When the lakes freeze over and the snowflakes fall, you’ve got two choices: love it or leave it. From sun-kissed beaches to powdery slopes, we’ve got the best ways to do both, with getaways to Cancun, Las Vegas, Lutsen, Canoe Bay, and more.
This tranquil retreat is the perfect place to practice the art of doing nothing
By Elizabeth Dehn
HEN MY HUSBAND, Greg, and I set out for Canoe Bay, I am determined to do absolutely nothing. We are, after all, going to a place that elicits wistful sighs from those who’ve been there before. They seem to know something that we do not. They describe a resort so beautiful, so peaceful, that surely we are in for nothing but total relaxation. Whether that’s possible for two people who thrive on chaos (albeit organized), and tend to unwind only in their sleep, remains to be seen.
Located about two hours east of the Twin Cities, in Chetek, Wisconsin, Canoe Bay nestles into 280 acres of rolling, wooded countryside and spring-fed lakes. Dan and Lisa Dobrowolski purchased the secluded property 15 years ago from a religious group that had long abandoned it. Dan had fished and explored the area as a child, when his grandfather owned a neighboring farm. He and Lisa returned to create a luxurious retreat.
Model: Vera Jordanova, Ford Chicago;
Stylist: Liz Roemer; Hair & Makeup:
Carol Stopera, Wehann Agency
At first I am uneasy with the solitude, the lack of obligation and noise. My life is usually filled with people, plans, parking lots. Now Greg and I are staring at each other across a 2,000-square-foot, prairie-style “cottage” overlooking a lake. John Rattenbury, a protÃ©gÃ© of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, designed our cabin, the Edgewood, and it embodies the architectural style applied throughout Canoe Bay. The vaulted cedar ceilings, limestone fireplace, 50-foot windows, and sheltering overhangs, impart a sense of calm and comfort. The sophisticated style is also a welcome departure from the predictable kitsch found in most cabins. With so few distractions, we settle in to a roaring fire, bottle of wine, locally made cheese (thank you, Wisconsin), and nest—or at least try to.
Even the most relaxing vacation is, for me, all about exercising—so I can eat really well. I leave Greg to nap (and to Edgewood’s private sauna, steam room, and oversized tub) and walk to the Lodge. Despite my intention to use the fitness center there, once inside I’m entranced by Canoe Bay’s most exquisite space: the library. This two-story, lofted reading room is a labor of love for Lisa Dobrowolski, who stocks it with a well-edited collection of classic and contemporary hard-covers. For the second time that day, I find myself giving in to a deep leather chair, fire at my feet, hot beverage in one hand, Eat, Pray, Love in the other. Suddenly I am 6 again, sleeping in a tent for the first time. It’s like running away.
That evening, we sit down to dinner in the cathedral-ceiling dining room. The cuisine here is often lauded, and we are not disappointed. What I really love, however, are the simple foods served at Canoe Bay: the crusty baked brioche that sandwiches our chicken and apple salad at lunch, the local microbrews in the fridge, the warm caramel rolls delivered to our door at breakfast. At checkout we are handed fresh-baked cookies for the road. I ration them, knowing that when we get home there will be no fire in the fireplace, no Bach on the surround-sound, no escape from real life. All I can do is sigh.
Do everything—or do nothing—at one of these snug hideaways.
* Grand View Lodge
on Gull Lake maintains its 80-year legacy as a classic resort. Couples will appreciate the cozy rooms in the main lodge, where invigorating treatments at the Glacial Waters Spa and steak dinners at the 1920s timber-lodge dining room are just steps away. Rates from $200. Nisswa, 866-801-2951, www.grandviewlodge.com
* Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior, 20 miles north of Duluth, offer proximity to snowshoe and cross-country ski trails at Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse. Retreat to the Massage Cottage for a hot-stone massage and sample the resort’s extensive wine list. Rates from $60. Two Harbors, 1-866-687-5634, www.larsmontcottages.com
* Gunflint Lodge, just north of Grand Marais on the Gunflint Trail, is a secluded escape in the north woods. The Romantic Cottages feature stone fireplaces and two-person spas. Get out for a dog-sled ride, or stay in and gaze up at the night sky during Full Moon Lover’s Weekend, February 21-24. Rates from $139. Grand Marais, 800-328-3325, www.gunflint.com
* Spider Lake Lodge in Hayward, Wisconsin, was inspired by the Great Camps of the Adirondacks. The rustic 1923 log lodge boasts lake views, original furnishings, and a hearty breakfast. Ski the Birkebeiner trail or cozy up with a book in the Great Room. Rates from $159. Hayward, Wisconsin, 800-653-9472, www.spiderlakelodge.com
* Woodland Trails bed-and-breakfast features five modern-yet-romantic, individually designed rooms, many complete with fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. Bird- and wildlife-watching opportunities abound on the 500 wooded acres of this country escape. Rates from $165. Hinckley, 320-655-3901, www.woodlandtrails.net
More Minnesotans visit Cancun than any other international destination. Here’s how to go without seeing a single one.
