Last updated: August 2013
I love gambling. It’s my one major vice. To avoid losing my shirt, house, and everything in between, I’ve always avoided Las Vegas, because it seems like an adult playground that I’d enjoy too much. However, last year, I finally bit the bullet and went because the BlogWorld conference was held there. I figured lots of meetings and networking events would keep me from gambling. (They didn’t, but that’s another story.) While I was there, I realized that Vegas is awesome, and I couldn’t believe I’d spent 29 years avoiding the city.
Last month, I had a few extra days before my trip to the Galápagos Islands and decided to go back to Vegas. It was the perfect place to spend a few days. I didn’t have any friends to meet or wild bachelor parties to attend. I went for the simple joy of it and discovered that going to Las Vegas alone isn’t that bad.
I was worried I’d end up in my hotel’s casino a lot. I not only ended up in my hotel’s casino but I also spent time in every other casino on the Strip. I decided to embrace being on my own and see all the casinos I could in Vegas. I was on a mission to review the Vegas Strip! Here are the places on my ever-growing list:
The Luxor – This place is a dump. I stayed here during BlogWorld in November 2010. The rooms really need modernizing. The wallpaper was peeling, my bed uncomfortable, the service crappy, and the Internet service slow. The casino floor is quite large and the minimum bets reasonable, but while there are a couple of decent restaurants in the hotel, I would never stay there again. Or even go back and visit. Also, considering it’s at the south end of the Strip, it’s a bit far from everything and not worth the walk.
Caesar’s Palace – I expected more from this place. (It is pager-friendly, though!) Maybe because when I used to play Nintendo, the Las Vegas game had Caesar’s logo on it, I’d always pictured this place as classy and high-end. I guess what you see in video games isn’t always true! Despite that, Caesar’s Palace was good — not amazing, but pretty good. The pool is phenomenal. It’s huge, decorative, and fun. The casino is quite large, and you can tell there’s a strong emphasis on gaming here. It has lower stakes than other nearby casinos, making it a better place to gamble on a budget. Caesar’s also has some of the best big-name shows in Las Vegas, so it’s one of the best places to catch a show on the Strip. I would stay here if I were on a budget.
The Bellagio – A classy, classy joint. In fact, it might be a bit too classy for me. They have piano players, fancy restaurants, the most famous poker room in Vegas, a huge and opulent casino (high minimums, especially on the weekends), and a very high-end shopping area (think Fendi and Gucci). The buffet at Bellagio is one of the better ones on the Strip, Yellowtail is a phenomenal sushi restaurant, and there’s a candy shop with a chocolate fountain. I really like the Bellagio, and that fountain show is every bit as awesome as Ocean’s 11 made it out to be. It happens every 15 minutes. Make sure you get there early, as a crowd builds about seven minutes before each show. Even if you aren’t staying here, the Bellagio is one of the better casinos to spend time in.
Mandalay Bay – I like this place a lot. They have a great pool area and a lazy river where you can just sit, float, and relax. The pool area is very large and is a huge highlight of any stay there. They’ve also got a huge casino with a large floor, very pleasant decor, and reasonable minimum bets. There’s a wide variety of tasty restaurants, including an excellent wine bar and sushi restaurant. The staff is funny and the crowd is very eclectic. I also enjoyed the rooms a lot. The beds are very comfortable and the rooms are clean. (If Bellagio is 5 stars, Mandalay Bay rooms are 3.5.) It’s a place I would stay again.
MGM Grand – This place seemed more family oriented than the other places I visited. I can’t say much about the rooms (I didn’t see them), but I did enjoy the bars, and the casino floor had a lot of table games. MGM also has a lot more shows, events, and concerts than many of the other casinos on the Strip.
Hard Rock – I wasn’t a fan. Other than the fact that it has Nobu (some of my favorite sushi), I couldn’t find anything I liked about it. It’s small, there are a lot of drunk young people around, and it’s way off the Strip. They have a big pool party on Sunday called “Rehab,” but its total focus is getting drunk. It’s like going to a club during the day. If you’re in Vegas for a drunken weekend or bachelor/bachelorette party, Hard Rock might be perfect for you. Otherwise, I’d stay away.
The Palms – The place to be: hip and trendy with a giant pool area, famous clubs, and a large casino floor.
Monte Carlo – I wasn’t impressed with its mediocre restaurants and shopping venues. It seemed like it had its heyday years ago. Its casino is big, but the buffet is just average — it’s cheaper than most other buffets and the selection is large, but the food’s nothing special. While it’s an average resort, it’s very affordable. You can get rooms for around $70 USD per night, which is a deal for the Strip. Heck, there’s a mall-style food court on the bottom floor (complete with Manchu Wok and McDonald’s!). It has many table games (though a small poker room). It’s not my favorite resort, but it’s one of the better budget options.
New York, New York – I really like New York, New York. It’s busy and crowded, just like New York, and it has a nice interior that’s designed to look like the Big Apple. The casino floor is a bit small, but there are many New York–themed restaurants and bars. On the weekends, this place is packed with people eating cheap food and drinking at the cheap bars. At night, you’ll hear people screaming as they take the famous roller coaster around the casino. New York, New York also has my favorite Cirque du Soleil show, Zumanity, a two-hour burlesque and dance show with a lot of audience interaction. This is an awesome place to stay, especially on the weekends when the eclectic crowds fill the place.
