STAFF HOTEL REVIEWS
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Archive for the ‘Las Vegas’ Category
ARIA Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas, NV
By: Dave Grossman, HotelMagician.com
It’s a work in progress.
When I was planning a trip to Las Vegas for early January, I called casino marketing to find out about the new ARIA hotel – not only the latest hotel to open in Las Vegas, but the only casino hotel in the new CityCenter complex that includes an upscale shopping mall, art gallery, and a variety of restaurants and nightclubs. I was informed that the ARIA was being positioned “above Bellagio as the new flagship MGM hotel in Las Vegas” and, with that, I booked my stay.
One drawback to anything in CityCenter (ARIA, Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, and Vdara plus the Crystals shopping center) is that the monorail won’t be an option. It’s not a major drawback as the monorail is generally inconvenient anyway since it’s so far from the main area of any casino it serves, but CityCenter is on the wrong side of the street for it entirely and it seems worth noting. There is also no on-property convenience store.
ARIA has a 5 Diamond AAA rating but that wasn’t apparent at check-in. A 5 Diamond property is supposed to have a check-in process where you are greeted and brought to the next available check-in agent. On my arrival there was not a single greeter to be found and a long counter of very busy check-in agents with hoards of confused guests trying to figure out where the lines actually were and which might be shortest. It took roughly 25 minutes to get an available line to check-in with. The agent was very polite but – and here’s where it sets the tone for the stay – placed me in a handicapped accessible room without advising me of that fact. While it is very obvious once I arrive at the room, it is less clear that my room with be lacking some basic amenities. I don’t learn this until I’m checking out… so more on that later on.
On the walk up to the room I noticed that the decor, while very nice, is a bit dark. It’s not depressing, but it’s not inspiring either. The casino floor is nice and new but I found a distinct variety of slots to be lacking (they were all a new kind of IGT electronic slot that had different games, but they didn’t have many of the fun slots of the last decade with various games on top – a personal favorite). Also, if you play BlackJack, know that ARIA won’t take your Players Club card unless you are betting a minimum of $25 a hand. If you like to play $15 or $20, they won’t count your play at all. Good to know if that’s your game since playing for 20 hours in a stay would earn you, well, nothing.
On to the room. Here’s where ARIA gets one thing unequivocally right – the bed. The beds are absolutely fantastic. I kind of want to compare it to what it would feel like to sleep in a cloud – except for the obvious fact that you’d fall right through a cloud! But the bed absolutely envelops you and allows you to wake up as refreshed as can be each day. The next thing you notice is that everything in ARIA is controlled by buttons on the wall or remote control. To the point of confusion. You’ll need to use a wall switch to open the curtain and to watch TV, set a sleep timer, turn the bedside lights on and off, and probably 50 other things, you’ll need to use a large remote on the nightstand that seems like something from the future. Does it have a “cool” factor? Absolutely. Does it seem like a bit much? Yes. Even some random guest in the elevator remarked to me how confusing the remote control for the room was. Sometimes hi-tech can be a bit too hi-tech.
I was expecting a 5 star caliber bathroom but found it a bit sparse. Nice, but nothing special. Note in the picture that the shower is very basic and there’s no tub. Now, here is where this review takes the turn that I mentioned at the outset. While it was clear on inspecting the room that it was handicapped accessible, it did not register that, aside from the grab bars and the place to sit in the shower, that it would actually be significantly different. You’d think the agent checking me in would have mentioned something like “Sir, the room I’m placing you in because of our overbooking tonight is handicapped accessible and does not contain a soaking tub like our other rooms. Is that acceptable or would you like to wait for a different room?” But of course nothing at all was mentioned and I assumed the standard rooms did not have tubs. I found this out only as I checked OUT 3 days later – when I casually mentioned to the clerk that I was surprised they didn’t have soaking tubs. An assistant manager was apologetic and I realize that things happen in a new hotel so when I got home, I wrote to Public Relations asking for a picture of a non-handicapped bathroom for my readers.
