Travel Review Journal

Day 1

I’m visiting Vegas to check out Encore Las Vegas, the new sister property hotel to Wynn Las Vegas. I’m staying in Las Vegas for an extra day because I want to add a couple of other work priorities at the same time. Besides, it’s January, and the weather’s great in comparison to the snow storm and freezing temperatures of the Midwest that I left behind — just a little over 60F (about 16C), so I know I’m going to have a great time here.

Encore is different than the Wynn. Encore has brought back the use of red to Vegas, but it’s far from 70s décor. I’m struck by the Asian feel of red, and noticed that hand-woven banana fibers line the entrance in red as well. There are large butterflies from the ceiling that were made in Hong Kong. Red chandeliers made of Venetian glass can be seen throughout the lobby and casino areas. It’s obvious that Roger Thomas, Executive Vice President of Design for Wynn, achieved his goal of creating a much more intimate experience and evoking an emotional response from guests. Encore incorporates unique furniture, fabrics and lighting to create a heightened sense of drama.

The casino is there, but it’s much more understated than other hotels because guests aren’t forced to walk through a large casino in order to get to their rooms. Nevertheless, there are plenty of slot machines, tables and several private gaming rooms.

During a “behind the scenes” tour with Andrew Pascal, President of Wynn, I had a chance to observe the operations of the hotel. It’s an extremely organized campus of work areas and warehouses that supports Encore and Wynn hotels: 5,000 employees work for Encore and 10,000 work at Wynn. Other interesting facts: room service provides roughly 2100 meals at Wynn and 1500 meals at Encore each day. Boris who is in charge of the bread shop explained that he makes as many as 100 different types of breads each day for a total of 20,000 servings. I sampled the baguette and a dry cracker with Parmesan cheese (excellent!).

One of the great behind the scenes treats was spending time at the horticulture shop where Wynn’s plants and floral arrangements are created. Paige Dixon, Floral Design Director, was working on dragons for the Chinese New Year. Paige is recognized for her creativity in personalizing arrangements for corporate and social events, so I plan on spending more time in the future with her. And for those of you who are curious about the floral budget: they spend $1.8 million at Wynn and $1.2 million at Encore each year.

Next, had a chance to learn a bit more about some gaming basics, and was glad it was an educational and not a real experience (I think I must have lost tens of thousands of dollars sitting at a Baccarat table). And in Vegas, it’s important to experience a cocktail crawl, so along with some others I stopped at Encore’s Lobby Bar & Cafe, Eastside Lounge and Botero Bar (which had an excellent rose pedal champagne).

Enjoyed dinner at Sinatra and ordered the lamb (perfect) and had the chocolate mousse for dessert (formed in the shape of a top hat). Atmosphere is very comfortable, and the background is all Frank Sinatra music. There’s also a great outdoor patio for those who are interested in either dinner there; I thought it may be a great spot for a 35 person outdoor cocktail reception to be followed by dinner.

Ended the night by spending a couple of hours at Blush within Wynn. This is an edgy, elegant nightclub with indoor and outdoor space. The dance floor is lit and covered by 300 creme lanterns. The VIP sections will definitely make your group feel special.

Day 2

I did so much yesterday that today needed to be paced a bit better. I began the day by taking care of some business/work in my room so that I could then explore the Wynn — which started by having breakfast at the Wynn Buffet, which is known as being one of the better ones in Vegas. My meal was great, and I made a point of asking the people around me if they had a good experience (they did). The challenge here is that the line to get a table can sometimes take a little more time than some may like, but I was able to get a table in less than 10 minutes.

Afterward, I discovered that there was a 1,000 person conference being held at Wynn, so I spent some time just watching the attendees and popping my head into open meeting rooms. The configuration here is great.

Because I had the breakfast buffet, I chose to skip lunch today and spent a little bit of time on the roulette table — I managed to break even. And I met a nice couple who were visiting the hotel from Madison, WI (they walked away with a little more in winnings than me).

