Frommer's EasyGuide to Las Vegas 2017 (Easy Guides) (2016)

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WHERE TO STAY

There are about 150,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas. If you stayed in a different room every night, it would take you 411 years to get through them all. You could give one to every single resident of Dayton, Ohio, and still have enough left over for you and about 10,000 of your closest friends.

The point is, finding a hotel room in Las Vegas is not hard; it’s finding the right one for you that can be challenging. Do you want a luxurious suite where you can lounge in bed and order room service, or basic accommodations where you’ll dump your luggage and then not see the room again until you stumble back to it as the sun is coming up the next morning? Do you want classic Glitter Gulch glitz or contemporary Sin City glamour? High tech or low cost? Las Vegas has all of the above and just about everything in between.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The Big Picture

With a few exceptions in the very expensive category, most hotel rooms in Las Vegas are pretty much the same. After you factor in location and price, there isn’t that much difference between rooms, except perhaps for size and the quality of their surprisingly similar furnishings.

Hotel prices in Vegas are anything but fixed, so you will notice wild price fluctuations. The same room can routinely go for anywhere from $60 to $250, depending on demand. So use our price categories with a grain of salt and don’t rule out a hotel just because it’s listed as “Expensive”—it’s very common to get great deals on pricey hotels. On the negative side, some hotels start with their most typical lowest rate, adding “and up.” Don’t be surprised if “up” turns out to be way up. Just look online or call and ask.

Yes, if you pay more, you’ll probably (but not certainly) get a “nicer” establishment and clientele to match (perhaps not so many loud drunks in the elevators). On the other hand, if a convention is in town, the drunks will be there no matter how upscale the hotel—they’ll just be wearing business suits and/or funny hats. And frankly, the big hotels, no matter how fine, have mass-produced rooms; at 3,000 rooms or more, they are the equivalent of ’60s tract housing. Consequently, even in the nicest hotels, you can (and probably will) encounter plumbing noises, notice scratch marks on the walls or furniture, overhear conversations from other rooms, or be woken by the maids as they knock on the doors that don’t have the DO NOT DISTURB sign up.

Cancellation policies vary hotel to hotel, but generally speaking you can usually back out of your booking anywhere from 24 to 48 hours ahead of your check-in date without penalty. Exceptions to both of these general rules are often found on major holidays like New Year’s Eve, or during big event weekends like the Super Bowl.

Getting the Best Deal

Here are some tips for landing a low rate:

bullRemember the law of supply and demand. Las Vegas hotels are most crowded and therefore most expensive on weekends. So the best deals are offered midweek, when prices can drop dramatically. If possible, go then. You should also check the convention calendar run by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (www.vegasmeansbusiness.com; Black-Phone_bphone 877/847-4858) to find out whether a big trade show is scheduled at the time of your planned visit; if more than 50,000 conventioneers are descending on Vegas, change your dates as one-third or more of the beds will be booked and prices will soar. The most popular conventions are listed under “When to Go” on p. 36; use it as a guide for when to avoid the city. Remember also that planning to take your vacation just a week before or after official peak season can mean big savings.

bullBook online. This is such a smart way to book that we’ve devoted an entire box to it. See p. 43.

bullBe social. Almost every major resort in town has some presence in the social media world, including Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and smartphone apps. Connect with them and you may find yourself getting exclusive offers that the luddites out there won’t be hearing about.

bullDon’t be afraid to bargain. Get in the habit of asking for a lower price than the first one quoted. Always ask politely whether a less expensive room is available than the first one mentioned, or whether any special rates apply to you. If you belong to the players’ club at the hotel-casino, you may be able to secure a better deal. Of course, you will also be expected to spend a certain amount of time and money gambling there.

bullBeware of fees. So-called “resort fees” have become very common in Vegas and they can add up, ranging anywhere from $3 to $29 per night. Although the specifics vary from property to property, they usually cover amenities like Internet service, health club access, newspapers, printing of boarding passes, maybe a bottle of water or two, and the like. So what if you’re not going to use any of that? Too bad—you still have to pay (at most hotels—some make it optional). Many hotels include this in their totals when you book your room, but a few wait and sock it to you at checkout, so be sure to ask ahead. (We have noted those hotels with resort fees in the listings, but do note that they change often.)

