Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Mike Ch is back yet again - this time with a boots on the ground report from Planet Hollywood.

Our man on the scene braved the Palace of Earl to bring back some first hand intel.

As always, photos are here:

Also, he linked up some photos in his post as well. Enjoy after the jump.

As an aside, I'm well aware of how bad the photo gallery sucks. I've not had the time to do much about it but I actually think that might change in the near future. Stay tuned.

This is a very different column this week. Rather than list each hotel individually, I'm going to basically write a trip report of about two and two half days on The Strip. I'm linking to various photos throughout the report, but there's more in the gallery as always.

We start on Sunday, where we took a trip to Bellagio to visit the buffet and wander around. I wrote a review of this place last week in the database here already, so I'll just copy and paste what I wrote:

I eat here once a year. Today was this year's visit. The past two visits were lunches and were not as spectacular as Wynn's and not as fancy as Paris', so lining up for today's Brunch expectations weren't too high.

Well, the service is good. How good? By buffet standards, it's Chef Mickey's good. No, don't laugh, the buffet at Disney World's Contemporary Hotel was where I met the most attentive waiter I've ever seen at a buffet and he was practically bowled over when I told him I'm from Vegas and the buffets at home are slow and unfriendly by comparison. Bellagio might not be quite even, but it's up there.

Let me put it this way: I'm like a soft drink sponge, I put away a lot of liquid very quickly (which is part of why I don't drink) and every casino restaurant visit has that moment where I have to stop eating and spin my head around the room trying to make eye contact with anyone for a refill. At this buffet, they will refill your drink even if you aren't finished with it, which is really something that should happen more throughout the strip if they weren't trying to eke out every fraction of a percent of profit available in these places.

Heck, it even means that the wait staff remember you're drinking Diet Coke while you're already into your meal, without having to stop and ask you what it was you're drinking. By churn-em-through buffet standards, that's nearly personal service.

I still believe this offers less than the other most expensive buffets as far as food is concerned. Bacon was typical greasy bacon, prime rib was good but not very mentionable. But brunch means you won't get every item you'll get at lunch (you can get steak, but no mashed potatoes) and I imagine every breakfast item wasn't out there too. So if there are multiple forms of, say, bacon, like there are at Wynn, you probably won't see them at brunch.

A special note must be made for the pancakes/waffles and syrup. The syrup is so good that you'll want to scoop it off your plate even after you're done with your pancakes. The waffles have little Bellagio logos embossed on them.

Desserts were underwhelming because I am a cheesecake fan and it was temporarily out of stock while I was there. Those green things with the white puffs and the red swirl (you'll know what I mean, search for 'bellagio buffet dessert') are so sweet that they could cause a nosebleed. Coming after so much pancakes and syrup, it's a wonder I didn't end up in a coma.

The price was $23 per without champagne, and that is high, but the service is so much better than the $18 buffets and if you threw $20 at a slot machine and it hoovered it and gave you nothing, then you certainly can't say this is a bad deal. In fact, I'd actually go so far as to say this was worth it. The $28 dinner, I don't know if I can go that far; but this buffet is certainly a treat for breakfast or lunch.

...So that was Sunday.

On Tuesday, I rode all the way out to Las Vegas (yeah, I know) and checked into the Planet Hollywood for a two night locals offer. Five Hundy's Tim & Michelle were still in town after the big podcast hootenanny, and Tim posted on Twitter that the line at PH's slot club was stupidly long. Sure enough, the line for the slot club desk inside the entrance was overflowing. The desk on the southern end of the casino by the elevators was closed for the length of our visit and the slot club desk was always totally packed. While I did see a few local mailers like mine, I mostly saw these printed out receipts that I can only guess are rewards for being pitched a PH condo. Is it really worth keeping all these people off the casino floor for that long? For that matter, is the property market so bad that you'd rather people be pitched residences instead of gambling in the day or boozing it up in the upstairs ultra-lounge at night?

Anyway, I didn't bring a card from home with me and there was no way I was going to get in the giant line just for some cards, so my gambling on Tuesday was fairly low key. I found a newish bank of VP machines and one of them paid fairly reliably over the next few days. Up by about $50, I wandered over to Bellagio where it was quickly taken by their machines without so much a conciliatory small win.

