from the archives: viva las vegas

Gaudy and glamorous, Las Vegas may not be renowned for its destination spas just yet, but surely that’s only a matter of time.  Like celebrity-chef restaurants, spas here are becoming a fashionable amenity to the mammoth casinos, constantly reinventing themselves for guests in search of the next big thing.

With more than thirty luxury spas along a 6-mile strip where the Empire State Building sits down the block from the Eiffel Tower and the Brooklyn Bridge connects Monte Carlo with a medieval castle, Sin City might better be described as Spa City.   If you know where to look, it might also become your favorite desert oasis for a little relaxation and rejuvenation.  Here’s the best of what you’ll find, so you can leave the gambling for the slots.

Wynn Las Vegas is the newest resort to open along the Strip and it’s obvious that no expense has been spared in raising the bar several notches:  spacious standard rooms feel more like suites, with floor to ceiling windows offering unobstructed views of the desert.  Marble bathrooms, double vanities, opulent flower filled public spaces and a golf course on property make it clear why owner Steve Wynn is referred to as the unofficial chairman of the “new” Vegas.

Available exclusively to guests of the hotel, the Wynn Las Vegas Spa is suffused with natural light – a welcome relief from the harsh florescent lights of the casinos. The solarium-style Jacuzzi area has the atmosphere of an outdoor garden, lush with foliage and flanked by a pair of decadent deluge showers. A pre-treatment relaxation area feels like you’re nestled inside a Noguchi shade.

The Dilo Kuli Moisture Renewal wraps the body in penetrating Dilo and coconut oils; a Rainstone Ritual combines raindrop treatment – essential oils applied like droplets along the spine – with a full body stone massage.  However, the signature treatment is, a Good Luck Ritual Massage, natch, based on the five elements of Feng Shui and combining heated Thai herbs, lemon verbena foot therapy and a wild lime botanical scalp treatment.  They can’t promise it will bring you good fortune at the blackjack tables, but you’ll keep a sunny disposition even if the chips are drifting in the dealers favor.

Bellagio is the resort that started the trend toward opulence in the 1990’s, making plush accommodations and fanciful architecture the standard for everyone, not only high-rollers. It still has some of the most fanciful, light filled public spaces in the entire city.  A Dale Chihuly ceiling that greets guests at reception is a masterpiece of whimsical blown glass.

Located off the flower-filled Conservatory and Botanical Gardens of the Bellagio’s fantasy Italian palazzo, Spa Bellagio patrons have the added bonus of arriving half intoxicated by the sweet perfume of tens of thousands of blossoms.  A wide array of exotic offerings from around the world await inside:  Raindrop Therapy, Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, aquatic Watsu Massage, Indian Head Massage and Thai Yoga Massage are but a few.  Just be sure to unwind in the redwood sauna – the best on the Strip – or the eucalyptus steam room first.

Gentlemen in tow can enjoy the straightedge Royal Shave in an old-fashioned barber chair, gingerly tucked away in a private – and manly – wood paneled barbershop.  It’s something every man must try at least once:  hot towels, warm shaving cream and a sushi-grade razor make for the closest shave imaginable.  A botanical mask to replenish necessary nutrients follows – as does baby soft, almost buttery smooth skin.

There’s no denying the charm of finding the Grand Canal wend its way through the third floor of The Venetian, replete with singing gondolieri and a powder blue Giotto sky above.  And while standard rooms are in fact, standard, this resort must surely have the greatest collection of tromp l’oeil ceilings outside of the Doge’s Palace.

Canyon Ranch resorts have been on the leading edge of wellness and fitness services for over 25 years, practically inventing the concept at its original Tucson Health Resort.  The Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian (the largest resort spa in North America by the way and soon to be the largest in the world when a planned expansion opens.) refines all they have learned, offering a multitude of skin care and body treatments. Vibrational Therapy in a specially sealed chamber charged with positive ions is a stunner.  But the other options include movement therapy, a 40-foot rock climbing wall, meditation, Ballet, Salsa, a variety of Yoga practices and a medical/wellness center chock full of lectures on such varied topics as Bone Health, Metabolism and Optimal Living.  One to five-day Club Passports mean you need never leave.

Two years ago the Mobil Travel Guide’s “America’s Best Hotel & Resort Spas” named the Ritz-Carlton’s Spa Vita di Lago at Lake Las Vegas one of America’s top spas.  But, don’t be fooled by past laurels – a lot can happen in two short years.  Spa Vita has vanished, replaced by what is now called Ritz-Carlton Spa.  And although the hotel that hosts the spa is as fabulously understated and service oriented as ever, treatments, therapists and general attention to service inside the spa are sorely lacking.

Could it be that the rise in the number of spas in downtown Vegas have created a brain-drain of qualified therapists willing to travel beyond the Strip?  Or has management let a jewel in the crown grow tarnished through inattention?  Either way, top shelf prices demand top-shelf attention.  My recent visit found a locker room valet who would have been more at home as a bouncer at a rowdy nightclub and a young massage therapist who couldn’t answer a single question about a treatment and went so far as to start arguing with me on the massage table.

Which is a shame, since Lake Las Vegas is a wonderful triumph of engineering over nature, 20 minutes east of the Strip, with a pair of exceptional golf courses and expert guided programs in stargazing, hiking and mountain biking.  A two-resort complex of Italianate architecture situated around a man made lake replete with gondolas – half of this beautiful Ritz-Carlton is built atop a replica Ponte Vecchio; condos are situated nearby in gated enclaves such as Tuscany, Capri, and Sorrento; and Celine Dion’s house is across the lake – and surrounded by red rock mountains.  You could spend a week at the resorts’ relaxed restaurants and small casino and never hunger for the neon glare of Vegas proper – unless of course, you were looking for a decent massage.

