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Le Reve at the Wynn in Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Strip packs more entertainment options into a two-and-a-half-mile area than most of the world’s large cities can even offer.  Las Vegas shows cover a huge range of tastes, from Broadway-quality theater productions to magic shows to rock concerts to stand-up comedy to shows that you would never tell your mother you went to see.  Despite this variety, the entertainment bar in Vegas is set so high, only the best of the best manage to make the billboards of the luxury strip resorts.

Le Reve is offered at the incredible Wynn hotel and resort.  The Wynn itself is a masterpiece of interior and architectural design – clearly, the Wynn does not settle.  From this observation alone, my expectations of Le Reve were set very high, even before I took my seat in the unique round aqua theater.

Many Vegas theaters designed and built for specific shows seem to stretch the number of seats each will hold to the absolute threshold of practicality.  This is not the case with the Le Reve theater.  The 1,606 seats are arranged in just twelve rows.  Every seat has an excellent view of the stage and the show is designed to be viewed from any angle.  This arrangement allows for an intimacy that is rare and enhances the experience.

The show itself was created by Franco Dragone, the creative director for Cirque du Soleil.  If you’ve seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, you will notice many similarities as I did when you see Le Reve, including the tendency toward dream references and the brilliantly bizarre.

Le Reve opens on a romantic scene of a couple in love.  The aquatic stage is a pond in a park where the woman curls up on a park bench and wonders where their love will go next.  Her dreams seem to comprise the majority of the loosely woven (by design) plot.  The story is peppered with beautiful tangents which take the audience in outlandish directions before gracefully returning us to the lovers’ plight.   

Le Reve is lavish and elaborate in costume, aquatic features, and aerial acrobatics.  It also manages to host a little well-placed humor which I find adds to the performance.  The circular aqua stage cleverly morphs into a pond, a fountain, a sea, etc. and pulls us, Dragone’s enraptured audience, wherever his imagination wishes to take us.    

Note:  My deep appreciation goes to Grace Russell of the Wynn and Encore for her understanding and gracious hospitality.

Please write to me with comments or story suggestions at lori@TravelbyLori.com.

Visit Travel by Lori’s YouTube channel for video reviews!

The Lobby of ph Towers in Las Vegas

The Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino has followed the lead of many luxury resorts on the Las Vegas Strip by adopting an adjoining sister hotel.  Unlike others, however, the hotel includes residential timeshare condos and was built in partnership with Westgate Resorts.  This marriage has resulted in the only timeshare-slash-hotel in the world directly linked to a luxury hotel and casino.  What does this mean for you?  If you have your eye on a Vegas vacation, it means choosing ph Towers Westgate guarantees you will have the space of a condo with convenient access to a lively casino and all that Vegas visitors expect from that particular experience – the restaurants, shops, spa and shows.  If you are considering a timeshare in Sin City, it means much closer proximity to the action than was previously available.

Because ph Towers is a condotel, every room is a suite.  I have stayed in many suites, some that I feel took a lot of liberty with the “suite” definition (i.e. the existence of a two-person couch at the foot of the bed and a mini-fridge in the closet does not make the room a suite) and some that truly have a residential feel to them.  This hotel falls into the latter category with suites that could be lived in, even on a permanent basis.  In fact, I have never stayed in a Vegas hotel with larger standard rooms.

I always pay particularly close attention to room design.  To me, a room needs to be beautiful, functional and have homey comforts in order to impress me.  Ph Towers’ décor is, fittingly for the Las Vegas locale, ultra modern.  Rooms are decorated in tuxedo black, lipstick red and bright white in a particular style of beauty best described as glamorous.  One-bedroom and two-bedroom suites have a full-size and fully-equipped kitchen with a table that seats six.  Roominess aside, stand-outs for this property are the projection screen theater in the living area and the hot tub next to the bed.  Another plus good enough to mention are the mirrors.  They are everywhere.

The hotel compensates for the areas in which it lacks by giving their owners and guests complete access to the amenities of Planet Hollywood.  For example, although the hotel has a beautiful and sunny pool and cabana area, guests looking for a spa treatment need to visit Planet Hollywood.  For guests who crave casual shopping, the Miracle Mile shops are ultimately well-positioned practically in the lobby.  To give you an idea of shop proximity, while taking a self-guided tour of the main level of the hotel, I found myself suddenly (and happily) in the middle of the mall.

Ph Towers Westgate is making its mark on the Vegas luxury hotel market because of its unique features.  I recommend it for travelers who want room to spare without giving up casino action.  Its glitz and reasonable pricing also make it extra appealing to a younger crowd.       

