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Las Vegas: In Words and iPhone Photos

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As you might assume from the title, this trip recap has absolutely nothing to do with “Local on the Road” in the traditional sense. For obvious reasons a desert location limits one’s access to restaurants and accommodations focused on using local produce, products, and/or sustainable practices. That said, in case readers find themselves looking for quality accommodations, this post will serve as a convenient place for commentary on two top-tier property stays on the strip, and a place to park the iPhone photos snapped (as I accidentally left our “real camera” battery at home). Consider it an interruption from regular programming to pass on some reflections should life take you to the area.

One disclaimer in regards to our impressions is that we are not traditional Las Vegas tourists. Our trips have been prompted by work-related conferences or, in this case, a few medical appointments. Because of the nature of our trip, I was quite limited in what I could do physically and we spent days poolside. We were not focused on vacation excursions or gaming, so what matters to you may differ considerably from our interests. This trip we stayed three nights at each of the two properties being compared, the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas and the Four Seasons Las Vegas.

When looking for upscale accommodations, a wonderful source for advice and guest feedback is the Flyertalk.com luxury hotels sub-forum. In regards to Vegas discussions, the following two properties usually go head-to-head in comparisons, as discussed in this recent thread: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/luxury-hotels/1368736-four-seasons-mandarin-oriental-las-vegas-9.html. Given what I have learned on the forums, I booked both reservations using a Virtuoso and Four Seasons Preferred Partner-affiliated travel agent. Reservations are made at the same price found online, but guests also get the added perks of complimentary breakfast, an upgrade based on availability, and a complimentary $100 spa credit at each property.

Drive-up/Luggage/Check-in

Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas:  Our previous stay in 2010 was memorable, and the first impression was just as positive this time around. We were greeted by Glenn, whom I remembered from nearly three years ago, which speaks to his warmth and hospitable nature. No lines to check-in, refreshing tea was provided at the front desk, and no upgrade was offered as a Virtuoso booking; I did not ask to clarify that there was no availability since I was interested in trying our booked room category. The luggage arrived just behind us in the room. A card and welcome amenity of apples and a few muffins were on a table along with two bottles of complimentary water.

Four Seasons Las Vegas:  Greeting was fine (but Glenn at MO has mastered such a genuine and easygoing warmth that comparisons seem futile). There were no lines to check-in. No upgrade available. Saw a wagon pull up next to a child nearby, he was invited to pick out a stuffed animal while his parents checked-in. Very cute to witness and a great touch by the Four Seasons. We were given two small water bottles at check-in, a bit of a contrast to the full-size branded bottles at MO which are replenished in-room each day.

Room Product

Mandarin Oriental: During our last trip, we were in a Premier Room. This time we were in a Strip View Room, a step-down in category. I strangely preferred the smaller room we were in this time. I say “strangely” because this is surely not a common opinion, and I cannot pinpoint what about the space I preferred this time. Perhaps I enjoy well-furnished smaller interiors without dead space. I won’t go into a lot of details since I have already written about the rooms, but I especially like their bathrooms. The soaking tub and great smelling bath salts provide a relaxing place to unwind. In regards to the shower, we didn’t have water pressure problems like last time.

Just like the last visit, the Mandarin was a welcome respite to return to each afternoon, especially with the relaxing music piped into the rooms and elevators. The overall operation suggests that guest needs were anticipated in creating the room product and service standards. This foresight is evident in the small things, like the television being mounted higher so that your knees don’t block the view if they are bent up in bed while watching, the technology remote which gives guests the ability to open curtains at a press of a button, the fact that housekeeping rings a pleasant sounding doorbell (instead of the typical loud knock and “Housekeeping!” announcement), fast and smooth elevators, and quiet hallways and adjoining walls.

That said, the ambient/electrical lights are still an issue if you prefer to sleep in the dark. Until MO creates light switch covers, you will need to be armed with extra t-shirts and socks to cover the plethora of lights that beam from all the electrical equipment even when the lights are out. The best bet to cover the large light switch pad in the entry is to set the ironing board vertically against the wall.

The large female silhouette dressed in a sheet or towel on the screen between the bed and bathroom is an odd decor choice that was absent in the Premier Room in 2010. (It reminded me of a billboard, and borders on the thought of advertisements that objectify women… It may be art, but do they have full-size screens with silhouettes of men hanging in any of the rooms? I’m guessing that would not have gone over well in the pitch meeting.)

