Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

December 3, 2008

Strip Walk - November 2008

Posted by Hunter

Mike_ch is back with his latest Strip Walk. This one is more in 'trip report' style as he was slummin' it down on The Strip for a few nights at The Grand.

It's a long one so grab a cup of coffee and sit back.

We return to a trip report style column, taken over several days at MGM Grand.

Generally speaking, our room (21-318) was very similar to Chuckmonster's room earlier this year, We were only two floors and a couple doors down from his room. If you want the nitty gritty details about the room I'd suggest you look at his report since he's much more thorough than I am about putting a hotel room through it's paces. I will say the mattresses were old and seriously in need of replacement, we had no pantyhose like Chuck but we did have children's books hiding under the armoire, and somehow there were shoeprints on the ceiling. Still trying to figure that one out.

I kicked back and watched in-room TV. In our day of consolidated casino companies, you basically never see CCTV marketing solely the hotel you're staying in anymore. So the MGM TV was frequently playing ads for things at Bellagio, Mirage, Mandalay, etc. Of course, a channel was devoted to promoting CityCenter, and it was over-the-top with the amount of hype and pomp (did you know that Las Vegas is "the most progressive city in the world?" Seriously? Could anyone who lives in the burbs around here say that with a straight face?) The channel briefly mentioned Aria by name, listed an eight billion dollar price tag, and boasted about the involvement of Dubai World as if they were doing more than financing, so it was pretty current if nothing else.

I wasn't really up for vacationing yet, so we ate at the Studio Cafe. Ugh, my trip to the one-fourth renovated Pyramid Cafe the other night was much better. I have never had good luck at this Cafe, to the point that two out of three times now I wish I saved cash and gone the food court. What I probably should have done was tried the Rainforest Cafe, which I keep meaning to try but never get to. When I'm on the Strip there's so many other non-chain places to eat at (even if they're of varying quality) that I never get around to it, yet when I see other Rainforests at Disney World (they have two there) or other places, I never try them there either because its something I could have at home and so I should have something more unique instead. So I'll get to it... Some day.

Though it was Monday, around 3PM, Sigma Derby was packed. It was usually packed whenever I looked at it. There's not many machines I'm willing to play at MGM, most of the slots where I feel I have enough of a winning chance to play were removed years ago, and replaced with sucker bets and progressives and themed video slots where you have to get rare bonus rounds to not watch your money disappear. While I saw a few machines I'd play, they were all too rich for my blood and required bets of $3-$15 every few seconds. And so we're left with video poker.

I'm starting to like video poker, the most they change is the paytables, the odds are the same as anywhere else. And since the most commonly adjusted value are the payout for a straight and a full house, there's a certain even-ness among casinos. Yes, Strip resorts don't put those payouts as high as the crowded machines at locals joints, and so hardcores who refuse to play for less than maximum payback wouldn't be caught dead playing on the Strip. But the odds around the Strip are pretty much the same everywhere, and if a Royal Flush pays out the same amount of money and is as frequent at Wynn as it would at Excalibur, why not play at Wynn? I have long said I would rather fight a slowly losing battle in nice surroundings than have a fighting chance at winning money in a dump, and the less-than-ideal VP conditions I've seen at Planet Hollywood, MGM, etc reflect this. What doesn't reflect it is the new slots, with odds you can't decipher other than anecdotal evidence that $20 doesn't last you the majority of the hour like it did five years ago.

And for what it's worth, I have recently seen *worse* VP conditions at major downtown casinos than I have at the major Strip properties.

I didn't do much for the rest of the night. I spent a lot of time in bed watching the AMAs and reloading Twitter on my cell phone, waiting for word on the Encore ad that wouldn't show up until the next day. Sleeping was sporadic and uncomfortable due to a mattress with such a curve in the middle that you had to sleep on the edges to have any support, and at one point I woke up and was shocked to see a large object coming into view. It was the M Resort blimp floating past.

