Tried & Tested

Hotel check: MGM Grand, Las Vegas

5 Dec 2013 by Jenny Southan

BACKGROUND

In addition to the MGM Grand, which opened in 1993, MGM Resorts International owns numerous properties in Las Vegas including the Bellagio, Mirage, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Excalibur and Circus Circus.

It also has a 50 per cent stake (along with Dubai World) in the City Centre development made up of Aria, Harmon, Veer Towers, the Crystals, Vdara and the Mandarin Oriental.

When the MGM Grand was unveiled, it was the biggest hotel in the world with 6,852 rooms (now it is ranked number two, behind the Izmailovo hotel in Moscow with 7,500).

It is comprised of a 30-floor main building with 5,044 rooms and suites – more than 4,000 of them renovated by November 2012 at a cost of US$160 million. A number of restaurants are also due to be rebranded and refreshed.

Three more towers are dedicated to the non-gaming Signature at MGM Grand, each housing 576 suites, while a separate “boutique” hotel at the top of the main building accommodates 51 luxurious twin-level Skyloft penthouses, which are operated semi-independently of the main hotel. For invited guests only, the Mansion features 29 private villas.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Originally the hotel had an Wizard of Oz theme (hence the emerald green glass exterior) complete with characters from the movie and a Yellow Brick Road. Mercifully, this was changed to a “classic Hollywood” concept, with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s iconic lion immortalised in gold, guarding the entrance.

Until a couple of years ago, there was a big cat enclosure in the casino itself, where visitors could watch real lions prowl and play behind glass, but this was scrapped during the recent renovation programme.

To say the hotel is big, is an understatement. It’s vast – with so much to do you could spend a week there without leaving. (Though you probably wouldn’t want to.) For the first night I stayed in a Skyloft, which meant I was given a complimentary limo transfer to a discreet side entrance of the property.

I then had to cross the floor of the huge, frenetic lobby (somewhat defeating the purpose of a separate entrance) to get to secret set of dedicated lifts that took me up to the tranquil “Skylobby”. It was a different world – minimalist, contemporary and peaceful with long corridors leading down to the penthouse suites where check-in takes place in-room. In the evening, from 5pm-9pm, a pop-up bar in reception serves premium spirits for guests’ delectation.

Downstairs, the casino stretches out across 16,000 sqm, flickering with lights and reverberating with tinkling of 2,500 slot machines, the riffling of cards at 23 poker tables, and the gentle clatter of chips from dozens of blackjack, craps and roulette tables.

Free wifi is available throughout the public areas. Walking across the vast ground-floor level will take you past various bars (where one member of staff screamed “ID, ID, ID!” at me when I ordered a drink), restaurants, clubs, music venues, lounges and shops.

One morning I went to get breakfast from Starbucks and had to queue for more than half an hour with mothers and their dolled up, miniature beauty queen daughters. You see it all in Vegas.

WHERE IS IT?

The Strip – on corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue. It’s right next door to McCarran International airport. (MGM’s full-service registration/check-in counter is located at the south baggage claim area near the exit from C and D Gates. It’s open daily from 10am to 6pm.)

The monorail stops at the hotel and you can arrive by pedestrian walkway, but you are most likely to come by taxi or hire car, which can be left with a valet.

ROOM FACILITIES

The 51 Skylofts were designed by Tony Chi and opened in 2005. Available in one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations (from 130 sqm to 557 sqm), all come with two floors, free wifi, limo transfers from the airport, in-loft check-in, sweeping views and lots of light through seven-metre-tall, floor-to-ceiling windows.

A couple of the two-bedroom lofts have terraces with plunge pools, gyms, libraries and full-size kitchens. Apart from the one-beds, all Skylofts come with games rooms fitted with pool tables.

Other amenities that come as standard include infinity spa tubs with mood lighting and “champagne bubbles”, mirror TVs in the marble bathrooms, steam rooms, private bars, gourmet tea and coffee selections, walk-in closets, turndown, packing/unpacking and laundry services, shoeshine and pressing, laptop, iPod and DVD loans, “dream and spa butlers” to help you unwind and draw you a bath, pillow menus, personalised stationary, in-room massages and personal concierges.

Rooms also come with tablet computers that control the lighting, TV, music, drapes and air conditioning.

Needless to say, the Skylofts are incredibly luxurious, and the décor sleek, contemporary and stylish.

Priced from US$800 upwards, they also offer very good value for money, especially for business people who can use them for meetings and share with a colleague.

