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Las Vegas: High Rolling in the Nevada Desert

Glamour is back at Nevada's neon oasis. A few years ago, Las Vegas seemed hell-bent on erasing its old Sin City reputation, reinventing itself as a kid-friendly destination for visitors more attuned to the Rugrats than the Rat Pack. Luckily though, turning Vegas into Disneyland with slots never quite happened. Now, new luxury casino resorts have upped the fantasy level for adventurous adults, bringing in celebrity chefs, chic cocktail bars, and big-city amenities on a grand scale. Suddenly, Vegas is brasher, sexier, and brighter than ever.

One would never think Las Vegas as the quintessential romantic destination-it's hard to imagine having an amorous encounter in a city where the lights are visible from space. But this city is nevertheless one of the tops for wooing. The dramatic Spring Mountains backdrop the city in majestic splendor, themed-resorts and shopping meccas exude sophistication, and the most elegant dining attracts the down-at-heel and well-heeled visitor alike.

But know that Vegas is different. An evening out in most cities commences with dinner, followed by a show or film, and a cocktail to cap off the night. The various permutations on this theme are limitless in Las Vegas. Tickets to the Cirque Mystere show might come first, a raucous night at Rain in The Palms might follow, dinner could actually turn into breakfast, and-depending on the number of highballs-a sunrise trip to the altar might finish things up. The point is: A trip to Vegas is a trip to something extraordinary.

Even if you're not planning on tying the knot at the 24-hour Elvis Chapel, you can still take a gondola ride or share a kiss at the top of the Eiffel Tower, thanks to the new European-themed hotels like The Venetian (3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S) and Paris Las Vegas. A late-night stroll across The Venetian's promenade overlooking the Rialto Bridge should put any couple in a honeymoon mood, especially with over 3,000 lavishly appointed rooms (including specialty suites with private pools and gardens) just steps away. The Bellagio, which began the luxury Euro-craze, is designed like an enormous Tuscan villa, with hundreds of fountains sparkling in the desert sun. Watch the lights-and-music water show (which repeats every half hour), then duck inside to the pint-sized Café Gelato, which scoops luscious Italian ice cream until midnight.

For something a little more sumptuous, there's a lot more to splurge on than the traditional surf-and-turf buffets. Dozens of star chefs are making this desert city their second home, opening restaurants with cuisine, décor, service, and culinary prowess to match the best of New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

For high-end seafood, there's the Californian/Mediterranean Michael Mina at the Bellagio, helmed by namesake San Francisco powerhouse Michael Mina. Consider dining at Nobu - a deluxe sushi restaurant run by Nobu Matsuhisa, who also runs New York City's famed Nobu and Matsuhisa in L.A. and Aspen.

Also at the Bellagio, Julian Serrano, who made his name at Masa's in San Francisco, now heads the kitchen at the lavish Picasso decorated with original paintings by the master.

Don't be fooled by the Italian décor of the new Venezia Tower at the Venetian-inside is Bouchon, a Paris-perfect bistro complete with raw oyster bar, classic French dishes, and a wonderful wine list.

With the strolling musicians alongside the "Grand Canal" at the Venetian, the fountains at the Bellagio, and Treasure Island's recently juiced-up "Sirens at TI" show, just strolling the Strip can be entertainment enough. But for sheer virtuosity and over-the-top gorgeousness, nothing beats Cirque du Soleil's spectacles. The company currently has four shows running at various casino resorts throughout the city. And given Vegas' tourist trappings, it's easy to locate info on Cirque du Soleil shows, as well as an array of other world-famous Vegas nightlife, from show girls to crooners to Elvis imitators. Just check with your hotel concierge.

Cap off your trip and revel in the spectacle of the city itself with a bird's-eye perch in a helicopter ride over the brilliant lights. You'll look down at the city you conquered, turn to your partner and share the same thought: You've got a few more hours left before checkout.
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