ONLINE SAVINGS

Before going online, it’s important that you know what “flavor” of discount you’re seeking. Currently, there are three types of online reductions:

1.Extreme discounts on sites where you bid for lodgings without knowing which hotel you’ll get. You’ll find these on such sites as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com and they can be money-savers, particularly if you’re booking within a week of travel (that’s when the hotels resort to deep discounts to get beds filled). As these companies use only major chains, you can rest assured that you won’t be put up in a dump. For more reassurance, visit the website BetterBidding.com. On it, actual travelers spill the beans about what they bid on Priceline.com and which hotels they got. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the hotels that are offering these “secret” discounts.

2.Discounts on the hotel’s website itself. Sometimes these can be great values, especially if you’re a member of a loyalty program. In 2016, a number of major chains announced that they would be giving up to 10% off the lowest going rates to those who booked directly, through special membership areas of the hotel’s website. Before biting, though, be sure to look at the discounter sites below.

3.Discounts on online travel agencies, such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia.com, and Vegas specialist Travelworm.com. Some of these sites reserve rooms in bulk and at a discount, passing along the savings to their customers. But instead of going to them directly, I’d recommend looking at such dedicated travel search engines as Hipmunk.com, HotelsCombined.com, Momondo.com, and Trivago.com. These sites list prices from all the discount sites as well as the hotels directly, meaning you have a better chance of finding a deal. Note: Sometimes the discounts these sites find require advance payment for a room (and draconian cancellation policies), so double-check your travel dates before booking.

Tingo.com is another good source, especially for luxury hotels. Its model is a bit different: users make a pre-paid reservation through it, but if the price drops between the time of booking and the date of arrival, the site refunds the difference in price.

You might also try the app HotelTonight (www.hoteltonight.com). It works best for day-of bookings, though it now allows users to book a few days in advance and for multiple day stays. Occassionally, it can get the best prices for procrastinators (up to 70% off if you book on the day of travel, 40% on average if you book a few days in advance), but again, check around to make sure you’re getting a real deal.

It’s a lot of surfing, I know, but in the hothouse world of Sin City hotel pricing, this sort of diligence can pay off.

bullBeware of hidden extras. The hotels that don’t charge resort fees (which are few and far between these days) charge extra for things that are always free in other destinations, such as health-club privileges. Expect to pay anywhere from $15 to $35 to use almost any hotel spa/health club. Wi-Fi also doesn’t come free; usually there is a $12-to-$20 charge per 24-hour period. (We’ve noted when there is a fee in the listings so that you won’t be taken by surprise.)

bullConsider a suite. If you are traveling with your family or another couple, you can pack more people into a suite (which usually comes with a sofa bed) and thereby reduce your per-person rate. Remember that some places charge for extra guests and some don’t.

What Am I Looking for in a Hotel?

If gambling is not your priority, what are you doing in Vegas? Just kidding. But not 100% kidding. Vegas’s current identity as a luxury, and very adult, resort destination means there are several hotels that promise to offer you all sorts of alternatives to gambling—lush pool areas, fabulous spas, incredible restaurants, lavish shopping. But if you look closely, much of this is Vegas bait-and-switch; the pools are often chilly (and often partially closed during non-summer months), and it will be years before there is more foliage than concrete in these newly landscaped environments; the spas cost extra (sometimes a whole lot extra); the best restaurants can require a small bank loan; and the stores are often the kinds of places where average mortals can’t even afford the oxygen. So what does that leave you with? Why, that’s right—gambling.

