Las Vegas has a longstanding love affair with excess: from neon signs to buffets, bigger is widely considered better. Unfortunately for travellers, this also means dysfunctional hotel lobbies with check-in queues that resemble those at airports.
“Luxury” hotels in Vegas often exceed 3,000 rooms and tolerate service that would be unacceptable elsewhere – the 45-minute check-in process is too often followed by a 45-minute wait for luggage delivery, while concierge desks are understaffed and overwhelmed.
For decades the city reserved first-class service for “high-rollers” gambling small fortunes, letting everyone else fall between the cracks. The best rooms couldn’t be bought – they existed solely to be given away to the highest-spending gamblers. But as the casinos lost market share to Macau, Singapore and the rest of the US, Vegas shifted its emphasis to paying customers, and to rooms, food, and spas, with the best hidden away in exclusive “hotels within hotels”.
The latest is the Nobu Hotel, which opened in February inside the vast Caesars Palace resort complex. Part-owned by chef Nobu Matsuhisa and actor Robert De Niro, the 181-room hotel occupies a separate tower in the middle of the resort. While Nobu Hotel guests have access to all the facilities of Caesars Palace, they also have a private check-in and dedicated bell staff, as well as the world’s only Nobu room service, including the first breakfast menu from the renowned chef.
Rooms are contemporary Asian, all low furniture, black lacquer and smooth surfaces. The minibar comes stocked with high-end sake and Japanese beers, while oversized bathrooms evoke Japan’s bath houses, with enormous walk-in showers. While the interiors offer a sense of serenity hard to come by in Vegas, this sanctuary sits just an elevator ride away from frenetic 24/7 action.
This concept of a premium hotel within another more mainstream property was born when the 424-room Four Seasons Las Vegas opened on the top floors of the much larger Mandalay Bay resort in 1999. The Four Seasons (which has just completed a £30m renovation) was the first hotel in the city to attain the AAA 5-Diamond rating, an accolade that helped it become an immediate hit and thus set a trend that has continued ever since.
With more than 6,500 rooms, the MGM Grand is the largest hotel in the US but within it are two of the city’s smartest places to stay. One, the Mansion, was initially available only as a giveaway to high-rollers (and had such a low profile that some Vegas residents were unsure whether it really existed at all). Guests are transferred in Rolls Royces from the airport to an unmarked gated driveway, while there is also an unmarked entrance inside the main MGM Grand hotel.
In 2006, seven years after it opened, paying customers were admitted for the first time – at $5,000 a night for a one-bedroom villa and $20,000 for four-bedroom versions. Accommodation is divided into 29 units, 21 of them flanking a plant-filled piazza, covered by a vast glass roof, the others surrounding a private pool with walled gardens. The decor is modelled on a real 18th-century villa close to Florence.
The MGM Grand’s second sub-hotel is SkyLofts, a 51-unit boutique property occupying the top floors. The two-storey, one to three-bed units, designed by Tony Chi, feature 24ft-high windows with electric curtains, and amenities such as billiard tables, Bang & Olufsen home theatres, espresso machines, steam showers and whirlpool baths with chromatherapy. “We get a lot of repeat guests and really get to know them, which would be impossible in a 2,000-room hotel,” says Lezlie Young, vice-president of both the Mansion and SkyLofts.
There are more. Other examples include Aria Sky Suites, an upmarket annexe to the Aria Resort, while the Wynn resort has the Fairway Villas, 42 luxurious properties overlooking the golf course.
But while most of these hotels within hotels are splurges aimed at deep-pocketed travellers, there are exceptions. Nobu Hotel is affordable, with weekday rates from $200, while Hotel 32 is a bargain. Still the best kept secret in Las Vegas lodging, Hotel 32 opened in 2009 after a fire damaged the penthouse suites of the Monte Carlo resort. The space was converted into a 50-room boutique hotel, with room rates starting at about $170, including limousine airport transfers, something unheard of at this price. Arriving guests are escorted into express elevators and check-in on the 32nd floor.
Before or after arriving, you can download the hotel’s app and use it to communicate with your “Suite Assistant”, a sort of butler/concierge hybrid, for everything from ordering drinks poolside to obtaining concert tickets (overseas visitors without a compatible smartphone can borrow one). Larger than average rooms range from studios to two-bedroom suites, and all include niceties such as pillow menus, hydrotherapy tubs and separate walk-in rain showers. Best of all is that, even in the busiest periods in the city, Hotel 32 often still has rooms, simply because so few visitors even know it exists.