Strip Search

I hadn’t been to Vegas for years and what I remembered was a somewhat seedy culture of $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffets, tawdry girlie show flyers and billboards littering the Strip, all accompanied by the inescapable cacophony of quarter slot machines.

But I heard things were different in Vegas—different in a big way—so I set out to see for myself.

My bargain-priced Southwest Airlines flight set down in McCarran Airport after a short flight from Oakland. I had one goal for the next three days: seek out the “new” Las Vegas and sample some of the best the Strip had to offer.

What I discovered was astonishing: the old Vegas is almost completely gone. Rising from a colossal mix of major remodels and big-scale teardowns were palatial, finely appointed casino hotels boasting sumptuous lodging, fine cuisine, world-class spas, haute shopping, cutting-edge clubs and resplendent swimming pools. It wasn’t cheap anymore—it was high end, expensive and much more fun.

Royal Retreat

In my rental car I drove a short distance to the southern end of the Strip and my elegant hotel for the next three nights: the Four Seasons Las Vegas. Of course, the Four Seasons chain is renowned as one of the world’s finest, but I chose the Vegas location specifically because it promised a quiet “boutique”-hotel alternative to the nonstop bustle of glitzy casino resorts.

The Four Seasons’ 424 rooms and suites—few, by Vegas standards—occupy the upper echelons of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino tower. But you’re almost completely unaware of this; the hotel’s separate lobby, restaurants, pool and spa on the ground floor are set in a quiet, nongaming environment. No slots, no tables. In fact, you could skip Vegas’ casino scene entirely and truly enjoy a stay here.

A bank of swift elevators bypasses the Mandalay Bay floors to swoosh you to your overnight aerie. Mine was a room with great nighttime views of Vegas’ re-created pyramids and sphinxes, mini Eiffel Tower and light shows far below.

Like all Four Seasons hotels, this one treats guests with personalized service, meticulous attention to detail, and no taxi queues or checkout lines. It has an upscale spa ranked by Travel & Leisure as one of the world’s best, a state-of-the-art fitness facility, a couple of very nice restaurants and access to the newly remodeled beach and pool complex at Mandalay Bay—11 acres that include three exotic pools, a meandering river, a European (topless) sunbathing pool and a 1.6-million-gallon wave pool with a sand-and-surf beach.

When I was ready to hit the casinos for some blackjack, I rode the elevator to the “C” level and passed through a discreet door that offered direct access to the vast Mandalay Bay casino area. It was like going between heaven and, well, something more sinful, but very entertaining.

Casino Scene

Strolling Vegas’ largest casino resorts, I noticed something missing—noise. Gone were the legions of nickel and quarter slots spitting streams of silvery change; slots now deliver unexciting credit vouchers instead of coins. Also (mostly) gone were loud drunks sounding off at blackjack tables. In their place: deadpan high rollers on display in semiprivate rooms doing their imitation of the TV poker professionals. Casino drinks now cost real money and there wasn’t one five-buck steak dinner in sight.

Body Treatments

I’m not a spa person, but for those who are, know that Las Vegas has become a renowned spa destination. I felt compelled to check out one of the most famous, the Canyon Ranch SpaClub within the Venetian hotel casino. At 69,000 square feet, it is the largest pampering palace in town.

After wandering though the Venetian’s shopping mall and faux Venetian streets and canals, I took an elevator to the rambling spa facility, which has 62 treatment rooms, a 40-foot climbing wall, a fitness facility, men’s and women’s lounges and a health-food cafe.

I made a quick ascent up the climbing wall before checking out some of the more extravagant treatment areas, including the “Euphoria” room, where an aromatherapy scalp massage and botanical body mask is followed by a rose-petal soak in a gleaming German-made copper tub. Just across the hall, in a room outfitted with an elegantly tiled chamber and a fiber-optic sky, couples can enjoy a mud and herbal steam “rasul ceremony,” a traditional Arabian cleansing ritual. Spa-tacular.

Gourmet Gatherings

One of the Strip’s hottest dining spots is in the newest casino hotel, Wynn Las Vegas. At the eponymously named Alex, chef Alex Stratta serves up award-winning Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Among the standouts are starters: marinated crab and sweet shrimp with grapefruit and avocado, lobster quenelles with crayfish, black truffles and Romesco sauce (a Catalan flavor), and Santa Barbara prawns in a cauliflower velouté. Main courses include Dover sole in a potato crust with shellfish, artichokes and confit tomatoes, and a venison chop with crimson gold apples, heirloom beets and ginger-spice glaze. A meal at Alex is a splurge, but worth it.

