NOTE: After re-reading this it comes off as a bit harsh. That's not my intention. While I do feel strongly about what I wrote and stand by it, my goal isn't to bash the folks who work at these hotels.
[Welcome to one of our new columns, Stripping, where we feature Las Vegas Strip casinos and give you our raw opinion about what they have to offer. Expect this to be a regular feature as we work our way down the Strip. Of course there are a lot of great casinos not on the Strip. We'll get to 'em, but Stripping focuses on Las Vegas tourism's main thoroughfare.]
In this issue we take a virtual walk from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur, via Luxor.
Mandalay positions themselves as the Hard Rock+ (by the way, if Mandalay execs have actually used this term, I want royalties). Despite its problems, management have made some great decisions in the past and we go over their accomplishments below...
What's Great About Mandalay Bay:
Steve Wynn once described the MGM Grand Mansion as 'a jewel on the corner of a vast, middle-range hotel' and that's basically how I would describe THEHotel's relation to Mandalay Bay. If the original is an exercise in dolled up Motel Six sensibility, the designers realized they could fool the neauvo riche even more with something a little more high end. In general Mandalay is a vast sea of mediocrity and this is its saving grace. THEHotel's designers certainly went to the W's school of design: dark, dark and more dark. One thing that is super annoying is referring to everything as THE. THEPad, THETV, THEBathroom, etc... It gets THEOld really fast. Still, this is the highlight of the complex.
Before MIX opened in THEHotel, the best view in the city was restricted to the members only crew... or those that came on a comp... or those that trickled in on Mondays... Anyway, it was kinda exclusive. The view is still better and more exclusive than MIX and the bar is better decorated. Carved wood is everywhere. It's a really cool complex that FEELS exclusive, so much to the level that it make you seriously consider the $5k it costs per year.
House of Blues:
When it comes to large artists in small rooms, there are basically two places in town. One is The Joint at the Hard Rock and the other is the HOB at Mandalay. Right in the middle of the casino, it is impossible to miss. I've seen several shows in this venue, plus a comedy from Dave Chapelle. For all events, this place is a great place to see a show, especially if you can score VIP access. Even if you can't, the place is well thought out and if someone you want to see is playing, buy a ticket.
The original Mandalay Bay site plan revolved around the swimming pool. It is the signature attraction and they have only enhanced its cachet since introducing the Moorea Beach Club. This is where the Hard Rock comparisons come into full play. Actually, this pool is Monte Carlo-plus-plus... or Hard Rock plus. I guess everything is derivative in this town but this is perhaps one of the most recent, concrete examples.
What Sucks About Mandalay Bay:
Yes, Mandalay has some serious problems. It is the crown of a second rate empire and if you look closely, I think you'll agree with me.
Low Build Quality:
If you take a close look at Mandalay Bay (Mandalay) it is hard not to see the corners that were cut to make the budget. When the builder claims their $900M building can compete with Bellagio ($1.6B), you need to take a look and see if that is really true. What they are betting on is that their customer won't notice all of the little things that are missing at MB. All of Mandalay Bay's light fixtures are all finished in plastic. Look towards the ceiling and you'll see many plastic panels designed to look hand finished. Compare this to Bellagio or The Mirage or even the Golden Nugget and you see real chandeliers and lighting fixtures, not four sided lighting elements with elaborate plastic side panels. The flooring at Bellagio was put down by hand during initial construction. This stands in stark contrast to Mandalay where flooring is either fake or generic marble. Not counting THEHotel, your experience at Mandalay Bay (outside of the Four Seasons floors), is not going to be a significant upgrade from your experience at Luxor. That is the mentality under which the facility was designed and constructed and that's why comparisons to Bellagio and The Venetian are somewhat laughable.
For one of the premier Las Vegas Strip hotels, Mandalay's sports book is a joke when compared to books at Bellagio and The Mirage, Ballys or MGM Grand. It's not like Glenn Schaeffer (Mandalay President) wasn't aware that other joints had better books... They basically lifted the entire theme and concept for the hotel from The Mirage... It would have been nice if they had installed a comparable sports book. Even then, Bellagio set the standard for great books: the best chairs ever, great drink service and high end displays. NOTE TO MANDALAY FOLKS; Bellagio opened MONTHS before you did. I know you had access to capital. What happened? Your book sucks and when Wynn Las Vegas opens you are even more screwed.
Getting to Luxor from Mandalay usually involves walking through Mandalay Place, their new high end shopping 'environment'. I guess your other choice is walking on the street but I don't see a lot of people heading that way these days. The shopping mall is now the default route, and unless you want a burger from the Burger Bar, it's pretty boring.
What is Great
Not much. The fact here is that a semi-reasonable theme was bastardized to a large degree. Based on our experience, most Luxor dealers just don't care that much about providing a fun environment. What is perhaps the greatest themed casino in Las Vegas has gone without a suitable steward for too long. The pyramid with it's incredible light beam is known globally. They haven't capitalized on their inherent ability to bring people in. THEY HAVE A FREAKING HUGE PYRAMID. Despite the fact that the rooms, food and entertainment (yes, Blue Man Group) are not at the level of a Bellagio, MGM Grand or TI shouldn't matter. This is one of the most recognizable buildings in Las Vegas and it is a second rate attraction. That's a major mismatch.
See above. Luxor has the best theme idea of any place in Vegas and fails the most miserably. The standard rooms - they are so average it is unbelievable. If you can, score a Jacuzzi Suite. Located on the corners of the pyramid, they actually offer a unique experience at this otherwise average hotel.
I have pretty much nothing good to say regarding the Excalibur. I sometimes find myself in the casino and I honestly focus on trying to leave. I realize that some customers feel very much at ease at the Excal and there isn't anything wrong with that. Still, it's not my kinda place and I avoid it like the plague. Since it has no high end intrigue or attractions, it really can't contribute to this column.
STRIPPING: MORE TO COME; NEXT UP - New York New York, MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, and More...