I was staying in a 279 sqm two-bedroom loft with so much space I didn’t know what to do with it. Downstairs, there were three open-plan lounges, an office, a dining room with a long table, a spacious entry hall and a billiards room, while upstairs were two bedrooms (one king and one with two queen beds), and two bathrooms, the larger one featuring a combined walk-in shower and steam room.

The only thing that didn’t work properly was the Bang and Olufsen TV – when I tried to select a movie, I found the TV to be stuck on a porn channel that I couldn’t get away from. Fortunately I wasn’t travelling with children, as this could have come as an unpleasant surprise.

My second night at the MGM was spent in one of its 42 Stay Well rooms, which were unveiled in 2012 and are located on the 14th-floor of the main tower.

Developed by New York-based Delos, the hotel will be adding another 171 of them to its offering by the end of the year, as well as a dedicated reception area.

On the face of it, they look like regular rooms, with patterned carpets, neutral décor, flatscreen TVs and minibars, but the idea was to create a room that “combines the best of medical science and technology to enhance guests’ physical and mental wellbeing”, by installing the following “healthy features”…

  • Advanced Room Lighting: improves internal clock (sleep/wake cycles) by assisting in regulation of melatonin production
  • Wake-Up Light Therapy: short periods of blue-shaded lighting to increase energy and reverse effects of jetlag
  • Night lighting: LED lamps illuminate pathways at night without disturbing melatonin levels
  • Dawn Simulator Alarm Clocks: to gradually awaken the body
  • Vitamin C Shower Infusion: shower water infused with vitamin C to neutralise chlorine promoting healthy hair and skin
  • Air Purification System: most advanced HEPA-standard air purification system, reducing allergens, toxins and pathogens, creating better air quality and breathing
  • Aromatherapy: optional aroma infusion for Stay Well guests
  • Water Filtration System: reduces disinfectant by-products, chlorine, and pesticides for the cleanest, most purified in-room water
  • EMF Protection: protects from electrical equipment that emanates sleep-disruptive Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)
  • Photo-Catalytic Coating: breaks down bacteria, virus and VOCs on bacteria-susceptible surfaces
  • Cleveland Clinic exclusive access: wellness software that includes stress management, sleep and nutrition programs, as well as access to healthy food/drink options developed by the Cleveland Clinic, which guests can use for up to 60 days after their stay
  • Wellness Channel: In-Room education video by World renowned health and wellness expert, and Delos advisory board member Dr Deepak Chopra

For anyone trying to combat the strains of Sin City, this sounds like a great idea, but in reality it proved a disappointing gimmick.

So what was the problem? Firstly, I have never come across a hotel room with such terrible bathroom lighting – getting up in the morning and turning the switch on virtually blinded me with glaring fluorescent white light, that not only was painful to the eyes but deeply unflattering at any time of day or night.

I tried to set the dawn simulator alarm clock but it was too complicated, and then had a terrible night’s sleep (so much for the EMF protection). The air was extremely dry in the room and I couldn’t open a window, so woke up feeling awful, like I had a cold. I then tried the vitamin C shower, which was fitted with a filter above the head.

I didn’t feel any different or notice anything unusual about the water. Of course, there may have been benefits but I am doubtful, particularly after just one shower. It would be more effective to take a vitamin C tablet or drink some orange juice, I expect.

In an article by Businessweek examining the issue of vitamin C showers, Neal Langerman, an officer of the American Chemical Society’s Division of Chemical Health and Safety, says: “First off, chlorine and chloramines do not cross the skin barrier, nor does vitamin C. … [Also] I don’t think the reaction would be complete – the neutralization, if you will – by the time the water hits your head or flows down the drain… There are much, much better ways to spend your money, more healthy ways to spend your money.” I agree.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

There are more than 20 food and beverage outlets, ranging from Michael Mina’s Pub 1842 and all-day American diner Avenue 42 (both of which opened in June 2013), to Wolfgang Puck and the outrageously decadent, three Michelin star establishment Joel Robuchon, where you can sample a 16-course tasting menu for US$425 per person.

Then there’s the recently unveiled Hakkasan restaurant and nightclub – one of the biggest in the world, at more than 74,000 sqm.

I ate at Hakkasan, which opened in May 2013, and wasn’t overly impressed with the experience. Upon entering the restaurant, it smelt of toilets. Inside it was dark, and divided into sections by double-height latticework walls that created intimate areas in which to hide.

