Gary’s Tip #4: Tipping Works
If you haven’t done it yourself, you’ve heard about people “greasing the guy” to get something better, faster, harder, longer, you get the idea. I know this seems like an amateur move, but when it comes to hotels, it works.
I once checked into the “full-committed” Bellagio, and knowing what I know, was sure there were better rooms for my wife and I to rest our heads in while in Vegas. So when I handed over my credit card to the front desk clerk at check in, I did so with a $100 bill tucked underneath. I was staying four nights, and simply said, “I was wondering if you had any upgrades available? I’d love one of the big penthouse suites.” She saw the $100 and started typing. We ended up in the lap of luxury with two bedrooms and FIVE bathrooms! The average nightly cost to me? $25 for the upgrade on my $139 rate booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts which already included free breakfast.
If she couldn’t have done anything I’d have taken back the $100. If all she could have offered was a fountain view, I’d have swapped it for a $20. You can’t do this everywhere, but tipping big in Vegas made me feel like Frank Sinatra. Word is that it works in New York as well, but don’t try it in Tokyo — tipping is offensive in Japan!
(MR note: I have to say, I’m not sure how you would ask for your money back…but if you said so Gary, I would walk off a cliff so I’ll stand with you on this one.)
For other posts in this series and more tips from Gary, click here. If you travel often, follow his blog for regular tips and current deals. The man is an expert at discovering loopholes, online mistakes the airlines and hotels have to honor, and how to manipulate the fine print. You can feel free to tweet him questions @GaryLeff. He’s super sweet so don’t be shy.Tweet this!
Because booze, bucks, and boobs, just weren’t enough B’s, now Vegas can add BANG to the list.
Machine Guns Vegas is a new 10,000 square foot shooting range and lounge set to open next month. Pretty genius idea if you think about it. The only range I know of near the strip is outside of town. Thankfully they won’t be serving alcohol or allowing anyone already intoxicated into the establishment.
Funny story: a Yankee friend of mine said, “I don’t think anyone would get all liquored up and then go shoot weapons.” LOL. If you’re from the south you know the opposite to be true. One of the biggest parts of hunting culture is cold beer and lots of it!
As for this place, I don’t have to bet it will be a success, I know it will. I’ll give it a shot next time I’m in Vegas for sure.Tweet this!
First of all, please excuse the horrendous picture of me at the spa (at the Capella in Cabo). Apparently it’s the only one I have of me in full R&R mode.
Now, let me tell you about SpaWeek.com! I’ve just started contributing spa reviews to their blog, but that’s only a fraction of their value to you. They catalogue most of nation’s best spas, offer major discounts on treatments and packages, and twice a year they put on “SpaWeek.”
During SpaWeek, you can get hundreds of spa treatments for $50!
The best way to keep up with them is by following them on twitter @SPAWEEK
My first article posted yesterday, “Aria Spa Las Vegas: All you could ever want from a spa.” The bottom line being that in the price of your treatment, you have access to not only the spa and all of their facilities (including the infinity pool, fireside lounge, hot stone beds, and salt room), but also the hotel pool and expansive gym. It’s not the best on the strip, but definitely the best bang for your buck. Read my review on their blog SpaWeek Daily here. You’ll find it’s very resourceful!Tweet this!
On either side of the Aria Hotel and Casino, which serves as the heart of the new City Center on The Las Vegas Strip are two extreme opposite venues – the super luxe and small Mandarin Oriental hotel and the wanna-be glitzy and glam Cosmopolitan.
(Technically The Cosmopolitan is not part of City Center, but since everyone thinks it is, and it’s connected via sky bridge, I’ve included it.)
I think you can already tell which one I prefer, but they both serve completely different purposes.
High rollers should STAY at the Mandarin Oriental (as expected, room rates are pretty steep) and EAT at some of the best restaurants at The Cosmopolitan. If you read my review of The Aria last week, you’ll realize it provides the best of both worlds – nice rooms at an affordable price, unique restaurants from famous chefs, and a fun atmosphere with gambling and clubs.
