So, here's my 4,200 word set of notes on my stay last week at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
I hope you enjoy it - please leave your comments below.
If you want to see photos from my stay, a complete gallery is located here.
Keep reading after the jump.
Payola Disclaimer: I paid out of pocket for my stay and all of my food, except for the preview meal we had at China Poblano, which was covered by the hotel.
For this trip, we'd already been next door at Bellagio for pre-opening media activities. That meant that we packed our stuff and made the one minute drive to The Cosmopolitan. We left our car with the valet and the bell desk folks took our bags. They were very accommodating and seemed genuinely excited to be welcoming guests. This would become a trend during our trip - pretty much every employee I ran into seemed jazzed about the opening. This is a stark contrast to a year ago at Aria where many of the employees acted like extras on The Walking Dead.
From the valet we entered the lobby and check-in area. Now, I'd already toured the building twice at this point but my wife had never seen it. She was impressed by the video pillars which I think make a strong first impression. The lines were pretty much non-existent as it was only 1pm.
I think at this point it's important to give a little back-story. About two weeks prior, I got a call to receive opening day instructions for guests about when to arrive, which valet to use, etc....
Our original check-in time was 3pm. It wasn't until the previous day, during the media festivities, that we were told we could arrive at 1pm - the reason they gave was that they wanted to avoid people piling up all at once. 1pm was great for us - it was our Bellagio check-out time, reducing the amount of 'Vegas homelessness' we had to endure.
After sauntering up to an available desk agent, he started typing away. We were informed that while he could check us in, there was a problem and we wouldn't be able to get into our room right away - they were going to call us when the room was ready. At that point they couldn't give an ETA but given the amount of activity and hushed conversation between attendants and managers, it seemed like there might be something more material going on that we didn't know about. The agent typed and telephoned for about twenty minutes before telling us that we could downgrade to a standard room right away or wait for the suite we had reserved. We wanted the suite so we headed to the bar. The agent did not give us keys or any other materials.
The opening had drawn not just us but pretty much the entire VT crew so I figured we were in good company. We met Chuckmonster at the bar and over the course of the next thirty minutes, pretty much every other member of our party had been given the same story.
Well, sort of.
See, when Mike_E and Blackjacker1979 had gone through the process, they had been given keys (without a room number) and a black 'welcome packet' that included passes for the concert, etc... I got nada. It was immediately clear that the agents were figuring things out as they went along - there was no plan for a room availability meltdown. I didn't really want to wait in a now growing line all over again if I didn't have to so I found the agent that had helped Chuck and explained to her that I'd rather get my keys and packet now, so that I could just get the room number when it was ready. After another fifteen minutes or so at the desk and I had my keys to nowhere and the welcome packet.
It was now about 2:30pm or so - ninety minutes after we were told to arrive for check-in. Collectively, the group decided to head to Bond to indulge in a few more cocktails. We had a nice enough time hanging out and about thirty to forty minutes later, calls from the 702 area code started to come in on our various phones. I believe JohnH was first and then eventually my phone rang. It appeared that despite the fact I already had keys, they needed to walk someone over with a new set. A few minutes later, a friendly employee arrived and I had a room. Woo-hoo!
Up on the fiftieth floor, I discovered an incredible view - we were on the north-east corner of the building. What I consider to be the best vantage point, it included Bellagio and points north as well as Planet Hollywood, MGM Grand and McCarran Airport. It was literally a view to die for - the best of any room I've ever had in Las Vegas.
Our bags were all in the room and all the hanging stuff was... well, hanging. Nice.
At this point I figured the check-in delay was just an anomaly and that it would be the end of service issues on the hotel side.
The Cosmopolitan has two hotel towers, east and west. I don't know of a single person in the west tower during the first few days but it's obvious from it's shape that it is much longer. One of the nice things about the east tower is that the hallways are very short - it's basically a very tall square and we were never more than a few steps from my room.
Design wise, our Wrap Around Terrace Suite (WATS) was mostly great. The things I had quibbles with were a combination of design flaws and service problems.
On the service side, in addition to the long check-in time, we also had the following problems: no bathmats in either bathroom (there are two full baths in these suites), neither TV worked properly (one of them could not be turned off without being disconnected from the wall), turn-down service was never performed or offered, the room was not cleaned until I called in to housekeeping, at which point someone arrived within the hour to clean the room and she did a very good job except for missing the ashtray full of cigarette butts.
