Just like in the Excursions within Vegas post, I’m going to start at the Southern end of The Strip and work my way along. Before I do that I’m going to touch briefly on the ‘Play’ bit.
In Vegas just about everywhere of any note has some gambling attached to it. You’ll come across petrol stations, off licences and even the airport that offer slots and other gaming. It follows that hotels do too but there are a few exceptions:
- Trump International – the story goes that Steve Wynn (of Wynn and Encore fame) had something to do with the future president of the USA not getting a gaming licence for his property. Probably not true but great to think he spent all that money without getting the paperwork in order first.
- Signature at MGM Grand – this is a theme we’ll encounter again. You can’t gamble at this exact location but it’s only a hop and skip to the MGM Grand where you can.
- Vdara – part of City Centre so you just need to pop next door to Aria to fill your gambling boots.
- Wyndham Grand Desert Resort – not actually on the Strip but just around the corner so it scrapes into the list.
- Nobu Hotel at Caesars – this is actually within Caesar’s Palace (the entrance is near the Cleopatra’s Barge bar / nightclub) so you’re basically an elevator ride away from the tables.
- Carriage House – I stayed here once, it’s just behind The Strip on East Harmon so pretty well-located.
- Four Seasons – this is part of the Mandalay Bay complex so it’s also very close to gaming (and Shark Reef).
I’ve listed these locations as there might be some of you thinking of visiting Vegas who want absolutely nothing to do with gambling. I don’t personally see the benefit since once you’re ensconced in your room, wherever it is, there is no gambling as it’s restricted to the gaming floor, bars and a few other common areas on the lower levels. The exception to this might be if you have children under 21 who are prohibited from the gaming areas. It can sometimes be awkward that they can’t walk everywhere you do because of gaming restrictions and this wouldn’t apply in the common areas of a non-gaming location.
The properties that follow all have gambling facilities of varying standards that should be more than adequate for your needs. All offer the most common table games like Blackjack and Roulette, Three Card Poker and some more exotic variants (see Gaming). Most also have a sports book (betting shop to you and I in the UK).
The available gaming should not therefore dictate your choice of hotel unless:
- You’re in town to play a lot of poker and you want to do so where you stay or
- Table limits are important to you. By this I mean the minimum amount they’ll let you gamble for (realistically you and I are not concerned with the house maximum limits).
I will nod towards these issues as we consider each property but for more detailed information on poker see Poker and for more on gaming see Gaming. As a general rule though the more expensive the hotel the higher the minimum gaming limits. For example you might be able to play Blackjack for $5 a hand at Stratosphere but you’re unlikely to be able to play at Venetian for less than $15 except at the quietest times of the week.
Please also see Excursions within Vegas which details any unusual attractions that the Strip hotels have and which may influence your choice.
I’m going to give you a rough indication of price on a scale up to 12 where 12 is the most expensive and 1 (there aren’t any 1s) is the cheapest. The amount you actually pay will depend on what days of the week you stay (Friday and Saturday are by the far the most expensive), what time of year it is (Summer is most expensive) and whether it’s a public holiday in the USA (when again the price goes up). This is the first figure you’ll see not a rating.
8/9. One of the higher end properties regarded as luxurious. Popular with convention guests because the attached convention centre is enormous. Handy for the Outlet Malls (South) and home to the magnificent Shark Reef. The pool or aquatic playground as they call it is top notch. I count 12 restaurants and 12 bars/clubs/lounges. The room was not quite as luxurious as I ‘d imagined and needed some updating. The one big negative is the location – right at the very end of The Strip – so it’s a good trek from most other properties. That’s not a problem at all if you’re not planning to go anywhere else but you’ll need lots of taxis if you are. I even got a tattoo here at an in-house facility.
4/5. I thought this was exceptional value when I stayed here. It was a while ago now but the standard room I stayed in had a good ‘marble’ wet room en suite and the cost was modest. Not all the rooms are in the pyramid itself – there’s a conventional block also and you can request which you would prefer. If you see a bright beam of light shooting into the Vegas night sky, it’s coming from the Luxor. Great Egyptian theme, not huge by Vegas standards, I count a healthy 13 restaurants and 6 bars/clubs/lounges. The problem again is the location near the extreme end of The Strip.
