Plenty one-of-a-kind experiences are available to groups

From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Ocean’s Eleven to The Hangover and CSI, so many movies and TV shows have been set in Las Vegas that even first-time visitors often feel they’ve been there before. Yet cinematic portrayals of Vegas don’t tend to focus on people sitting in convention and meeting rooms.

The challenge for a meeting planner is to come up with opportunities for attendees to enjoy “Vegas moments”—the kinds of experiences they would post on Facebook to make friends at home feel jealous, if it weren’t for that whole “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” thing—while also making sure they get their business done.

High Roller

That doesn’t mean you have to make Mike Tyson’s tiger appear in anyone’s hotel room—but you do have to put some time and thought into making memories happen.

“What we are increasingly looking for are those one-of-akind moments, those irreplaceable moments,” says Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International, which owns and operates 14 properties along Las Vegas Strip. “You don’t want to be cooped up all the time in the same old convention box.”

Art piece at Seven Mountains

What is a Vegas moment? For some, it might be snapping a picture in front of the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, floating on a gondola through The Venetian Las Vegas, or gawking at the Fountains of Bellagio. For others, it might be ziplining over downtown’s Fremont Street or driving an exotic sports car around a track. Fortunately, Las Vegas has no shortage of iconic locations and opportunities to leave lasting memories—and the city never stops evolving.

For Your Dining Pleasure

Thirty years ago, the world’s top chefs would have turned their noses up at opening a restaurant in Las Vegas, home of $3.99 prime rib specials. But as the city evolved and new hotels became more sophisticated, Vegas turned into a foodie mecca, and today no top chef worth his or her salt doesn’t have an outpost in Sin City.

Arranging a trip to a celebrity-owned restaurant is one of the easiest ways to create a Vegas moment. The secret is to find a spot with just enough vibe to make it stand out. Consider Carnevino, a restaurant co-owned by celebrity chef Mario Batali, tucked inside the The Palazzo: A giant sculpture of a bull overlooks the main dining area, and there are multiple seductive, private dining areas where, over the right mix of dry-aged steaks and wine, serious business can get done.

Most major Strip hotels have at least one big-name cook—from Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck to Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon—and a meal could make for a great incentive prize or small-group gathering. Of course, if fancy chefs aren’t your style, consider a Vegas classic: the buffet. Caesars Palace Las Vegas, for example, is home to Bacchanal, a lavish, seemingly endless spread of food with a private dining room that seats up to 48 guests.

Rides at Stratosphere Las Vegas

“Almost every restaurant you walk into now has a private room,” says Amy Riley, senior director of business sales for Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

If your group is too big (or your budget too small) for a splurgy restaurant, it’s possible to make a banquet room more memorable by setting up food stations and hiring entertainers to create a lively atmosphere.

Ziplining above Fremont Street

“We can take the inspiration of some of our celebrity chefs and play off of that,” says Don Ross, vice president of catering, conventions, and events for Caesars Entertainment’s Las Vegas properties. This allows groups to use a common food-and-beverage minimum across its different properties.

“We create more of a restaurant feeling, a dining experience, rather than typical banquet fare,” Ross says.

Into the Desert

Too many visitors to Las Vegas spend their entire stays in their hotel, without venturing out into the desert that surrounds the city. Offering up a trip into nature will likely create a Vegas moment for anyone in your group not taken in by the thrills of Vegas proper—especially if they’re into activities such as hiking, biking or rock climbing.

One of the best-known natural areas is the striking Valley of Fire, the oldest state park in Nevada, located about 60 miles from The Strip. Red Rock Canyon features adventurous hiking options with stunning scenery. It’s located about 17 miles from the city, near Bonnie Springs Ranch, an old-time town that can be used for group events.

For something a little different, consider a visit to Seven Mountains, a sculpture by artist Ugo Rondinone made up of seven towering stacks of neon-painted rocks. This beautiful and unexpected installation is located about 10 miles south of The Strip and is scheduled to remain there through 2018.

Of course, it’s also possible to have your group spend most of its time closer to the desert by staying in a resort area such as Lake Las Vegas in the city of Henderson, which has an Italian-style village, golf courses and a lake that can be used for dragon-boating and other group fun. And it’s all just 20 minutes from The Strip.

Room with a View

The Beatles Love

Getting attendees up high enough for a view over Vegas can make for an easy ooh-aah moment. For a commanding view, no place can beat Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, which offers high-class dining and its own memorable experience, while also letting your guests gawk at the Fountains of Bellagio across the street. (The top of the Eiffel Tower provides even better views, but has far less space.)

