High-limit gamblers have always gotten the VIP treatment in Las Vegas. This is especially true for “whales,” Vegas-speak for the biggest fish in the sea of betting, who bypass lines for special check-in areas, skip cab queues with chauffeured limos and stay in opulent and sometimes mind boggling accommodations. These high-roller suites, bungalows, penthouses and villas are generally provided gratis and are not for rent at any price, with features like bowling alleys, putting greens, saunas, salons, full-sized private pools, movie theaters, grand pianos and gold plated fixtures—often with a personal butler. For most of the history of Las Vegas, high-limit bettors have lived liked kings and queens, courtesy of the house, but until recently there was no way for paying customers, even those with a lavish budget, to get the same experience. Now there is—if you know the insider secret to Las Vegas hospitality.
Vegas is home to nine of the 10 largest hotels in the nation, including the biggest, the MGM Grand, and a whopping 23 of the largest 40 on earth. The “smallest” of these nearly two dozen mega-resorts has over 2,500 rooms. But with the sole exception of the non-gaming Mandarin Oriental, one of five Forbes 5-Star hotels here, the very best luxury choices in the city are all smaller hotels-within-hotels, and today there are 10 notable such options in Las Vegas, several of which few visitors have ever heard of, ranging in size from just 29 to over a thousand rooms.
These hotels-within-hotels include all four of the other five-stars in the Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil Guide). In every case, they are part of a larger megaresort, giving guests access to all the restaurants, shopping, entertainment, pools and other amenities, but with better rooms, service and many exclusive benefits, most typically private entrances, check-in desks, valet, taxi and bell service. “For even a 2,000-room hotel—which is small in Vegas—to get to know its guests is impossible. To get the highest level of service you need to go the hotel-within-a-hotel route,” says Lezlie Young, who as Vice President of The Mansion and SkyLoft oversees the city’s two best such properties.
“My biggest pet peeve in Vegas is the taxi lines, which are crazy, but where I stay there is never a line,” says Matt Rosenthal, managing director of the Boston-based real estate private equity firm Eastham Capital, who visits Las Vegas regularly. At most of what pass as “luxury hotels” in Las Vegas, 3,000-plus rooms routinely mean 30–45 minute waits for everything from bellmen to taxis to check-in and check-out, which often have roped lines like the economy counters at major airports. But there is a simple way to beat the city’s mass-market hotel hassles, and Rosenthal is in the know—he always stays in the Tower Suites at Wynn, operated as a separate entity from the larger Wynn Las Vegas, and one of the city’s five-Star hotels-within-a-hotel.
“Our high-end clients place a high value on service, and they are looking for a personalized touch, not the long lines and chaos found in those massive hotel lobbies,” says Chad Clark, a top luxury travel agent and owner of Scottsdale’s Chad Clark Travel. “Fortunately, there are now some terrific hotel options that cater to VIP guests seeking this more personalized and private experience. It’s nice to have easy access to all of the action the large Vegas hotels provide and then retreat back to the sanctuary of a small hotel when you’ve had enough.” Of course, in Vegas “small” is relative, and even “boutique” hotels can have hundreds of rooms here, though the very best are much smaller, like the ne plus ultra of the genre, The Mansion. With just 29 “villas” hidden within the nation’s largest hotel, the nearly 7,000-room MGM Grand, The Mansion is not just the most opulent and luxurious hotel in Las Vegas, it is one of the most over-the-top on earth.
The Mansion, MGM Grand
The epitome of Vegas glamour, The Mansion opened in 1999 strictly as an amenity for high-rolling gamblers and for years was available only as a giveaway. Its mystique was so guarded that it bordered on urban myth, with some locals unsure whether it really existed at all. It does, and in 2006 paying customers were quietly admitted, at rates from $5,000 a night for a one-bedroom villa and $20,000 for the three- to four-bedroom models, which run up to 12,000 square feet. The majority of guests, many from the Pacific Rim, are still “invited,” while paying customers can make reservations subject to availability—you might get in for the Super Bowl, but forget about Chinese New Year or during any high-dollar baccarat tournament. “Across the company, The Mansion is the finest product we have,” says Young, and MGM Resorts has more than 15 hotels here.