Unfortunately, not only couldn’t they provide this, they actually scolded me for not knowing to not accept the room I was given and cause this situation in the first place! They then asked if I had booked the room through Public Relations. When I advised that I had not originally booked the room through PR but, instead, booked as any guest would have booked, I was told “Then as the vast majority of other guests would do, you should have let the Front Desk know about it right away and they would have moved you.” Sorry, my psychic powers were off that day. And with that, it was confirmed (in my mind) that ARIA is far from a 5 Diamond property. A guest, whether he is in the travel industry or not, should never need to know that they’ve been placed in a room that is missing standard amenities so that they can ask to be moved. A 5 Diamond property gets it right the first time, no matter who the guest is.
There was a major standout in the ARIA hotel – the Spa. Whatever other disappointments I had in the hotel were completely forgotten the day I had Spa access. In addition to all the treatments, you’ll have access to a gym that rivals most free standing gym complexes with an array of every kind of equipment you might want. You can use the large steam room, a sauna, one of four hot tubs, and the long pool out on the balcony. Remember how I said the hotel’s atmosphere was a bit somber? Well, the Spa has the decor just right. Everything is 100% relaxing and 5 Star. If they could make the entire hotel part of the Spa! Note that if you want access to the gym only, you still need to pay for Spa access – $30 as of this writing.
While you’re staying at ARIA, you’ll no doubt want to eat. And you’ll have lots of options. Casual options include the buffet (which was really one of the best I’ve ever had in Vegas), the cafe (Cafe Vettro), Skybox Sports Bar and Grill (really a good low cost option), Lemongrass (Thai), Jean Philippe Patisserie (coffee, chocolates, light meals), Sweet Chill Gelato, and a Roasted Bean Coffee Shop (no Starbucks here). Fine dining includes BarMasa, Shaboo, Sage, Julian Serrano (Tapas), JeanGeorges Steakhouse, Sirio, American Fish, Blossom (upscale Chinese) and Union (lounge just off the casino floor).
Jean Philippe was a daily morning stop but it operates something like the Front Desk in that you really have no idea where to go when it’s crowded. Do you order coffee at the register? The sandwich area? Tough to say for sure, but I had luck getting people’s attention near the sandwiches. Sometimes.
Looking for nightlife? Haze downstairs seemed to be a major hotspot (possibly “of the moment”). But once again, confusion reigned. There were signs everywhere for VIP access, but who is a VIP? Are hotel guests given priority entry? The guy upstairs didn’t know. The person manning the entry to the VIP line didn’t know. Everyone just knew you needed a VIP card. After a big loop, we tried the front desk which, as it turned out, had those very VIP cards we needed. You just need to know that you needed to ask for them. In the end, the line was too long even with the card and we went just next door into the Crystals complex to a smaller nightclub and danced the night away.
Summary of the ARIA Hotel and Casino: It’s a great bed in a new and modern complex. Service is a bit lacking but hopefully that will improve in time. You’ll find more luxury at Wynn, Encore at Wynn, Bellagio, Venetian, Palazzo, and THEHotel at Mandalay Bay (which I gave high marks in this review) but, if you get a good rate at ARIA, it might be worth it.
THEHotel at Mandalay Bay
THEHotel - THESuite bedroom
3970 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV US 89119
THEHotel at Mandalay Bay easily met or exceeded my admittedly lofty expectations for a one night stay in September.
Let’s start at the top. THEHotel is Mandalay Bay’s “hotel within a hotel” – the high end sibling of Mandalay Bay. THEHotel is almost entirely suites (although they do have one room type that is not, so be sure to look at what you book!) and they sure are gorgeous! THEHotel is connected to Mandalay Bay and while THEHotel has its own spa and bar/restaurant options, you’ll find most of the amenities are next door at Mandalay Bay (which also, incidentally, houses the Four Seasons Las Vegas).
