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We do another barrel roll and my stomach drops—and then it keeps dropping and I lose my breakfast. No, this isn’t a barrel roll like we did in PE class as kids, but rather a barrel roll through the skies above Las Vegas in an aerobatic plane with Sky Combat Ace. What’s more, I’m the pilot.
“We’ve got airsickness, so we’re heading back,” my copilot, Whip, radios to the air traffic control tower.
“No, no, let’s go again,” I tell Whip as I take the controls and lead us into another barrel roll. In a city that’s all about pushing the limits, I’ve pushed mine to the brink and then some…but still crave more.
My most recent trip to Las Vegas marked 10 years since my first visit, then a 21-year-old bachelor arriving at Mandalay Bay with my entire family. Now I’m pulling up yet again at Mandalay Bay as a bachelor, but with my buddy (and Las Vegas expert) Matt Villano, author of Fodor’s Las Vegas, for one of our biannual Vegas trips. Like every other time since the first, our goal is to up the ante and discover more of the Vegas beyond the strip clubs, casinos, and yard-long margaritas.
Getting There | Multiple airlines, like Southwest, offer direct flights several times a day from Nashville to Las Vegas.
I checked into the Delano Las Vegas, the 64-level tower at the Mandalay Bay Resort Complex. Formerly Thehotel, the Delano has been renovated and rebranded, opening last September. I wanted to sprawl out in the spacious suite (which average 725 square feet here, among the biggest in town), but I was starving…and the Strip waits for no man. I, however, had to wait for Matt to arrive. To kill time, I headed straight for Mandalay Bay’s Citizens Kitchen & Bar, which serves up comfort food 24 hours a day . The mac and cheese topped with ham hocks was calling out to my Southern roots. The gym, clearly, could wait.
Up next was a pit stop at the recently opened Double Barrel Roadhouse, located at the Monte Carlo, where country music from the Western-industrial-style roadhouse was seeping out onto the Strip. Lucky for me it was happy hour, which they offer daily from 2 to 5 p.m. (and also from 9 to 11 p.m. on Thursdays) on numerous food items, draft beer, wine, well cocktails, and specialty cocktails. I ordered The Watermelon Crawl, consisting of tequila, watermelon liqueur, cilantro, and lime—this is a country Western bar, after all.
I continued onto the sprawling CityCenter and bellied up to the bar at Javier’s, an upscale cantina at Aria casino. But I was most interested in the margarita menu. That’s right: an entire cocktail menu of margaritas, from the typical house version to more unique varieties, such as spicy jalapeño, which I ordered to wash down a plate of lobster enchiladas.
By this time, Matt had arrived, so we rendezvoused at The LINQ, a new open-air promenade beside the Flamingo. Like CityCenter, it’s a destination in and of itself. We began with cocktails at BLVD. Cocktail Company followed by a couple sets of bowling at Brooklyn Bowl, where The Roots were about to take the stage right behind us. Our final act at The LINQ was a ride on the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel, standing at 550 feet above the Strip. And with that, it was time for me to call it a night…right after grabbing a cupcake from the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM on our way out of The LINQ, of course.
The next morning, breakfast at the Delano was a grab-and-go situation—I’d been instructed to eat something light before taking flight with Sky Combat Ace. The day’s theme was all about outdoor experiences you can’t do elsewhere, beginning with flying an aerobatic plane over Las Vegas. In this case, the phrase “once in a lifetime” was completely applicable.
I may have lost my breakfast, but it didn’t stop me from devouring one of my most highly anticipated meals later. Matt and I met up at The Cromwell for bites at the acclaimed Giada, the first restaurant by Emmy-winning celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis, whom we actually saw in the flesh since she’s there most days of the week. We settled for lunch, as Giada is booked for dinner weeks in advance, and spared no expense. We sampled a little bit of everything, and I wouldn’t have turned down a second muffuletta or lobster roll.
The rest of the evening had us continuing farther north up the Strip, all the way to downtown Las Vegas. We meandered through the Neon Museum Boneyard, a collection of some of the city’s most renowned signs that date back to the 1930s. Next, we detoured around the infamous Fremont Street Experience, aka Glitter Gulch, for Fremont East, the new side of downtown Las Vegas that has brought revitalization to what was the original town and gambling district of Vegas. Downtown Container Park, one of the many new projects funded by the Downtown Project (led by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh), is made up of repurposed shipping containers that have been converted to restaurants, bars, and shops. We strolled through the park, stopping into Bin 702 for cocktails, many of which are half the price of drinks on the Strip.
By now it was time for our dinner reservation at Joe Vicari's Andiamo Italian Steakhouse. We ate our fill of succulent steak, and I didn’t pass on the lobster risotto, either. (Have I mentioned that I like lobster?) Following dinner, we popped into the newly renovated Gold Spike, a former hotel and casino that is now something of an indoor-outdoor playground. Matt and I partook in adult-sized versions of some of our favorite childhood games, including Jenga, Connect Four, and cornhole.
Just a block away from Gold Spike, Banger Brewing was next on our mini tour, and we had beer tastings at downtown Las Vegas’ first brewery. After losing a bet to Matt at the D Casino Hotel’s classic coin-operated electro-mechanical horse race game Sigma Derby, I took to the air for the second time that day, ziplining over Fremont Street via SlotZilla.
Needing a little sustenance, we grabbed a slice at Pizza Rock, owned by World Pizza Cup champion Tony Gemignani. The clock struck midnight, but it’s Vegas, and the night was still young. So we headed to craft cocktail bar Commonwealth, walked to the back, and stood by the wall until someone let us into the secret entrance of The Laundry Room, a speakeasy that we’d had to text earlier in the weekend to get a reservation. We each ordered a cocktail, and after the house pianist asked for requests, we ended the night singing Sesame Street songs with the entire bar.
The next morning, Matt and I shared a cab to the airport but took the long way around, asking our cabbie to swing by Jet Tila’s new Kuma Snow Cream, which combines the flavor of ice cream with the consistency of snow cream. As I sat in the back of the cab, noshing on a cup of snow cream, I realized that Las Vegas is less of Sin City and more of a modern-day Tomorrowland, where anything—and everything—is possible.
By Spencer Spellman