Las Vegas Hotels
By Chuck Hawks
Las Vegas, Nevada, with an estimated population of approximately 1,800,000, is the fastest growing city in the United States. There are more hotel rooms in Las Vegas than in any other city in the United States, and more have earned AAA's top Four Diamond rating (17,205 rooms; Chicago is the runner-up with 15,738 Four Diamond rooms).
As I write this Las Vegas is the home of 20 of the 30 largest hotels in the United States, including the top 13. (#1 is the MGM Grand, with 5,034 rooms--it is worth seeing, but too big for me!) Several of the hotels reviewed below are on that list: Circus Circus is #4 (3,800 rooms), Mandalay Bay is #5 (3,700 rooms), the Mirage is #8 (3,049 rooms), the Venetian is #9 (3,036 rooms), Monte Carlo is #10 (3,014 rooms), Bellagio is #11 (3,000 rooms), and the Riviera is #26 (2,072 rooms).
Las Vegas is a city that continually reinvents itself, and change is the most permanent feature. The Stratosphere is under new management. Featuring the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River, a 1,149 foot tower, the Stratosphere hotel and casino plans to add a second hotel tower. This will bring it to a total of 2,442 rooms . . . Mirage Resorts (Treasure Island, Golden Nugget, Mirage, Bellagio) was sold to MGM Grand Inc. in 2001 (whose principle owner is billionaire Kirk Kerkorian). This makes MGM/Mirage Resorts the biggest player in Las Vegas resort properties (Bellagio, Boardwalk, MGM Grand, Mirage, New York-New York, Treasure Island). . . In 2004 the Poster Financial Group (PFG) purchased the Golden Nugget hotel casinos (Las Vegas and Laughlin) from MGM Grand.
Steve Wynn purchased the Desert Inn in 2001, closed it, and built a new resort,named "Wynn," on the property. It opened in 2005. Wynn retains the Desert Inn golf course, and Steve Wynn's small but brilliant collection of masterpiece paintings ("The Wynn Collection") can be viewed in its gallery.
Las Vegas Boulevard South, the famous "Strip," runs for quite a distance, eventually intersecting Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. As I write this, the Stratosphere marks the north end of the Strip, and Mandalay Bay the south end. Of course, the Strip is ever expanding as new properties are added.
For purposes of general location, I call that part of the Strip north of Sands Avenue (where the Strip bends) the "North Strip;" the part between Sands Avenue and Tropicana Avenue the "Central Strip;" and the part south of Tropicana Avenue the "South Strip." The intersection of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard marks the epicenter of the Strip, and is called the "Four Corners" of the Strip. To the south, the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard is sometimes called the "New Four Corners" of the Strip. In my opinion, the most convenient hotel locations on the Strip are between the Four Corners and the New Four Corners.
Most of the best known Las Vegas resorts on the Strip occupy a large amount of space, and as a result the city blocks along the Strip are often very long. There is usually one resort per super long block. Properties that appear to be right next to each other on a map may in fact be a long walk apart. Traffic lights are also very long, staying red for something like four minutes!
My personal hotel rating system runs from 1 Star (lowest) to 5 Stars (the best), and roughly corresponds to similar rating systems I have seen on the web and in other places. I add a "+" or "-" to signify a hotel at the top or bottom of a particular category.
The list of hotels with their accompanying star rating is not intended to be inclusive, but it does include most of the major properties on the Strip, and the hotels at the "Four Corners" of the Fremont Street Experience (the intersection of Fremont and Casino Center streets). This list is followed by capsule reviews of selected properties. The customer satisfaction ratings mentioned in the capsule reviews are based on the reports received from the Las Vegas Online visitors poll at the time of publication.
I have divided the hotels selected for capsule reviews into approximate price categories. Please note that Las Vegas room rates often vary, not only seasonally but also sometimes daily. Few people pay the full brochure price for a room. Have your travel agent check for special prices. Agencies such as Las Vegas Reservation System (there is a link to them on my Travel Links page) typically offer big discounts on rooms at all of the resorts I have reviewed below.
I have only selected two or three hotels in each price category to review; properties that I think deserve mention for one reason or another. I do not have the time or inclination to review every hotel in Las Vegas. There are whole books devoted to the subject, and I recommend one of them to the reader who seeks a more complete survey of Las Vegas hotels.
