From Los Angeles, I flew the 236-mile flight on what I thought was US Airways but it was really their partner, Mesa Air. The plane was a CRJ900 and an old America West plane; US Airways bought America West a few years ago. I didn’t know they still had planes, with the America West logo on the seats and interior walls, still in service. It was pretty cool since it was like flying on a museum piece.
L.A. TO VEGAS
My girlfriend Natalie and I reserved row 16 (exit row) since it had the most legroom. Row 16 also seemed to be the most beat up. They not only needed a paint job but the seats also desperately needed new cushions – they were so thin my bum hurt for the 43-minute flight. Other than that, the flights to and from Vegas were great. They were both on time, relatively smooth and we partook in the miracle of flight safely. On top of that I ran into a friend on our departing flight (Maren Hogan) and on our returning flight Stefanie Michaels (@AdventureGirl). How cool is that?
Natalie and I didn’t check bags so we went straight to the long a*s taxi line. It moved quickly but we still waited a good 15 to 25 minutes. If we had been in a hurry I would have gone straight to the front and asked if anybody was going to my hotel and offered to either split the fare or pay for it outright. It works every time. But since we were in no hurry, we stood in line enjoying the warm Vegas air. FYI: The eight-minute taxi ride from the airport to the Aria Hotel cost $13.10 without tip.
We were fortunate enough to be hosted at the 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino, which is part of the new $8 billion City Center complex. The City Center is comprised of four hotels (Aria, Mandarin Oriental, Vdara and Harmon), two condo towers and a retail and entertainment district. Both the MGM Group and Dubai World own it.
Every time I visit Las Vegas (about once or twice a year), it looks different. That’s how much construction goes on there. It’s amazing.
ARIA RESORT AND CASINO
The moment we pulled up at Aria, their fine service began. First a bellman opened the door, greeted us and offered to take our luggage. We kindly declined since we just had carry-on. Check-in was quick and a friendly Alaskan woman handed us the keys to our room on the 51st floor; there are 61 floors in total. I think every hotel in Vegas requires guests to walk through the casino to reach the guest elevators and the Aria is no exception. I didn’t mind since I can control my temptation to gamble and the hotel doesn’t have that seedy smell of stale cigarette smoke like some of the others we passed through (ahem, Excalibur). The casino also doesn’t have any annoying bells going off and it’s beautifully designed. BTW: Have you seen some of the new themed slot machines? I spotted games based on The Amazing Race, Sex and the City and the movie Airplane. How classic is that? The casino was always playing a great selection of music just to get you all pumped up to lose your money.
The elevator was always quick and it whisked us up to the 51st floor in a matter of seconds. I’m not sure where the rooms on floors 40 through 49 are located because I didn’t see signs for them and the elevator jumped from the 39th floor to the 50th in mere seconds … so are there really 61 floors? We were in room 51-108 and it was a regular-sized room but it’s probably the most state of the art I’ve ever seen. First of all, you can control everything from either the TV remote or the control center next to the bed. There was also a ‘goodnight’ button next to the bed that would turn off all the lights and the TV and close the curtains. That’s right! The curtains (sheer and blackout) were automatic and with the TV remote you could open or close them. Also with the TV remote you could turn on or off any lights (including those in the bathroom) and adjust the room temperature. How amazing is that? The only thing in the room that was short on technology was the toilet. There was no remote control Toto toilet like the ones I saw in Japan and in my room in Shanghai.
RANDOM ROOM OBSERVATIONS
- The view of the desert, mountains, city skyline and airport from our room was insane. However, I would have enjoyed it more if the windows had been clean; maybe they were dirty because it had recently rained. I’m not sure.
- I love to plane spot so I really got a kick out of the fact that one of the TV channels was the live departure board for LAS.
- The rooms are so classy in design that it was surprising that they didn’t do a better job with the connecting room door. It looked like it belonged in a motel.
- The bathroom isn’t very soundproof. Although a glass-frosted door separates the toilet from the double vanity sinks, you can still hear everything.
- The bathroom had a separate shower and tub and they were uniquely right next to each other in the same enclosed space.
- The shower pressure wasn’t crazy strong but it still blows me away how these 4,000-plus room monstrosities can even have water pressure.
- Natalie was mildly annoyed that the bottles of body lotion, shampoo and conditioner seemed to be filled only halfway; unlike me she has a lot of hair. And one day, the maid didn’t leave any hair conditioner.
- Every day, the maid would leave a new package of soap even when the bar was still new and I’d just taken it out of its packaging to wash my hands once. Seems like a huge waste.
- The beds are super soft and the sheets are cozy.
- There is wireless Internet and it costs $15 for a 24-hour period.
- I’m not sure if it’s because I sent a lot of emails but 24 hours after I returned home, I started receiving messages from solution1.hsia.citycenter.com that my emails didn’t go through. No wonder my friends said they didn’t hear from me – that’s really annoying.
- The rooms have those evil mini bars where even if you pick something up to read the ingredients you are automatically charged … and it’s not cheap. A small bottle of Dasani water set me back $5.
BOTTLED WATER TIP: Ways around the high-priced mini bar: Go to Aria’s store Elements, which is located near the casino. A large Evian bottle in there cost me $6. A better option would be to walk a couple hundred yards down the hotel driveway (past the futuristic tram that runs between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio hotels) and hit the CVS, which has regular prices. Another option is to buy $1 bottles of water from street vendors.