Haute Shopping

Also in Wynn Las Vegas, a shopping esplanade presents a who’s who of the luxury goods makers. Cruise past the casino from the in-house Ferrari and Maserati dealership and you enter the world of Manolo Blahnik, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Oscar de la Renta, Rolex and Chanel.

If you’re an über shopper, the Forum Shops at Caesars offer the Strip’s most extensive luxury choices—a whopping 160 retailers featuring such names as Versace, Fendi, Harry Winston, Valentino and Gucci. A recent expansion added 175,000 square feet and additional levels, so you can shop until your feet are ready for Caesars’ Roman Bath treatment at its new spa, Qua.

Bar Life

There are a lot of happening new clubs in Vegas—the Voodoo Lounge at the Rio, Revolution at the Mirage—but since I was staying at the Four Seasons and didn’t want to stumble too far. I decided to dedicate my club night out to Rumjungle, deep inside the Mandalay Bay. Posh Rumjungle has Vegas’ largest supply of rum, a stash that’s literally stacked to the ceiling. I ordered up a mojito or two and checked out the fashionistas until the bar began its transformation into a nightclub complete with go-go dancers and DJs providing healthy doses of R&B, hip-hop and funk. A rum jungle indeed.


A Sure Bet – Red Rocks Provides an Alternative to the Strip

The glittering lights of Las Vegas have set the souls of countless gamblers, including Elvis Presley, on fire. But for Sin City aficionados who have had their fill of the traffic-filled, garish exuberance of the Strip, a sleek alternative has arisen. The Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa offers decadent accommodations, old-Vegas charm, modern style and natural-light-filled beauty.

Convenient to the airport and just 10 miles off the strip, the posh new resort, nestled amid the picturesque hills of Red Rock Canyon, feels worlds away, ideal for travelers looking for something more than the
typical “Viva Las Vegas” experience.

The resort was designed to “bring the outside in,” according to Lori Nelson, director of corporate communications, with a palette of rich reds, deep chocolate browns and cool creams that play off the rust-colored hue of the canyon. Unlike most casinos in the area, wide-open windows let sunlight in, making the more than 3 million pieces of crystal integrated into the design glitter from morning to night. Onyx, marble, wood and red patent crocodile leather are also key design components that accentuate the resort’s contemporary desert architecture.

Accommodation-wise, luxury prevails, with each room offering either a canyon vista or a panoramic view of the Strip. All rooms, which range from $200 to $10,000 a night, boast plasma televisions and iPod sound systems as well as a luxe modern style. For travelers looking for the ultimate in luxury, grand suites feature amenities like secluded pools, minimovie theaters, private bars, butler service and more.

Like Elvis, visitors to the Red Rock are likely to wish for more than 24 hours in a day. Families, couples, singles, or business travelers—there’s something for just about everyone. The three-acre pool area features a main pool and several wading pools, private cabanas, live entertainment, and gambling at outdoor blackjack tables. The 25,000-square-foot spa, open only to guests 16 and older, has 20 treatment rooms, including two spacious indoor/outdoor couples’ suites, a fitness center with a boxing ring and movement studio, a salon and a men’s barber area.

Additionally, a private spa pool provides a shady respite for pre- and post-treatment lounging. The spa has a family-friendly Adventure Spa program with many health-inspired outdoor activities such as guided hikes, mountain-biking tours, rock climbing, river rafting and horseback riding. Fitness classes ranging from yoga, Pilates and body sculpting to more exotic endeavors like belly dancing and salsa are offered, as are various lecture series and wine and cooking classes.

The adventure doesn’t end when the sun sets. As Nelson cheerily points out, “You detox by day with the spa and pool and Adventure Spa program; then you retox at night.” For foodies, there are 23 bars and nine restaurants on site, many with outdoor dining, rather uncommon in Vegas. An array of prices is available: T-bones Chophouse and Lounge, an upscale steakhouse, and Terra Rossa Italian Restaurant are higher-end adults-only dining options, while Cherry Nightclub, a hip spot created by nightlife impresario Rande Gerber, is a mecca for clubbers and celebrities looking for a trendy, yet low-key evening. Children can enjoy the 16-screen movie theater and the arcade or join the Kids Quest supervised playhouse and day care program while their parents have a night out.

Gaming alternatives are equally varied. The race and sports book features the world’s first 96-foot video wall. Also available are more than 3,000 slot and video poker machines, 60-plus table games and a posh poker room, bingo parlor and Keno lounge. There’s also a decadent private high-limit room for gamblers wanting high-stakes play.

For travelers looking to escape the typical Las Vegas experience, it’s comforting to know a true alternative to the bright lights, big city vibe exists. With its singular approach to spa-ing, gaming, and staying, along with its desert foothills location, Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa could make your next trip to Sin City a sure bet.

For more information or to make a reservation, call Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa, 866.797.7773.