THE DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH — The Mandarin Oriental
If you know about the chain, it’s no surprise that The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is quiet, private and also pretty pimp. They spare no expense on creating a luxurious experience for the big spender who does not want to feel like he/she is in Vegas. It’s small and understated – upscale done right!
- Valets in top hats and cashmere walk you into a small casino-less lobby
- The real lobby is on the 23rd floor with huge floor to ceiling windows
- Minimal and modern Asian decor in hues of beige, brown, and espresso accented with red
- Rooms with external valet closets, a touch screen remote that controls everything, large tubs, the whole kit an caboodle basically
- 2 small restaurants with exceptional and food
- One of the best spas I’ve been to in Vegas – again, small with unique amenities and solid services
The MO wins in my book because you have privacy and peace you’ll only find at The Four Seasons Hotel (which is at the end of the strip) AND the great location of being dead center in the middle of the Vegas action.
A few pics from my tour to give you an idea.
I wish I had taken a picture of the valet, which is desolate in comparison to the other hotels. This bit of decor is tucked a way in the corner of the downstairs lobby.
On the 23rd floor, where you would check in, you’ll find the front desk, tea lounge, Twist (the fine dining restaurant), and the club (which I don’t remember the name of, but it was PUMPING when I passed by).
Twist, which is the main restaurant in the MO, was being prepped for an event while I was there (which is why I used a press photo). It seems lovely, but a little cold.
This is MOzen bistro which serves Japanese and Indian, both are fantastic!
I L-O-V-E-D the Indian curry and will attest that the best roll I’ve ever had in my life was here. Feast your eyes on (I forget their name for it) shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado wrapped in soy paper, easy rice, with spicy tuna (like they make in LA) on the top. OMGoodness!
Ok, the roll isn’t that photogenic, but you know what is…a room at this place!
Totally chic but still comfy – my favorite combo.
What I really love about the rooms at MO’s are the valet closets – a little closet that can be accessed from the hall so they can drop off deliveries and food without having to come into the room.
As I said, the spa was spectacular as well.
Above is the pool with submerged airbeds. When you lay down, bubbles turn under you to support you and contour to your body. Below are heated marble seats that overlook the strip.
They treated me to a facial which was fantastic. I liked the treatment rooms and staff better here than at The Aria. The darker atmosphere, smaller space, and decor made a big difference.
GLAM BAM THANK YOU M’AM – The Cosmopolitan
As a friend of mine told me recently my standards are high. So keep that in mind when I tell you I think The Cosmopolitan is on the trashy side, it’s like the Hard Rock revamped and on crack. The whole venue has a cartoon sensation (see large shoe pic below), but inside you’ll find some of the classiest restaurants – just like Nobu at the Hard Rock.
This all sounds harsh, but that’s how I felt when I walked in the door just after leaving the beautifully modern and stark Crystals mall in The Aria.
BUT! Many people love the hyperactive character of the decor and the energy of the younger crowd. It’s a youthful, whimsical, I-wanna-be-a-billionaire Vegas.
My reason for going – the restaurants. I’m a huge fan of most of the national names you’ll find inside like STK, Comme Ca, Blue Ribbon Sushi, and Scarpetta. And many locals recommended Estiatorio Milos for unforgettable Greek.
Here are some pics I took, take a look and tell me what you think.
WTF? This giant shoe sums up the whole hotel for me. But the rest of my pics make it seem pretty cool. Which it is…just not my kind of cool I suppose.
The stores tailored my opinion of the Cosmo. As I said, I walked from the pretty Crystals mall in The Aria to find boutiques with questionable clothes displayed in their windows lining the carpeted hallways. You can’t really tell from this pic, but you just have to trust me on this one.
On to my favorite part, the restaurants!
While you wait for a table, you can sit at a bar (there’s one around every corner) or play foosball. Pretty cool!
The decor of the room doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s really random, no? But most have balconies (which is unusual) and kitchenettes!
As for the pools, I believe the party would be pumping all day long, but just like at The Hard Rock, I really want no part of the tatooed, Ed Hardy, I-wish-I-was-still-in-college, spring break crowd.