Upon waking up the next morning, I took a shower and thought about the room and what it's worth. The room is honestly nice as far as dimensions go, there's a few signs of the 90s vintage such as the tub/shower combo, but with a little work the hotel could still be a solid value. But here's the thing: it's not. Despite it's room count, the MGM Grand does not make up for low prices with volume. This nice but ageing resort is still being stubbornly priced higher than hotels with more modern amenities in the rooms. You have the advantage of what is still a great location that will be even better when CityCenter is done, and so many services and amenities just down the elevator that you don't have to walk to another hotel for. However, the fact is that this room has a tub/shower combo and a CRT television. It also costs more on a typical weekend than my last room at Planet Hollywood which had separate shower and a plasma screen. The hotel is promoted in the parent company's totem pole of resorts as below only CityCenter and Bellagio, and above Mandalay Bay. And yet I would say that the old tired Mandalay room I had several years ago was better than the old tired MGM room for a number of reasons. Yes, there is the Mansion, and there are the Skylofts; but these are not what most people see and what most people see usually isn't worth what they're paying for unless they really want to be within close proximity to the MGM restaurants, the MGM showrooms, the Grand Garden Arena, or want to use the MGM pools.

I have long suggested that Mandalay Bay was built to compete with MGM Grand. They have very similar facilities (including hotels in hotels, large arenas, huge pools, and so on) but Mandalay had the advantage of space and a more current take on what the consumer wanted (by 1998 everyone knew people didn't want theme parks in their casinos.) I have speculated that since MGM-Mirage purchased Mandalay Bay, the resort has been somewhat directionless, and perhaps an executive somewhere didn't want one of the company's flaghip resorts to be outshone by the upstart acquired from somebody else. But with rates where they traditionally have been (excusing the latest shift toward lower room rates) and the numerous expansions and upgrades added over the years, I can clearly see the future of the Green Giant and it looks suspiciously like Caesars Palace does today. A large, maze-like property with high-end rooms that are very good and standard rooms that are nice but overpriced; struggling to maintain the image of being something it might not be anymore, yet still retaining plenty of customers due to the sheer number of rooms and the familiar name. The only big difference is that MGM doesn't have Caesars' kitschy fun.

I left and went to New York New York. The bar in the middle of the casino was still being worked on. On to Mandalay, where I found that the Minus 5 bar was done. Despite all the fuzzy coats and floppy-eared hats, the name implies that the bar maintains a temperature of -5 Celsius, and it has the look of an igloo inside. While people from Los Angeles may think that's bone-chilling, to people in cities like Detroit and Chicago it is simply called winter and it happens all the time. Aside from the gimmick, it's a nice looking space that fits in with Mandalay Place pretty well. There's more locations coming and going which suggest that someone is still trying to find interesting boutiques to put in this mall.

At Luxor, an escalator has been built. Praise be for that, as it makes getting to the attractions level much easier than it used to. The escalator has been built where there used to be an artificial waterfall, and carries people between an area near T&T and the remaining (but closed) IMAX motion theatre, and an area near the lobby and Aurora bar. This is a big help to traffic flow, and as someone who walks around these places too much I'll just say it makes my visits a tiny bit easier, too. The Titanic exhibit in the old IMAX building seems to be working on it's new entrance. In the old King Tut space, opening a door with a sign asking you to keep the door closed (I know, I know) revealed the entire space had been demolished and was now one large empty space going all the way back to the northern wall of the attractions level. You could play football in there, but the floor is uncarpeted concrete so you wouldn't want to.

I mentioned that the Pyramid Cafe seems set to shed it's papyrus and hieroglyphs look, and a sign out front had a modern logo, and here it is. It is as minimalist and contempo-trendy as any other logo MGM Mirage has made up lately.

Now all we need is woods, a modern backlit sign, dark lighting, and glass panels at odd angles with steel bars hanging around, and it'll look just like every other space at TI and Mirage and MGM Grand and Monte Carlo and now NYNY and increasingly Bellagio. Did I mention using backlit signage? And brushed steelbars? I'm sorry if I'm driving you nuts with all these links to old photos, but I just need to get it off my chest that the relatively standard youthful luxury vibe that is prevalent anywhere MGM-Mirage renovates something is becoming extremely generic anymore. Some people have said this in the comments before, too. I never knew what to make of it then, since I generally blast through these places, looking for anything that catches my eye for being new and mentally discarding the rest of it. But when you spend three days and nights in Lanniland (or I guess I should say Murrentown) you can reeeeeally notice it. It's not as alien as Wynn's overly whimsical interior design, but because of the total number of hotels it shows up in you almost can't get away from it.