The other problem with these self-proclaimed luxury hotels is their size. True luxury hotels do not have 3,000 rooms—they have a couple of hundred, at best, because you simply can’t provide first-class service and Egyptian-cotton sheets in mass quantity. But while hotels on the upper end of the price spectrum (Wynn, Encore, Bellagio, the Venetian, and so on) have done their best to offer sterling service and to make their rooms more luxurious than those at other Vegas hotels, there’s only so much that any place that big can do. Don’t get us wrong—these places are absolutely several steps up in quality from other large hotels, and compared to them, even the better older hotels really look shabby. But they are still sprawling, frequently noisy complexes.

If the hubbub of a casino makes you itch, there are a few non-gaming hotels and even non-gaming towers within casino-hotels that could help reduce your stress level. Check out Mandarin Oriental at CityCenter or the Delano at Mandalay Bay.

Casino hotels, by the way, are not always a nice place for children. It used to be that the casino was a separate section in the hotel, and children were not allowed inside. (We have fond memories of standing just outside the casino line, watching Dad put quarters in a slot machine “for us.”) But in almost all the new hotels, you have to walk through the casino to get anywhere—the lobby, the restaurants, the outside world. This makes sense from the hotel’s point of view; it gives you many opportunities to stop and drop $1 or $100 into a slot. But this often long, crowded trek gets wearying for adults—and it’s far worse for kids. The rule is that kids can walk through the casinos, but they can’t stop, even to gawk for a second at someone hitting a jackpot nearby. The casino officials who will immediately hustle the child away are just doing their job—but, boy, it’s annoying.

 

Price Categories

Expensive

$150 and up

Moderate

$100–$150

Inexpensive

Under $100

So, take this (and what a hotel offers that kids might like) into consideration when booking a room. Again, please note that those gorgeous hotel pools are often cold (and again, sometimes closed altogether) and not very deep. They look like places you would want to linger, but often (from a kid’s point of view) they are not. Plus, the pools close early. Hotels want you inside gambling, not outside swimming.

Finally, the thing that bothers me the most about this latest Vegas phase: It used to be that I could differentiate between rooms, but that’s becoming harder and harder. Nearly every major hotel has changed to more or less the same effect; gone is any thematic detailing and in its place is a series of disappointingly similar (if contemporary and sleek) looks. Expect clean-lined wood furniture, plump white beds, and monochromes everywhere you go. All that may distinguish one from another would be the size of the room or the quality of the furnishings.

Ultimately, though, if it’s a busy time, you’ll have to nab any room you can, especially if you get a price you like. How much time are you going to spend in the room anyway?

SOUTH STRIP

The southern third of the Strip, from roughly Russell Road to Harmon Avenue, is home to some of the biggest and most extravagant hotels in the world.

Best for: First-time visitors who want to experience all of the Vegas insanity they have read about and seen on TV.

Drawbacks: Prices are higher here than in non-Strip locations; the sheer number of people can cause major traffic jams (and we’re not just talking about on the street).

Expensive

Aria Las Vegas Red-Star3_redstar3    The first time I drove into the CityCenter complex at night, it was so dazzling, with its Gehry-esque jagged front (of the shops at Crystals), sleek skyscrapers towering over the Strip, and bullet-like tram coasting between the buildings, I distinctly remember thinking, “So this is what the future is like.” And to this extent, Aria, at the center of this faux urban block, exemplifies the future of Las Vegas: imposing and on the cutting edge of design.

Though its glass and steel exterior may seem sterile from afar, once you get up close and personal with Aria, you’ll see that it’s actually quite a vibrant space. The entire property is awash with imaginative visual details, even near the entrance, where a waterfall quietly cascades down a ridged wall on the outside of the building. Obviously, gaming is the main focus of the 150,000-square-foot casino, but there are plenty of other elements to catch your eye, whether it’s a hand-carved wooden mural, Maya Lin’s Silver River installation “flowing” behind the front desk, or the array of enormous, colorful butterflies suspended from the ceiling in the lobby. One of my favorite art works is a series of smoky prints by actor Christopher Walken that lines a corridor of the casino. If that doesn’t make this hotel cool, I don’t know what does.