It was not the most sophisticated of environments, with pounding music, tables that were two small, over-familiar, clumsy service and cocktails that didn’t quite cut it (I couldn’t even drink the first one I ordered). But perhaps this is to be expected in a city that is more about bucks than bang.

The cuisine at the fine-dining Chinese eatery is approachable and tasty, with options including platters of springy dim sum filled with scallops, perch or edamame (US$22-28); crispy duck salad (US$28); roasted cod with champagne and Chinese honey (US$42) and stir-fried black rib-eye presented in an edible pink basket (US$37). (Our waitress proceeded to massacre this by cutting it up with my companion’s knife and fork, while engaged in conversation with us.) If you want to show off, you can order a “supreme special” such as whole braised Japanese abalone for US$450.

On the night I was staying in the Skyloft, I ordered room service, which was great as it meant I could avail of the dining room and enjoy the home-away-from experience.

However, what I didn’t realise was that I could have ordered food from a number of the hotel’s restaurants (Craftsteak, Shibuya, Diego, Seablue, Nobhill Tavern, Pearl, Grand Wok and Fiamma Trattoria), instead of the standard in-room dining menu provided, which proved to be average in quality.

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES

The MGM Grand was the first to make its 35,000 sqm conference centre smoke-free (though you can still puff away in the rest of the public areas). The venue has two ballrooms and about 4,600 sqm of pre-function space looking on to the Strip and swimming pools.

There are also 57 meeting rooms, the Marquee ballroom (unveiled 2008) for 6,000 delegates and the 16,800-seat Grand Garden Arena. The Grand Pool Complex and Wet Republic can also be hired for al fresco events.

For a detailed breakdown of the floor space available for hire, click here. There are two business centres, one in the main lobby and one in the conference centre.

LEISURE FACILITIES

Hotels in Las Vegas offer guests so many different forms of entertainment, they don’t even like to talk about gambling anymore, but the 16,000 sqm casino at the MGM Grand is impossible to ignore.

The hotel also has an in-house Cirque de Soleil show (Ka), Brad Garrett’s comedy Club, the Garden Arena for concerts (Beyonce was performing when I was there), the Hollywood Theatre, the CSI Experience, dozens of shops and CBS Television City, where you can give feedback on the latest pilot episodes from production studios. By the end of 2013, Beacher’s Madhouse (a Vaudeville-inspired show) will have returned.

Then there’s the 2.6-hectare outdoor pool complex with palm trees, whirlpools, rivers, gardens, waterfalls and fountains, and Wet Republic, a 4,900 sqm “ultra-pool” used for wild pool parties where resident DJs such as Calvin Harris and Steve Aoki perform to drunken partygoers for six-figure sums. (I stopped by one afternoon and witnessed hundreds of people jumping up and down in the water, while the DJ showered them in champagne and threw wedding cakes at them. Bizarre.)

For massages and beauty therapies, guests can avail of the 2,787 sqm Grand spa with 26 treatment rooms. There is also Christophe salon and a gym fitted with Cybex machines and free weights overlooking the pool complex.

VERDICT

This Las Vegas institution has already benefitted greatly from its ongoing million-dollar revamp, though it doesn’t feel as cutting-edge some of MGM’s newer properties in City Centre.

There is a great range of accommodation options, but the Skylofts are definitely the highlight. Though expensive, can be excellent value for money if you manage to get a good rate.

This is Vegas, so the experience is always going to be surreal, but these penthouses also make an excellent escape. Don’t bother with the Stay Well rooms. Event space at the MGM is also a standout feature, and there is a huge array of restaurants, clubs, bars, and other forms of entertainment to choose from.

FACT FILE

  • HOW MANY ROOMS? The main building has 5,044 rooms including 751 suites. There are also 51 Skylofts and 29 private villas in the Mansion at MGM Grand.  
  • HIGHLIGHTS My Skylofts was amazing, with its huge amount of space, pool table, steam room and infinity bath, contemporary design and sweeping city views. The limo transfer was also great. Poker players will be pleased to find a good-sized card room at the MGM Grand with regular tournaments throughout the day, while Wet Republic is one of the best pool parties in town (if you’re into that sort of thing).
  • PRICE Internet rates for a Skyloft started from US$840 in January, while a Stay Well Grand King room was from US$96 per night.
  • CONTACT MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, 3,799 Las Vegas Boulevard South; tel +1 877 8800 880; mgmgrand.com skyloftsmgmgrand.com  signaturemgmgrand.com

mgmgrand.com/themansion

Jenny Southan

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