I later joined Steve Blanner, Executive Director of Convention Services, and Danielle Babilino, Senior Vice President of Hotel Sales, to tour convention space for both hotels. I learned that business meetings are responsible for about 22-25% of revenue at Wynn and Encore. Wynn has historically handled about 700 group programs each year. They are successful at handling conferences that require about 800-1200 rooms each night, and the average event is probably more around 250-300 rooms each night.

Being more intimate, Encore can handle events that require about 400-600 rooms each night, but this gives those meeting and event planners an opportunity to “own” the space of the hotel. That really allows conference services and the planning organization to get creative. The meeting rooms at Encore are open, and the ballrooms all have outside lighting and patios.

I really like the fact that they use leather tops for all of the meeting tables and setup wooden amenities boxes (for pens, etc.). Registration desk areas are already built-in the meeting areas, so this really helps to minimize the need for registration tables unless it’s an absolute must outside of individual meeting rooms. And there’s a great 16 person boardroom that is designed in the round that includes plasma TVs in the center and a presentation screen, etc. There are many opportunities to create events outside of the meeting areas at Wynn and Encore, including the use of the pool areas and patios nearby the pools to create an opening night reception, etc.

Wynn and Encore also have their own golf course, so that’s a definite plus in the world of business meetings and business travel. Country Club, An American Steakhouse at Wynn offers views of the 18th fairway green and the Wynn waterfall, and it’s a great spot to consider for breakfast and lunch buyouts for corporate golf tournaments.

Another plus about meetings at Encore: I was assured that all the catering is made fresh on promise. And the catering department has a range of linens and dishware, so there’s little need to have to rent custom linens. Last, in addition to the dedicated conference services manager and catering manager assigned, both Wynn and Encore assign meeting concierges to walk throughout the meeting and offer assistance wherever needed (for both attendees and hosts).

In the evening I spent some time walking through the Esplanade at Encore, the shopping corridor with about 10 different themed stores — all high end. I particularly liked the Home Store. They sell guest room furniture and amenities here, and there are some unique finds from different places around the world.

The dinner highlight tonight: a porterhouse steak with béarnaise sauce, sautéed spinach, and a 2003 Chateau Pontet-Canet from Paullac, France, at Switch. This is a continental-inspired restaurant, and Encore’s unique offering to The Strip. The room changes in a dramatic use of light and sound, the walls and ceiling move to create a new scene every 20 minutes, and guests are surprised by the transformation of the dining room’s three chandeliers. It’s important to note that the wine cellar area (open air) provides a great view of the restaurant, and seats a group of up to 12 guests.

Next, I attended a private dessert reception at the Wynn Ferrari dealership (great event concept and venue). The pastry chefs at five different Wynn and Encore restaurants (including Wynn catering) showcased their favorite dessert ideas along with two signature cocktails for the event — and champagne, of course. This was followed by a private blackjack tournament that was hosted by the hotel for the group program (great event idea — no coin to attendees). I, unfortunately was eliminated in the first round. That was the end of the night for me.

Day 3

When in Vegas, there’s always some sort of industry conference going on that you can attend. The promotional products show was scheduled in Las Vegas during my visit, so I spent a couple of hours there today.

Lunch today was at Wazuzu in Encore, which is located just off the casino and features a unique crystal dragon along the wall with an 800 pound glass head. Chef Jet Tila has created a Pan-Asian menu, and I chose the Thai Beef Salad (lemongrass steak, seasonal greens with chili mint dressing) and the Thai Spicy Basil Stir Fry (sweet basil, onions, bell pepper, white pepper with beef) with a medium level of spicyness for my entree. I have to tell you that this will not disappoint. Wazuzu also offers an extensive selection of sushi and sashini, rice noodles and more.

Later in the afternoon I saw three of the upgraded styles of rooms in the Encore Tower Suites (which also has its own VIP check-in), and they definitely have some nice space that may be considered for hospitality suites and VIP guests (these are also the rooms available to high rollers).