When it comes to design, there were a few things with which I had functional issues. Some of the decisions made in my room and in others made me wonder if designers actually slept in model rooms before they implemented them.
First, let me praise the designers for including a metric shit-load of electrical outlets. These days we often travel with phones, iPads, laptops, cameras and who knows what else. The more outlets the better. Also, I use my phone as an alarm and like to charge it overnight so it always bugs me when there's no open outlet next to the bed (ahem - Wynn Las Vegas and Bellagio). Cosmo has multiple outlets on each side, plus more on the walls and in the bathroom. They're all over the place - score one for David Rockwell.
One thing I didn't really care for was the way the lighting system worked. There were 'all on' and 'all off' buttons both inside the front door and in the living room. Why not by the bed? I want to kill all the lights when I'm getting in bed without having to wander around the room in the dark bumping into things.
The WATS curtains are all manual. What is this, 1998? Standard rooms at Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore all have automatic drapes but premium suites at Cosmo do not? Odd and quite honestly, annoying, mostly for the same sleep-centric control reasons outlined above.
There's a desk in the living room area, below the television. It's setup like you could work there with a computer but as Chuck also pointed out, there's an incredibly bizarre lighting choice that makes doing anything substantial next to impossible. The light is right in your face, making the glare unworkable. Poor design decision.
Other than that, things pretty much worked as they should. The rooms apparently all lacked room service booklets - the info was included on the TV (though I couldn't make my TV work so that was an exercise in frustration).
The WATS includes a ton of closet space, though some is out in the front entry area. There's also a washer/dryer and a complete kitchen with wine fridge. This suite, along with a bunch of the other, smaller rooms, include a fairly open shower/bathroom plan. Perhaps something to keep in mind if you're sharing the room with family or friends.
The main feature of the room, a terrace lining the room on both sides, was worth the price of admission. I took a couple hundred photos out there and could see not just the Fountains of Bellagio but also most of the Mirage Volcano. Out of this world.
Hotel check-out was set for 11am, an hour earlier than competitors Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas, Encore and Aria. The difference between 11 and 12 when you're trying to get going is actually pretty substantial. Hopefully they re-consider this. I wonder if the terraces increase cleaning time substantially? I was able to extend to 1pm by calling the front desk and negotiating with the agent.
At the end of the trip, I was told that I would have my folio emailed to me. After that email never arrived, I followed up with a phone call. Another promise and so far, twelve hours later, still no email.
I love technology and Cosmopolitan makes more use of it than any other Vegas hotel that I know of (yes, even Aria). This pops up in the room where the television is intended to provide voicemail messages, a trip itinerary and access to room service.
You see it on the casino floor where touch-screen directory devices can locate the precise slot brand you're looking for on an interactive map. These are neat improvements over their analog ancestors... at least when they work properly. For example, despite signing up for the Identity club before-hand (and also supposedly being enrolled as a hotel guest), when I tried to get rated for play, I discovered their system had no idea who I was, forcing me to re-register.
it is important to remember that technology is not a substitute for service, it is merely able to enhance an already well-design customer service experience. Mike_Ch pointed this out in a insightful response to my previous post about opening night jitters.
While I welcome our future robotic servants, I still want their human overlords to be ready to jump in when they fail or just to go above and beyond for tasks that machines are simply not well suited for.
The property features the digital way-finding devices I mentioned earlier, something we see more and more in public spaces everywhere. The problem is that these devices didn't seem to work properly much of the time. I found myself having to repeat touches again and again to get them to register. Some functions didn't work at all - the 'game finder', a sub-program designed to help you find a specific game type, is supposed to allow to sort by 'hottest' game. In four or five attempts at different machines, this never gave me any results.
Beyond those problems, the machine did not keep your place - after drilling down on a restaurant, I was forced to tap back through a previous list to find where I had left off. Anyone wanting to look at each restaurant would be in for a few dozen taps at least. There didn't appear to be any of these machines on the third floor, where most of the restaurants are, though after noticing that the opening and closing times didn't match what the restaurant hostesses told me, perhaps they wouldn't have helped much anyway.
