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If playing a word association game, virtually no one would think to put the words “Vegas” and “Christmas” together. But is it really a surprise that a city that goes big in every sense of the word also applies its customary over-the-top sensibility to the holiday season? From decking the halls of the casino floors to man-made winter wonderlands, the city makes the season brighter as only it knows how. BONUS: Hotel rates are often amazingly low in December. So without further ado, these are the 15 top reasons to check out Las Vegas over the holidays.

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Park, Las Vegas

The Park Las Vegas | Photo courtesy of Al Powers

Holiday at The Park
(Daily through Jan 7)
Sandwiched between New York, New York, T-Mobile Arena and Monte Carlo (soon to be the new Park MGM Hotel) is The Park, an urban respite and outdoor playground featuring drinking and dining destinations and also the centerpiece of a new holiday tradition. Look for the entire park to be transformed into a winter wonderland featuring an 80-foot tree, ice skating rink, the first ever Holiday Market and traditional chalets serving up food and drinks to warm your insides.

Ethel M Holiday Cactus Garden Lighting

24th Annual Holiday Cactus Garden at Ethel M Botanical Garden
(Daily through Jan 1)
Why does Las Vegas-based chocolatier Ethel M also boast the largest cactus garden in the Southwest? We have no idea, but what we do know is that the garden has been a celebrated local fixture for years and that during the holiday season it drapes its desert fauna in more than one million holiday lights and illuminates them nightly from sunset to 10pm. Always free and open to the public, don’t forget to grab some chocolate and hit up Ethel M’s new ice skating rink!

Holly-Dome
(Through Dec 21)
As old resorts are knocked down to pave the way for new ones, we love that kitschy cool Circus Circus is still going strong at the north end of the Strip. Its attached Adventuredome is a 5-acre indoor amusement park boasting thrill rides, carnival games and more, and this second annual holiday makeover includes photos ops with Santa, a holiday village, a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4D experience, live performances and all the holiday treats you can imagine.

Santa in the Shipwreck
(Dec 16, 17, 23 and 24)
There are Santa Speedo runs all over America so clearly old St. Nick is a fan of the water. In this instance, he’ll be hanging out with his friend Santa Jaws at the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay and posing for pictures before jetting off to the North Pole for his annual gift-dispensing duties. Every weekend in December at 4pm, you can even watch him scuba dive!

National Finals Rodeo | Photo courtesy of @globaltoppicks

Cowboy Christmas
(Dec 7-16)
At its heart, Vegas still thrums with the energy of a Wild West town. Enter Cowboy Christmas, an annual tradition that’s been kicking up dust for more than 30 years now. Be on the lookout for thousands in Levi’s jeans, checkered shirts and wide-brimmed hats descending upon the Sands Convention Center for a 10-day marketplace extravaganza that also includes the National Finals Rodeo and all kinds of events like Miss Rodeo America, live performances and much more.

Photo courtesy of Al Powers

New Year’s Eve Bridge Party 2018
(Dec 31)
Can you believe people stand cheek-by-jowl for hours in the bitter cold to watch the ball drop over Times Square in NYC? Neither can we, especially considering Sin City goes all in for the big day, including closing off the Strip to car traffic (which it only does twice annually), a massive booze-fueled block party and fireworks spectacular. It’s a big deal to celebrate at Brooklyn Bridge at New York New York Hotel and Casino which offers an open bar, live entertainment and a prime viewing location—but tickets sell out fast.

Holidays at Town Square

Holidays at Town Square
(Daily through Dec 23)
Ho, ho, holy cow does Vegas know how to deliver on all the merriment that makes the holiday season brighter. In Town Square, a 93-acre shopping and dining destination off South Las Vegas Boulevard (about two miles south of Mandalay Bay), the city goes all in with an orchestrated snowfall happening nightly at 7pm (additionally at 8pm every Fri–Sun), a 45-foot Christmas tree and photo ops with Santa Claus (by reservation only because apparently he’s one busy guy).

