Sure, New York City is home to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza, the Rockettes and, well, snow, but that doesn’t mean it has a monopoly on holiday magic. In fact, with a little planning, a trip to Las Vegas during Christmastime can be every bit as enchanting as a cross-country trek to Manhattan.
For those on a tight budget after all that holiday shopping, Las Vegas offers plenty of free or low-cost holiday attractions the whole family can enjoy. One of the city’s most popular free attractions is the annual holiday display at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens (www.bellagio.com). On exhibit from Dec. 5 through Jan. 3, this year’s breathtaking display features, among other things, a 42-foot-tall tree from Mount Shasta as its centerpiece, and a family of polar bears with coats made of thousands of white carnations. While you’re there, be sure to stop by the Fountains of Bellagio, which will be dancing to the tune of eight seasonal songs through New Year’s Eve.
The Venetian and the Palazzo are getting into the holiday spirit this year with their 49-day “Winter in Venice” event (www.venetian.com). The biggest holiday celebration of its kind on the Strip, the festivities include ice skating on the outdoor portion of the Venetian’s Grand Canal and an hourly tree-lighting ceremony. Carolers will be strolling around singing holiday classics, and Venetian gondoliers will trade in their traditional wardrobe for scarves and pea coats.
On display through Dec. 25, the Four Seasons’ 13th Annual Holiday Village features 20 gingerbread buildings and a life-size working carousel. Created by Four Seasons’ Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Luc Daul and his talented pastry team, the attraction was designed to resemble a quaint village in Daul’s native Alsace, France, at Christmastime. It took more than 90 pounds of chocolate, 350 pounds of sugar and 180 pounds of flour to complete.
If you think tasty gingerbread houses might be too tempting for the little ones, swim on by Shark Reef Aquarium inside Mandalay Bay instead (www.sharkreef.com). With each paid admission Dec. 21 through 24, kids can share their last-minute wishes with Santa at the aquarium’s shipwreck exhibit from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., then take pictures with St. Nick’s toothy holiday helper, Santa Jaws.
For those willing to venture off-Strip, Springs Preserve’s annual Holiday Spectacular (www.springspreserve.org) takes place Dec. 3, 4, 10, 11 and 17 through 23 from 5 to 9 p.m. Guests can take in the spectacularly well-lit (and family-friendly) winter wonderland while decorating cookies, getting their photo taken with Santa, taking a ride on a “reindeer” (read: pony) and enjoying live entertainment.
For even more twinkling décor, head on over to Ethel M Chocolates’ Annual Holiday Cactus Garden (www.ethelm.com), which features more than 500,000 sparkly lights. Open 5 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 1 (excluding Christmas Day), the illuminated three-acre botanical cactus garden is the perfect place to take in the sights, smells and sounds of the holiday season, complete with local school choirs performing holiday favorites every Friday and Saturday night through Dec. 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. Santa will even make a special appearance on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 5 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 23.
If you’re headed downtown, there will be a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on Fremont Street Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. under the Viva Vision canopy and, in honor of Hanukkah, a Menorah-lighting ceremony on Dec. 20 at 4 p.m. Guests can also enjoy the free holiday-themed show “Candy & The Canes,” performing select nights through Dec. 27 (www.vegasexperience.com).
As for New Year’s Eve, several Strip resorts will once again put on lavish fireworks displays, including MGM Grand, Aria and the Stratosphere. For the best vantage point, be sure to reserve your spot at one of the Stratosphere’s many New Year’s Eve parties (www.stratospherenewyears.com), all of which offer a 360-degree view of the Las Vegas Valley.
Another happening New Year’s spot can be found downtown, where the Fremont Street Experience will be hosting its 4th Annual TributePalooza from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (www.vegasexperience.com). Featuring live music, a 2011 year-in-review retrospective on the Viva Vision screen and an epic fireworks display synchronized with virtual fireworks on Viva Vision, the popular street party is part of the citywide celebration titled “America’s Party: Las Vegas New Year 2012.”
Looking for a rowdier time? The Vegas club scene will be in full swing on New Year's Eve:
Countdown to midnight with chart-topping artist Chris Brown as he dances his way into 2012 at PURE Nightclub inside Caesars Palace Saturday, December 31. The hip-hop heartthrob will throw an unforgettable New Year’s Eve gala that will have partygoers on their feet.
VIP tables are available for purchase, starting at $1,500. Pre-sale tickets begin at $150. For reservations, visit www.AMGnewyears.com or call (702) 731-7873. Doors open at 8 p.m. Guests must be 21 years of age or older.
Ring in the New Year with GRAMMY® Award-winning hip-hop artist B.o.B as he rocks LAX Nightclub inside Luxor Hotel and Casino with the hottest New Year’s Eve celebration ever to hit The Strip Saturday, December 31. The rapper, singer-songwriter and record producer will lead the countdown to midnight at the luxurious mega-club and take over the main stage with a live performance.
VIP tables are available for purchase, starting at $1,500. For reservations, please visit www.AMGnewyears.com or call (702) 262-4529. Doors open at 8 p.m. Guests must be 21 years of age or older.
Kick off New Year’s Eve weekend with Octagon Girl Arianny Celeste as she hosts an unforgettable evening at ROK Vegas Friday, December 30. But the end-of-the-year celebrations don’t stop there as ROK Vegas welcomes guest DJs- The Captains of Industry- to rock the turntables and show off their skills while spinning famed risqué mixes well into 2012 on Saturday, December 31.
For reservations, call 702.740.6745.
Commence this New Year’s Eve with an A-list feast at Social House inside Crystals at CityCenter. Guests are welcome to indulge in the delectable Pan-Asian cuisine, impeccable sake, unrivaled décor and exuberant vibe serving as the perfect location to gather with family and friends. Executive Chef Peter Woo’s menu is a masterpiece including a mouth-watering seven-course meal along with unlimited sake and champagne. Guests are encouraged to fully immerse themselves and ring in the New Year with the Social House motto “Sushi, Sake, Socialize.”
Social House will be open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, December 31. Guests can receive this all- inclusive holiday dinner for the remarkable price of $125, tax and gratuity included. For reservations, call 702.736.1122.