Hotel "Star Rating" List
Aladdin ***+ [Central Strip, 877-333-9474]
Bally's ***+ [Central Strip, 800-634-3434]
Barbary Coast ** [Central Strip, 888-227-2279]
Bellagio ***** [Central Strip, 888-488-7111]
Binion's Horseshoe **+ [Fremont St., 800-237-6537]
Boardwalk ** [Central Strip, 800-635-4581]
Caesers Palace **** [Central Strip, 800-634-6661]
Circus Circus **- [North Strip, 800-634-3450]
Excalibur ** [South Strip, 800-937-7777]
Fitzgeralds **+ [Fremont St., 800-274-5825]
Flamingo Hilton ***+ [Central Strip, 800-732-2111]
Four Queens **+ [Fremont St., 800-634-6045]
Four Seasons @ Mandalay Bay ***** [South Strip, 877-632-5206]
Fremont **+ [Fremont St., 800-634-6182]
Golden Nugget ***** [Fremont St., 800-634-3454]
Green Valley Ranch ***** [East of Strip, 866-STAY-GVR]
Hard Rock Hotel ***+ [Harmon & Paradise Rd, 800-473-7625]
Harrah's ***+ [Central Strip, 800-634-6765]
Las Vegas Hilton **** [Paradise Rd., 800-732-7117]
Luxor ****- [South Strip, 800-288-1000]
Mandalay Bay ****+ [South Strip, 877-632-7700]
MGM Grand ****- [Central Strip, 800-929-1111]
Mirage ***** [Central Strip, 800-627-6667]
Monte Carlo **** [Central Strip, 800-822-8652]
New York New York ***- [Central Strip, 800-693-6763]
Paris-Las Vegas ***+ [Central Strip, 888-266-5687]
Rio Suite Hotel ***+ [Flamingo & Valley View, 800-888-1808]
Riviera *** [North Strip, 800-634-6753]
Sahara ** [North Strip, 888-696-2121]
Stardust **+ [North Strip, 800-634-6757]
Stratosphere ***- [North Strip, 800-998-6937]
Treasure Island ***+ [Central Strip, 800-944-7444]
Tropicana ** [North Strip, 800-634-4000]
Venetian ***** [Central Strip, 800-446-4678]
Wynn Las Vegas ***** [North Strip, 877-323-7469]
Capsule Hotel Reviews
Low to Medium Price Class
**- Circus Circus (2880 Las Vegas Boulevard South):
Circus Circus pioneered the trend toward family oriented resorts in Las Vegas. There is a large RV park on the premisis. The continuous circus appeals to kids, as does the indoor amusement park. The management has provided plenty of distractions to entertain children while their parents lose money! This is a large property with a very awkward layout, particularly if your room is located in one of the several buildings staggered across the parking lot behind the casino. Restaurants and all other facilities are often crowded and long lines are the norm much of the time. Food in the various restaurants and the buffet is fairly inexpensive, but generally indifferent, as is the service. The rooms are entirely adequate, and room rates at Circus Circus are among the lowest of any of the major resorts on the Strip, but the overall customer satisfaction rating is also low.
**+ Four Queens (202 East Fremont Street):
The Four Queens opened in 1966. It is located at the "Four Corners" of the Fremont Street Experience, and harbors one of the best restaurant/bars in Las Vegas, Hugo's Cellar. No matter where you stay in Las Vegas, one night you owe it to yourself to experience the fine dining and cocktails at Hugo's Cellar. In addition to Hugo's, the Four Queens offers Magnolia's Veranda, a 24-hour restaurant. The casual atmosphere is intended to suggest the French Quarter in New Orleans. The room rates are reasonable, and the overall customer satisfaction score is good.
Medium Price Class
***** Golden Nugget (129 East Fremont Street):
The Golden Nugget first opened in 1946. It was entirely refurbished in the early 1970's, and again (to the tune of some 30 million dollars) in 2001-2002. It is now owned by the Poster Financial Group, and rigorously maintained to very high standards. Located at the "Four Corners" of Fremont Street, the Golden Nugget is the best hotel/casino in the downtown area, and generally regarded as a true five star hotel. The Golden Nugget also won AAA's top Four Diamond rating. Patrons give it a very high customer satisfaction rating. The elegant decor features Grecian marble, crystal chandeliers, a white with gold trim color scheme throughout, live plants everywhere, and even skylights to admit a little natural light. Service is excellent, and the popular and busy casino has a friendly feel. For dining there are four restaurants plus a buffet. Room rates are much lower than equivalent accommodations on the Strip, making the Golden Nugget a great value.