Four Seasons:  Things went off the rails a bit initially in our Four Seasons stay, particularly in regards to housekeeping. We arrived in a Deluxe Room that felt slightly pedestrian, but certainly adequate. (I double checked the forums to make sure that the refurbishments had in fact been completed.) The room felt indistinguishable from Marriott or Hilton properties (aside from the green hue that the afternoon and evening sun casts on the interior through the window), right down to the granite counter color in the bathroom, the ceramic-looks-like-plastic bath accessories, and then the real let down… a dirty/used snoring nose strip left on the bathroom floor, significant staining of mold or mildew in the shower grout and caulking, and some build-up around the plug of the bath tub.

I called and spoke with the housekeeping manager, who offered to send someone up, and I asked instead (since we were just settling in) to have it cleaned the next time the room was serviced, perhaps at turn-down. She said the staining was due to hard water, and she said it affects the grout, not caulking. I explained that there were stains on both the grout and the caulking. (They did not look like hard water stains, and even if they were, there should be a way to remove them, as the comparable shower in the property we checked-out of that day had pristine rooms and bathrooms.) When we came back after dinner, at turn down nothing was changed, to include the dirty/used nose strip still on the floor.

The next morning we were at the pool, and I sent an email to the manager in order to attach photos of the bathroom, so he could “see” what I was talking about since pictures often speak louder than words. (I am intentionally leaving these pictures off this post, as they are damaging to the standards of their brand and hopefully this was just a one-of experience.)

We were quite impressed at the recovery attempt at this point. The hotel manager emailed me back to say that the director of housekeeping was on his way to the room to address the room issues (and the IT manager was looking into the Internet concern – as we had intermittent WIFI connection near the pool). When I did not call or email back (because we were in the pool and I had not received his message), he actually came out to the pool and found us in the water to discuss the concerns and offer us a room-switch. We felt such a swift reply and attempt to get things fixed was admirable.

After a few hours outside, my husband went up to pack our things and make the room switch. When he arrived in the original room, the daily housekeeping staff was finishing up tidying the room, not realizing the impending room switch. After she left… The nose strip? Still on the floor. Shower? Exactly the same. It didn’t matter to us at that point as we were moving, but it made me wonder if the director of housekeeping actually came inside the room to assess the problem, or was just on the way up (per the email) only to discuss the situation in case we were still in the room.

My husband was given keys to a one-bedroom suite down the hall from our previous room. In this room, with the additional square footage and furniture, the interior refurbishments were definitely noticeable. While the main bathroom was virtually identical, the green countertop was a small but distinguishable difference from routine chain hotels, and the half bath was sporting a more unique mirror. In regards to toiletries, Flyertalk.com member “mike_la_jolla” said it best: “L’occitane no longer in bathrooms. Some other…that looks like packaged bubblegum for teenagers. Didn’t like it.” Flat hair made me wish I had taken the MO ones with me, even though they too seem to have demoted their quality toiletries by switching from Aromatherapy Associates in 2010 to Shanghai Tang this trip.

I am surprised at the bathtubs in the suites, as they are not very large or romantic. And while there is a flat television within the suite bathroom mirror (like at MO), in this bathroom, the tub has only one place for your back and it is not facing the television screen.

But thankfully this shower was clean!

Deluxe Room:

One Bedroom Suite:

Common Areas

Mandarin Oriental:  There are not many “common areas” to enjoy at the Mandarin, and by check-out on the fourth day, I was ready to move on from the dimly-lit interiors. That said, the dark halls and music do create a tranquil and calm oasis feeling, which I began to miss in the days that followed.

Four Seasons:  When it comes to common areas to relax or meet up with friends, Four Seasons wins hands down. There are large and spacious lounge areas, both inside and outside, and the quick access to the casino floor at Mandalay is quite convenient.

Breakfast

Mandarin Oriental:  One of the highlights of our 2010 stay was breakfast, and this fact repeated itself again. We had breakfast in-room, at the Pool Cafe, and at Mozen Bistro to sample all three options. I continue to love the quality (and quantity) of fresh berries offered at the Mandarin, along with their in-house full-fat yogurt and homemade granola. The steak served with eggs at Mozen surprisingly rivaled Charlier Palmer-branded offerings later in the week. The menus and our orders were similar between the three, with Mozen’s menu being the most extensive. The best all-around experience (to include service and food quality served) was at the Pool Cafe. Eggs were fresh and not cold/rubbery. Bacon tasty. Breakfast potatoes especially crispy at this location. A consistent and outstanding breakfast.

Four Seasons:  We had breakfast once in-room and at the Verandah restaurant the other two mornings. The breakfast served at Verandah was markedly better than room service. The waffles were soggy with in-room delivery (not surprising given they were covered on arrival), eggs tepid, and berries a bit over-ripe. The weekend buffet at Verandah had a nice variety of items, to include fresh-made donuts, though overall fare was not quite the same quality being put out by Mandarin. Service was excellent, kitchen was slow on the last morning when ordering from the menu since it was a weekday.

