A trip to outer space costs a lot. Vegas is just as kooky but far more affordable. Plus it has swimming pools, spas, and Elvis.
5. It’s otherworldly.
Someday we will book dream vacations across the galaxy. Till then we have this vast, exotic, beeping, flashing mash of authentic and faux pleasures, from Picassos, piranhas, and spring-fresh tulips to Sinatras, blue men, and the new $8.5 billion CityCenter  replete with gleaming towers and angled metal mountains. Every year, 40 million visitors glide through Las Vegas County, with just over two million citizens, to gorge on gourmet food and gamble an average of $466 per visit. At least one company is working on “space tourism” trips to the moon. Vegas is ready to compete.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority: (702) 892-0711, visitlasvegas.com .
4. It’s spa-sational.
When your pupils swirl and the sound of slot machines won’t stop ka-chinging in your ears, it’s time to seek treatment. Inside the Spa at Aria, I inhaled eucalyptus steam and slathered myself in aromatic emollients. A $30 day pass provides access to a variety of tranquil chambers, including heated-stone beds and a salt room. VIA first saluted the Vegas spa trend  in 2007, and since then it has only grown more salubrious.
Spa at Aria: 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 590-9600, arialasvegas.com .
3. It’s a portal to true natural splendor.
After feasting on the adrenaline buffet of roller coasters and neon billboards, you might be ready to spend time with some quiet companions, like, say, rocks. Utah’s Zion National Park is three hours away, and Nevada’s own Valley of Fire State Park is just an hour. I opted for a two-hour trip to California’s Death Valley National Park, where I drifted through a spectacular, wide-open panorama with nature’s own bad-boy awesomeness on full display at spots like Dante’s View and Badwater Basin.
Valley of Fire State Park: (702) 397-2088, parks.nv.gov/vf.htm .
Death Valley National Park: (760) 786-3200, nps.gov/deva .
Zion National Park: (435) 772-3256, nps.gov/zion .
2. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
How do you compete with Paris, Venice, and ancient Egypt? Vegas’s newest resort casino, the Cosmopolitan, abandoned the geographic-imitation model to create eclectic decor that’s two parts rock and roll and one part Oscar Wilde with a heavy splash of mid-century chic. There’s a hidden pizza restaurant (tucked away on the third floor with no signage), a pool flanked by a concert stage, and a three-level bar called the Chandelier surrounded by a curtain of 2 million crystals. Who dusts that thing? Not you.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas: 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (877) 551-7778, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com .
1. Viva Elvis at Aria.
Some prefer dancers draped in sequins and feathers. I like ’em encased in polyester jumpsuits, shimmying to music that sets my heart on fire. Cirque du Soleil’s tribute to the King bubbles with rollicking dance numbers, jailbirds, a giant blue suede shoe, and stunning acrobatics. Costume designer Stefano Canulli shows off one glorious confection after another. My favorite number? The showgirls twirling to “Heartbreak Hotel” in adorable paper dresses modeled on airmail envelopes.
Viva Elvis: (877) 253-5847, arialasvegas.com/viva-elvis . (“Viva Elvis” closed in August 2012; for other Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas, visit cirquedusoleil.com .)
Photography by Julie Aucoin; costumes by Stefano Canulli ©Cirque du Soleil Inc. (two images from Viva Elvis)
Photography courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau (CityCenter, Fountains, Welcome sign, the Pods)
This article was first published in November 2011 and updated in August 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.