By Tim Gihring
WHEN MY GIRLFRIEND and I leave Minneapolis for Cancun, it is 85 degrees there and zero degrees here. Zilch. Nada. Cold enough to kill a cucaracha. But I still don’t want to go.
Location: Zamas, Tulum, Mexico
Cancun may be the number-one foreign destination for Minnesotans, but not because of its art museums. Take Vegas, add water, and subtract three years from the legal boozing age, and you have this fiesta grande, where tropical music is piped into the immigration room at the airport, as if Jose Cuervo is going to stamp your passport. Spring breakers here were once obligated to keep a list of laws governing drinking, drugs, and public nudity on them at all times (apparently, officials soon realized thongs don’t have pockets). Frankly, I’m too old to quaff my tequila from a three-foot tube. And I don’t know what a tan-line contest is, but I’m certain my girlfriend doesn’t want me finding out.
I’m also too much of a travel snob to stay at one of the cheesily named all-inclusive compounds a lot of Midwesterners patronize, the kind where the only locals you see are waiters and the atmosphere is about as Mexican as ballpark nachos. Having rickshawed to the Taj Mahal and hiked to Machu Picchu, it’s hard for me not to see Cancun as the anti-vacation: a place to escape from, not to—no matter how good the buffet is at Sandals.
My challenge, then, is to build a more authentic, cultural vacation off a ticket to Cancun. I understand the trip’s appeal: The four-hour flight is no longer than a hop to New York. Heck, Cancun is even in our time zone. At least two guys on our plane are already outfitted in Hawaiian shirts and shorts, ready to hit the sand running. I just don’t care to run into them. So at the airport, we grab a bus to Playa del Carmen, 40 miles south, on the so-called Riviera Maya—the stretch of sand that curves along the Caribbean all the way to Belize and, for the moment anyway, is more popular with Europeans and sea turtles than drunks from Des Moines.
I was here before, 11 years ago, when Playa’s beaches were filled with Italian hippies and aggressive stray dogs—it was great. Days were whiled away at the swing bar (a beach bar with sand at your feet and playground swings suspended from the palm-thatch ceiling) and the cruise crowds stayed well offshore on Cozumel island. If Cancun was famously engineered by the government from swampland (the locale’s original name, Kan Kun, is Mayan for “nest of snakes”), the Riviera Maya has been a more ad-hoc development, as beach bums migrate south or never leave, opening small hotels and dive shops. But the cruise ships now dock directly in town, and Playa is reputedly the fastest-growing city in all of Latin America. As we pull in, I notice a few more sunburned guys in FBI shirts (that’s Federal Bikini Inspector, gringo) than before.
We’re staying at Hotel BÃ¡sico, a 15-room sliver of hipness that you can hear before you can see. For much of the waking day (assuming you’re awake until 12:30 a.m.), lounge and techno music washes through the hotel like waves, endowing everything from changing clothes to washing up with a pulse. Brushing your teeth was never sexier.
BÃ¡sico is the rare place that would appeal to both Paris Hilton and her plumber: exposed pipes, polished white concrete walls and floors, inner tubes as wall dÃ©cor. In tribute to Mexico’s oil industry, strips of recycled tires are used for handles, elongated inner tubes for curtains. The rooftop pools are repurposed petroleum tanks. The place is boutique chic, such that Wallpaper, the Ã¼ber-hip design magazine, as well as Elle, have covered it. It doesn’t hurt that a Polaroid camera is cheekily chained to the bed. It’s just for show—unless someone opens the $25 film pack.
There is something liberating about a good beach hotel, though. Dressing for dinner, I leave my shirt more open than usual, informing my girlfriend that guys are allowed one unfastened button for every thousand miles south they travel. “Not bad,” she allows, “but maybe don’t do this back home.” This is why you take vacations.
