Friday, January 29, 2010

A City Within A City, Part 3: Vdara Hotel & Spa

This is the third and final installment from the San Antonio Express-News article that included some good reviews the City Center hotels currently open in Las Vegas.

"A City Within the City", by Greg Morago
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Vdara Hotel and Spa

This non-gaming hotel is the best-behaved student in a class of do-gooders. While City Center was built "green" and most of its properties have earned LEED Gold certification, Vdara takes it one step further: no smoking. At check-in they underscore the smoking ban and make you sign on the dotted line. If your idea of Vegas indulgence includes hearing the bells and whistles of slot machines and breathing in cigarette smoke, Vdara is definitely not your place. But if you're looking for a sedate, well-designed oasis of civility, this 57-story curved tower of glass designed by Rafael Vinoly might be up your alley.

Vdara's 1,495 suites ($149-$2,000) are unusual by Strip standards in that each has a kitchen, equipped with sink, microwave, stove and refrigerator separate from the minibar. There's even a coffee maker, another atypical Vegas hotel feature. The bedroom/living room features a dining table with two chairs, couch, flat-screen TV, a flat screen TV, a fantastically comfortable bed and a closet with two robes and two pairs of slippers. The desk is too small to be a good work station, and the lack of a chair with wheels or the ability to adjust is a big no-no for anyone having to do computer work. For a new room I was also bothered by at least six stains I saw on the carpet.

The bathroom is small by Vegas standards, with just a single sink and a magnifying mirror. But there's Aveda amenities and a separate closet - a thoughtful touch for someone who might want to get dressed in the bathroom. Another nicety: Most of the suites have washers and dryers. Odd but cool.

The three times I checked out the hotel's sole restaurant, Silk Road, it was almost completely empty of customers and without a single person at the bar. Not very inviting. Neither is the lobby's bar, which has no personality or energy. The tidy and compact spa doesn't seem very special and the pool was still under construction. Without a fun spa, a buzzy restaurant or a come-hither bar, what's there to do at Vdara? After all, you can't even gamble or smoke. I guess you could always go upstairs and do your laundry.

From my bed I could make out the top of the Flamingo hotel wrapped by an advertisement for Donny and Marie Osmond's show. All night I looked at Donny and Marie's Chiclet smiles and couldn't help but think that Vdara is neither a little country nor a little bit rock 'n' roll. And what it needs is a little of either - or both.

A City Within A City, Part 2: Mandarin Oriental

Here is the second installment from the San Antonio Express-News article.

From "A City Within the City", by Greg Morago
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mandarin Oriental

Discreet elegance is this chain's hallmark, and that pretty much sums up the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. The 47-story hotel designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox looks important but un-fussy from the outside; and even its public spaces inside show luxurious restraint. But once you slip into one of the hotel's 392 rooms, Mandarin Oriental lets its hair down (inasmuch as it allows itself). The rooms, designed by Adam Tihany (who crafted the hotel interior top to bottom), are tidy affairs that ooze opulence. Everything has its place in the room ($350-$15,000) but everything also is thoughtfully designed.

When you enter your room - your bags are whisked away from you at arrival and already in your room - the lights and TV go on and the curtains dramatically slide back to reveal your view. A little bit of theatricality never hurt anyone. State-of-the-art technology rules here, which means that the hotel thought of every single thing, and then some, to keep you entertained and plugged in. But it's the more sensual elements of the room design that enchant: the frosted glass-walled bathroom with its train case of amenities; the Frette robes, umbrella, yoga mat and baby alpaca blanket inside the closet; the bath salts and orchid near the soaking tub; the tea kettle and assortment of leaves for steeping; the yoga DVD; the wardrobe foyer with its valet closet that allows you to retrieve the morning paper and your shined shoes without having to open your room door to the hallway.

Check in at the MO is done on the 23rd floor Sky Lobby. Hotel guests occupy floors below 23; the floors above 23 are for owners of 227 apartments and condominiums in the Residences at Mandarin Oriental.

Hotel guests and residents both have use of the indulgent 27,000-square-foot Spa at Mandarin Oriental and fitness center.

