My dad hadn’t been to Las Vegas in almost 15 years. The last time that I can clearly remember was when we surprised him for his 70th birthday with a trip there. We booked rooms at the then-brand-spanking-new Bellagio Hotel and arranged for 25 of his male friends and family to fly out (mostly from Connecticut). The big reveal took place when they all gathered around a craps table (his favorite casino game) and when we nonchalantly walked up to play around 11 pm, he got quite the shock. I remember him saying, “that guy looks like my brother Joe. THAT is my brother JOE!” And then everyone turned to him and said “SURPRISE!” It was an amazing experience. What even made it more special was the fact that my beginner’s luck at the table kept me rolling the dice for 53 minutes, so everyone made a lot of money. He still brags to everyone about that roll.
I knew I couldn’t top that one, especially as I found that everyone I asked to join was already booked for this particular weekend and I couldn’t be flexible with my dates. So I turned it into a father and son trip. Since Vegas changes every few years, I really wanted my dad to be wowed and knew he could be, so we stayed at one of the best hotels and most modern in the city. I called my friends up at the Aria and they said they would love to help show him a great birthday and sure enough they did. Here’s how it played out:.
The Parking Spot LAX
We pulled up to The Parking Spot on Sepulveda near LAX (they have two). It’s right next to an In-N-Out Burger, which is the best place to go in the country for burgers and plane-spotting. Unfortunately, my dad had us running late as he usually does so there was no time for double-doubles before our flight. The Parking Spot charges $16.50 a day for open-air parking or $20.50 for covered parking. I chose valet since it’s just a $1 more per day. What I love about The Parking Spot—besides how it’s right next to In-N-Out—is that you never have to wait too long for one of their shuttles, and they give customers free bottled water!
I told the flight attendants it was my dad’s birthday and they kept wishing him a happy birthday throughout the flight. They even offered him a drink for free. Luckily he declined so the 49-minute flight went even faster.
The good folks over at Aria arranged for a huge stretch limo to take us from the airport to the hotel. It’s only a 15-minute ride but what a way to kick things off, eh? It normally costs $50 (I think), while a taxi is under $20.
When we pulled up to the 4,004-room Aria my dad’s jaw opened wide (like everyone else when they see it for the first time). Aria Resort & Casino is a destination within a destination. It’s impressive from the outside—it’s actually the 11th largest hotel in the world—and even more on the inside. They really have everything, including 16 restaurants, 15 bars and lounges, 12 shops, three pools, 300,000 square feet of meeting space and a whole lot more. It’s part of the city’s $8 billion City Center complex.
FYI: The City Center is comprised of three hotels (Aria, Mandarin Oriental and Vdara), two condo towers and a 500,000-square-foot retail and entertainment area. MGM Resorts own it. I’ve stayed here three or four times now, and here’s my latest version of my 11 reasons to stay at Aria Resort & Casino.
As you can see from the story the rooms at Aria are some of the most state-of-the-art around. First of all, you can control everything (curtains, lights, temperature, TV) 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. 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? It took some time for my dad to get used to it all. He was like a happy kid, and I would have to tell him stop playing with the curtains.
A few minutes after arriving in our room there was a knock on the door from a bellman bringing a beautiful-looking and -tasting birthday cake from Jean Philippe Patisserie downstairs. They even brought a box of candles and matches. I wished the whole gang was there because it was so big, but we (with a special effort from my dad who doesn’t like to see things go to waste) devoured it. “The strawberry filling tastes so good,” he would exclaim every time. “Stop eating so much cake,” I’d say.
My dad jumped in the shower (which he raved about) and then we were off to dinner. We ate at one of the first restaurants you see from the hotel lobby. Julian Serrano’s Restaurant serves the chef’s native Spanish cuisine, highlighted by both traditional and innovative tapas, seafood, paella and more. There was a long line at the 196-seat restaurant, so I was happy we had a reservation since the big man doesn’t like to wait. Who does?
The next day my dad rolled out of bed late. My hand hurt after spanking him 85 times and one for good luck which is a tradition in my family. We eventually made it to the Aria’s all-new Buffet, which truly offers an awe-inspiring dining experience. My dad who hadn’t ever been to Rio’s buffet said this was the most incredible buffet he’s ever been to. They have everything and I mean everything, from Naan bread baked in an authentic Tandoori oven to a chocolate filled pancake the size of a flying saucer. My dad hit the seafood and carving stations first.
I grabbed some Mandarin chicken and fried plantains (I know, what a combo) which was so good I had to get seconds. BTW: When we walked into the buffet my dad said he wasn’t that hungry. Then after his two huge plates of food I asked if he wanted to go to the pool and he replied “NO, I want to eat (dessert).”
The dessert station had a Bananas Foster, a variety of cookies, cakes and pastries, and about a dozen ice creams including peanut butter pretzel. Yum! I had to run out of there. The Buffet is $29.99 and open from 7 am-3:30 pm.
