Barb and I were able to visit all of the strip's mega resorts.
Here's a list, in alphabetical order, along with my 1-10 evaluation
in terms of theming:
Aladdin (8) Aladdin is a tremendously executed
resort in terms of it's theme. Many architectural details make
the point. Desert Passage, the resort's themed shopping area,
is perfectly detailed, too. Unfortunately, for some reason the
crowds just aren't there. That detracted from the excitement of
being in such a well-designed area.
Bellagio (9) The jewel of the city just has to
be Bellagio The resort is gorgeous, the conservatory gardens are
spectacular, the casino is classy without being overly pretentious,
and the exterior vistas of the town of "Bellagio" as
well as the resort's famed fountains, are icing on the cake. Why
didn't Bellagio get named a "10?" Simply because the
Italian town theme of Bellagio wasn't taken indoors to the extent
that the Venetian, Aladdin, and other resorts did.
Caesar's Palace (7) Caesar's disappointed me. It
was built in the 60's and the casino and much of the resort looked
like it. Still, the Forum Shops are extremely well executed and
a joy to stroll. The animatronic "shows" were a bit
lame, but they were free so I guess you get what you pay for.
Circus Circus (6) Circus Circus has an obvious
theme and it's fairly well done. The big top area and the surrounding
midway were a lot of fun. If I really was bent on taking my kids
to Las Vegas for a few days, I'd be very tempted to choose Circus
Circus as our hotel just because of the midway. However, the rest
of the resort (the casino and other public areas) were seedy and
Excalibur (7) Excalibur is nice and well maintained.
It's obvious that this resort emphasizes families and kids, but
it's still odd to dedicate so much of the resort's space to gambling
when kids can't drop their own coins in the slots. This would
be where I would stay if I did visit Las Vegas with kids. (With
Circus Circus a close second.)
Luxor (6) At first glance, Luxor is well themed.
In fact, on second glance it is too. The details are awesome and
the whole building really gives you the feeling that you're in
Egypt at the height of the ancient empire's power. If you stop
there, give Luxor a ten. But after spending some significant time
at this resort, I really started to feel a bit creepy. A pyramid
is, after all, a big tomb... and I really started to get a closed-in,
haunted kind of feeling. Walking back to Excalibur after a few
hours at Luxor was actually quite refreshing.
Mandalay Bay (7) Mandalay Bay and the Mirage get
the same rating from me because they're so much the same. Both
have a Polynesian / South Seas Islands kind of theme. Mandalay
Bay is a bit less immursive than the Mirage, but both are quite
nicely done. Mandalay Bay also has a pretty impressive lineup
of restaurants including the highly regarded Areole and the quite-out-of-theme
Red Square (with a Russian theme).
The Mirage (7) The Mirage and Mandalay Bay get
the same rating from me because they're so much the same. Both
have a Polynesian / South Seas Islands kind of theme. The Mirage
has a fantastic entryway that is a much-updated version of the
one at the Polynesian. Unlike the short and straight walkway that
leads past a small garden and waterfall display in front of the
Polynesian's Great Ceremonial House lobby, the Mirage's entry
provides a winding walkway with gardens and waterfalls on either
side (like a smaller-scale Oasis, the entry area at the Animal
The MGM Grand (7) The MGM Grand is a fabulous example
of art deco extravagance. The entire resort is replete with example
after example of art deco detailing. Beyond the obvious "old
Hollywood" theme, though, the Grand is not anywhere near
as over-the-top as so many of the other Las Vegas mega resorts.