Las Vegas Hotels

2636

The resort is enormous, with some 4,000 rooms, all with their own distinct character. The “standard” rooms are hardly standard, starting out at 520 square feet, with rich, warm tones and floor-to-ceiling windows that bathe the room in abundant sunlight. Should you want to shut out the sun without getting out of bed, that isn’t a problem—the blackout curtains, along with pretty much everything electronic in your room, can be controlled by the in-room tablet located on the nightstand next to the bed. I love the spacious bathrooms with their plush robes (to keep guests warm amid all the cold granite). Some might consider it a design flaw that getting to the deep-soaking tub means you have to first pass through the frosted-glass shower, but a few extra steps won’t kill you.

Aria also offers an even more VIP experience in its Sky Suites, where the smallest accommodation is a one-bedroom at 1,050 square feet. Suite guests enjoy such niceties as a private entrance and elevator, a pool exclusively for Sky Suites guests, and a lounge with a daily wine and cheese reception, not to mention front-of-line passes for the buffet.

Aria’s collection of restaurants on the main and second floors feature cuisine from some of the best chefs in the country—when was the last time you had a James Beard Award-winner make your pizza? Venture out of the hotel to see the rest of CityCenter, which includes more hotels, shopping, and more dining options at Crystals.

If Aria is any indication of what Vegas is going to be like for the next 50 years, we’re happy to jump on board.

3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.arialasvegas.com. Red-Phone_redphone 866/359-7757 or 702/590-7757. 4,004 units. $149 and up double; $289 and up suite. Resort fee $35. Extra person $50 No discount for children. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $7–$10, valet $13–$18; prices vary during special events. Amenities: 15 restaurants; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; heated outdoor pools; room service; spa; showroom; free property-wide and in-room Wi-Fi (included in resort fee).

Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas Red-Star3_redstar3    Before Nobu, the Cromwell, and Mandarin Oriental, if you wanted a true boutique hotel in Las Vegas, your only option was the Four Seasons. Not that that was a bad thing—Four Seasons’ reputation for luxury and attentive service is unrivaled worldwide. Except now there are a few more rivals on the Strip. The increasingly crowded market means that Four Seasons has had to up its game, and so in 2012 it underwent a total overhaul of the property, from the picturesque lobby to all 424 rooms located on the top five floors of Mandalay Bay.

Today, those rooms are even more handsome and contemporary. Cool, mod-style patterns on the walls plus well-placed mirrors make the standard rooms feel bigger than their allotted 500 square feet, while retro lamps and jacquard-patterned footstools at the end of the bed provide contrasting industrial and lush textures. And the bathrooms! Shiny chrome finishes, backlit mirrors, and a lack of frame around the shower glass make the space feel seamless, and therefore bigger. Somehow the beauty of the space rubs off: I don’t know how they do it, but the lighting in them makes every guest look 10 years younger. The hotel’s high perch allows for sweeping views; those rooms directly overlooking the Strip command a steeper price.

One of the best things about Four Seasons is that, despite its connection to the massive resort next door, it’s as secluded as they come, perfect for its discerning, and often celebrity guests. It has its own pool, two restaurants (the Verandah serves afternoon tea), and an excellent bar in the lobby. The private driveway and cul-de-sac are surrounded by palm trees and other tropical foliage, shielding guests from the typical Vegas loudness (in volume and garishness). This sense of calm carries throughout the entire resort, from the pleasant check-in, until you arrive in your beautiful room. But if guests want to leave this serene space to immerse themselves in the true Vegas experience, they can simply bop next door to the Mandalay Bay.