Thank you Deanna Pettit of Caesar’s Entertainment for your help and professionalism. 

If you have story ideas for me, please write to me at lori@travelbylori.com.

I’m excited to announce Travel by Lori’s next two upcoming destinations!  At the end of July, we’ll be exploring two fantastic places to vacation, the Las Vegas strip and Maui.  In Vegas, we’ll be staying at the beautiful Venetian hotel and the

The Vegas Strip

Travel by Lori will explore the Vegas strip on January 20, 2011.

 brand-new companion to Planet Hollywood, ph Towers.  Our thanks to Deanna Pettit of ph Towers and Richard Hurdock from the Venetian for graciously hosting Travel by Lori.  In lovely Maui (or so I’ve heard–this will be my first visit to Hawaii!!), David and I will be spending our honeymoon at the Fairmont Kea Lani, then moving to the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria resort.  Thank you Trudy Peterson and Wendy Harvey of the Kea Lani and Taylor Jerome of the Grand Wailea. 

Please check back in early February for the stories and watch the videos on You Tube.  We’re thrilled to be able to share our travel experiences

A Maui Sunset

Travel by Lori will go to Maui on January 27, 2011.

with you!!

-Lori

 

My front-row spot for the show.

OneRepublic band member Brent Kutzle plays a carbon fiber cello during the performance at the Four Seasons, Denver.

The Four Seasons Hotel and Residences in downtown Denver hosted an extravagant grand opening event last Saturday night.  The party took over two entire floors and the pool deck as well as the presidential suite on the 16th floor.  Attendees reached an impressive total of 1,300.  The theme was clearly “entertainment at its finest” as the hotel dazzled its guests with theme rooms, delicious cuisine, music and Cirque du Soleil-type diversions.

I began my grand opening adventure by making my way upstairs to the second floor where I found myself in the Willy Wonka room.  I proceeded directly to the lush strawberries on display that simply begged to be dipped in the white chocolate (my favorite!) fountains flowing in shades of fantasy purple and M&M green.  Eventually I noticed the tables covered in nostalgic candy such as Mary Janes, candy buttons and the huge all-day suckers I was never allowed to eat as a child.  Not wanting to spoil the delicious dinner I knew was waiting, I ducked out after only a strawberry, to save the rest for later. 

In the hallway, I came across actors on stilts and in costume, sometimes serving hors d’oeuvres and sometimes just smiling a hello.  Just outside the main ballroom, various stations of food catered by the Four Seasons were arranged for sampling.  I ate scallops in a mouth-watering licorice sauce and rice and sun-dried tomatoes in pesto.  Down the hall, a cowboy-themed room served up “grub” and an open bar offered chocolate martinis along with bottled waters and anything else a person could dream up. 

The main ballroom was nearly deserted at the beginning of the evening since most of the action was elsewhere.  Because of this, I had the chance to admire the décor without many distractions.  The overall décor of the Four Seasons is chic and modern with a bit of understated glam.  The ballroom’s lighting is gorgeously made up in square chandeliers that reminded me of various Trump properties I’ve had the privilege of reviewing.  While some hotels translate modern into curves in their interior spaces, the Four Seasons embraces and repeats a linear pattern in both furnishings and fixtures.

Within an hour of my arrival, the main ballroom was packed for the big event—a concert by OneRepublic, a local band who is now famous world-wide.  The band was enthusiastically introduced by the Four Seasons General Manager, Thierry Kennel.  I had a stunning view of the performance from my prime location leaning against the low stage–Guitarist Brent Kutzle played about six inches away.  The band did not disappoint—they rocked to the delight of the packed room.  At one point, lead singer Ryan Tedder made his way into the audience, lending an even more personal feel to the show.  At the end of the playlist and after my favorite song, “All the Right Moves,” Drummer Eddie Fisher handed me a drumstick.  It was the perfect ending to, as Public Relations Director Dana Berry aptly called it, “a spectacular night.”

Scene from a Steak Ride at Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado

A Scene from a Steak Ride at Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado

My horse, DB, struggled a little to regain his footing as we climbed up a rocky path through the vivid purple, orange, gold and rusty brown leaves. DB found a sturdy foothold and hoisted us both up to the more level dirt path above, then began a confident saunter behind our guide. I found myself in the unusual place of feeling both awe at the nearly sensory-overload of my breath-taking surroundings and an extreme inner peace I would have expected more from a week in a monastery than a horse ride through the mountains.