3/4. Externally a very strange combination of Disneyesque and olde English castle, this theme carries though into the Tournament of Kings show with knights on horseback, jousting, swordfighting etc. The show is undoubtedly the highlight of the property for me. I thought it was very scruffy and I was disappointed with my room. It’s pretty cheap for a reason. It also suffers from being near the end of The Strip however you could argue that it’s pretty close to Mandalay Bay (and connected by the free tram, as is Luxor) yet you’d be paying only a fraction of the price for your room.
4/5. Last time I asked, Virgin Atlantic were putting up their cabin crew and pilots here during their lay overs before they return to the UK. Previously they used Planet Hollywood. You can read certain things into this; it’s not particularly expensive but it’s good enough not to upset the workers too much. ‘The Trop’ is an independent, not owned by one of the big two (MGM or Harrahs). It’s connected by a footbridge to the MGM (albeit there’s a tortuous route from the bottom of the bridge to get into the property) but it’s not very near anything else. There are less dining options than at Luxor, Mandalay Bay or MGM. This is a bit of a cult venue – you return regularly or don’t really notice it exists.
6/7. Massive, that’s the number one thing about this place at over 5,000 regular rooms and a huge gaming floor. Maybe they didn’t like the look of me when I stayed because they gave me a room right at the very opposite end of the corridor from the lifts and it’s a very long walk indeed! I count something like 19 restaurants and 10 bars/clubs/lounges which reflects the scale of the place and at least 5 in-house shows. There’s a decent poker room with good daily tournaments as well as lower end stake cash games. I thought it would cost more than it did, my main objection being that it’s rather featureless without an appealing theme.
6. Across the Strip now to NY NY which at least looks great from the outside and features its own Roller Coaster. It’s connected by a footbridge across The Strip to the MGM Grand. You’ll pay roughly the same for each property so it’s a bit of a no-brainer for me that you’d stay at the MGM Grand which has a lot more facilities unless you have a particular affinity for New York. I count about 12 restaurants and 9 bars/clubs/lounges. I must give a shout out to Nine Fine Irishmen, an on-site Irish themed pub and eatery which serves a choice of ciders (which are rare in Vegas) and has a great feel to it. If you’re planning to prop up the bar there on a regular basis that would be a good reason to pick NY NY.
4/5. I had a brief affair with the Monte Carlo staying here several times because it was good value and in a handy location next to Aria but at a fraction of the cost of staying there. I got to know and like some of the gaming staff who I found friendlier than in some of the larger properties. There’s a McDonald’s on site in the food Court and it’s connected by the Aria Express monorail to Crystals (shopping) and Bellagio. Amazingly there are about 14 restaurants and 9 bars/clubs/lounges. If you’re on a budget this should be a venue you consider but it does look better in the photograph than it is inside. The room was disappointing and the property needs some TLC. Note they’re building the massive new arena right next door adjacent to NY NY which I doubt will be a bonus.
6/10. These are all constituent properties of the new glamour location on The Strip – City Centre which also comprises Crystals shops and is connected by the Aria Express monorail. I was fortunate to stay at Aria the night it opened. I recall an electronic wireless tablet device from which I could control the curtains, lighting, heating and so on. A top class contemporary room and an extensive modern gaming floor, Aria also has arguably the second best poker room on The Strip. I count about 14 restaurants and 9 bars/clubs/lounges many of which are open 24/7 (not all are despite the Vegas hype). Aria is not cheap but it is probably my favourite property towards the Southern end of The Strip and is very well located and connected.
9/10. Bellagio is iconic. If you know little about Vegas this is the property you have probably still heard of. Named after a village in Italy, I recall the story / urban myth that they invited the mayor over to the USA to stay but he refused. The fountains are outstanding, the Via Bellagio shops are as high end as you can get, their Christmas decorations are always breathtaking as is the decor in reception and variously around the common parts. It’s connected by the monorail to Aria and by a footbridge to Caesar’s Palace and has a glorious mid-Strip location. I count about 14 restaurants some of which are very exclusive and well-regarded but a more limited number of bars/clubs/lounges. The poker room used to be the best in town and is a must if you want to play for high stakes but has been surviving on its reputation for years and has been overtaken by the rooms at Aria and the Venetian. For all I have to say about Bellagio that’s good I find it, and the majority of its guests, pretentious and I avoid it. I was disappointed with my room (despite the electronic drapes) which was in need of updating.