I hear rumblings of more tech appearing at the hotel, perhaps starting with an iPhone/iPad app that will hopefully be several steps beyond what any of the other hotels are offering. I look forward to seeing them push the envelope in this area, though I hope everything is well trialed and tested first.
Casino and Common Areas
I probably spent an aggregate of four hours playing in the casino (craps, roulette and pai gow) over the three days I was at the hotel.
Interacting with the casino employees was a real treat. These folks all seemed to be extremely friendly and very professional. I can honestly say I didn't meet an employee in the entire complex that wasn't friendly and seemingly happy.
I love the idea of a third floor common area. Both mornings, my plan was to go up there with my iPad and read the news / catch up. The problem with this idea was that the Wi-Fi on the third floor was extremely sketchy - basically unusable. It foiled my plans almost completely and the lack of a solid 3G signal sealed my fate. Wi-Fi worked great on the second floor and the casino level.
3G service in the hotel was solid as well, though sometimes four or five bars didn't translate into a usable signal - that may have been a capacity issue. In contrast to the awful 3G service experienced at CityCenter earlier this year, it was nice to see they had this problem dealt with from day one.
The first morning, the music in that third floor area was way too loud but I found that had already been adjusted by day two.
After writing a pre-opening bit wondering how the common areas would be used, I was interested to see that every time I walked through, there were people playing pool, foosball, listening to 45s, etc... The space was never crowded but always active.
Access between floors is simple - with multiple sets of elevators and escalators, you can traverse the property, up, down or side to side very easily.
It's not uncommon in Las Vegas for customers to leave empty glassware on top of trashcans for attendants to pick up for cleaning. That's tough at Cosmo since the trashcans all have slanted tops and in many spots, there aren't good places to stick your empty glass. The idea of tossing it into the trashcan always seems so wasteful and destructive to me but there aren't a lot of other options right now.
Access to the casino and second level retail area is dead simple from The Strip/Bellagio or via CityCenter. The Cosmopolitan integrates so well into the CityCenter footprint that even some locals can't tell the difference. I was reminded of this in a discussion with someone in the hotel elevator who *insisted* that he was at CityCenter and proceeded to berate me when I corrected him (why the hell I said anything, I have no idea), saying that 'all locals refer to this as CityCenter'.
In general, the finishes in the hotel and casino are top notch - lots of marble, high-quality carpet and leather. There is quite a bit of Terrazzo tile floor, which I know some people don't like or think looks cheap. Generally, I don't think that's a problem here - lots of interesting colors and patterns.
I'm a sucker for light fixtures and Cosmo doesn't disappoint. Many chandelier styles appear all over the property, even if some seem to be direct descendants of the main design used at Encore. The wire design above the check-in area especially caught my eye.
Bars and Booze
I'm no stranger to the casino bars of my favorite properties.
If you're in search of a place to have a cocktail, you won't have to look far at Cosmo. Between three bars inside the chandelier, you've also got a lobby bar, three other walk-up casino bars and places like The Bond. My favorite drink, a greyhound, is made with grapefruit juice. I'm always on the lookout for bars that use the fresh squeezed stuff. For others in the same predicament, The Vesper (lobby bar) did but the other bars, including the High Limit Bar did not. Explain to me why a lobby bar has the good stuff and the high rollers get something out of a can?
Beyond the basics, mixologists at The Cosmopolitan have come up with a bunch of custom goodness with different menus at each outlet. The samples we got on media day were pretty damn good so if you're into that sort of thing, I'd encourage you to try a few of them.
If you're looking for a place to sit down, many of the bars have seats but I'd suggest you try 'Inside the Chandelier'. The mid-level bar doesn't have direct access to the casino floor (you have to go up the stairs) so it seemed to be a bit quieter, even when the main floor bar was quite busy.
One interesting note - many venues on property offer water that is sourced from their on-site aquifer. Regulars may remember this same aquifer as a source of flooding problems during construction. At least they're getting something out of it now.
Restaurants and Room Service
One of the things that really interests me about The Cosmopolitan is the food. Standing in stark contrast to the boring choices that made up Aria's offerings, Cosmo has installed a bunch of new chefs and tasty concepts.