It is not surprising that guests travel from Europe and other places around the globe to visit Vista Verde, a luxury guest ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It also follows that Vista Verde’s guests tend to be iron-clad loyal—it seemed that nearly every guest I spoke with began his or her story with, “This will be our… (How long has it been, Honey?) … our tenth year visiting so far.” The ranch’s location is ideal and its staff, accommodations and food are outstanding.

The rustic, down-home ambiance is tempered by the quality of lodging and gourmet food. The most striking observation I made though, in my two wonderful visits so far, is the camaraderie between everyone here—staff to guest, guest to staff, staff to staff, and guest to guest. The Steak Ride is the perfect example of this.

As our horses neared the elaborate outdoor kitchen set up especially for the Steak Ride, I noticed I could just see the cluster of cabins and common buildings that comprise the main ranch area. From my viewpoint, they seemed to be huddled in the valley, but not dwarfed by the magnificence around them. The buildings fit—they belong here.

Guests came trotting in a few at a time and the staff offered us wine, homemade lemonade and shrimp cocktail as an appetizer. The smell drifting over from the grills nearly made us all melt–I can’t ever remember feeling so hungry in my life. We sat ourselves on long picnic tables and talked to keep our minds off of the yumminess soon to come. At Vista Verde, the staff members and guests mingle like a close family at a much-anticipated reunion. After lots of chatting, the dinner bell rang and we all got in line to dish up. The marinated steak was covered in an herb butter sauce, but would have still been stellar without it. All the sides that come to mind while thinking of cowboy grub were laid out, including corn that tasted like it was picked at its peak a half an hour earlier. For dessert, I managed to fit a homemade peach cobbler in my extra dessert stomach. Heaven. For entertainment, Ben’s dog kept a piece of juicy cow on his nose while we all marveled. The wonder dog became a salivating statue until he was finally given the okay to wolf it down.

After dinner, the staff stayed to clean up and a few guides took us on horseback at a relaxed, casual pace back to the ranch. I gave DB lots of love pats and let him know I appreciated that he did all the work and I had all the fun. Back at the ranch, the horses were put to bed and the people party began at the lodge. The ballad singing, story-telling and a slide-show presentation of the week’s activities put everyone in a great mood. After the party, I capped the night off with a pampering soak in my cabin’s hot tub while admiring the night sky. I can pass along from personal experience–you haven’t truly admired Earth’s view of space until you’ve seen every last square inch of black sky sprinkled in stars. I can also recommend the perfect spot for everything from a horse ride to star-gazing—Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado.

Note: This is one of our (David and Lori) favorite places–check out their website at http://www.vistaverde.com.

Travel By Lori--the Chicago skyline

The impressive Chicago skyline

Trave By Lori--David and Lori on the Odyssey
Our lunch cruise on the Odyssey with beautiful, grey Chicago in the background.

I am so lucky that my work takes me to such beautiful places! The second luxury hotel I was able to visit and review during my first and only trip to Chicago was the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. 

As I looked at the Chicago skyline from the deck of the Odyssey, I noticed that grey clouds were hiding the top of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, Illinois.  The sight of the sleek, ultra-modern 92-story skyscraper actually touching the sky was as impressive as the building itself—the seventh tallest in the world.

The Trump Tower, as it is referred to locally, is both a hotel and a residence.  Pulling up in a taxi to the arrival area, I was met by a British doorman who greeted me graciously and directed me to the hotel side.  The lobby is divided in half, with a residents’ lobby on one side and the hotel lobby on the other.  It’s small in comparison to other area luxury hotels whose massive lobby spaces take an entire floor, but adequate for small groups, waiting or checking in.  The interior design is in perfect unity with the exterior look—“posh contemporary” sums it up nicely.  The color palette of all interior spaces is the same as with many Trump properties, favoring the cooler shades of grey, violet and blue with few exceptions.  Tactilely, The rooms range from studio suites with approximately 600 square feet of living space to three-bedroom suites averaging about 1,000 square feet.  All have either a small kitchenette or a fully-functional and equipped kitchen.  The quality of the furnishings in even the smallest rooms is remarkable.  Trump didn’t cut corners—the mattresses are comfortable and the technology is up-to-date.  I especially enjoyed the TV in the bathroom mirror.  It was helpful for morning multi-tasking—i.e. catching up on the news while applying makeup.  Electronically controlled drapes and various levels of ambient lighting also set the standard.  I found the personal touch of framed photos of Chicago landmarks set around the room to be charming and a fantastic idea, especially as this was my first visit to the city.

