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Trip Report: Aria and the Year of the Horse

Last edit: socalduck on Wednesday, 22nd January 2014 9:43 pm
Last response by socalduck 29th January 12:31pm

Day two of a three day trip. Third stay in a row at Aria, and I must say this place continues to grow on me. 1100+ square foot suite for about $300 a night? Count me in! I really think that Aria currently offers the best bang-for-the-buck on the Strip. All three of my past stays have been in 1-bedroom suites (no two alike), and all have been for less than $350 per night, booked through Kayak.

While lacking the Roger Thomas wow factor, these are really comfortable and nicely appointed accommodations. Everything works, nothing looks beat-up or worn-down, and all of the service aspects (morning newspaper delivery, maid service, evening turn-down) have been reliable and free of drama. I do think the in-room technology is a bit fussy, but if you read the instructions (and the batteries in the various remotes are fully charged), everything does work properly.

So today, I did something I have not done in a long time, and went for a Strip walk that started at Aria, down to Encore, and back. I took some photos, but I have no idea how to incorporate them into this posting; sorry! Some brief thoughts on my walkabout:

• The Henry continues to serve a really great breakfast. After a late night of craps, I arrived in rough shape. A generous plate of scrambled eggs, links and toast put me right, and fueled me for my nearly 5 mile hike to the Encore and back.

• Something needs to be done with the pedestrian overpasses. Even at 8:30am on a Tuesday morning, the panhandlers and drug dealers were out in force. By far the worst was the section between Bally’s and the former Bill’s. If for no other reason than a lot of their customers traverse that section of the Strip, Harrah’s should provide some security, and perhaps some cleaning people. Grim and dangerous.

• A small section of the Linq is open, but not enough that you will care about. Starbucks, Pink Zebra (some kind of frozen drink place, I think), Chayo (Mexican food) and Kitson (overpriced hipster clothing) were the notable business actually open to the public. Considering these are the gateway retailers to the Linq experience, I was seriously underwhelmed. It will be interesting to see what lies beyond the construction fence, but from the small part I saw, it looks like any other outdoor mall.

• O’Sheas? Oh, dear. For me, the name O’Sheas conjures fond memories of late-night low-budget craps, cheap beer, and unbridled fun. Sadly, what now bears the O’Sheas name is an undistinguished corner within the newly sanitized Quad. I assume that includes new ping pong balls and casino cheques, which is probably not a bad thing. Unfortunately, this place feels as authentic as an Applebee’s. This is one instance where Harrah’s penchant for deferred maintenance may, over time, actually improve the experience.

• No doubt, the Imperial Palace was weird and a bit awful, so a reboot (or implosion) was long overdue. What replaced it is clean, modern, and completely lacking character. On the plus side, the new porte cochere is definitely an improvement over the old smog-choked tunnel that used to greet visitors. No idea what is happening upstairs, but my understanding is that the changes have been minimal.

• Harrah’s? The land where time stands still. Seriously, I don’t think I have seen anything new or different in this place in at least 15 years.

• As befitting the owner of Macau’s largest casino, the Venetian’s Las Vegas outpost was fully decked out for Year of the Horse festivities, with red lanterns and giant horses around every turn. I went through the casino on the off-chance they decided to bring the crazy Fast Action Baccarat game to America. No such luck. Aside from some rearranging of the slot floor and casino bar at the Venetian I don’t remember seeing previously, the Megacenter complex looked pretty much the same as last time, including the ubiquitous throngs of conventioneers. I noticed that the old La Scena (I think that was the name) live music bar has been replaced by The Bourbon Room, which has replaced the live band with a DJ spinning 80’s music. I wish I had been there at night when the place is open, because I admit I sort of like the concept, so long as it’s not too cheesy.

• After clearing the panhandler gauntlet between Palazzo and Wynn, I took time to enjoy yet more Year of the Horse decorations at Wynn and Encore. If they were to give out prizes for best Chinese New Year’s decorations, Steve Wynn would get the grand prize every year. Giant dragons, flower-bedecked carousels, golden horses, golden coins, and probably a ton of other stuff I did not fully appreciate, but no doubt will be looked upon favorably by the pod of whales sure to descend on the Wynn over the next few days. Some of that that Chinese good fortune may have rubbed off on me, as I stumbled across a casting call for Encore Beach Club waitresses being held at the Encore Theater. Holy smokes, I don’t think I have seen that many beautiful women in one place ever.

• As I left the Wynn, I looked across the street to see the dismantling of the TI continuing at a furious pace. What an awful mess that place has become. I know it was never one of Steve Wynn’s favorite projects, but even he must be aghast to see the tacky eyesore the TI is fast becoming.

• Time was running short, so I had to bypass a walk-through of the Mirage. I am curious to see the new Heritage Steak, but it will have to wait until my return visit in April.

• Having read Dr. Dave’s excellent biography of Jay Sarno, I made a special point of passing through the iconic, circular pit in the original Caesars building, and then outside to enjoy the fountains. Despite many changes over the years, I think it is pretty cool these particular elements continue to stand the test of time.

• No trip is complete without stopping by Bellagio. Since my final destination was Aria, I thought I would take the tram over to Crystals, something I had not done previously. As you would expect, the Conservatory was also ready to celebrate Chinese New Year, but otherwise I did not notice any significant changes from my visit last year. As for the tram, it was a bit pointless, as I could have walked through Vdara and been at the back entrance of Aria in half the time it took to ride the tram to the Crystals station, and then have to walk through the mall to get back to Aria.

Aria may have struggled early on, but based on my experience, I think it has really found its stride. The next planned Vegas trip is in April for my wife’s 50th birthday. To celebrate, we booked a 2-bedroom penthouse at Sky Suites, but alas the nightly rate is far above what I’ve been paying on Kayak. Still, we are looking forward to what should be a great stay in what has become our go-to destination in Las Vegas.