Modeled on an eighteenth century Tuscan villa outside Florence, it is gated, with a separate unmarked entrance behind the MGM Grand and private motor court hidden from outside view. Guests get airport transfers and all in-town transportation gratis in The Mansion’s fleet of current-year black Rolls Royce Phantoms, so no one uses taxis. It is divided into 29 huge and unique villas, 21 surrounding an enclosed 125-foot atrium, while the remaining eight ring a private pool within walled gardens. Every villa has a full-time butler, private dining room, and bathrooms with jetted tubs and walk-in steam showers. About half have full-sized swimming pools and hot tubs, and many have full kitchens, wet bars, wood-burning fireplaces, mini-gyms, baby-grand pianos, barber chairs with salon sinks, Japanese high-tech toilets, 3-D media rooms and much more.
No expense is spared, from the 800+ pieces of original art, many in the villas, to the alpaca drapes and mohair throws. A dedicated pair of chefs, one Western and one Asian, cook in the private dining restaurant or villas and guests can order room service from any of the dozens of restaurants across all nine MGM resorts. The Mansion is completely self-contained and in theory guests never need set foot in the MGM Grand proper, though there is a secure connection and direct access to the hotel’s high-limit gaming area, where Mansion guests still get butler service tableside. Immediately outside The Mansion sits the 3-Michelin Star, Forbes 5-Star Joel Robuchon—the finest restaurant in Las Vegas, if not the country, and always a difficult reservation, but as Young says, “Robuchon always finds room for our guests.”
SkyLofts, MGM Grand
The second swankiest choice in the city is also within the MGM Grand, the Forbes five-star SkyLofts, a 51-unit boutique hotel occupying the top (29th) floor. Designed by Tony Chi in residential style, all the one- to three-bedroom units are two-stories, start at 1,400 square feet, and feel like luxury apartments not hotel rooms, with 24-foot-high windows (powered shades) and extras such as billiard tables, Bang & Olufsen home theaters, mini-offices, loaner iPads, Jura espresso machines—with a choice of four types of beans, huge walk-in steam showers and whirlpool infinity bathtubs with chromatherapy lighting. Heavily staffed, SkyLofts has dedicated concierges on its floor and an average of five employees for each unit, with a butler staff that packs, unpacks and presses, plus a Rolls Royce of its own, with airport transfers included (all four MGM hotels-within-hotels include airport transfers). SkyLofts has its own entrance lobby and cab stand just off of the main MGM Grand driveway, and arriving guests are whisked by secure elevators to the 29th floor, where butlers perform in-room check-in. One-bedroom SkyLofts begin at $750 midweek, while on busy peak weekends the same unit can run $1,800–$2,500.
Aria Sky Suites, MGM Grand
MGM Resorts’ other Forbes five-Star is in a dedicated tower attached to the Aria Resort, in turn part of the 76-acre CityCenter complex. Sky Suites has 442 suites and 16 Sky Villas. The upscale hotel suites all feature dining areas, home entertainment centers, wet bars, whirlpool tubs and Japanese-style automated toilets. The larger, apartment-style Sky Villas are similar in design to SkyLofts, some spanning two floors, starting at 1,050 square feet and depending on size are equipped with exercise rooms, massage rooms, beauty/barber salons, and/or full kitchens. The tower has its own driveway and gated porte cochere with no-wait cab access, private lobby with check-in, concierge, lounge with refreshments and snacks, and a manned connection into the main Aria casino. Because of its size and ground-floor lobby rather than everything on one level, Sky Suites is bit less private and opulent in feel than SkyLofts. Suites begin at $700 and Sky Villas at $2,500.
