The Hand was Dealt
A recent trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, is of particular interest because it provided two completely different experiences in one. Nearly every aspect of the trip had a yin and yang:
As two separate experiences, these would make sense. Because it was one, it is noteworthy.
“Would you like to go to Las Vegas with me?” asked my friend last week.
“Why?” I asked, immediately overwhelmed by memories of the subhuman generic non-welcoming dystopian strip experience. “I thought you hated Las Vegas?” I continued, perplexed at this suggestion by someone who I had always thought shared my opinions on the city, among other things.
But all was not as it seemed. Clarification (or perhaps coaxing, the true nature shall probably remain a mystery) followed, “I am going to stay at the JW Marriott in Summerlin, it is off the strip, not even in Las Vegas, and much closer to Red Rock Canyon. It is supposed to be a desert resort and spa, not some casino trash,” he wooed, “it is even non-smoking!”
All the right buttons had been pushed, I was in.
Propelled past the strip by a twelve-piece German orchestra (Wagner would have approved), I made a mental note to keep track of elapsed time. After a fifteen-minute jaunt west along the I-95, we pulled into the massive compound. The sheer acreage boded well for the property, and even in the evening the landscaping, long driveways, and unobstructed porte-cochère were quite promising. Size though, can be a double-edged sword.
“I don’t see a parking structure,” noted the driver, clearly displeased, “but wait, that sign says there is one!” he exclaimed hopefully. This is not to say that parking spots were lacking; quite the contrary, we were in the middle of an ocean of parking lots. Outdoor parking lots, that is. Indoor parking is an absolute prerequisite for graduation from motel to hotel, and in a 120+ degree desert environment, outdoor parking may as well not be counted as parking at all.
Looking around, I was able to spot a parking structure in the distance, but its sheer distance from the lobby had me immediately discounting it as the correct one. Continuing down the driveway that could probably allow an A380 to depart at Maximum Take-Off Weight, we finally reached the fabled garage. A trip for business and pleasure meant we were both laden with luggage, which was a cause for concern based on my memory of passing the lobby ten minutes ago.
We emerged from the elevator into a smoky rundown casino, with the lobby nowhere in sight. Since I was promised a smoke free hotel, this, along with the apparent lack of lobby, was concerning. Asking the casino staff for the front desk produced the response, “You see where it says ‘spa’? Walk under that sign.” Clearly, one simply follows the signs for the spa when searching for the hotel lobby or front desk. I must be new at this.
After a long trek, we finally made it to the lobby. The front desk employee was efficient yet uninterested and gave us our room keys without any explanation of our package deal, or even acknowledgement that the booking had additional benefits. He did say that our room would be at the other end of the property, and pulled out a map to explain the location of our room. It was about twice the distance we had just covered from the car to the lobby (since the parking structure is equidistant from the two towers), and it took a solid ten minutes to arrive at the lobby.
“Can I help you with anything else?” inquired the desk agent in an unexpected moment of interest. “Yes,” we responded, “a bellman and cart for the luggage please.”
He looked at us as if we came from another planet and said that they could not provide such service since there were no bellmen on duty. At that moment I was overcome by scenes from Lawrence of Arabia, but fortunately the attendant pulled me from the quicksand. A valet would at least able to drive us to the other tower, which made it much easier.
Once we arrived at the hotel room, we were pleasantly surprised. It was all there: appointments, design, size, cleanliness, and it even lacked the typical Las Vegas run down party look. It felt like we were miles away from any casino and I was finally able to relax. Since it was quite late already, we were not in the mood to drive anywhere and therefore decided to have dinner at the hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel’s own restaurant was already closed, although the casino restaurants were still open. The food was underwhelming and were it not for the above-average service, I again would have felt that I was back at the Las Vegas that I detest.
Back in the hotel room, I took a long bath in the Jacuzzi tub and felt content again as I drifted to sleep in the exceptionally comfortable bed with king pillows. Waking up refreshed and rested the next morning, I made my way down to breakfast. The setting was as I would expect from a resort, a wonderful setting full of windows to view the grounds, resplendent with palm trees, waterfalls, and a beautiful garden.
The delightful waitress from Bosnia was cheerful, engaged and took amazing care of the guests. It was an absolute delight and a great way to start the day.
Because of additionally scheduled meetings, we realized that we would have to spend an extra day in Las Vegas so after breakfast we stopped by the front desk to extend our stay. The grumpy front desk employee told us that it would be very difficult to add one night because they were heavily oversold and we should come back another time. I wished I had stayed in the restaurant.
Most of our business engagements were near the strip but since the hotel was not too far from there, it only meant a short 20 minute drive by car or by the complimentary hotel shuttle. After a day in the scorching heat of Vegas, we returned to our desert oasis only to find that our room still hadn’t been cleaned. We trekked back to the front desk to inquire about the additional night and also about the unclean room.
To our delight, the lady working at the front desk was incredibly competent. She could not have been more of an opposite of her earlier colleague. She took total ownership of our experience and desires. Taking notes, she explained to us all the details of our room rate, which included resort credits and other complimentary items, and also told us that she would personally make sure that we would be able to stay an additional night. It was incredible. She not only provided service befitting a 5-star resort but was friendly and engaged as a bonus. Her handling of the situation certainly suggested her awareness that most of her colleagues were fairly incompetent, not just because of her focus on personally handling everything (that can be attributed to 5-star service), but that she would make sure to highlight the details of our room rate in the booking notes so that even her less capable colleagues would understand. It was great to see someone excel despite the limitations of her surroundings.
Part of the issue is how Marriott positions the JW as a premium brand along with the Ritz-Carlton, which creates expectations of a certain level of experience. The potential is here, but when one would have to talk to multiple employees to get a result (which eventually does come to fruition), it has the feeling of a prototype rather than a perfected product.
Las Vegas still stayed Las Vegas and managed to make its way to Summerlin at times. While I previously would have preferred a trip to almost anywhere else, I can say that if I do have to go back to Vegas for business, I would stay at the JW Marriott. In fact, I may even return for pleasure. As the trip drew to a close, I realized that I enjoyed my trip overall and I would certainly come back.
This in itself speaks volumes.