One of the most visible new landmarks in Las Vegas, High Roller, is only a few years old but offers an experience like no other—a 30-minute Ferris wheel spin up to 520 feet, with stunning views across the valley. Each pod can hold nearly 40 people, and some have bars inside them. Groups have even enjoyed yoga sessions, karaoke parties and chocolate fountains during their spins, and the screens inside can be branded.

Flamingos at Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel Casino

For a straight shot of pure only-in-Vegas adrenaline, it’s hard to beat the rides at the top of Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower, which are 800 feet above the ground. There’s even a new free-fall attraction where guests can jump for a controlled bungee ride all the way to the ground. The private dining rooms and observation deck at the top can accommodate groups of up to 300.

A different fun option is VooDoo Zip Line at the Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, a 70-second zipline ride 400 feet above street level where guests travel from one hotel tower to another at speeds of up to 33 miles per hour.

The Mob Museum

For a different kind of Vegas moment, helicopters are surprisingly accessible. Providers such as Sundance Helicopters can take individuals or groups to the Grand Canyon or just up and around the city. For an optimum experience, Sundance Helicopters features six-passenger choppers for an exceptional view from any seat.

Extreme Thrills

During the past few years, there has been a bumper crop of another type of thrilling attraction—shooting ranges, high-speed driving experiences and even Top Gun-style flying experiences—that are ideal for team building or as incentive prizes for the right people. The number of options in this category is growing, and one of the newest options is Speed- Vegas, a 1.5-mile track on the southern tip of town where guests can ride around in Lamborghinis, Ferraris and other dream cars.

The complex has meeting space for up to 1,000 attendees, and it offers bargains including the Happy Hour of Power deal, in which $12,000 pays for up to 12 guests to have exclusive access to the track for 60 minutes—along with car keys.

For a different driving experience, Topgolf Las Vegas is a hole in one. At MGM Las Vegas Grand Hotel & Casino, the driving range features 108 hitting bays, two pools, bars, private rooms and event spaces, and a concert venue for 900 guests.

A Show to Remember

A live show is on the to-do list for most visitors to Las Vegas, and options range from small-scale magic acts to full-blown concerts by the likes of Celine Dion. If you can’t score tickets, reach out to have an act come to your event.

“You’re in Vegas, so why not utilize some of the entertainers that are in town—a vignette from Absinthe or a comedian, juggler, or mentalist—to do things at a reception?” Ross says.

One of the most popular options in town, Cirque du Soleil, has started to open some of its rehearsals to the public: On certain days, anyone can attend open practices for Mystere, The Beatles Love and Ka. Cirque has also launched a new incentive, teambuilding and professional development program.

Only-in-Vegas Attractions

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas

Las Vegas is also home to exhibits that can easily double as memorable event spaces. For a taste of the wild, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas operates Shark Reef Aquarium, a series of rooms with manta rays, sharks and other wonders of the sea.

Mirage Las Vegas is home to Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, where you can visit the white felines that were the famous German-born magicians’ hallmark. And Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel Casino has a lush jungle that doubles as a sanctuary for flamingos.

Feeling a little blue? The Blue Man Group show at the Luxor Hotel and Casino definitely moves to its own beat. It’s unforgettable, theatrical, musical and funny.

For some history, Mob Museum tells the story of Las Vegas’ early history of organized crime and law enforcement with high-tech theater presentations, artifacts and interactive environments; and Neon Museum displays restored neon signs from the city’s early history.

If your group really is fixated on the Hollywood take on Las Vegas, consider a visit to CSI: The Experience at MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, which gives guests to chance to play the role of crime scene investigator and solve a triple murder.

That’s just a taste of the immense number of restaurants, shows, attractions and other experiences available (and notice we haven’t even mentioned the casinos). Be sure to check in with the LVCVA and other resources to help make Vegas moments come alive.

“We still are spreading the message that Vegas Means Business,” Riley says. “Our profile has completely shifted from gaming toward leisure and tourism. And Vegas is not just The Strip. Get out and see what else is out there.”

Chuck Kapelke is a professional writer, video producer and longtime contributor to Smart Meetings magazine.

Major Meeting Venues

Las Vegas

Aria Las Vegas Resort & Casino

Stylish MGM-owned property on the center Strip; fine art by Maya Lin and others; 4,004 guest rooms and 568 luxury suites; four pools; convention space will span 500,000 sq. ft. when completed in February 2018.