But I'm going too fast, back to the hotel portion. We were on the 16th floor, which had a redesigned hallway. I mentioned this because a few times the elevators opened on the 8th floor and it was Aladdin Central with the blue doors and carpeting. The elevators themselves also got a makeover with a mirror in the back and some goofy orb-like shapes on the walls. Our room was a sorta kinda hybrid of a room, as we had no movie posters or memorabilia anywhere. Though there was an area set up with a Panasonic plasma screen, there was also this weird unused piece of furniture along another wall. I kind of got the impression this was a one-bed room that was converted to a two-bed room. On the other hand, the bathroom is really big with a
separate shower and purple towels (apparently purple stuff is a big part of these people's marketing
image. Who knew?) and a whole bunch of goodies including a "massage bar" (soap in the shape of bumpy dots on one side) and a travel-sized body spray product carrying the AXE brand name. When I got the goodies restocked the next day, everything was replaced but the spray, so either they have a limited promotional supply of the stuff or it's pretty bad. Who knows, maybe the housekeeper was shocked to see it was taken?

I should point out, since there's a lot of Wynn fans on this site who have mentioned this amenity as a reason for going there, PH also has the actual HDTV stations and not just the SD stations stretched into a widescreen frame. In fact, by pushing the sleep button on the remote you can bring up the TV's actual menu options that are normally locked away and change the aspect ratio of the screen, for those who insist on seeing SD content in a 4:3 box. And instead of just having the locals, PH also carries basically ever standard channel of analog cable and Cox's whole HD lineup, so you won't just see HDs of the network affiliates but HDs of the cable networks and the oddball HD-only channels like Mojo.

We had a really great view of CityCenter and the south strip as well, which is why the lack of a movie theme didn't really bother me too much.

For lunch, I was cheap so I wandered over to McDonalds next to that Fatburger on the Strip and then back. For dinner, I wasn't hungry, but I was part of a group going to the "Planet Dailies" coffee shop. The waiter was trying really hard for small-talk but at least he was persistent.

I spent the evening at Bellagio watching the waters, because they're only really still impressive to me at night since I never get to go out on The Strip after dark. Bored between shows, I wandered around downstairs to the bus terminal. Though not the most elaborately dressed-up part of the place, this area is an untouched little corner of Old Steve Wynn Bellagio. Go down there and see the restrooms. I'm not joking. They're certainly the nicest you'll see at a bus station. And then ride the elevator back up and notice how it's the same materials and quality as the elevators in the resort proper, and how they actually wrote "BUS TERMINAL" on a big button instead of just having a buttons that said B and G on them. Steve Wynn, you are (were?) class.

On Wednesday morning, I awoke bright and early at 4:45AM to go to the slot club desk and strike when the crowds were too drunk, too tired, or too busy going to
work to go to a slot club. The desk was closed and would open at seven. Well, I was hungry after no dinner, so I popped back into the coffee shop again for a
pancake breakfast. The pancakes were okay, but there was a lot of sugar and the waiter was bringing more syrup than I could possibly need, and so once again the service here was more attentive than what I'm used to getting at a coffee shop below the top of the heap.

I took a tour around the property. When they were converting this place, the old former "London Club" elevated casino was briefly filled with penny and quarter slots, allowing you to have a quiet alternative casino. This upper level has been given the childishly attempt of a trendy name, "The Mezz" and once again the casino is a high limit zone. I wandered around and got a mix of confused looks and occasional glares from bartenders and dealers who had nothing to do. A big chunk of the former space is an ultralounge called Prive and it has purple curtains all over the place (more purple fabrics!) and a darkened interior that looked kinda gaudy to me and by now I understood I'm not supposed to be here anymore and I left.

The rest of "The Mezz" ain't much to talk about. A whole cluster of high-end dining rooms in the Aladdin days (Elements Steakhouse, Tremezzo, an oyster bar, and
at least one other place) were pared down to two, Koi and Strip House. Near the wedding chapel and meeting area doorways there is a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig empty space. The PH folks have simply never figured out what the heck they should do with most of their upstairs space, and so there's just a lot of empty space and couches, nothing notable except some empty chairs and a water stain in the ceiling, along with some
completely abandoned areas that served a number of purposes during the transition and now have nothing to do. If megaresorts are like small cities, then this is skid row.