6. When this was the Aladdin it was Middle Eastern themed and it worked well albeit rather shabbily. Now it seems to me a hotel in search of some character unless, that is, you’re a fan of the brand. I count about 11 restaurants including PF Chang’s (which is great value with monster portions and certainly my Chinese restaurant of choice on The Strip) and 5 or so bars/clubs/lounges. Bizarrely there is no Planet Hollywood restaurant on site – you have to go diagonally across The Strip to find one at the Forum Shops. Probably the best facility is the Miracle Mile Shops but if you’re not a shopaholic I just can’t see why you would stay here.
5/6. If you’re French or like the French presumably you’ll make a beeline for here. Also if you like Bellagio (which is just across the road) but don’t want to pay to stay there. The least you can expect is a good choice of food and I count 12 restaurants and at least 6 bars/clubs/lounges. The walkways have the feel about them of the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian with the polished, pretend cobble floors and ceilings pretending to be outdoors. The gaming area is OK as are the rooms and there are worse places to stay even if you’re not Gallic.
4/5. Every time I visit Ballys I forget just how long the walk is from the pavement of the Strip to the entrance of the property which is set ridiculously far back. The attraction of this place must be its proximity to Bellagio across the street and Caesars Palace diagonally so because each time I walk into it I wonder why I did and usually leave again. It is however realistically priced. There are 9 or so restaurants but a very limited number of bars/clubs/lounges. There is a poker room but I don’t rate it very highly. The rooms are ordinary as befits the price.
8/9. This is the other Vegas property the novice will possibly have heard of, perhaps because of the legendary boxing and other sporting events held here or because of the resident performers like Celine Dion and Elton John. There’s no doubt that Caesars is well situated near the centre of The Strip next to Bellagio. It boasts several vast towers of accommodation and at least as many restaurants as any other property on the Strip. Similarly there are a multitude of bars/clubs/lounges. There is a large sportsbook but it suffers due to its location from non-gaming patrons using the facilities. The poker room was once a leading venue but completely lost its way. They’re trying to claw its reputation back and it’s a solid venue for tournaments if not for cash games. I always find the main gaming area to be smoky. I have to tell you that when I stayed here housekeeping left my room door open all day. I was bitterly disappointed and didn’t find the Palace value for its hefty price tag.
4. I stayed here a couple of times because my daughter loves the pinkness of it, the pool complex is good and there is resident wildlife to the rear which gives it an unusual feel for The Strip. The rooms however are not very good and it all feels a little down at heel. You’re only likely to stay here if you’re on a budget however Harrahs, who own all the properties on this section of The Strip, have been very clever and have joined Flamingo to Harrahs by a new property called The Linq. At the other side of Flamingo they’ve created The Cromwell from what used to be Wild Bill’s Gambling Hall and Saloon. As a result you can now walk all the way from Harrahs to The Cromwell in what amounts to one giant property called The Quad which also incorporates O’Sheas. Probably the rowdiest bar on The Strip, this used to be famous for its incumbent dwarf/midget climbing on the bar and pouring drinks into and over lady customers (sorry if I’m not being PC but I really don’t know how to put it better). O’Sheas now hosts many beer pong tables and a live and very loud band most evenings. Don’t even contemplate it unless you’re under 40 or a bit mad like me. You will truly love it or hate it and the Flamingo.
4/5. I stayed once at Imperial Palace which stood where the Linq has been built. Imperial Palace was noted for the mirrors on the bedroom ceilings and its Dealertainers. There was a pit of table games where, periodically, the dealers would climb onto a podium and sing or lip sync dressed as famous performers like Michael Jackson or Cher. Great entertainment. The hotel itself was dreadful hence the towers have been revamped and the ground floor accommodation has been completely replaced. The common parts have a wonderful, open, spacious feel about them so I’m trying it out as a hotel venue this March. I’ll update this post after my visit. The High Roller is located at the back of the Linq. You can just see the old IP creeping into the photo of Harrahs below.
4/5. I’ve been staying at Harrahs now for years because it’s modestly priced but perfectly located for my needs i.e getting to The Venetian to play poker without paying their unreasonable room rates. The rooms are a bit tired but the gaming areas have recently been revamped. The staff are friendly, the fitness centre on the fourth floor is fit for purpose and I really like Toby Keith’s Bar and Grill which must be the best country music venue on The Strip. I like it that I can walk through the bus garage and into the Venetian by the back door avoiding the crowds on The Strip. Mirage is directly across the road.
