If you travel the Interstate Highway 495 between Virginia and Maryland, you’re bound to see the mega-complex known as National Harbor. Anchored by the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor features boutique businesses, impressive restaurants and eateries, private residences, several hotels, a marina, office space, and even the Capital Ferris Wheel. Yes, there is much to do at National Harbor.
Also a part of the National Harbor complex, just a bit north of the main campus, another Maryland phenomenon rises from the banks of the Potomac River, the MGM National Harbor Hotel and Casino.
Built at a cost of $1.4 billion, this 24-story, glass-walled hotel and casino features 234 guest rooms and 74 luxury suites, 125,000-square-feet of gaming including 58 blackjack tables, 25 baccarat tables, and 3,300 slot machines, a 27,000-square-foot spa and salon, and 50,000-square-feet of meeting and convention facilities.
And when you tire of the breathtaking views the MGM National Harbor provides of the Potomac River, Old Town Alexandria, and Washington, D.C., head to one of 15 dining options including acclaimed, chef-driven restaurants.
My courtesy two-day stay at MGM National Harbor began in the VIP check-in lounge, where I was warmly greeted by a pair of dedicated VIP concierges. While I was checked in, I was offered a glass of champagne and hors d’oeuvres from the well-stocked lounge area. With Wi-Fi technology throughout the property, I stayed a bit longer after receiving my room keys to enjoy my champagne and peruse newspapers available in the lounge.
The 24-story hotel has a unique structure, with the northernmost end coming together like a point. My VIP Suite on the 14th floor was on this end of the hotel, and offered a panoramic view of not only Virginia and Washington, D.C., but also of southern Prince Georges County, Maryland, where the MGM National Harbor was built.
The view in a word was breathtaking. My VIP suite was as impressive as the view, with a large entertainment area outside of the bedroom area. A fully stocked wet bar with espresso maker, large flat-screen television, and comfortable seating for 10 of your best friends was a major plus. There’s also a dedicated desk area with Ethernet, full lighting, and supportive chair when work needs to be done.
Off of the entertainment area is a large bathroom with a full vanity area with makeup mirror for the ladies, and dual sinks with adjustable lighting for you both. Feeling romantic? Then pull open the curtains on the floor-to-ceiling glass walls and enjoy the large, dual station shower with teak benches under the moonlight. Very nice!
The bedroom area features a large king-sized bed, with an even larger flat screen in a special housing that separates the bedroom into sleeping and lounging areas. At night, leave the curtains open, as dramatic façade lighting not only gives the MGM an impressive look, it gently lights the suite’s interior.
MGM Conservatory at Night
After feeling like I would never want to leave my room, I ventured down to the MGM’s 85-foot tall glass ceiling “conservatory” area, which was superbly decorated with fresh flowers amid three large flower beds to celebrate the Lunar New Year. After a bit of meditation among floral beauty, I headed to Ginger for lunch. Ginger restaurant offers an authentic taste of Asia with Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean dishes across an extensive menu.
There, I sampled delicious entrees including my favorite: soft-shelled crab over meaty crab fried rice. After Ginger, I met with Brandon Singletary, communications specialist with MGM, who gave me a walking tour of the theater and gaming areas. The 3,000-seat theater has already been host to sold out shows from Bruno Mars, Boyz II Men, ZZ Top, and Cher. It’s an intimate environment; with the option of being wide open on the floor for boxing events. Yes, MGM National Harbor steals a little Floyd Mayweather-like action from the granddaddy of all casinos, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Boyz II Men Live
Showtime at MGM Theater
The casino gaming area is open 24/7-365 and offers a wide variety of gaming options. In addition to the aforementioned slot machine and blackjack/baccarat tables, MGM National Harbor offers 39 poker tables, 10 craps, 12 roulette, 25 carnival-style games, and 124 table games. MGM is one of four licensed casinos in Maryland but is easily the “grandest” of them all. No other Maryland casino is directly connected to such extensive dining facilities, and none is part of a hotel/casino complex.