By this time I was pretty tired, so I decided to do what many event and meeting planners do when they have some free time on a program at a great hotel: I ordered room service and caught up on work. The food was pretty good, but more impressive was that it was delivered exactly on time when they said it would arrive. Some cable news, a glass of wine and my computer at hand, I was able to relax (?)…

The Wynn Theater is home to Le Reve, an aquatic show with Olympic-caliber performers from all over the world, and I saw this show after dinner tonight. It’s a spectacular show where scenery comes up from the pool. The show has been around since the opening of Wynn, and they continually change the show in costuming, choreography, etc. There are 10 performances each week (2 times each night, five days a week). Ironically, with its sound and lighting system, it amazes me that no corporate events have actually used the space for an opening general session (I think it would be great.) Still, it’s definitely a great show for group tickets for meetings — note, tickets go on sale 90 days prior to the show, so work with the conference services manager early to block space before seats open to the public.

And because I’m in Vegas, I felt it was was important to check out another nightclub — this time Tryst at Wynn. There’s a long line of people who were waiting to get in, so it’s very important to make sure you have some sort of VIP status for you and your guests. There are a couple of different lines and entry points as you make your way through the corridors, downstairs, and finally enter the club itself: an open air room and a sizable dance floor. There’s a 90 foot waterfall outside that cascades into a secluded lagoon. Drinks are expensive is an understatement, and dress to be seen.

Day 4

It’s tough duty sometimes having to sample some of the services while on the road so that I may share with others what they should expect when traveling to the same places — for business or for fun. But I do what I can.

With that it mind, today was my spa day, and the Spa at Encore offers the ultimate in personal comfort in an inspiring setting of elegance and luxury. The lobby is so opulent that you know you’re about to have a self-indulgent experience. It’s worth pointing out that the Salon at Encore is also located in the same area, and offers a great range of services. Note – I had a chance to walk-through the salon during “after hours” on a previous night and met some of the stylists, colorists and make-up technicians — I can assure you that they have a great staff. So, ladies, feel free to enjoy the day there.

Anyway, I was escorted to the men’s locker room after check-in. Leather material is used on the lockers, and guests are given comfortable robes and slippers.

My therapist met me at the men’s relaxation room and took me through a spa corridor to the treatment room. It’s a unique visual display of Moroccan and Hindu influences, with lanterns lining the hallway that lead to a Buddha.

The Spa at Encore offers numerous treatments, including the signature Wynn Good Luck Ritual. Today, I chose the Sandalwood Stone Ritual (75 minutes). It begins with a mild body scrub of sea salts and sandalwood oil. Then, you shower off the excess salts and are ready for a 50 minute deep stone massage, including initial and concluding treatments of aroma therapy.

After the treatment, I relax until it was time for my next service — not necessarily as relaxing, but service that I really needed: a gentleman’s facial. For treatments like this, it helps to have someone with a sense of humor, and I can assure you that the esthetician was great and definitely knew what she was doing.

Freshly scrubbed, fully relaxed — and finally exfoliated, it was time to check-out and get to the airport quickly. Lucky in Vegas, it’s just about 10 minutes away.

My stay at Encore occurred when the hotel was hosting the media, so this site visit was a great chance to see the hotel in action from a business travel perspective. And I can share with you that the management team and the staff throughout, including the restaurants, didn’t disappoint.

Side Note

It’s worth noting that on the first night of my arrival before the beginning of the Encore visit, I joined an industry contact at the kitchen table at Emeril’s Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian. I met my client in the lobby bar and had a couple of cocktails, so when it came time to dinner, we actually skipped the opportunity for the wine pairing and just focused on the tasting.

This is a nice table for a small private party of up to nine people. You have a view to the kitchen and a sous chef customizes your menu and walks you through each course. Needless to say, this is a successful place to consider for such an intimate event. Loved the banana cream pie.