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WEEKEND ESCAPE

Relaxing in Vegas: What are the odds?

New lodgings the Hotel and the Westin Causarina take the stress out of the Strip.

May 02, 2004|Janet Eastman | Times Staff Writer

Las Vegas — No one comes to Sin City to meditate, take a yoga class, hang out in a hotel room. But my sister and I, excitement seekers just like you, did.

Here's why: Two new hotels, one a few blocks from the Strip, the other in a secluded part of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino near the end of the famous roadway, promised a getaway from the cicada-like buzz of neon signs, clanging slot machines and edgy amateur gamblers. And they delivered.

A relaxing trip to Vegas? This sounded too enticing to ignore, especially to two moms with three college-age sons, moms in need of our own spring break.

Last month, we booked a Saturday-night stay at the Westin Casuarina and a Sunday night at the Hotel, a free-standing tower on the Mandalay Bay property. (The nontraditional Saturday-through-Monday weekend provided us a reduced rate on Sunday night.)

On the 270-mile drive here from Newport Beach, Charmaine and I talked about our ideal three-day trip: no early mornings, no shopping for guy stuff or spending time with beer drinkers who beat their chest like Tarzan when they're happy. But we also didn't want to be slugs. Between the two of us, we have enough natural energy to light Las Vegas Boulevard. Checking out the gyms and then negating all the good earned there by eating fine cuisine were priorities as well.

We were hopeful when we checked into the Westin Casuarina, half a mile east of where the Flamingo Hilton and Caesars Palace hold court on the Strip.

The Casuarina, which opened in November, is small by Las Vegas standards -- 815 rooms and 10 suites compared with the MGM Grand's swarming city of 5,000 rooms. The benefits of intimate space and reduced human traffic were quickly noticeable: instant check-in; an uncrowded lobby and casino floor that didn't have the ricocheting din of spouting slot machines; and a walk to the room that wasn't a football field long.

The beds were the highlight in our double room ($229, plus tax). The white cotton linens were as soft as cotton balls, layered with fluffy feather beds and airy down comforters. There were goose-feather pillows, ranging from soft to hard to in-between.

The hotel's only restaurant, the Silver Peak Grill, had an easygoing New York social-club feeling with dark wood walls and cushy leather booths under soft lamplight. The wine list was adequate with lots from California -- Clos du Bois, La Crema and Cakebread Cellars reds and whites by the glass and bottle. The first course favored seafood -- salmon, sesame-crusted ahi and Key West crab cakes -- and the entree menu was laden with meat -- beef fillets, lamb, veal and pork chops.

We ordered $5 appetizer salads that could easily have been split. We over-ordered with gingery vegetarian spring rolls, a hefty prime New York strip sirloin with chewy golden chanterelle mushrooms and tender Thai grilled chicken on mizuna greens served on square blown-glass plates. The meal lasted two hours.

To kill time before retiring to the room -- seriously, the beds were that inviting -- we walked the casino to the beat of a low-keyed rock duo singing Lionel Richie softies.

On the second floor, I liked that the tidy gym was free to guests (a 10,000-square-foot spa opened after our visit) and the pool terrace wasn't chock-full of thousands of regimental chaise longues. About a dozen chairs were clustered into conversation circles around the modest-sized pool and whirlpool.

'The room is worth it'

We appreciated the sanctuary of the Westin more after we left it Sunday to check into Mandalay Bay's the Hotel, which opened in December as a hotel that shares the 60-acre resort with the original Mandalay Bay tower and the Four Seasons Las Vegas.

Black walls dominate in the Hotel's 43-story tower -- so much so that in some spots I needed night-vision goggles at noon to navigate.

Another setback: the snail-paced check-in. A line stretched from the registration desk through the lobby lounge and past twin pool tables. I asked the 20ish couple behind me why they were repeat visitors. They answered, "The room is worth it."

They were right. When I opened the door, my stress level dropped to my ankles. The living room was painted in soothing dark and milk chocolates and furnished with a soft sage-colored chenille couch and black lacquered tables and desk. The sophisticated, earth-tone decor was far removed from typical garish florals. At 725 square feet, the rooms are the largest standard suites on the Strip, complete with two bathrooms and three flat-screen TVs. We paid $199 plus tax for the night, only $20 more that night than a Mandalay Bay room.

The resort has 16 restaurants, including the House of Blues. That afternoon, we ate the so-so Southern buffet at the Gospel Sunday Brunch and waved red cloth napkins to Mississippi Delta blues sung by the 10-member Gaston 5 group.

We had been told that guests of the Hotel can request access to the House of Blues Foundation Room, a private club above the casino. We asked at check-in and were given VIP passes.

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