3960 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.fourseasons.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/632-5000 or 702/632-5000. 424 units. $224 and up double; $399 and up suite. Resort fee $35 per night. Extra person $35. Children 17 and under stay free in parent’s room. Valet parking $22; no self-parking. Pets under 25 lb. accepted. Amenities: 2 restaurants; concierge; executive-level rooms; fitness center; heated outdoor pool; room service; spa; free Wi-Fi.

Mandalay Bay/Delano Las Vegas Red-Star3_redstar3    Mandalay Bay has anchored its end of Las Vegas Boulevard since 1999 and has managed to stay fresh and relevant by undergoing a series of facelifts the past few years. First it revamped the casino floor to make it less campy and more modern. Then it added a new nightclub, as well as a couple of new restaurants and upgrades to existing ones, followed by the addition of a resident Cirque du Soleil show. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a resort this large that’s as upscale and exciting, with as many amenities.

The original Mandalay Bay Tower boasts 3,211 rooms, which, thanks to the building being so tall, offer great views of the Valley. (Request one of the 550 “DR View Rooms” to ensure you’ve got the lights of the Strip outside your window, not the highway). The resort recently completed its $100 million remodel of its suites, taking the spacious rooms into the 21st century with new color palettes. Resort Kings are now decked out in white and cobalt, while Resort Queens stay warm with combinations of either rich ruby and latte shades or lavender and mocha. Cushy seats right against the window are a nice touch. Bathrooms are large, with shower and tub separated by lots of cold marble, but that’s a first world problem.

The adjoining Delano has taken the place of THEhotel and infused it with South Beach spirit, a welcome change. The Miami touch has lightened everything up, though it includes nods to Las Vegas’ natural landscape. In the now neutral-colored foyer between valet and the lobby is an impressive, 126,000-pound, 150 million-year-old, split metaquartzite boulder hauled in from the surrounding Nevada desert. Pass between the smoothed halves to enter the lobby, where you’ll encounter a number of smaller rocks before registration. A piece by Korean artist Jaehyo Lee features hundreds of them strung along pieces of wire stretched from the tall ceiling to the ground. A recent installation showcased works derived completely from wood and other natural materials from the Mojave, including a sculpted bench composed of concrete and desert sandstone.

All of the hotel’s 1,117 suites were re-done as well, with lots of white and neutral tones and touches of gold. Ultra-plush beds with white tufted headboards can be difficult to part with in the morning, while gigantic bathrooms feature black marble around the separate tub and glass-enclosed shower. And there are cute touches, like postcards left on the bed with cheeky sayings like “My life has a superb cast, I just can’t figure out the plot.”

A little less secluded than the Four Seasons, there’s still a sense of exclusivity at Delano, with its own beach club, reserved for guests, right off of Mandalay Beach. Also, the new addition is non-gaming, but it’s just a quick walk down the hallway to the Mandalay Bay’s loud, 135,000-square-foot casino, one of the largest on the Strip.

As a whole, Mandalay Bay hosts some of the finest restaurants on the Strip, including Strip Steak, RM Seafood, Aureole, Border Grill, and more (see chapter 5). Beer aficionados take note: the resort’s beverage director is the first female cicerone (the beer equivalent of a sommelier) in the country, and she has made sure that craft beers are featured prominently on many menus.

The resort has managed to maintain a good balance of grown-up and family fun by including in its arsenal a massive arena for live performances; Shark Reef aquarium (p. 154); and Mandalay Beach, an impressive pool complex that features a wave pool, lazy river, and bona fide sand on a beach that sometimes hosts live concerts. Light nightclub (p. 231) has its own pool component, Daylight, set to an electronic music soundtrack.

Mandalay Place, the retail-lined walkway that connects Mandalay Bay and neighbor Luxor is a convenient way to traverse the two indoors (and to shop).

