Vegas Weekender: Trees and festive shows and chocolates, oh my!

Wondering where to find the Yule spirit in Vegas? Even with sun and typically clear skies, Las Vegas is transformed into a winter wonderland each year for the holidays. Here are some spots sure to be filled with joy and goodwill over the Christmas weekend.

Holiday cheer

The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village has it all – from decorated trees to a carousel and passenger train.

The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village has it all – from decorated trees to a carousel and passenger train.

Las Vegas is aglow with Christmas trees. Throughout the city you’ll discover everything from traditional firs to modern LED-formed trees. Don’t miss the lovely tree in Mystic Falls Park at Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall, where you can also enjoy the resort’s free laser, light and water show at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. nightly. A striking tree topped with a replica of the Welcome to Fabulous Downtown Las Vegas sign stands in the heart of Fremont Street Experience. And there are more than 200 trees decorated by local businesses that are part of Opportunity Village’s three-acre Magical Forest, which opens at 5:30 p.m. nightly and runs through Dec. 31. Located at 6300 W. Oakey Blvd., admission is $7.75 for children and $9.75 for adults.

Ice skating is a favorite pastime at Christmas. Of course, the new Strip-side rink at The Venetian (part of the Winter in Venice event) is spectacular, but did you know you there are several other rinks in Las Vegas? Through Jan. 29, you can glide along the surface of a floating ice rink constructed on Lake Las Vegas. It’s open weekdays from 3-9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon-9 p.m. Rates are $12 for children and $15 for adults. You’ll also find two top-notch, NHL-sized rinks in town: the SoBe Ice Arena at Fiesta Rancho and the Las Vegas Ice Center at 9295 W. Flamingo Road. Call for rates and public skate times.

Nothing adds to the charm of the holiday season like a horse-drawn carriage ride. Horse Around Town Carriage Rides has its limo-style “vis-à-vis” carriage, which is white with red velvet seats, in Tivoli Village at Queensridge. Rides are offered Dec. 22-23 from noon-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. and Dec. 24 from noon-3 p.m. They are about seven minutes long and cost $5 per person. Or experience a white Christmas with Mount Charleston Trail Rides. The company gives rides through breathtaking snow-capped pines. The price is $30 for adults (ages 16 and over) and $25 for children (ages 3-15). It’s free to toddlers under the age of 3. Call (702) 596-6715 to make a reservation.

The Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts the Glittering Lights display during the holidays.

The Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts the Glittering Lights display during the holidays.

Behold grand illumination during Glittering Lights at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This annual event features 2.5 miles comprised of more than 400 animal- and holiday-themed light displays. Drive through the exhibition Mondays-Thursdays from 5:30-9 p.m. and Fridays-Sundays from 5:30-10 p.m. It will be open until Jan. 1. Admission is $15 per vehicle.

Las Vegas is home to several mouth-watering Christmas creations. Executive Pastry Chef Claude Escamilla and his team have crafted a six-foot-tall Mr. Grinch from 50 pounds of chocolate and 112 pounds of fondant. The mean green mischief-maker can be seen at Jean Philippe Pâtisserie in the Bellagio. You can also delight in the whimsical gingerbread wonderland constructed by Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Luc Daul and his team through Dec. 25. They’ve built 20 “properties” – including an old-fashioned bakery and church – in the lobby of the Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay. More than 90 pounds of chocolate, 350 pounds of sugar and 180 pounds of flour were used. A smaller but equally enchanting gingerbread village can be found in the lobby of the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino, located at 2800 S. Boulder Hwy., until Dec. 26.

Holiday shopping

Shopping takes on a whole new meaning as Vegas’ most popular malls and department stores display their annual holiday windows and decorations.

Stop by The District at Green Valley Ranch this weekend to enjoy a towering tree with a music and light show that begins nightly at 5 p.m. At Town Square Las Vegas, visit Santa in a Norman Rockwell-inspired house and check out the 45-foot tree. On Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 23 at 7 and 8 p.m., you can also take pleasure in 10-minute snowfalls.

Live the magic of Christmas at Santa’s Wonderland in Bass Pro Shops.

Live the magic of Christmas at Santa’s Wonderland in Bass Pro Shops.

Macy’s Home Store at 4450 Spring Mountain Road features enchanting holiday window displays. Plus, Barneys New York in The Shoppes at The Palazzo boasts humorous holiday windows with an edgy attitude.

At the Fashion Show mall, watch the “Believe in Magic” show, which runs on weekends through Christmas at intervals from noon-6 p.m. Along with dancers, there’s a 35-foot Christmas tree, artificial snow and, of course, Santa Claus.