TI is the resort formerly known as Treasure Island.  Actually it is still officially known as Treasure Island, but TI is a much more hip and trendy appellation, no?  Once the family resort known for its pirates, it has become ground zero for the twenty something crowd looking to shake their groove thing in the nightclub, Tangerine, and watch the scantily-clad sirens duke it out in the lagoon along the Strip.

Innovative aquatic design echoes the refreshing nature of the water-based services at WET – the Spa at TI, which include everything from aromatic seaweed baths to the signature seawater wrap – about the closest you’ll come in America to the French Thalasso therapy.  There’s also a specialized line of evening treatments – the only such offerings on the Strip – including the Renight Facial, a bedtime ritual designed to give your skin a better chance of repairing itself from the effects of environment and stress while you sleep.  And at the opposite end of the spectrum, The Heiress, featuring gold-flecked body products:  a golden scrub followed by a rich golden wrap, golden oil massage, and topped with a sprinkling of gold dust that will leave you feeling 24-karat sexy and ready for a night on the town.

THEhotel at Mandalay Bay is an attempt to create a brand within a brand and it works spectacularly, functioning as the boutique arm of the giant Mandalay Bay resort.  Heightened aesthetics, monochromatic color palettes and personalized service are the hallmarks of this hotel which would not feel out of place in Soho or Shinjuku.

bathhouse at Mandalay Bay’s THEhotel is rightly being heralded as one of the trendiest spas on the Strip – and not only because of its über lowercase spelling. The gym and spa offer a calming refuge of dark slate walls, rainfall corridors and minimalist design coupled with soaring cathedral ceilings.  It feels like not so much a spa as a temple – and you’ll worship the multitude of exquisite treatments ranging from champagne facials and crème brulée body wraps to Ayurvedic herbal baths and cinnamon mud masques.

MGM Grand is a city unto itself.   The most expansive property in Vegas, with over 5,000 hotel rooms, it’s one of those wonders of the world that must be seen to be believed.  To paraphrase the Eagles, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never find the exit!  Not that you would necessarily want to leave – everything you can think of from shopping, restaurants and nightclubs to a lion habitat are under the same grand roof.

Known for its cutting edge treatments and innovative techniques, modern science and ancient ceremonies converge at the grand MGM Grand Spa.  Try the DDF Resolution Facial to harness the power of growth proteins to significantly reduce post-travel puffiness and the fine wrinkles that are exacerbated by the dry desert heat. Japanese Yuzu, rich in organic acids that aid in pain relief, circulation and skin smoothing, are put to invigorating use in the Yuzu Awakening.  The refreshing ritual begins in a private spa suite with an exfoliating body scrub, followed by a Sake and White Tea body wrap and a Shiatsu scalp massage. (Both Sake and White Tea are known for their anti-oxidant properties.) Finally, unwind with a 50-minute Shiatsu-Combination massage performed with Yuzu body butter and you’ll be forgiven for drifting off into the land of nod.

To look at vintage pictures of Caesar’s Palace from the 1960’s is to realize this is the red velvet granddaddy of all Vegas resorts, swanky and sophisticated and as decadent as the fallen Roman Empire.  What’s most impressive is how the frolicsome bacchanal has managed to keep its competitive edge, looking fresh and fabulous some forty years on.

Inspired by the baths of ancient Rome, where people gathered for personal reflection and social connection, Qua Baths & Spa at Caesar’s Palace is the first spa in Las Vegas to introduce the concept of “Social Spa-ing.” Amid dark wood décor and relaxing waterfalls, the communal areas such as the Laconium (providing ultra-heat therapy), the Arctic Ice Room (complete with falling snow), and a tea room staffed by a sommelier skilled at pairing teas with treatments, you can move freely between group interaction and quiet solitude. The therapeutic circuit of three Roman Baths of graduated temperatures also has one of the niftiest amenities in town:  a robe sauna.  Few things beat a steaming robe when climbing out of a frigid plunge pool!

Another first in spa services is the Crystal Body Art Room, offering customized designs of tiny Swarovski crystals artistically adhered to the body, making for the ultimate personal accessory for a night of partying.

The hushed atmosphere of the casino-less Four Seasons Hotel is a welcome relief from the non-stop gaming found at every other resort along the Strip.  It is a hotel first and foremost, not a casino with hotel rooms.  That subtle distinction makes all the difference.

A sculpture of Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion, stands at the entrance to The Spa at  Four Seasons Hotel as a totem of relaxation and personal well being.  Intimate and bijoux, the gorgeously appointed spa is all about personal attention for a limited number of guests, making it far and away the most dramatically different experience in a city where the average hotel has well over 2,000 guest rooms.

The Spa features the new JAMU product line used in the signature JAMU Massage – a meditative combination of percussion and exotic oils and Hindu, Chinese and European techniques. Asian Spa Rituals blend exotic ingredients and celebrate tradition to create a unique cross-cultural experience. A Four Seasons four-layer facial applies layer upon layer of pure, fresh European seaweed, leaving parched, sun-dried skin nourished, healthier and younger looking.

“Serenity in Las Vegas does exist,” is the motto at this Four Seasons, “you just have to know where to find it…”  Here’s a hint: it’s discretely tucked behind the big tower at the south end of the Strip.

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