3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Hacienda Ave.). www.mandalaybay.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/632-7800 or 702/632-7108. 4,429 units (including Delano). $60 and up double; $225 and up suite. Resort fee $33. Extra person $40. Children 14 and under stay free in parent’s room. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $7–$10, valet $13–$18; prices vary during special events. Amenities: 24 restaurants; aquarium; casino; concierge; 12,000-seat events center; executive-level rooms; health club; showroom; 5 outdoor pools w/lazy river and wave pool; room service; sauna; spa; watersports equipment/rentals; free Wi-Fi.

Mandarin Oriental Red-Star3_redstar3    As part of the dazzling CityCenter, Mandarin Oriental has the advantage of being the smallest venue in the complex. Having only 400 rooms allows for a more intimate Vegas experience. It also means that the high level of customer service—something the Mandarin Oriental chain is known for in the rest of the world—is felt immediately, right from the moment you take the elevator up 23 floors to check in.

Even though you’re likely paying a premium price to stay in this exclusive hotel, the rooms aren’t enormous, starting at around 500 square feet. What you’re paying for is the luxury of the space, done in subtle, but modern Asian decor, beautifully furnished with great attention to design details, like the dark woods and chrome finishes throughout, mother-of-pearl headboards, and vases of fresh cut flowers. A frosted panel of glass separates the open tub from the rest of the room, allowing natural light to bathe you while you soak away. It’s certainly one of the most serene rooms I’ve ever stayed in, perhaps thanks to good feng shui. Or maybe because I feel like I’m not in Las Vegas when I’m here.

That 23rd-floor lobby also serves traditional tea service in the afternoons, in both Chinese and European styles, though you can Vegas-ize your experience to include champagne. The Mandarin Bar, occupying the corner of that floor, offers romantic views of the Strip through floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, and is a delightfully fancy-schmancy place to have a cocktail in the evenings. Add to this the temple of fine dining by French chef Pierre Gagnaire and you’ve got a floor you don’t have to leave for an entire night.

The more casual Mozen Bistro features both Asian and continental cuisine, while the secluded pool deck oasis also has its own cafe.

But if you want to do anything else, like see a show or gamble, you’ll have to step outside of the Mandarin Oriental bubble. Fortunately, with Aria and the Shops at Crystals (p. 192) just outside your door, you won’t have to go far.

3752 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.mandarinoriental.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/881-9578 or 702/590-8888. 392 units. $229 and up double; $409 and up suite. Resort fee $32 per night. Extra person $50. Children 11 and under stay free in parent’s room. Valet parking only at a cost of $30, prices vary during special events. Amenities: 4 restaurants; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; heated pool; room service; spa; free Wi-Fi.

 

Resort Fees

Even though Las Vegas is back on its economic upswing, room rates have stayed a tad lower than in other cities in order to stay competitive. Hotels, however, have found new ways to increase their bottom line, mainly through the addition of nefarious “resort fees.” These extra charges are tacked on top of the nightly room rate and variously include things like Internet access, entry to the fitness center, printing of boarding passes, local and toll-free phone calls, and the like. Some hotels throw in extra goodies like bottles of water, discounted cocktails or meals, and credits for future stays. So try to take advantage of all the fee covers, because even if you don’t, you still have to pay the fee. We indicate which hotels charge resort fees in the listings in this chapter and include their current prices, but do note that the amount, and what they include, changes often; ask when booking your room or take some time to read the fine print if making arrangements online.

MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Red-Star2_redstar2    MGM Grand is a big green monster. When you combine this megaresort with its two auxiliary accommodation towers, Signature Suites and Skylofts, it’s the second largest hotel in the world and the largest hotel on the Strip. You might think a property this enormous would feel like it’s too big for its own britches, treating visitors like they’re numbers rather than guests. But MGM Grand has a surprisingly high standard for customer service on all levels.

It helps that a $160-million renovation in 2012 updated all of the rooms with bold strokes, placing pleasantly contrasting geometric patterns on everything from the padded headboards to carpets, while jewel tones on the accessories add nice pops of color.