ARIA has 17 restaurants and we tried these ones:
For breakfast we went to world pastry champion Jean-Philippe Maury’s Patisserie, which is on the casino level right near the guest elevators. There was always a line but it moved quickly and a local told us that they have one of the best breakfasts in Vegas. The Nutella brioche ($3.50) was deadly but the OJ, fruit salad ($7.50) and yogurt parfait ($7.50) were just okay. I didn’t try their freshly made crepes or good-looking gelatos. They also have gourmet sandwiches and salads.
For breakfast the second day, Natalie and I walked across Aria’s back driveway to Vdara Hotel and Spa and ate at Silk Road restaurant (website. If Vdara sounds familiar that’s because it was recently causing all kinds of ruckus in the media with its so-called “Death Ray” windows. But the hotel employees tell me it’s just a marketing ploy by the NY lawyer who claims he got singed from the sun’s reflection off the building’s glass exterior. The restaurant is beautifully designed and run by Executive Chef Martin Heierling, who created Sensi in Bellagio. Natalie had oatmeal ($9) but I wasn’t going to be boring so I had the morning sliders for $15 (grilled tenderloin, tomato confit, fried egg, Vermont cheddar & bacon on brioche buns) and a bowl of fruit drizzled with rosewater. Both were really good but for $9 they need to increase the fruit portions.
We arrived at the hotel around 11:30am and after unpacking we were starving so we headed down to the casino level and had lunch at Lemongrass Restaurant (website). They serve a modern interpretation of Thai and Chinese dishes and our waiter told me that they have chefs from both respective countries. I believe it because our food (pot stickers, sliced cucumber, noodles, sweet and sour chicken [$16] and mango sticky rice [$7]) was really good. Same goes for the watermelon juice.
On our first night, the hotel hosted all of Blog World’s travel speakers for dinner at Julian Serrano (website). The tapas restaurant is located right near the front desk and offers a ton of small plates of Julian’s native Spanish fare. We had salmon roulade ($12), tuna-raspberry skewer ($14), lobster-pineapple skewer ($14), Spanish tortilla ($8), pan tomate ($6), sautéed padron peppers ($8), beef and cheese ($17), valenciana Paella ($40). Over dinner, one of the PR girls from the hotel told us that next month’s Esquire magazine has voted Julian Serrano as one of the top restaurants in America and the only one listed in Vegas.
The food at Julian Serrano was really good but my best meal came from award-winning chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new steakhouse (website). It’s located on the second level of the hotel and the food was insane. The menu features high quality meats and seafood from around the world with an innovative array of side dishes and homemade sauces. I went with Natalie, Peter Shankman (from H.A.R.O.) and his girlfriend Lara. We all loved our food – I had the Burrata mozzarella tomato salad ($16) which was seriously better than in Italy and Soy-Glazed Short Rib ($39). We also had French fries and mashed potatoes with black truffles. Natalie had seared sea scallops ($38) and for dessert, the caramel ice cream candy popcorn sundae ($12) was scrumptious. Over dinner we had a lot of laughs and one of our subjects was trying to figure out the restaurant’s logo. One thought it was a fibula while someone else just thought it all looked kind of Halloweenie. It turned out to be an abstract cow’s head because … it’s a steakhouse. Duh! No matter what the logo looks like, this restaurant is highly recommended.
SPA AT ARIA
The hotel spa is located on the second floor and is a staggering 80,000-square-feet. The spa features 62 treatment rooms and they offer a unique blend of services, products and experiences. Inside, it has distinctive design features using Aji stone, water gardens and natural light, which create a sense of calmness. I was surprised that the men’s locker room had at least a dozen guys in there, walking around in robes and watching college football on the big screen.
I quickly changed into my robe and was escorted to my treatment room for a 50-minute Thai Poultice Massage. Here’s the description: A muscle relieving massage based on centuries old Thai healing practices, this massage soothes away tension with warm traditional poultices infused with lemongrass, ginger, and prai extract. The steamed poultices are then rhythmically pressed into areas of muscle tightness and tension and incorporated into a warm oil full-body massage.
My therapist, a Vegas native, had worked in the spa at the Bellagio and was really good and had soft but strong hands. The $190 price is steep but I guess the demand is so high they can get away with it. FYI: To get to the spa lobby requires walking by the state of the art gym. There’s a $30 daily facilities fee, which includes use of the fitness center, wet areas, “Ganbanyoku” heated-stone bed and “Shio” salt room, outdoor therapy pool and all amenities. Three-day facility passes are available for $80. Guests must be 18 years of age and a registered hotel guest, 16 years with adult supervision (gym use only).
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL ELVIS
It seems there’s a Cirque du Soleil show for everything and now they have one called Viva ELVIS. It’s located in the Aria’s amazing theatre and is described as a harmonious fusion of dance, acrobatics and live music in a tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley. The show was entertaining and I loved the costumes but I didn’t walk out of there in awe like I did when I saw “O”. However, there is one scene that is worth more than the price of admission (tickets start at $99). They have these acrobats dressed like superheroes jumping two stories onto a trampoline and they flying back up to where they started. With all their flips and twists I had my mouth open the whole time. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. I also learned a lot about Elvis Presley’s life and he was, indeed, the king. For more info.
The whole reason I was in Vegas was to speak at Blog World – The World’s Largest Social Media Conference. I spoke on a panel entitled How To Make A Kickass Travel Video. My fellow panelists were Shannon Hurst Lane (@Cajun_Mama), Kim Mance (@KimMance) and Leigh Caldwell (@ThemeParkMom).
Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Aria Resort & Casino
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