Bellagio Las Vegas

Now-classic Vegas posh hotel; home to Conservatory & Botanical Garden and O by Cirque du Soleil; 3,933 guest rooms, including 512 suites; 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Caesars Palace Las Vegas

Massive property; 3,960 rooms and suites in five hotel towers; dining at Japanese-themed Nobu and Bacchanal Buffet; 4,300-seat Colosseum features big acts including Jerry Seinfeld and Celine Dion; 300,000 sq. ft. meeting space.

Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Hip hotel is one of the newer spots on The Strip; 2,995 guest rooms; 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 3,200-seat theater.

Excalibur Hotel Casino Las Vegas

Castle-themed hotel; 3,981 guest rooms (many recently remodeled); 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Tournament of Kings Dinner Show.

Green Valley Ranch Resort Spa Casino Las Vegas

Station Casinos-owned resort in Henderson; located just minutes from The Strip; 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 495 guest rooms; Hank’s Fine Steaks and Martinis; Grand Events Center; onsite movie theater.

Luxor Las Vegas

Pyramid-shaped hotel; 4,400 guest rooms, including 487 suites; four pools; 20,000 sq. ft. of attractive meeting space; popular shows include Blue Man Group and Criss Angel’s Mindfreak; Bodies and Titanic exhibitions.

M Resort Spa Casino Las Vegas

On southern edge of city; 390 guest rooms, with floor-to-ceiling windows; more than 100,000 sq. ft. of pool and entertainment space; infinity edge pools and large hot tubs surrounded by fire torches.

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas

Fifth-largest convention center in North America, with more than 2 million sq. ft.; tropical landscapes; wave pool and lazy river; 3,211 guest rooms; restaurants by Hubert Keller, Charlie Palmer; Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show.

MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino

5,044 guest rooms; includes Skylofts and Signature at MGM Grand; celebrity restaurant central (e.g., Joel Robuchon, Tom Colicchio, Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Mina); Ka by Cirque du Soleil.

Mirage Las Vegas

3,044 guest rooms, including 281 suites; pool with waterfalls; 170,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; volcano in the front; Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden; Dolphin Habitat; The Beatles Love show.

Palms Casino Resort

Hip hotel; Pearl Concert Theater, with capacity up to 2,500; 1,200 guest rooms; 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; N9ne Steakhouse, Nove Italiano; Ghostbar Night Club.

Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino

50-story replica of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe; 2,916 guest rooms, including 295 suites; replicas of French landmarks; 140,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Hotel & Casino

Carnival-themed off-Strip resort; 2,522 suites in two towers; 160,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; wine cellar and tasting room; lavish Palazzo Suites.

SLS Las Vegas

On the former site of the Sahara; new two-towered hotel; 1,300 guest rooms,; 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres; SLS retail; spa; two pools; multiple restaurants

South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa

On the southern edge of town; 16-screen movie complex; 11 restaurants; 64-lane bowling center, multiple restaurants; equestrian center.

The Orleans Hotel & Casino Las Vegas

1,885 guest rooms and suites; free shuttle service to the Gold Coast as well as the Las Vegas Strip; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space plus the Orleans Arena, which has hosted big-name acts such as Carrie Underwood and Van Halen.

The Venetian Las Vegas

Together with Palazzo, the largest hotel in the world; more than 7,000 suites; more than 2.3 million sq. ft. of meeting space; gondolas on the Grand Canal; plenty of retail; more than 30 restaurants.

The Westin Las Vegas Hotel, Casino & Spa

826-room property; located one block off The Strip; casino; business center; Hibiscus Spa; outdoor heated pool and Jacuzzi; 24-hour fitness studio; 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, divided among 15 rooms.

Treasure Island–TI Hotel & Casino

Home to Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere; 2,885 guest rooms; $1.7 million in renovations for 30,500 sq. ft. of meeting and convention space; pedestrian bridge connects to Fashion Show mall.

Tropicana Las Vegas–a DoubleTree by Hilton

Underwent recent $200 million transformation; 1,470 guest rooms; new conference center with more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Food Network celebrity chef Robert Irvine will open a restaurant in 2017.

Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino

Located one block from The Strip, adjacent to Las Vegas Convention Center; more than 3,000 guest rooms; award-winning restaurants; new fitness center and spa; monorail; 225,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas

Two luxury hotel towers; 4,748 guest rooms; 260,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 34 food and beverage outlets featuring signature chefs; two award-winning spas; 18-hole golf course; three nightclubs; beach club.