THEHotel THESuite living room
I stayed in a suite called THESuite which is the base level suite measuring around 700 sq ft with a separate living room with a large flat panel TV and a massive bathroom including a large glass shower and separate soaking tub – with an additional small wall-mounted flat panel TV in case you’d like to watch TV while in the soaking tub. Nice! I was a bit surprised that the bedroom TV was an older CRT but I think the reason is the wall units they have in the bedroom aren’t made to accommodate such a large TV and it probably didn’t seem worth it to go through the expense of changing out the massive wall units.
I think a lot of the pictures here will speak for themselves. It has the feel of a swank city apartment.
THEHotel THESuite Bathroom w/ soaking tub
In terms of amenities, Mandalay Bay has lots. In the summer season, when the pools are open and in full swing, I’m not sure you can beat what Mandalay offers. The main pool (free for guests) is really two pools (one gigantic wave pool complete with a real sand beach and lounge chairs on the beach and one standard pool) as well as a lazy river (although the inner tube rental is way over priced, in my opinion, at over $20 a tube).
Beach (the pool) at Mandalay Bay
Next door to the pool area is a European (read as topless women are encouraged) pool called Moorea Beach. Admission starts at $40 for guys and $10 for girls and includes a lounge chair except during peak times. This is notable because many other pools in Las Vegas that charge entry do not include anything in the way of a lounge chair. You might also look for hotel packages that include entry to Moorea if you know you’ll be going. My rate included admission for two which is worth $20-$80 right there.
Moorea Beach @ Mandalay Bay
Mandalay Bay also includes some nice eateries – notably a House of Blues, Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, Michael Mina’s StripSteak, Wolfgang Puck’s Lupo, China Grill, and the Brazillian “rumjungle”, as well as the Vegas standard buffet. Two Starbucks Coffee’s are also available.
One downside to Mandalay Bay is its location all the way at the South end of the strip, not far from the airport. It *is* on the strip and is connected to the Luxor and across the street from the MGM Grand (which has a monorail stop – although door to door the walk to it would probably be about 30 minutes!). If you’ll be driving or taking a cab out, it’s no big deal, but you should know you won’t be ideally situated mid-strip.
Overall, I’d definitely stay at THEHotel at Mandalay Bay again and would recommend you give it a try as well! You can also go for a standard room at Mandalay Bay – generally $20-$30 cheaper (or more) a night.
Tao Beach at the Venetian vs. Rehab at the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas
Daytime partying in Las Vegas has reached new heights. First the nightclubs took over the town as nightlife became more about clubbing than gambling. Now, with all the daytime pool parties, one can party from the morning until the late hours of the night and never gamble a dime – at least in summer.
Over Labor Day Weekend of 2009, we went to two of the hottest pool scenes in Vegas to compare and contrast.
Let’s do a side-by-side comparison:
||All weekend in summer
||Hard Rock Hotel
||$10-$20 (girls)$20-$40 (guys)Discount fliers available in hotel
||$50 – $100 (Girls)$100 – $200 (Guys)Price increases as pool fills
|Size and layout
||A modestly sized rectangular pool with loungers/cabanas all around and a bar
||Gigantic! See the picture. Massive pool includes swim-up BlackJack and a second level for cabanas as well as many raised areas for dancing
||Club with a pool in the middle
||Enormous party scene – more pool party than club.
|Difficulty getting in
||Like all things Vegas, girls will have a *much* easier time getting in. At Tao, guys will need to be on “a list” for the best chance at entry. Girls will have an easier time on a list but will likely get in eventually either way.
||At Rehab, I hope you like lines! The party has gained such a following and, being that it’s only once a week, large crowds. Despite holding thousands of partiers, the lines are legendary. The best advice I can give is this: 1) Stay at the hotel that day. Hotel guests get free wristbands (likely paying for the room right there!) and use a special guest line. Still, get on line early as when I arrived at 1, the guest line was still over an hour long. If you are not staying there, get there by opening time which I believe is 9am. By 1, that line was SEVERAL HOURS LONG and the bouncer said he didn’t think everyone on it would make it in at all. It’s pretty crazy.
|Swimming and drinking?
||Alcohol around the pool only you cannot bring it in the pool.
