Super Bowl in Las Vegas. Photo by Shutterstock.

What It’s Like: Super Bowl Weekend in Vegas, Baby, Vegas

BY Rob LeDonne | February 13, 2024

“How’s it going here, so far?” I ask the humble Lyft-er driving me down the Las Vegas Strip. If you wanna gauge a city’s vibe, ride-share drivers are a go-to move. Most have seen some shit and It’s Super Bowl weekend and the game is here. So, there’s plenty of shit going down. 

“Ugh.” I feel like he’s about to share a loss in the family. “The traffic. It’s terrible. Never been worse.”

Traffic. We’re talking about traffic? Yes. But, I guess that’s what happens when the biggest sporting event in the world descends into a metropolis. Vegas was built as a getaway, though. A glitzy, adult vacation spot constructed as an escape. But it’s hard to get away when you can’t get away when it takes a half hour to go a single mile. And when the whole world comes to you over a single weekend? 

“Ever since Formula 1, that’s when it all changed,” says Franklin the Lyft-er. He’s referring to the mega-deal between Formula 1’s new 10-year contract to hold a Las Vegas Grand Prix, the first of which was in November. 

If you look closely you’ll see traffic. Photo by Rob LeDonne.

“Traffic was always bad, but they screwed everything up.” The F1 race course occupied already strained boulevards,and added new congestion and back-ups to long-existing congestion and back-ups. Still, Franklin has been living in Vegas for two decades and has witnessed every change imaginable. “I can’t complain,” he says, gazing out onto a sea of flashing red brake lights. “I’ve seen it all, really.” I ponder asking him for more, but think of the city’s unofficial slogan and decide to let it drop. 

Aside from when racing fans zipped into Vegas two months ago, the city has been on an impressive run. In September they opened up the Sphere, an unmistakable glowing orb that would seem like it landed from outer space if it weren’t for the fact it regularly depicts massive smiley emojis, sponsored ads or, one late night, Spongebob Squarepants and his trusty friend Patrick. This weekend there were plenty of Chiefs and 49ers imagery, and a rumor that Beyonce is replacing U2 after the Irish band’s venue-launching residency.  But wherever you go in town, the Sphere’s there: glaring at and haunting you. Much like your Vegas secrets.

Then this past December, the city saw the grand opening of the brand new Fontainebleau; the Miami icon (with an impressive musical history, I may add) expanded for the first time in over 60-year history with this fresh location. With the Super Bowl in town, one couldn’t ask for a better marketing plan. 

“We went from [the F1] experience straight into New Year’s Eve, followed by the Super Bowl,” Fedor Banuchi tells me. He’s the Senior Vice President, Entertainment for Fontainebleau. “The Super Bowl is America’s biggest sporting event and Las Vegas is the world’s premier entertainment resort destination. There’s a reason Las Vegas ran out of private jet parking this weekend.”

I head to my room (waiting for me is a gift bag with a baseball cap, water bottle, chocolates and a notebook, presumably to write down all my future memories). The sounds of Paul Anka’s custom Fontainebleau theme echo through the space, and let’s just say the man has found nearly every word that rhymes with Bleau. I changed the channel to catch up on the game and of course they’re reporting on Taylor Swift who flew into Los Angeles. They aren’t sure if she’s driving or flying from California, but they’ll be sure to keep us informed. 

Photo by Rob LeDonne.

Construction here at the Fontainebleau began all the way back during Bush’s second term. After a few fits and starts (the pandemic really messed things up), they opened with the distinction as the highest occupied building in Las Vegas. It’s all worth it for weekends like this when the numbers speak for themselves: “We’re [looking at] 7,288 guests, 1,500 limo rides, 20,000 restaurant covers and 100,000 drinks,” says Banuchi. He has an estimate on the number of ice cubes to be used at the hotel, too: “One million.”  Even Reba McEntire, who did the national anthem honors to kick off the Super Bowl, stayed here and posted a chic Instagram from her room

I’m having an early dinner at Washing Potato, a Chinese restaurant. But it isn’t just any Chinese restaurant. It’s souped up (for lack of a better phrase) in a distinctly Vegas style: a long sleek dining room with gyrating lights overhead and a pulsating dance soundtrack. I order the roast duck and while it comes out intact, my intrepid waiter slices and dices it up at the table. The cold brew that’s helping to get the night started has caramel sauce on the rim of the glass. 