It's subtle and stylish, but not so theme-driven that you can
lose yourself in the styling. The Studio Walk shopping area is
great, and the art deco pool area (with a great river pool) is
Monte Carlo (6) The Monte Carlo completely confuses
me. The exterior of this resort is absolutely stunning, with a
very strong, formal European structure, but the interior doesn't
follow through. Even more mystifying is the fact that very little
architectural attempt is made to draw people into this resort
from the strip outside. Unlike the Venetian, Bellagio, and Caesar's
Palace which almost beacon you to come in and check out their
properties, the Monte Carlo almost repels -- very much like the
feeling one can get from an old, stoic library or stodgy art museum
building. Unless you know you want to be inside, you tend to walk
on by to see what else is on the boulevard. The low amount of
excitement and pedestrian traffic inside the casino seems to confirm
New York New York (10) New York New York is an
incredibly well executed theme. The exterior of this resort truly
represents the skyline of the Big Apple. The casino is located
in "central park," with a small village area with several
delis and shops that is the resort's food court. There is no larger,
more diverse, or pleasant food court in all of Las Vegas! The
resort's showrooms, like most of the others in town, are all located
off of the casino also. Topping things off, quite literally, the
Manhattan Express roller coaster loads from a platform just above
casino level and takes riders on a fast-paced ride through those
New York New York.
Paris (9) The City of Lights is well represented
by Paris Las Vegas. The resort is classy, with the casino located
in an area that represents the parks surrounding the Eiffel Tower.
The restaurants and boutiques surround the casino (and also form
a small avenue that winds it's way over to Bally's). The overall
effect is pleasant without being overly pretentious.
Rio (7) The Rio disappointed me. The Masquerade
Village shopping area is extremely nice, even if smaller than
I'd expected. The casino is cleaner than the older, more seedy
properties. However, for whatever reason, the clientele of this
resort seemed to be pushier and less courteous than in any other
resort. The result is a nice resort with an atmosphere and ambiance
that just isn't friendly.
Treasure Island (9) Treasure Island is aptly named.
It is one of the best-themed resorts in town, at least in my opinion.
What makes Treasure Island so special is the effort that has obviously
been made to take the exterior theming and make it consistent
in the interior as well. The swashbuckling atmosphere is extremely
well done, and the free buccaneer show, although having a very
sudden ending, adds to the flavor (even when the two sailing vessels
are just sitting there during the day, they add to the flavor
of the resort.)
The Venetian (10) The Venetian is an incredibly
detailed, entertaining, and classy all-in-one package. I never
did set foot in the Venetian's casino, because it's one of the
very few of the mega resorts where you can enjoy the tremendous
facilities without having to make tracks past the slots and blackjack
tables. The Grand Canal Shoppes get my personal vote as favorite
of all of the themed shopping areas that we visited during the
trip. Not only is the atmosphere inviting and the shopping excellent
(albeit a bit upscale and pricey), but the "streetmosphere"
that we saw in the area including the canal's gondoliers, musicians,
and Venetian nobility walking about just made this a fun place
to hang out.
And the rest... Bally's, Harrah's, The Riviera, The Flamingo,
The Palms, The Jockey Club, Las Vegas Hilton, Stardust, etc.
None of these resorts are themed in any way, and most of them
are fairly "seedy." Actually, the Las Vegas Hilton is
a nice enough place, but the lack of theme detracted significantly
from my interest as a potential future vacation destination.
Las Vegas boasts a tremendous number of attractions. Roller Coasters,
flight simulators, Imax rides and films, museums (including the
Bellagio Museum of Fine Art and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and
Las Vegas' edition of the Guggenheim Museum chain both of which
are located at the Venetian) and shows make up the bulk of offerings.
I will only have specific comments on those attractions that I
personally experienced, although I think I covered a good chunk
of everything that is available.
Buccaneer Bay Show (Treasure Island) (7) "Absolutely
free" is a key phrase when describing this blatant advertisement
for Treasure Island. The show is lively and entertaining, although
it was painfully short and had a very sudden ending. Still, for
free how can you complain?
Chicago (Stardust, Wayne Newton Theater) (8) We
did enjoy seeing Chicago, now celebrating their 35th year as one
of the World's classic musical groups. It was a very good show,
featuring the classic Chicago brass and woodwinds as well as the
typical keyboards, guitars, and percussion. The Chicago groupies
were a bit over-the-top, but Chicago put on a great show with
one classic hit after another. OK, so they're not the same since
Pete Cetara left, but they're still fun to see on stage.
EFX Live (MGM Grand) (8) Starring Rick Springfield,
this was a fun show to see. It does have some incredible effects,
although the fire breathing dragon was dead as a doornail (it's
my lot in life... the first time I saw Fantasmic! at the Disney
- MGM Studios the Dragon was dead, too). EFX Live was a show that
has some of the pizzazz of a tradition Las Vegas show without
featuring topless dancers.