We eat in what seems like Little Italy: an intersection with Italian wine bars and restaurants on three of four corners. Playa’s European popularity appears stronger than ever, what with all the gelaterias, Lacoste and K-Swiss stores, and Speedos. (Between my board shorts and my girlfriend’s one-piece, we have enough swimsuit material to clothe half a dozen Italians.) At the Glass Bar, we eat Mediterranean style—pasta, zucchini, grouper, and octopus—and it’s easy to forget we’re in Mexico, until the police pass by with submachine guns.
Playa has changed since I was last here. Nearly all the shops now offer fixed prices rather than bargaining. The beach dogs and beggars have been moved along (to where, we’d rather not contemplate). Indeed, the only pooch I see is a Chihuahua in a purse. We can’t find a good swing bar—they’ve moved indoors, of all things, and gotten rowdier. So we enjoy cucumber martinis on BÃ¡sico’s rooftop lounge, reclining on bed-like platforms while a black-and-white movie is silently projected on a wall, and wonder how Mexican this experience is.
But of course it is, judging from the lounge music we hear on the beach, the bus, and even in the little colectivo shuttle that ferries hotel workers up and down the Riviera. This is the new, hipper side of Mexico we rarely hear about, more authentic certainly than the souvenir sombreros and serapes. We watch the stylish waiters flirt and dance with friends, and I realize it was never Mexico’s rough edges that fascinated me so much as the sheer diferencia. It’s increasingly easy here to feel you’ve never left home, so it’s refreshing to find this place, where the locals, not us, are most in their element.
AFTER A COUPLE NIGHTS in Playa, we’re rolling down the beach highway, protected by Jesus, two raccoon tails, and Scooby Doo with boxing gloves. The charms sway on the windshield of the colectivo carrying us south toward Tulum, though their powers hardly seem necessary.
About an hour’s ride from Playa, this is the new frontier of Mexican tourism, and the government is working hard to remove all obstacles—not least the jungle—in the way. A rocky two-laner a decade ago, this road has been smoothed and widened several times to accommodate the boom of all-inclusives strung out between Cancun and Tulum. Many of these resorts are foreign-owned and some are allegedly illegal, having paid off the right people to violate building and environmental rules. All, by their nature, eliminate the need for local stores and restaurants, such that Mexicans here toil mostly as waiters and maids. One by one, our companions in the colectivo get out and pass through the grand, bland facades until my girlfriend and I are the only ones left.
Tulum is really two towns, a growing pueblo off the highway, the other very much in ruins. The Mayan ruinas are right on the ocean, an ancient fortress city that now attracts more tourists in a week—day-trippers from Playa and the resorts, mostly—than it ever had residents. We are staying in neither of these places. From Tulum pueblo, we travel by taxi 15 minutes farther south, to the antithesis of all-inclusives—a string of some two dozen small hotels offering bungalows on the beach.
This several-mile swath of paradisal sand was colonized, in the present-day anyway, by people on the run—both from the law, in drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s case, and from societal expectations, in the case of hippies. Both have pretty much cleared out—yoga classes are now held in Escobar’s former living room—though the ideals of solitude and simplicity live on.
We stay first at Posada Dos Ceibas, a collection of eight bungalows tucked in a tropical garden just off the beach. For $98 a night, our blue-and-pink-painted place has a kitchen, a beautiful conical roof of palm thatch (called a palapa), and a mosquito net over the bed. It’s not just for looks: Thick mangroves begin on the other side of the beach road and, judging from the number of insect-eating geckos scampering about the bungalow’s outside walls, there’s plenty of food to be had.
We emerge on the beach bearing sunblock, hats, towels, and magazines, like the refugees from Playa that we are, stunned to find ourselves alone for a good 500 feet in each direction. There are only about eight chairs in front of our hotel, shaded by palapa umbrellas. As we discover, if more than four are occupied at a time, it’s a busy day. The beach is broad and long, and it is ours.
Everything at Dos Ceibas happens on or near the beach: massage, yoga, food and bar service. By the second day, I never even bother putting on shoes. Ambition fades with each sunny hour: We consider snorkeling tours, canoe trips, but can’t even muster the energy for a massage. “I kinda want one,” my girlfriend says, prone on a beach chair, “but I can’t say I need it anymore.” It’s transformative just being here. Warmed by an extra 85 degrees—nearly another body’s worth of heat—you feel twice the person you were back home. So we do as the iguanas do: Move little and soak up the sun.
