Skip the Shopping, Keep Your Spirits High

Can you suggest alternatives to the shop-drop holiday madness that still keep you in the spirit of the season?

Ethel M’s holiday cactus garden.

Of course. Just because December is typically our city’s slowest visitation month doesn’t mean the 3.2 million people who do vacation here all come to escape the holidays—or to spend their time fighting retail crowds.

Thankfully, families hoping for holiday jingles can still tap into the spirit of Vegas traditions, including at the Enchanted Forest, the Ethel M Cactus Garden and the Springs Preserve Holiday Express. The Enchanted Forest also serves as a major fundraiser and awareness-booster for the work of longtime local nonprofit Opportunity Village, and the other two do a great job of celebrating the holidays in a way authentic to the Mojave Desert. Nothing like seeing a giant cactus carefully strung with twinkling lights to transport one back to an earlier, dustier Las Vegas.

As for me, I’ll be taking a cue from John Grisham and skipping Christmas. Not the season, just the drama of decorating and shopping and stress. Instead, you’ll find me spreading good cheer at various spots around town where the holiday spirit (or, at least the decor) is in full swing: Bellagio, Wynn and the Four Seasons do a remarkable job in that respect.

The Aria does as well, so a progressive bar-top dinner at its impressive array of restaurants is a treat. How about a ticket to see the holiday performance of Melody Sweets at The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz? It’s a naughty-nice mash-up of an Old Vegas lounge act and a TV holiday special. Mix in more Vegas kitsch (dinner and a song at The Bootlegger, a stroll through the holidazed Mystic Falls at Sam’s Town) and a nightcap (the Rum Rum Rudolph at Frankie’s Tiki Room), and who needs presents?

Insider advice: No matter where you end up, avoid restaurants that offer only fixed-menu meals on holidays. While they may be exceptional the rest of the year, even the best kitchens tend to turn out lazy, assembly-line fare in those situations. Your stomach (and your heart) will be better off with a fast-food burger and a fat tip for the drive-thru. Happy holidays!