6. Mirage always looks good from a distance and similarly when you enter the hotel lobby with its colossal palm trees and running water to further the oasis theme. The gaming area has also had a recent makeover. The rooms are rather disappointing but this was still my hotel of choice before I defected to Harrahs. This was partly because I transferred my allegiance from the MGM Group to Caesars (Harrahs) but also because of what they did to Carnegie Deli. Mirage had two of the best eateries in town. California Pizza Kitchen is still there but does get very busy. Carnegie Deli was just fantastic serving my favourite Matzo Ball soup and sandwiches piled up to the ceiling. That’s still there also but they inexplicably changed it from a proper restaurant to a strange cafeteria arrangement where you queue to place your order (without a proper sight of the menu) then go and sit at a table. Absolutely crazy. The poker room used to be one the leaders in town but has gone down hill enormously. I noticed that much of it was given over to a Jack Daniels bar during the recent rodeo season. The Mirage certainly benefits from the Dolphin Habitat and its pool area. Undoubtedly Mirage is very well situated and a lot of you will like it but it’s no longer for me.
10/11. If you’re not on a budget you must stay at the Venetian or the Palazzo. It doesn’t matter which as they form the two halves of one giant and classy complex. Each has its own gaming floor and you can easily walk from one into the other. On the second floor are the Grand Canal Shoppes and the Palazzo shops which offer a great variety of shopping and eating. The canal runs through them on which you can take gondola rides. Believe it or not the second photograph is taken inside and shows the canal. I haven’t sampled them all but I believe there are getting on for 39 restaurants across the two properties and 11 bars/clubs/lounges including Tao nightclub and beach which has a top reputation. The poker room is, I suggest, number 1 in Vegas currently. It’s spacious unlike Bellagio, the chairs are comfortable, the dealers great and you can have superb food brought to the table from the Grand Lux Cafe. The cocktail waitresses are what they should be (no sexist comments please) and there is always action which is important to a serious poker player. My only criticism is what it costs to stay here on top of which you’ll pay the resort fee and tax. More on resort fees below – the blight of The Strip.
8. I noticed that even on Google Maps it says that TI is ‘lively’. An independent nowadays (not owned by MGM or Harrahs) I’ve never quite understood why it costs as much to stay here as it does. There’s nothing exceptional about the rooms, there are 11 restaurants and 7 or so bars/clubs/lounges including Gilley’s Honky Tonk. The gaming floor is OK, the pool area is decent but not up to the standard of Mirage at this end of The Strip. It’s very much aimed at the younger crowd which is fine but not worth the money as far as I’m concerned. If it were Harrahs’ price I would stay here because of its location.
11. Steve Wynn, probably the greatest Vegas hotelier of them all, created Wynn and it was so successful he then built a replica next door; the very aptly named Encore. These are cult properties. There are many people who will not stay anywhere else and rarely venture from the grounds. Wynn and Encore are at the uppermost end of the spectrum in terms of price and there seems to be no indication of that changing. Situated where they are, at the Northern end of the main section of The Strip and some way further along than Palazzo, they don’t lend themselves to guests wandering back and forth to the other properties. Only Fashion Show Mall across the road is truly nearby. No doubting Wynn and Encore have good facilities with a lot of restaurants and six or so bars/clubs/lounges but I’m not a fan of the poker room which is a bit on the small side and rather enclosed, although there can be some good action. I don’t like the annoying audio when you log onto the website and I seem to hear Steve Wynn’s voice whenever I step into a taxi. I’m not Wynn / Encore material but there will be those of you who are looking for something elite and self-contained who will take to this brand.
3. It’s a good walk along The Strip towards Downtown before we come to the last two Strip properties and therein lies the problem. There used to be a lot more in this area but Sahara and Riviera closed their doors and now Circus Circus and Stratosphere are left stranded in the middle of nowhere. If they were directly served by the monorail the story would be different but that has already veered off well to the East and doesn’t help. These properties don’t even have the benefit of being clustered Downtown. Circus Circus is both a reminder and remainder of Vegas past but that is not enough to save it. There are 9 or so restaurants and 5 or so bars/clubs/lounges but the whole place is, I’m afraid, rather low rent for a property that boasts a Strip location (which it really doesn’t any more). I think its days must be numbered.
