Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

February 23, 2010

Weekend at CityCenter's Arrghhhh-ia

Posted by Hunter

This weekend, hoping to break a long set-in case of the burnout blues, I decided at the last minute to head to Las Vegas. Some friends would be in town, it sounded like fun. Hell, I might even get to see the president (I didn't).

Continue after the jump for the rantings and raving of a madman.

I chose to make Aria my home base, my last stay was for the grand opening in December 2009. The nightly rate was 50% of what Encore was asking and it seemed like a good idea to get a sense of how the place is doing. The opening was a bit rocky but that's to be expected the first weekend... Now, eight weeks in, had those glitches been ironed out?

Well, Chuckmonster was also experiencing his second Aria go-round (go read that first). The incident that he mentioned with the bartender and the cucumber, I was there, it was just one example of the what seemed to be standard operating behavior at Aria. He's been joking around with me recently about my mood, calling me 'Cranky Hunter', which I think's pretty fair - I have been pretty cranky recently and this trip didn't help. At all.

From a ten minute computer outage at check-in to keycards that didn't work to employees that wouldn't look me in the eye or say hello as they passed by in the hall to the ever present issue with the cell service... Yes, he talks about the cell problems in his piece as well... They were *infuriating*. My room was looking out over the main porte-cochere, perhaps worse than the Vdara side of the building - I had to lean my phone against the window to get text messages and even then, they were spotty. All weekend, I would get messages hours later - something that really sucks when you're all alone and the only hope you have of hooking up with your friends is based on actually being able to reach them. Also important to mention - your phone uses far more battery when it can't find a signal, as it boosts the radio in its search.

Honestly, if your business requires you to be available (doctors, sysadmins, big law firm fixers, dog whisperers, I'm looking at you), you just can't stay at Aria until this is fixed. You can't rely on any comms to work in the building reliably (ok, I hear Sprint and T-Mobile work but they are the two smallest US carriers). As Chuck mentions, the story seems to be that they just need to sort out contracts. I've heard it was 'coming next week' for several weeks so I'm starting to lose faith. This has gone on too long... way too long.

On Saturday, I walked the complex with atdleft, something I love doing with people to get their reactions. It was fun to see it all over again and it reminded me that there are some really beautiful parts of CityCenter. Seeing Aria shining in the setting sun is awesome - the building looks amazing. It's the stuff inside that isn't working. Fortunately, that means they can fix it (if they want to). Service wise, they built a 4,000+ room Mirage with Sky Suites bolted on.

One outside bit that seems ridiculous, check this photo out - this is the main outdoor thoroughfare into Aria if you're not walking through Crystals. Why wouldn't they clean this up so it didn't look like a construction site? Boggles the mind.

Veer Entrance @ CityCenter

Some things were great - dinner at Julian Serrano was remarkable and we didn't have the service problems that Chuck mentioned (if anything, they were too attentive). Drinks at the Mandarin Bar, no doubt enhanced by the quality of the company, were a highlight. The pool area at Aria is very nicely done, they did a great job there as well.

One last complaint: little Johnny, if you grow up to run a room service department, don't tell me you're sending Pellegrino and then give me a junior junior sized bottle of Perrier. It will sour my mood for a whole weekend.


Read archived comments (22 so far)
February 23, 2010 9:36 AM Posted by detroit1051

You know you're in trouble when Hunter and Chuckmonster both give mediocre reviews to THE Strip resort of the decade (or maybe several decades to come).
There is more to CityCenter than Aria, but Aria is the focal point by which CC will be defined. Note to MGM Mirage: It is not a compliment when Hunter describes Aria as a "4,000+ room Mirage."
I would not stay at a property which has poor or non-existent cell service. This isn't new technology. Whatever the reason for this failure, it needs to be fixed NOW.
Indifferent employees need to be replaced NOW.

Is MGM Mirage vying to be the new Harrah's?

I'm sure many levels of MGM Mirage management read every word that Hunter and Chuckmonster write. Let's hope they pay attention to this double-barreled wake-up call.

February 23, 2010 9:50 AM Posted by Mike P.

According to news reports in December closings at Veer were supposed to start in February, and it's still a construction site coming up on March? I wonder what their real schedule is, and if in fact they'll have any willing buyers.

Hunter, did you stay in the Sky Suites? If so, how was it and what distinguishes a Sky Suite from a normal suite besides the separate registration?

February 23, 2010 9:54 AM Posted by Hunter

I stayed in a standard room again, though I did go check out the finished Sky Suites lobby when the guard was gone (asleep perhaps?) - it's pretty bland and boring. Not what I would have expected for the high-roller first glimpse, especially considering how great looking the main lobby is.