Wynn Tower Suites & Encore Tower Suites, Wynn/Encore
Steve Wynn has been responsible for many of the innovations that have made Las Vegas the desirable destination that it is today, and his attached at the hip twin resorts, Wynn and Encore, each boasts a more luxurious hotel-within-a-hotel option, their respective Tower Suites. Unlike most Vegas resorts with multiple hotels, there really isn’t a pecking order, and which side of the sprawling complex, connected by a long passage, guests prefer is more based on the amenities and restaurants they like. Both casino hotels have lavish spas and pools, and both Tower Suites have dedicated lobbies with private driveways, taxi lines, check-in desks, concierges and included breakfast. Wynn Las Vegas fan Matt Rosenthal always stays in the Wynn Tower Suites because he loves the restaurants on that side. “There is not much difference in the actual rooms between the towers—they are the same size. But the food at Wynn is great, SW Steakhouse and Bartolotta are ridiculous, I have to eat there every time I visit. Also, I think the service is unequalled, and the Tower suites are much more intimate.
There’s a greeter in the lobby and about 10 different doormen who work that entrance and I know them all now, so when I arrive it’s ‘Welcome back Matt.’ I love that and it doesn’t feel like a 3,000-room hotel. I once walked through the casino at 2AM and saw Steve Wynn walking around pointing at things with another guy taking notes. I’ve seen him there three or four times, and it’s that attention to detail that sets it apart.” As such, it’s no surprise that both the Wynn and Encore Tower Suites get the city’s remaining Forbes five-stars, equaling Georgia’s Sea Island as the world’s only resort with two five-star hotels.
The slight differences between the two options is that the Wynn Tower suites include the luxurious Fairway Villas overlooking the golf course, some with private pools, the top accommodations within the resort—though the nicest units are typically reserved for invited guests and not for rent.
Nobu Hotel, Caesars Palace
The latest addition to the hotel-within-a-hotel scene opened in early 2013 and takes a different tact—instead of an added tower or attached building, it is located smack in the middle of Caesars Palace, without a separate entrance. However, it does have its own bellmen who bypass the sometimes Byzantine check-in system here, and my bags went from taxi to room within 10 minutes. Nobu Hotel features a small private check-in desk within its elevator lobby, located next to the iconic Cleopatra’s Barge cocktail lounge. The 181-room boutique hotel is the first by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa and business partner Robert De Niro, and houses the largest Nobu restaurant on earth, which also supplies room service, offering guests the only Nobu breakfast anywhere.
Staying here doesn’t get you a cab faster, private pool or club lounge, but it does have much nicer rooms, private check-in with welcome tea service, and puts guests in the eye of the hurricane, offering an oasis of calm with key controlled elevators right in the heart of the Vegas action, steps from Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill, the sports and race book, poker room, gaming tables, Forum Shops (which includes the Casa Fuente cigar bar) and much more. Very comfortable guest rooms are contemporary Asian, with low, black lacquer furniture, sitting areas and oversized bathrooms modeled on traditional Japanese bath houses, with enormous walk-in showers. The minibar even features high-end sake and Japanese beers, but with weekend rates often below $300, and weekday rates that dip under $200, this is among the most accessible of Las Vegas’ luxury hotels-within-hotels.
The Laurel Collection, Caesars Palace
The vaguest of these options, this is treated like a separate hotel by the folks at Caesars Entertainment, and as such earns a Forbes four-star rating. It does have its own private valet entrance, check-in lobby and concierge, but the accommodations consist of specially selected rooms within the adjacent Augustus and Octavius towers, which in turn are part of the main Caesars Palace hotel and house mostly “normal” rooms. The Laurel Collection rooms are larger and better appointed, and the location of the lobby gives direct access to Caesars’ popular Garden of the Gods pool complex, its highly rated Qua Baths & Spa, and its top-tier Restaurant Guy Savoy. But without private elevators, club lounge or other unique amenities, the main reason to book here is the common advantage of all the hotel-within-a-hotel products, bypassing Las Vegas’ cumbersome lobby, taxi and valet chaos.
