Las Vegas is probably the last place you’d expect to have the holiday spirit. After all, palm trees, the wild nightlife scene and gambling don’t exactly say Christmas.
But believe it or not, Vegas holds as much holiday spirit — if not more — than cities with a colder, snowier climate. From festive shows to breathtaking garden displays, you’ll forget you’re spending the season in the desert.
Merry in Concert
“Legends in Concert” inside Harrah’s is sure to get you in the spirit with a holiday tribute performing now through Dec. 25.
“I think when [guests] come see the show, it gets them more in the holiday spirit,” said Carrie Underwood tribute artist, Sara Hickey. “You’ve got all the Christmas decorations up, the stage is all Christmasy and the [dancers] are wearing their little Santa Claus hats and outfits.”
Matt Lewis, who plays Elvis in the tribute show, says it really brings in the holiday spirit, especially when the legends come out and perform together in holiday attire.
“This show has a lot of heart,” Lewis said. “When people are on vacation, it’s nice to go into a place and feel a family environment.
“Especially in the Christmas season, the entertainers are so personal with the crowd and really make you feel welcome and a part of the show,” he continued. “The Christmas season has just got that special extra touch. People leave the show and have no idea that they would enjoy it this much.”
Tribute acts include Toby Keith, Elvis Presley, Carrie Underwood, Donna Summer and Bobby Darin, with Whoopi Goldberg as the emcee. Songs include “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
Hickey performs an upbeat, country version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” and Lewis belts out his bluesy version of “Blue Christmas.” In addition, the five-man orchestra does a rock ’n’ roll version of the timeless Christmas song, “Sarejevo.”
“It really grooves and it’s a very exciting Christmas number,” said Lewis.
“I love Christmas and the songs,” Hickey said. “You only get one opportunity a year to sing Christmas carols and I was brought up singing carols, so it’s nice to be able to do that.”
“Legends in Concert” plays at 7 and 9:30 p.m. nightly (except Saturdays).
Have yourself “A Very Terry Christmas”
Known for his spot-on singing impressions and ventriloquism skills, “America’s Got Talent” winner Terry Fator gives his show a holiday kick with “A Very Terry Christmas.” You’ll hear your favorites including “White Christmas,” “Santa Baby,” “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and “All I Want For Christmas,” as well as some of Fator’s original songs.
“I’ve always believed nothing gets people in the holiday spirit like blackjack tables and comped drinks,” Fator joked. “However, if [people] want to see something a bit more Christmasy, our show gives them the songs, laughs and feeling of family.
“The audience is fantastic,” he added. “They love the fact that we’ve brought the old-style Christmas television specials from when they were growing up. It’s a chance to do something fun and different that you can’t see anywhere else.”
Fator said his stage is transformed into a living room. You’ll see his wife dressed in a June Cleaver dress, complete with pearls. His puppets enter through the front door. And just for the Christmas show, Fator introduces a new puppet based on the legendary Bing Crosby.
Not only do his puppets dress for the season, Fator gets in the spirit with them. “Not only are they dressed up, I’m wearing an outfit that looks like it’s a loan from the old Liberace museum!” he joked.
Fator performs at The Mirage Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (Photo above courtesy of Edison Graff.)
Winter in Venice
The Venetian’s Winter in Venice takes the holidays to a whole new level. If you’re traveling with kids, how would you like an elf to tuck them in for bed?
In this Winter in Venice suite package, the concierge team acts as elves and tucks your kids in. The package offers one elf tuck-in per stay for children 12 years and younger and is available 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations must be made by 3 p.m. on the same day.
In addition to the popular elf tuck-in, this special package also includes nightly showings of holiday movies, Santa story readings, butler-drawn baths and more.
Even if you’re not a guest at the Venetian, everyone can enjoy a winter wonderland spectacular, located at in front of the resort at Doge’s Place. You’ll be whisked off to another world.
“Winter in Venice is a game changer for Vegas during the holidays,” said John Caparella, president and COO of The Venetian and The Palazzo. “It’s setting new traditions.”
Strolling entertainers and carolers interact with visitors daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Every evening, Winter in Venice hosts its nightly holiday spectacular. Once the music begins, a woman dressed as an angel appears from the Rialto Bridge and lights the 65-foot holiday tree. The lighting of the tree begins at 6:30 p.m. and plays every hour afterward, with the last show at 10:30 p.m.