The meeting space area is basically untouched. There's a lot of columns hanging around, a lot chairs with
absurdly high wings, and other decorations. Some Aladdin signs had obvious damage, and a lack of trash cans means that people are using the fake foam jars which are hanging around EVERYWHERE as trash cans.

I'm sorry, folks, but there is no excuse: this is gross. And almost every jar in the halls looks like this. I'm not going to ask the PH folks to "Hollywood up" the meeting area or even lose the magic lamp signs, I'm simply going to make one request: GET RID OF THE JARS
and put some REAL trash cans in there! The first real trash can in the maze of meeting rooms doesn't show up until you're nearly at the business store and out of
the area. Also, duct tape is not an acceptable method of preserving a carpet. Please throw away the jars and change the carpet in the back area. Do *NOT* bother replacing this themed furniture with modern designs or updating this bathroom to look trendy, because that isn't necessary and is a waste of money in a lesser traveled area of a seven year old building. On the other hand, people disposing their trash wherever they choose to and duct-tape carpets are unacceptable, even at O'Shea's. Keeping this area as a little Aladdin time capsule isn't offensive, but letting it fall to pieces is.

A year ago, somebody in the comments asked about the spa. Aside from a change in the sign out front, it's still very much the same place and that's probably a good thing since I've read positive comments about it.

I hauled it on the Monorail and Wynn shuttle over to Encore. The shuttle still takes a Paradise and Sands route, so I'm still not sure what the shuttles driving up and down the Strip are doing. If you'd like a taste of Encore, the showroom hall is now redone up in a
look very similar to Encore's job advertising, and I can assume safely this look will probably continue the pace for the rest of the hotel. You have new lighting
, some red and butterflies where there used
to be gold and flowers, and butterflies in the ceiling, too. There's also a bunch of red. A ton of it. It's everywhere. The north hallway was cut short at the first entrance to The Show Store and Gans' showroom sits quietly in a corner with no sign. Encore's reds meet up with Wynn's browns right where showroom alley ends and the casino begins.

On my way back, I wandered through Treasure Island. Walls are going up around the Mystere area. A space next to the $10 store is covered up. The $10 store was previously a chocolate store, and I can't remember if the new area was part of the sundries store or what. Opposite, the kids clothing store next to the poker room (formerly a lingerie store, formerly something else) is also walled up.

At Mirage's new entrance (Sbarro and Hot Dog on a Stick still not present,) the spokeswoman voice from the Mirage Resorts days now heckles you to come inside like
it's a low-roller grind joint on the other side of the road. When did Casino Royale buy the Mirage? Or is The Mirage set to become an official, certified, Gamblin' Hall and Saloon? The answer is neither, but that they tore out the movator so instead of jungle sounds and rushing water they felt they need to actively sell you on the idea of walking into the joint.

CityCenter keeps on going. There's a large empty structure at the base of Mandarin Oriental. And the ground level component has a lot of stuff written on the structure. This is mostly a lot of union-related IRON WORKERS UTAH STEEL DOGS 438 WUZ HERE
material, but as the fatalities add up there's more GOD BLESS (NAME) obituaries written along the street like a big pointy graveyard of beams and sheet-work. It's all a bit morbid, but there's not much management can realistically do but proceed safely.

We had dinner at Spice Market Buffet. I was originally a huge fan of this place right around the time of renovations, but with each visit it's been declining in quality. Dinner is now no longer worth the price being charged. Prime rib was very undercooked, turkey didn't seem right. Service was as on the ball as the coffee shop but I can't any longer recommend this place for a great buffet. Bellagio is better but has it's flaws, so if you want one of those gourmet buffets that has long been popular in the mid-Strip I have to say for now that you should head to Paris.