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 Chuckmonster responded on Wednesday, 22nd January 2014

Great photos and an awesome trip report. Thank you for sharing.

Note: Socalduck sent me some images to add to his post. Curious if you guys think that we should add the ability to put images in posts in the next version of The Board.

 NeverJustJ replied on Wednesday, 22nd January 2014

Trip reports are always better with pictures!

 saharalv replied on Friday, 24th January 2014

Yes for photos!

 wpsteel66 replied on Friday, 24th January 2014

Yes, allow us to upload pictures.

 Blakjackkid responded on Thursday, 23rd January 2014

Thanks for the GREAT TR and pictures. I usually stay at the Aria too because of the reasonable rates and location. Personally, I also could do without all the gee-whiz high-tech in the room which is more of a hassle than practical imo

 detroit1051 responded on Thursday, 23rd January 2014

Socalduck, thanks for the excellent report and photos. Just great! I haven't been on the Strip since '06, but your comments on panhandlers and drug dealers echo others I have read. Something needs to be done even if Clark County and casinos are afraid of legal challenges. Treasure Island is a real mess.

 saharalv responded on Friday, 24th January 2014

I know it's been said many times, but I thank Elvis in Heaven that Ruffin didn't buy The Mirage.

 jinx73 responded on Friday, 24th January 2014

Great post, and enjoyable read. I'm in complete agreement on the issue with the pedestrian walkways, to me it's a bad situation waiting to happen, with escalators typically down or closed to limit access, it's an elevated alley, waiting for a bad situation to develop with those that hang around up there and some tourists. I hope I'm completely wrong with that though.

To Chuck's question, I'm all for pictures, but I'd ask for some forum guidelines, much like I think you successfully did with trip report suggestions, I'd love to see pictures on the site, but I don't think I can take a ton of screenshots of video poker wins, hey look at my 8th 4oak of the trip.

 Chuckmonster replied on Friday, 24th January 2014

Re: Photos... excellent suggestion Jinx. I've always hesitant about photos because the Board was designed to be about thoughts and ideas. Each thread should - in theory - be important. I'd rather The Board be quiet than filled with gif memes and lousy vacation photos... that is what Facebook is for. One possibility is to reserve the ability to add photos for VT superfriends then slowly work backwards till we find a mix that is suitable.

Either way, right now I've got other large scale projects to tackle before rewriting The Board.

 wpsteel66 replied on Friday, 24th January 2014

I voted for ability to add photos above. But after reading this response, I agree with your comment about not wanting to see just random photos of a trip.

The types of pictures I want to see are those of new things in Vegas so we see what is going on and hotel room reviews.

 kayday responded on Friday, 24th January 2014

Totally agree about breakfast at The Henry. I was there over MLK weekend and on the waiter's recommendation tried their muesli, which was awesome. They soak it in cream overnight and serve it with dried fruits (apricot, cranberry, cherry) and diced green apple. Maybe not a great choice for a hangover, but perfect if you want to pretend you are having a healthy breakfast.

responded on Friday, 24th January 2014

I agree with everyone who praised this post -- this is great, Socalduck. It makes me want to hop a plane to Aria right now.

Regarding the overpasses, do you think the casino execs maybe like the way they're crowded with bums and water coolers, etc.? Walking the Strip used to be my favorite part of going to Vegas, but my past 4 or 5 trips, I haven't left Aria/Cosmo/Bellagio. I don't want to deal with the panhandlers and superheroes.

If others are doing the same thing -- never leaving the properties where they're staying -- that seems like more money for the casinos.

 wpsteel66 responded on Friday, 24th January 2014

Thanks for the trip report and pictures. Very informative and enjoyable read.

I appreciate your comments on the Aria suite; will do some price and availability research on this for my summer trip.

 jammoral responded on Friday, 24th January 2014

I agree ARIA has blossomed over the last few years.I like more each year I visit Vegas.

 anawas responded on Saturday, 25th January 2014

I like Aria for its amazing rooms, location, food, poker, and (some) table games. But with (two) mediocre Cirque shows, too few lounges, a second-tier megaclub and a pool complex that doesn't resonate with me, there's still work to be done. I hear the spa is nice, though.

As for the trip review, it's pretty interesting to read your pleasure in the higher-end properties and your displeasure with the TI and CET facilities (except for Caesars itself). I'm not insulting you; instead, it's clear some Vegas owners do a better job of trying to impress guests.

Speaking of being impressed, you'll have to let us know how those penthouse Sky Suites are. Anyway thanks for the writeup, and thanks for the photos. I'd vote FOR photos, as long as they're pre-screened by a human.

 socalduck replied on Wednesday, 29th January 2014

Agreed, some owners pay attention to the details (or in the case of Wynn, obsess over them), while other owners not so much. What drives me nuts about CET is that they spend a ton of money on new capital projects like Linq, the Bills redesign, and Grand Get Tow, but pinch pennies when it comes to mopping in the corners or cleaning the carpets at places like Harrah's and the Flamingo. You don't have to have the newest or most elaborate property in town to instill a sense of pride in your managers and employees; El Cortez is a great example of a relatively modest property that manages to get the basic stuff right.

 Hillybean29 responded on Monday, 27th January 2014

Thanks for the article! We are visiting three times this year and although we always stay at the Cosmopolitan, love to hear about other resorts and like visiting Aria. I am very curious to see the progress they've made at The Linq so thanks for the update and I'm hoping in March they will have even more going on there. I know this is probably not popular opinion but I enjoyed TI and I'm sad they are "dismantling" it. I'm sure whatever they end up putting there will be even better there but it will be missed by me! Thanks again and I'm looking forward to more of this board!