The typical Vegas visitor might see the hotel's lack of a casino (it is deliberately non-gaming) as a disadvantage. But the luxury-seeker is going to love the Mandarin Bar on the 23rd floor, which boasts the most stunning views of the Strip in the city, and Twist restaurant, which gives the hotel bragging rights in a competitive foodie city. Twist is the first U.S. restaurant from three-star Michelin chef Pierre Gagnaire CQ. A wee jewel box of a space, Twist has the local epicures buzzing with excitement over its menu of French classics with a "twist". 

Unfortunately, the two days I could eat there, the restaurant was closed. If that was Mandarin Oriental's sly way of getting me to return, they needn't have worried. This is the property that raises the stakes of hostelry in a city that likes to amaze.

A City Within A City, Part 1: Aria Resort & Casino

I found a nice article that includes reviews for three of City Center's newest hotels in this past Sunday's San Antonio Express-News. Instead of posting the whole article, I decided I'd post the author's reviews for each of the three hotels separately.

I doubt I'll ever stay there (okay, maybe I'll stay at Aria someday, but that's simply because it's the only one I can even begin to afford AND it's the only one that has a casino), but someone might like the info.

From "A City Within the City", by Greg Morago
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Aria Resort and Casino

The largest hotel within City Center with 4,004 rooms ($149 - $7,500), Aria is a series of rippling arcs designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli. The focal point of City Center, it is the prettiest of the complex's buildings, packed with dramatic uses of stone, glass, wood and plants.

Guest rooms, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, are stocked with every technological convenience, all operated from a bedside remote control. Accidentally hit the wrong button and you could plunge your room into darkness (TV shutting off and curtains zipping shut, as well), as I did several times.

The standard room is well-designed with ample closet space and a pleasant brown and blue color scheme. Two good bedside lamps plus headboard reading lamps offer good light. The comfortable bed is outfitted with crisp linens and six pillows. A fair-size work desk has every conceivable plug to please the most wired business traveler. The leisure guest, however, will appreciate the snuggly robes and dual sink bathroom with amazing lighting, vanity mirror and amenities (including a wonderful soap) and even an electronic scale. The shower and bathtub reside right next to each other in the same stall, which means that if you're taking a shower you're wetting all the tub fixtures - an odd attempt at savings pace that I'm sure the housekeepers would have objected to if they had seen the plans in advance.

One complaint: my room smelled odd. A room I had checked into before settling on this one with a better view also had the same sour/woodsy smell. Only when looking for bedside electrical outlet (which, frustratingly, was not to be had) did I find the source of this unpleasant smell. Pulling the bed back from the wall I saw small hills of sawdust on the floor - construction debris not cleaned before the room was let out. Who knows within the thousands of rooms in Aria lurk little piles of sawdust?

But Aria's pleasures are many: a gorgeous spa (the most comfortable spa robes I've ever worn), a sexy casino and a collection of fine dining that will dazzle foodies. As someone who visits Vegas frequently, I'm already planning my return to Aria. The place sings to me.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Interactive Graphic Map of City Center

Here's a link to a new, interactive map of City Center that was published in the LA Times online newspaper. This will help you get your bearings on the huge area and all its hotels, restaurants and shopping areas BEFORE you go.,0,7151335.htmlstory

Hope it's helpful!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What's Up: An update for my friends and followers

Just a quick note to tell you all that I've been pretty busy planning two trips to Vegas this Spring, and probably will be at it for the next few weeks. The first trip is in March, during Spring Break, and the second one is in April for another LV4E board meet (we're calling it "Mega Meet II" - aren't we original?). Neither of these trips will be ordinary gambling excursions for me.

The March trip will be a shopping and show-filled extravaganza: five days, four nights in my favorite city, showing Hayley the lighter side of Vegas with three (possibly four) fantastic shows, great (but teen-friendly) food, and a ton of shopping and touristy things that all first-timers should do. We're also planning to ride the NY/NY roller coaster and see the Titanic Exhibit (her specific requests), head up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and check out a gondola ride at The Venetian. This trip is going to be a one-time thing, so I hope she gets to do everything she wants to on this trip. I'm not taking her back until she's 21.

