It's beginning to look a lot like Vegas: A ton of molten chocolate cascades down a crystalline, three-story fountain at the Jean-Philippe Patisserie. Crowds flock to the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas to see more than a thousand teddy bears in a holiday version of the hotel's presidential suite. And at the Bellagio Conservatory, there are bears too ― towering floral polar bears ― as well as poinsettias, of course, and a very large Christmas tree.
Holidays in Vegas? Sounds like a second-tier Elvis film. But Las Vegas is a first-class December destination, thanks to its shopping choices and holiday attractions.
While December visitorship has increased in recent years, once the National Finals Rodeo ends (it runs from November 30 to December 9), this is the quietest time of the year along the Strip. Some of the big shows go on hiatus, but hotel prices fall and restaurant reservations are easier to come by.
For visitors who take advantage of cabs and the Las Vegas Monorail, the Strip serves as a convenient linear downtown. Its collection of high-end retailers can rival that of just about any city, and along with selection comes Vegas-style spectacle. Several major hotels have architecturally themed shopping centers, the grandest of which is the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.
For the most part, Strip hotels and stores employ the high-production values you would expect from Vegas while avoiding garish Christmas camp. The display at Bellagio's conservatory is pure holiday magic, while the tree of lights topped by a red star under the Paris Hotel's Arc de Triomphe creates a holiday streetscape that, combined with the desert's chill early-winter air, becomes surprisingly convincing.
After a day of shopping, head over to Napoleon's Lounge at the Paris and toast the holiday season. Napoleon's sits inside the hotel on a decidedly fake Parisian street. But after a few minutes at the champagne bar with its curving windows, mirrored bar, and the plush chairs and sofas, illusion trumps skepticism. It certainly doesn't feel like Vegas ― but then again, it couldn't be anywhere else.
Info: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (www.visitlasvegas.com or 877/847-4858).
What to do
Bellagio's Conservatory & Botanical Gardens. One of the finest holiday displays you'll see anywhere. Free; at Bellagio Las Vegas (see below); 702/693-7111.
Teddy Bear Fantasy Suite. So over-the-top that even a Grinch will crack a smile. Dec 9-23; free; at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas (see below).
Where to shop
55 Degrees Wine + Design. Sleek decor and a diverse international selection of wines. In Mandalay Place (see below); 702/632-9355.
The Forum Shops At Caesars. At Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/893-4800.
Jean-Philippe Patisserie. Check out the chocolate fountain and indulge your holiday sweet tooth. In Bellagio Las Vegas (see below); 702/693-7111.
Mandalay Place. Less grand than some Vegas shopping collections but with a more interesting retail mix. At Mandalay Bay Resort, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/632-7777.
Where to eat
Burger Bar. Gourmet burgers make a perfect break from holiday shopping. $$$; in Mandalay Place (see above); 702/632-9364.
Napoleon's Lounge. Toast the holidays at this champagne bar. In Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/946-7000.
Where to stay
Bellagio Las Vegas: Maybe the classiest of the Vegas mega-hotels, and especially exuberant during the holidays. From $159; 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 888/987-6667.
Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas: Sophisticated and subdued, it offers both easy access to and escape from the Vegas scene. From $245; 3960 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/632-5000.