Hot cocoa and eggnog are available at kiosks next to the ice skating rink. If you go inside the hotel, specialty hot chocolate is available at Venetian’s Café Presse. Walk over to The Palazzo’s Sweet Surrender and indulge in eggnog holiday cupcakes.
“Winter in Venice is only going to get bigger and grander,” he said. “We hope guests leave with a new sense of Las Vegas during the holidays.”
The Bellagio Conservatory
A delight for guests every year, the Bellagio Conservatory’s festive winter floral display never disappoints.
“Everything about this display is a favorite of mine,” said Andres Garcia, executive horticulturist for Bellagio Conservatory.
The horticulture and floral team get together six months in advance to brainstorm.
“Our holiday display is very traditional, so a lot of ideas come from our childhood and holidays at home,” he said.
In addition to pink and red poinsettias throughout, dancing water and gigantic snowflakes, you’ll see a handful of whimsical holiday showcases. Fans of “Happy Feet” and “March of the Penguins” are in for a treat. Penguins can be seen ice skating, playing hockey, looking over blueprints for an igloo and moving blocks of ice.
One of the popular favorites of the winter display is the polar bear trio made completely of flowers. Each bear wears a “fur” coat made of more than 35,000 hand-applied white carnations. The bear’s “fur” is kept fresh by a specially-designed water drip system.
The Conservatory’s centerpiece, a 42-foot Shasta White Fir tree, features more than 1,700 gold and silver holiday ornaments and more than 13,500 twinkling white lights. “Everybody who walks through the conservatory can’t take their eyes off the tree,” he said.
“Even though we’ve done this for many years now, we always get nervous bringing in the bigger trees and props into the Conservatory,” Garcia said. “From the minute they unload off the truck, we need to make sure we have [everything] lined up and ready to go.”
Visitors can enjoy the holiday display through Jan. 2, 2012, 24 hours a day. The attraction is free and open to the public.
“If you stop by during the day, make sure stop by at night as well,” Garcia said. “It’s almost as if you’re experiencing two different shows when everything is lit.”
This attraction is free to the public.
Speaking of chocolate, Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Garden (located 15 minutes from the Strip) offers festive chocolate treats and a breathtaking showcase: a three-acre cactus garden adorned with bright lights in every color imaginable.
It takes a team of four people about six weeks to get everything up. In addition to the twinkling lights, displays include Santa and his reindeer; inflatable M&M characters throughout; Santa’s gazebo, decorated Christmas trees and wreaths and bedazzled peacocks.
One of the recent additions to the Holiday Cactus Garden is the 3-D glasses. The glasses are $2 in the Ethel M Factory store.
“The addition of the 3D glasses brought a whole new element of fun to the holiday Cactus Garden,” said Jessica Ruttman, spokesperson for Ethel M. “They really bring the display to life. Many of the lights sparkle like snowflakes – where else in Las Vegas can you see it snow nightly?”
Refreshments complete this winter experience at the cactus garden. “The holidays and hot chocolate go hand-in-hand,” she said. “Throughout the holidays we sell real gourmet hot chocolate, made from melted chocolate and steamed milk. Guests love to stroll [in] the gardens with it.”
The attraction is free and open to the public. Everyone who tours the factory can sample chocolates at the end of the tour.
Holiday chocolates, like the handmade dark and white chocolate peppermint bark is available for sale. Other festive chocolate flavors include eggnog, pumpkin pie and French vanilla caramel.
If you really liked the lights at Ethel M, make sure to check out the trees at Springs Preserve. Located at 333 South Valley View Boulevard (just 10 minutes northwest from the Strip), Springs Preserve also offers a beautiful holiday lights display.
In addition to the light show, Springs Preserve has reindeer (pony) rides, snow at the amphitheater, a giant kids’ slide, cookie decorating, ice skating for an additional fee and photos with Santa. The holiday spectacular is open nightly through Dec.3 from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children 5 – 12 and free for children 4 and younger.
Another plus for spending the holidays in Vegas? You won’t freeze your buns off.
“I grew up in Colorado and it was freezing and so cold,” said Hickey. “I love Vegas because you don’t have to wear the big, bulky sweaters and don’t have to deal with the snow, but it’s still got the Christmas feel.”
