Yes, it’s the City of Sin. As Hollywood would tell us, Las Vegas is a place you can wake up missing a tooth with Siegfried and Roy’s tiger in your bathtub, but there is something undeniably romantic about the opulent desert strip. J-Lo, Britney, and Kourtney Kardashian all tied the knot here, and if you wake up with a regretful hangover, an annulment and Panadol will do the trick.

We are driving up to Vegas from Palm Springs, a journey that takes us through Joshua Tree National Park and along some of the original Route 66. If you want to set a romantic tone, this is a nice way to start, and no hotel is more romantic to pull up to than The Bellagio (@bellagio).

The Bellagio is the hotel that changed Las Vegas when it opened in late ’98. Modelled off the villages that dot Italy’s Lake Como, the Bellagio’s famous fountains became the strip’s focal point, and the hotel’s purpose-built theatre housed O, the Cirque du Soleil show that put the circus company on the map. Much of what the Bellagio offers can be enjoyed without staying here, such as the lobby, with its gorgeous ‘Fiori di Como’ glass installation covering the ceiling, and the seasonal displays at the conservatory and botanical gardens. But if you do stay, it’s hard to beat this fabulous location at the centre of the strip, where everything is within walking distance. Insist on getting a room with a fountain view and make love at midnight when it’s timed to Whitney Houston’s ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ It’s the patriotic thing to do!

Barry Manilow performs at Westgate.

Talking of patriotism, it felt right as proud gays to attend Barry Manilow’s residency ( at Westgate Resort. In 2014, the legendary singer married his long-time manager, Garry Keif, with whom he had been in a relationship since 1978. He discussed his marriage in the media in 2017, saying that he had avoided publicly coming out for fear of disappointing his largely female fanbase. At his Westgate residency, Manilow’s fanbase is far more diverse in age, ethnicity, and gender than I had expected. At an unbelievable 79, he still skips around the stage like a puppet on a string, giving the crowd a show. It’s incredible to think that Manilow got his first big break performing as Bette Midler’s piano player at the renowned gay sauna, the Continental Baths, in 70’s New York. In the Westgate’s theatre, we cuddle up, absorbing the changes gay men of Manilow’s age have seen and how far our community has come.

Michael Jackson ONE

Manilow’s is not the only show on the strip that touches our hearts. I have seen most of the Cirque du Soleil shows on the strip before, including The Beatles LOVE, but had yet to take in their Michael Jackson ONE show at the Mandalay Bay. LOVE, with its dream-like whimsy and reimagined score, was better than any jukebox musical I had seen. ONE is fittingly Cirque’s most dance-driven show, choreographed by long-time Jackson and Madonna collaborator Jamie King. While the routines and acrobatic stunts are captivating, it is ONE’s narrative that really gets you thinking. Reflecting on Jackson’s lyrics as he grows up in the public eye, ONE displays a talent who wanted to ‘heal the world, make it a better place,’ while a media frenzy circled and made him want to ‘scream’. ONE packs a surprisingly sharp take on social media and what happens when we surround ourselves with cameras.

House of Blues’ Gospel Brunch

Also at the Mandalay Bay, we take in the House of Blues Gospel Brunch ( – a perfect Sunday morning hangover cure with spirited gospel performances from heavenly vocalists. Another gay couple are sitting at the table next to ours and offers a friendly wink of acknowledgement. It’s Vegas, so there is no judgement preached, only hope. But as various choir members tell their stories, it’s a reminder of how badly the pandemic affected countries like America. We come away feeling blessed to live in NZ.

Wally’s Wines Las Vegas.

Vegas’ restaurant scene is booming with choice and is more diverse than ever. Therefore, finding the right place for a romantic meal is not challenging. If you’re looking for Vegas’ most impressive wine list and cheese selection, don’t go past Wally’s ( A perfect spot for a lunchtime graze, Wally’s is located in the Resorts World ( complex, which combines the three newest hotels to be built on the strip (Hilton, Conrads, and Crockfords) under one resort umbrella. Resorts World seems to represent a more modern take on Vegas luxury without the kitsch-theming that many of the strip’s better-known hotels specialise in.

Resorts World Las Vegas

If you’re looking for Vegas’ best steak, don’t miss Smith & Wollensky (, located at The Venetian. Originally a boutique steakhouse chain only available on America’s East Coast, Vegas is the furthest west Smith & Wollensky have ventured (not counting their rather grand Covent Garden address in London). Its classic gentleman’s club aesthetic and high-calibre cuisine make bagging a cosy corner table a perfect date night – with a full-bodied red!

© 2019 Galdones Photography

But as Britney’s 55-hour marriage proved, romance doesn’t necessarily last forever, and who you arrive with in Vegas isn’t always who you leave with. After all, with just a shuffle of the cards, you could be departing Vegas much richer (or poorer) than you were when you rolled in.

