It was the year of the redo for Las Vegas, and thus Best Bets 2016 pays tribute to some impressively refreshed and renewed products.
The "Moon" ceiling scuplture at Mr. Chow in Caesars Palace, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
Best Timeless Resort: Caesars Palace
Turning 50 in Las Vegas, a city that thrives on novelty, is an accomplishment in itself. But Caesars Palace's 50th anniversary renaissance has demonstrated a renewed relevance for the legendary resort. From the flashy, buzzed-about restaurant Mr. Chow to the Montecristo Cigar Bar; from the new Julius Tower to the luxe Anthology Suites; from the luscious Beijing No. 9 Noodle eatery to Omnia nightclub, there's something for everyone at Caesars, which incredibly still holds the cachet it had when it opened.
The Aria Tower Suites concierge lounge.
Best New Suite Experience: Aria Tower Suites
With the introduction of the Aria Tower Suites, MGM Resorts' intent was to create an experience around the main tower's existing suite product. Most Tower Suite categories include roundtrip airport transfers, a curbside meet-and-greet, premium room amenities and snacks and drinks available in a dedicated concierge lounge. For treatment that was once reserved for invited casino guests, we can now all live like VIPs with rates starting under $400 per night.
Topgolf opened May 19 as the company's flagship location.
Best New Attraction: Topgolf
Imagine a driving range pumped up on Vegas-strength steroids, then scale that vision up four levels high while adding creature comforts and cutting-edge technology. That's Topgolf. Featuring 108 climate-controlled hitting bays, this stadium-size facility built on the old MGM Grand amusement park lot offers an impressive, only-in-Vegas mix of RFID ball-tracking, two pools, a concert space, five lounges and a chef-driven menu.
A steak sandwich at Ruth's Chris Steak House Vegas.
Best Happy Hour Meal Deal: Ruth's Chris Steak House
Aside from inexpensive drinks, chowing down on satisfying amounts of good, low-cost food has historically been an inalienable happy-hour right, and the deals at Ruth's Chris Steak House at Harrah's (Mondays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.) pay homage to that nostalgic ideal and our carnivorous roots. The prime burger and steak sandwich, both meal-size and served with fries, are a bargain at $12 each and a hearty fill-up inside the classy lounge overlooking the Strip.
"Le Reve — The Dream" at the Wynn was enhanced with its new Denouement act. Photo Credit: Tomasz Rossa
Best Show Upgrade: 'Le Reve — The Dream'
It's not easy swimming upstream against Strip entertainment juggernaut Cirque du Soleil.
But "Le Reve — The Dream" at Wynn Las Vegas has consistently matched up well against its primary competitor's offerings. Minor tweaks and a showroom reconfiguration have helped over the years, but the new Denouement act, featuring dreamlike ballroom-dance sequences, enhanced with water, fire and projection technology, gives this already-sensational aquatics production a shot of adrenaline.
Warm octopus salad is one of the small plates offered at the rebranded Rivea restaurant. Photo Credit: Pierre Monetta
Best New Restaurant: Rivea
Not long after TheHotel at Mandalay Bay was rebranded as the sleek-and-stylish Delano, its 64th-floor Mix Restaurant became Rivea. And with acclaimed French chef Alain Ducasse at the helm, the casual eatery's light and innovative Mediterranean menu impresses with reasonably priced small plates such as warm octopus salad, chickpea fries and the chef's signature limoncello baba dessert. Paired with jaw-dropping views from the venue's patio, the entire experience is a literal and figurative breath of fresh air.
A king guestroom in the Valley Tower at Harrah's provides one of the Strip's best hotel values. Photo Credit: Claudio Rangel
Best Room Value, Center Strip: Harrah's
Conventional wisdom holds that U.S. hotel rooms represent the world's best price-to-value hospitality ratio, but I'll attach my own corollary to that theorem: Las Vegas' accommodations are by far this country's best hotel value, with the new Valley Tower rooms at Harrah's a prime example. Featuring 300 square feet of cream-colored decor accented with gray and purple, these rich-feeling, modern quarters start as low as $100 (including resort fees) for midweek stays.
The Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino still offers 3-to-2 payoffs for hitting a natural blackjack.
Best Casino for Blackjack: Downtown Grand
Since time immemorial in Vegas, the seemingly normal payoff for a natural blackjack (an ace and a 10-card) was always 3-to-2. In a stealthy sea change, however, most Strip casinos have instituted a 6-to-5 payoff, thus increasing the house edge. But the 3-year-old Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino, on the site of the beloved Lady Luck, proudly features the legacy payoff on all its tables, including those with a $5 minimum. Throwing in a pleasant ambience created by high ceilings and good ventilation makes it an unbeatable combo for players.
Bellagio's Lago patio.
Best Sunday Brunch Value: Lago
Bargains and Bellagio aren't typically synonymous, but the Sunday brunch at Lago is a little-known value proposition that can't be beat. The elegant, three-course affair starts with a choice of starter (I like the duck and polenta), moves onto mains (the eggplant Parmesan Benedict is a winner) and finishes with a flourish: an unlimited dessert array that includes a chocolate fountain. At $38 per person, it's a luxury for the everyman at one of the Strip's top resorts.
"Mystere" at Treasure Island is the first Cirque du Soleil show to open on the Strip. Photo Credit: Richard Termine
Best Legacy Show: 'Mystere'
Not many Vegas shows can boast a 20-plus year history, especially now that the iconic showgirl production, "Jubilee," has closed. As the first Cirque du Soleil show to open on the Strip, "Mystere" at Treasure Island has always combined the best of the company's core values while paying tribute to its street-circus roots. Although the show has evolved over the years, it remains a defining example of Cirque's formative vision with awe-inspiring acrobatics, novel comedy and beautiful music.