Las Vegas lights up with whimsical holiday attractions

The beloved polar bear family (made completely of flowers) makes its way back to the Bellagio Conservatory.

I love my city during the holidays. With all the festive displays and activities available both on and off the Las Vegas Strip, it’s no wonder why this time of year is my all-time favorite. From floral polar bears and ice skating on the Strip to elaborate LED light displays and holiday-inspired sculptures, there are just so many things to look forward to this season. Both kids and the kids-at-heart can have a jolly good time.

On the Strip

Gingerbread house, TI

Located in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, TI is getting into the spirit of the season with its gingerbread scene, featuring a ship modeled after Treasure Island’s own pirate ship and Sirens Cove.

The ship, base and décor weigh approximately 40 pounds. The ship itself measures 36 inches long, 15 inches wide and 29 inches tall. Debra Mitchell, TI’s executive pastry chef, and her team spent approximately 40 hours creating the scene.

“We have done so many different shapes or different objects,” she said. “We have ships right in front of the hotel – we wanted to do something with a theme.”

This awesome piece also includes Santa, reindeer and snowmen figures made of marzipan.

Mitchell said while prepping these gingerbread masterpieces was challenging, it was also the most fun.

“I think the planning stages are the most important,” she said. “As carpenters always say, measure twice, cut once. We make stencils, we do blue prints so we don’t go back and repeat work. The fun of it is actually figuring out how to do different shapes. When you make a gingerbread house, it’s just flat walls glued together. The ship is actually curved.”

To make curved shapes, she explained, they take the dough while it’s warm and mold it over a large can.

Her team used an authentic gingerbread house recipe from Austria that dates back more than 100 years. “I love the history of it, how it evolved,” Mitchell said.

All the hard work pays off with positive reviews: “We get a lot of feedback here, great comments and compliments,” she said. “When I go out front to check it, guests always stop me to ask me questions about it and say how nice it was. There was a little boy out there with his grandmother the day I was setting it up. He was so excited, and we took pictures with him. It was really cute. So seeing the public’s reaction  is fun.”

The gingerbread showpiece and all the holiday décor will be on display through the holiday season.

“We love this time of year. This is the time of year we have the most work, but it is a time of year that’s the most fun because we get to do all these different things,” she continued. “It’s something unusual and out of the ordinary.”

The gingerbread ship will be on display next to TI’s registration desk through Christmas.

Bellagio Conservatory

Now through Jan. 5, 2013, the Bellagio Conservatory presents its annual enchanting winter showcase. This is my personal favorite because I get to see my beloved polar bear family, which are made completely of flowers.

The magical winter display features a 45-foot Shasta fir with 13,500 white LED lights and 2,500 ornaments. In addition, the garden also includes oversized toy soldiers, a 6-foot-tall floral holiday card and an ensemble of faux baby penguins surrounding an ice pond. Nearby, the popular topiary polar bears don “flowers” made of more than 35,000 hand-applied white carnations.

In addition, see a gingerbread village, complete with motorized trains. This is a brand new display at the Conservatory. Blending the beautiful holiday sights with seasonal sounds, visitors can listen to live harp music nightly from 5 – 6 p.m. in the week leading up to Christmas Day.

Chocolate Santa at Jean Philippe Pâtisserie

Just next door to the Conservatory, Jean Philippe Pâtisserie at Bellagio has a  display: The talented chefs at Jean Philippe Pâtisserie inside Bellagio took an entire month to create a five-foot-tall chocolate Santa. This Santa is made from 230 pounds of dark chocolate, 50 pounds of fondant and a glistening suit fashioned with sugar icing.

“Santa chocolate sculptures are very traditional in France,” said world-renowned pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury. “The milk chocolate was my favorite.”

At the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie location inside Aria, you’ll get to see a giant, detailed statue of the Grinch crafted entirely out of sugar. Also on display with the Grinch are an array of the chef’s signature celebration cakes.

“As much as we try to be innovative with our chocolate sculptures, we always strive to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our displays,” he said. “It’s all about tradition.

“Our displays are very fragile,” he continued. “The entire team works together to create all the little pieces that are assembled to create the end product. If one piece is broken or misshaped, it has to be redone until it perfectly fits the puzzle.”

While we can’t take home these life-size creations, both locations feature smaller chocolate works of art, such as a classic cherubic Santa or miniature praline Christmas tree (seen right), which make for wonderful gifts.

Fountains of Bellagio

The iconic Fountains of Bellagio get into the spirit with water shows intricately choreographed to time-honored melodies like “Carol of the Bells,” “Santa Baby,” and “Hallelujah Chorus.” During the holidays, the shows run every 30 minutes starting at 3 p.m. (at noon Saturdays and Sundays), and every 15 minutes from 7 p.m. to midnight, daily.