Leven says one of her favorite LA DJ’s spins at their club sometimes. No question in my mind that their club is one of the hottest spots on the strip right now.
Rereading my notes on The Cosmopolitan I beat this place up pretty good. It’s just not my cup of tea, but is a really the best example of a modern and hip Las Vegas.
My Bottom Line For The City Center
You can’t go wrong here. There are room rates, accommodations, and an aesthetic you’ll appreciate at every price point between The Aria, Vdara, Mandarin Oriental, and Cosmopolitan. Plus, it’s so easy to explore all of the different places because the compound is connected. If you do choose to stay elsewhere, you’ll absolutely want to come spend the day roaming around, eating, drinking, and gambling the day away.
So you’ve seen it all now through my eyes. What do you think? Have you been?
(Full Disclosure: A meal and spa service comped by Mandarin Oriental. Many thanks for the invitation.)Tweet this!
No Gamble Here! – Vic and Anthony’s (Las Vegas and Houston)
In my southern opinion, the true testament of a steakhouse is how you feel when you leave. Assuming you don’t eat every morsel on the table, you shouldn’t feel like you need a wheelbarrow to get to your car. Good meat, potatoes, and veggies don’t need to be laden with butter and cheese. Head chef Carlos Rodriguez of Vic & Anthony’s understands this and lets the food speak for itself.
There is no debate that V&A is hands down the best steakhouse in Houston thanks to Rodriguez. His understanding of meat – the cow, aging, cuts, prep – is extraordinary. He is constantly trying out new things and attempting to open people’s eyes to the intricacies of steak. Last year he imported $10,000 worth of Kobe to treat Houston foodies! This resonates throughout the rest of his fare – traditional, approachable, and rich without being overbearing.
Unfortunately the Vegas location is in The Golden Nugget downtown, about 10 minutes from the strip. There are countless A-MAZING steakhouses on the strip, so you have to be dedicated to the trek to get there. The upside is once you get downtown you’ll find $5 blackjack tables and friendly dealers in the older casinos. Otto and I made the trek and did not regret it. (Love you dude!)
Pricing at both locations is what you would expect from an upscale steakhouse and I can attest it’s worth every penny.
Other than the steak, I highly recommend ordering the fresh lump crab cake, cream spinach, and chocolate cake.
My Vegas Strip Cred
I think it would be helpful for you to know my background with Vegas as I offer these reviews and seemingly snap judgements.
Thankfully I would never call myself a Vegas expert, but I have quite a history with The Strip because I went to school in Los Angeles, which is only a 4 hour drive away. And then actually went back when I was old enough to legally participate in the sinning ;)
In a nutshell, I’ve stayed at a handful of hotel casinos at every pricepoint. Off the top of my head, going from South to North, these include:
- The Hotel at Mandalay Bay
- New York New York
- Cesar’s Palace
- The Mirage
- Imperial Palace
- The Hard Rock – YIKES!
Holy cow. That’s almost embarrassing! I even stayed at some of those places (like the Imperial Palace) BEFORE the renovations.
THE OTHER STUFF
In terms of restaurants, I’ve been to a good variety of those too, but still have a list at least a page long! In my opinion, the food is the city’s best attraction. The tables and the sports book are a close second. I’m a pretty good black jack player, so-so at craps, only lucky at poker sometimes, and always love the sports book.
I think that’s about it. Shows are really not my thing. The Canyon Ranch spa, after its renovation, is still my favorite. Although I think the smaller spa at the Mandarin Oriental, that treated me to an amazing facial this weekend, is now a VERY close second.
More to come this week in Part 2 of 2 of The City Center review to feature The Mandarin Oriental and The Cosmopolitan (which actually is not part of the property).Tweet this!
While in Las Vegas for CES, I’m touring the new City Center to write an article for The Chronicle.
With the Aria as the heart and soul of the 18 million square foot compound run by MGM, the aesthetic is nothing like you’ve seen in Vegas before. Natural light streams in from all angles, the decor is modern and sophisticated, and only 2% of the property is casino. You’ll appreciate that the ventilation system works beautifully and pumps in a sweet vanilla smell to mask any signs of smoke.
