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Trip Report Maggi's Vegas: Vdara, Encore and Jersey Boys

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We drove to Vegas after a week in Palm Springs. (See my separate trip report on Palm Springs if interested.) It was an easy drive through the desert that took about 4 hours. We had no traffic problems until we got into town, then major traffic jam on Tropicana and on Las Vegas Blvd. Trying to find Vdara was a challenge, even with the GPS. There's a sign directing you there off Harmon, but because of construction it's easy to miss and we passed it twice, ending up in the traffic jams again! I finally had to call the hotel and have them walk me through it.

When we finally arrived, check-in was a breeze. Although there were only two people handling reception, we were in our room on the 36th floor in a jiffy. Our luggage was delivered cheerfully and promptly. Vdara is next to Aria and part of the new City Center area. All the rooms are suites. To enter the room you wave your room card over a circle on the outside of the door. Upon entry was the small dining table and chairs to the right and kitchenette with small fridge, microwave, stovetop and sink on the left. The main room had a divider that had a couch seating area on one side with a huge flat screen TV and on the other side of the divider was the bedroom with matching TV. The king bed was lush and very comfortable. Our bathroom was spacious with a separate glass enclosed shower and deep soaking tub, which I love! The entire wall was windows, ours was overlooking the Rio and to the right you could see Bellagio, it's pools and fountains. I loved the window treatments. There was a see-through shade and a separate room darkening shade. There was a switch on the wall which lowered or raised the whole bank of shades at once at the touch of a button.

This is a non-smoking hotel with no casino, which suited us because access to the Aria was a two minute walk out the front door, or Bellagio a five minute walk through the passageway. There is a tram which provides free and easy transportation to other shopping, eating and gambling sites. The first night we took the tram to Crystals to eat at Todd English P.U.B. Loved it! Festive atmosphere as it was the night the Giants won the NLCS against the Phillies and the place went wild. LOVED the food here. Wow. I had my first ever lobster roll, chock full of big chunks of lobster. I can't wait to come back. It was late, so we did just a little video blackjack, had a few free drinks and called it a night.

The next morning we checked out the pool area, which looked very nice. Unfortunately, once again, the weather was unseasonably cool for this time of year and not too many people were using the facilities. I used the rather small fitness center, which is entered through what look likes a beautiful spa facility. Alas, my efforts at the gym were undermined by our visit to the Aria buffet. I was underwhelmed by this buffet. There was nothing I could say was really memorable. It was all just "OK". There were big piles of snow crab legs (cut in half) and kind of rubbery, watery shrimp, carving stations of roast beef, ham and turkey breast. I noticed a woman requesting her crab legs be warmed up and I did that as well. The desserts were varied and looked beautiful, but, again, nothing worth writing about. I didn't overeat, because a taste of each thing on my plate was sufficient. In the past we were impressed with the Bellagio buffet and Bally's Sterling Brunch and in a few days we will be trying the Wynn buffet for comparison sake (we have free buffet vouchers there as part of our room package.)

We needed to return our rental car to the airport, so on the way we stopped at the Silver and Gold Pawn Shop (of TV's "Pawn Stars" fame). My husband loves to watch that show and he got a kick out of seeing it in person. It was funny, the cars in the parking lot were a limo from the Venetian, a car with "Just Married" on the back window and numerous people visiting in cabs and luxury cars. The principles were not in the shop at the time. We were lucky to just walk in. On our way out, there was a big waiting line. The did have some interesting items, some of which my husband recognized from the shows.

Dropped our rental car and took the airport shuttle back to Vdara ($6.50 a person one way). We got dressed and took a cab to the Palazzo for "Jersey Boys". What a fantastic show. It's the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Grabs your interest from the beginning and never lets up. Someone in the cast is a friend of a friend and we ran into him afterward. How these guys can do this show night after night and make it look fresh and fun is beyond me! Highly recommended!

By now it was 10:00 and I was getting hungry, since our morning buffet experience. We took a cab back to Aria and tried Julian Serrano. Oh. My. My favorite restaurant so far on this trip. The menu is based on Spanish tapas (small bites). First of all the decor is vibrant and stimulating: red, orange, yellow. The service fantastic. And the food! My husband had lobster gazpacho, and we shared a potato dish and ahi tuna tempura. The red sangria was perfect - not too sweet but just fruity enough. This and Todd English were the best dining experiences on this trip. I would return to both if we had time.

Today we switch hotels to Encore at the Wynn. That's because I had signed up for promotional email from a lot of the hotels before the trip and they both made me and offer I couldn't refuse. Plus I wanted to try them both for comparison sake. I'll report on Encore and the Wynn in a day or two.

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    Maggi, nice report. Did you really take the tram to Crystalls, I thought it was part of the complex,I.E. right next door. Or is it typical Vegas next door,1/2 mile away next door? My wife and I are planning to stay at the citycenter complex and take in the Elvis show. Glad to hear you liked the restaurants, eating is my favorite thing to do in Vegas. Enjoy Encore, ziggypop

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    We were able to walk out the front door from Vdara to Aria, but otherwise we had to take the tram. The roadways are incredibly convoluted around the city center. Someone else might have more insight, but those are the directions we were given, as first timers to this new area.

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    Sorry I didn't continue this sooner, but in truth I had it all finished, after an hour's typing, when my computer froze up and I lost everything. I just didn't have the heart to do it all over again, until just now. We are home, but I will try to reconstruct the last few days of the trip.

