Reporting from Las Vegas — Packed into 67 acres between the Monte Carlo and the Bellagio casino hotels, CityCenter is billed not just as the Las Vegas Strip's next evolutionary phase, but also as a spectacle capable of pulling the region's tourism from its death spiral.
Yet with nearly 5,900 new luxury hotel rooms to fill, that spiral may be intensifying. Between Dec. 1 and 16, the developers unveiled the 1,495-guest room Vdara, the 392-guest room Mandarin Oriental, and the 4,004-guest room Aria Resort & Casino and its 17 restaurants and cafes.
As a whole, the hotels offer a template for 21st century Vegas; it's the locus of sophisticated recreation for the well-heeled brainiac. Stuffed with whiz-bang technology, cutting-edge green operations and urbane décor, the hotels create a new kind of wonderland where pampered lifestyles tread softly on the planet's resources.
Vdara and the Mandarin Oriental offer a respite from sensory overload with casino-free lodging. The centerpiece, Aria Resort & Casino, provides an orgy of deluxe gambling, dining and people-watching.
The complex is connected by sometimes-confusing ramps, escalators and a three-station monorail, which make the place look more like a futuristic airport than a distillation of Manhattan. Without the chaos of taxis, office workers and urban grit, many areas feel more like a fantasy Manhattan, a sort of Theme Park for Rich People.
The cleanliness is a plus, the product of many eco-conscious, unseen factors. CityCenter made environmental impact central to its design and operation, and most buildings boast one of the highest ratings of sustainability, the U.S. Green Building Council's Gold LEED certification. Happily, natural light and fresh air are abundant in most private and many public spaces.
Clean air was one welcome surprise in a three-day visit to the new hotels. (The 400-room boutique Harmon Hotel won't open until late this year). Though a similar design sensibility of modern, curvilinear shapes and earth-tone palettes unites the hotels, each offers distinct amenities and advantages. Here are the highlights from my recent stays at all three.
With nary a slot machine on the property, entering the 57-story Vdara is practically serene. Had I booked one of the hotel's natural-gas-powered limos, I could have offset my airplane flight's carbon emissions. Yet my arrival was cushioned by the lobby's light perfume, a 32-foot Frank Stella artwork and a (mostly) competent staff seasoned after 16 days on the job.
Though it has a sizable spa, pool complex, restaurant, bar and nearly 1,500 suites, the hotel's orderly layout makes it easy to navigate. Originally designed as a condo hotel, the 500- to 1,650-square-foot suites have the most residential yet urban feel of the three hotels. Even in the smallest suite, there's room for a lush king bed, sofa bed, reading chair, desk, kitchen, dining table and a free-standing spa bathtub.
Vdara (an invented name) is one of the few upscale Las Vegas hotels hospitable to families. Spring for one of its 250 Panoramic rooms, and you'll get a four-person dining room table, a washer-dryer and full-sized kitchen appliances.
Vdara also may be CityCenter's best hotel for conducting business, given the guest rooms' generous work spaces, laptop safes, fast wireless access and media hubs that can connect an array of electronic devices to the flat-screen TV. Those features and access to the compact fitness center are covered by a $15 daily resort fee.
A pool deck offers a variety of smallish swimming/dipping spaces and views of buildings. Life is better indoors: Even the smallest, lowest-price rooms offer multiple, wired-for-technology work spaces. The wide array of green materials in the custom-designed décor shows that sustainable design doesn't always mean burlap and bamboo. Design firm BBG-BBGM used stone, wood and metal to create a durable, eco-friendly and more natural environment, said Julia Monk, managing partner.
Vdara, which is behind Aria, is removed from the intensity of the Strip and from most CityCenter visitors. A corridor connects the hotel to a monorail that zips to the Bellagio, Crystals and the Monte Carlo. Just don't expect to transfer easily to any other hotel in the complex. Despite the developers' boasts of the center's "connectivity and access," Vdara refused to move my luggage across the road to Aria. This eco-conscious hotel required that my guest and I retrieve the car, drive the confusing loops to Aria and park again, instead of allowing a bellman to push a cart half a block down the sidewalk.
2600 W. Harmon Ave., Las Vegas,
(866) 745-7767, www.vdara.com
Doubles from $129
Aria Resort & Casino
Aria is a universe unto itself, though the curving steel-and-glass structure designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects serves as CityCenter's crossroads. It's the destination for high-energy, high-priced activities such as gambling, drinking and dining.