In the City Center but run separately is The Mandarin Oriental that brings the luxury and VIP experience of The Hotel (by the Four Seasons in Mandalay Bay) to the center of the Strip. More to come on that next week.
Bottom line: The Aria is truly unique for Vegas and actually pleasant to experience. It does feel a little cold and unapproachable in comparison to the warmth of the Wynn. I never thought I’d say I don’t like natural light, but there’s something about it always being the same time of day when you’re in Vegas that is oddly settling. Overall, I really like the space for being beautiful, clean, and affordable.
Here are snapshots from my tour so you can see for yourself. I really love the space.
The rooms are contemporary, cozy, and hooked up to a touchscreen motherboard remote to control every feature with the touch of your little finger.
There are 3 pools and one adult pool that has a party to compete with the infamous TAO scene.
Not pictured here is the spa and gym which is sizable, but in my opinion not particularly noteworthy. I’m a huge fan of the Canyon Ranch spa that is housed in the Venetian/Palazzo. It’s a more comfortable atmosphere. The one thing that is cool about the full-sized gym at Aria is that admission is free for guests, while at some resorts, you have to pay a day fee.
On to my favorite part: The food! The collection of restaurants here is by far the best on the strip. They’re all helmed by famous chefs that have successful spots at The Bellagio (the Aria’s sister property also run by MGM).
Above is Sage, my favorite for decor and food in the Aria. It’s quiet, so don’t expect a scene.
For a more lively atmosphere head to American Fish from Michael Mina.
They have 4 different preparations for fish, each unique and not overpowering. Last night I devoured the smoked Dijon mustard cod and sea salt blue prawns. They don’t look like anything special, but both were definitely some of the best seafood I’ve had in Vegas.
The other popular spot is Lemon Grass – authentic Thai helmed by the exec chef from The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok.
Other notable restaurants are Jean-Georges Steakhouse, Siriano (Italian), Todd English Pub, and Julian Serrano that serves up tapas in a colorful and quirky atmosphere (pictured below).
They served me up a little bit of everything, and it was all truly delicious.
What I love about all of these spots is that have a nice bar scene – great decor, good looking people, and not too rowdy.
The name of the “shopping experience” (management asks that you please do not refer to it as a mall) is called Crystals. Designed by David Rockwell who is on the commission for the new World Trade Center, it’s modern and angular structure is quite stark. Although you’ll see all of the same brands you will in the Bellagio, Wynn, and other hotels, the Tom Ford, Cartier, the largest Louis Vitton in North America, Donna Karen, and other designer stores all carry collections exclusive to Crystals.
Elvis is alive in well in the Aria making appearances nightly as the resident performance. I’m not much for shows, but apparently it’s popular. Next door, the Gold lounge is decorated with tons of memorabilia.
A boutique hotel without a casino in the lobby, the Vdara is truly the gem of the City Center and the Vegas strip. It’s hidden in the back, but you can get to the Aria and Bellagio by tram or foot within minutes.
It’s like the Aria and Mandarin shacked up one night and had pretty baby – chic, modern, warm, quiet, and affordable.
Each room has a stove top and mini fridge so you could actually stay in and cook or warm up leftovers if you wanted (not a bad idea considering the price of eating out in Vegas).
OTHER INTERESTING NOTES
The whole thing cost $11 BILLION to build, which makes it the largest privately financed development in the US.
There are residences called The Veer Tower, which they claim is 60% occupied.
Both the Aria and Vdara hotels are LEED certified and use environmentally friendly features like faucets and showers to conserve water.
If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see tons of amazing art on the walls.
The Harmon hotel was built completely, but incorrectly so now they’re going to have to tear the whole thing down PIECE BY PIECE. Can you imagine?!! What a waste!
There are two clubs here, both of which have a great scene and pump the best of pop and hip hop until the wee hours of the morning.
(Full disclosure: Media rates and comped meals provided for me. Many thanks to MGM for your hospitality and Shaunt for the very informative tour.)Tweet this!