by B.W. • Aug 9, 2011
The Vdara is an unusual property for the Strip. Apparently, not because it is more or less constructed in the backyard of the Aria instead of on the actual Strip. In the same way that not all theaters designated “Broadway Theaters” are actually on the street of that name, not all casinos labeled as Strip Properties open their doors onto Las Vegas Boulevard. This is not the unusual part. What really makes the Vdara remarkable in a town where exploding volcanoes and pirate fights on the front yard are more common than pink plastic flamingos, is the hotel's accessibility to the furor combined with the stylistic choice to not participate in it. The marketing around the Vdara advertises with a seemigly heavy hand on this duality of access and escape, and yet the hotel totally delivers.
Reservation and Website
Despite having a lot of very swanky and expensive-looking imagery on the web page, the Vdara runs some fairly good deals fairly often. We ended up choosing to stay there during the relatively slow time before spring break, because it hit the sweet spot between cost and amenities. I know, because we made a spreadsheet. Sid and Nancy we are not. It was easy to book the room we wanted for the dates that we wanted online, and I received conformation of the reservation quickly. Then, every week until our trip, I got reminders of their slate of amenities and the request that if I wanted anything I should call the concierge. It felt a lot like getting contacted by someone who hadn't yet realized that there would be no second date. These emails happened frequently enough that I began to wonder if the concierge was lonely.
The first thing I noticed upon arrival, besides that we'd accidentally arrived by way of a loading dock (It's easier to find the front door by walking through the Aria instead of the Cosmopolitan), was that everyone working behind the counters seemed both quite professional and very young. Check-in was a positive experience, since the staff were a cheerful bunch and took their time to properly situate each customer. The defining style of the Vdara lobby is an aggressive amount of eco-friendlyness, right down to the employee's suits being made of linen. Also, the womens' suits were even more eco-friendly in that they didn't require that much fabric, this being Vegas and all. I did not know about (or would have possessed the intrinsic suavity to try and attempt) the $20 room upgrade trick upon check-in. However, just by being pleasant to the apparently college-age woman checking us in, relocated us to a high floor with an amazing view. Due to the curvature of the building the view from the wall-sized window was more than 180 degrees of desert, Strip, and the fountains at the Bellagio.
I have, in my time, justified many a hotel experience as "clean enough" for when physiology has put its foot down and demanded that I sleep occasionally. I feel that the rooms in the Vdara provide extra value in that they are someplace one could comfortably spend a good deal of time. We enjoyed the room to the point that it was a little hard to leave some mornings.
Part of the characteristic style of the Vdara is that the rooms do not appear to be furnished from a hotel supply catalog. They are not just furnished; they are “designed.” Pleasantly done in a way that feels that designer spent some time in them. It's charming how they contain recognizable touches of humanity. The plugs for the work center are in a logical location, and the bathroom is well situated for some, uh,... "special couple time." This cozy feeling of following in the footsteps of the designer all fell apart, however, at the light switches. The light switches operate like an LSAT logic exam. Much as the Aria review points out that some basics of habitation aren't necessarily improved by technology, a light switch is best left as a stick that goes up when you want light and down when you don't. The fact that more than one switch served a single appliance eventually drove me to helplessly delegate the whole illumination project to my boyfriend with the rationale that he'd studied electrical engineering at CMU. Eventually, I almost got the hang of each appliance being served by its own switch with the far left switch serving as a master, but when operating the telephone left me feeling like a dog attempting to use a doorknob, I opted to just go downstairs and talk to the concierge in person. I imagine this is why there is always a line at the concierge. A person who does not at all seem as lonely as the emails had led me to believe.
Spa and Gym
From the choice of music piped over the loudspeakers, to the unbridled, self-congratulatory furor revolving around how "green" the building is, it is no secret that the Vdara selects for a specific demographic. Doubtless, the folks who walk these halls are the kind of people who sort their recycling. These people also seem to regularly attend the gym, as it was a busy place whenever I stopped by (because I too, seem to be one of those people). This is the first hotel gym I'd seen that had a free weights section and enough room for body weight exercises. I would stop short of attempting a Crossfit workout or plyometrics there, but the gym had all the amenities necessary to help offset the legendary Las Vegas buffets.
