Las Vegas prepares for Christmas, New Year's Eve celebrations: 'Book now'

It's not easy pulling off a winter wonderland in the middle of the Mojave Desert, but Las Vegas has found a way.

In true Las Vegas fashion, the city's holiday decorations and attractions are big and bold. There's the 42-foot-tall Christmas tree in the Bellagio's conservatory, surrounded by 7,500 poinsettias. A 50-foot LED orb turned animated snow globe Resorts World Las Vegas. And to ring in the new year, an eight-minute-long fireworks display spread across the Strip.

All that's missing is the snow.

"Every one of the resorts and attractions really celebrates the holidays," said Lori Nelson-Kraft, a spokesperson for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "There is an array of eye candy. ... (It's) Vegas with a twist, integrating the holidays into what (the resorts) offer our visitors, which in turn gives visitors a new reason to want to enjoy coming to Vegas during this time of year."

Christmas weekend can be a little slower in Las Vegas – New Year's Eve tends to be the busier December celebration – but there are still plenty of attractions to draw in visitors over the holiday season.

It has yet to be seen how the spread of omicron will impact the destination during the remainder of the year.

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What to do in Las Vegas over the holidays

Gayla Smith, an Oklahoma-based travel consultant who has been planning trips to Las Vegas for 20 years, said she loves visiting Las Vegas any time of the year, including the holidays.

“It’s just magical,” she said. “You can travel in a short period of time and you can capture Paris, you can capture Venice. … It’s like you’re taking the whole world and seeing it Las Vegas style.”

Smith noted that Las Vegas' warm climate can be a draw during the winter, with the average high temperatures in the 50s in December.

For travelers looking for holiday-themed activities, there are plenty of attractions. (Just don't forget to mask up; Nevada still has an indoor mask policy for people who aren't actively eating or drinking.)

► Watch "The Nightmare Before Christmas" – with a twist: Las Vegas’ Area 15 offers an immersive viewing of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” through Dec. 25, with a 3D projection-mapped screening. Adult tickets are $40 and include a specialty cocktail inspired by a scene from the movie, while kids 12 and under are charged $20.

► Ice skate with a view of the Strip: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has brought back its rooftop ice skating rink this year, which offers more than 4,200 square feet of ice, fire pits for roasting s’mores, seasonal cocktails and holiday films.

► Check out the Bellagio's themed conservatory: The Bellagio’s conservatory and botanical garden’s seasonal display, titled “Holiday Time,” was built using more than 13,000 white carnations, 7,500 poinsettias, 8,700 ornaments and a 42-foot fir brought in from California’s Mt. Shasta. When they're done exploring the conservatory, visitors can head outdoors to watch the famous Fountains of Bellagio dance to holiday songs like “Santa Baby” and “O Holy Night.”

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens' 2021 holiday display, "It's Time."
Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens' 2021 holiday display, "It's Time."

► Take a stroll through a cactus garden: The Holiday Cactus Garden offers not only millions of lights draped across all kinds of prickly plants, but some of Las Vegas’ best hot chocolate from the Ethel M Chocolate Factory.

See how the Strip's newest resort celebrates the holidays: Resorts World Las Vegas' 50-foot LED video globe is filled with holiday animations throughout the day for the season. Its hidden speakeasy, Here Kitty Kitty, has also gotten into the holiday spirit with lights and seasonal cocktails.

► Enjoy a not-so-silent “knight”: Excalibur’s Tournament of Kings arena offers a holiday-themed dinner show, “‘Twas the Knight,” through Dec. 27, complete with holiday music and snowfall summoned by Merlin.

► Check out American Idol performers: The Venetian resort’s Grand Canal Shoppes will have its Streetmosphere performers singing traditional carols in Italian, and its Palazzo Theatre will showcase "This is Christmas," a show featuring Broadway and American Idol stars singing holiday songs backed by a live band.

► Check out one of Las Vegas’ many residencies: There are plenty of big names headlining Strip venues in late December, including Usher, Katy Perry, Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars.

Affordable room rates over Christmas weekend

December through February tends to be Las Vegas' slow period, and resorts adjust their room rates accordingly.

Nelson-Kraft said hotel occupancy percentages the weekend before Christmas tend to fall between the 70s and the low 80s – below average for Las Vegas, which filled 90% of its weekend rooms in October.

“You will see friendlier room rates during that time before the New Year's holiday. So that becomes part of the appeal,” Nelson-Kraft said.

Caesars Entertainment Inc.’s Paris Las Vegas, for instance, offered rooms starting at $109 on its website – not including fees and taxes – for Christmas Eve earlier this month. Meanwhile, New Year’s Eve room rates at the resort were eight times that much and started at $899, according to the company’s website.

The resort has since sold out of available rooms for New Year's Eve.

Caesars Entertainment Inc.’s Paris Las Vegas and many other Las Vegas properties are sold out of rooms for New Year's Eve.
Caesars Entertainment Inc.’s Paris Las Vegas and many other Las Vegas properties are sold out of rooms for New Year's Eve.

Nelson-Kraft suggests travelers who want to take part in Las Vegas' New Year's Eve celebrations book fast.

“Book now, get your room,” Nelson-Kraft said. “It’s an exciting, fun time and we are more than likely going to be at full occupancy, as has been the case for decades here.”

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Las Vegas' New Year’s Eve fireworks show returns

Las Vegas’ annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show will be ringing in 2022 after a hiatus last year due to a spike in coronavirus cases.

The eight-minute “America’s Party” fireworks show spans the entire Strip, with fireworks blasted from the rooftops of eight casinos lining Las Vegas Boulevard: the MGM Grand, Aria, Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island, the Venetian, the Strat and Resorts World. (It takes about five days total to prepare the rooftops for the show.)

The display will be choreographed to a soundtrack available on local radio stations that includes the traditional "Auld Lang Syne," "Deuces are Wild" by Aerosmith, "22" by Taylor Swift and more.

Las Vegas' annual fireworks show, America's Party, in 2020. (David Becker/Las Vegas News Bureau)
Las Vegas' annual fireworks show, America's Party, in 2020. (David Becker/Las Vegas News Bureau)

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Dec. 31 typically brings in more than 300,000 visitors, according to the LVCVA. The organization didn't forecast how many people will be swarming to Las Vegas for the upcoming celebration, but Nelson-Kraft expects New Year's Eve to be “big and bold and fun” since it falls on a weekend this year.

There has been no indication that the fireworks show will be called off due to the spread of omicron, which was discovered in Clark County last week.

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Downtown Las Vegas’ Fremont Street will also be celebrating the new year with an ‘80s- and ‘90s-themed celebration, which will feature live performances from Bobby Brown, Vanilla Ice, Village People, Tone Loc, A Flock of Seagulls and more. The show is only available for those 21 and older, who are encouraged to wear outfits that match the theme. Early-bird tickets are available for $35 through Dec. 23.

Downtown's Plaza Hotel will also celebrate the new year with its own fireworks show.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What to do in Las Vegas on Christmas, New Year's Eve