A unique feature to the Trump Tower is the availability of their Spa Rooms, which invite guests to immerse themselves in the spa experience.  These rooms have easy access to the spa via an earmarked staircase, making the trek in a bathrobe less of an issue and providing convenient access.  The spa can also be brought to guests in Spa Rooms where a private yoga lesson can be arranged or many of the treatments can be done in-room.  The Spa itself is quite minimalist, with the focus on treatment rather than overly ornate surroundings.  The pool is in the spa and is for swimming laps more than for casual family play.

The location to shopping and entertainment is phenomenal.  I opted for a taxi due to the cool, rainy weather, but the Trump Tower is within an easy walking distance from the famed Miracle Mile and Navy Pier.  There is also a restaurant (Sixteen) and a lounge (Rebar, named for the building materials used) in-house.  Both are busy and lively in the evening.  I had the opportunity to enjoy a fantastic crushed berry drink at a premium price while enjoying a perfect view of a fireworks display over the river.

As a final note, the service at the Trump International Hotel and Tower is as sophisticated as the décor.  From the bellmen to the servers to the front desk staff and every other staff member I encountered during my visit, I was shown the best in professional hospitality.  I made note of it in my observations of their interactions with other guests, as well.  In conclusion, the Trump comes highly personally recommended for the ambiance as much as the location.  The Trump Tower truly fits my definition of luxury.

Other Recommendations:  There are lots of dinner and lunch cruises available near the Navy Pier.  David and I ate on the Odyssey for lunch, which had a fantastic fondue dessert buffet and good food.  If you like ships–give it a try.

Travel By Lori--A room at the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel

A room at the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton hotel, in the spectacular city of Chicago, Illinois, has recently undergone a dramatic renovation, redefining this hotel and its definition of luxury. The focus of the $25 million-dollar redesign was the now quite impressive lobby, a new restaurant and bar, ballroom and presidential suite. 

My visit to the Ritz-Carlton began with a surprise as I walked into what I perceived as a tiny lobby. The doorman quickly informed me that I would soon have a bellman to take me and my luggage upstairs to the 12th floor to check-in. When the elevator doors opened, I’ll admit I caught my breath a little. I have seen many luxury hotels all over the country during my travels as a travel writer and in the luxury hotel marketing business and few have a lobby as visually stunning as the brand-new redesigned Ritz-Carlton. The original fountain with the ornately-carved relief just under the massive skylight remains the centerpiece for the entire-floor lobby/restaurant. The next design element to catch my eye was the atrium windows at the far end of the lobby, directly opposite from the elevators. Because the lobby is on the 12th floor, a gorgeous view of the city can be thoroughly enjoyed by guests. To take full advantage of the view, atrium windows cover the entire back wall. In front of the wall of windows is a lounge area, beautifully decorated and comfortable. 

My room, like most in the Ritz-Carlton, was a suite. Its eclectic style focused on texture and subtle incorporated design rather than bold statements. For example, the carpet on the floor of my room was the shade of the grey sky outside with a molded geometric pattern in modified squares. Unity between the bedding and floor was accomplished by simple square embroidery on the duvet. The wall was a lighter shade of grey that blended in a nearly silver embossed highly-traditional pattern in the wallpaper. The corner room boasted dramatic views of the skyscrapers outside on two sides. I couldn’t help but sleep with the blinds up, just to enjoy the twinkling city lights outside. 

The mini bar came stocked with actually useful items that were practical instead of trendy. My only room disappointment was the bathroom. The average tub/shower combo and single sink seemed slightly below the incredible standards the Four Seasons (the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is a Four Seasons hotel) has set for its chain. On the up side, the granite bathroom counter had much more space than I could possibly use. Counter space in bathrooms is always a premium consideration for me. 

As a treat, I had dinner at deca (the name is a derivative of decade) restaurant + bar, also part of the stratospheric lobby renovation. The restaurant is located on the opposite side of the lobby from the front desk and concierge. The staff, especially my server, was delightful and attentive. The bar accommodated my special request drink with grace and the chefs prepared steak frites with béarnaise sauce to absolute perfection. 

In my opinion, the Ritz-Carlton Chicago lives up to its name. The staff ranks above average in genuine concern for guests, the lobby is spectacular, the food is mouth-watering and the rooms are spacious and comfortable with views to amaze. I also recommend just trying deca and enjoying the lounge regardless of where you may be staying in Chicago.