Forum Shops Audio-Animatronic Shows (Caesar's Palace) (6)
The shows are free, so it's hard to complain about them,
but although the Atlantis show had a real, if weak, story to it,
neither one was anywhere near to Disney / Universal standards.
Imax Films (Luxor) (5) I watched a couple of Imax
films. One, narrated by Tom Cruise, was a pretty good documentary
about the International Space Station. The other was a fantasy/horror
film about a rock star and a haunted castle. The first was decent...
the second, not worth the time.
Luxor's intricate theming.
Imax Motion Rides (Luxor) (4) I also had tickets
for several motion rides. Unfortunately, I did the Funhouse one
first, right after lunch, and due to the large amount of motion
and the poor quality of the film, I almost lost it (that before
mentioned lunch). I skipped Search for the Obelisk and another
haunted castle one. I wish I'd seen Search for the Obelisk first
and skipped the others.
Masquerade Show in the Sky (Rio) (5) The show features
a bunch of dancers as well as some brilliantly lit floats that
actually hang from a monorail in the ceiling. The pre-show with
several carnavale-like performers was actually more fun to see
than the main show. Perhaps the fact that only a couple of floats
came out for what I think was a quite abbreviated show.
Midway (Circus Circus) (8) Skeeball, ring tosses,
and other such fair and amusement park midway games make up the
offerings at Circus Circus's midway. It was a fun diversion, well
worth an hour or so... especially with kids (and Barb had me).
Museum of Fine Art (Bellagio) (10) The museum shows
temporary displays of art from around the world. When we got into
town, I found out that the current exhibition was on the incredible
works of the Fabergé works in St. Petersburg and Moscow,
Imperial Russia. Being a bit of an amateur historian and having
some Russian blood in my veins, the opportunity to see some of
the Fabergé eggs and other works was a huge draw. I must
say that the works were incredible! Besides that, the Museum employs
some technology, also used at Shark Reef (see below) that I think
Disney could use to great advantage in the Living Seas, Tree of
Life Garden, Cretaceous Trail, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail,
Rifiki's Planet Watch, Maharajah Jungle Trek and any other such
"walk through" attraction. The handheld digital wand
(for want of a better term) was simple to use. One simply keyed
in the number shown on a given display to hear a portion of a
digitally recorded narration.
Race for Atlantis Ride (Caesar's Palace) (6) Race
of Atlantis was a three-D simulator ride. It was pretty good,
not up to Disney or Universal Standards, but not bad.
Shark Reef (Mandalay Bay) (8) Shark Reef was very
similar to the kind of experience you get at Sea Base Alpha at
the Living Seas in Epcot, but the trappings (unlike Sea Base Alpha's
high-tech approach) are decidedly simple and natural. It works
well, especially with the narration wand that was mentioned above.
Mandalay Bay's main building
towers above the resort.
Star Trek Adventure (Las Vegas Hilton) (10) The
Star Trek adventure is extremely well done. I'd expected a Star
Tours-like ride, and I wasn't disappointed on that, but the whole
"Adventure" is much more than just the ride itself.
To start out, you walk through a queue area that must be able
to handle hundreds of people at a time if need be. While a queue,
the walk-through area doubles as a museum of all things Trek.
A timeline of everything that has been documented to have happened
throughout the "history" of Star Trek's Federation provides
interesting reading. Scatter about, too, is a great array of props,
uniforms, and other costumes that were used in the production
of the television shows and movies. After going through the queue
(I spent a lot more time dawdling than I had to) we were lined
up to load into the simulator.
Spoiler Warning: The video
display began to explain how to safely load into the simulator,
when suddenly the video broke up into static, the lights went
out, a great wind began to swirl around in the darkness, and finally
a familiar sound could be heard. As the lights come up, I found
myself no longer waiting to enter the Star Trek Experience's simulator.
Now, I was standing aboard the Federation Starship 1701-E Enterprise.