Bass Pro Shops at the Silverton also hosts Santa’s Wonderland through Dec. 24. In addition to getting photos taken with the jolly fella in red, kids will enjoy a quintessential Christmas experience complete with crafts, games and remote-controlled trains.

Holiday shows

The popular Japanese taiko troupe in “Mystère” drum up holiday spirit.

The Japanese taiko troupe in “Mystère” drum up holiday spirit.

“Mystère” at Treasure Island will celebrate its 18th anniversary on Dec. 25. As Las Vegas’ first permanent Cirque du Soleil production, it’s still one of the hottest tickets in town. Among “Mystère’s” talented artists are “drummer boys” – or Taiko drummers, that is. Shows are offered Saturdays-Wednesdays at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

Another show the entire family will fancy for the holidays is Circus Vargas, which opens at the Rio on Dec. 25 and runs through Jan. 1. This wacky big top troupe contains aerialists, acrobats and comedians. Laughs are guaranteed. Shows take place Dec. 25 and 30 at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m., Dec. 26-29 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 31 at 1 and 4 p.m. and Jan. 1 at 1, 4 and 7 p.m.

“A Very Terry Christmas” with Terry Fator plays at The Mirage through Dec. 24. A master ventriloquist, Fator has added Christmas songs ¬– like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and “White Christmas” – to his already eclectic mix of music. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. nightly.

Go to V Theater in the Miracle Mile Shops at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino to see Santa’s Magical Circus.” In town through Dec. 31, the cheerful cast includes comedian Tiny Bubbles, magicians Bruce Block and Max Clever, and Anthony Rais with his marionettes. The fun commences at 6 p.m. nightly.

At the Theater for the Performing Arts, also in the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, you can get tickets to the 2011 Persian Christmas Concert Series. This annual event brings an impressive lineup of Persian musical performers to town. Moein, Kamran & Hooman as well as Sepideh and Shahram Shabpereh appear Dec. 23. Ebi, Mansour and Arash take the stage Dec. 24. And Siavash Ghomeishi, Leila Forouhar, Omid, Andy and Michael perform Dec. 25. The music begins at 8 p.m. nightly.

Looking for affordable entertainment? Rick Faugno, who stars in “Body & Soul” in the Shimmer Cabaret at the Las Vegas Hilton, recently announced a discounted ticket price of $15 per person (plus tax and a service charge) for his show, effective through Jan. 1. Bring everyone you know for a joyful night of old school standards mixed with the song-and-dance man’s original compositions.

The annual “White Trash Xmas Show” is for adults only. It will be held in the Double Down Saloon at 4640 Paradise Road. Naked & Shameless will roll up Dec. 23 and the Vermin arrives Dec. 24. Admission is free. Guests can partake in SpaghettiOs, Holiday Ass Juice and free haircuts as well. The frolicking gets under way at 7 p.m. nightly.

Enjoy the sights, sounds and color of the Blue Man Group at The Venetian.

Enjoy the sights, sounds and color of the Blue Man Group at The Venetian.

Madame Tussauds Las Vegas, located at The Venetian, will be open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Some areas of the interactive attraction have even had a holiday makeover.

Finally, celebrate the traditional red and green holiday with the anything-but-traditional Blue Man Group, also at The Venetian. A 4 p.m. show has been added to the regularly scheduled 7 and 10 p.m. shows through Dec. 30. This gives you an extra opportunity to catch the unique production that combines technology and imagination before the New Year dawns.

Final curtain

“Michael Jackson – The Immortal World Tour” is the electrifying production by Cirque du Soleil that pays tribute to the King of Pop. It’s wrapping up its engagement in the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Dec. 27. There’s a 7 p.m. show only Dec. 23. On Dec. 24-27, there are shows at 7 and 10:30 p.m.

Disney's "The Lion King" has its final performance in Las Vegas on Dec. 30.

Disney’s “The Lion King” has its final performance in Las Vegas on Dec. 30.

Disney’s “The Lion King,” also at Mandalay Bay, closes on Dec. 30. It plays Mondays-Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays-Sundays at 4 and 8 p.m. The costumes are magnificent – as is the music by Elton John.

And master illusionist Rick Thomas and his beautiful white tigers bid adieu to the Tropicana on Dec. 31 after a special holiday run. Perfect for families and friends, his shows are offered Dec. 23-25 at 4 p.m. and Dec. 26-31 at 4 and 7 p.m.

