Southwest

Las Vegas & Vdara Trip Report

By February 5, 2013 December 10th, 2013 2 Comments

For the Super Bowl this past weekend, I was in the Adult playground that is Las Vegas.

What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas………..unless of course you happen to write a travel blog!

Flights: B+

For our Flight to Vegas, as I talked about last week, I booked 2 tickets on Southwest for 20,000 Southwest Points each. This was truly an exceptional deal because last week, the price shot up to over $1,000 per a ticket! So for 40,000 Southwest Points, we basically got $2,000+ in free tickets!

This was my first true “long haul” (aka more than 2 hour) Southwest Flight, and like any airline Southwest definitely has some positives and negatives.

Positives

  • Frequent Flyer Program – As I have talked about many times before, with Southwest you can take Award Flights that would normally cost 25,000 Miles on United, for as low as 10,000 – 12,000 Points. It is unreal!
  • 2 Free Checked Bags
  • Companion Pass 
  • Free Changes and Cancellations

Negatives

  • Boarding Process – With Southwest, you are assigned a Boarding Position based on when you Check-in. We got stuck in Group C both times, which is the 2nd worst Boarding Group.
  • No Assigned Seats – When traveling by yourself no assigned seating isn’t a big deal, but it can be really annoying when you are traveling with someone else and you can’t find 2 seats together.
  • No TSA Pre-Check – For some reason or the other, Southwest doesn’t participate in the TSA Pre-Check program! So even though I am pre-cleared by the TSA, because Southwest isn’t part of the program, I had to go through regular security and got my Safety Razor Blade confiscated again for no reason. 

Going to Las Vegas, we departed Chicago’s Midway Airport at 7PM on a Friday and landed in Vegas at 9:30PM, so not surprisingly everyone was drinking on the 4 hour flight there.

Southwest is fairly “lenient” in their beverage policy, basically you pay once, and then re-fills tend to be free. So I paid $5 for my first drink, and then got 2 more for free!

Also Wi-Fi on Southwest is extremely reasonable, as I believe it was only $8 for the flight. On a 4 hour flight, that is only $2 an hour! Looking at the iPads around me, surprisingly they didn’t block access to YouTube or Netflix!

Vdara: B

After arriving in Las Vegas at around 9:30PM on Friday Night, we collected our bags and took a Taxi straight to our Hotel.

Since the Airport is fairly close to the Strip, a Cab only cost around $17 including tip. One thing to note though is that Cabs love to take the Tunnel to the Strip since it drives up the fare cost. You have to explicitly tell the Driver NOT to take the Tunnel or they will try and get an extra $10 out of you.

Our group of Friends had already arrived at the Vdara Hotel earlier in the day, so they had already checked-in when we arrived.

As I talked about last week, the Sandwich Trick is extremely common practice in Las Vegas. When my Friends checked-in, they slipped the Front Desk Agent a $20 for each Room, and asked if there were any “Complimentary Upgrades”.

It must have been our “lucky day” because just like that 2 “Complimentary Upgrades” to an Executive Corner Suite became available. I wish this policy worked at all Hotels!

For $40, it certainly wasn’t a bad “investment” because the Executive Corner Suites was 2 Categories higher than what we had originally booked and was going for $350 a night.

As for the actual Hotel, for those of you that have never been to Vdara, it is located in the City Center Plaza  next to the Aria, The Cosmopolitan, and is connected via a pathway to the Bellagio.

What makes Vdara fairly unique from most Vegas Hotels is that it is all Suites, non-smoking, and non-gambling. It honestly looks and feels like a luxury apartment building.

Although the non-smoking and non-gambling part may be a turn off for some Vegas visitors, I found it nice because to get to your Room, you didn’t have to walk through the massive Casino floor and reek of smoke. However at the same time when you wanted to gamble, you could walk next door to Aria or Cosmopolitan and indulge.

Room: A+

For the 6 of us, we booked 2 Suites. One for the Guys and one for the Girls. 

The total price was about $150 a room per a night plus a $25 resort fee which included internet. When you divide it into 6, it came to about $50 a person a night.

The Rooms were located on the 31st & 34th floor, so both Rooms had great views of the Strip.

Each Room was around 850 Square Feet and extremely spacious. The full floor plan can be seen here.

Having such a large Living Room area was great when we all met to pre-game before going out, as we could easily fit 6 people in the room and could use to fridge to keep drinks cold, etc.

Also you could hook up your iPhone to the TV and play music which was nice.

In addition to a separate Bedroom, and Guest Bathroom, there was also a full Kitchen with fridge, stove, etc.

The Suite also had Windows all around the room. Needless to say the views of Las Vegas were simply stunning!

Bedroom: C

While the size and layout of the Suite were great, as my Friend / Flyertalker Eric pointed out, “Las Vegas Luxury Hotels are for people who have never stayed at an actual Luxury Hotel”

While that does sound extremely snooty to non Frequent Travelers, the point is that while Vdara got the layout of the Room down perfectly, all the little things that separate a true Luxury hotel were completely missing.

For example, the Suite came with 1 King Bed (that my Cousin and I shared) and a Sofa Sleeper.

On the night stand, the Hotel was quick to point out that the Mattress was a Sealy Plush Top and could be purchased for your home, etc. However when went to sleep, either it was just a terrible mattress or had been used way too much because it had no support.

My Friend Eric slept on the Sofa Sleeper and although Sofa Sleepers aren’t suppose to be an actual bed, I honestly have no idea how he managed to sleep on that thing because it was just pure springs.