Pool and Death Ray
If you are a fan of the NPR news quiz show "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me" you probably first heard of the Vdara due to the kerfuffle surrounding some unexpected consequences of the layout of the pool area. If you ever were put in the Scouts with the idea that it would get you in touch with nature, you may have come across a solar cooker. The design for such a thing calls for a few feet of shiny material bent to focus sunlight into a beam hot enough to cook a meal. This usually is re-purposed as an efficient way to fry ants by any entrepreneurial seven-year old with a willingness to interpret "getting in touch" with nature to include a swift kick in the shins. Coincidentally, the blueprints for the Vdara is 57 floors of shiny windows curving around the pool area in the strong desert sun. After the first wave of litigious sunbathers with melted cell phones and slightly crispy hair, the pool area has been densely populated with shade structures. If you don't want to force the issue of melanoma or overheated electronics during your stay, I recommend relaxing under an umbrella or one of the neat little four poster day beds the hotel provides.
The Vdara stands out from the other venues on the Strip in that it's all hotel all the time. This is probably desirable for someone expensing a business trip. Also, booking at the Vdara implies to one's spouse that one will be returning with the majority the family's finances and without a lap full of incidental glitter. Although the hotel does not have its own casino or entertainment venue, one would have to posses both a broken leg and near-fatal alcohol poisoning to have any difficulty with the very short stretch of sidewalk leading to the Aria casino (a pleasantly fragrant casino experience and the easiest way to get to the Strip). If leaving the air conditioning seems a burden, there is also a sky bridge to the Bellagio neatly preventing any need, ever, to walk through the neighboring Cosmopolitan, which is a non-MGM property. The City Center has a tram that runs from the Bellagio/ Skybridge Junction, to the Shopping Center at Crystals, down to the Monte Carlo. When it passes by the lights of the City Center it looks like an atomic-era vision of the Las Vegas of the future and is worth the ride... once. As long as one continues to avoid tibial breaks and temperatures over one hundred degrees, it is probably more efficient to ambulate under one's own power to get around the City Center. The lack of anyone actually riding the monorail seems to confirm this.
The options of eating establishments inside Vdara are quite limited. Silk Road was closed every night we were there for a rotating list of reasons, and the downstairs cafe was obnoxiously over-priced. The few items in the cafe that seemed to be around market rate were intended to be prepared in the suite, and might be a bit crass to eat directly out of the package. At least in public. The Vdara advertises fairly heavily on the fact they offer in suite kitchenettes. Although this is useful, and possibly even worth it, I think this experience can be improved with a bit of expectation management. Whereas the work center and bathrooms were largely laid out in a way that made me feel the designer had spent a while using it, the kitchenette was not. I came to believe that the kitchenettes were the sort of thing that the hotel enjoyed being able to advertise, and the average user would like to imagine they would use. As long as nothing so complicated as to require serving utensils gets prepared, everyone is pretty happy. In order to get any kitchenware at all, one needs to call down to housekeeping and specifically request it each day. When I go back, I plan on responding to one of the concierge's emails with a list of desired utensils. This isn't the venue for trying out a vintage recipe for Red Velvet cake, but it's nice to have the option of preparing something simple for a breakfast in suite instead of waiting in line to buy something for three meals a day.
An important note here: the Vdara has removed coffeemakers from the rooms. Why this has not precipitated a catastrophe of roving bands of coffee addicts snarking around the lobby all morning, I cannot imagine. I was certainly out of sorts on the first day. Your stay will most likely be made brighter by securing an alternative source of your morning caffeine. The microwave is sufficient for a cup of tea or instant coffee, which can be enjoyed without the need to change into real clothing, but you will have to ask for a mug ahead of time. Reportedly, the Aria provides some nice coffee to players, and considering how annoyingly expensive a cup at the cafe in the Vdara lobby is, it might be worth playing a few hands of video poker there to get some from a waitress.
Las Vegas exists because they can supply what it is folks want to buy. If you, like me, have somewhat smugly considered yourself “not the Las Vegas type,” because buffets seem like too much, you have liberal guilt over water consumption, and you will sometimes carry a plastic bottle around until you see a recycling bin, MGM has just the resort for you. The concierge still keeps emailing me, and when I get around to “having fun” again this year, between getting my oil changed and visiting the dentist, I plan on take him up on it.
Address: 2600 West Harmon Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Web site: vdara.com