Probably the best place that MGM's chrome/glass backlit super-contemporary look has helped has been MGM Grand's "West Wing" that was formerly known as the Emerald Tower. And if you haven't been to the bar right outside of it's elevator lobby, they actually put red-tinted film over the nearby doors to make sure any outside light wouldn't keep it from being properly dark.

Moving on now...

There's no glass panels and chrome at the Excalibur. They know what people want: concrete, chain food, and computer-controlled poker. They actually have signs on the walk-in underpass promoting that "the future of poker has arrived!" I noticed that the old Little John's Snack Bar by Dick's and The Lounge has been walled up. There's a new poolside restaurant, but the hours (and probably season) that I dropped by did not allow me a chance to look at it.

Welcome to Harrah's! Yeah, that picture isn't actually Harrah's, but it's what arriving guests on the Monorail see as they pull up to the Harrah's/IP station. The company has finally gotten around to demolishing the last of the old apartment blocks behind these hotels and the claws were working day and night as guys spray water onto the mess and choking levels of dust spew into the Monorail station. I waited for a southbound train here at one point during the trip. Not fun.

Somebody asked about the Hilton and the Star Trek area. I didn't go inside on this trip but will be due to visit next column on my way to the Hard Rock. From the outside, the old signage near the Monorail station for the ST Experience is gone and replaced with new outdoor signs for the likes of Scintas and Manilow, but the logo is still on the big roadside marquee. Despite the long and drawn out closing, it seems that Colony hasn't quite nailed down what they're going to do with this space. They also seemed unprepared to lose Terry Fator to Mirage, judging by the big sign for him outside as well.

At Wynn, I immediately headed outside to look at Encore. Another massive transplant of trees from the golf course has totally obscured the base of the tower. A trellis pattern decorates most flat surfaces along the walls and is also used in the new marquee, which so far doesn't look like it's going to steal any thunder from the Wynn monster-tron a short walk away. Brown shades were being placed on outdoor lighting along the sidewalk and the beginnings of a gateway arch are there. I know this blog is full of Encore fans, and there's a bunch of Encore photos that can be blown up to massive proportions in the gallery, so I suggest serious watchers go there and make liberal use of that "O[riginal]" link underneath the pictures to see them in their full 3072x2304 glory, since I'm only linking to the much smaller "large" ones here. I wouldn't want to choke an iPhone or fry a dial-up modem by linking directly to huge pictures.

It's not too late to pick up a Frontier brick, if you can use something long to get a grip on one. That's all that remains aside from the signs.

Inside Wynn, the showroom hallway has been expanded. There's no pictures of course, because the watchmen are still there and I'm not willing to get thrown out for a picture I can take without trouble in a few weeks. A sign hangs from a storefront on the left side, with a metal and glass butterfly over a sign that says HOME STORE. Butterflies seem to be a big thing for the Wynn folks right now, the Fashion Show Mall's public spaces are littered with stick-on butterflies and suggestions that you go visit "Wynn and Encore." Further back, beyond the point where the previous temporary wall stood, the decorations become thinner and the place looks more and more like a construction zone with black walls and exposed metal. A tall white column rises up out of view from where you can see, and a lot of natural light pours through skylights onto the construction below. The column has one of those curly feet decorations at the bottom and it sure looks like Wynn and Thomas still like that Fantasyland, gingerbread house look. I should point out that the convention areas are much less playful and much more staid luxury. I talked to a watchman at the ropes for a while about opening day and whether the resort will look like a serious luxury hotel like the convention area and Wynn Tower Suites, or whether it'll have that playful saccharine look you see near the showrooms. He said it would be neither.