The rest of the visit was spent gambling. For what it's worth, the PH casino is very comfortable. It also plays a huge variety of music beyond the present era including dinosaur rock hits like the Stones and Beatles. That's the exact opposite of Wynn, where I think they bought a 128MB flash drive to hold the present playlist. So, you'll get a fairly deep selection of music while downstairs and won't go to bed with a headache struggling to get "it felt so wrong, it felt so right" out of your head due to incessant replays (thanks MGM, and San Diego's Horton Plaza.)

Talking about gambling is always difficult for me as a machine jockey because so much of it is based on anecdotal evidence, but I've had a theory that the boutique hotels like PH and Wynn (we'll see what Encore causes) are more prone to not just eat your money and ask for more the way the duopoly's casinos will. Every now and then I'm proven wrong (Palazzo,) but that guesstimate held here, with the PH casino paying out much more often than my visits to Bellagio. I didn't get much more than my money back most of the time, but at least that's kind if not generous.

My biggest complaint with the hotel is well documented, and largely irrelevant to many classes of customers: The decision by previous managers to salvage the old Aladdin's big showroom has resulted in said facility landed plop in the middle of the whole facility, with the parking garage on the far opposite side. This makes getting between the garage and the room elevators a bit of a hassle, even more so than every tower but Augustus at Caesars.

So that's all for this report. If you thought this update was huge, wait until Fall!


Read archived comments (13 so far)
August 27, 2008 4:02 PM Posted by mike_ch

Photo links are broken. I'm not sure why. :(

August 27, 2008 4:04 PM Posted by Hunter

Looks like something got jacked up in the encoding.

I'll fix 'em - standby.

August 27, 2008 6:13 PM Posted by detroit1051

"I wandered around downstairs to the bus terminal."
Mike, where is the bus terminal? As many times as I've been to Bellagio, I've never known one existed.

August 27, 2008 9:35 PM Posted by mike_ch

Bus terminal is outside and south (left if walking out the lobby). It's by the valet and rental car area but down an escalator.

August 28, 2008 3:05 AM Posted by Mike E

Thanks Mike!

Funny you should mention Mirage's entrance spokeswoman. Those things should be forbidden. I personally find PH's the absolute loudest and most annoying.

August 28, 2008 7:09 AM Posted by mike_ch

Mike: I went out there throughout the day and only heard music? There was a timeshare salesman out there at all times, but no voicetrack loop.

August 28, 2008 1:27 PM Posted by Mike E

As of last June, there was a recording of a woman with that fake-giggly/trying-a-little-too-hard-to-sound-kinky voice trying to lure people in. I guess they've realized by now how annoying it was.

August 29, 2008 9:45 AM Posted by Joe

Great report Mike! I too did not know about bellagio's bus terminal.

August 30, 2008 8:16 AM Posted by mike_ch

Thanks, MGK. That "WYNN THEATER" lettering is new. It was still an oval sign that said Le Rêve Theater last week.

September 3, 2008 10:00 PM Posted by Peter Q

Interesting article

Amazing stat 1.8% occupancy by owners. This is disturbing for the long haul viability of the strip verticals. What are the comparable stats for other Vegas verticals? What do the HOA dues etc run? Maybe MGM should rename City Center Casper’s Castle . Vegas is a market that is going to face amazing challenges in the future with over capacity.

September 4, 2008 5:44 AM Posted by detroit1051

The Meridian is the poster child for condo development in Las Vegas. I looked at them when they were originally rentals, and I wondered whether they would be a good buy with the opportunity to rent out my unit as the sales rep kept telling me it was a great time to get in "on the ground floor."
There are owner suits against MGM because buyers allege units at the Residences at MGM Grand were sold as "securities", not condos. Buyers are claiming they were assured MGM "promised" they could rent out their units and more than cover costs. Sometimes, especially at the top of the real estate market, people believe what they want to believe. Most buyers didn't do their homework, but when the market was hot, sales staff did paint a positive picture about it being a no-brainer.
Jeff Simpson, you wrote about MGM before. Do you know the status of the suits?

September 18, 2008 10:28 PM Posted by Joe

Hey since Bellagios rooms get renovated every 5 years so I wonder how they will design there new guest rooms nest year in 09' (2004-2009) classic elegance? hope so- contemporary hope not. We will see