In search of snacks, we stroll the beach until we reach La Zebra, a laidback palapa bar that serves mezcal, the local firewater, which tastes like whiskey steeped in Keith Richards’s liver. It’s offered with either one or two gusanos, whatever they are, and my girlfriend is invited to peer into some jars by the bar to find out. At the bottom are dark coils—“gusanos,” the bartender says. Worms.
At sundown, both the mosquitoes and salsa instructors emerge. And it’s hard to tell if the eager pupils, moving on a makeshift wooden platform on the beach, are dancing or simply dodging bites. But imperfection is the charm of Tulum. We love that this dance floor was built around a palm tree; in Playa, a tree in the way of “progress” is removed without question. We saw several such casualties laid out on the beach like cadavers.
For dinner, we return to Dos Ceibas, finding it by flashlight and candles leading up from the beach. Tulum’s bungalows are off the electrical grid, fueled instead by solar power or generators. Candlelight is the preferred illumination, and a couple dozen flames fill niches in a wall beside the house restaurant, flickering in the sand. Here, we discover Tikin Xic (pronounced “TEE-keen SHEEK”), a Mayan fish dish wrapped in banana leaves and marinated in achiote paste, a spice that Aztecs used to stain their lips red for rituals, as though they’d been imbibing blood. Its root plant also supposedly heals sunstroke, tonsillitis, leprosy, and rectal discomfort. We order it three times in five days, and, sure enough, we contract none of those things.
When we finally motivate ourselves to see the ruins, we’re like country folk in the big city, surprised by the hordes of tourists from the resorts, many wearing swimsuits as they stroll around the temples and palaces. It seems sacrilegious somehow, like visiting the Vatican in a bikini. We learn much about the Maya, their gods of sun and rain and suicide, but also that we’ve got it very, very good at Dos Ceibas.
Our final night in Mexico is spent at a different hotel up the beach, the rustically elegant Posada Lamar, in a bungalow so close to the ocean we can practically dive in from our deck. We eat our last supper next door at Posada Margherita, an upscale Italian place, though I’m still not wearing socks. The maitre’d presents the menu from memory, sitting at our carved wooden table, as laidback as when we’d spotted him kiteboarding earlier that day.
We linger over our wine, certain this casually civilized beach culture will not survive forever, or even five years. The Mexican government has already leapfrogged Tulum to begin building their latest resort town farther south. There’s talk of opening an international airport in Tulum to complement Cancun. This restaurant could soon be a SeÃ±or Frogs, the stars—now nearly as visible as they were to the Mayans—lost in the glare of mass tourism.
The next day, at the Cancun airport, we’re reunited with the all-inclusive crowd. They’re carting outsize sombreros and buying lunch with dollars they never bothered to change into pesos. It’s as if we’d been to two different countries.
Where to Stay
Playa del Carmen
* Hotel BÃ¡sico: Industrial-strength luxury, contemporary cool. (52) 984-879-4448, www .hotelbasico.com
* Hotel Lunata: Colonial-style elegance just off the main drag. (52) 984-873-0884, www.lunata.com
* Posada Dos Ceibas: Eco-conscious seclusion with spacious bungalows and spa treatments. (52) 984-877-6024, www.dosceibas.com
* Posada Lamar: Tasteful bungalows right on the beach. (52) 984-116-6386, www.posadalamar.com
Where to Eat
Playa del Carmen
* The Glass Bar: Italian fine dining on the pedestrian mall. (52) 984-803-1676, www.theglassbar.com
* Yaxche: Traditional Mayan cuisine on a garden patio. (52) 984-873-2502, www.mayacuisine.com
* Posada Margherita: Classy oceanfront dining featuring homemade Italian dishes. (52) 984-801-8493, www.posadamargherita.com
* Zamas: Seafood, pizza, and pasta in a rustic chic setting. 415-387-9806, www.zamas.com
Can a ski snob be satisfied in Minnesota?
By Andrew Putz
Model: Beth, Wehmann Agency
Stylist: Heather Horton; Hair and Makeup:
Carol Stopera, Wehmann Agency
It was somewhere around Duluth, on my way to a ski weekend at Lutsen Mountains, when I realized what a pompous twerp I had become. Though I’d grown up skiing the icy expanse of Afton Alps, I’d also spent a good chunk of my life out West. I had carved through powder in Utah, bounced over bumps in Colorado, even soaked up some sun in Sun Valley. I knew Rossignols from rope tows, aprÃ¨s-ski from off piste. All of which had made me, I now realized, a passable skier and a world-class snob. And as I drove up the North Shore, I suddenly feared that I’d become that guy: the sort of person who talks about skiing in the Midwest the same way most people talk about root canals or toe fungus.
