Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mandarin Oriental Rises In Las Vegas

There are many ways to play in Las Vegas. With 19 of the world's 25 largest hotels and hundreds of other options from cheap to chic, two different people could visit the city and never share the same experience. Even gambling is optional.

Some of the newest additions to the skyline are especially adept at breaking the old gambling stereotype. The Mandarin Oriental, located on the Las Vegas Strip at the entrance to CityCenter, is one fine example. The 47-story hotel and residence is non-gaming, focusing on the finest international hospitality that the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is known for the world over.

Staying at the internationally renowned resort doesn't require any sacrifice in entertainment options either. On the contrary, the resort is part of the 67-acre CityCenter, a remarkable and architecturally stunning urban center that is also one of the largest eco-friendly and sustainable developments in the world. Yes, in Las Vegas.

At the heart of CityCenter is couture and cuisine.

Crystals is a expansive experiential environment that redefines the concept of a mall into a community center with wide open, spacious interiors that break traditionally linear mall designs with curves and elevations. As such, Crystals becomes a destination unto itself with dozens of high-end boutiques and brands represented. Live entertainment, although typically staged for passersby and not gatherings, isn't uncommon either.

The boutique names are familiar — bold fashion designer Tom Ford, travel aficionado Louis Vuitton, jeweler to the stars Harry Winston, and luxury publisher Assouline — many of which cannot be found anywhere else in Las Vegas. But perhaps even more memorable than the shops are the experiences.

While all seven of Crystals' restaurants are tempting, Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina stands out with what might be his best Las Vegas offering to date. The restaurant serves wood oven baked pizza, but Puck does it alongside entrees like an Italian sea bass with sun choke cream and tomato peperonata or, sometimes listed as a special, bone-in osso bucco.

Mastro's Ocean Club is also recommended, not only for the food but also because it's tucked inside an architectural treehouse that rises 70 feet off the first floor, placing it on eye level with the second floor. Add the The Cup to the list too. It might be billed as a hot spot for coffee, but it also serves some of the best gelato in Las Vegas.

For guests of the Mandarin, Crystals is a short walk past its artistic extension. Although missing out on interior pedestrian traffic, Gallery Row is now home to The Gallery (currently showing Dale Chihuly), sculptor Richard MacDonald, master wilderness photographer Rodney Lough Jr., and CENTERpiece, which features several contemporary artists. Collectively, it is one of the better art collections anywhere in the city. Seek them out. It's worth it.

Beyond Crystals at CityCenter and inside the Mandarin Oriental. 

The four galleries aren't the only places to find art inside the expansive CityCenter. Several artists have made contributions. Located on the property are works by Isa Genzken, Henry Moore, and Nancy Rubins.

You could spend the day at CityCenter looking for art, not counting the architecture that presents itself as a collection of hotels, properties, and resorts. Along with Crystals and the Mandarin Oriental, the emerging skyline includes the Aria Resort & Casino, Vdara Hotel & Spa, and the Veer Towers.

Aria is one of the reasons neither the Mandarin nor the Vdara need concern themselves with gaming. Although more elegant than most, Aria is closer to what one might expect in Las Vegas with a sprawling casino floor bordered by eateries and restaurants. It also sports its own clubs, spa, salon, shopping, and show rooms. For guests of the Mandarin, it places traditional Las Vegas entertainment within short reach as do nearby resorts like Bellagio, the Cosmopolitan, and Monte Carlo.

That's not to say everything relies on proximity. The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental was one of only 20 in the world to receive a Forbes Five-Star award. The Mandarin is also home to Twist by Pierre Gagnaie, MOzen Bistro, and has the Pool Cafe. High above, with dynamic views of the city, the Mandarin Bar and Tea Room provide very different takes on nightlife and daytime entertainment.

When you're done, the rooms inside the Mandarin are modern, with subtle Asian qualities. The bathrooms are separated by frosted glass, allowing in natural light and even the smallest of rooms (about 500 square feet), are designed with a valet closet to accept deliveries without disrupting privacy.

It's this detail that makes the difference. Nowhere else can you stay at a luxurious hotel at rates comparable to an average hotel in other major cities. Rooms have two televisions (a large flat screen and a small screen in the bathroom), cotton sheets have a 480-thread count, and bathrooms are adorned with aromatherapy products. Everything in the room (wraps, temperature, lighting) can managed from a central remote.

The Mandarin Oriental Rises To An 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Las Vegas remains one of the top vacation destinations in the world, but sometimes we find the formula that makes most resorts exciting can also make them remarkably the same with only a different window dressing. The Mandarin (and the Vdara Hotel & Spa) is among the few hotels that are trying to enhance the image, much like the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel at Mandalay Bay did a few years ago.

While rates very by date, weekends, and holidays, Mandarin rooms are surprisingly affordable. At the time of this review, rooms started at $225. While these rates might sacrifice loftier views, the price is almost startling for a boutique hotel with such amenities.

To make plans for Las Vegas, you can also compare deals for airfares, discounted hotels, and car rentals on Fare Buzz. Once you book your flight, search for hotel packages.
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