Below the floor, above the ceiling, and around the walls had completely
been transformed into the familiar transporter room with a couple
of Federation crewmen in full uniform directly in front at the
transporter controls. We were escorted onto the bridge, where
First Officer Riker explained the situation. Apparently, a bunch
of Klingon's were trying to capture all of us (the group that
had been loading into the simulator ride) because one of us was
a distant ancestor of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. As proof, the Captain
was missing from the bridge although Riker and Engineering Officer
were working on our issues from the engineering deck. (Just a
note, the bridge was fairly well staffed with several uniformed
crew members at the helm and other stations around the bridge.)
Next, we were taken into a turbolift, and taken down to the hanger
deck where we were loaded into a "real" shuttlecraft
to fight the Klingons and return to our time. Unfortunately, the
Klingons followed us through the dimensional rift and we ended
up having quite the dogfight over Las Vegas before crashing back
on the maintenance level of the Star Trek Experience at the Las
Vegas Hilton :Spoiler Off.
After the ride, we were returned to the Star Trek Experience where
we had ample opportunity to shop for any Star Trek gadget or gizmo
you can imagine. Quark's Bar and Restaurant is also available
for those Trekkies that need some refreshment before heading back
to reality. Obviously, I enjoyed this attraction. The Federation
crew members, Klingons, Borg, and other "shipmosphere"
characters were great additions. If
you're in Las Vegas and are a trekkie (or even have just enjoyed
the reruns on the tube) don't miss this!
Tutankhamun's Tomb (Luxor) (6) What could have
been a fantastic attraction disappointed me. Although I'd expected
a full recreation of the tomb, only a small portion of it (including
the burial chamber of the dead pharaoh) was actually on display.
The narration wand technology was provided, which was a welcome
tool. However, the experience could have been so much more.
Battle of the Buffets
Bellagio Buffet, Dinner (10) The best buffet that
we experienced was the buffet at the Bellagio The selection was
awesome, and the flavors of the various dishes was excellent.
To top off the meal, the desert options were the best in all of
Carnival of the World (Rio), Lunch (7) Although
we visited at lunchtime, the buffet was incredibly busy. The selection
was good, but the advertised "Mongolian Barbecue" was
a bit disappointing.
Spice Market (Aladdin), Dinner (9) Spice Market
had the advantage of being our first buffet and the one we visited
after flying from Michigan to Nevada. Even so, the selection was
very good, and the lamb and chicken shish kabob were excellent!
Grand Buffet (MGM Grand), Dinner (7) Lots of choices,
but none of them were spectacular. The Grand Buffet would be a
favorite at home, where Old Country Buffet and Ryan's would be
the competition, but it's just not as good as the best of the
buffets in this town.
The MGM Grand.
Le Village (Paris), Dinner (9) I thoroughly enjoyed
both the quantity and uniqueness of the various selections. Obviously,
I'm don't frequent French restaurants, so having so many choices
of regional dishes from around France was a treat. Not surprisingly,
the deserts were fabulous, too.
Mirage Buffet, Dinner (7) We had a very late dinner
at the Mirage one night. The service was OK, and the selection
was OK, and the food was OK... but the overall effect (even though
we were very hungry) was just OK.
Mandalay Bay Buffet, Lunch (8) The lunch buffet
at Mandalay Bay was pretty good. The selections had a decided
Polynesian flair (lots of seafood and stir fry kinds of things),
which both Barb and I enjoy. We didn't leave here hungry.
Las Vegas Hilton Buffet, Lunch (7) The lunch we
had at the Las Vegas Hilton was very similar to our experience
at the Grand Buffet. Everything was good, just not exceptional.
City and the Bottom Line
Does Las Vegas deserve that old moniker? Well, in a nutshell,
yes it does. In addition to gambling (which I personally see
as an expensive pastime, but not as a "sin"), strip
clubs, nude shows, and such abound too. Advertising for in-room
strippers are freely handed out on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Personally, I think that anyone with half a brain is quite
able to handle the sensory inputs. Just ignoring the leaflet
passer-outers kept them at bay. Only those folks that want to
see an adult show or visit a strip club need do so. However,
the atmosphere was pretty strong.
Is Las Vegas a good "family destination?" I think
not. I certainly won't be making plans to visit this city with