    The morning of our checkout from Vdara we had breakfast downstairs at Silk Road. It was a whimsical space, reminding me of an Austin Powers, 60's vibe, with bright orange circular booths amoeba-shaped plastic couches and purple mod carpeting. I had read the turkey hash and ricotta pancakes with citrus syrup were good and indeed they were. A little pricey ($14 for pancakes), but tasty nontheless. I didn't appreciate that they brought out the toast almost at the end of meal, half of which looked burnt.

    We took a cab to Encore at the Wynn. We arrived two hours before check-in and were offered an upgrade to a panoramic suite for an extra $20 a night. They said we could check in right away, or we would have to wait for our king deluxe to be ready. I had originally booked the rooms for $119 a night for two nights with two free buffet tickets. (By the way I paid the same at Vdara - $119 a night with a free airline ticket back to Vegas in the next year.) It would have been a nice gesture for them to upgrade us because it was our 40th anniversary, but they didn't offer that. We opted to do the upgrade. As an aside, both hotels made a big deal of asking if it were a special occasion, both at booking and at check-in, yet neither did anything more for us than say "Congratulations." I know some people have gotten upgrades or a few amenities for these occasions. It would be nice if that were more consistent for all guests, rather than just a select few. I'm not one to beg, or slip $20's across the counter, maybe that's what they expect.

    Comparing the two hotels:
    Vdara had a simpler decor, more modern, elegant and understated, whereas Encore was more traditional but over the top color-wise and decorations. The electronics were state of the art at both with one button drapes, lighting, etc. but Vdara you just waved your room key at a disc on the door and it would unlock. Vdara was quieter, being that it was a nonsmoking, nongambling hotel. It was easy to get to Bellagio via the walkway and to other venues on the tram. Lack of restaurants, except for the bar and Silk Road, was a detriment in Vdara. Service was good at both hotels. I would choose either again.

    After we got settled we explored the hotel and casino, had a few complimentary drinks and played a few slots. I appreciated that when I ordered my martini from the casino hostess she asked what brand of vodka I preferred and didn't flinch when I ordered Grey Goose. They were good about coming back and checking on you. My husband loves to watch "Pawn Stars" and I took him to the Silver and Gold Pawn Shop where the show is filmed. He got a kick out of seeing it in person. Even though the principles weren't there that day we enjoyed seeing some of the items that had been featured on the show and laughed at the variety of customers and cars in the parking lot, one of which read "Just Married" and a huge limo from the Venetian Hotel.

    Later that evening we attended the 7:00 performance of LeReve at the Wynn. We have seen other Cirque shows and knew what to expect, yet we were amazed once again. This is a water based show and the first few rows get wet from performers splashing in and out of the water in front of you. It is an otherworldly, sensory overload experience. Their shows always inexplicably bring me to tears. I just let them wash over me and they elicit the whole spectrum of emotions. You either love or hate Cirque de Soleil. I happen to love them.

    After the show we went back to Encore and had a late dinner at Wazuzu. Typically, the decor is completely over the top with a huge white, sparkling dragon decorating the entire back wall. The service and the food were good, but frankly we could have gotten the same quality of sushi and potstickers at our local sushi place at home. I was a little disappointed. We finished off the evening with more slots and free drinks.

    Thanks to the comfortable bed and room-darkening shades, we slept in the next morning. This was our last day and wanted just to chill. Checked out the pools at Encore and Wynn. The Wynn pool area is really exceptional. Unfortunately, the weather was not conducive (we were unluckily there during a rare cool snap). But I can imagine it would be great to spend a day at the pool on a hot day. Except for coffee, we decided not to eat until our free visit to the buffet at 3:00. It was a good thing. The lunch selections were still there at 3:00 and at 3:30 they switched to dinner service, so I was able to compare them both. Dinner won, hands down. I was impressed with the lamb osso bucco and lamb t-bone. The creme brulee was authentic at dinner, with a freshly broiled crisp top, versus the pale small imitation on the lunch buffet. I didn't see the crab legs on the lunch service, but there huge piles of them at dinner. Frankly, I don't like them cut in half like that. I understand the reasoning, but they are too thin to be enjoyable to me. The shrimp at both this buffet and at Aria's buffet were watery and limp, not like the shrimp I prepare at home. They are so simple to make, I don't understand the problem.

    We finished up the evening with more drinks and slots before stumbling up to our room. The only bad thing that happened was losing all our expensive camera equipment between the cab and the airport the next morning. We know it was in the trunk when we boarded at the hotel. The driver unloaded our luggage and took off before we realized the camera must be still in the trunk. Of course, we didn't know the number of the cab and it took us a little bit before we found out the phone number of the cab company. To date, two days and numerous phone calls later, the camera bag has not surfaced.
    Luckily, I downloaded pictures to my laptop at the end of every day, so at least I have not lost those memories, but I am heartbroken at the thought someone would abscond with our posessions.

    So, that concludes our trip report to Palm Springs and Las Vegas. I have posted my unedited numerous photos to Picasa if anyone is interested in looking at them. It will take me a few days to sort through and organize them:
    http://picasaweb.google.com/maggiwun/PalmSpringsVacation2010?feat=directlink

    Cheers and happy traveling!
    Maggi

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