I walk out into the casino’s sleek hallways and while many shops are already open and humming, there are signs of future enterprises. I see a massive golden emblem on the wall: “THE FUTURE HOME OF THE JIM AND FRANN GRAY TOM BRADY FAMILY COLLECTION HALL OF EXCELLENCE.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sure does sound important. (Later I hear that earlier this week Brady helped christen the Hall of Excellence in person.)

The hallway gives way to the lobby, and as I walk through I hear loud laughter. I look over and realize the source of the laughter is Queen Latifah. Maybe she’s also contemplating the FUTURE HOME OF THE JIM AND FRANN GRAY TOM BRADY FAMILY COLLECTION HALL OF EXCELLENCE? 

The Fontainebleau lobby. Photo via Shutterstock.

The one thing that distinguishes this weekend in Vegas from every other one is, as expected, the game is inescapable, even if you’re not actually going in person. This hotel has a myriad of Instagrammable installs, like the massive bouquet of white and blue flowers in the shape of a ball, for instance. As I walk the Fontainebleau’s casino floor, its basically a sea of red jerseys.

Sunday morning, the day of the game, I’m having brunch at La Fontaine. It’s early and I’m dressed like a schlub, which doesn’t mesh with the fancy atmosphere. It’s the kind of place where you order an avocado with your eggs and it comes out sliced, cutely plated with a herb garnish.  I look around and it’s a relaxed atmosphere, though some people have suits. 

The little secret about the Super Bowl descending on your town is this: The week leading up to the Big Game are packed with events. Some are thrown by the NFL; others by brands. But when the actual day arrives, the vibe flips. The total insanity moves to the stadium. I expected the craziness of the week to continue, but on Super Bowl Sunday, Vegas is actually…pretty quiet. It was clear that the revelers either shelled out big bucks to attend the game or they watched the games in their hotel rooms, at home or someplace other than the usual Vegas hangouts. If you came here looking for a party during the game, sure, there were bars to go to, but if they weren’t showing the game, you’re out of luck. 

The pool at Las Vegas’ Waldorf Astoria, post Super Bowl. Photo by Rob LeDonne.

The next day, over at the Waldorf Astoria — another iconic East Coast import — a bevy of high rollin’ guests laid their hats here to detox after their Super Bowl-induced, nacho cheese hangover.Here bigger isn’t always better; with only 389 rooms, it makes sense the opulent property is one of the most expensive on the strip. I check in and take one bank of elevators to a floor where the property’s quiet pool and spa are located. A sharp left to the guest elevators and I’m up in my room. It’s quiet here; perhaps a Monday like any other. It’s unbelievable the eyes of the world were on this city just last night. 

“It is amazing to see the endless bandwidth of this city,” said Ali Murray, Director of Sales & Marketing. “Not only is Vegas the entertainment capital of the world, but we’re now seeing it emerging as the new sports capital.” I opt for some chill time at the property’s pool and a helpful attendant runs over to me. “Do you want some water?” He’s honestly probably bored, as there’s one other guy here reading. “Sure,” I say. 

The spa at the Waldorf.

After some pool time, I head to the spa for a men’s facial. They offer some tea and a “hand cleansing” ritual. One of the kind employees is clearly excited, telling me members of Usher’s creative team opted for spa treatments today as well. “They did the full package,” I’m told. I’m tired just watching the game, I could imagine how they feel: going from the intensity of Allegiant Stadium to the idyllic and intense quiet. 

Then again, Murray points to a “limitless potential” here in Sin City. “Every year gets busier and better, and with Vegas, there’s always something new up the sleeve.”