As far as the April trip goes, I'm taking my bee-oo-tee-ful new Canon camera and all its accoutrements for a one-time photography trip while meeting with old (and new) LV4E friends - and hopefully trying out a new hotel and several new restaurants in the process. Okay, so gambling on the April trip will not be downplayed all that much, but my primary focus will be on photos and new experiences first and foremost. No shows in April, though; I'm not about to leave my precious camera with anyone, and I'm NOT leaving it in my room, even if it IS in a safe. Besides, there's so much to photograph in Vegas that I think I'll need it 24/7 (night shots are some of my favorite Vegas photos). My great friends at LV4E have been giving me advice and pointers on traveling with an expensive camera and equipment, so I hope to share some insight with all of you on that score, too.

So, I haven't had any really great new stuff to share with you over the holidays, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled just in case. Needless to say, I'll soon have two trip reports of my own to share, tons of photos and videos, as well as new reviews on several shows, restaurants and attractions (like the roller coaster and the gondola ride). I'll also have advice for traveling with photography equipment and entertaining teenagers in Vegas, and I'll be reviewing my experience with the Early Bird Checkin at Southwest Airlines, too. I must say I'm really looking forward to that Early Bird Checkin - I hate to worry about being somewhere 24 hours in advance to get my boarding pass.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 9, 2010



Bingo can be quite a lucrative game in Las Vegas. Depending on where you're from and how familiar you are with the games and the payouts, you can win thousands of dollars on a single Bingo game in Vegas.

The trick is finding the bingo halls and being there at the right time. Most of the bigger, competitive bingo halls are either located off-Strip or downtown, so don't be surprised if you have to travel from your favorite Strip casino to get in a few games. Shuttles to and from most of these locations are available, so be sure to check out my list of Vegas shuttles to help plan your excursions. Luckily you don't have to sit in for an entire session; you can come and go as you please at all locations.

As requested by my sister-in-law, Teresa (whose mother just happens to be one of those lucky, big payout Bingo winners, and has been on multiple occasions), here's a listing of some of the bingo spots in Vegas. Please note that this information is subject to change at any time:

Arizona Charlie's on Decatur - Games are played 24 hours a day, on the odd hours. The minimum buy-in is $4, and the cards are both the paper and electronic versions. They have room for over 500 people and offer complimentary drinks (plus free donuts during the morning hours beginning at 5 a.m.).

Arizona Charlie's on Boulder - Same as the other Arizona Charlie's location, right down to the free donuts.

Boulder Station - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. A minimum $4 buy-in is required, and both paper and electronic cards are available with seating for 600 people. They offer complimentary drinks at all sessions and free donuts during their 9 a.m. session only.

Cannery - Games every even hour between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. This location also has a minimum $4 buy-in requirement, paper and electronic cards, and complimentary drinks are available during the games. This location seats 288 players.

Eastside Cannery - Games every even hour between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Paper and electronic cards are available with a $4 minimum buy-in, and complimentary drinks are available. This location has seating for 450 players.

Fiesta - Games begin every odd hour between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and the minimum buy-in is $5. They offer both paper and electronic cards and complimentary drinks during the games with seating for 396 players.

Fiesta Henderson - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a $5 minimum buy-in. This location offers paper cards only, and they serve free drinks at all sessions with free donuts available at the 9 a.m. session. This location has seating for 300 players.

Fiesta Rancho - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a $5 minimum buy-in. This location also uses paper cards exclusively, and they serve free drinks at all sessions with free donuts available at the 9 a.m. session. Seating information not available. (A progressive jackpot is also available at both Fiesta locations.)

Gold Coast - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a $4 minimum buy-in. Both paper and electronic cards are used, and there is seating for a whopping 780 players. Complimentary drinks are served, with free donuts being offered at the 9 a.m. session.

Golden Nugget - Specific game times and information were not available on line, no matter how hard I looked for them. Please check with the casino for specific details. I specifically list this casino because this is where Teresa's mom plays - and wins - with regularity.

Jerry's Nugget - Six daily sessions beginning at 10 a.m. with complimentary drinks served at all sessions. Seats 400 players, but no minimum buy-in information available.

Palace Station - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a $4 minimum. Both paper and electronic cards are used here, and complimentary drinks are available. Again, donuts are offered at the 9 a.m. session. This location has seating for 307 players.

