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WEEKEND ESCAPE

Lake Las Vegas, Sin City's alter ego

A new shoreline resort village 30 minutes east of the Strip is as quiet as the neon boulevard's casinos are noisy.

October 19, 2003|Tom Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Henderson, Nev. — If Las Vegas is Sin City, the resort half an hour east alongside Lake Las Vegas is more like Sun City.

As much as we relished the peace of Viera, a just-opened condominium-hotel at the new MonteLago Village of shops and restaurants, we wondered who besides us would choose this languid retirement community-like setting over the high-energy smorgasbord of the Strip.

The answer came while we were humming across the lake in a canopied, 10-passenger electric water taxi. The young couple opposite us seemed a tad too cool. They looked vibrant and adventurous, the sort of people who might stay up past 10.

What, we asked, are you guys doing out here?

We're from Iowa, they said. Spent several days on the Strip, they said. Partied hearty and came to Lake Las Vegas to relax before heading home.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 21, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Ritz-Carlton brunch -- An article in Sunday's Travel section on a weekend escape to Lake Las Vegas, Nev., incorrectly characterized brunch at the Ritz-Carlton as a buffet. Diners order off a menu.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 26, 2003 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Ritz-Carlton brunch -- An article in the Travel section Sunday on a Weekend Escape to Lake Las Vegas, Nev., incorrectly characterized brunch at the Ritz-Carlton as a buffet. Diners order from a menu.

And so there it was. Lake Las Vegas is the anti-Strip, a kind of decompression chamber, the place to readjust one's timing after a high-octane outing on Las Vegas Boulevard 17 miles away.

The contrast is stark.

Out here, it gets dark at night. The little 24-hour casino is less illuminated than some churches. Until Viera opened in late September and a Ritz-Carlton first welcomed guests eight months ago, the only other lodging was a 4-year-old Hyatt Regency.

Entertainment here is miniature concerts on the green; locals show up with lawn chairs and picnic baskets of cheese and Chardonnay.

It's all part of a 3,000-acre, work-in-progress development for 3,500 full- and part-time residents that features 54 holes of golf and the 320-acre lake.

Viera's target audience, apparently, is golfers and people attending conventions at the two hotels. But the condo complex has established guest privileges at the hotels and the lake's marina, so guests can sign up for stargazing (celestial, not celebrity) at the Ritz-Carlton or rent pedal boats at the Hyatt.

A larger fleet of electric-powered boats -- from six-passenger cruisers ($59 an hour) to a 40-person yacht ($465) -- can be rented at a marina. Fishing tackle can also be rented for $12 a day, and because the lake is private, no license is required.

Such slow-poke activities are fine for families, as are Viera's accommodations. The condos range from studios to three-bedroom suites. Families can save money by hauling in groceries; the kitchens have almost everything you need, including dishwashers. And there's daily housekeeping service.

For an introductory rate of $129 a night, my wife, Jeanne, and I reserved a one-bedroom unit for a Saturday-through-Monday stay to avoid the worst of Interstate 15 traffic. (The published rates of $149 to $399 are competitive with the Strip, considering the amenities.)

The Viera staff, unaware that I was on assignment, upgraded us to a two-bedroom unit because of a paperwork glitch. It had a king bed, a queen bed and a living room sofa-bed that, though uncomfortable for sitting, could have accommodated even more sleepers. We were on the fifth of six floors, overlooking pools and part of the lake. Las Vegas' neon was nowhere in sight; despite the Italian-villa-inspired design, this could easily have been Palm Desert.

Though the condos double as a hotel, Viera is no resort. There were two large swimming pools and a whirlpool, an exercise room and a small game room. But for spa treatments, shopping, gambling and dining, you have to leave the building.

For dinner, the front desk recommended we drive around the lake to Mira Lago, the dining room at the Reflection Bay Golf Club. When we arrived, we found two wedding receptions underway, so we sat on the quieter outdoor terrace. When temperatures oblige, dining outdoors in bug-free Las Vegas is a lovely experience, the tiki torches and lighted palm trees providing salve for the soul.

Jeanne ordered lobster, and I selected a teriyaki salmon with a cucumber citrus salsa, both of which were nice. We also treated ourselves to a chocolate souffle, ordered at the outset so it would be ready by dinner's end.

We had the makings of a romantic night: wedding guests coming and going, and distant lights glistening off the still lake.

Until, that is, our waitress told us to ignore the commotion inside the main dining room where a mouse was running about. The staff was trying -- unsuccessfully -- to shoo it outside. Outside, as in, where we were.

We spent more time peering at our feet than gazing wistfully at the lake. We anxiously awaited our souffle.

And waited and waited. At one point, our waitress put a piece of cheesecake in front of us.

"Sorry about the souffle," she said. "Someone didn't completely close the oven door. Maybe you'd like to eat this while you wait." We declined.

Finally, 45 minutes after our entree dishes were cleared, our souffle arrived. Much to my surprise, there was no offer to take it off the tab.

Ghost town

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