Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Last time we visited Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur in our walk down the Las Vegas Strip. That first column generated a lot of responses so we're back with the next installment.

This time around we're going to check out four casinos which range in age from the 50s to mid-90s... Let's get started!

The Tropicana

The Tropicana opened in 1957 and is one of the last remaining 'original' hotels on the Strip. It's had quite a long and important place in Las Vegas history but this ain't school so we'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Since it's opening, the hotel has been remodeled and expanded several times. It currently features over 1,800 guest rooms and is owned by Aztar Corporation. If you haven't visited the Trop before and it's on your list, you had better hurry... The place is unofficially scheduled to be imploded and re-developed in the next year or so.

For a resort almost 50 years old, the place has aged fairly well. The casino is a typical Vegas job of about 30 years ago. Low ceilings in most sections, large chandeliers, and friendly dealers. This place was built as a super-luxury joint and much of that craftsmanship is still evident. The don't make 'em like they used to and the casino at the Trop is a great example of that. One complaint - Corona bottles don't fit in the drink rack at the craps tables! Who the hell designed that?

The hotel is made up of two hotel towers, of which the Paradise Tower is preferred - it's held up better over the years. No matter what you do, avoid the garden rooms. They are part of the original motel structure and are ragged. For a property at this price level, the pool is great. It's pretty large and there are multiple waterfalls that make it a pretty great place to hang out and have a cocktail, plus they sometimes have swim-up blackjack in the summertime.

In general we recommend checking out the Trop as a piece of history that will no doubt be gone soon. It's hard to harsh it for some of the less than great aspects as the place is twice as old as I am.

Photos of the Trop:

MGM Grand

The green giant at the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd, MGM Grand is the largest hotel in the city (and by some counts, the world). It's got over 5,000 rooms which basically means it is way too big to have great service or any feeling of intimacy.

What's Good About MGM Grand?

Skylofts - The recently opened Skylofts are located on the top floor of the Grand Tower of the hotel. They're a new form of super-luxury accommodations including a very high level of personalized service. These rooms used to be their penthouse suites and they were completely gutted to convert them to the new setup. The rooms include high-end media centers, TVs in all bathrooms, spa tubs, steam rooms, and butler service. Basically, the concept is a plush apartment in New York or London, only these are inside the world's largest casino. Despite the fact much of their room product is just average, the Skylofts are well designed and executed.

The Mansion - This is THE high-roller hangout on the Strip, opening in 1999 at a cost of $112 million. The Mansion is a set of 29 villas located on the side of the property with the largest clocking in at 12,000 square feet. Beyond incredible accommodations, the Mansion has both a private gaming salon and the semi-public 'Mansion Casino'. While most people will never see The Mansion, let alone stay there, we have to acknowledge the impressive setup MGM Grand has added to the hotel.

Some Restaurants - Over the course of the last couple of years, MGM Grand has added or remodeled most of its restaurants. While some are still dogs (Rainforest Cafe, the buffet), there are some winners. If you're looking for a good meal, try Emeril's (owned by BAM chef Emeril Lagasse), Nobhill or Seablue. Beyond just the food, most of the outlets have pretty interesting architecture, which stands out from the expanse of mediocrity that is the rest of the hotel's decor.

New Sportsbook and Poker Room - Just opened in the area at the front of the hotel, the new sportsbook features all the latest tech plus exclusive skyboxes for high end players. The new poker room is just next door and again, they created an entirely new space filled with brand new tables. It isn't operating quite yet, but it is very close.

What's Bad About MGM Grand?

Size - This place is too big. That means long walks everywhere, long waits for everything, and the general feeling that you are gambling at Costco. When you enter the casino you see what looks like a football field or airplane runway of slots. A huge open rectangular expanse. It's uninspired and boring. If it wasn't for the fact that they have 5,000 rooms to fill the casino, this place wouldn't be a draw for gamblers.

Low Build Quality - The hotel was originally targeted as a family destination, with a theme park and large pool complex onsite. It's $1 billion price tag was staggering at the time but that wasn't based on high end building materials, it was due to the sheer size of the resort. Many parts of the resort have low-end ceilings, furnishings and fixtures... Now, this is becoming less true as MGM Grand is basically rebuilding itself (they have spent over $600 million since the place opened) as the years go by but it is still evident. The Grand Tower was redone a few years back and while it is now more tasteful, the main room product isn't a luxury product. For years the Emerald Tower rooms were the red headed stepchildren on property. They were originally rooms in the Marina, a small resort that was on the site before MGM Grand was built. MGM has recently re-done the Emerald Tower rooms as the 'West Wing' and upgraded the furniture and decor. We haven't seen these rooms yet in person but the rooms haven't been expanded or enlarged, so they are still pretty small compared to the Grand Tower and suite options.

We're Not So Sure...

KA - The new show from Cirque de Soleil is probably a winner. I haven't seen it yet so I can't say for sure but from what I've heard, it's pretty amazing. So, I'm fairly confident saying this is a win except for one thing... Another freaking Cirque show? With this, the show coming at The Mirage and Steve Wynn's Cirque-esque Le Reve, it's getting a little out of control.