Casino at MGM
I also received a tour of the extensive artwork and photography on display at MGM, including The MGM National Harbor Heritage Collection, a permanent art collection featuring artwork inspired by the Capital Region’s rich history.
I was pleasantly surprised to see photographs of a Moroccan wedding ceremony. Not only were the images stunning, they reflected the total diversity you’ll experience while a guest at MGM. Just one look around the gaming area when I visited later that evening was proof that all walks of life are welcome and celebrated at MGM. In addition, more than 3,600 employees work at MGM National Harbor across 100 job classifications. Some 48% of employees are from predominately African American Prince George’s County, where MGM National Harbor is located, and 81% of employees self-identify as an ethnic minority.
Moroccan Bride by Valérie Belin photo: Sean Kelley
After a few rounds with the slot machines, I was ready for a great meal. Fish by renowned chef José Andrés fit the bill. Your fresh seafood is displayed within holding tanks at Fish, ready to be prepared in what seemed like an infinite number of ways. I chose the “Fry Bar” experience, with multiple courses of fresh fish and veggies deep-fried by chefs right at the bar. Think of the experience as fondue on steroids.
After such a special meal, cocktails were in order, and Felt Bar & Lounge overlooking the casino floor was the perfect spot to relax. Felt’s specialties are artisanal cocktails, house-made mixers, and craft beer. At Felt, presentation is everything. The mixologists take great pride in creating the perfect cocktail chairside in the spacious lounge.
FELT Bar & Lounge
The next morning, I took advantage of MGM’s stellar room service for breakfast. After the meal, it was time to get my spa on. As I mentioned earlier, the Spa and Salon area is 27,000-square-feet. Coupled with a state-of-the-art Fitness Center, the “relaxation and health” complex spans the entire third floor. I had the choice of a massage or facial, and I chose the facial, as I’d never had one done before. It’s not really a “guy” thing, but it should be. MGM’s Spa features HydraFacial MD equipment and a very talented staff. My facial expert not only had me looking five years younger when I was done, she took the time to explain the benefits of the HydraFacial MD exfoliation and hydration experiences, and the importance of moisturizing your face and all skin on a daily basis.
Looking fresh and prosperous, it was time to spend some dough. High-end retail is a specialty at Las Vegas casinos, and this trait is replicated at MGM National Harbor. Don’t forget, additional designer shopping is a shuttle ride away at the Tanger Outlets and main National Harbor complex.
Before my late checkout, offered as part of the VIP Experience, I flipped a coin to determine where I would eat lunch. Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse and Marcus were my “flip” choices. Both feature cuisine created by award-winning chefs. The Voltaggio brothers came to fame competing on the Top Chef television program.
Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and is best known for his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster. Marcus is a 24-hour restaurant in the conservatory area of MGM National Harbor. I chose Marcus and was not disappointed. The atmosphere there is NY chic, and the food NY fabulous. Samuelsson infuses Ethiopian spices to many of his dishes, including fiery berbere, offering a dining experience like no other.
Marcus at MGM
There are also many casual dining options at MGM’s National Market, with my favorite being Shake Shack with their terrific burgers and handcrafted shakes.
My experience at MGM National Harbor was impressive across the board. Great service, a spectacular corner suite, terrific spa and salon, and exceptional restaurants make this a go-to selection for locals seeking a great getaway weekend, and out-of-towners seeking an all-in-one luxury destination.
MGM does not feature the same kind of adult entertainment that makes Vegas, well, Vegas. Therefore, it’s a great place to take the whole family. In addition to taxis and ride services like Uber, National Harbor also features a water taxi to scoot you to Old Town, Alexandria; Georgetown, D.C.; and baseball games at National’s Stadium. If you drive the area yourself, you’ll appreciate the 24/7 free parking at MGM. This alone can save you up to $50 a day.
Automotive/Lifestyle reporter Brian Armstead has been involved in print, radio, and television for over 41 years. He is President Emeritus of the Washington Automotive Press Association. Reach out to Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter @roadgearsun