City Center. Yeah, We Went.
Wait a minute, I never posted about our afternoon at City Center?

I was going to take a break from cruise talk with a food post, which led to me looking at some photos from a couple of weeks ago, one of which is of City Center, and suddenly I - who was looking at the archives earlier and noticing how (relatively) little I've posted since last summer - realized that I never got around to making that City Center post. Whoa.

Well, I find that I don't have a lot to say about City Center, so maybe this will be quick.

As discussed here before, I was prejudiced against CC for the following reasons:

  • The advertised design looked like something out of generic downtown scene. The Strip gets less distinctive every year with all the condos, so thanks, guys.
  • Condos - aside from not being in the spirit of the Strip (where tourists can walk from one end to another without the party stopping), again, too rectangular, too ordinary, not visually unique, not even the ones that try.
  • Ultralounges - are part of our current problem. (In other words, wooing young Californians has not been as successful as keeping Joe and Mary Middle America's repeat business. Shocker. I'm not saying that ultralounges aren't a vital part of the scenery, or that midwesterners don't enjoy trying them out, just that ripping up everything that's the least bit unique in order to cash in on a now-outdated craze and put a one-syllable club on every corner isn't smart. Ask Starbucks about oversaturation sometime.)

Mostly, frankly, it was the design that offended me. I don't really care that they tore up the old Boardwalk casino. I don't really care if I'm not personally interested in what City Center offers. (This site being the only place on the planet where it's acceptable to be all about me.) It was mostly just the depressing look of exactly what the name advertised that got to me: City Center.

When the design was finished, it wasn't so bad. Not as bad as I thought it would be. Still not original enough for my tastes, but - shrug - I'm only me.

I love to have my fears spun around. I like to have fun. I like to gamble. Literally and otherwise. I love to try new things. I enjoy looking at stuff. So, let's call those pre-opening prejudices "sour sentiments" that were vaporized down to "cautious concerns" before Mike and I set out on our City Center journey. In other words, I promise we were open minded.

The first part, the appetizer, was on December 5, when we parked at Monte Carlo and took the new monorail to "Crystals," City Center's shopping area.

Looking Down at Tornado-thingies - Crystals (City Center)

It was minimalistic and full of stores that I see in every other casino shopping mall. Or I think I do. I can't tell them apart, really. This isn't snobbery; I'm not saying there's anything wrong with shopping at Tiffany's or Louis Vuitton, but since neither of us have much interest in investing in fashion, it wasn't our kind of place. And again, this is not a criticism. I'm not even really criticizing the design, although I wasn't the first person to compare it to an airport. I'm just saying that nothing struck me, and I'm also saying that maybe I'm a hard sell.

Mike Between Crystals and (Unopened) Aria

There's Mike standing between Crystals and Aria, the casino, which was about two weeks away from opening. See, he looks happy. No one is out to get City Center.

Tornado-thingies at Crystals (City Center)

We returned to Crystals to take the monorail back, taking a moment to check out these funnels that were interesting people. (I'm not even going to waste time showing pics of the ones that weren't working or were fogged with condensation.)

Looking into the Tornado-thingie - Crystals (City Center)

Shiny. Shiny is good, at least for new baubles on the Strip. Shiny brings people and people bring dollars, and dollars bring everything.

Winter Break came and on December 22nd we decided to have a gander at the newly opened Aria casino. This was right after I missed three days of work for the flu, so I was eager to get out, and the bar was set pretty low.

Aria Hotel and Casino

We had to try out the buffet, of course. Sadly, this is yet another buffet that thinks it's being interesting by just calling itself "The Buffet."

Yet Another Buffet Called 'The Buffet' (Aria)

The interior wrestles between "tasteful and understated" and "just dull."

The Buffet Itself, in the Spirit of The Mirage (Aria Buffet)

But one area where the buffet was a clear champ was in the omelette category. Specifically, "The Worst Omelette in the World" category.

The Worst Omelette in the World (Aria Buffet)

If you tried to run another omelette as "worst" against this one, and you, say, smeared yours with horse poop, I think the judges would stop to Google up heretofore underreported benefits of eating equine feces. And then they would give you the award, but it would be understood that you were receiving it only on the "poop always wins" technicality.

Mike submits his review:

Mike's Review of Aria's Buffet

(I will give you that the area behind where he was seated was more attractive than where we sat.)

The Bread Plate of Defeat (Aria Buffet)

You would think that when I came upon their Indian station, I would start squealing. You would not think that, after the discarded omelette and the goopy salad (for which you must queue), I would be left with this plate of bread. And a mongo chunk of frozen butter. But I was.

The bread was good. I'll give them that.

Dessert Tasting Menu (Aria Buffet)

We nabbed up a dessert sampler. A couple of things (I forget what) were good-to-very decent, a couple of things were kind of gross... mostly, I fixated on how the unwieldly serving dishes looked like arty ashtrays. Mike had a better experience than I did. He's a sucker for Oreo shooters, but he had a generally good view of it all.

The crowd around the food was an unpleasant experience to navigate. Pushing, shoving, texting. Not necessarily trendy or young.

I'm going to tread carefully here lest I be misunderstood, but there is at least one certain demographic where, culturally, personal space boundaries are smaller than what I am used to, and being "grabby" when it comes to food is acceptable. This demographic happens to be one that is very visible in our Las Vegas tourist count - it is courted at full strength, and I'm all for it - welcome! Bring cash!

