“I’ll draw three” is a common phrase in poker. The World Series of Poker Academy attracted me to Las Vegas; that was draw #1. Draw #2 was the fabulous CityCenter and its crown jewel, ARIA. Draw #3 was Cirque du Soleil’s Viva ELVIS.
I attended the World Series of Poker Academy to sharpen my hold ‘em skills. The two-day immersion course was led by world famous poker pro Annie Duke. It was doubly fun for me since I have, on occasion, played cards with her dad, author Richard Lederer. Annie’s passion for the game is unmistakable and her teaching style is first-rate. The jam-packed sessions focused on winning strategies for cash games (as opposed to tournament play). The curriculum included betting recommendations, game theory, pot odds and reading your opponent.
Poker Pro Annie Duke at the WSOP Academy
One-on-one instruction during live table play was provided by pros Bernard Lee, Tom Schneider, Shawn Rice and Jim Shipley along with Annie Duke.
Poker Pro Tom Schneider Helping a Certain Travel Writer
It was entertaining and, more importantly, it did improve my game. How do I know? I recently finished second in a travel writers’ tournament and made the final table at a small buy-in game in Reno at the Atlantis. Neither would have happened prior to the school. The WSOP Academy offers a monthly schedule of cash game and/or tournament oriented courses. Program dates and information can be found at www.wsopacademy.com or by calling 1-800-989-9767. Tell ‘em I sent you!
Las Vegas has outdone itself with its newest extravaganza, the $8.5 billion CityCenter, a 67-acre playground on the strip, created by MGM Resorts International. It is the largest (18 million square feet) private sustainable development in the world, having received six LEED® Gold certifications for its buildings. There are elite shops, nightclubs, hotels, condos, bars and restaurants throughout the mega-resort. Its modern arts collection features works by world acclaimed painters and sculptors.
CityCenter’s ARIA at Night
ARIA, the centerpiece of this urban oasis project, is a striking example of soaring architecture and high tech innovation. When I first entered my room, the curtains opened automatically as if to welcome me. Bedside, there is a small console that controls the lights, curtains, temperature, sleep timer, TV and radio, plus a feature allowing me to check out without going to the lobby. It provided an improbable cocoon of comfort within a 4,000 room, 61 story hotel with a 150,000 square foot casino.
Room with a View at CityCenter’s ARIA
After a busy day at “school,” I made my way to the Spa at ARIA. The 81,500 square foot facility features separate men’s and women’s areas that include a eucalyptus herbal steam room, cedar wood sauna, Jacuzzi tubs, a cold plunge and, of course, locker facilities with showers. There are 62 treatment and skin care rooms, three spa suites, a state-of-the art fitness room, movement studios, salon, gift shop and a relaxation lounge. I loved their two meditation areas: the Heated Stone Bed Room and the Salt Room. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, offering a wide range of unusual treatments and therapies. A special day pass is an inexpensive way get a workout, attend exercise classes and enjoy the Spa. ARIA is just one of the MGM Resorts International hotels in Las Vegas. Book online at www.arialasvegas.com or call 1-866-359-7757 for reservations.
The Spa at ARIA – The Salt Room
I had limited time for dinner due to the poker schedule, but I did hit the jackpot one evening at Sirio Restorante in ARIA. Featuring an open kitchen design and comfortable surroundings, the Tuscan-influenced menu mixes classic dishes with contemporary interpretations. My “don’t miss” recommendations include the cured meats and cheese plate for a starter. It’s served with parmesan lavash and a plate of olives. Next was the Tuscan tomato bread soup followed by an outstanding risotto with black truffles. My main course was veal scaloppini with Marsala sauce. The chef’s limoncello is homemade so don’t miss it. The service was outstanding and wine suggestions perfect. As one would expect, there is a vibrant bar scene. For reservations (highly recommended) call 1-877-230-2742 or logon to http://www.arialasvegas.com/dining/sirio-ristorante.
Sirio Restorante in ARIA
“The King” lives on at Cirque du Soleil’s Viva ELVIS playing at ARIA’s 1,840 seat theater. It is an over-the-top experience celebrating his musical legacy and connection to Las Vegas. Singers, dancers, musicians, acrobats, gymnasts and showgirls merge with high tech visual effects, including a montage of Elvis songs, black and white photos, memorabilia, concert videos, music and movie sound tracks. Hound Dog and Viva Las Vegas are show stoppers. The performance is fun, fast paced and a must for any Elvis fan. One’s own musical memories of “the King” add to the evening. For the Viva ELVIS schedule and to purchase tickets call 1-877-25-ELVIS or logon to http://arialasvegas.com/viva-elvis.
Viva ELVIS at ARIA (photo by Julie Aucoin)
Other Best Bets
The venerable Monte Carlo is considered the “gateway” to CityCenter and offers an affordable option to enjoy the action. It’s an MGM Resorts International Mediterranean themed full-service hotel. Reservations can be made at www.montecarlo.com or by calling 1-888-529-4828. If you prefer staying off the strip, take a look at the recently remodeled Alexis Park All Suites Resort. Information can be found online at www.alexispark.com.
Thanks to the various websites for information and photos. Please check directly about dates, rates, etc. Some restrictions may apply.