Back around the Wynn meeting rooms, I looked at a list of today's meetings and saw a 12 hour event called "Mr. Wynn's Presentation." I quickly headed down to the conference room where that was going on. Who cares that I was wearing a camera bag and a Bellagio t-shirt? I'll fit in fine! I peeked inside and sadly there was no Mr. Wynn, live in person or on a screen. What I did find was tables lined with PCs and a couple ladies who appeared to be processing the check in list. As I left, two people, one in employee uniform, came out and followed along behind me. No useful information out of them; one said she was glad to have gone and needed that explained to her, because "sometimes these things change and they don't tell you anything about it." So, that happened.

In Palazzo, they had curtained off those decorated areas near the escalators for re-theming. I checked out the sports book and moved on. Here is the current state of St Regis, by the way.

At Mirage, the gift shop across from BLT has been chopped in half. The half closer to the door out has been walled, and something called Rhumbar is scheduled to open in 2009. I mentioned it on Twitter, then saw that Hunter and Chuck had a conversation about it and found a press release or something, so he'll have to post any info. They've punched a hole in the wall outside of Mirage just along the doors. Have a peek inside. If you can't remember, this is the store that was often filled up with leftover white tiger stuff and a rotating cast of Lakers stuff, Beatles stuff, and on and on.

I returned to MGM for the rest of the evening. Nothing too eventful happened. Ate at the buffet, which is normally $27 for dinner but discounted to $20 with an in-room coupon. Let me say right now that $27 is close to Bellagio and Paris territory, and this buffet is worth nowhere near that much. The Prime Rib was fairly average, the service was below the quality of those two by quite a margin, and the choices of food to serve was confusing. Why have nachos and the condiments for Mexican food, without any actual Mexican food? Underwhelming. The thing this buffet does best is line up it's entrance into multiple queues divided by size of party, so if it's a very busy night and they need a party of eight or more, they can just go up to that line and find one instead of yelling down the line "PARTY OF EIGHT!? PARTY OF EIGHT PLEASE!?!?"

That night, I had one of the most uncomfortable sleeps in recent memory. I was somewhat conscious to tell that I had a severely dry throat and lips and mouth, but could not wake up to do anything about it. My chapped lips were rubbing my teeth and gums like crazy, but I wasn't in control of myself enough to do anything about it. I finally woke up about 4:15AM and stopped this, feeling like I needed to guzzle water fast (this happens in Vegas in the dead of winter) and with a sore mouth and gums. I went online and grouched about this on Twitter. My skin so hard and dry, my sinuses having a meltdown, I began thinking of checking out of the hotel today and not spending the third night.

VegasTripping's Chuck was online at this hour, and responded to my distress signals. Here's the log:

Horrible night. Difficulty sleeping, drier than hell down here in this part of the valley, had an experience likepulling own teeth in sleep. Wanna go home or leave town or something just put me some place that isn't bone dry. Agh, can't take this desert crap.

the same thing happened to me last time i stayed at mgm. i woke up parched at 4 am and felt like i had the flu

Thank god someone's awake. Yeah, felt like I was rubbing enamel off my own teeth with dry lips. Eeeugh. I'm normally bad with desert winter dryness, my skin cracks and I wake up with nosebleeds, but this. ew.

i think i even put it in the review = torture. i definitely mentioned it to the VP of Hotel Ops at TI when i met with her.

I check the National Weather Service, which listed the humidity levels at 30% with rain due in the next 24 hours. I've been in Vegas when the local weathermen giggle over a pathetic 2% humidity recording, and this felt close to that. Chuck did indeed mention unusual dryness in the atmosphere in his visit this year, and I griped about it some more on his board in an overdramatic tone. I had the same impressions he did, which is that once you get out of your room and go downstairs and get on with business, you suddenly feel a lot better. For this reason, Chuck seems prepared to pass on MGM Grand as a sleepover in the future, but I gave it a third night. After suffering through some more hours of this hell and seeing how much it would cost to use the steam room later today, I decided to take an extra long and extra steamy shower. After enjoying a hazy, fogged-up bathroom for long enough I then turned off the AC which had been on for some reason.