If that is how the Sofa Sleeper was meant to feel then Vdara would be better off not even mentioning it and invite Guests to just sleep on the actual Sofa, since that would be more comfortable. 

Bathroom: B+

Similar to the Room layout, the Bathroom was extremely spacious and was probably my favorite part of the room.

While the Bathroom felt extremely classy and grand, the Bathroom Amenities were terrible and equivalent to something you would find at Holiday Inn.

In addition to the Shower and dual Sinks, there was also a Tub with just a ridiculous view.

Las Vegas Review

While our Suite at Vdara was fairly nice, the real excitement of Vegas was to be found on the Strip!

Friday

On Friday Night, as soon as we arrived at Vdara, we changed clothes and started indulging in some libations.

For Dinner, we went to the Cosmopolitan for a quick slice of pizza at The Secret Pizza Place (Yes, that is the actual name). It was absolutely delicious and probably one of the best slices of pizza I have ever had.

After eating, we headed to the Wynn Encore to a club called Xs (or Excess as I was improperly calling it).

Since there were just 4 dudes in our group, there wasn’t any way we were getting in without some help. Conveniently right at the entrance of the Encore we met some guy who was a Club Promoter and got us in right away without having to wait in line for about $40 each, which happened to be what the Cover actually was.

Although I was not pleased having to shell out $40 just to get into a Club, followed by $20 per a drink, at the end of the day it is Vegas so you don’t really have a choice.

Overall I honestly wasn’t that impressed with Las Vegas Clubs. For how much they charge in cover and how much everyone talks up these places, I was expecting Ibiza style clubs that hold 10,000 people but to my surprise they were all fairly small.

Saturday

As part of our Suite deal, we got 2 Free Buffet Coupons per a Room which were good at almost any MGM Buffet. I am not a big buffet person, but since it was free we headed across the street to Aria to their buffet, called The Buffet.

Normally it is about $40 a person for The Buffet, so we saved $120 for 3 of us.

Only in Vegas would there be a 45 minute wait to get into a Buffet…

The Buffet definitely had more selection than your average Buffet but the quality was what you would expect to find at a Buffet. The one positive was that it was only $7.99 for bottomless drinks!

After The Buffet, we walked thru Aria and decided to play a little Blackjack.

I have never gambled before, so it took a while to get the hang of and I quickly realized how addictive gambling can be.

I bet $100 and ended up around $100, so we decided to take our winnings and run.

For Dinner, through the AMEX Platinum Concierge, we made reservations at TAO.

I have been to the other TAO in New York City twice, and both times it has been amazing. Not only is the food outstanding, but the ambiance is fairly stunning with a 30 foot Buddha statue in the middle of the Restaurant. 

The cool thing about TAO Las Vegas is that there is a Club attached to it, so if you eat at TAO, you get automatic free entry into the Club. Since cover is probably $40 anyways, it makes much more sense to eat at TAO and spend $60 rather than spend $40 just to get into the Club.

While we did have a reservation, they made us wait at the bar for 30 minutes for no reason, so the 1st round of drinks was conveniently comped for the entire group.

Since there was a group of 6 of us, we ended up splitting a bunch of dishes and everything was absolutely amazing. I don’t remember exactly what we got because I didn’t order it, but it came out to around $50 a person including drinks which was extremely reasonable.

If you are ever in Vegas or New York City, I highly recommend going to TAO. You will not be disappointed.

After Dinner, we went up to the Club at TAO, which again I thought was kind of small but still fun.

Sunday

Since Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday, my Cousin and I decided to watch the game at the Sports Book at the Bellagio.

I am not a die hard Sports fan, but it was awesome watching the game surrounded by people with tons of money on the line because they were so passionate about every single thing. For example, I have never heard that many people cheer for a coin toss!

Also it was pretty amazing seeing how ridiculous some of the bets were. My favorite bet was what color would the Gatorade be when they dumped it on the Coach.

Since the Game was pretty close, it was definitely a nail bitter until the very end when the Ravens won.

After the Game, since it was our last night in Vegas, we decided to go to Lavo for Dinner in the Palazzo Hotel.

Lavo is owned by the same people as TAO, so it was the same deal in where if you eat at the Restaurant, then you get into the Club for free.

Honestly Lavo was probably one of the best Italian meals I have ever had!

Between the 3 of us, we got Kobe Beef Carpaccio, Veal Parmesan, Black Truffle Gnocchi, Kobe Meatball, & Spaghetti Carbonara.

Including 2 bottles of wine, it came out to $100 a person but well worth every penny!

Recap

Overall while Vegas was fun and I highly recommend everyone do it once, I am not sure if ever need to go back.

Most times when I go traveling it is to see new sites and explore new cultures. While gambling, clubbing, etc are fun, most of that stuff I can do in Chicago without having to fly 4 hours.

Honestly the one thing I really enjoyed the most about Vegas was the food. Every single meal I had was delicious!

As for our Hotel, for the price we paid, it was great and served it’s purpose.

I’d highly recommend Vdara if you are going with a Group, Family, or are a Couple, because for the price you get an exceptional amount of space. Just don’t expect it to be a 5 Star Hotel!

-Parag

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2 Comments

  • Dave says:

    Glad you had fun, but Vegas sounds like a pre-teen dream vacation. Others I have talked to have had similar experiences-best avoided.

  • Zach says:

    Great detailed trip report!

    I really loved the Vdara when i stayed there two years ago. Since it was originally built as a condo complex, but the 2008 crash changed those plans, it doesn't have a casino or smoking which I really appreciate. All the smoking really messes me up and is the one thing I hate most about Vegas hotels.

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