But something happened over the next two days. Lutsen won me over—or, at least, made me a little less insufferable. It started the morning after I arrived, when I took a lift up Lutsen’s Ullr Mountain. To the east was the endless blue sheen of Lake Superior. Just as impressive was what I noticed when I looked south, where the resort’s vast terrain spread out before me, promising the sort of experience you don’t expect to find in flyover country: 1,000 skiable acres, 90 runs, a gondola, and enough snow to make a Yeti yelp with joy.
Indeed, due to it its proximity to the lake, Lutsen averages 10 feet of snowfall each year, twice as much as any other resort in Minnesota. The variety of the terrain is equally impressive. Expert runs are steep and demanding, while intermediate trails are varied and velvety, difficult enough to challenge experienced skiers, and easy enough to entice inexperienced ones. There is, truly, something for everyone—no matter how big a snob you are.
Any good resort is more than the sum of its skiable acres, though, and the folks who run Lutsen understand visitors are there as much for an experience as they are for activity. This is why the resort recently built a new chalet atop Moose Mountain. Positioned to provide jaw-dropping views of Lake Superior—the vistas from the deck alone may be worth the price of a lift ticket. It’s also why there are plenty of things to do at Lutsen besides ski. Depending on the day, you can take a sleigh ride, snowshoe, go dogsledding, sing karaoke, or listen to some jazz. Try doing all that at Trollhaugen.
This insight—that a successful ski outing often has little to do with, well, skiing—also explains why no Lutsen trip is complete without visiting two places: Papa Charlie’s and the Lockport Market & Deli. The former, a pub at the base of the resort, is the perfect place to have a beer (or three) after a day on the hill, and a great place to catch live music on weekends; it regularly hosts acts that any Minneapolis club promoter would covet. The kitschy Lockport, meanwhile, offers some of the best food in the area: from beef pasties to hearty breakfasts with Bunyan-sized helpings of ham.
Papa Charlie’s and the Lockport are each, in their own ways, quintessentially Minnesotan, in that both are apt reminders that quality can reveal itself in many places, and many ways—whether it’s sourdough pancakes or ski weekends.
Where to Stay
The area’s newest ski-in/ski-out facility offers everything from hotel-style rooms to multi-bedroom houses. Rates from $89. 800-642-6036, www.caribouhighlands.com
Eagle Ridge at Lutsen Mountains
This slope-side resort offers suites and condos, and features the area’s only indoor/outdoor pool, which is heated year round. Rates from $89. 800-360-7666. www.eagleridgeatlutsen.com
Where to Eat
Lockport Marketplace & Deli
This cozy eatery offers everything from beef pasties to homemade pies. Lutsen. 218-663-7548
Coho Cafe & Bakery
Serves sophisticated casual fare: a great place to pick up a salad, sandwich, or a pizza. Tofte. 218-663-8032
What to do
The Lutsen Mountains Nordic Center offers 27 kilometers of groomed, trails for cross-country skiing. The resort also has an extensive trail system for snowshoeing, and offers sleigh rides on Tuesday and Saturday evenings and dog-sled rides every weekend. 218-663-7281. www.lutsen.com
Lutsen’s apres-ski pub, Papa Charlie’s features live music every Saturday night. 218-663-7281.www.lutsen.com
Sin city is the number-one travel destination for Minnesotans. Make the most of your trip with advice from a local.
By Scott Dickensheets
TRY THIS when you get to Las Vegas: Start slow. Drop your luggage at whatever resort offered the best online deal, then go stand at a major casino nexus and just absorb. You’ll have a packed itinerary, of course, but take a moment to pause on the corner of the Strip and, oh, Flamingo Road, and just take in the warp drive of modern Las Vegas. Thousands of people, billions in freakishly entertaining architecture, untold megawatts of electronic razzle-dazzle. There’s the updated classicism of Bellagio, with its broad lake and amazing fountain show; the ersatz Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas; the garish Roman touches of Caesars Palace—everything huge and crowding in on you. A 3-D mash-up of colliding aesthetics! The French surrealist AndrÃ© Breton spoke of the convulsive aspect of beauty, and, people, this is it. You will immediately feel a giddy disorientation, a pleasing rush of sensory overload. Just go with it. This is the fizz Vegas lives by, a mix of spectacle and wild juxtaposition that suggests anything can happen, and, in one way or another, it suffuses everything that goes on here.