It turns out, the AC seemed to be largely responsible for sucking all the moisture out of the room. Turning it off and opening the little vent by the window to get some air in seemed to be the best way to get circulation without losing all the water in the air. I can't imagine what happens when the weather is warm enough that you simply must turn on your air conditioning, so I can not recommend the deluxe rooms at MGM Grand in any climate where you might want to run air conditioning, which is most of the year.

I went downstairs to find that the Starbucks near Studio Cafe, which had been closed this whole visit, was walled up. But fear not, it shall reopen on the 22nd, and it shall still be a Starbucks, because heaven only knows where MGM would be without three Starbucks (West Wing, Cafe, and Food Court.)

I took a walk north. I don't mention it much, because it has no casino, but the Showcase mall's expansionis coming along. For those who can't remember what used to be in this spot, it used to be a Denny's and a neon sign that said PARKING with movie times on an old lightboard.

At Monte Carlo, they were painting one of the fountains out front. Andre's is closed for renovations. It will come back as another restaurant by Andre. Perhaps he'll have dark lighting and woods and chrome and backlit signs in his new place.

CityCenter and Cosmo are just big and huge and it's difficult to tell what to take pictures of anymore since the changes are becoming more and more subtle. However, big concrete feet have been poured for a pedestrian bridge to P-Ho.

The rest of the day was mostly spent exploring old properties. Mandalay Bay has renovated a hotel area or two that I hope to get good shots of next time. I had lunch at the Bellagio buffet (eh, it was okay) and dinner at a greasy diner, and neither were too eventful.

Thanks for reading and see you again in about two weeks!


Read archived comments (16 so far)
December 3, 2008 3:57 PM Posted by detroit1051

Mike, thanks for the great report. I really like the new format of reviewing the photos; a big improvement.

I stayed at MGM Grand the last time I was in Las Vegas, in 2006. I did my usually snobby stuff and ate at L'atelier and stayed in a one bedroom suite at the far end of the hall. I haven't checked my old trip report, but I know I counted the steps from the elevator. It was quite a walk. The mattress was the worst I've ever slept on in Vegas. It was an unsupportive foam. They haven't replaced them yet??? At least, judging from your photos, MGM has finally replaced those old, nubby, blue and gold bedspreads. I see they still need to get rid of the naugahyde chairs. Maybe it's just me, but your photo of the "MGM Grand Showerhead" reminded me of why I won't stay there again. The shower may have been water-efficient, but there just wasn't enough water.

Skylofts may be as great as everyone says, but it's still smack-dab in the middle of MGM Grand. If MGM says it's positioned only below CityCenter and Bellagio, I'd say that's more than a stretch. No way is MGM Grand above The Mirage.

I will return if only to play Sigma Derby.

December 3, 2008 4:00 PM Posted by hail2skins

Mike, thanks a lot for the detailed report and the pictures, particularly of Encore. Its been a while since I saw a shot of the exterior and was curious how much progress they'd made on the property which is set to open in just a few weeks. Of course we're used to Steve's elaborate exteriors, but having a mass of trees seems pretty cool.

December 4, 2008 1:44 PM Posted by Phil

I would assume Encore parking garage would be full of employees by now doing full run throughs of their jobs. I would be surprised if that wasn't the case at the latest within a few days.

December 4, 2008 1:51 PM Posted by Hunter

Yup, they're already doing all sorts of on-site stuff.

December 4, 2008 2:39 PM Posted by David McKee

Maybe Detroit and I can meet for a friendly game of Sigma Derby, as we seem to be among its few remaining fans. Stephens Media got a bunch of us a room "special" at MGM Grand for the '06 Christmas party. Unfortunately, our block of rooms was in the erstwhile Marina, Both in terms of the long, tubular hallway and the non-view out the window, it was very much like staying in a submarine or space station, minus the cool factor. I believe the room was even smaller than the one we enjoyed [sic] recently at Whiskey Pete's.

December 4, 2008 2:45 PM Posted by Hunter

Sigma Derby has a huge cult following... Tim and Michelle from Five Hundy mention it often, as do many of their callers. Fun game.

December 4, 2008 4:02 PM Posted by mike_ch

There's already some guy in a high-visbility jacket doing the usual security job of just standing there and providing the assurances of security. I thought they were letting so many cars go through because they were only to inspect trucks, but then I saw many customers with large trucks go by without a second glance as well.