More holiday cheer
- Santa in the Shipwreck
Through Dec. 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., kids can share their last-minute wishes with Santa at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef shipwreck exhibit. With each paid admission, kids 12 and younger receive a candy cane, a photograph with Santa and an up-close view with Santa Jaws.
- The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Located at 6300 Oakey Boulevard, visitors strolling through the Magical Forest can see millions of lights, hundreds of trees, gingerbread house displays, Santa visits, train rides and other winter-themed attractions. The Magical Forest is open through Dec. 31 (Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.) Tickets start at $7.75 for children and $9.75 for adults.
- Winter Wonderland at Sam’s Town
Located southeast of the Strip on Flamingo Road and Boulder Highway, Sam’s Town features its Mystic Falls Winter Wonderland spectacular with festive garland streams, whimsical snow-covered lampposts and more than 50 glimmering trees adorned in lights. Snow floats from the sky while light images and shooting water dance to traditional holiday music. This show is free and open to the public.
- The Village Ice Skating at Lake Las Vegas
Through Jan. 29, 2012 you can skate on a floating ice rink atop Lake Las Vegas. The rink is open noon to 9 p.m. weekends and holidays and 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday – through Friday. Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for and children 12 and younger.
- Gingerbread House at Four Seasons
The 13th annual gingerbread house display (pictured right) returns to the Four Seasons resort. Located in the lobby, the whimsical winter wonderland includes 20 properties made entirely of gingerbread and chocolate. Visitors can also see a life-sized working carousel. More than 90 pounds of chocolate, 350 pounds of sugar and 180 pounds of flour went into making this festive display, which is free and open to the public.
- Town Square
This outdoor shopping and restaurant mecca hosts “Snow in the Square” at Town Square Park. See a 10-minute choreographed snow show through Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. Take photos with Santa through Dec. 24 from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- Jewish Community Night at Winter in Venice
For $36, guests can enjoy two hours of ice skating, ride the outdoor gondolas and enjoy kosher-style hors d’oeuvres, beverages and music from a live DJ. This event is open to adults ages 21 and older and takes place on Thursday, Dec. 22 from 9 p.m. – 11 p.m.
- The holiday trees at Caesars Palace and Fremont Street Experience are worth seeing in person, so make sure to bring your camera. Also at Fremont Street Experience, enjoy nightly performances by Candy & The Canes through Dec. 26.
If you’re doing some last-minute shopping, many of the malls on the Las Vegas Strip are open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — a relief for you procrastinators! Malls include Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops, Caesars Palace’s Forum Shops, Mandalay Bay’s Mandalay Place, The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes and The Shoppes at The Palazzo (pictured right). Hours may vary during these days, so call in advance.
If all the shopping worked up your appetite, plenty of restaurants and buffets on the Strip offer special holiday menus.
- Presented by the Nevada Ballet Theatre, see the 2011 holiday production of “The Nutcracker,” showing now through Dec. 24 at the Paris Théâtre des Arts inside Paris Las Vegas. Show time is at 7 p.m. (1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 24 only).
- “Marriage Can Be Murder” offers a special holiday-themed show (with a not-so-innocent Santa and a ton of “who-dunnit” twists) at Fitzgeralds hotel. The show plays daily at 6:30 p.m., with the holiday show running through Jan. 8, 2012.
- Join Santa and his all-star cast at “Santa’s Magical Circus” at Miracle Mile Shop’s V Theater inside Planet Hollywood. See Santa and friends perform hilarious holiday skits, illusions, showgirls and specialty acts including “Skippy” the talking rabbit. The show runs nightly at 6 p.m. now through Dec. 31.
- Planet Hollywood also hosts the 2011 “Persian Christmas Concert Series.” See top Persian musical performers including Moein, Kamran & Hooman, Sepideh and Shahram Shabpereh (Friday, Dec. 23); Ebi, Mansour and Arash (Saturday, Dec. 24) and Siavash Ghomeishi, Leila Forouhar, Omid, Andy and Michael (Sunday, Dec. 25). Show begins at 8 p.m.
(Please note some of the permanent shows in Las Vegas may be dark during this time. Make sure to check VEGAS.com to see if your favorite performances will be available during the holiday season.)