All right, enough of that—you didn’t flee Minnesota’s bone-chill to stand around gawking (at least you only need a light jacket). The nice thing is, Vegas serves up spectacle and juxtaposition in endless combinations. You already know this is the go-to city for Caligulan excess—a sozzled blur of lap dances, nightclub tomcatting, and foolish wagers—but let’s imagine you’re a grown-up. You want off-the-hook, sure, but nothing you have to lie to the kids about.
So instead you find yourself amid the understated elegance of Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, an Italian seafood place in the Wynn resort, a must stop for folks maintaining their foodie cred. The Wynn insists that its big-name chefs actually work onsite (many chefs elsewhere don’t), and if you’re lucky, the ebullient Paul Bartolotta will swing by your table and explain how each fish, as it’s pulled from the Mediterranean, is implanted with a microchip that lets him track its journey to his kitchen, ensuring freshness.
Or perhaps you’re game for the most opulent meal in town, the 16-course tasting menu at JoÃ«l Robuchon in the MGM Grand. It’s a grand procession of impossibly rich cuisine—three words: edible gold leaf—and paired wines, calibrated in some ineffable French way to leave you aesthetically stunned but not physically bloated. You can still manage the walk to the Miracle Mile Shops to spend your leftover cash on a Fossil watch or Betsey Johnson dress.
Red Rock Casino. Producer: Bonnie
at Perry Alan Productions
For an entirely different dining experience, a short drive east of the Strip will bring you to a grungy open-air mall and the sort of restaurant you didn’t think you’d be trying on this trip. Total hole-in-the-wall. Welcome to Lotus of Siam, home of world-class Thai food, courtesy of chef Saipin Chutima. This would qualify as a local secret except that it’s been written up in every gourmet publication with a travel budget. (Tip: When the waiter asks you how spicy you want your food, on a scale of 1 to 10, only fools go for the 10.) Meanwhile, across the parking lot is a live sex club, the Green Door. Not that you’re interested—or maybe you are; hey, we’re not here to judge—but the thing is, you know it’s over there, seething and humid, and it lends your outing another shade of only-in-Vegas mood lighting. The city is always braiding experiences that way.
You can dial your nightlife on a 1 to 10 intensity scale, too. If you like it loud, crowded and hope to glimpse a sports star or tabloid celebutante, go big with a bottle-serviced evening at a flagship club, such as Pure, in Caesars Palace, or LAX, in Luxor. (Bottle service means your party pays hundreds for a bottle of vodka and, more importantly, a good table; in nightclubs, as everywhere else, real estate costs money.) If it’s warm enough, the club Moon, at the hipster Palms hotel-casino, might open the roof.
Meanwhile, Eyecandy Sound Lounge, in Mandalay Bay, is slightly lower-key but doesn’t skimp on spectacle—the high-tech, interactive tabletops give you camera views of dancers or canoodlers in other booths—and let you flash doodles and handwritten messages onto a screen above the dance floor. If you want to drink where the locals do, you’ll have to leave the Strip and head downtown. Upscale grog shops like the Griffin (which has the best jukebox in town) and the Downtown Cocktail Room anchor a slowly revitalizing entertainment district.
If all the amped-up razzmatazz gets to be a bit much, it’s time to slow down again. Here’s where, if the weather’s nice: The Moorea Beach Club spa at Mandalay Bay’s topless pool, one of the city’s best poolside relaxation spots (iced stones and Swedish massage). If the pool is closed, try Spa Bellagio at the Bellagio resort or a couples treatment at the Platinum Hotel’s Well Spa—you’ll get to paint each other with therapeutic mud.
The point of all this is that it’s hard to find a combination of appetites Vegas can’t cater to. Say you’re a rock-climbing shopaholic with a taste for upscale Japanese food and a thing for Barry Manilow. Done! Spend the morning climbing the towering cliffs in nearby Red Rock Canyon—not for nothing did National Geographic Adventure name Las Vegas the nation’s number-one adventure town—and the afternoon an hour away, at the massive outlet mall in Primm (on the California-Nevada state line). Bonus thrill: While you’re there, ride the Desperado, a roller coaster with a steep, 225-foot drop. When you get your appetite back, zoom to the TI for an early dinner at Social House before hitting the Hilton for Manilow’s show.