Christmas Town
(Daily through Dec 31)
Brrr! Splashing around in December at Vegas waterpark Wet ‘n’ Wild is a quick way to catch pneumonia, but at Christmas Town you ditch the bikini and swim trunks in favor of a winter coat and a cup of toasty hot chocolate while exploring a holiday wonderland featuring three million holiday lights, an ice skating rink, a 40-foot Christmas tree, a 100-foot sledding hill, photos with Santa, hang out with classic Christmas characters, sample holiday treats and much more.

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“A Drag Queen Christmas: The Naughty Tour”
(Dec 22)
RuPaul’s gender-bending winners (and losers) swoop through the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay for one night only in a show that promises to be more naughty than it is nice (though it’s also an all-ages show). Bob the Drag Queen and Thorgy Thor host a smorgasbord of queens including Alyssa Edwards, Milk, Acid Betty, Naomi Smalls, Latrice Royale, Kim Chi who will tuck their snowballs away in favor of outrageous winter couture and plenty of lip-schtick.

Glittering Lights

Glittering Lights
(Daily through Jan 7)
This dazzling annual tradition takes the concept of making the season brighter to the extreme. The 2.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway decks its walls with 3 million LED lights while motorists spin through it at the ir leisure while a portion of proceeds for every ticket benefits the Speedway Children’s Charity. Not in Vegas with a car? No problem. Hop aboard the Santa Tram and let Kris Kringle steer the ship while you relax with a cup of free hot chocolate.

© Al Powers, PowersImagery.com

Downtown Summerlin Holiday Parade
(Nightly at 6pm, Dec 16–24)
It’s kind of shocking that Las Vegas doesn’t have a major annual parade like Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in NYC. Enter Summerlin, an upscale community located in the shadows of Red Rock Canyon that marches to the beat of festive holiday drums with a nighttime holiday parade featuring outrageous floats, prince and princesses, toy soldiers and nutcrackers, penguins, polar bears and reindeer. There might even be snow!

Tournament of Kings

“Tournament of Kings Holiday Show”
(Through Dec 28)
This holiday spectacular is joust about as close as you’ll get to reliving King Arthur’s tale. This long-running holiday spectacular at Excalibur swirls together kings, queens, chivalrous knights, ridiculous court jesters, galloping horses and even Merlin the wizard with the spirit of the holidays including a three-course holiday meal (Dragon’s Blood Soup, Cornish game hen with all the trimmings and holiday strudel) and even falling snow.

Terry Factor | Photo courtesy of MGM Resorts International

“A Very Terry Christmas”
(Through Dec 30)
It can be difficult parsing through the myriad Vegas shows competing for you tourist dollar these days, but if you’re looking for one with a guaranteed holiday twist, check out the comic styling of ventriloquist, impressionist, singer and America’s Got Talent winner Terry Fator. His long-running show at the Mirage gets a holiday spin including Fator’s own holiday song, “Christmas in Vegas.” Expect plenty of puppets and celebrity impressions of folks like Justin Timberlake, Cher, Elvis and Garth Brooks among many others.

December to Remember

A December to Remember
(Dec 9)
The fabulous Neon Museum, a large boneyard that houses the old neon signage of once legendary Vegas icons like Binion’s, the Stardust and the Sahara, takes a break from its reservations only, docent-led tours for a free and open to the public afternoon of holiday happenings including ornament making followed by caroling by the Las Vegas Academy choir. Stick around until dusk and watch the entire Boneyard light up in glittery neon!

New Year’s Eve at Mandalay Bay with Maroon 5
(Dec 30, 31)
Maybe you’re a fan of their music or maybe you just like to swoon over tatted frontman Adam Levine. Regardless, the group will kick off their Red Pill Blues 2018 tour with two shows at the Mandalay Bay Events Center at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and cranking out hits like “Harder to Breathe,” “Makes Me Wonder,” “Moves Like Jagger” and many more. If choosing between the December 30 show and the one on New Year’s Eve, we know which one we’d pick for sure.

Tagged: Las Vegas

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Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is an associate editor at Orbitz, a social media marketing consultant and a freelance cultural reporter for numerous publications. His works has been featured in the Huffington Post, Time Out, Passport, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and many others.

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