Friday, December 11, 2009

CityCenter Now Open in Las Vegas

So, this is it. The moment has finally arrived on the Strip. No, I'm not talking about New Year's Eve insanity in Las Vegas. I'm talking about the much ballyhooed CityCenter, a massive hotel, condo, shopping and entertainment complex that some predicted would never be finished. Despite the economy and this MGM Mirage project's ups and downs, CityCenter is now open for business just off Las Vegas Boulevard.

Well, kind of. When I visited CityCenter this week, there was still a lot of work left to be done. Hand-written signs said "Elevator This Way" and the hulking complex was still half empty. Curious tourists were poking around the boutique shops and hotel lobbies, a bit perplexed as to where they could and couldn't go (omnipresent security staff were quick to educate them about the latter). As I drove around the confusing maze of access roads and driveways, valet parking attendants hungry for tips enthusiastically waved me toward them. Apparently, the party hasn't really started yet.

But that's not unusual for mega-hotel and casino openings on the Strip, at least not in the 21st century. Construction delays and half-baked "soft" openings are par for the course. Here's a thumbnail guide to what's open now at CityCenter:
  • The free monorail between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio casino hotels is back in service, after years of sitting unused. This is fantastic news for everyone who was tired of battling the crowded sidewalks between Tropicana, Harmon and Flamingo Avenues. Now, you can skip all that by riding the monorail for free.
  • Las Vegas' sleek, brand-new Mandarin Oriental hotel truly is a "nongaming oasis." The petite ground-floor entryway with its impressive Asian artwork is nothing compared to the 23rd-floor sky lobby with its tea lounge and Eurasian fusion restaurant Twist by three-star Michelin French chef Pierre Gagnaire. Don't miss salivating over the window displays at street-level Amore Patisserie. If you book now, you can get a complimentary night with one night's paid stay (hotel rooms from $545, excluding taxes and fees).
  • You can't miss the geometric facade of the shopping mall Crystals angling out into Las Vegas Boulevard. There is no catwalk fashion label too haute for this place -- think Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton and the like -- but the most talked-about shop open so far is boudoir-ready Kiki de Montparnasse. Perfectly positioned is Eva Longoria's restaurant Beso, to be followed up on New Year's Eve by Eve Nightclub. Look for Wolfgang Puck's mod French brasserie and Mastro's Ocean Club for steaks, seafood and stiff martinis opening soon.
  • Vdara hotel and spa, tucked away from the Strip on the far west side of CityCenter, is a nongaming, nonsmoking all-suites hotel with a spa, sky pool and lounge. The Silk Road Restaurant has outrageous sculptural interior design alone worth a look. Suites currently start at $129/night, excluding taxes and fees. Although they're not stand-outs compared with other luxury boutique hotels on and off the Strip, the views and handy location do measure up.
So, what's next to be unwrapped at CityCenter? Aria, a hotel that is LEED Gold Certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, expects to open on Wednesday, December 16. Smack in the heart of CityCenter, Aria will ultimately have 16 restaurants, 10 bars and lounges, three pools with cabanas (including an adults-only pool, Liquid) and a deluxe spa. Rooms right now start at $149/night, excluding taxes and fees. There will also be a quirky new Cirque du Soleil production, Viva ELVIS (preview tickets cost $87 to $150). Yes, that's right folks. Flying acrobatics in blue suede shoes. Whatever will they dream up next?

Photo: Crystals at CityCenter (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

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