Holiday eats

In Las Vegas, savor everything from traditional to whimsical meals prepared by award-winning chefs on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace is open Christmas Day from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Spoon up a bowl of roasted chestnut soup ($10) or chow down on a jumbo turkey leg ($16). And, regardless of your behavior this year, you can tuck into the Naughty & Nice ice cream sundae ($12.50).

Chef Guy Savoy has innovative holiday dishes on the menu for Christmas Day.

Chef Guy Savoy has innovative holiday dishes on the menu for Christmas Day.

Restaurant Guy Savoy, also at Caesars Palace, will be open from 5:30-9:30 p.m. on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Known for its fine French cuisine, the staff has designed a special Christmas “Prestige” menu ($358) that consists of 10 decadent courses, including brie black truffle and a champagne dessert.

Rao’s at Caesars Palace has created the Taste of the Seven Fishes menu ($65), a tribute to the Southern Italy’s time-honored Feast of the Seven Fishes that is served on Christmas Eve. The three-course menu here allows you to choose an appetizer, pasta and entrée. It is available Dec. 24-25 from 5-11 p.m.

Society Café, located at Encore, will have a decadent Christmas Day menu. For $52 per person (not including tax and gratuity), you can feast on chilled stone crab, slow-roasted prime rib, truffle-mashed potatoes, winter vegetables and the Society Yule log made from chocolate and dulce de leche.

KGB: Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers at Harrah’s has concocted several fine treats to be offered Christmas Day from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. In addition to cranberry apple salad ($7), there’s a Christmas lamb burger complete with mint basil aioli ($14) and an eggnog milkshake garnished with nutmeg pecan brittle ($5).

The Paris Las Vegas restaurant Les Artistes Steakhouse is serving a special five-course Christmas dinner ($70) from 5-10 p.m. Make room for everything from amuse-bouche delicacies, roasted scallops and butternut squash soup to lamb chops, filet, halibut and veal – topped off with either sweet potato pecan pie or pumpkin crème brûlée.

At Jean Georges Steakhouse in Aria, select from a fine à la carte menu on Christmas Day that includes butternut squash soup, steamed shrimp salad with champagne vinegar, a 26-ounce char-grilled Australian tomahawk chop with creamy horseradish potatoes and an apple and pecan sticky bun with brown butter ice cream.

Todd English’s Olives at Bellagio has also crafted an exceptional à la carte lunch and dinner menu for the special weekend. Two of the restaurant’s featured items are lobster pumpkin bisque and grilled lamb steak.

Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel at Aureole in Mandalay Bay has come up with a festive five-course menu for guests to relish on Dec. 24-25. It starts with foie gras, fresh black truffle au torchon and citrus-crusted diver scallops and ends with a flourless chocolate gateau with raspberry compote and stracciatella gelato.

Bally's Steakhouse showcases the best of the season.

Bally’s Steakhouse showcases the best of the season.

Bally’s Steakhouse is presenting a four-course Christmas menu ($70) on Christmas Day from 5-10 p.m. Among the showcased items are pumpkin risotto, roasted beet napoleon, crab and corn chowder, butternut squash volute and lamb shank osso bucco.

The Mirage’s revered steakhouse kokomo’s will celebrate the season from Dec. 23-25 with a three-course meal of roasted quail, a lamb chop and T-bone, and either eggnog brûlée or chocolate lava cake.

On Christmas Day, the Medici Café in Ravella at Lake Las Vegas is boasting a bottomless champagne brunch. Let dreams of these dishes dance through your head: prime rib, herb popovers, juniper-rubbed venison, honey-glazed ham, house-smoked salmon, oysters, clams, lobster, crab claws, custom omelets, French toast and pies with every filling imaginable. Available from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., the cost is $45 (with champagne and mimosas) or $35 (without champagne and mimosas) for adults and $20 for children. Reservations are required. Call (702) 567-4700.

Another alternative for your Christmas Day breakfast/brunch is to pop into Sao Paulo at the Rio from 6 a.m.-1 p.m. You can order “snow balls” ($10), which are crème puff pastries dusted with powdered sugar, along with eggnog pancakes ($8).


I’m a Las Vegas native. By profession, I write at Mostly about the city’s hotels, but on other topics – gaming and transportation – too. I really love staying at hotels. And the ones here are among the biggest and best in the world. Some key things I’ve learned: Resort fees are inescapable (frustrating but true), a friendly attitude at the front desk may score you a great view and over-the-top room amenities – bath butlers, Japanese tea service, menus with “intimate” items – do exist. What else should you know about me? Well, I’m comfortable at a blackjack table. And I like eating late-night pancakes in hotel coffee shops. A lot. Follow Renee on Google+.