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-Ashtanga market (we'll revisit that later), but its competitors have their own offbeat mind-body prescriptions. Trump Hotel recently introduced a boot camp 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.
I'd been to Vegas a couple of times, though it's not my idea of a vacation. I aim to unwind. Las Vegas winds you up. 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. All of that, of course, is built into the guts of this town. Yet there are other deeper stories: of railroads, the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the desert with its wild burros and ancient Joshua trees. Such places provide ample opportunity for fresh air and exercise. But not, it would seem, the Strip, that four-mile or so stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard.
Pity the reluctant visitor who ends up here for the obligatory convention or party. What respite could she (or he) find? There was only one way to know: I would go to the heart of the Strip and limit all healthful endeavors to its environs (with one exception). And with that, I set off alone, with a duffel bag of sneakers and spandex, to roll the dice on wholesome Las Vegas.
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 somewhere behind a woman in sneakers and a white veil as the Icona Pop song "I Love It" blared: "I don't care! I love it! I don't care!"
Ten minutes later I received a room key emblazoned with the word "rejuvenate" and felt a twinge of anticipation. Yet walking to the elevators with my duffel was like being a steel ball in a pinball machine. I zigzagged amid partygoers and slot machines, past the Corner Cakes Pastry Shop near which I encountered stacks of my weakness: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I looked away and sped by, hitting everyone and everything, or maybe they were hitting me. Still, with each thwack I reminded myself that I was getting ever closer to rejuvenation.
Shrieks. Laughter. Something that sounded like barking. Was there a party ... in my room? I cautiously put the key in the lock. No. But it sure sounded that way. I tossed my bag on a chair and called the front desk. Security kindly offered to quell the party but I didn't want to spoil the fun. I just wanted a room change. While on hold, I skimmed some nearby information cards.
"Get all the zzz's you need," said one.
"Who knew Las Vegas could feel so rejuvenating?" said another, noting that the room's "wellness technologies from real-estate pioneer Delios, in conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Deepak Chopra, are designed to help you tailor your Las Vegas experience and make it whatever you'd like it to be - including relaxing."
I was still on hold. After hanging up, calling back and getting a supervisor on the phone, I was told they didn't have another available Stay Well room. 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.