West Wing - See 'Low Build Quality' above... I'd like to see them for myself.

Overall MGM Grand is not the kind of place that I think of when I am looking for a place to stay in Vegas. While it will provide many visitors with a Vegas experience, it lacks any real style, interesting architecture or tasteful decor.

Photos of the MGM Grand:

New York New York

The 2,000 room hotel on the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Tropicana has been a major visitor draw since it opened in 1997.

What's Great About NYNY?

Exterior Facade - NYNY has a great exterior. Designed to look like New York City in the 1940s (there never has been a World Trade Center in the design), the hotel tower is fashioned after famous city landmarks and even features a small Statue of Liberty.

Some Restaurants - Some of the food outlets are quite good. America and Gallagher's both come to mind as above average food choices. None of the restaurants are out of this world fantastic but they can hold their own against most other Strip resorts.

What's Bad about NYNY?

Casino Design - While the exterior is brilliant, the interior is a mess. The ceilings in the main casino are at 35', which clearly sucks out all the energy in the casino. The entrances from MGM Grand and Excalibur, which bring in thousands of people a day, require you to take an escalator down to the casino floor, another design flaw. This place should be hopping and its usually only moderately busy. These are huge flaws but it doesn't look like MGM MIRAGE is making any big changes anytime soon.

Guest Rooms - Put in basic terms, they are nothing special. There are something like four different guest elevators, good luck finding the right one. Once you get to your room, you will see that it is pretty small and not all that special. For the kind of rates they are usually trying to get, the rooms just don't cut it. You're better off spending less and ending up at the Aladdin or about the same and hitting TI. This place wasn't built to satisfy the really high end customer or even the discerning hotel guest. It's certainly more focused on the mid-market.

NYNY doesn't really have any other exciting amenities to discuss. Yes, there is a roller coaster that can be fun to ride, but when you're in the casino its just plain loud. No great pool. No great nightlife. No great nuthin'.

Photos of New York New York:

Monte Carlo

If you like the Monte Carlo I should apologize in advance. I'm probably gonna piss you off.

What's Great about the Monte Carlo?

Lance Burton - This show is a lot of fun. Not only is the magic hard to figure out, the guy has some pretty good jokes! I recommend this show, especially if you have your kids with you in Las Vegas. It's the kind of show that everyone can enjoy.

Brew Pub - They make some great beer right here on site. The food is only average but the beer is worth the trip.

Return on Investment - This place was built cheap in a great location. It has made a ton of money since it opened based on its proximity to must see attractions and fairly successful marketing. Actually, I'll probably write an entire article on this topic sometime in the future, it's pretty interesting stuff.

What's Bad about the Monte Carlo?

Everything Else - This has got to be the least inspired casino built in Las Vegas in the last 20 years. The theme is executed so half-heartedly. The casino is a football field sized warehouse with absolutely no interesting features. The pool is a sort of mini-Mandalay Bay (designed by the same folks) and the hotel tower is built with the same cheapo construction that plagues Luxor and Mandalay Bay. Thin walls, spotty service and cheap finishing touches. There is onsite tennis, which some folks will certainly enjoy... Still, this place is just seeping in mediocrity.

Photos of Monte Carlo:

That's it for this episode of Stripping... Next time we'll look at Aladdin, Paris, Ballys and Bellagio, which should be a pretty interesting episode considering all the problems the Aladdin has had, Ballys long history in Las Vegas and Bellagio as the current king of the Las Vegas casinos.


Read archived comments (7 so far)
March 25, 2005 2:49 PM Posted by Prachin

i hate mandalay bay more than anything else in the world. the rooms suck, the service sucks worse, and the beds suck even worse. i wouldn't have minded if you ripped them apart much more.

looking forward to the next installment! sounds like it should be veeery interesting!

March 28, 2005 4:21 PM Posted by Ben

I think that Foxwoods, not MGM Grand, has the biggest casino in the world. But MGM is probably the biggest "hotel/casino".

I enjoy your articles/posts - thanks.

March 28, 2005 4:53 PM Posted by Hunter

Foxwoods does have a bigger casino floor but I believe has less rooms than MGM Grand (1916 vs. 5005).

April 1, 2005 2:11 AM Posted by Dr. B

Delightfully honest, taking no shame in extolling the finer things in life...

The Cirque guy was on Dateline at some point in the near past ... After the Beatles/ Cirque at The Mirage, I thought I heard him mention that there was yet *another* Cirque show in the works for Vegas, and of course many more for all over the world... (?) Am I imagining things?

April 7, 2005 8:40 PM Posted by doctor_al

You hit it on the head with NYNY - the price doesn't meet the value. Same, IMO, with MGM, but it seems like Monte Carlo is finally coming down to where it should be. And the Monte Carlo casino, while uninspired, has a pretty decent low-limit blackjack game for a major strip property.