And somewhere along the way—perhaps as you’re recording your own special version of “Mandy” in the singing booth at the Hilton’s Manilow Store—the Vegas fizz will set in. You’ll have packed a weekend into one day, and if tomorrow you decide to be a cross-dressing nuclear-history buff with a fondness for Liberace, you can do it again. (There are indeed museums devoted to atomic testing and Liberace.) This is what Vegas does; gambling is no longer the city’s main product. These days, it deals in sheer, oversized experience. You don’t need to be a French surrealist to see the beauty in that.
Scott Dickensheets is editor-in-chief of Las Vegas Weekly.
* Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, 3663 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 888-800-8284
* Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas (Primm, Nevada), 32100 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 702-874-1400
* Spa Bellagio, 3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 888-987-6667
* Moorea Beach Club at Mandalay Bay, 3950 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 702-632-7777
* The Well Spa at the Platinum Hotel, 211 E. Flamingo Rd. 702-636-2424
* Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at the Wynn, 3131 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 888-352-3463
* JoÃ«l Robuchon at the MGM Grand, 3799 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 702-891-7925
* Lotus of Siam, 953 E. Sahara Ave. 702-735-3033
* Social House at the TI, 3300 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 702-894-7223
* Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace
, 3570 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 702-731-7873
* LAX Nightclub at the Luxor, 3900 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 800-288-1000
* Moon / Playboy Club at the Palms, 4321 W. Flamingo Rd. 866-807-4697
* Eyecandy at Mandalay Bay, 3950 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 702-632-7777
* Downtown Cocktail Room, 111 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 702-880-3696
* The Griffin, 511 Fremont St. 702-382-0577
Simple steps to forget you’re in Minne-snow-ta
Hot yoga—26 poses of bikram yoga performed in 105-degree rooms—will loosen muscles, sweat out toxins, and set your mind adrift. CorePower Yoga, 501 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-375-9642 , plus four other metro locations.
Forgo snow-covered scenery for vibrantly-colored azaleas, bright amaryllis, and heavenly humidity at Como Conservatory’s Winter Flower Show. Through March 16. 1225 Estabrook Dr., St. Paul, 651-487-8229, www.comozooconservatory.org
Book table 26 or 52 at W.A. Frost & Company: Both are situated directly in front of one of the restaurant’s many fireplaces, so you can get cozy with your dining companion. 374 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, www.wafrost.com
It’s never too cold for a cocktail, especially when you join Bar Abilene’s margarita club, where a $25 card buys you ten $2 margaritas—one each time you visit. Try the Sunburnt Senorita or the Green Iguana. 1300 Lagoon Ave., Mpls., 612-825-2525, www.barabilene.com
For a hot read on a cold night, pick up local romance writer susan K. Law’s new novel, Just Sex, which follows a Minnesota housewife on a tropical vacation. Berkeley Books, $14
If you didn’t get to Cabo this year, Tropical Minnesota’s airbrush spray tans will make you look like you did. The 15-minute process offers a more even application than spray booths, giving you that sun-goddess look without having to leave the state. 1001 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-933-6666, www.tropicalmn.com
Instead of watching Dancing with the Stars again, why not get out there and try it yourself? Take salsa or tango lessons at Four Seasons Dance Studio to see if you can heat things up with some sensuous hip-twisting. 1637 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-342-0902, www.fourseasonsdance.com
Prepare a meal that’s hot, hot, hot at Cooks of Crocus Hill’s Mexican Cooking Club on February 15. 877 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-228-1333, www.cooksofcrocushill.com
Put on your white suit, undo a couple of shirt buttons, slick back your hair, and head to Restaurant Miami. You’ll find plenty of Don Juans and Don Johnsons at this neon-lit hot spot, which was inspired by Scarface and Miami Vice. 13 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-823-1984, www.restaurantmiami.us
Slip-slide away at the Water Park of America, the country’s largest indoor water park: Catch a wave on the surf simulator or roll with the rapids on the mile-long raft ride. 1700 E. American Blvd., Bloomington, 952-698-8888, www.waterparkofamerica.com
Dreaming of snorkeling with the fish on a tropical island? Here’s the next best thing: Getting your open-water diver certification at Scuba Center. The Eagan center holds classes in its 12-foot-deep in-store pool. 1571 Century Pt., Eagan, 651-681-8434, www.scubacenter.com
Start getting excited about summer with a trip to Nani Nalu for a swimsuit-shopping spree. The store has a Hawaiian feel and is filled with swimwear and accessories to prepare for warm weather and open water. 12631 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka, 952-546-5598, www.naninaluswim.com >> Update: Recently moved to 3922 W. 50th St., Edina.
