Beyond the roulette wheels and slot machines, you’ll discover an assortment of hip spas that have helped make Las Vegas a city where sin meets Zen.
Nobody wants to lose her shirt in Vegas. But here I am, my blouse long gone, and I couldn’t be happier. I breathe deeply of the frangipani scented air as Bridget Francis, head massage therapist at Elemis Spa at the Aladdin, plays an ovation-worthy concerto across my back. Swedish kneading, Japanese shiatsu, Ayurvedic centering—Bridget’s strong hands move through massage techniques from around the globe as she fulfills her earlier promise to take me "to a different world, far away from the casino." Indeed, by the time our session approaches its end, the city’s garish neon playground has become a distant dream. I stretch my limbs languidly. Leaving Las Vegas never felt so fabulous.
How anyone survived Las Vegas’s brain-addling desert of the surreal without a spa oasis to retreat to is hard to fathom. Luckily the spa trend kicked off big here in the late 1990s—and never looked back. Today, nearly 40 different spas supply Strip-weary visitors with much-needed relaxation and restoration, flavored with Las Vegas’s trademark luxury and extravagance. The result? A Wild-West-hedonism-meets-Far-East-tranquility that offers spa devotees—and the spacurious—the perfect combination of sin and Zen.
If one spa embodies this mix, it’s the Bathhouse at Mandalay Bay’s THEhotel, purveyor of the Zen facial ("suspends time and the worries of the world") and the hangover recovery (a morning-after massage, oxygen facial, and "bindi detox").
Wishing I had imbibed that yard-long daiquiri the night before, I forgo the recovery and slip into the hottest of the spa’s three whirlpools. Smooth stones, dark wood, curtains of rain, a splash of red chaise longue—the Bathhouse’s inner sanctum is as sleek and hip as a modern art museum, a place you’d expect to see supermodels lounging after a crème brûlée body wrap. Despite the dubious name, it’s also the perfect destination for guys put off by most spas’ froufrou feel. I imagine them in the separate men’s spa, connecting with their inner David Beckham, when an attendant calls my name. Next stop, nirvana.
The following day I visit the Canyon Ranch SpaClub, the 69,000-square-foot wellness center at the Venetian whose 1999 opening put Las Vegas on the spa destination map. Forget hangover cures. Healthy living is the emphasis here. A rock-climbing wall dominates the airy lobby, and the café menu breaks down tasty entrées by calories, fat, and fiber. After a portobello sandwich, I attack all 14 fat grams in the full-service gym and hourly fitness classes: indoor cycling, Pilates, funk aerobics—even meditation and salsa dancing.
Yet for all its healthy "spa next door" feel, the Ranch offers some of Las Vegas’s most extravagant treatments: ashiatsu, in which the masseuse hangs from overhead bars and kneads you with her feet; euphoria, which involves floating in a giant brass tub fit for Henry VIII; and the rasul ceremony, in which individuals finger paint themselves with therapeutic mud while kicking back in an ornately tiled steam chamber with a fiber-optic sky and rain shower rinse. Imagine my surprise when I learn that the Ranch’s most popular massage is still the standard Swedish. "Not the ultramoisturizing cocoon or the 18-carat gold scrub?" I ask spa reservation manager Cora Riordan. She shrugs, "Either people don’t know about them or they’re scared."
Pondering this spa-anoia, I check in at Paris Spa by Mandara—and see firsthand how unnerving the spa experience can be for the uninitiated. Beside me a silver-haired gentleman with the bearing of a drill sergeant demands, "Now, can you tell me exactly what will happen after I walk through that door?" His expression suggests that sniper fire would be preferable to encountering "batu stones" and "heated seaweed masks" without proper recon.
Before I can join the receptionist in reassuring him, I am whisked away for my lime and ginger salt glow and rubbed with oil and salt like a human margarita. It’s but a preamble to the heavenly stone therapy, in which the masseuse uses warm volcanic rocks to knead away tension. The place may be called Paris, but it feels more like Gauguin’s sensual Tahitian hideaway, complete with silk orchids, exotic tapestries, and even a Hawaiian wave four hand massage that involves two therapists performing lomilomi techniques in tandem. I imagine the drill sergeant enjoying such a treat, chuckling at his earlier apprehension.
No, there’s absolutely nothing to fear from the Las Vegas spa experience—except perhaps an empty wallet. With even a 50-minute Swedish massage starting around $115, savvy spagoers might want to choose a 25-minute treatment (like the Bathhouse’s cappuccino sugar scrub at $75). Or simply purchase a day pass ($30 to $35) for access to the Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, and gym, plus all the juice, fruit, and celebrity magazines you can devour (the Canyon Ranch’s bargain $35 pass even includes all fitness classes).
In the end though, you may have to ask one of life’s most important questions: "Would I rather sit at a blackjack table handing over $10 chips to a humorless dealer with an evil knack for drawing a 4 to a soft 17, or cash it all in for an hour of decadent bliss?" For most of us, the answer is obvious. If you’re going to lose your shirt in Vegas, you might as well feel fabulous.
Photography by Jeffery Newbury
This article was first published in January 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.