I have heard voices on other boards say that people in those jobs are often using politically incorrect profiling methods to determine threats, though I haven't seen any example of that myself. Once upon a time after 9/11, Bellagio was being more serious about it to everyone.

In the case of Wynn, this is actually a real annoyance to drivers, as the garage pretty much pulls cars in immediately out of the Strip and so stopping cars (or just cars slowing down to make sure the security guy doesn't try to stop them) causes backups in the rightmost two lanes of LVB, especially as idiots try to merge into the line. If a Deuce bus stops and tries to take off in this mess, it's even worse.

December 4, 2008 6:57 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Sigma Derby rules!

December 4, 2008 11:59 PM Posted by Mike E

Many thanks, Mike. You feel precisely the same about MGM as you do. They price themselves as a notch below Bellagio, but I'd rather stay at Mandalay, Mirage, or ever Treasure Island for about the same or even less cost.

December 6, 2008 3:36 PM Posted by Andy S

Thanks for the update Mike.

I am not surprised that they are doing something different with part of the Mirage Shop.I wonder if the new bar will have a patio, though that would be very strange next to the walkway. Mike has any of the external landscaping been removed?

Mike I also dont understand why MGM feel the need to turn all their hotels into generic clones of each other and put exactly the same look into each one. I find myself visiting different hotels less each time I go and I think (hope) that eventually MGM will realise themes and a little diversity is not a bad thing!!)

Cheers, Andy

December 7, 2008 10:56 AM Posted by Tom Lanni

Sup. Im a first timer here. Out of all the blogs I read, you guys seem to know the most of Vegas. (im an Encore fan too!) But, for Encores opening, I am staying at the Bellagio and I was wondering when their next guest room renovation is.

thanks- Tom

December 7, 2008 1:33 PM Posted by mike_ch

Hunter saw this, which suggests somebody might have seen this.

Andy, they put up a chain link fence with a cover tied up to it so that it's difficult to tell what they're doing. The two pictures of the construction out there were taken by simply holding my camera over the fence and blindly taking some shots. I'm not sure if there's going to be a patio, though my guess is that there won't be. A similar sized hole in a wall had been cut out of Bellagio to convert Light into The Bank and it was later restored to look like nothing happened.

Tom, I don't know anything about room renovations, though the suite renovations were finished some months ago. Bellagio renovated around the time Spa Tower was built, just before Wynn opened. I'm guessing one will renovate as soon as the other announces intentions to.

Renovation talk doesn't help room sales much for various reasons (suggests your rooms are crap, suggests the visitor should wait for a newer room or stay elsewhere to not deal with renovation work) so they don't talk about. We heard Luxor say the pyramid would be renovated and then... Nothing.

December 8, 2008 8:56 AM Posted by Mike P.

I happened to walk by the Mirage yesterday evening just in time to catch a rehearsal of the volcano "explosion." It's way less lame than the original.

Actually, the percussive musical accompaniment by Mickey Hart & Zakir Hussain is pretty neat. Not sure I'd want to have a room with a view of it though.

December 15, 2008 8:49 PM Posted by doc_al

FWIW, the Spacequest casino area is still as it was, except with sort of a construction wall closing off the steps that went to the simulator rides, gift shop and restaurant.

Luxor - I don't understand about the escalator - this is in addition to the previous escalator that was in the southwest corner of the pyramid?

December 20, 2008 10:15 AM Posted by Joe

You guy might get pissed at me cause f the number of Wynn/Encore fans but here it goes...
Encores new marquee is sooo UGLY. Almost as ugly as Mirages new walk in entrance! Mr. Wynn put too much brown into it but will maybe it will look better at night. Just google image one of those old savon signs. It looks so much like Encores marquee just without the screens, color and name (notice the savon oval shape when you look it up).

December 22, 2008 3:08 PM Posted by Duffman

Is is just me or does most of the town need a paint job? Specifically The Venetian and Bellagio. I was there is November and the buildings exteriors are looking quite faded.