Las Vegas, the city of swim

People worshipping the sun god at the Garden of Gods at Caesar’s Palace.

I clearly am not a pool party person… This travel article appeared in the National Post on June 3, 2012.

In a pool packed with writhing bodies at Liquid Pool and Lounge at Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, I couldn’t take my eyes off of a young woman. She stood in the shallow end with a drink in her hand, her hair in ringlets, her unsmiling lips thickly glossed. Her hips had been doing the same rotation for 20 minutes and I was surprised she hadn’t created a whirlpool around her. She twirled to the Lil Wayne song blaring on the speakers and for the first time, I could clearly make out the tattoo on her back. It was of a cartoon kitten.

Around her, bikini-clad waitresses carried $400 bottles of Grey Goose vodka as if they were Olympic torches. Meanwhile, a guy walked in wearing a T-shirt that said “I [heart] my vagina.”

I’m not sure if this was the right scene for a group of relaxed but cynical international journalists, but here we were.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority organized a “pool and spa” press trip that I thought sounded like three days of peace and relaxation, even though I understand that peace and relaxation are associated with Vegas the way modesty and subtlety are with Jersey Shore. If you are looking for beach clubs, pool parties and Champagne spraying, this is the right place, but tranquility can also be found amongst the debauchery, candle-lit quiet amongst the bright lights.

And perhaps you can’t fully appreciate the city’s restorative side without the need to be restored.

God knows in Vegas, people could use something to rejuvenate their spirits other than, well, spirits. Twice in two days, I saw someone projectile vomit into her hands — one woman during a Cirque du Soleil show and another in a hotel elevator.

What a waste of alcohol and money, I thought. Alcohol, pool-side at least, was not cheap. When someone ordered, say, a $375 to $2,000 bottle of Champagne at Liquid, the moment was celebrated with a waitress in a boxing robe, marching out to the Rocky theme song. Apparently, if you can afford a cabana and Champagne, you’re a champ. (A $650 food and beverage minimum is required to get a cushy daybed. But no sleeping — that’s an actual rule.)

If you want to sleep, you’ll have to hit regular hotel pools — as opposed to exclusive pool-lounges such as Liquid that are popular here, and where bouncers man the entrances.

Cypress Bellagio.

For example, the Cypress Premier Lounge at Bellagio is a quiet area in a private garden, surrounded by coiffed hedges, phallic bushes and a regal fountain in the centre of a small pool. A daybed ranges from $150 to $250 depending on the day; this also buys you a personal host who will bring you chilled towels, Evian misters and smoothie shots.

We spent a quiet morning poolside and then retreated to Bellagio’s spa for respite from the sun. Walking its long, dim halls, lit by green panels in the floors, was like walking through a spaceship. It’s an appropriate description since I felt a world away from the strip.

Its 65,000 square feet of space includes hot and cold pools, saunas and a tranquility room filled with the sound of trickling water. We had stone massages ($175 for 50 minutes) and then sat around in bathrobes so plush that it felt like I was being hugged by 100 teddy bears.

The following day was even better with a visit to Qua Baths and Spa at Caesars Palace. Qua means “here” in Italian. It’s about being in the moment, and at Qua, you hope the moment never ends.

We alternated between three Roman baths and struggled to stay awake in the heated lounge chairs by the pools. We visited the eucalyptus steam room, the Cedarwood sauna and the Arctic ice room, which is like sitting in a fridge that sprinkles snow. A staff person suggested that we rub our bodies with ice chips to exfoliate our skin. I liken the feeling to getting a face wash in a Canadian schoolyard.Advertisement

The therapists at Qua are called artisans, deservedly. My massage therapist/artisan burned sage to clear the room of any energy and then sweetgrass to encourage positive energy. He dripped seven essential oils down my spine and when he spoke to me during the treatment, it felt as if he was trying to reach me through a tunnel.

The spa at Bellagio.

Bleary eyed and soft like noodles, we stumbled afterwards to Caesar’s Palace’s Garden of Gods.

The Garden of the Gods is a five-acre oasis on three levels. It includes seven swimming pools, a swim-up blackjack table and 44 private cabanas with a stocked refrigerator, flat-screen TV, DVD player and wireless Internet. (A $20 entry fee to the oasis applies for guests not staying at Caesars Palace.)

By midday, the area was crowded with sun-kissed deities laying amidst columns, winged lions and Roman warriors pointing toward the Snackus Maximus (snack bar).

I was pleased to be chatting with two cheerful women lounging by the Neptune pool; they were the antithesis of the girl with the cat tattoo who was so serious about appearing to have fun at Liquid.

“Would I rather put $25 toward a cocktail or would I rather be gambling?” said Janice Morry, a 56-year-old special education teachers’ aid from Chicago. She sipped a cucumber Mojito. “That’s like two pulls on the slot machine.”

Her friend, Kathy Meunier, 66, was here celebrating her daughter’s 30th birthday. “I want her to remember this when I die. Life is short. You have to live the day and enjoy.”

How you choose to enjoy Vegas is your prerogative; it can be the city of sin — or serenity.


Where to stay
Naughty: For a bit of edge, stay at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Suites are “decorated for rock royalty.” Visit for rates.
Nice: The Cosmopolitan, a modern and chic 2,995-room resort, is the newest luxury hotel to open on the Strip (December 2010). Visit for rates.

What to see
Naughty: Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace is an intimate cabaret variety show with amazing Cirque-type acts separated by crude, campy monologues. Stay away if you are offended by vulgar or racist jokes. (Tickets start at $89.)
Nice: O at Bellagio is one of Cirque du Soleil’s most amazing shows featuring a pool built into the stage with high divers, acrobats, aerial artists and synchronized swimmers. (Tickets start at $109.)

Where to drink
Naughty: Pamela Anderson hosted her birthday at Chateau Nightclub at Paris the night we went. If it’s good enough for Pam, it’s good enough for us. (Cover: $20 for women, $30 for men. Bottle service begins at $425 plus tax and gratuity.)
Nice: Skip the club and go to Japonais at The Mirage for late-night snacks. The acclaimed restaurant serves a selection of appetizers including lobster spring rolls with mango relish and blood orange vinaigrette ($7) and various items grilled robata-style (smoked kobe, Chilean sea bass, etc.).

What to eat
Naughty: Order the Saints and Sinners French Toast Log ($18) for breakfast at Serendipity 3 at Caesar’s Palace. The toast is the length of one’s torso and comes with bacon, eggs and potatoes.
Nice: Enjoy the buffet at Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon featuring watermelon gazpacho, fresh smoothies and bagel and lox. (Brunch, $22, $29 on weekends.)

Vegas pools

For all things Las Vegas


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