The Flamingo – I hate this place. It’s a dump. The rooms, which were just redone, look like a bad 1970s club. I feel like I’m in a bad ’70s time warp. The restaurants are not good here. The pool’s popular with people who just want to get drunk, so if you want to relax by the pool, don’t come here. The Flamingo is the perfect place for people who want a cheap place to stay with other drunk people for a wild, drunken weekend. Rates can be as low as $40 USD, but they nickel-and-dime you on services (no free Wi-Fi or gym), and it’s dated. Cheap drinks and wild crowds, but I’d rather stay at places like Monte Carlo or New York, New York, which are better-looking and nicer budget casinos.
Aria – I love everything about Aria. I love the high-tech rooms, the pool area, outdoor club, delicious restaurants (my top recommendations are Lemongrass, American Fish, and Sirio), and the overall modern look and feel. But my favorite thing? The smell. The whole place is vanilla scented. It’s by far the best-smelling place on the Strip. The pool here is quite large, and Liquid, the 21+ pool area, is fun if you’re looking for that “party, day-drinking” Vegas experience.
The ultra-modern and tech-savvy rooms blew me away. They had USB ports and power outlets all over the room, and I could control everything from my TV. It was like I was in Bill Gates’ house, except everything worked and nothing turned into a blue screen. And the beds? Like sleeping on air. I had a few friends with me, and they never wanted to leave their room’s beds.
On the weekends, Haze, Aria’s nightclub, is packed with people, and the resort takes on a much more festive vibe.
The Venetian – Another expensive and high-end casino, this old-school casino is both opulent and beautiful. The rooms here are all suites with large bathrooms, couches, TVs, and a gigantic bed. There’s a large shopping mall, gondola rides around the “canals,” and amazing, delicious, high-end restaurants that serve some of the best food in Vegas. The famous nightclub Tao can also be found here.
I love The Venetian. It’s beautiful. It has a large casino floor, a poker room full of bad players, phenomenal food, and great shopping. It’s opulent. You can’t really hate The Venetian. It would be like hating art. But you can hate the prices — it’s definitely not the cheapest place to stay on the Strip. The only cheap thing at The Venetian is the buffet. That being said, even when I’m not staying here, I usually come here to eat and play poker. (I used to go to Tao a lot, and while it’s a fun, loud, and packed club, my clubbing days are now over!)
The Palazzo – Sitting right next to and connected to The Venetian is The Palazzo. The Palazzo has similar rooms (they are also all suites), a relaxing 21+ pool area called Azure, a large gaming floor (I seem to win a lot there), and a number of restaurants. I stayed one night at the Palazzo and visited its pool often. I really like the inner atrium leading to the check-in desk. There’s a lot of marble, and it really makes you feel like you are in classical Italy. (There’s also a pretty and soothing waterfall on the walk over to The Venetian.) This place is also a much more affordable option than the Venetian.
The Cosmopolitan – Like Aria, a modern and trendy casino. This place has more of a focus on dining, nightlife, and shopping than on gaming. (It has a very small casino floor). I like Cosmo, as it has some of the best restaurants on the Strip, which is no surprise, given its commitment to dining. It has a chandelier bar that goes down three floors and free pool tables on the restaurant floor. Each level of the chandelier bar has a signature specialty drink. I also like Bond on the ground floor — John, the bartender, is one of the best drink mixers in Vegas. Make sure you also try the 12-Year Itch, a rum drink brewed especially for the Cosmopolitan. On the weekends, people crowd the place, as it’s home to the famous Marquee nightclub. It’s one of those “be seen” places in Vegas. For fine dining and drinks, Cosmopolitan is one of my top places to visit on the Strip. I never visit Vegas without coming here.
Paris – I like Paris. It has one of the best buffets on the Strip, the casino is large, and you’ll find very good French restaurants here. My favorite aspect of Paris (besides the giant buffet) is the club. I don’t like clubbing, but the top level of Paris’s club is open air and right below the replica of the Eiffel Tower. It provides sweeping views of the Las Vegas Strip, which is beautiful when it’s lit up at night.
Planet Hollywood – Pretty much the same as Paris. I need to really explore this place more, but from what I saw, it seemed like an OK place!
Excalibur – This place is past its prime. Everything here is rundown, the place stinks of cigarettes, and the hotel just reeks of sadness. The buffet is disgusting. The rooms aren’t too bad, just worn. The only good thing about this place is that the rooms are very cheap. That’s the only reason to stay here.
I still haven’t had that wild Vegas vacation, but you know what, there’s a lot you can do in Vegas without going crazy. One day I’ll get my Vegas vacation, but even alone, simply walking around, I grew to love Vegas even more. I’ll be back there again.
Note: Aria and the Palazzo gave me free accommodation, a free dinner, and a free buffet pass. I’ll be updating this list when I go back to Vegas and return to some of these hotels. I may change my opinion on them. You never know. Nothing is absolute.