Plaza - Games every odd hour between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. with a $5 buy-in. Both paper and electronic cards are available, and complimentary drinks are provided. There is seating for 400 players here.

Red Rock - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. The minimum buy-in is $5 with complimentary drinks served. This location uses both paper and electronic cards and has seating for a total of 610 players.

Sam's Town - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a minimum buy-in of $4. Complimentary drinks are served all day and free donuts are available at the 9 a.m. session. Both paper and electronic cards are used. Seating for 500 players is available.

Santa Fe Station - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a $4 minimum buy-in. This location uses both paper and electronic cards and seats 488 players. Complimentary drinks are served and there are free donuts available at the 9 a.m. session.

Silver Nugget - No specific information regarding their bingo hall is provided. Check with the casino directly for details.

South Point - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a $4 minimum buy-in. This location has both electronic and paper cards and serves complimentary drinks. There are seats for 600 players.

Suncoast - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a minimum buy-in of $4. Both electronic and paper cards are available, with seating for 600 players. Complimentary drinks are served at each session, along with free donuts at the 9 a.m. session.

Sunset Station - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a $4 minimum buy-in. Both paper and electronic cards are available, with seating for 542 players. Complimentary drinks are served all day, with free donuts offered at the 9 a.m. session.

Terrible's - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a minimum buy-in of $4. Both paper and electronic cards are available. There is seating for 195 players, and complimentary drinks are served. There is also a free self-serve snack bar available at this location.

Texas Station - Games every odd hour between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a $4 minimum buy-in. There is seating for a total of 495 players, and both paper and electronic cards are available. Complimentary drinks are served during all sessions, and free donuts are also offered at the 9 a.m. session.

Need a little bingo refresher? Check out Las Vegas Advisor's bingo info:

Link: Las Vegas Advisor's 2010 Member Rewards Book

If you are ready to head to Vegas soon, you may want to consider purchasing a copy of the Las Vegas Advisor's 2010 Member Rewards Book.

Filled with over 130 deals in the forms of comps, discounts, 2-for-1 coupons and free gifts, you'll definitely get your money's worth.

Here is the link to the complete coupon listing on Las Vegas Advisor's website:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A guide to Las Vegas resort fees: A new blog from my friend Dewey

My LV4E friend, Dewey, is a very thrifty fellow. He is probably the most thrifty Vegas visitor I know (online and personal friends included).

He recently took the time to set up a new blog dedicated to Las Vegas resort fees, and it's very nicely organized. Here's the link:

Dewey is a frequent Vegas traveler who usually spends about 2 weeks in Vegas on every trip, making the most of his vacation dollar, so him authoring this frugal Vegas blog is very appropriate. I now have a reliable source to go to when I want to research fees before I book a trip for myself - or anyone else, as I regularly do. (Why am I not a Vegas travel agent for my friends and family? A small commission would help greatly to fund my own gambling budget. Food for thought...)

Thanks, Dewey!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

City Center moving quickly to a complete opening

From the grand opening of Aria on December 16th to all the press that is currently surrounding the rest of the properties that make up City Center, this complex is getting a lot of exposure.

I've already heard both good and bad things about some of the properties, and I'm looking forward to seeing things for myself. Is it true that people are looked down upon for dressing even a bit casually when they try to make it into some of the restaurants or bars at Mandarin? The answer is "yes" according to a Las Vegas reporter, but "no" in my friends the Westies' experience. Is there really a lack of seating in the open mall areas in order to make you head for a restaurant, bar, or the casino at Aria? Depends on what your ultimate goal is for the property; are you there to shop, or are you just passing through? It's all about perspective, in my opinion.

The City Center property is made up of five separate areas: Aria (hotel and casino), Mandarin Oriental (hotel), Vdara (hotel and spa), Crystals (retail and entertainment complex), and Veer Towers (condominiums). From the Strip, this looks like a huge property to tackle on foot, but we'll see how I manage. I'm more worried about getting lost INSIDE City Center and not knowing which way I'm headed than managing to traverse the whole thing from end to end.

Here's a link to their website: Click on any of the five properties to view their restaurants, bars, entertainment, hotels, and shopping options.

I'll reserve personal judgement until I get to see it all for myself. Until then: go, see, enjoy, and report back on what YOU think.