Journey to the Islands without leaving the metro. Juut’s Hawaiian Lomilomi Massage incorporates the sacred and holistic stress-relieving elements of warm stones, therapeutic oils, and hot towels into a two-hour treatment. Edina and Wayzata locations only. Southdale Shopping Center, 6901 France Ave. S., Edina, 952-925-4343; Colonial Square Shopping Center, 1125 E. Wayzata Blvd., 952-404-9955; www.juut.com
Easy ways to enjoy the winter white
If you want to be “Freezin’ for a Reason” this winter, partake in a Polar Bear Plunge to support Minnesota Special Olympic athletes. For more about the frigid jumps, go to www.specialolympicsminnesota.org.
Explore the life and polar expeditions of Ann Bancroft at Minnesota Monthly’s Women of Influence Luncheon, hosted by WCCO radio’s Sue Zelickson. Proceeds will benefit the Ann Bancroft Foundation. Visit minnesotamonthly.com or call 612-332-3787 to register.
Curl up next to the fireplace with a steaming cup of cocoa and local author Brian Freeman’s latest novel, Stalked. Set in Duluth in the dead of the winter, this mystery will give you the chills without leaving you out in the cold. Available February 19 from St. Martins Press/Minotaur, $25
Weather: It’s our favorite topic of discussion. Learn how we’ve dressed for it, played in it, battled it, and survived it, at the Minnesota History Center’s “Weather Permitting” exhibit. 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, 651-259-3000, www.mnhs.org
Get out in the winter wilderness by signing up for a yurt-to-yurt cross-country skiing weekend or an overnight dog sledding trip (learn how to mush!) with Boundary Country Trekking. Grand Marais, 800-322-8327, www.boundarycountry.com
When flooded baseball fields and indoor rinks get boring, try ice skating at Centennial Lakes Park in Edina. It has 10 acres of Pond ice connected by curvy canals. Skate rental available. 7499 France Ave. S., Edina, 952-832-6789, www.centenniallakespark.com
Rent the Coen brothers’ movie Fargo and then visit local filming locations (none of the scenes were actually shot in Fargo, dontcha know). Embers Restaurant in St. Louis Park and the Minneapolis Club parking ramp are just a few spots on the list, available at www.imdb.com/title/tt0116282/locations
Relive childhood days building snow forts with something a little more sophisticated. The Chambers Ice Bar—built from 12,000 pounds of ice—graces the courtyard outside the swanky downtown Minneapolis hotel. Don your preppiest parka and order something on the rocks. There’s a fire pit to warm you up if the alcohol doesn’t. 901 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-767-6900, www.chambersminneapolis.com
You’ve been cross-country skiing since before you could walk, but can you glide with the big dogs? Find out at the 35th annual American Birkebeiner, February 21 to 23 in Hayward, Wisconsin, a 51-kilometer race that’s sure to test your skills and endurance. www.birkie.com
Need something more enticing than just strapping on snowshoes and tromping around to get your family out on the trails this year? Try maple-sugar tapping at Richardson Nature Center. You can get your hands sticky every Sunday through March with free demos open to the public. 8737 E. Bush Lake Rd., Bloomington, 763-694-7676, www.threeriversparkdistrict.org/outdoor_ed/center_richardson.cfm
After you’ve mastered snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, learn a hard-core winter hobby with a class at Midwest Mountaineering. Instructors will teach you how to go winter camping without becoming a human popsicle, ice-kiting—flying across a frozen lake at break-neck speed—without breaking your neck, or skijoring (being pulled by a dog while you cross-country ski) without falling on your face. 309 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-339-3433, www.midwestmtn.com
If you’ve ever dreamed of completing a triple salchow or a double toe-loop in the middle of a cheering arena, make it a reality with lessons at the Figure Skating Club of Minneapolis. Group classes or private training available. 2323 Riverside Ave., Mpls., 612-359-6490, www.fscmpls.org