By Christopher F. Schiel, Travel Correspondent
Historical Hotel Retooled with Modern Luxuries
When the Tropicana Las Vegas opened in 1957 near the south end of the then-burgeoning Strip, Eddie Fisher served as its showroom’s opening-night entertainment. The hotel's $15 million construction budget gave it a larger-than-life opulence that helped it survive in a landscape already thick with competitors. Today it remains as one of the few casino resorts to have weathered the change that has swept over the city of neon; it represents both a relic of the old guard and a paradigm of the new Vegas glamour thanks to its South Beach–themed makeover. With the first phase of that $180 million renovation completed in May 2011—recognized by Las Vegas Weekly as Best Comeback of the year—the structure looms over the Strip clad in a coat of pure white.
Between two towers that rise more than 20 stories, 4 acres of palm trees and tropical flowers envelop a sprawling pool bordered by white lounge chairs, umbrellas, daybeds, and cabanas. Around the pool, baskers read books and sip piña coladas while children play near its sunny shallow edges or explore its contours, which snake under the glassed-in pedestrian bridge that connects the two towers. Nearby, water trickles down tall stones and collects into a stream feeding a waterfall just adjacent to the north edge of the pool, and baby birds flit in the splash of another waterfall by the outdoor patio of Café Nikki, one of the hotel’s numerous on-site eateries. A tall white wall separates the tropical pool from the more exclusive Nikki Beach pool club, which at night morphs into a bumping, champagne-lathered nightspot.
Deluxe rooms serve as oases above the continuous din of the hotel casino below, where guests can retire to a plush Serta Eurotop Perfect Sleeper king-size bed and a deep red chaise with bamboo fittings. White plantation shutters pivot to reveal the outdoors, which on upper floors looks out to the vivid castle turrets of Excalibur, the golden lion of the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, the mountains of the surrounding desert, or the Manhattan skyline that decorates the adjacent New York-New York Hotel & Casino. An oversize desk provides ample space to count one's casino winnings or fold brochures into origami lounge singers.
On the mezzanine level, the monochrome brick and tile décor at Bacio by Carla Pellegrino helps eaters focus on the restaurant’s exquisite Italian cuisine, even when the hum of the casino softly trickles in. The bucolic trattoria flavors its dishes with considered subtlety, dishing up treats such as the fritto misto di mare antipasti featuring deep-fried calamari, shrimp, and tilapia served alongside a lemon-tinged rémoulade ($14.50).
The Las Vegas Strip: Multifaceted Entertainment Mecca
Modern slots no longer dispense piles of quarters, but the trill sound of a winning slot machine still resonates as the siren song of Vegas. The Tropicana’s own casino peppers 850 slots among a multitude of table games, a race-and-sports book, and other chance-based thrills. Gambling, however, is hardly the property’s only source of excitement: within the Tropicana, the rechristened Gladys Knight Theater hosts its titular star five nights a week for a carousing revue of hits from "Midnight Train to Georgia" through songs from her forthcoming album.
At the base of the Tropicana’s southern tower, the Las Vegas Mob Experience theatrically portrays the underworld history of the Vegas Strip dating back to Prohibition era. After being tagged with a mob nickname, visitors join an underworld crime family and ascend through the ranks accompanied by their choice of celebrity actor—perhaps James Caan or Mickey Rourke—before reaching a heart-stopping holographic climax in a warehouse setting.
Off the Strip, The Atomic Testing Museum—in association with the Smithsonian Institution—documents projects at the Nevada Test Site, from Oppenheimer's research up through Cold War tactics. The Ground Zero theater simulates the experience of viewing an atomic-bomb explosion from a bunker, with a whispered countdown leading to a terrifying aftershock that rumbles through sub-seat subwoofers. Through January of 2012, the museum’s Building Atomic Vegas exhibit illustrates how the spectacular mushroom clouds of bomb test explosions attracted tourists to Vegas prior to the onset of nuclear disenchantment in the ’70s.
Our Recommendations for Your Getaway
China Poblano James Beard Award–winning chef José Andrés initially aimed to blend Chinese and Mexican staples, but opted instead to simply serve dim sum and tacos side by side.
Gladys Knight: “A Mic and a Light” Consummate soul songstress reprises hits including "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" alongside her older brother and original Pips member, Bubba Knight.
The Atomic Testing Museum Exhibits and programming cover everything from Oppenheimer's nuclear research to test detonations in the Nevada desert; the Ground Zero theater simulates a nuclear explosion.
Bacio by Carla Pellegrino Impeccably seasoned sauces grace classic Italian cuisine in a refreshingly calm trattoria within the Tropicana.
JabbaWockeeZ First-season winners of MTV's America's Best Dance Crew supplement their hypnotic choreography with a full-scale production that engages all ages.
Crystals at CityCenter Angular, art-ridden shopping complex houses more than 38 boutiques representing preeminent fashion houses including Christian Dior, Prada, and Tom Ford.