I've realized recently that I'm Vegas homeless. When I think about it, I probably have been for a long time.
What does being 'Vegas homeless' mean? I lack a consistent home base. There's no hotel I can rely on to offer me a great stay and friendly service at a price that's reasonable. I don't have a single casino in which I concentrate my play. There's no one hotel I care about and no one hotel that cares about me.
More after the jump...
My work gives me plenty of reasons to stay at a lot of different properties and try out new places as they have come online. Well, the building boom is over and other than the occasional new room project or renovation, I'm ready to settle down somewhat. Or at least I'd like to - it's been harder than I'd thought.
When I first started coming to Vegas, I didn't know up from down. Trips were more dictated by practical concerns than any knowledge of the resorts themselves. As my interest in the city grew, I began to pick out my stays based on curiosity to see the different room product, get a feel for different operators and their styles.
With up to ten trips a year at one point, I had plenty of opportunities to settle into some set patterns and I certainly did: The Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore have been my most frequent dormitories, with The Mirage as the single number one recipient of my room dollar.
My problem is that I don't feel at home anywhere anymore.
That's not to say I haven't had good stays recently - I certainly have. There was only one night at Bellagio last week but I had a blast, though that was probably more company than facility (hey Gang!) The Plaza was interesting, even if somewhat flawed. Flamingo was disappointing ; Aria steadily improving ; Wynn impressive and Encore predictably good. I've had more than my share of great stays all over town.
I have friends that are very happy staying at the same hotel or in properties owned by the same company, over and over. They're building relationships with casino hosts, hotel employees, bartenders and service people in restaurants. My vagabond ways have earned me next to nothing in that regard.
So who should I choose for my Vegas home? Let's look at a few of the possible candidates, based on some of my past preferences:
A magical spot. Twenty-plus years removed as the queen of The Strip, The Mirage still has a glint in it's eye like a stately old ship that was once the envy of the sea. Despite a casino re-do that removed a good bit of it's charm, The Mirage's upgrades have mostly worked out as positives.
Sure, the room designs are now a little on the silly side, the nightclub isn't something I care for and some of the new restaurants haven't totally caught on but overall, it's still a good spot with a killer pool, some nice suites and still-exclusive villas.
In terms of my total number of nights, TI is right behind The Mirage: I've stayed there so many times I've lost count. It started out as a less expensive version of The Mirage but there were things I learned to really love about the property and I came to know dealers and other casino employees by name. Being welcomed back as a regular was a good feeling.
Ultimately though, through the end of the MGM era and into Ruffin's management of the property, they diluted the little bits of creativity that made the place interesting. Now it feels so generic, it's sad to witness the result of the transformation. Maybe TI was the red-headed step-child of the Wynn family but at least it had that pedigree... and that's almost all gone these days (Starbucks! Margaritas!) Doubtful I'll return for anything more than a spot inspection of their inevitable new time-share sales office.
Wynn Las Vegas / Encore Las Vegas
Two hotels I love. The gold standard.
Before Encore, Wynn Las Vegas was one of my top spots, even when a standard room was $349 on a Friday night in 2006. Since it's sister debuted in December 2008, Encore has had the majority share of my business. I really do love Encore but two things have kept me away recently:
The change of clientele that came with the installation of Surrender and Encore Beach Club, where the casino is full of loud and obnoxious club kids all hours is a big turn off for me. Casinos are for players, not for some dude in board-shorts to lean against a 21 table while waiting for his girlfriend to flirt their way in to the club.
The second thing is price - since the economy is sputtering toward recovery, Wynncore's ADRs have gone through the roof. We're not back at 2006 levels yet but compared to the insane deals of the Great Recession, costs are way up. When you're coming a bunch of times per year, it definitely adds up and daddy has a mortgage now.
A great spot with a bit of a checkered past. First it was the loss of the Wynn management team, leading into a dark period of poor service. Then Bill McBeath came on board and stabilized the joint. In the run up to and then-opening of CityCenter, there were a lot of questions about whether Bellagio would remain top-dog at MGM. Despite what the company may have intended, the customers have certainly made their decision: Aria is no Bellagio.
This Winter will bring Hyde Lounge, replacing Fontana which while perhaps a bit boring, was in some ways one-of-a-kind.
Having stayed in one of the new rooms, they're certainly not as bad as I thought they might be, when I first saw the photos. Still, no one would pick that new design out of a lineup.
Yeah, it's the new kid on the block and with all the hype, how could I not consider it? Well, there are a few reasons I don't see a bunch of Cosmo stays in my future.
In some ways, The Cosmopolitan seems to be a little too hip for it's own good, to the point that the casino aspect is downplayed and other amenities are over-emphasized. Have no doubt about it - I love to gamble and I want a place that knows, cares about and understands gambling and gamblers. The property president should be able to rattle off the odds on all the major casino games without much hesitation.
A consistent set of disappointing interactions on the hotel side have reduced my desire to care about Cosmo all that much. It's hard for me to imagine building a long term relationship with a hotel that can't manage to clean my room every day without calling down to housekeeping.
As for pricing, if you thought Wynn or Bellagio were expensive, Cosmo is beating them both with higher rates many weekends. People really have gone gaga for the pants-less advertising and admittedly awesome balconies.
Downtown. Fremont. To be honest, not my usual go-to. My first few stays Downtown I felt oddly detached from Las Vegas. Like I was missing a better party on The Strip.
Recently though, my appreciation has grown somewhat. I still prefer Strip hotels but after a few really great experiences at the Golden Nugget and some of it's neighbors, I definitely see why people love staying Downtown.
The Nugget's been through a bunch of ownership changes in the past few years. The current folks, Landry's, have been plowing in cash, from the Rush Tower to the new pool bar they were working on last week when I stopped by.
Could the Nugget be my spot? It's typically a better value than some of my favorite Strip places but I'm still not totally able to shake that feeling of missing something. Maybe that will change as I continue to get older.
How About You?
What's your favorite property? Have you picked and stuck to a hotel that you love, for better or worse? Are you a Vegas vagabond, homeless like me?
I'd love to hear your stories.