(Four Seasons is using the “Farm to Table” marketing lingo, but not many specifics. That said, in the desert I do not have any expectations for local sourcing.)

Pool

Mandarin Oriental:  One of the reasons that we split our stay between the two properties was because of the divergent pool experiences offered. Mandarin’s long sleek pools did not look inviting to me in online photos. In person, the landscaping and sun provide a warmth that I did not expect. Lounge chair and umbrella availability were plentifully during our stay, though the pool did get busier as the weekend approached. We heard stories from staff about periods of higher occupancy when guests wait an hour and a half for a lounge chair at the pool. An hour and a half wait to use a published amenity! Not sure if that was an architectural and planning oversight, but surely the orientation of the pool and subsequent wind gusts were an “oops” moment for someone upon installation. I had read about the wind, but figured it was Vegas in August, which could make it a pretty nice benefit and not a complaint. That might be true if the wind wasn’t gusting so much that even the staff say to you, “You are brave to be out here in the wind today.” During one afternoon you could forget umbrellas being operational, hats staying on your head, magazines laying poolside while you swam, or food trays staying on the stand. Lots of WIND. Pool staff were awesome, as was food quality. Apparently the hotel makes its own gelato, which translates into a pretty tasty afternoon milkshake if you need/want refreshment. The environment was tranquil, even with some children around. Relaxing music piped in the mornings turned into more up-tempo tunes as the day progressed. Aside from the wind (which on a strong day makes you want to pack up and go inside), it was a blissful place to retreat.

Four Seasons:  As mentioned previously, the pool differences between the two locations were a driving factor in our desire to split our stay and spend three nights at each property. Everything I had read about the great service at the Four Seasons pool was spot-on. They truly have thought through each detail of one’s pool experience. Cold and wet as you get out of the water? No worries, there is a large basket full of towels for you to conveniently grab one as you rise up the pool steps. The lounge chairs themselves seemed slightly more comfortable here versus MO, but this is splitting hairs. They also have some neat swivel chairs that are large, round, and big enough for two with a built-in cover for shade. Their staff work tirelessly to ensure that you have everything you need throughout the day. Not to mention the periodic visits by your chair with frozen Snickers bites, popsicles, water spritz, etc. We ordered surprisingly tasty nachos pool-side. And a big bowl of frozen grapes is an especially refreshing order in 100-degree heat.

While food quality was above average, the cocktails are another story. I know they are working volume behind the bar, but Island Oasis drink mixes? Really? Is it that hard to make your own frozen lemonade with lemons, water/ice, and sugar?

If this is off-season, I cannot imagine the Four Seasons pool when the hotel is at full occupancy. Chairs were two or three deep at places surrounding the pool. Now if you are into people watching or if you are traveling with children, this is the place for you. There was no shortage of both. There was a shortage of tranquility, which we did experience at the MO pool. Here music was louder (sometimes blaring bass from Mandalay Bay pools, which you have access to if you want to explore) and the behavior of children was markedly different from earlier in the week. I was hit by a stiff hat thrown by a mother to her son (instead of one of them walking to the other person to get the hat, she was trying to clear the seven or eight chairs down distance and missed), bumped into by countless kids not paying attention in the water, and at times considered headphones (or earplugs) to mask the cacophony of yells, screeches, and crying. The calmest times of the day seemed to be first thing in the morning and after 4:00pm or so. It could very well be the specific guests at the hotel during the same time period, and your week could vary widely. (I read on the flyertalk forum that drunk people chatting you up on the elevator didn’t happen here either, and it did on more than one occasion. Clearly each week supplies its own version of entertainment!)

Two cute stories with the kiddos though… One little girl (not more than five years old) was playing in the pool with her brother and they were speaking quick French back and forth to each other. When she accidentally backed into me, she whirled around immediately and said, “Oh, I’m sorry!” in perfect English and then without missing a beat (or a second) switched right back to French with her brother. Impressive! I wish I had mastered two languages by five years old and had the ability to switch it on and off without effort. Another brother/sister pair were playing in the pool, looked to be around 10 years old. Brother starts screaming repetitively for fun (not the normal shouts of joy from a kid delighting in water activities, which are to be expected). Sister tells him twice to stop, and then she starts lecturing him on why he should stop, which was humorous to hear as she was explaining how people come all the way here to relax.