3. They won’t be demolishing ‘The Strat’ in a hurry because of its immense tower but I can see it as the centrepiece of a new development in due course. Take away the tower and very little is left. The restaurant at the top is superb and totally out of keeping with the facilities at the foot of the tower. Incidentally none of the residential rooms are in the tower itself but in the block you can see to its left. There are 16 or so restaurants/bars/clubs/lounges and a food court. The rooms are quite large but in need of refreshment and the gaming area is very ordinary. The obvious problem is that Stratosphere is so far from everything other than Circus Circus and is not even close to Downtown. The one redeeming feature, aside from the low cost to stay here, is the abundance of thrill rides at the top of the tower (if you like that sort of thing and if that justifies staying here rather than just visiting).
7. Looks great doesn’t it and I really enjoyed staying here but it’s not on The Strip; it’s pretty much three blocks back on Paradise and Harmon and nearer the airport than The Strip. It is however exactly what you would expect of a Hard Rock property with louder and rockier music than most other Vegas properties and the darkest poker room you’ve ever seen. I had a tattoo done here as well because I’m a rocker at heart when I’m not being country. There are 10 restaurants and ample nightlife as you’d expect. You really need a car or a cab to get to The Strip so I’m only expecting you to stay here if you’re very rock orientated.
5. The Rio is unusual as it sits the other side of Interstate 15 from The Strip. There are two other significant properties nearby; Orleans and Palms. Rio is a Harrahs property that has gained prominence in recent years because the World Series of Poker (which belongs to Harrahs) now takes place here. Its other claim to fame is being an all-suite property so the rooms are bigger. With 11 restaurants and 5 or so bars/clubs/lounges there is plenty to do. The theme is Brazilian carnival so expect to see lots of dancing girls and plastic fruit! The obvious problem is the location as it’s not realistic to walk to or from The Strip (and I certainly wouldn’t advise it although I have done it). There are free shuttle buses to Rio and back from other Harrahs properties like Harrahs itself otherwise you’re going to be spending significant money on cabs. If you’re not adventurous and don’t want to leave the immediate area you could do a lot worse than stay here.
2. There are two Travelodges on The Strip; near the centre opposite Aria and at the North end opposite Circus Circus. I haven’t stayed at the former although it is unquestionably very well situated and how it hasn’t been knocked down to make way for something bigger I still don’t really understand. I have stayed at the North Strip Travelodge when I couldn’t find anything else. It had the noisiest freestanding air conditioning unit I’ve ever come across and the room next door was busted by the cops during the night. These are the ultimate budget locations on The Strip and you shouldn’t be under any illusions as to what to expect.
5/6. Just the one property Downtown. There are obviously many more properties to choose from but this is the one I have some knowledge of and, as I said, they’ve spent a lot of money on it. The facade is true old Vegas and the gaming floor is like that too but the other common parts are really quite up to date. The rooms have been made over, the pool area is very good with the Shark Tank and there are a good number of sensibly priced restaurants and bars. This is also the place to play poker now Downtown given the gradual demise of Binion’s. The room is not enormous but the action is the best you’ll get this side of The Strip. The downside is that you’ll pay above average for Downtown to stay here to reflect what they’ve done with the place but if you want to sample it down there (and not solely for budgetary reasons) it’s a good choice.
There are many off Strip hotels frequented more by locals than visitors like you and me but I’ve stayed in many during my more adventurous days and if you message me I’ll tell you what I know. I’m thinking of venues like Orleans, Red Rock, the Green Valley Ranch, South Point and the Station Casinos.
Before I wrap up this post a word or two about the dreaded resort fee.
This is an involuntary nightly surcharge imposed on top of the room rate which theoretically covers the cost of certain amenities such as internet access, fitness center usage and newspapers. Of course these amenities are not that often used by holidaying visitors and the actual cost to the hotel of providing them is very modest. Resort fees therefore are really nothing but a device to increase the room rate by the back door, are often imposed without the visitor being aware of them and cause a lot of bad feeling. I think the resort fee emanated in Hawaii but Vegas has certainly embraced them and few properties don’t impose them.
I came across this useful site that gives the low down on these abominable charges but I can’t vouch for its accuracy. Have a look if you’re not too squeamish or easily offended. Nearly $36 a night plus tax is not uncommon and don’t forget this is on top of your room rate! Scandalous.
I don’t pay a resort fee because I always now stay at a Harrahs property and hold a Diamond Total Rewards card. It pays for me to maintain my status. As a regular visitor I would not countenance paying a resort fee for something that should be included in my hotel’s facilities anyway and you should insist likewise or move your business elsewhere.