I think everything at the Aria is huge, because the Spa & Salon is two levels and 80,000-square-feet. There are 62 treatment rooms, a full-service salon and an advanced fitness center! As a present to my dad, the hotel arranged for him to get a Royal Shave ($65). My dad was excited to get a real shave as it had been a long time. We walked into the cute, dark mahogany wood barbershop with a lone chair that I think might’ve been from a Porsche since it had all the similar electric seat functions. There was also a large flat-screen TV with football on mute, music playing from his era and a barberette named Luba.
That’s right, a barberette! Luba grew up in Russia cutting hair and shaving men’s faces and has been doing it in Vegas since 1989. My dad later confessed to being at first a bit disappointed to see a woman doing the honors, since he grew up in an Italian household where his father and uncle worked as barbers when they first came to America. But when it was over, he said it was the best shave he’d had since getting married sixty-something years ago.
The Royal Shave takes between 35 and 45 minutes depending on how thick the person’s beard is. It began with the barberette wrapping my dad’s face in a hot towel. Here’s the brochure description so I get the rest right: “A facial cleanser is applied to a damp face, followed by an exfoliator, which is then removed with a steamed hot towel. A warm lather with soothing aloe vera moisturizes and preps the skin for a straight-razor shave, first with the grain and then re-lathered for an against-the-grain shave. A clay facial mask is then applied to tone and firm the skin, followed by an aftershave moisturizer to improve your skin’s texture and clarity. Concluding the treatment is an application of herbal cream under the eyes, and for further relaxation, a light spritz of rose water hydrates the face.”
Luba (her name means love in Russian) also trimmed his ear and nose hairs and eye brows. They both agreed that a straight-razor shave is a lost art, which is why so many older people really love this treatment.
From there we walked a few yards to arguably the best restaurant in Aria and all of Vegas…Jean Georges Steakhouse. Award-winning chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s menu features the highest quality meats and seafood from around the world complemented by an innovative array of side dishes and home-made sauces. My dad wouldn’t stop raving about “the best steak of his life” and the impeccable service. The tomatoes with burrata that I had for an appetizer rivaled anything you will find in Italy. The dinner was not cheap, but I don’t think he’ll ever forget it. I know I won’t.
LOVE by Cirque du Soleil
My dad loves the Beatles so for his big gift I took him to The Mirage hotel to see LOVE by Cirque du Soleil. According to the website description, “LOVE celebrates the musical legacy of The Beatles. Drawn from the poetry of the lyrics, LOVE explores the content of the songs in a series of scenes inhabited by real and imaginary people. The international cast of 60 channels a raw, youthful energy underscored by aerial performance, extreme sports and urban, freestyle dance.”
Performed in a circular theatre, the show is really unique and a must for any Beatles fan. I have no idea how the Cirque people come up with these concepts and find enough talented people in the world to not only work the shows and but have backups as well. It’s truly mind-boggling. The group we saw were an amazingly talented bunch of individuals and we LOVEd the show. Afterwards my dad was singing “All you need is Luba, Luba, Luba.” Too funny. Tickets range from $85-$198.
FYI: Allow plenty of time for taxi lines and traffic. Just getting out of the Aria driveway took about 10 minutes. And we lost another 10-15 minutes getting to The Mirage which is just three hotels away. On the way back, we opted not to deal with The Strip traffic and just walked. We stopped at Cesar’s and The Bellagio to revel in the memories of our last trip and marvel at their gardens.
We went to bed late and woke up late. Instead of going to a big brunch we went to the hotel’s newest (it’s been open for four months) restaurant… FIVE50 Pizza Bar. The chef is Shawn McClain, who is also a James Beard Foundation Award-winner. Here they serve up wood-fired pizzas (the oven is set to 550 degrees), seasonal salads, handmade pastas, subs, artisanal charcuterie, international cheeses, and tasty desserts. We split a margherita pizza ($24), but their most popular is called the Gotham, which has pepperoni, sausage, salami, mozzarella, and Grana Padano. The pizzas are 16 inches and perfect for sharing. Slices are available for $5.50. We also split a meatball sub ($14), and my dad rounded out the meal with some white bean soup ($9) that tasted like the one your Italian grandma makes. FYI: FIVE50 is located right next to the sports club, where we watched the Giants beat up the Packers.
We ate so much food that we weren’t hungry until about 9 pm, when we decided to go get some Tom Kha Chicken soup ($12) from the Aria’s Thai restaurant called Lemongrass. It hit the spot and so did the Mango Sticky Rice ($7) dessert.
Back at LAS airport
The next day we had a leisurely breakfast at the Aria Café before taking a taxi back to LAS. Good to know: The taxi cost just $13.50 without tip and my dad was given the privileges of TSA PreCheck for the second time. I’m not sure if it was because of his age or what but it was much appreciated since it meant no lines or bending over for him in normal security.
Walking to the gate I spotted a sign for the American Express American Express Centurion Lounge which is exclusive to American Express cardholders. I learned that access (plus two guests) is free for those with a Platinum card or higher. If you just have a regular AMEX card it’s $50 per person. Inside is one of the nicer lounges I’ve ever been to in America. They had all kinds of free food, drinks, Wi-Fi, a children’s play room and comfortable seats. It’s just another reason to get an American Express Platinum card!
Forty-three minutes after our American Airlines flight took off we were back in L.A. It was a birthday celebration neither of us will ever forget!
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