Santa in the Shipwreck

Throughout the month of December at Mandalay Bay Shark Reef,  kids can share their holiday wishes with Mr. Claus in the aquarium’s shipwreck exhibit. With each paid admission, children ages 12 and under receive a complimentary candy cane and a photograph with Santa to remember their unique experience. A very large and toothy character – Santa Jaws – will join the kiddies for a photo. Enjoy Santa in the Shipwreck on Dec. 15 – 16 and  22 – 24 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The exhibition will close at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve.


Speaking of underwater creatures, the Silverton hotel spices up the holiday season by putting Santa Claus in a whole new environment in the resort’s 117,000-gallon aquarium. You’ll get a chance to be creative with your Christmas photos and have some fun. Watch Santa and his elves interact with the kids, as well as 4,000 tropical fish, sharks and stingrays. Santa poses underwater on the weekends of Dec. 15 – 16 and 22 – 23 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Wynn Las Vegas and Encore

From a gingerbread replica of both resorts to dozens of stunning Christmas trees, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore are not to be missed.

The Wynn Las Vegas horticulture team arranged 30 beautifully embellished holiday trees, 10,000 multicolored poinsettias, 33 dazzling wreaths, 2,500 feet of garland, six ornate menorahs and seasonal lighting throughout the property.

More than 5,000 hours went in to the transformation of the most popular photo opportunity location on property, the Wynn atrium. The winter spectacle is comprised of 16 fruit croquembouche trees, 21 mirrored obelisks, thousands of twinkling lights, 120 round floral sculptures made from 50,000 individual flowers and 5,500 rare, vibrant pink and orange poinsettias.

Photo by Alex Karvounis.

Created by Wynn Las Vegas’ award-winning cake artist, Flora Aghababyan, see an elaborate three-foot-tall gingerbread replica of Wynn and Encore.  It includes more than 7,500 gingerbread cookie panels and a colorful, picturesque landscape surrounding the resorts. See it at The Buffet at Wynn.

The Ice Rink at The Cosmopolitan

This season, experience a winter wonderland overlooking the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. The iconic Boulevard Pool at The Cosmopolitan transforms into The Ice Rink now through Jan. 20, 2013.

Enjoy roasting s’mores over fire pits, sip on festive cocktails, munch on fun comfort foods and skate on real ice. Breathtaking views and a playful, luxury atmosphere come together to create a one-of-a-kind original winter retreat.

The Ice Rink will offer “Date Skate Mondays,” where you and your date can enjoy a night out skating while holiday movies play on the hotel’s 65-foot digital marquee. Every Wednesday, groove to live DJ-spun music. And finally, “Throwback Thursdays” gives you the chance to pack your bright coats and leg warmers as you skate the night away to music from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Seal scooters are available to rent for $5. You can either push it to help with your balance or sit and enjoy the ride.

Winter in Venice

There are plenty of things to do on the Las Vegas Strip, but an outdoor winter wonderland, complete with an ice skating rink, festive entertainment and displays, is an all-around winter adventure.

Now through Jan. 6, 2013, The Venetian and The Palazzo feature their second annual Winter in Venice. See a nightly parade, tree-lighting shows, the new 3-D light projection show and much more.

Surrounded by snowflakes, holiday lights strung overhead and a 65-foot LED holiday tree sitting atop the Doge’s Palace fountain, the front of The Venetian includes entertainment like strolling candy cane stilt walkers, puppets, jugglers and magicians. Carolers and gondoliers singing holiday classics set the tone.

An outdoor ice skating rink adds even more holiday spirit to the Strip. Located above the hotel’s outdoor Grand Canal, skaters of all ages can glide around the rink and enjoy views of the gondolas. If you come here at nighttime, you’re in for a treat: Adding to the experience, more than 2,000 lights dazzle over the ice skating rink.

Just next door, the waterfall gardens at The Palazzo present an elaborate display by the resort’s award-winning horticulture team. See ice branches and a 20-foot frosted birch, pine and glittering trees as well as waterfall and crystal “ice” ponds. Majestic hand-crafted white and pearl peacock statues will overlook guests. The winter gardens also feature red beaded ornaments, pinecones and fresh poinsettias.

Crystals at CityCenter

‘Tis the season to not only shop at Crystals at CityCenter, but also to admire the festive displays and enjoy free entertainment.

Produced by Missy Cochran Entertainment, funky jazz trio The Hornzmen perform every Friday and Saturday from 1 – 5 p.m. until Dec. 29. Listen to soulful hits made popular by Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire and Michael Bublé.

