Cultural Las Vegas

Lisa Taggart

Saturday dawned sunny and clear. We breakfasted on pastries and coffee from the hotel's Il Fornaio Panetteria ($5) and used a coupon we'd received at check-in to get free biscotti.

Most summer days in Las Vegas you want to stay indoors, so we boarded a free shuttle to our first stop, the Elvis-A-Rama Museum, stocked with Elvis's cars, jumpsuits, and even handwritten letters. In front of the small stage's gold lamé curtain, a young Elvis swiveled and crooned "Love Me Tender." The performance wasn't as grand as an evening show, but it was as goofy and fun. And it was definitely worth it for $9.95 each. Back on the Strip, we headed to the MGM Grand, where we visited another kind of king―a pair of big cats at the casino's Lion Habitat.

It was really hot by then, and we needed to cool off. We took moving walkways and a free monorail all the way down the Strip to swanky Rumjungle, at Mandalay Bay. A wall of water and fire at the entrance kept the interior dark and cool. Dinners here can cost a lot, but from 12 to 4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, inexpensive grilled sandwiches are available in the bar. We lounged in the rustic leather barstools and were cooled by the sound of rushing water. Tab for two sandwiches, $18.

Shuttling northagain, we journeyed to Desert Passage, the mall between the Aladdin and Paris casinos. Though the shopping center has many familiar upscale boutiques, it also has roving performers inspired by the ancient spice trade route. We watched a man fold himself into a tiny box and bedecked belly dancers spin and swivel marvelously (free).

Across the street, Bellagio's Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (free) was a lush and sweet-scented retreat. We walked past the lobby's colorful glass flower chandeliers sculpted by Dale Chihuly and into the conservatory's collection of live roses and chrysanthemums―hundreds of them in an airy greenhouse. They were swirled into patterns and shaped into butterflies. A bride was being photographed on the stairway.

Dusk was settling over the neon city when we emerged, refreshed. We were just in time for the best free spectacle of them all―the fountains at Bellagio. As Luciano Pavarotti's aria soared, a thousand lighted fountains exploded and cascaded perfectly on cue. They were surprisingly expressive as they misted, fizzed, and arced over a reflecting pool.

Dinner was tasty Mexican food with a South American influence at the Venetian's Taqueria Cañonita. Pork tamales, tacos with molé, and black beans cost us $32. As we ate, a passing gondolier serenaded his passengers.

We'd been impressed with Bellagio, so we returned for nightcaps and jazz at the Allegro Jazz Lounge. It was elegant and indulgent, all for $15.