Thursday, Oct. 09, 2008

Caesars Palace

Opened in 1966, Caesars was Las Vegas's first foray into over-the-top themed opulence, and the classic bubbling fountains, trompe l'oeil ceilings, and Roman statuary live on in this ever-expanding empire. A $1-billion expansion in 2009 will include a new 665-room Octavius Tower, three new swimming pools, and a giant convention center. That's not to say options are limited now: The expansive, 1,000-room Augustus Tower is barely two years old, and all its rooms are a minimum of 650 sq. ft., with marble baths and oversize soaking tubs. You could check in and never leave this self-contained city, which has some of the best restaurants on the Strip. Bradley Ogden is a James Beard Award-winner; Payard Patisserie & Bistro has just opened an outpost; and unlike its legendary Harlem location, you can actually get a table at Rao's in Caesars Palace.

Insider Tip: Head to the marble halls of Appian Way to gawk at an exact replica of Michelangelo's David, made from Carrara marble.

Room to Book: Room 3762 in the Augustus Tower, with a sweeping view of the Strip.

The Venetian

The most painstakingly detailed of the themed casino resorts, the Venetian is a condensed version of its namesake city and features some of the largest rooms on the Strip, averaging 700 sq. ft. with sunken living rooms and marble baths. Like Wynn and Caesars nearby, the Venetian is in full expansion mode, with a new 50-floor, 3,068-room sister property that opened in January 2008. Rooms in the all-suite 3,014-room main tower (which opened in 1999) have traded their gilded, faux-Venetian décor for a more modern style (backlit onyx walls, clean-lined, natural-hued couches and chairs, remote-controlled Roman shades), and each now has three LCD or plasma televisions (including one TV in the bath), wireless Internet, and a sectional sofa for guests. And just outside, of course, is a Piazza San Marco entrance (just like the real thing, minus the pigeons), in- and outdoor canals plied by gondoliers, and reproductions of famous frescoes on the soaring ceilings within.

Insider Tip: Have breakfast at Thomas Keller's Bouchon (boudin blanc and eggs, flaky croissants). If you want a taste without the production of a sit-down breakfast, pick up masterful pastries and sticky buns at Bouchon Bakery, near the Phantom of the Opera theater lobby.

Room to Book: Bypass rooms in the newer — but darker — Venezia tower, which opened in 2003, for the renovated suites in the main tower.

THEhotel at Mandalay Bay

Fashionably minimalist, the hotel is meant to feel like a boutique hotel (though with 1,118 rooms, this is hardly the case). A non-gaming property, it adjoins Mandalay Bay but has its own lobby and check-in, full-service spa (The Bathhouse), and high-profile lounge (Mix in Las Vegas) on the top floor. Rooms, in mellow grays and tans, average a generous 725 sq. ft. and have spacious marble-and-granite master baths with separate powder rooms, giant 42-inch plasma TV's, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Despite the Mandalay Bay's location right next door, the hotel is still removed from the fray, with a contemporary art-filled lobby that always feels exclusive and clubby.

Insider Tip: An adult-oriented property, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay draws L.A. weekenders, those in the fashion and music industries, and bachelor parties. Families traveling with children will feel out of place.

Room to Book: In this 42-story hotel, the better rooms are on the higher floors. Opt for a Strip or mountain-view room (pool views aren't as impressive).

Wynn, Las Vegas

With a casino floor flooded with natural light, a botanical theme, and a collection of restaurants with rising celebrity chefs like Alex Stratta and David Walzog, Wynn Las Vegas has single-handedly redefined the standard of luxury in the Las Vegas casino hotel. Elements borrowed from the natural world — including a 140-foot forested mountain and wall of water — have been manufactured to sequester the hotel away from the Strip and conceal the spaceship-shaped Fashion Show Mall across the street. The smallest rooms are a capacious 620 square feet; the six enormous villas scattered along the golf course and the pool top out at 7,000 square feet. If guests grow tired of their private pool cabana, there's always the Louis Vuitton, Manolo Blahnik, Cartier, and Chanel boutiques in the shopping esplanade.

Insider Tip: The best place to escape the brashness of Vegas is the Country Club at Wynn, a restaurant overlooking the only golf course on the Strip (the 18 holes were designed by Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn). The setting is appropriately clubby, with dark wood, leather chairs, and caddies on the horizon.

Room to Book: Book a Tower Suite, and for a premium of only $50 to $70 over a regular room, you'll get all the attendant privileges: private check-in, a special valet entrance, and access to two VIP pools.

Four Seasons Hotel

The first hotel to open in Vegas without a casino (it debuted, somewhat ironically, in a tower adjacent to Mandalay Bay in 1999), the Four Seasons is arguably still the best of this growing breed. The property's location at the south end of the Strip means it's already removed from much of the city's chaos — but the sense of sanctuary is reinforced by the hotel's hushed marble entrance, relatively painless check-in (so much quicker than at the hotel-casinos), express elevator, and gorgeous, garden-surrounded pool (if for some reason you forget your swimsuit, a disposable one can be provided for you.) Rooms are decorated with typical Four Seasons elegance: graceful dark-wood tables and desks, overstuffed chairs and ottomans upholstered in silk and velvet, marble baths. Charlie Palmer Steakhouse is just off the lobby, while Verandah, the hotel's indoor-outdoor restaurant, is a hot Sunday brunch ticket. Golfers get priority tee times at Bali Hai Golf Club next door.

Insider Tip: Bring the kids. Guests have access to the family-friendly "beach" at Mandalay Bay, as well as kiddie-sized bathrobes, PlayStations, and a coterie of great babysitters.

Room to Book: Few Strip hotels have mountain views like those of the west-facing Executive Suites.