Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

December 9, 2009

Vdara Mini-Review: December 2009

Posted by Hunter

This past weekend, I spent one night at Vdara, the CityCenter condo-hotel the opened December 2nd. Can you really form opinions after one night? I accept that some will say no. I'll be back at Vdara soon but I wanted to share the good and bad of my first experience.

I do have sympathy for small glitches surrounding a brand new hotel - these things happen everywhere and I don't read too much into them unless they continue on subsequent trips.

The night before was a fantastic party at Mandarin Oriental I had attended with my friend Steve Friess. I had headed back to MGM Grand where I was also trying the 'West Wing' rooms for the first time. The next morning, I attempted early check-in at Vdara. They couldn't take me right away but promised to call when a room became available.

Let me take a second to mention the driving / valet situation at Vdara. I entered via Las Vegas Blvd. to Harmon. The route takes you up a ramp and around 'Harmon Circle', the problem being that you're forced to read several signs and make a decision moments after you reach the top - it's easy to miss Vdara on your first time around. There was basically zero traffic since ARIA was not yet open but pretty soon, this will be a bustling thoroughfare. I expect confusion to reign for some time - the cabbies don't even know where to go yet (if you can even get a cab at Vdara pre-ARIA - good luck with that).

About two hours later, during lunch, I was told my room was ready, a full three hours early. Seemed like a good start.

Before we get to check-in though, let's talk about Silk Road, the only restaurant at the hotel. Knowing that I wanted to give it a try and having time to kill, I stopped in for lunch. Silk Road is a new concept from the chef Martin Heierling of Sensi at Bellagio, one of my favorite restaurants next door. The restaurant wasn't very full but I certainly wasn't the only diner. I was seated immediately and given a table overlooking ARIA and Harmon Circle. The service throughout the entire meal was quite good - very attentive. I skipped the appetizer and ordered lunch - I had the lobster medallions, one of the more expensive entrees on the menu. The food arrived in a completely reasonable amount of time. I found it to be totally edible but somewhat uninspired. The lobster was a bit too chewy for my taste and bordering on cold but the falafel balls that were included were great - just wish there were more than two of them. My room was ready but for some reason when the waiter asked about desert, I decided to say yes - something uncommon for me at lunch. I ordered raspberry cheesecake and I'm glad that I did - it was great. Combined with an espresso, the meal ended on a high note. Lunch for one with a glass of wine was $72 (yikes), though as I said, I did pick a $20 entree.

I headed out of Silk Road and back to the check-in desk to pick up my key. I had already handed over my credit card info so this took about 1.5 seconds and I was on my way up to the 10th floor. I had asked to be high up and facing ARIA. Instead I was on 10 (out of something like 50 floors), facing Bellagio. Bummer. Okay, you often don't get the room you want, no big deal.

The doors at Vdara, like ARIA (and Mandarin? I'm not sure.) don't include swipe key cards - the cards are used like security FOBs like you'd see in a corporate office or data center - wave them over the lock and it disengages. Immediately inside is the kitchenette - on the right a stovetop, sink, minibar and mini-fridge, on the left a table with four small chairs.

Beyond that, a couch against the wall and a large piece of furniture with a mounted television that divides the living and bedroom space. This is somewhat similar to Encore's dividing wall, except there are TVs on both side and the wall drops to half-height on the end with space to use as a desk. The far side is mostly window glass - they span the length but not the height of the wall. The bedroom area is pretty much just a bed and some nightstands with reading lights built in on either side.

The bathroom is spacious - large soaking tub, separate shower and ample mirror space. There's a closet with a safe but that's about it - my room at Vdara. For hotel rooms, it can hold a candle to many if not most of the standard rooms in town. The thing to remember though is that it was designed to also be a place to *live*. I can't imagine that, even if we're not talking about full-time. It's waaaaayyyyyyy more 'hotel room' than 'condo'.

The bed was extremely comfortable - perhaps not at the 'Wynn bed' gold standard but if not, very close. I would sleep well.