February 23, 2010 9:59 AM Posted by mike_ch

The cell thing doesn't click with me because I lose all cell service in hotels I usually go to, like MSS Downtown or the Suncoast up here in the northwest.

Thing is, neither of those hotels are quite the same as CityCenter and it takes a while for that to sink into my brain.

February 23, 2010 10:00 AM Posted by mike_ch

By the way, are you sending a letter about this like Vdara?

February 23, 2010 10:02 AM Posted by Hunter

Probably not.

February 23, 2010 10:06 AM Posted by detroit1051

Mike, but you're a local. When you're in Vegas for 3-4 days, several thousand miles away from home and your regular contacts, cell service is very important.

February 23, 2010 10:45 AM Posted by parchedearth

At least the rates are still coming down to match the service. They need a demanding hands-on manager to live in Aria for the next six months. Somebody who has the authority to make the necessary changes (i.e. a young Steve Wynn type). Unfortunately, I don't believe MGM has that person.

February 23, 2010 11:32 AM Posted by Chooch

The Palazzo had the same cell service problem when it opened. It infuriated their finance and operations related employees who couldn't get blackberry service throughout the building...having to run back to their desks just to check emails. That said, I think the problem was resolved quicker than the time it seems to be taking at Aria. Especially with all the "high tech" touting of Aria, they should have been in contact with Verizon and AT&T to get this figured out before opening.

I had the same problem as Hunter while staying there...had to place my cell phone on the window frame in hopes of catching up on text messages. It actually encouraged me to leave the property to make sure I could get in contact with people...I am guessing MGM doesn't really want their customers leaving the property for any reason.

Their front desk wait time on calls from guest rooms is astonishingly awful.

February 23, 2010 3:56 PM Posted by atdleft

Well first off, it was great to do a "mini Strip Walk" with Hunter on Saturday touring CityCenter. Honestly, I'm still liking most of the design aspects and I do see a way for it to be a (much needed) moneymaker for MGM Mirage. It's just obvious to me that they need to make some adjustments (like diversifying the store collection at Crystals, cleaning up the "construction site" feel at Aria, and providing better and more consistent service at Aria & Vdara) for all of CityCenter to reach its full potential.

Again being brutally honest, I'm not so sure if I'll book a room at Aria when I do my next "Strip Staycation". However, I'm hoping that will soon change. At the very least, I will give credit to the F&B folks at CityCenter for bringing in some truly stellar dining options (like Julian Serrano & Sage at Aria) and promising joints (like Silk Road at Vdara) that really are spicing up The Strip's dining scene. If they can just fix and rework the duds (like Jean Georges Steakhouse, Union, & Bar Masa/Shaboo at Aria), they'll have the next great restaurant line-up that foodies everywhere will be raving about.

I've been super busy lately with my personal life and all the wacky Nevada political drama, but I am hoping to do a big blog diary this week explaining my side of this weekend's CityCenter experience. But so far, Hunter is right on the money with Aria's problems and what MGM should do to fix them.

Oh, and btw... "all casinos have bad cell service" is no good excuse for the continuing problems at Aria. I had reception problems in some areas of my suite at Encore last year, but other than that I've never really had that problem at Wynncore. And whenever I visit The M, I always have at least a couple bars of Sprint signal.

February 23, 2010 9:48 PM Posted by bklyn2la

Thank you for the update Hunter. After reading about Chuckmonster and your experiences at Aria, I will not be staying there for my next trip in March or anytime soon. I had checked the place out in January and was truly unimpressed,had hoped they would start to get their act together. It is uacceptable that they still haven't fixed the cell phone problem and I have no tolerance for bad service. Guess it's back to the Wynn for me.

February 23, 2010 10:37 PM Posted by Tom M

Was cell service bad at Mandarin Oriental as well?

February 23, 2010 10:40 PM Posted by Hunter

I didn't have problems there, which I chock up to location.

Based on anecdotal evidence, there are cell stations across the street from MO at Monte Carlo. The problem is that they're not enough to feed the thousands of Aria customers.

February 24, 2010 1:12 AM Posted by Mike E

Thank you for the report, Hunter.

Years ago, Friess asked Robert Earl if he thinks Encore's opening will go smoothly to which Earl replied, "I think Wynn will open it textbook perfect." I chuckled at the thought considering WLV's problems at opening, but to my amazement, my experience in Encore's first two nights of business was indeed as Earl described. How Aria can go this long with what seems like absolutely no improvement in its service standards is concerning.

