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March 01, 2009|Jane Engle; Catharine Hamm; Hugo Martin

A playground on the seas

What has 16 decks, room for more than 3,800 passengers, a climbing wall, an ice-skating rink and more? It's Mariner of the Seas, which last week started sailing year-round from Los Angeles to Mexico on seven-night round trips. Royal Caribbean International says it's the largest ship to have its home port on the West Coast. Think Las Vegas on the sea. Here are some features from a tour of the ship when it turned up at port recently: an ice-skating rink and an in-line skating track; a cute nine-hole miniature golf course; the Royal Promenade; five zones catering to kids 3 to 17 with computers, an arcade, teen clubs that serve nonalcoholic "mocktails," parties and contests; and an adults-only solarium equipped with a pool, whirlpools and chaise longues. Mariner rates start as low as $549 a week, per person, based on double occupancy, judging from fares recently posted online, but spend about eight times that and you'll get a 1,325-square-foot balcony suite with a whirlpool, king bed and a baby grand piano. Info: (866) 562-7625, www.royalcaribbean.com.

-- Jane Engle

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Roomy Vegas

Two hotels in Las Vegas' new City Center began accepting reservations last week for their expected debuts later this year. The 57-story Vdara at City Center will have 1,495 suites but will not have a casino. It will be smoke-free and also will boast a 16,000-square-foot spa, salon and fitness center. Rates will begin at $159 a night. For reservations for Oct. 1 and beyond: (866) 745-7767 or www.vdara.com. Just in time for the holidays, Aria Resort & Casino plans its opening for Dec. 16. The 4,004-room hotel puts the accent on technology. Curtains will part when a guest enters the room, and the 42-inch TV becomes the command center for lighting and sound. Rates will start at $179; for info: (866) 359-7757, www.arialasvegas.com. City Center, a $9-billion development between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo, also will include a Mandarin Oriental and a Harmon hotel and half a million square feet of retail and entertainment space.

-- Catharine Hamm

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Furlough deals

A handful of hotels and resorts in Reno and Tahoe are offering a little relief for California state workers who have been furloughed because of budget cuts. Employees get a free night's stay when they book a room at a participating hotel. So if you have a Friday furlough, you pay for Friday and Saturday nights and get Thursday or Sunday night free. (Fridays and Saturdays are not offered free on this deal.) Squaw Valley is also offering bargains to state employees. Call (800) 367-7366 or go to www.californiafurlough.com -- and have your state employee ID on hand. Other breaks include two-for-one dining vouchers, two-for-one show tickets, 25% discounts on spa treatments and $25 in free casino play.

-- Hugo Martin

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Share the love

When we asked you for your ideas on places that are more hype than substance, scores responded. Now we're asking for your ideas e on places that are overlooked and underappreciated. Which seemingly mundane place, maybe a city, country or region, left you in awe or far exceeded your expectations? Let us know and we'll post your responses online. The best will appear in print April 19 along with a list of underrated destinations compiled by the Times Travel staff. Go to latimes.com/underrated to submit your ideas by March 14.

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