Ultimate desert road trip

How one couple did Vegas, Death Valley, and Palm Springs in a week ― and made it swing, baby

O by Cirque du Soleil
Photo: Lisa Romerein

There are only a few things you have to do on a romantic getaway to Las Vegas: Get in some serious lounging-by-the-pool time, spend a night at a club or two, and enjoy an evening with a big dinner and a big show. Throw in a some shopping, gambling, and, yes, a little Vegas cheesiness, and it's mission accomplished.

We waste no time getting to the pool, where Red cheekily asks a neighboring Italian, resplendent in long sideburns and tattoos, how the Venetian holds up to the real thing. "You know, it's like New York New York is to New York," he says. "Italians might say, Why come here when we have Venice three hours from where we live? But it's the service," he says, then pauses, searching for the right words. "Las Vegas is fun, and then―stop," he adds, and laughs. The Venetian towers above us, its windows reflecting the drifting clouds so perfectly it seems we're looking through a giant façade to the sky beyond.

Item number two on our list takes some work. Finding the right nightclub in what's such an ephemeral scene gives you about the same odds as roulette. We're on the money with Treasure Island's Tangerine Lounge & Nightclub, which, we learn, follows the current Vegas dance club mode: Cordon off a lounge with a huge stylish curtain, pump up the music, and place a couple of dark-suited bouncers at the head of the line to jettison the rubes in white sneakers. Tangerine features more cute navels than a Riverside orange grove and offers a great view of the Sirens of TI show out front in the hotel's cove (which is sort of a good thing).

The next morning we make amends for our late night with a workout and a healthy breakfast at the cafe in the full-featured Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian. We wander the Strip for a few hours, indulging at the Bellagio's Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie chocolate shop and enjoying a nature break in the conservatory.

And then we head back to our hotel for, yes, a gondola ride. "I can't believe we're doing this," Red says as we get in line behind three women from Minnesota who are on a "husband break."

The Venetian has outdoor gondolas, which are okay if you just want some fresh air. But the ride through the resort's shopping district, a Disneyish version of Venice, is the way to go. Our gondolier is Francesca, born on the Adriatic coast of Italy, raised in Southern California. She encourages us to cuddle, noting that kissing under every bridge brings luck. "Just no make-a babies," she warns. By the time we've glided under the first bridge and begun our search for good fortune, Red, snuggling into my side, is clearly in a Venice state of mind. Francesca, in a deep, rich voice, serenades us in Italian. After she's done, she translates for us: "Above all that is precious, there is you."

"That's true, isn't it, honey?" Red asks with a smile.

"Of course," I reply.

"Now that's amore!" Francesca gushes.

We're feeling the Snap.

Before our dinner and show, we join a dozen others at the Venetian's Pit 2 for a craps lesson, and Randy―former dealer, now pit supervisor, and official throwback to classic Vegas―fruns us through the basics in his tough but good-hearted way. We learn to pick up the dice with one hand and one hand only, always keeping them over the green and in plain view of the camera. We learn that it's a check, not a chip, when rolling a seven's a good thing, and when it becomes a bad thing. And he imparts some wisdom that seems to have resonance beyond the craps table. "If the dealer puts money in front of you," he admonishes, "pick it up."

Fresh graduates of Randy's school of craps, we find a table with room for players and plunk down 40 bucks. I learn, quite soon, that I'm bad luck, a cooler. We plunk down another 60 bucks. And we ride it out for a good hour, conservatively milking our tiny stash as it grows and shrinks, watching others walk away after losing hundreds of dollars. But in the end we're down to one 5-buck check on a $10-minimum table. We leave it for the dealer and thank him for a good time.

Dinner is at Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys. It's one of the newer examples of the "chefs gone wild" trend in Vegas. There's a prix fixe menu, so, aside from the pan-seared scallops to start, I leave it to the kitchen, and the meal becomes a journey itself.

The show is O by Cirque du Soleil, at the Bellagio. Like the group's other shows, it combines grand theater design, wizardly stagecraft, and amazing acrobatic performances―all taking place in, around, and above a mesmerizing indoor sea. Despite all the flash in Las Vegas, O is the one place we experience true wonder.



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