||Alcohol comes in massive sip cups to ensure maximum punch. Not only that, you can drink freely in the pool!
|What does the crowd look like?
||In both Tao Beach and Rehab, the crowd is HOT! Sure, you’ll find some strippers and some “working girls” but you’ll also find a ton of locals and a LOT of people in from LA for the weekend. That should give you an idea.
||Both the girls and the guys obviously pay a lot of attention to their bodies and the eye candy may spoil you for life!
||Club music with guest DJs
||Club music with guest DJs
Tao Beach @ The Venetian - Las Vegas
So – how do you know which is for you? They are both great pool parties – no question.
Tao Beach has a smaller and more intimate vibe to it. We found it a
Rehab at the Hard Rock Hotel - Las Vegas
bit easier to talk to fellow partiers at Tao Beach – probably because the size kept you in closer quarters. So if you are easily overwhelmed, I’d suggest Tao Beach. Similarly, the lines and cost of Rehab may deter some people. A notable pro to Tao Beach if not staying at the Venetian is you can also use the massive and under crowded regular pool right next to Tao Beach.
On the flip side, Rehab is a far bigger and, therefore, crazier scene. It is probably 8 to 10 times bigger and that gives you a lot of room to roam. The ability to drink in Rehab’s pool will make a big difference to some as well.
If you have the energy, I’d suggest doing what we did… Tao Beach on Saturday and Rehab on Sunday. Try them both and find your groove. Although by the time you finish your weekend of partying at Rehab, you may well need to go to rehab!
Palms Hotel and Palms Place Condo Hotel
(adjacent to the Palms Hotel and Casino)
4381 West Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 89104 US
Recently built and about a 7 minute walk from the Palms via a “skytube”, the Palms Place is an excellent way to experience the Palms and all its nightlife – as another option to staying in the Palms own hotel.
The room we had at in the Palms Place condo hotel portion (rooms here are rented through Palms reservations and acts just like a hotel even though you may be renting someone’s condo unit) was modern, clean, large, and very comfortable. Probably the best part of the room was the shower/bath combo. The shower had a big rain showerhead on top plus a wall mounted additional showerhead that was also removable. The bath was a nice big rectangular whirlpool. For a couple, this would be a nice romantic bath area.
Definitely for the younger crowd (20′s/30′s) the Palm’s offers a sizeable pool (with a special party every Friday called “Ditch Friday’s” complete with DJ and the crowd that goes with that) and 3 clubs: Rain, Ghostbar, and Moon – inside the Playboy Club.
We did not visit Rain or Moon – there were lines about an hour long for each so we can only assume these are your typical Las Vegas clubs – various types of music, young crowds crammed in close together in a chic vibe with pricey drinks.
We were advised to check out the new Playboy Club / Moon club combination club on the top floor. At $40 entry, we were expecting the Playboy Club to be really special but in reality it was a bar with a great view and a few (high minimum bet) table games staffed by Playboy bunnies. Neat, yes; spectacular, no.
Moon, connected to the Playboy Club by escalator was a pretty nice club. It had a main room with a sizeable dance floor, a small main bar by the elevators, and a side bar that was a bit more chill. All in all, a good combo, albeit with a stuff price of entry. AT the time of this review, you could enter before 10pm for $20 and come back later with your stamp rather than pay the later $40 cover charge.
We are at N9NE steakhouse and were not at all disappointed by the quality. Make sure you have some heart pills before the bill comes, though, as prices blow away that of even prime New York City eateries.
The casino itself at the Palms Casino is a bit small. You won’t necessarily find all your favorite table games or slots, so that may be a consideration if you want a huge gaming area. The crowd does skew a bit towards the younger side.
As far as location goes, keep in mind that this is way off-strip so you will be taking cabs everywhere you go.
More Las Vegas Hotel Deals
Luxor Hotel and Casino
3900 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV
By Dave Grossman, Hotel Magician
The Luxor is currently what we would describe as an “up and comer”. Since being bought by MGM, it’s obvious there are big plans for this hotel and casino built in the 1980′s and virtually unchanged ever since. Right now, we’d call it average – but so is the price, so it will still fit the bill for a good many travelers.
