Here's Jeff's latest 'advice' column, this time with thoughts on Monte Carlo, New York New York, MGM Grand, Tropicana, Luxor, Excalibur and Mandalay Bay.
This is the last of the series for The Strip. Read the others here.
In this column, the fifth in the series, I'll offer my unsolicited advice to the operators of the South Strip's casinos. This will be the last installment for properties on the Strip; the next-and-final installment will cover near-Strip properties including the Las Vegas Hilton, Rio, Hard Rock and Palms as well as a couple of smaller places.
I've publicly complained about Diablo's and the way it corrupted the Stripfront facade of Monte Carlo. Not satisfied with the devilish monstrosity at the southeastern corner of the property, Monte Carlo apparently plans another addition, an indoor/outdoor bar area surrounding the fountain at the northeast corner. I give up on protecting the themed design of Monte Carlo's Stripfront, but will focus on the property's interior. I should note that I've only stayed at MC a few times but have often recommended it to visitors as a low-priced hotel with a quality look. I think its tram makes it a good way for people to enjoy Aria's and Bellagio's amenities if room rates at MC's northern neighbors are too expensive. The lobby looks great and it should be maintained and emphasized. The casino is sort of boring -- an old-school rectangle -- but it has one of the coolest small poker rooms on the Strip and a decent little sports book. Other pluses are the brew pub and a close-to-the-elevator-core group of fast food outlets for budget minded folks or for those in a hurry. MGM Resorts should upgrade the property's buffet and add an updated restaurant to Andre's and Monte Carlo's rather pedestrian steakhouse. The hotel rooms should get the regular MGM treatment, with extensive refurbishing -- one of the big advantages MGM properties have over their competitors owned by Caesars.
New York - New York
MGM Resorts has always paid a lot of attention to NYNY and the property has benefited. It has a more youthful vibe than most of the company's hotels. The loss of the ESPN Zone was disappointing and I'm not sure why MGM bosses haven't given the property a full-service sports book. A good sports book with seating and a bar would be a nice addition. Rooms are small but have been refurbished and the restaurant selection is decent. I'd like to see the property add some more interesting quick-serve food options and maybe replace a poor-performing mid-scale restaurant with a new one. Themed resorts have gone out of style with the pooh-bahs of Las Vegas and the curious class they want to attract but Middle America loves themes. NYNY is one of the best themed joints in town and MGM should not try and de-theme like they did at Luxor. Embrace the New York theme -- maybe when Coyote Ugly is played out (five years ago?) bring in a new bar with a better Gotham theme. I've always thought the property doesn't take enough advantage of its Stripfront. Executives should figure some way to make the Brooklyn Bridge and fire-fighting tugboat areas more exciting -- perhaps an outdoor bar that plays into the NYNY theme, maybe some street vendors. If there is a way to add another excellent ride or two to the property it would make the venue's roller coaster more of a notable attraction.
MGM Resorts executives are very loyal to the Strip's biggest resort and are quick to act to keep it relevant. The property has a lot going for it: A wide variety of hotel rooms and suites, allowing a great range of guests; a sweet collection of excellent restaurants; a fantastic convention center and big entertainment.lineup, balancing stars in the theater, huge arena events, a small burlesque show and "Ka," a Cirque mainstay. There are also some flaws: A way-too-small parking garage and a pool that forces people to walk too far through the casino and retail passage. The buffet is mediocre and overpriced compared to sister buffets. I don't think the walk to the pools can be changed but the parking garage could be expanded (or a new valet lot and employee lot could be added, freeing up spaces for self-parking). The buffet should be blown up and transformed. (A 5,000-room property needs a great buffet, not a mediocre one.) On the plus side, rooms have been regularly refurbished (another phase is going on now) and the huge restaurant lineup is often fine-tuned. Some of the retail is out of date and could be replaced. The property has had a few moderate successes with its nightclubs but probably could stand to replace them with new names and themes, perhaps bringing in some proven partners to run them. In general I think the Grand is fairly well run, a testament to how loyal the company is to its founding property.