Mike P, regarding the Sky Suites, I spent a significant amount of time in the lobby and in a friend's two-bedroom penthouse last trip. The suite was gorgeous, though with him being the very first occupant, it had its fair share of expected problems. Service was great, genuine, but not quite polished. It wouldn't surprise me if they've really got their act together by now. It's no E/WLV tower suites in my opinion because while the concept is exactly the same, it's simply too big and too cold for its own good. One thing that really sets it apart, however, is its moderately top shelf open bar which probably explains Sky Suites' relatively high price of entry.

February 24, 2010 9:05 AM Posted by SouthLooper

From today's Restaurant Report: Aria Baccarat Lounge buffet, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South, received 34 demerits Feb. 8. Violations included food held at improper temperatures. GRADE: C.

February 24, 2010 10:58 AM Posted by socalduck

I will be at MO in a couple weeks, so I am glad to hear I can at least expect cell service. Recent reports from Aria have been decidedly mixed, so I'm glad I picked MO over Aria.

Has anyone been to Mastro's yet? Curious to hear any feedback.

February 24, 2010 7:29 PM Posted by Ted Newkirk

Given that poor customer service in general is the #1 complaint I hear (compared to previous years and decades), it seems surprising that CityCenter would be experienceing these problems.

I got a kick out of Chuck's post where he noted employees bitching about a supervisor and some of the other customer service issues. Shouldn't these people be happy to have a damn job right now in Las Vegas? I know that living here, I'm thankful every single day that I'm not in financial difficulty.

Side Note: Best customer service I'm experiencing? Downtown. At places like Fitz and Binions, Las Vegas Club and Golden Gate. I'm not kidding. (Note: Obviously, my observations do not cover rooms, maid, room service as I'm a local).

Perhaps Jim Murren should take a page from the CBS hit show Undercover Boss. While that show is a sham (reality, my ass), the though of taking a couple of days here and there to be a customer in your own joint could speak volumes. Murren is pretty indistinct looking (not a slam... he literally looks like he came from casting central when they were casting a CEO), so disguising himself wouldn't be that difficult.

With so much on the line, kind of surprising CityCenter continues to have so many issues.

PS The walkway from the self-park garage (I don't valet... I like my car in one piece) into Aria is not excusable. All that space they could make look nice (think Wynn/Encore similar space), put up ads for Elvis, whatever.

CityCenter really needs to succeed. For their sake, I hope they are aware of these many problems and rectifying them.

February 25, 2010 5:24 AM Posted by motoman

@parchedearth, Ditto. I could veer off topic and mention how Apple or Disney does product design and user experience. They are not unrelated concepts, after all.

As I wrote to Chuck:
"Absolutely no disrespect intended here -- meeting Chuck and Hunter was an honor, and the greatest part of attending the opening. But I always felt their enthusiastic initial reviews had a lot to do with the opening night energy, which was undeniable, and especially their epic run at the craps table following the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to throw the first dice at what may have been the last great opening of our lifetimes. A memorable experience like that will definitely enhance one's experience and impressions of the place.

"While I did notice some service glitches at Encore during that trip, it's still evident that this is one area where Wynn's places shine. All the Roger Thomas deliciousness could neither make up for a fail in that department, nor give the place its consistently high ratings on its own."

February 25, 2010 1:39 PM Posted by David McKee

"You know you're in trouble when Hunter and Chuckmonster both give mediocre reviews to THE Strip resort of the decade (or maybe several decades to come)."

Or, to paraphrase LBJ, if they've lost Hillegas and Monster, they've lost Middle America.

February 28, 2010 1:59 PM Posted by Marios

So I was wondering the overall consensus for the service is not fantastic, but how do the rooms and facilities compare to Wynncore is Aria a lot better are the the public areas far superior? I have not been to Aria yet, I usually stay at Wynncore my favorite place.

April 5, 2010 4:47 AM Posted by detroit1051

The LV Sun has a story on Aria's technology. What caught my attention was one of the reader comments. Usually, they're inane, but this guy seemed serious. He's not a techie and had trouble with setting the draperies and alarm clock. He apparently also has physical challenges and commented on the difficulty in moving his scooter around the small room. However, I want to verify his statement that there are no wall eletrical outlets:
"NO electrical outlets on any of the walls. (they were only on the desk across from the bed) this made it real difficult to plug in my CPAP (sleeping) machine."
Is this true?

April 5, 2010 8:04 AM Posted by Hunter

My recollection was that there were not enough plugs. I had to unplug a lamp to get everything plugged in. There are a few directly under the TV in the electronics area.