Westgate’s Superbook

If the gambling side of Sin City is what’s calling you, we recommend a stay at Westgate Resort ( Even the hotel’s standard rooms are extra spacious (ours has a kitchenette). Located opposite the city’s convention centre, it is on a main stop of the Monorail, which will whip you up and down the strip until 3am. The casino boasts serious Blackjack, Roulette, and Craps tables, plus the most epic Superbook (a sports betting area with a wall-to-wall wraparound screen, private booths, and a lively bar).

The Mayfair Supper Club

We’re up for a wild evening on our final night in Vegas, and the theatrical Mayfair Supper Club (@themayfairlv) back at The Bellagio had been recommended for dinner. Some locals even claim Mayfair is the most romantic restaurant in Vegas, and while I don’t entirely disagree, romance at the Mayfair seems unlikely to be monogamous! We are led through an opulent bar into a glamorous restaurant setting with an elegant underwater theme. Think the Moulin Rouge meets the Palace of Versailles. A vampy cabaret that combines everything from burlesque to circus is grabbing everyone’s attention from the centre stage. The best tables have both a view of the stage and out the window to the Bellagio’s fountain. In a masterful piece of choreography, the performers are timed to sing notes in perfect synchronicity with the fountains, a feat that has to be seen to be believed.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Liven Las Vegas

When you’re looking for entertainment on the small screen, RuPaul’s Drag Race has become the go-to franchise for so many of us, so it’s no surprise that RuPaul’s Drag Race Live (@rupaulsdragracelive) is a must-see show. RPDRL is a theatrical production with a cast made up of alumni like Derek Berry, Asia O’Hara, and Eureka, who lip sync (for their lives) to both original songs and camp disco classics. The production, which recreates the ‘werk room’ on stage and backs the queens with a troupe of Pit Crew, is essentially a ‘Rusical,’ making it totally unique from any of the international Drag Race tours.

Vanderpump a Paris

It felt natural to follow all that charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent with a cocktail, and after trying out a few bars, we have two favourites. For plush, over-the-top maximalist design – with big camp cocktails designed for sharing – don’t look past Real Housewives’ star Lisa Vanderpumps’s Vanderpump à Paris (@vanderpumpparis). If you’re looking for less gimmick and simply the best cocktails on the strip, check out Electra Cocktail Club (@electralasvegas) at the Venetian, and don’t go past the Unicorn Tears, which mixes gin, sherry, lime, cucumber, pineapple, and absinthe!

Electra Cocktail Club

Unicorn Tears was really the perfect drink to set us up for our final destination of the night and potentially our favourite spot in all of Vegas, the weird and wonderful Illuminarium (

There was a time in Las Vegas when locals would tell you to keep to the strip because venturing off it could get too dangerous. With increased infrastructure, gentrification, and urban sprawl, however, locals now say that getting off the strip is the best thing you can do because that is where all the action happens – in areas like the Arts District and the affectionately coined ‘Fruit Loop’ (home to the majority of Vegas’ gay bars).

Area 15 is an off-strip complex that offers a range of immersive entertainment, from bars and restaurants to thrill rides, VR experiences, and museum-like ultra-modern interactive art installations – such as a supermarket full of hidden portals and narratives on the dangers of capitalism. The common thread binding Area 15’s offerings is a psychedelic aesthetic that leaves your mind-boggling about what will be around the next corner… so where else would you rather go clubbing?

After Dark at The Illuminarium

On Friday and Saturday nights, the Illuminarium (@illuminariumlv) offers that experience, as DJs work in collaboration with projection artists to create wall and floor art that moves in time with the beats. Expect to be sharing the dance floor with Warhol lookalikes, mind-readers, and sensory-overload addicts. Don’t miss this trip!

Flying back to Auckland with Hawaiian Airlines (, we land in the evening with a domestic flight booked to take us home the following day. Normally this would mean imposing on a friend or crashing at a drab airport hotel, but we found a rather colourful alternative.

Naumi Hotel

The Naumi Hotel ( in Manger embraces contemporary art deco designs, deep bathtubs and eclectic style. It boasts a one-holed golf course, a bizarrely-shaped pool and a suite with its own bar; all aimed to ensure your holiday vibe isn’t killed when you land.

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Article | Oliver Hall.

How to Get There :

Hawaiian Airlines flies 3 x weekly from Auckland direct to Honolulu with convenient connections to Californias Ontario Airport, which is just an hours drive from Palm Springs. Flying Hawaiian includes the airlines award-winning service, complimentary meals and beverages, and a free checked luggage allowance of 2 x 32kg bags per passenger. Flights are operated by wide-bodied Airbus A330 aircraft with 192 Main Cabin seats in a couples-friendly 2x4x2 configuration, 68 of Hawaiians popular and affordable Extra Comfort seats, and 18 lie-flat Business Class seats in the Premium Cabin.