The Trop survived its brief period of control by the casino industry's stupidest owners, the Yungs and their Columbia Sussex (and that's saying something, isn't it, Donald Trump? Or Sam Nazarian?), as well as a bankruptcy. The new owners bought the Tropicana and its excellent location at a sweet price and have invested enough to keep it competitive in the lower-to-middle tier of Strip properties. Refurbishing the rooms was a necessity as was cleaning up the property and the $180 million or so has been mostly money well spent. The casino looks great as does the sports book and poker room. Trying to get into the high-end daylife game was a mistake. An already excellent pool should have been expanded and modernized without the DJs and the bottle service. Entertainment has been a failure. The comedy club may be a small exception, but isn't a big enough exception to matter much. The Mob Experience was a ridiculous idea (as I've said all along), a cheap attempt to steal thunder from the Mob Museum being built downtown (not that I think the downtown museum will be a big success, either, just that it will be a legitimate museum run by professionals and academics -- as opposed to the clowns who run the Trop venue). The Trop needs to accentuate its vibe by adding a good tropical-themed show and possibly feature some live Caribbean music in and around the casino. There don't seem to be enough dining or retail options. A fun, affordable nightlife option is also needed -- something that fits with the property's customers, not with the customers executives wish they had (Nikki Beach and Club Nikki). I've harped on this for a while, but no property of Tropicana's size should have a parking garage as lame as the Trop's. The hotel is in a tier that appeals to drive-in customers more than fly-in, and no matter how much its owners may wish it were different, that's not going to change. Build a new garage.
Another property that needs to remain true to its theme, the Excalibur has so far done just that. A ridiculous newspaper column in the middle of the last decade suggested MGM, after buying Mandalay Resort Group, planned to close, implode and replace Excalibur -- a laughable idea given the company's yet-to-be-developed Strip land assets. This property has at least another 20 years left (ask Circus Circus). As with all lower-tier properties, keeping rooms and amenities fresh and clean is critical, and MGM has proven it understands that need. I rarely go to Excalibur but I have played poker there and I once ate at its steakhouse. The property seems to have a lot of younger customers so I'm not sure why it hasn't opened a low-priced nightclub. I don't know enough about Excalibur and its amenities, entertainment or rooms to offer much advice; perhaps readers can help me out with their own ideas in the comment section at the end of the column.
I've stayed at Luxor a couple of times, the last time in 2010. I've always thought the de-Egyptifying of Luxor was a mistake, and my last stay there convinced me the property was neither fish nor foul. How do you minimize the Egypt theme of a pyramid-shaped hotel with a giant Sphinx out front? There weren't enough restaurant options and the property had a weird mix of older Mandalay-era customers and younger Criss Angel fans. MGM should make sure the property gets its fair share of refurbishing and remodeling dollars, and emphasize its Mandalay Place connection to Mandalay Bay. The main hotel tower (the pyramid) has weird elevators -- called inclinators -- that travel up the pyramid's spines. They are slow but there's not much that can be done about them. The two auxiliary towers are horrible looking from the outside (architectural abominations) and a long trek from the property's amenities, but not much can be done there, either. The property needs to fix its restaurant lineup by adding some variety and prepare for the day that "Believe" can be replaced. Blue Man Group was a good fit for the property a decade ago; some cool act needs to be found and developed for Luxor. The pools on the property's west side could use some imagination and refurbishing, as could the spa. The funky shows on the property's second level need to be cycled out (they were stolen from the Trop, in its bad era, and that says something) and replaced with something cool.
I love Mandalay Bay and always have. It has great pools, decent restaurants and great entertainment venues, ranging from the Events Center to its theater to poolside to the House of Blues. It has excellent boutique hotel elements (Four Seasons and The Hotel) and an understated yet palpable -- and attractive -- theme. It has a great convention center. Mandalay generated more cash flow than any of MGM's Strip properties except Bellagio in the last quarter and I believe the property is hitting its post-recession stride. A few quibbles: The parking garage elevators nearest the casino are almost always overcrowded -- a major irritant. Las Vegas locals know to avoid the crush by using the middle-of-the-garage elevator bank, but the property should add another elevator core with another four elevators near the east side of the garage to reduce crowding. I can't think of an upscale Las Vegas property that has allowed such a major irritant to remain as long. The buffet needs to be remodeled and significantly upgraded. The ground floor lobby of The Hotel needs an update to add energy. I'm not a Michael Jackson fan but I expect Cirque's MJ show to take up residence at Mandalay Bay and end the company's two-show losing streak. The House of Blues has receded as a significant player as competition from bigger and newer venues at the Hard Rock and Palms have poached acts that otherwise might have played the venue. I like the House of Blues and hope the property will try and keep the place competitive. MGM should also try and find some better retailers and food and beverage outlets for Mandalay Place as the economy improves. One thing I miss about the Mandalay Bay of a decade ago is the mid-morning live tropical bird demonstrations they used to have in the hotel lobby. Bring back the birds -- they were terrific.
[ed: Mandalay's parking garage is the WORST.]
-- Jeff Simpson, October 2011