Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Las Vegas: Casino Reviews

We hit the majority of the casinos on The Strip last week, whether as a destination or as a link to another casino.  Though none of us are gamblers (okay, we dropped a whopping $10 between three of us in some slot machines), we did want to see these places we hear about on TV and in movies.  I am not going in any particular order of our trip.  These are my own views that may not be shared by others on our vacation (although I'm pretty sure they agree with me for the most part).

First and foremost, ALL of the casinos allow smoking.  We, the Oregon hippies, did not realize the rest of the nation hadn't outlawed smoking to the extent we are familiar here in our enclave.  We're all used to the restaurants, workplaces, stores, and bars being completely smoke-free.  I don't remember the last time I was in a restaurant and heard someone ask for the "smoking section."  Las Vegas?  Didn't get the memo apparently.  And ALL of the casinos try to cover up the smoky smell with a hideous perfume or air "freshener" that only serves to thicken the air and make everything smell gross.  We all had sore throats and a hard time breathing in the casinos, especially the Luxor (poorly ventilated) and The Mirage (perfumed heavily).  None of the casino floors smelled pleasant.  This was a hard thing for us to get over.

Mandalay Bay was really big.  That's something that struck Dad right away.  The corridors are all very wide and quite tall, so the furnishings have to be equally large to fill the space.  The convention center was enormous, and the pool area was massive.  The casino here seemed so small compared to the rest of the hotel/resort.  We went in a few of the shops, explored the really nice lobby area with beautiful aquarium (containing sharks no less).  Though there was a wedding in the garden outside, we wish we could have explored that area as well as it seemed beautiful and peaceful.

We took a tram from Mandalay Bay to the Luxor next door.  The Luxor was probably the most unique casino on the strip.  Shaped into a pyramid with a spike of light streaming straight out of the top at night, the Luxor was impressive.  There wasn't much to see inside aside from the interesting terrace of hotel rooms above the casino, a few shops on the mezzanine level, and two very expensive exhibits we didn't visit.  Very neat inside, but nothing remarkable beyond that.

Fountains at Bellagio at night from the Las Vegas Strip.

Another tram took us over to the Excalibur, one of the most dated and overrated casinos on the strip.  The air quality was atrocious and musty, the carpets were gross, and there wasn't much to see.  I did enjoy the stained glass windows and interior architecture.  Everything was easy to find inside (bathrooms, information, shops, etc.), but nothing was special.  It just felt tired.  Oh, and the show there with the jousting and a meal? Over $60 per plate after taxes, and they don't even give you silverware.  I get the whole "but it's medieval and they didn't have forks then!" but seriously, give me a damn fork already.  We didn't see the show (did that as a kid).

New York-New York was also nothing to write home about.  Though the inside was attractive and the little shop area on the southwest corner was pretty cool, nothing about this casino evoked a welcoming environment.  The lobby area is a joke, the paintings are cartoonish (miserable fail at art deco), and the general ambiance is lacking.  While I really appreciated the outside architecture, the inside felt empty.

The Bellagio was opulent.  We all really liked the lobby with the Chihuly skylight and conservatory nearby.  I could have found a nice little home near the Chihuly store beyond the flower gardens.  We saw two fountain shows at night and loved them.  My only negative mark against The Bellagio would be the stores at Via Bellagio (the inside mall area): who buys Prada, Armani, Tiffany & Co., and all of those other name-brand luxuries?  Clearly I was not part of the Bellagio target demographic.  We tried to find a place to eat at this casino that served food in our price range that didn't take food we love and smother it in food we hate (leave the chicken alone!), but every restaurant was froo-froo or too high-brow for us.  Pretty, but not my type.
Bellagio lobby skylight with Chihuly glass.

One block up from Bellagio is Caesar's Palace and the Forum Shops.  More of the same expensive stores all over these two places, so it's safe to say our money didn't exactly make a run for it.  Caesar's is just huge.  The casino is quite separated from the rest of the place, which was nice, but it took us forever to walk past all of the shops, restaurants with famous names (and egos) attached, theaters, and slow-moving people.  This casino had an A-List feel, and we were definitely not part of the A-List.  While I liked the indoor shopping mall at the Forum Shops, I wasn't moved by the casino.  Terrible interior directions.

The Mirage had a nasty perfumed smoke that greeted us just inside the front doors.  Getting through the cloud and past the palm tree oasis entrance (pretty, but trite) was a challenge.  We did really like the Terry Fator Theater lobby area and shop nearby.  The casino area is large, but it was easy to navigate and was well well-marked.  We didn't get to see the volcano explode at night out front, but we did take the tram over to Treasure Island.  These trams really saved our feet, knees, hips, backs, and minds from the pavement and heat.

Treasure Island was probably one of the most well-traveled casinos on the strip by our little party.  We were everywhere in this casino.  The atmosphere, while dated, was lively.  The shops were clean and easy to find.  There didn't seem to be much of a lobby area, but the entrance out front was really neat with the lagoon and pirate ship shows 4x daily.  We didn't have any navigation problems here, and parking was super easy (although not well-marked).

The Stratosphere, for all of its height, failed to measure up.  This casino was probably the most underwhelming spot on the strip.  The interior was a bad attempt at everything, navigation signage was lacking, and the escalators were "closed" (hello? they just turn into stairs).  The shopping area was probably the nicest spot in the whole place simply because it was a quiet spot with few people and several penny masher machines for Dad.  I don't think any of us will be returning to the Stratosphere anytime soon.

Planet Hollywood is definitely a planet unto itself.  That casino and resort is absolutely ginormous.  The Miracle Mile shops are exactly that: a mile of shopping.  The size of this place alone is overwhelming.  While we didn't spend much time in the casino part and only briefly glimpsed the lobby, we wound through the maze that is M&M World and the Coca-Cola store forever.  Planet Hollywood is a sensory overload, and I feel like we would have needed a week just to get acclimated to the visual and scented assaults.  Too much!

MGM Grand was probably everyone's favorite casino from our group.  Everything about this place was grand.  The lobby was beautiful and appropriately large.  The casino was well-planned.  The place didn't stink too much.  The theaters and eateries were easy to find but not distracting.  We found maps helpful, and the maps were easy to find.  Shopping, likewise, was easily accomplished along a mall.  Parking proved easy.  Despite the construction happening and an odd layout on the block, the MGM Grand was a very nice stop on our casino tour.

We very briefly visited a couple other spots along the strip, but I didn't get enough of a look to comment on them.  Overall we learned we aren't casino people.  Too much smoke (seriously, it's tough for us), no loud clinking coins anymore (disappointing to see all electronic games), and not enough advertising for the mid-priced restaurants that don't display some big chef's name.

Tomorrow, food reviews.  Tonight, washing the remaining casino stink out of my jeans.

1 comment:

Victoria Bennion said...

We stayed at Treasure Island and totally agree it's got a really lively atmosphere!