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Don't get me wrong, I love a vacation just as much as the next person! But sometimes, all you want to do is hole up somewhere beautiful and indulge in all things relaxing and calming. (Image: Stephen Wilkes)

Getting the most bang for your buck with a staycation at MGM National Harbor

Ah, the staycation -- such a glorious gift to the over-worked and under-paid! It's the perfect time to recharge, unplug and connect with yourself, or loved ones.

Don't get me wrong, I love a vacation just as much as the next person! But sometimes, all you want to do is hole up somewhere beautiful and indulge in all things relaxing and calming. You don't have to deal with the hassle of booking tours and coordinating schedules-- all you need is a nice hotel with excellent dining options, a luxurious spa and perhaps a place where you can blow some of your hard-earned money.

Enter MGM National Harbor! When the 24-story, $1.4 billion casino and resort opened last December, it added a level of luxury the National Harbor was sorely lacking. With 234 guestrooms, 74 suites, 15 dining options (including three from celebrity chefs), a spa and salon, a 3,000-seat theater, 125,000-square-feet of gaming and 18,000-square-feet of retail space, you never even need to leave the building to enjoy yourself.

Now, I will say up front, MGM National Harbor is not the place to plan a staycation on the cheap. You're going to pay more here for everything than you would elsewhere in Prince Georges County. But if you have the cash for a full vacation, yet lack the time for a true getaway, and are craving some me (or we) time, I can still help you plan a few nights of escape. I recently spent a little over 24 hours checking out everything the property has to offer, so I'm pretty much an MGM expert now! But first let's discuss where you should prioritize your spending, and where you can hold back.

Where to splurge:

Room Upgrade
Ok, listen. I am usually the first person to advocate for finding the cheapest hotel room possible on a vacation, since you aren't likely to be spending a lot of time in the room if you are out exploring a new city. But on a staycation, the whole point of the trip is to chill out. Sure, you might play tourist in your own city a bit and see some things you usually write off, but you are mostly going to be putting your feet up, and breathing a sigh of relief. And that calls for a little luxury. So treat yo self and upgrade from the standard room options (which start at $229/night) and opt for the corner suite, which starts at $409/night. You get more than double the square footage, and a stunning view of the city, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Blackout shades ensure you are only awoken when your body decides it's time, and trust me, it will be several hours later than you are used to thanks to the plush king-sized, pillow-top mattress. And the bathroom ... it's to die for! I think it was close to the size of my first city apartment! The dual showers, the dual stone sinks and the backlit vanity make it the ideal place to get glammed up for a night out! Pro tip: Avoid booking a Friday or Saturday night (which are sold out for the foreseeable future anyways) when the rates double in price, and try booking a Sunday-Tuesday stay.

The Spa
Oh. Em. Gee. I cannot say enough good things about the spa. I truly could have spent an entire day hanging out in this gorgeous space after my treatment. The spa offers all of your typical services (facials, massages, anti-aging treatments, body polishes etc.), but the addition of the full-service salon is a really nice touch. Not only can you get a mani/pedi and a blowout, but you can also get hair coloring, highlights, waxing services or even just makeup lessons. So definitely book yourself some time at the spa or salon, and factor in additional time before or after your service to take full advantage of the facilities, from any of the three lounges (women's only, men's only or unisex) where you can curl up with a magazine and tea, to the sauna, steam room and whirlpool hot tub.

Concert
My best argument for why you should go see a show here? The theater is only 3,000-seats, so there's not a bad seat in the house! Buy the cheapest ticket you can find and kick back and enjoy an amazing view of some of your favorite performers. The entertainment team has also done a great job of curating a wide-range of artists, from classic hits like Cher (who is the theater's first resident performer with 11 performances total in 2017), to modern day cult favorites like Bruno Mars. You can see a full list of who is performing here.

Dinner
Even if you aren't planning a staycation at MGM National Harbor anytime soon, you should absolutely be making a dinner reservation at Voltaggio Brothers Steak House asap! This was one of the better, most decadent meals I've had thus far in 2017. Plus, the decor is so inviting and truly accomplishes the goal of making you feel like you are in the brothers' home. Here's what you can't miss when you go: Big Eye Tuna appetizer, the beefsteak tomato with burrata, the caesar salad (if for no other reason than it's so instagrammable!), potato gratin, umami cereal (Tom Sietsema says it best: "Tasting is believing."), the macaroni and cheese, broccolini and the cheddar biscuits. Of course this is a steak house so we can't forget the meat! You can't really go wrong with any cut of meat here, but I personally preferred the flavor of the smaller cuts. Between the 8 oz. filet mignon and the 22 oz. bone in ribeye, I'm going with the filet any day, even though you do technically get more nag for your buck with the ribeye.

Where to save:

Lunch
I've now tried every dining option at MGM outside of Jose Andres' FISH (which I have very good things about), and while I think dinner at Voltaggio Brothers is exquisite and so worth a splurge, I have found the upscale lunch options to be lackluster. Ginger was perfectly fine, but no wow-worthy for the price tag. And my experience at Marcus was all over the place. The service was awkward and the dishes were inconsistent. While the deviled eggs were delish, I was disappointed with the chicken & waffles, which is usually one of my favorite meals. Honestly, I'd rather skip a $100+ meal at Ginger or Marcus and head to the National Market. Eschewing the Vegas-style buffets, MGM National Harbor instead went with a food court-esque eating area called National Market. The fast casual dining options range from burgers to sushi, crabcakes and pizza. Outside of Shack Shack and Pappas Crabcakes, all the restaurants are unique concepts exclusive to MGM National Harbor. The sushi would make an excellent lunch replacement to Ginger or I'd highly recommend the pizza, which was surprisingly good for a "food court." And of course, you can never go wrong with a big juicy burger from Shake Shack!

Pre (or Post) Dinner Drinks
MGM is really billing Felt, the cocktail lounge inside of the Casino, as the destination for the latest and greatest in mixology. But honestly, I was underwhelmed with my drink. I admit, it was fun watching them make the cocktail tableside, but the end result was way too sweet for my liking. However, the Lobby Bar (appropriately named as it's in the lobby) is an equally gorgeous space for a drink, with a slightly more approachable atmosphere -- you won't feel like you need to be wearing a bodycon dress to fit in. Look for the bearded/man-bunned bartender (Charlie Zyzyk), tell him what you like to drink and let the man work his magic! I mentioned that I love Mezcal and spicy drinks and he made me the best cocktail I've had to date. All I know is it had mezcal, tequila, lime, hot sauce and a cinnamon rim -- a combination that doesn't sound like it work work but was heavenly!


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