the world’s biggest entertainers but if this was to be the ultimate girls’ weekend, there was only one show for us, and that was Britney Spears’ Piece of Me residency, at Planet Hollywood. After wending our way through their casino, we treated ourselves to margaritas served in pink frosted souvenir Britney cups (which now sit on my desk at home). The pop princess proved that she could dance her little socks off, sang all of her hits, and got the entire place rocking. It was a lively, high-octane 90-minutes of perfect pop pleasure.
High rolling cocktails
The 550ft tall High Roller, a London Eye-style observation wheel, offers 30-minute rides in one of 28 cabins. We booked a Happy Hour cabin, which included a fully stocked bar and barman, serving cocktails to order. The air conditioned cabin is a convivial mini-party pod, making it a fantastic way to see Las Vegas in all its glory.
Roll the dice At the Rose Rabbit Lie speakeasy at The Cosmopolitan, their Jessica Rabbit-doppleganger lounge singer writhes on a baby grand. My Whiskey Mash cocktail – Redemption Rye muddled with lemon, strawberry and rhubarb – was pure bliss.
• Virgin Atlantic (www.virginatlantic.com, 0844 2092 770) flies daily to Las Vegas from London Gatwick, and offers return Economy fares from £648 per person inc tax. This fare is available for selected departures during 2016 and subject to change.
Rooms at The Cosmopolitan (www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com) start at £195.
Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House, www.emerilsrestaurants.com/emerils-new-orleans-fish-house
Detours of Nevada Grand Canyon tours start at £190. Visit detoursnv.com for more details.
Dig This Las Vegas, www.digthisvegas.com
Britney Spears: Piece of Me, www.caesars.com/planet-hollywood/shows/britney-spears-las-vegas
High Roller, www.caesars.com/linq/high-roller