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WEEKEND ESCAPE: NEVADA

Away from the Strip's glitz, Summerlin is an oasis of quiet elegance

August 22, 1999|SHARON BOORSTIN | Sharon Boorstin is a freelance writer in Beverly Hills

LAS VEGAS — "Welcome to the Regent Grand Spa!"

Four valet jockeys, two doormen, one bellman and three reception clerks thus greeted my husband, Paul, and me when we arrived at the Resort at Summerlin late one very hot Friday afternoon earlier this month.

As it turned out, throughout our stay at the new $270-million, 54-acre resort, a 20-minute drive northwest of the Las Vegas Strip, every staff member was equally friendly and tried very hard to please. Good thing. Their great service and attitude had to make up for all that was lacking in the way of facilities.

For starters, take the swimming pool. With desert temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, I was eager to take a swim. When I'd called in June--before the resort's July 15 opening--to reserve a $249 two-night introductory-rate package--including continental breakfast--I'd been assured that the pool would definitely be ready. (I was told the resort's 40,000-square-foot health spa would open in the fall.)

Yet now the receptionist was apologizing, saying, "Due to construction delays, the pool is not ready." I was to hear a variation of this litany several times during the weekend. The assistant manager offered to make arrangements for us to use the pool at the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, free transportation in a Lincoln Town Car included. Sounded good to me--especially since the resort's regular complimentary shuttle to the Strip is by van, and it runs only every two hours.

For now, however, I was content to stay put. After all, what most appealed to me about the Resort at Summerlin was its location away from the glitzy, crowded Strip. As we walked around the property, I realized what a difference that makes: At Summerlin, there are no neon signs, no buildings that try to look like somewhere or something else, no noisy crowds and no high-priced entertainment showrooms.

Yes, there is gambling (this is Nevada, after all), but the 50,000-square-foot casino is in a separate structure. Inside the hotel, you're so far away from the bells and whistles of the slot machines, you might as well be in California.

In fact, the 286-room Regent Grand Spa Hotel looks like it belongs in California. The handsome Spanish colonial-style architecture is evocative of such classic Southern California resorts as La Quinta near Palm Springs and the Four Seasons Biltmore near Santa Barbara. The lobby features tile floors, dark carved-wood ceilings and walls hung with European tapestries.

Our standard room was as spacious as those I've stayed in at the Bellagio and Caesars Palace Towers, the most luxurious hotels on the Strip. It was decorated in subdued earth tones in a tasteful contemporary style. I liked the walk-in closet, and I swooned over the huge marble bathroom with its double-sink vanity, oversize Jacuzzi tub and separate shower and toilet stalls. Since the Regent Grand Spa is considered to be "casual" in comparison to the Summerlin resort's second hotel, the more formal 225-room Regent Grand Palms (due to open in October), I can only imagine how luxe its sister property will be.

Like all rooms at the resort, ours was equipped with a 30-inch TV featuring Web TV. Eager to check my e-mail, I picked up the wireless keyboard and attempted to log on. No go. After a frustrating half-hour, I called the front desk. "Due to construction delays, the Web TV system . . . " began an attendant.

I lay down to take a nap, only to discover that another nifty state-of-the-art room amenity wasn't yet working--the sensor in the hall that alerts housekeeping when guests are inside. No problem. The housekeeper who barged in on me departed with a profuse apology, and I fell quickly to sleep: With luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets and down comforters, the beds at the Grand Spa are irresistible.

Friday night, Paul and I checked out the only two open restaurants among the eight planned at the resort. Above the casino, the Upstairs Market is several notches above your average Las Vegas buffet; chefs prepare many dishes to order, and gourmet selections range from an appetizer of fresh mozzarella cheese with tomatoes and basil to tiramisu for dessert. I was impressed that the $25 seafood buffet, available only on weekends, includes fresh oysters on the half shell, fresh jumbo shrimp and even steamed Maine lobster.

At sunset, we walked out onto the terrace to watch the lights of the Strip blink on in the distance.

Choosing elegance over all-you-can-eat, Paul and I dined in Ceres, the Grand Spa Hotel dining room. The tasteful contemporary setting and the service were flawless, but we had problems with the food. In keeping with the theme of the hotel, Ceres features spa cuisine, and the menu lists the calorie and fat counts for most dishes. Perhaps we would have been more forgiving if the prices hadn't been as high as those at such celebrity-chef restaurants on the Strip as Spago, Le Cirque and Picasso (with entrees in the mid-$20s range and up and up).

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