My Kind of Playground

Viva ELVIS - Courtesy Julie Aucoin, Aria Resort

Viva ELVIS – Courtesy Julie Aucoin, Aria Resort

Once you have children, those moments when you feel completely relaxed are few and far between. I think I had one once in the early 90s and then another time in 2002 when I was zonked out on cold medicine, but until recently, that’s about it. And it occurs to me that I didn’t even have a kid in the 90s, so that must have just been anticipation. It’s not that being a mom isn’t absolutely wonderful, precious and fulfilling at least 77 percent of the time, but it’s almost never relaxing.

But once in a harvest moon the stars align just right and someone offers you and your husband a free trip to Las Vegas on the exact same weekend that someone else offers to take your son camping and, miracle of miracles, your kid’s soccer team has a bye that weekend.

Talk about timing.

I’ve heard rumors that younger, childless people stay out late and drink cocktails with fancy names on a regular basis, and I have a vague foggy memory of doing something like that myself once upon another lifetime. I’ve also heard alien mumblings about sleeping in, massages, long baths and spa treatments, but again, it had been a long, long while since I had indulged in anything that luscious.

I shooed away any guilty thoughts about lazy Saturdays as I lay soaking in a vanilla-scented spa tub at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, which is surely one of the least Vegas-like hotels on the strip. For some reason everything in this hotel smells like vanilla – although I’m guessing the reason is that they pump in the scent of vanilla. And, dare I say it; the opulent decor is tasteful by Vegas standards. From the curved 250-feet-long by 24-feet-high water wall that greets you along with the valet, to the stunning-but understated-for-Vegas-anyway, Maya Lin silver sculpture of the Colorado River that flows above the registration desk-this is hardly a typical hotel.

The Aria is the largest hotel in the world to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, but it also features the most technologically advanced guest rooms in the country, as my husband discovered when he put new grey hairs onto my head by accidentally pushing the “sleep” button, where one click closes the curtains, shuts down all of the electronics and turns off all the lights.

Luckily I was out of the tub at that point.

Even the casino has eco-friendly features like slot machine bases that serve as floor air-conditioning and specialized air curtains that help minimize the impact of tobacco smoke and perhaps pump the vanilla scent in. Of course neither of those things stopped us from losing what could have been a very nice pair of shoes at the Craps tables, but it was fun anyway.

We were wined and dined through a global variety of cuisines at the Town Square Center, with yummy nibbles and cocktails from Cana Latin Kitchen & Bar (South American), Texas de Brazil (Brazilian by way of Texas), Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant & Bar (Island-inspired), BRIO Tuscan Grille (Northern Italian) and Blue Martini (all-American alcohol). Then in a lovely coincidence, we were able to meet up with some of our best friends from Santa Barbara who happened to be spending their anniversary in Vegas.

Meeting for late night drinks (yes, more drinks) at the Aria’s View Bar, where my husband and our male friend were more drawn to the view of our sexy waitress’ accoutrements than the (also excellent) view of the strip, we couldn’t help but giggle at how much fun it was to be out late and not worrying about babysitters’ curfews.

The next morning it was spa time. Spa just happens to be one of my favorite words in the English language. My Vita Boost Facial was wonderfully relaxing and my skin looked great afterward, unlike some of the facials I’ve had where “bringing all of the impurities to the surface” actually makes your skin look worse. Not only that, the lovely Gina gave me paraffin treatments as well, leaving my hands and feet ever so soft and happy.

Then it was on to more gourmet cuisine (don’t miss the stuffed piquillo peppers, pintxo de chorizos and the churros with chili chocolate sauce at Julian Serrano), and my discovery of what a pleasant daytime beverage white sangria can be.

After a tour of Crystals, an impressive 500,000-square-foot retail/dining area at CityCenter featuring gorgeous galleries and stores like Prada, Christian Dior, Bulgari, Carolina Herrera, Hermes, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels, it was time to tour the shopping areas of Town Square Center, where the more along the lines of my budget retailers like Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, Borders, Lucky Brand Jeans and Bebe reside.

Spa treatments, gourmet food and shopping all in the same day! This is my kind of playtime. But it got even better. After returning to BRIO for yummy crab cakes and Mezza Chicken Limone, they treated us to Cirque Du Soleil’s newest offering, Viva ELVIS, an energetic fusion of dance, acrobatics and live music that had us bopping our heads and singing along with the King. Watching the show was actually one of the few times in this decidedly adult weekend that I wished my son had been with us, as it was definitely an entertaining event that kids of all ages would appreciate.

As for the rest, well, sometimes it’s good to get away from it all and play like a grownup.

When Leslie’s not fantasizing about her return to the Aria spa, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 15, 2010.