Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

February 26, 2005

STRIPPING: Mandalay Bay to Excalibur

Posted by Hunter

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 Bay

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.

Foundation Room:

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.

Sports Book:

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.

What Sucks

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...


Read archived comments (14 so far)
February 27, 2005 2:37 PM Posted by t


You are harsh.

February 27, 2005 3:46 PM Posted by Hunter

I call it honesty.

February 27, 2005 4:23 PM Posted by Marlon

Great article, very insightful indeed.

February 28, 2005 1:37 AM Posted by prachin

yeah, it is harsh. whether or not you mean it to be, it just is. at the same time, your insights are really interesting and i am addicted to learning more in the upcoming reviews. just food for thought: not everyone can afford bellagio, just because it can't compete with bellagio doesn't mean it's crap. i mean, even exalibur has a market. don't you think it's kind of like comparing mcdonald's with maggiano's or something like that? i think these hotels just have different markets and to some extent, it's not really fair to compare them that harshly.

on a completely different note, i hate the monte carlo more than anything else and i hope you rip it apart.

i'm sure i sound like a complete psycho. disregard if you feel the need to. lol

February 28, 2005 7:03 AM Posted by doctor_al

Can't dispute that the build quality is not Bellagio, but what Wynn builds are outliers, not standards. Haven't stayed in Mandalay Bay, but based on the amenities alone it is an upgrade from a stay at Luxor. Service may not be to the standard of a high quality hotel, but that's not something I usually depend on anyway (although service at Luxor is noticeably as bad as you'd expect from a giant hotel). My main quibble with the place is that route to the restaurants could be done better, i.e. nicer looking and integrated to the theme; and, everything is pretty overpriced, but then that's the point, to get cash from those who have plenty to spare.

Personally, I think Wynn's got you holding Vegas to too high of a standard. The place is, after all, one big fake jewel in the desert. Venetian (which also gets build quality dings) is still pretty neat to walk through, even if it isn't real marble flooring. I guess a "good fake" works for me. The Mandalay folks weren't Wynn, but they weren't Stupak either.

February 28, 2005 10:56 AM Posted by Mark

I agree with most everything you wrote but I'll still stay in MBay or TheHotel from time to time cuz I like the openess of the casino and that's where I spend most of my time.

March 1, 2005 8:08 PM Posted by Hunter

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. To address some of them:

I *do* realize that not every joint is Bellagio and that is GREAT. It would be boring if Vegas was only open to those that can afford thousands on each vacation, and the city would never have flourished like it has.

While I complain about this little stuff, that's just because I find the high quality stuff really interesting and it's easy to point out the flaws in a mid-rate property.

Like I said before, I only really take issue with properties that categorize themselves as 4 or 5 star and high end and clearly are not. Excal or Luxor would never claim that level of service and quality and thus don't get faulted. MBay is on the bubble - they want people to think it is that level of experience and it really ain't.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

March 1, 2005 11:02 PM Posted by spinner39

I've been a regular at Mandalay Bay since it opened ... And your right on ... Their spa is very nice however, the workout area lacks just about everything. The gaming is why I stay at MB since I get room comps I can deal with the plastic, the sports book is the worst but, they do have great sandwiches and to my knowledge they still have one of the better 21 games in town .... excellent review

March 7, 2005 8:51 AM Posted by muckcat

Interesting. I hadn't really noticed the building quality at MB previously. Haven't stayed there though. Agree completely that Luxor is underutilized. The casino is a big disappointment hidden down below all the entertainment. Stayed there once, not in the pyramid, in the towers. Don't recall being overimpressed with the room. Excaliber just makes me crazy. I have a great sense of direction and it's the only casino in which I constantly find myself disorientated. It is however the only casino in which I have hit jackpots on consecutive spins of the same slot machine.

March 21, 2005 8:31 AM Posted by htj

I'm surprised by the assessment of the sportsbook. MB's sportsbook is my favorite in vegas. I've stayed at MB, Bellagio, Mirage and others, and the sportsbook at MB is the largest and most exciting i have experienced. The mirage book is nothing special, and its small. The Bellagio book is very nice, but again too small to accomodate tons of people.

When you have throngs of people packed into the mandalay book cheering on their bets its quite the experience. Not to mention the delicious pastrami sandwich at the snack bar. Yummm.

Good review overall. I'd add in that MB was much nicer when it first opened, but the rooms got worn pretty quickly. Still the nicest bathrooms going though, with THEhotel's even nicer.

Luxor was way nicer early on, and is now a dirty pit. They could give it a good cleaning and bring it back in the fray. Excalibur is just worthless. The only reason to go there is if you're staying at MB and can't find cheap enough tables.

July 30, 2005 9:18 AM Posted by detroit1051

I'm five months late in reading the Mandalay Bay Stripping review.

I've never stayed there, but I agree with many of Hunter's criticisms. The times I've gone there, I've parked in the garage and taken the elevators down to the entrance by Red Square.

The garage and elevator areas were dirty and depressing (plus slow). The casino doesn't appeal to me because it's just a big room without much character. The carpet, slot chairs and Byzantine chandeliers don't help the space, in my opinion.

I've never used the pool, but it sure looks inviting in photos, and the Shark Reef is something I hope MGM maintains.

I was lucky to be invited to a dinner at the Foundation Room at the top of MB. The heavy, dark wood panelling and furniture seem somewhat out of character for Las Vegas, but we had a great dinner, and the views from the outside patio, looking up the Strip, are fantastic. I'm sure some of the postcard photos I've seen were taken from that patio. The best part was getting there in daylight and watching dusk envelope the city. Very impressive, and the line of planes waiting to land at McCarran looked like stars floating in the sky.

I have to disagree with Hunter's opinion on Mandalay Place, the shopping area that connects MB with Luxor. Yes, I did have lunch at the Burger Bar and enjoyed it. I was probably influenced by a great wine and wine accessory store, 55 Degrees. The prices may be higher than other places, but the staff was very knowledgeable, and they had interesting wines, glasses and other things.

Also, thanks to Glen Schaeffer's interest in writing and poetry, there's an independent bookstore, The Reading Room. With Glen's departure, I question whether it will survive.

The Four Seasons is like a different world. The fact that you can go from one hotel to the other from the lobby area of MB is great for people who don't want to stay in a casino hotel but want access to the casino or restaurants.

MGM, in its conference call the other day, said they've put room renovations and other planned expenditures at MB on hold until they evaluate the property. I bet they upgrade it over time just like they did at MGM Grand. It's going to be a real money maker for MGM in large part because of the huge convention center and Events Center. It will be interesting to see where MGM positions all the Mandalay properties in coming years.

August 31, 2005 3:36 PM Posted by hopelessly distinctjournalmothers

September 2, 2005 5:42 PM Posted by garage enduredprincessteenage

September 3, 2005 5:39 PM Posted by gold archinghigherlose