*** Riviera (2901 Las Vegas Boulevard South):
The Riviera is one of the older resorts on the Strip, but it shows no signs of fading. Two towers plus good restaurants and bars, one of the better buffets, decent rooms, and good service keeps the customers coming back. The Riviera bills itself as "The alternative for adults," and it makes an effort to live up to the billing. The casino, shops, shows, and pool areas are primarily designed for adult enjoyment. The rooms are quite adequate. Visitors give the Riviera an average overall rating.
Medium-High Price Class
****+ Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South):
Mandalay Bay, opened in 1999 by Mandalay Resort Group, is at the extreme south end of the Strip. It is an attractive property with an exotic southwest pacific theme. Its customer satisfaction rating is average. A popular attraction is the extensive "Shark reef" aquarium complex, which holds millions of gallons of sea water. The extensive outdoor pool complex is very attractive, and incorporates an 11-acre swimming pool with a sand beach and a wave machine. Mandalay Bay features large rooms and nice shops, lounges (one surrounded by an indoor stream and accessed by small bridges), and restaurants and coffee shops where patrons can kick back and relax. The Raffels Coffee Shop is particularly noteworthy for casual meals. Major stars perform in the 12,000 seat Mandalay Events Center.
**** Monte Carlo (3770 Las Vegas Boulevard South):
The Monte Carlo has become known as perhaps the best hotel value on the strip. It is highly rated in terms of overall customer satisfaction. Monte Cartlo is intended to remind one of the resort's namesake in Europe. Beautiful statuary and fountains, attractive plantings, quiet restaurants and lounges, a brew pub, luxurious rooms, good shops, an extensive pool area that includes a wave pool and a lazy river ride are key features of the upscale Monte Carlo. Master magician Lance Burton performs in the 27 million dollar Lance Burton Theatre. There is a convenient monorail connecting the Monte Carlo and the Bellagio.
High Price Class
***** Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South):
The Bellagio is named for, and designed to resemble, the Italian resort town on Lake Como. The 5 star Bellagio was awarded AAA's Four Diamond rating. The Bellagio has many stunning features, foremost of which is the 35 million dollar computer controlled fountain (actually composed of 1000 individual water jets) in the middle of an 11 acre lake in front of the property. You simply have to see this free water show, choreographed to music. Another worthwhile highlight is the 300 million dollar Gallery of Fine Art. A huge glass roofed conservatory floods the whole area adjacent to the lobby with natural light, and contains a pond and thousands of flowers. The Coffee Shop ovelooks the Conservatory. The casino is the quietest on the Strip, a miracle achieved by simply turning down the volume of the slot machines. One of the quieter and more pleasant bar/lounges on the Strip is just off the lobby, at the left as you enter the casino. Customer satisfaction is good.
***** The Mirage (3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South):
The very popular Mirage was the first of the "new style" Las Vegas resorts, and features a tropical island theme. The Mirage has been awarded AAA's four diamond rating. In front of the hotel there is a 100' volcano that erupts regularly every night, as well as a huge pond complete with a stream and several waterfalls. In back is the "Habitat," which includes a couple of large saltwater pools populated by trained dolphin. An adjoining jungle area called the "Secret Garden of Siegfried and Roy" features white tigers, lions, leopards, and even an elephant. As you would expect, the rooms are very well appointed. The restaurants and bars are varied and of high quality, despite heavy customer traffic. Mirage Resorts was acquired by MGM Grand Inc. late in 2000, but the Mirage still maintains a five star rating.
***** Venetian (3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South):
The Venetian is rated as one of the best places in the world to stay by Conde Nast Travelers. It is an all suite (average room size is 700 square feet) hotel/casino whose exterior is a surprisingly accurate likeness of Venice. There is a canal outside, in front of the property, and another inside, which runs through the Grand Canal Shoppes. The huge registration area is especially impressive, with a spectacular vaulted and painted ceiling. The Venetian includes an assortment of nice bars and internationally celebrated restaurants of all types, an indoor "food court," a large casino, and a lavish pool area. The world famous Guggenheim Art Museum has partnered with the Venetian to open an art gallery that features some truly impressive displays. These rotate between the several Guggenheim Museums. Altogether, this is an attractive and upscale resort that delivers a good degree of customer satisfaction.