In-room Internet access is included as part of the $15 resort fee. I was happy to discover it was *extremely* fast, as I had 2GB of photos to upload. It also worked down in the lobby, something I would come to appreciate as I found AT&T Wireless had virtually zero usable signal inside any of the CityCenter buildings - iPhone users beware. Now, this isn't all too uncommon in new structures - I have high hopes this will be resolved soon.

As part of my check-in, I was told the resort fee included nightly turndown service. Despite being out of my room all evening without any 'do not disturb' sign, this never happened. I've had sketchy turndown at many properties, including Wynn's Tower Suites but by the same token, they didn't claim my $15 was buying me this privilege either. No points for this one.

At this point it was time to head off for another tour of ARIA, recording an episode of The Strip Podcast and then dinner... By the time I got back it was 11pm. I took some additional nighttime shots of the exterior of both Vdara and ARIA, then retired to watch 'The Hurt Locker' on the pay-per-view system. The system had a large selection of movies (tons I'd never heard of) but unlike some recent hotels, no fast forward/rewind buttons on the remote for your PPV purchase, something I appreciated at Wynncore.

At about 3am, the heater/air conditioning unit began to make a very loud buzzing sound, waking me up. I turned it off and went back to sleep but it was annoying to be disturbed by what seemed like malfunctioning machinery.

The next morning, my first thought was coffee. Since the unit had a kitchen, I figured there was a solid chance for a coffee maker... No dice. The mini-bar did have a self-serve coffee bean 'pod' but there was no way to actually prepare it. I've since been told that this was an opening-glitch - coffee makers should now be in all guest rooms! As an aside, I wondered what kind of person would use the mini-bar in the condo they owned. I'd like to meet them, if they exist.

What's missing from the lobby is any sort of sundries shop. If you need aspirin, chap-stick or some other necessity, you will have to walk over to ARIA or down to Bellagio, both of which fortunately have outposts right at the point of ingress. This actually seems like a problem to me - hopefully they will fix this one and add a small outlet at Vdara.

A few hours of photography had me on The Strip... When I returned to check-out, my first choice was the TV, as always. After a long pause, the system reported that 'an error had occurred'. I tried again - same thing. Ok, I've seen this elsewhere - it sucks but not all that uncommon. I called down to the front desk - ten rings then busy signal. Redialed... the same. Redialed... busy again. One last try... no answer. I was actually pretty irritated at this point - the room that night was $309, a princely sum these days - they couldn't even answer the phone? I walked down to the desk where I was checked out manually and sent on my way - the clerk dismissed my complaint with 'hmmm, that's weird'. After a few minutes at the valet, I was speeding home.

There's no doubt I had some service and facilities snafus at Vdara. Overall it was an enjoyable experience and depending on the rates offered, it could be a fantastic way to get into a brand new hotel for less money. I've got a few more nights there next week - it will be interesting to see if things have changed.


Read archived comments (20 so far)
December 9, 2009 2:09 PM Posted by kage
"Eventually, Aria will save your preferences in a database; when you return a few months or years later, the next room you stay in will remember you. Swipe your card, and the settings will adjust automatically"

same thing on MO site >
"Technology includes one central control enabling you to personalize your entire environment and is programmed to remember your preferred settings."

December 9, 2009 2:39 PM Posted by John

Aria finally has a new site.

December 9, 2009 7:47 PM Posted by TC from Boston

Do they possible empty the mini bar when a condo owner is home?

December 9, 2009 7:48 PM Posted by Hunter

I should ask - I really don't know.

My guess is no, unless requested... but that's just a guess.

December 9, 2009 8:49 PM Posted by David McKee

By your description, this sounds considerably inferior not only to Encore but to Trump Int'l as well. Heck, even ├╝ber-bland Hilton Grand Vacations has some points of superiority. (This review will provide a full magazine of ammo for the "Jim Murren is out of touch" barrage being laid down elsewhere.) I hope people at MGM Mirage are reading this & have stepped up their performance by the time of your next visit.

December 9, 2009 8:57 PM Posted by Hunter

The most frustrating thing for me was the checkout process. It may not seem like a big thing but when the TV-checkout doesn't work and then repeated phone calls to the desk go un-answered, it felt like being hung-up on after a long on-hold wait during some telephone support process - like crap.