For this hotel, a simple Pro and Con list will probably work best.
- Decent location, near the end of the Strip but next door to Mandalay Bay on one side and Excalibur on the other – with inside walkways into both. It’s also convenient to the Airport.
- It’s mid-range casino means that you can get comps here for lower wagering on table games than you would elsewhere. Playing the $10 games may not get you much, but they will rate you. Next door at Mandalay Bay, they’ll not-so-nicely scoff at you if you are playing with anything less than green. For similar wagering, you’ll also earn about twice as much in comps at Luxor.
- The Pyramid. It’s cool… although the nicer rooms are actually in the Tower.
- The pool. It’s not as Flash as the Hard Rock or Mandalay but it’s a big pool with lots of seating. It attracts people of all ages.
- The rooms in the Tower section are nicely renovated.
- The price. The Luxor is usually quite a good deal relative to other big casinos on the strip.
- Not one but two Starbucks!
- It lacks the “Flash Factor”. You won’t find the celebs here. But, really, most don’t care about that.
- The food. We’ll be honest. It’s not good. It’s not the worst, but it’s not good. MGM needs to overhaul the Luxor‘s dining concepts ASAP. We’re talking a brand new buffet with brand new food, a brand new cafe, and some designer dining options like the MGM Grand has.
- The location. For some it’s a nice location but others might prefer to be more mid-strip – near Caesar’s Palace, Planet Hollywood, Paris Las Vegas, Wynn, etc.
- The check-in. It took a long time. And despite our package including a supposedly special “Tower Check-in,” the Tower Check-in was closed when we arrived forcing a very long wait on the main line.
Overall, it was fine. Nothing extravagant but not bad either. We’d stay again if on a budget.
Bare Pool Lounge Bar
3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109 US
By Dave Grossman and Josh Sanders, Hotel Magician
In recent years, Las Vegas has really upped the ante for exclusive nightclubs. But the group behind happening nightspot “Light” saw a relatively untapped market – getting that same crowd to party during daylight hours.
Enter “Bare Pool Lounge” at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas. Open from 11am to 7pm, Bare caters to a very exclusive crowd, ushering in the same people skipping the lines at the hottest clubs while turning away most of the rest save for high rollers and beautiful babes.
But this is exactly why you’ll want to spend a day here if you can. The majority of the crowd here is extremely attractive and its European-style means that bikini tops are optional. Bare has been marketing itself extensively and we were a bit afraid it’d be more hype than reality – but this was not the case.
It’s a pretty small setting – we guessed there was about 150 people total, including guests on the lounge chairs (waiter service), day beds and private nooks (bottle service), and a VIP area for special guests (celebs and high-rollers).
If you visit without bottle service, you are in competition for one of the lounge chairs and there are not many. Else, you will either be hanging out by the bar or staking out a piece of the side of the pool for your belongings. There are no changing areas or locker facilities. Not ideal but you’ll still feel pretty good about being here.
Bare succeeds in delivering exactly what it aims to: a a beautiful and exclusive setting for beautiful people to spend the day relaxing in and around the pool and enjoying some fine food and drink while the DJ does his thing. Pitchers of margaritas and sangria replace the tradition “bottles” you expect from bottle service at a nightclub.
Hot Tip from the Hotel Magician:
Thursdays are unofficially “Exotic Dancer” day where local dancer beauties show up and kick back.
The best way to get in is to call in advance, at least a day before, for reservations.
Standard rates as of this writing are $40 for men and $20 for ladies on Fri/Sat/Sun and $30/$10 on Thurs/Mon. (closed Tues/Weds). Without being on “the list”, your best bet is to arrive by 10:45am for the 11am opening. It’s the same “get there early” technique you’d use at a hot nightclub.
For a big group, you’ll need to pay for bottle service and food to reserve your spot.
Bare Pool: (702) 791-7442
MGM Mirage hotel reservations