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Luxury amid Vegas chaos


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POSTED: Sunday, September 20, 2009

FOUR years ago I embarked on a bargain-hunting excursion to Las Vegas with my children, who, at 11 and 13, were well briefed on hitting the cheapest buffet, skipping the cab in favor of walking in 103-degree heat, not touching the minibar and making the best of distant seats in a Cirque du Soleil show.

Last month I went for a bit more luxury, but not because I wanted to spend a lot of money. It turns out there's no better time to visit Vegas and dip your toe in the high-end market.

Across the board, the ninth island is hosting a fire sale of epic proportions. Circus Circus recently advertised $27 per day. That's for a room, not the roller coaster. Prices at the elegant Wynn hovered at about $150. The Four Seasons? Book a night in a suite and get the second night free—with a $50 credit in the spa. Keep checking the Web; deals change by the minute.

With all of this eagerness to attract visitors, I wondered if the Strip would have lost its edge, if the place would feel different this time.

On the surface it seems like the place hasn't missed a beat, aside from the massive, unfinished buildings hovering nearby as monuments to botched financing and halted construction, a somewhat unflattering portrayal in a recent issue of Time Magazine and local workers who admit that it's now a bit of a struggle to live in the once-bustling city.

While I was there, visitors moved about in droves, dressed to the hilt in short skirts while balancing alcoholic beverages the size (and shape!) of the Eiffel Tower. Beachgoers at the Mandalay Bay waited in line to rent umbrellas and lounges—before the office even opened in the morning. Bodies filled theater seats.

A few more slot machines may have sat empty in the casinos, but the garish, wildly stimulating Vegas of old is still there, with fresh options signaling travelers' growing need to incorporate a bit of serenity into their vacation.

If you're striving for a balance between tranquility and entertainment, as I was, where you stay can determine the tone of your entire trip. It's not something you realize until you arrive at a nongaming hotel like the Four Seasons Resort Las Vegas, which occupies floors 35 through 39 in the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, and realize how incredibly quiet it is.

My luxurious, one-bedroom suite was appointed with two flat-screen televisions, a full living room, an office area with a view of the Strip and the airport, a spacious bedroom with two closets and two bathrooms. The Four Seasons is an elegant oasis adjacent to the frenzy. A separate portico entrance and check-in desk set up the exclusivity, which allows you to avoid strolling through a casino to enter the hotel. This difference becomes even more striking when you venture through the doors to the casino and general hubbub of Mandalay Bay in the same tower—almost too much to handle after the peace in the Four Seasons.

Even the pool area is refined. Attendants flutter around with towels, ice water, drink orders and trays of food for you to consume on the chaise, just in case you don't feel like walking over to the nearby restaurant. But those looking for more action need only slip through the gate with their hotel key and wander over to the facilities at Mandalay Bay, where lounges sit in multiple rows and lifeguards yell warnings of oncoming waves generated by a pump behind colossal walls framing the exotic pool.

The experience at the Four Seasons—and the accompanying urge to venture out less and less with each passing day—altered my entire perception of Las Vegas and left me feeling like it was a place to rejuvenate. Indeed, a spokesman at the Four Seasons indicated that the entire Strip is becoming known as a renowned spa destination. Why not spend your gambling budget on massages, nice rooms and good food, where you are guaranteed good value?

It worked so well for me that I plan to keep watching fares for Hawaiian Airlines' convenient nonstop from Honolulu (http://www.hawaiianair.com) and return to Sin City (Spa City?) and its unbeatable deals as soon as possible.

The Four Seasons: Rooms start at $249, depending on availability; one-bedroom suites, from $669 with the second night free and a $50 credit in the spa. For more information: www.fourseasons.com.