But, for someone who is more comfortable with certain queuing conventions, with a little more space, with certain foods getting the spotlight on buffets, this was not my ideal experience. Again, I'm not saying anything about anybody but myself and my own preferences and expectations. As much as I adore being a fish out of water, not every cultural norm works for me. (If it did, I would have that world peace thing sewn up in a jiffy.)

So, as a vegetarian, Aria's lack of pasta, its non-veg Indian station (there were some side veggies - they were absolutely disgusting), its poor salad construction, its meat-centric remainder of the offerings - none of this worked for me. For you, it may be spectacular. Mike doesn't eat fish or seafood, so despite his excitement over the Asian section (usually an instant A in his gradebook), it was all too sea-oriented for him to enjoy.

For many, that's a bonus. (When my Dad sees my cruise food photos, he always asks where all of the lobster pics went. We laugh. Poor Dad.) I'm not saying, "Oh, this buffet was crap." Only that it was crap for me. And Mike. And maybe you, depending on your tastebuds. And your cultural background. And the time of day that you go. And whether the blackbird sang three notes or four that morning.

Sum up: tough call.

It was a relief when, at the end of our meal, emergency lights around the room started flashing. A voice sounded through the entire property. "THIS IS AN EVACUATION. PLEASE PROCEED BY STAIRS TO THE NEAREST EXIT."

A number of people stood up, looked around. We looked at everyone, frozen, the employees staring off into the distance or politely looking up at the invisible speaker. Okay, this is how people die.

We stood up and started power-walking out the door.

"Good-bye!" waved the hostess.

The lights kept flashing. The voice kept telling us to evacuate.

Outside, people were more confused, and clearly unsure of where to head. Stairs? Um, where?

The escalator was right there, the casino door was within sight. Okay, escalators are not elevators. We can't see any exits for stairs. Let's go.

Slowly, of course, because everyone was just standing on the escalator. Slot players kept playing. The lights kept flashing. The voice kept telling us to EVACUATE NOW. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY.


If there was ever a time to believe in signs, metaphors, or the Matrix, perhaps this was it.

We trotted over to a casino employee who looked credible yet relaxed, staring into space. "Um, are we supposed to be evacuating?"

"Oh, no. It just does that."


We looked around again. The lights were still flashing. The recording was still playing. But everyone seemed to be in on the secret, because no one was moving. Those briefly panicked people had become absorbed back into the populace. Much like us, standing still, watching all of this.

Words still fail me.

Looking at the Airport, I Mean Aria, Buffet

You see what I mean about the airport look, yes?

We went back upstairs to tip our shitty waitress, since we'd bolted before being quite finished. Oh, wait, no we didn't. I don't tip for really bad service. (No refills, uncleared plates.) I know that makes me the devil in some circles. Pass the hornshine wax.

Aria - Viva Elvis - Boutique

Cirque has an Elvis show at Aria. I wouldn't mind seeing it someday. Maybe City Center should woo the Elvis conventioneers? (See, I'm trying to be helpful.)

Aria - Viva Elvis - Now in Pink

There were some interesting things to look at in the restaurant area. Not really art/design to my taste, but interesting, which is all I ask for in a new property.

Aria - Jean Georges Steakhouse

Aria - Sirio Restaurant

Aria - Sweet Chill (logo)

Aria - Cafe Vettro (from above)

Cafe Vettro, above, is attractive when viewed from the next floor up, but security gets kind of crabby if you walk down that far. (Since you have to go part the elevator banks.) I didn't even realize this until I walked back from the end, so it was nice of the woman not to stop me. We talked a little, but she wouldn't clue me in on what the evacuation lights and recording were all about. "Oh, it just goes off," she said vaguely.

(Is this end product of ten years of stepped up security? And I'm almost as much to blame - did I call the news and suggest they look into it? Did I even blog about it until now?)

Aria - Jean Philippe Patisserie (Dining)

This patisserie could be interesting, but by now we were sick of chrome, earth tones, and what felt like a Planet Hollywood (casino, not restaurant) clone. It's difficult to pick on any one part; it's like, as a whole, the effect was just a yawn. You've seen this before. Move along.

Maybe it was because the casino was so small? Again, the airport analogies surface. There was no "energy," nor was there the calm elegance that maybe they hoped all that brown carpet would bring. It was just... sterile.

We headed outside.

Tram Crossing City Center Traffic

The waterwall was unexpected. I liked it. I've seen waterwalls before, so nothing new, but they're all nice.

Aria and the Water Wall

Aria - Mike Looking at Water Wall

They were programming the fountain while we were there. I wouldn't mind going back this summer to see how that worked out.

Aria - More Pink Fountaining

City Center - Another Tram Photo

Trams. Who can resist taking pics?

Polo Towers Finally Gets Its Frame

Some will claim that distances have always been deceiving on the Strip. City Center takes it to a new degree. By the time you make it to the casino, you're quite a walk from the Strip proper. (That's Planet Hollywood to the left of Polo Towers.) Use that tram.

And that's all I've got. It's not a bad place. It's just not interesting to me. Or Mike. I'm sure we'll give it a peek again during the summer. Maybe. And maybe you'll love it. If you see a deal, give it a try, see for yourself. Bring cash. Spend a lot of money. Las Vegas loves you.

I guess.

City Center

Click here to see a slideshow of all of my photos tagged with "City Center."

03 May 2010 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)