Delight in the seasonal décor through the middle of January. Traditionally ornamented holiday trees and sparkling LED trees fill the air with holiday cheer. Poinsettias and festive flora outline the holiday flower carpet while crimson and silver decorations float overhead.

Stella McCartney, Ermenegildo Zegna, Donna Karan and Fendi will entice and entertain guests with their most fashionable designs on rotating exhibits each Sunday – Thursday on Crystals main stage.

Designer presentations include:

  • Dec. 13 – Stella McCartney
  • Dec. 16 – 20 – Ermenegildo Zegna
  • Dec. 23 – 27 – Donna Karan
  • Dec. 29 – Jan. 6 – Fendi

Off the Strip

Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Gardens

Through Jan. 1, 2013, Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Garden presents its popular sparkling holiday spectacular. See more than half a million colorful lights as you stroll through the three-acre outdoor garden. To intensify your experience even more, you can purchase 3-D glasses at the gift shop.

“The holiday cactus garden is something we look forward to sharing with the community each year,” said Jessica Ruttman, marketing manager at Ethel M Chocolate Factory. “There is just nothing else like it. We genuinely try to create a wonderful, free holiday destination, and we think the community appreciates that. We have elements that appeal to young, old and everything in between.”

In addition to the illuminating display, the attraction features other seasonal elements. These include seasonal inflatable characters and decorations, as well as singing by local choirs, Santa photos, chocolate samples and more. Hot chocolate is $4.95 and all proceeds go to charity. Enjoy the cactus light display from 5 – 10 p.m. nightly. Admission is free and open to the public.

Shopping for your fellow chocoholic friends? Holiday chocolates and treats are available in the shop. Choose several boxed collections, gift baskets or select your favorites like Ethel M’s holiday treat, peppermint bark.

“We keep the retail shop open for extended hours during the holidays,” she said. “Guests are [also] invited to take a look at how  chocolates are made, sample chocolates and peruse the many holiday gift options. It is fun for the whole family.”

Mystic Falls/Sunset Stampede

Through Dec. 23, the pioneer-themed Sunset Stampede at Mystic Falls Park in Sam’s Town transforms into a winter wonderland experience, complete with Cowboy Santa, polar bears and laser lights.

During the holiday season, Mystic Falls boasts festive garland streams, snow-covered lampposts and more than 50 glimmering trees adorned in lights. Watch snow float from above as light images and shooting water are choreographed to traditional holiday music. Themed visuals include poinsettias, red garland and ice crystals, while the main fountain hosts an elaborate ice sculpture. Lighted polar bear sculptures add to the magical winter scenery.

Sam’s Town will also host a 15-minute laser light show every hour from 5 – 10 p.m. through Jan. 1., 2013. And through Dec. 23, Cowboy Santa will appear every Thursday and Friday from 4 – 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.

Glittering Lights at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Ready, get set, go! Glittering Lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the state’s largest drive-through Christmas light show featuring millions of LED lights and hundreds of sparkling light displays.

Back for its 13th season (and third year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), you’ll see more than 1 million lights along a 2.5-mile course. In addition to being the largest light tunnel in the world, Glittering Lights also features attractions such as the Avenue of Trees and a NASCAR scene.

Glittering Lights is open nightly through Jan. 6, 2013, Monday through Thursday from 5:30 – 9 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 5:30 – 10 p.m.

The Santa Train at the Nevada State Railroad Museum

If you’re in the southern part of town (or plan on visiting the nearby Hoover Dam), make sure to climb aboard the Santa Train at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. On Dec. 15 – 16 and 22 – 23, take a ride with Santa and Mrs. Claus in one of the five passenger cars. Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance. While waiting, take pictures in Santa’s sleigh, mail letters to Santa, see model train displays and enjoy the permanent exhibits. For more information about tickets, visit here.


Most folks take their Vegas jackpot winnings back home, but my dad decided to stay here instead. That’s how I left Seattle almost 20 years ago. I moved from greenery and rainy days to hot summers, palm trees and desert. As much as I love my hometown, I decided to stick around Vegas. This city just has so much to offer. You don’t even have to be a gambler, bar hopper or an all-night partier. I love Vegas for its awesome vegan-friendly spots, concerts, swanky hotel suites and spas so big, they’re like castles. The pool scene is not too shabby either, which is why I love taking stay-cations. Besides living it up -- Vegas style -- I’m hanging out with my handsome hubby, adorable baby girl, two cats and super-fluffy Shih-Tzu. I’m also a huge fan of '90s music, shows and movies. You can find me on Google+ and Twitter.