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Originally published Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 7:03 PM

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Going healthy in Vegas, the ultimate party town

Testing out the possibilities of a wellness getaway in Las Vegas.


The New York Times

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Just after dawn, when the steady clang of slot machines slowed to an irregular heartbeat and most of Las Vegas was soused or sleeping — I was jogging. The sidewalks were empty. They no longer belonged to hucksters, heartbreakers and flocks of friends, decked out and glassy-eyed. They belonged to me.

I ran past the hushed fountains of the Bellagio, over eye-popping cards for escorts and strip clubs that littered the streets like ticker tape on my way to the first of several weekend fitness classes: Yoga Among the Dolphins.

There was a time when yoga and Sin City were like fire and ice. But practicing a tree pose while a family of bottlenose dolphins looks on is just one of many health initiatives being introduced by hotels once known only for bars, buffets and smoky casinos.

The Mirage Hotel & Casino has cornered the dolphin-yoga market, but its competitors have their own offbeat mind-body prescriptions. Among them:

•Trump Hotel recently introduced a boot-camp fitness class outside on the Strip.

•Aria Resort & Casino offers an hourlong “indoor hike” through the 3.8 million-square-foot property and adjacent Shops at Crystals.

•MGM Grand has Stay Well rooms where shower water is infused with vitamin C and air-purification systems promise to reduce toxins.

•And the Mandarin Oriental’s Tea Lounge serves vegan food and “health & wellness” tea blends that sound hallucinogenic, with names like “peace through water” and “introspection.”

Las Vegas, it seems, has begun to follow the lead of other major tourist destinations. After all, wellness isn’t just good for you — it’s good for hoteliers. “Wellness tourism” is a $438.6 billion worldwide market and it’s projected to grow almost 10 percent a year through 2017, according to a study conducted for the Global Spa & Wellness Summit by SRI International, a nonprofit-research institute.

But a healthy Vegas getaway? It was too amusing an option not to explore. To see how far I could push it, I set personal ground rules: No alcohol. No buffets. No smoking. No gambling.

And with that, I set off alone, with a duffel bag of sneakers and Spandex, to roll the dice on wholesome Las Vegas.

Stay Well, stay awake

It was Saturday night and MGM Grand smelled like a frat party. The lobby was teeming with young people vogueing for smartphone cameras: men in sunglasses, women who one day would master walking in platform stilettos, but not tonight. I snaked through stanchions and joined the check-in queue.

Ten minutes later I received a key to my “Stay Well” room emblazoned with the word “rejuvenate” and felt a twinge of anticipation.

Poised to enter my room, I heard shrieks. Laughter. Something that sounded like barking. Was there a party ... in my room? No. But it sure sounded that way, thanks to my very noisy neighbors. I called the front desk, asking to change rooms. None were available, said a supervisor.

I pointed out that if a hotel bills a room as a place to “get all the zzz’s you need,” guests have a reasonable expectation that the room will have some measure of tranquillity. “We did not modify the walls,” the supervisor said, adding that the Stay Well rooms are no quieter than any other room at MGM Grand.

I considered high-tailing it to another hotel, but in the interest of research I stayed and began exploring the room.

A curious black box called a Scentcube was sitting on the desk. I selected the “maximum” setting and sniffed but then switched the thing off just as quickly for fear that the cloying fragrance MGM pumps into the lobby might waft out.

The blinding “energizing light” in the bathroom designed to boost your energy by suppressing melatonin actually seemed to help, especially the next morning after an hour-and-a-half night’s sleep.

Other Stay Well room features included Electric Field Shielding technology (designed to prevent “electric fields” from keeping me up at night), an air-purification system, carbon water filters, and antimicrobial coating on the bathroom floor.

Maybe these things were doing me wonders, maybe they weren’t. I stayed for three nights (thankfully, my neighbors changed) and couldn’t tell.

Yoga with dolphins

The flights of stairs that float pedestrians above busy intersections along the Strip allow for an invigorating morning warm-up, though not realizing how many there were, they also made me late for the 8:30 a.m. Yoga Among the Dolphins class at the Mirage hotel.

When at last I arrived, I entered a dim, cerulean underwater room that abuts part of an open-air dolphin habitat and took my place on a mat among four other students — all women, though the class, the instructor said, usually has men, too.

Through the large windows we watched the dolphins and they watched us. Their presence was soothing, and when sunlight streamed down through the water, the room suddenly possessed the childhood magic of an under-the-blanket fort.

That said, I find it difficult to observe animals in captivity, no matter how well they might be treated. And so, no, I hadn’t been looking at a certain dolphin when in midstretch the woman to my left blurted out: “Is that his penis?” The room erupted in squeals.

The hourlong class is $50 and includes a post-yoga smoothie but, more important, all-day access to the Mirage’s spa.

The right spas

As far as spas go, I recommend Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian & the Palazzo. First you have to find it. Your best bet is to go through the Palazzo, which is calmer than the Venetian. For $25 ($40 for nonhotel guests) you can stay all day and take any fitness class.

Your money goes a long way as there are seven “Aquavana” same-sex hot and cold cabins and pools: the Crystal Steam Room, Experiential Rains, Finnish Sauna, Igloo, Herbal Laconium, HydroSpa and Thermal Heated Loungers. The sauna, with its warm simplicity, was a favorite.

Another spa worth visiting is at Aria Resort & Casino, where a day pass is $30 ($40 for non-City Center guests) and includes use of an outdoor-balcony therapy pool and meditation rooms.

Go for the heated ganbanyoku stone beds that supposedly purge toxins and increase your circulation and metabolism. Whether mine accomplished all that I’m not sure, but it was dark and dreamy, lying on a warm slab, meditating by candlelight.

The take-away

Turns out, you can find wellness in a city of excess. The best thing I did toward achieving that was waking up early. Seeing the sun rise over the mountains keeps you motivated, and you’ll have the sidewalks to yourself.

For a hotel on the Strip that’s more subdued than MGM, try the Mandarin Oriental. Other options include Vdara Hotel & Spa and Trump Hotel, both of which are nonsmoking and don’t have casinos.



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