I got to try a few restaurants for full-on meals and in addition to that, before the doors opened on the 15th, they had a walk-around tasting for all the restaurants. These were just little bites but I can say that the sushi I had at Blue Ribbon was top notch (I don't like sushi that much so it must have been good), the spaghetti from Scarpetta was killer, the pizza from DOCG burned an impression in my mind and whatever the little bundle of awesomeness was I had at Milos, I wanted more. Really, I think they've got some serious hits on their hands when it comes to the restaurants.
One of the joints that's gotten a lot of press is the "secret" pizzeria. Located on the third floor, it lacks a sign but is still very easy to find. The pizza is by the slice or you can order a full pie to go. Prepared New York style, we had a few upstairs on Wednesday night and it went quickly - it's tasty. There's also a pinball and Galaga game in there to pass the time.
I didn't try the room service but my wife did. She said her late-night club sandwich and fries were very good and arrived in a reasonable amount of time via a friendly attendant. Her room service bill for the sandwich and a beer was something like $35 with a tip.
My two lunches were at Holstein's (high end burgers) and Comme Ca (French bistro). Both were quite tasty. Holstein's duck confit injected hamburger was prepared perfectly and had this insane combination of flavors. My steak frites at Comme Ca took quite awhile to arrive despite an empty restaurant but was cooked perfectly when it did. I'd return to Holstein's, no doubt. As for Comme Ca, I'm not quite as eager, despite a quality meal. The food didn't blow me away as overly unique. It does have an incredible view and outdoor space which I'm sure will be great in Spring and Summer.
Neither of Jose Andres' restaurants opened with the hotel. Both had signs out front indicating they were still tweaking things (they were set to open 12/18). Despite that, we got a chance to try China Poblano, his Mexican/Chinese restaurant on Thursday night. It was a preview and not really designed to be reviewed so all I'll really say is that the carnitas tacos we had were incredible - my mouth is watering just thinking about them. I'm looking forward to trying China Poblano in a normal service setting. Since several people have asked - the menu includes both Mexican and Chinese dishes, not some strange mix of the two. Imagine being able to order a taco and fried rice from the same menu and you've got the idea.
Of the restaurants I didn't get a chance to really dig into, I'd say Milos (Greek) and Jaleo (tapas) are at the top of my list for my next trip. The menus look great and now having had some of Andres' food, I'm convinced he's the real deal (he's also a super nice and funny guy - he came by our table at Poblano and cracked everyone up).
Conclusions, aka Will I Return?
The Cosmo folks did a great job of hyping the shit out of their resort in the weeks before the opening. They did such a good job, I actually kinda let myself believe that they were going to pull off a trouble-free opening. Of course, opening a mega-resort is very complicated and despite what I'm sure were the staff's best intentions, they screwed up a few things. Looking back, the issues all seem to be on the hotel side. The restaurants and casino didn't seem plagued by the same sort of chronic service failures.
Fortunately, the problems are all fixable.
What was disappointing to me was that even after knowing they had issues the first day, they didn't seem to be fixed the second day (based on what I heard from those that stayed a third night, they weren't fixed then either). This is the trap that Aria felt into - pretty soon the second day was the ninetieth day and the place became known for bad service and surly employees. Cosmo can't afford to have that happen - they need to fix these problems now.
On the design side, I don't know if they'll address my little annoyances like the slanted trash cans but I sure do hope they extend that Wi-Fi and get the way-finders working properly.
Will I come back and stay again? I've thought about this a lot.
Las Vegas offers an amazing array of choices for a traveler - you won't find any other place on earth that dukes it out the way they hoteliers on The Strip. As room prices continue to edge back up, customers will be more selective and return to hotels where they feel comfortable and are treated well. For me, my natural inclination when spending a few hundred bucks a night on a hotel room is Encore. I've had many great stays there and I've always gotten great service.
That said though, I'll give Cosmo another try.
In a month or so, if they're still having service issues, then I think they're in real trouble because that shows they just don't get it... or that they don't care. The 'curious class' they say they are after won't put up with Holiday Inn level service.
If the next stay feels like the place has been running for years, then they get extra points for double-timing to fix their early stumbles.
There's a ton of very positive energy coming from the employees there - I can't overstate that and if they can channel it via good management, they should be in fighting shape.