Fortunately for them, these should be easy problems to fix. Other than the lack of a sundries shop in the hotel, they have the power to pretty easily change what bothered me (and I assume would bother others too).

Now, as I tweeted, I've been waiting 16+ hours for the concierge to return an email I sent. That's not a good sign.

December 9, 2009 8:58 PM Posted by Hunter

I should also be clear (Let Me Be Clear - BO):

Vdara has really nice rooms and is in a great location. It could end up being a great, low-cost place to stay (I think their code for this is 'the sleeper of CityCenter').

They just need to fix a few things to make sure people are happy.

December 10, 2009 10:56 AM Posted by TC from Boston

What I find more abnormal in regards to yuor checkout experience, is the hhhmm thats weird response from the front desk guy. Even if he lies and says something like we've had a few issues with that my apologies sir, would be better that hhhmm thats weird.

I think Vdara will certainly end up being the "low cost" portion of City Center, i've thought that since the begining with its location to the strip, but hopefully it won't end up being the Circus Circus of the joints

December 10, 2009 7:21 PM Posted by Brian Fey

I've stayed spent opening night at Bellagio, Wynn and Encore, and all had their share of issues. That's part of the package that comes with staying at brand new places, there are problems that have to be ironed out. Bellagio, had computer system glitches, that locked people out of their rooms on entire floors. So i've see it all. I expect Aria, to have its share of problems also next week when I attend their opening also. Clearly there are some issues MGM will have to work on with Vdara, this building has had to transform from a condo to a hotel, which explains things like the lack of a sundries shop. I'm most unclear on the lunch tab. Even with a $20 entree, and dessert, how did lunch get to be $72? Obviously that includes, tip, tax, and I'm guessing salad, and app. also?

December 10, 2009 9:32 PM Posted by Hunter

You think changing from condos to a hotel explains the lack of a sundries shop? People that live there don't need that stuff? Balderdash.

As for my lunch, I had a glass of wine too... No appetizer. Something along the lines of:

Liter of Water (~$7)
Glass of Wine (~$12)
Entree (~$20)
Cheesecake (~$12)
Espresso (~$7)

plus tax...

December 10, 2009 11:09 PM Posted by John

Did Mandarin Bar tonight and... goddamn, that place play is smokin' with nothing but class. The waitresses, the snacks, the drinks - amazing. As a local, I'll be glad to go back.

December 11, 2009 12:26 AM Posted by mike_ch

As I mentioned on S&G regarding sundries: the Bellagio Spa Tower, and the Luxor Towers, and THEhotel, and the MGM West Wing, all have their own sundries shops. Why Vdara doesn't have one is a mystery.

December 11, 2009 7:58 AM Posted by kage

vdara was always condohotel.
"bigger tower with about 1,500 condo-hotel units. "

veer is what changed from condohotel > condo
"two 500-unit condominium high-rises in a rental pool similar to the company's Residences at MGM Grand. "

December 11, 2009 8:03 AM Posted by Hunter

Yes, Vdara was always designed as a condo/hotel... I don't think anyone is disputing that. What seems to be happening is shift to more pure hotel - I've heard of several people moving their reservations from Vdara to Veer - they don't want to live in Vdara.

December 11, 2009 9:05 AM Posted by Jon

$7 for a Liter of Water...damn...I've GOT to design a fancy plastic bottle and head to the tap.
Wonderful detailed report, found you thanks to David McKee. You've got a new fan and follower.

December 11, 2009 9:10 AM Posted by Hunter

Yeah, the Pellegrino tax can be stiff!

December 11, 2009 9:25 AM Posted by Brian Fey

Ah the water, now I remember why i'm cheap and go for tap water.

December 11, 2009 12:08 PM Posted by kage

perhaps my confusion on these kinds of discussions is that i am too used to looking at condohotels and hotel residences elsewhere, so i dont understand the vegas perspective.

December 12, 2009 9:41 PM Posted by jeff

Did you stay in the Vdara suite or the premium hotel room?

December 12, 2009 11:11 PM Posted by Hunter

This was written about their standard room product.