Restaurants/Bar/In-room dining

Mandarin Oriental:  I did not recall from our previous stay that the Mandarin Bar bartenders make drinks in a back closest and not in front of you. I found that a bit odd, maybe a Vegas thing? Had a few small plates and drinks one evening which were fine, if not memorable. Looks like they have fully transitioned from using Fever Tree mixers in the room refrigerators and at the bar, which is a shame. Mozen lunch was excellent, as was the Pool Cafe dishes we enjoyed through the day. One night we were slightly hungry, but not for a full meal, and decided to order pizza off the room service menu. This was the worst “dish” of the trip. How do you mess up pizza at a place of this caliber? It tasted like cardboard; frozen pizzas from the grocery have more flavor. Granted it is officially written on the menu to be geared for the kiddos, but kids don’t deserve blandness either.

If there is a scorecard for answering the phone, then Mandarin fails miserably (and the Four Seasons wins the highest rating possible). When calling any department at the Mandarin, there was a significant wait to get someone to answer. (In 2010, I gave up on hold with the spa and ended up having to go downstairs to book an appointment.) This was even more noticeable when we experienced a hiccup in food service. We had an appointment the first full day which made a boxed lunch necessary to take in the car. I wasn’t sure whether the right place for that request was via room service or Mozen, so that morning I called down to ask and start the phone tree process. Thirteen minutes and various holds later, I finally get connected to someone at Mozen. I explain that I would like to order something to take in a car (club sandwich, two iced teas) and I am put on hold to see if they can fill the order since I need it at noon and they don’t start serving lunch until noon. Waiter comes back to say they can do it but the chef thinks the bread will get soggy, so I should call back and place the order 10 minutes before I need it so that it will be fresh. Really? A long conversation ensued between staff, as we asked can you please keep the order and fire it in twenty minutes so I do not have to call back and hang out on hold for nearly fifteen minutes again? So strange. I’m not sure why they didn’t just offer to hold onto the order and fire it when it suited the kitchen. Thankfully it was a tasty club sandwich, and beat anything we could have picked up on the road that day.

Four Seasons:  Service during meals at Verandah, Charlie Palmer, and pool-side was consistently excellent. We had dinner and drinks at the Charlie Palmer bar for a light meal one evening; the atmosphere there seemed a little too dark country club for our tastes, but food was fine. Nice touch at Verandah during lunch, they make ice cubes out of their tea so if/when it melts it does not dilute the beverage. Delicious steak sandwich and truffle fries.

WIFI

Mandarin Oriental:  Fast and reliable Internet connection across all devices.

Four Seasons:  The wireless Internet was intermittent and slow (and occasionally downright absent) at times on all three of our devices while sitting in pool chairs near the restrooms. Some pool areas ended up with a stronger signal than others. On our last night, I kept getting an error message when I tried to login from our hotel room to use the Internet.

Spa

Mandarin Oriental:  Husband used the spa credit and spent the afternoon in their zen atmosphere this time. I loved the MO spa in 2010, but didn’t feel the desire to partake since the pool was open and it was such a relaxing place to be when the winds were down.

Four Seasons:  Perhaps I was just spoiled by all the MO amenities in the past, but this “spa” seems more like a high-end gym locker room. Very nice dressing/shower areas, sauna, and eucalyptus-scented steam room. And there is a waiting room with a few love seats, chairs, cucumber water and snacks. But it was all underwhelming in comparison. That said, they have a great sports-injury focused massage therapist should you need such services during your stay.

Check-out

Unremarkable at both, but double check your statements.

We had returned our car rental earlier in the week and asked for a taxi at the Four Seasons upon check-out to get to the airport. Instead of calling a taxi for us, they offered to take us in the house Mercedes, which was a nice gesture and a welcome bookend to our time in Vegas.

Overall

As has been said throughout the Flyertalk forum in the past, if you are traveling with children or want an on-site casino, then the Four Seasons is probably the place for you. Should that fit our needs in the future, I would consider going back, but with adjusted expectations and I would book my original reservation into a higher room category.

Otherwise, I look forward to returning to the Mandarin Oriental. Having worked in the hospitality industry, I cannot put into words how refreshing it is to stay at a place that seems to be running such a tight ship. (Aside from the repetitive pattern of phones not being answered.) My attention to detail brain quiets down here, and I enjoy the day as it unfolds.

I have always considered Las Vegas a place that I reluctantly visit, but at the Mandarin Oriental it feels like a lot less drudgery. They are a creating a reason to go to Vegas in and of itself, which is quite a feat. I truly look forward to returning.

And to close, a few parting Nevada glimpses from the flight window…

One Comment Post a comment
  1. EllenLV #

    Excellent review Cindy – as usual, your attention to detail is outstanding. If you ever find yourself at the Four Seasons again, there is an excellent deli a few miles away near the corner of Sunset and Las Vegas Blvd (east) – Panevino – they open early, and have great salads, sandwiches and pastries.

    August 21, 2013

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