Four Seasons, Mandalay Bay
Las Vegas’ original hotel-within-a-hotel debuted in 1998 when this 424-room luxury option opened on the top floors of much larger Mandalay Bay. With separate entrance, sane cab lines, efficient lobby and white-glove service similar to that at Four Seasons worldwide, it quickly became the first AAA five-Diamond hotel in the city. It received a $30 million renovation in 2013, which upgraded all guest rooms from the paint and carpet up. Much less flashy than its newer competitors, with no room automation systems or electronic drapes, it succeeds simply by doing what Four Seasons guests have come to expect from the world’s largest, most consistent, true luxury hotel brand—rooms featuring elegant finishes and bathrooms with the brand’s signature separate soaking tubs and walk-in showers, free 24-hour shoeshine, fast attentive service and its own spa.
The hotel also has a private pool just for guests and contains Charlie Palmer Steak, while the renovation added Verandah, a surprisingly hip lobby bar that flows outside under misters and like the hotel itself, offers an oasis feel within one of the highest-energy cities in the world. “With over 400 rooms we are large by Four Seasons standards, but in Las Vegas we are a boutique hotel,” says general manager Mark Hellrung. “Guests come for the more customized personal attention and the quality of the hotel stay, then go out for the finest shows and restaurants, getting the best of all worlds. It’s an embedded experience within an experience, just an elevator ride away from the middle of everything.” Four Seasons guests have direct secure connection into Mandalay Bay, which offers one of the city’s largest assortments of high-quality dining, including Aureole, Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood and Michael Mina’s Stripsteak.
Delano Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay
Mandalay Bay’s second early hotel-within-a-hotel concept opened in 2003, and until recently has been THEhotel, in its own 43-story tower with separate entrance and lobby, attached to the main casino and offering an all-suite configuration that debuted with the largest average rooms in the city, from 725 square feet. It remains the city’s largest hotel-within-
a-hotel concept with over 1,100 suites, and is currently being renovated and rebranded as the Delano Las Vegas by the Morgans Hotel Group, which operates Miami’s famed Delano. “THEhotel has been an enormously successful all-suite boutique hotel,” says Chuck Bowling, President & COO of Mandalay Bay. “It was time to renovate, and THEhotel was always a hard brand for people to understand, but the building lends itself to a wonderful luxury lifestyle property. Morgans does a great job at creating a special arrival experience and we are redesigning the entire lobby. They have a great reputation for providing almost intuitive service and we are working with them to raise our already high standards. What people love is that this is a non-gaming, intimate experience, with its own entrance and lobby staff, connected to all that Mandalay Bay offers.” It is also one of the few such concepts in the city with its own spa, the Bathhouse. The renovation is happening in phases and THEhotel remains open until the Delano rebranding, scheduled for late 2014.
Hotel 32, Monte Carlo
Even less well known than The Mansion, this remains the best kept hotel-within-a-hotel secret in Vegas—and the best deluxe value proposition. After a fire ravaged the top floor high-roller penthouses in the Monte Carlo in 2008, owner MGM Resorts decided to convert the 32nd floor into this 50-room boutique hotel. Depending on the hour, guest check in with the on-floor concierges or at the casino’s VIP lounge, and while it lacks its own entrance and taxi stand, it has special elevators, its own staff and the only club lounge serving complimentary champagne and cocktails in addition to full breakfast and food throughout the day. Ranging from studios to two-bedroom penthouse suites, accommodations are much nicer than regular hotel rooms, while the suites are truly luxurious. All include 12-variety pillow menus, Nintendo Wii, free pressing and shoe shines, while suites have Jura espresso machines, hydrotherapy jetted tubs and separate walk-in rain showers with chromatherapy. With rates starting as low as $170—including roundtrip limo airport transfers—Hotel 32 offers an unrivalled entry level luxury experience few visitors know exists. “Vegas has always been about the biggest and boldest, but Hotel 32 is the antithesis of that. You come in for cocktails from 5–7 and you get to know the GM or VP—there’s nothing else like that,” says Monte Carlo General Manager Patrick Miller. “I was on the design group in 2009, and it’s not about trying to out-opulent the next guy, it’s about a lot of comfort and a kick-ass bathroom. We get a lot of repeats because once you’ve been a guest here it is really hard to go back to the normal hotel experience.”
Larry Olmsted is a contributing editor to Cigar Aficionado.