With the exception of the West Wing, rooms tend to be oversized; standard king and queen rooms are even large enough to have a couch in a seating area, plus a writing desk and chair. Modern touches include 40-inch flatscreens and media hubs brimming with electrical outlets. If you want to start getting into real space, there are the residential spots at the Signature, the tall white buildings behind the MGM. If you’ve got the money to burn and need a palace, there’s always the Skylofts, the mind-blowing, multi-bedroom villas that feature their own Strip-view balconies with hot tubs, 24-hour butler service, and other spiffy amenities. A final room category are the “Stay Well” rooms dedicated to the health-conscious Vegas visitor (yes, there is such a thing), and designed in conjunction with Cleveland Clinic and Deepak Chopra. Set on one entire floor, they feature vitamin C-infused showers, specialized lighting to suppress melatonin and fight jetlag, and welcome HEPA air filtration to rid your atmosphere of the very Vegas toxins of smoke, allergens, and pollen.

Getting from your room to most anywhere else in the hotel is relatively easy, unless you’re headed to megaclub and restaurant Hakkasan (p 230). Then, you have to navigate most of the maze-like 170,000 square feet of casino—but follow the path (and the crowds) and you will be at one of the biggest nightlife hot spots in town. The club has a day party at the pool known as Wet Republic, where you get to hear the DJs you usually see at night in broad daylight.

If being crammed into the club isn’t your scene, resident Cirque du Soleil show  (p. 206) is one of the most breathtaking on the Strip, and the other non-party pools have a lazy river running through them.

MGM boasts one of the more exciting restaurant lineups on the Strip, including two restaurants from highly acclaimed French chef Joël Robuchon, Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House, and sake-lover’s Shibuya, all of which are reviewed in chapter 5.

3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Tropicana Ave.). www.mgmgrand.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/929-1111 or 702/891-7777. 5,044 units. $125 and up double; $215 and up suite. Resort free $33. Extra person $40. Children 13 and under stay free in parent’s room. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $7–$10, valet $13–$18; prices vary during special events. Amenities: 23 restaurants; nightclub; cabaret theater; casino; concierge; events arena; executive-level rooms; large health club; Jacuzzi; 5 outdoor pools w/lazy river; room service; salon; shopping arcade; spa; wedding chapel; free Wi-Fi.

Moderate

Excalibur Red-Star1_redstar1    Kitsch is still king at this elaborate castle on the Strip. Excalibur fulfills that “adult Disney” mentality that the city was trying to go after in the early ’90s. It’s enormous, it’s loud, and it’s often crowded, but despite a few updates to the decor, it still doesn’t take itself too seriously.

If you’re on a budget, the standard rooms should suit you just fine; they’re comfortable, if a bit outdated. The Contemporary Tower rooms are worth the extra price upgrade for more modern (as the name implies) touches and decor, as well as nicer bathrooms. Both come with 21st-century amenities like flatscreen TVs, Internet, and cable access. Come prepared with earplugs, however, as the walls are woefully thin, so you can hear exactly what your neighbors are saying and doing (and vice versa). For the price though, you won’t find any better location on the Strip.

A medieval wedding isn’t a rare request these days, and should you decide at the last minute you want to do a themed wedding, you can rent your own Guinevere and Lancelot (or Arthur, whoever fits) attire from the Canterbury Wedding Chapel (though one representative told us that requests lately have been more Game of Thrones than Arthurian legend).

For those fair maidens who aren’t getting married just yet, the hunky Aussies from Thunder From Down Under are ready to show you what the fuss is all about. A totally different group of Aussies, The Australian Beegees, are a surprisingly accurate tribute act that put on a fun, disco-filled, nostalgic show.

Excalibur is still one of the only kid-friendly resorts on the Strip (we suppose it’s hard to get away from that reputation when you’re in the shape of a giant castle). The Fun Dungeon arcade features more than 150 carnival and arcade games, and is perfect for those bored kids and teens who have nothing else to do in town.

 

Pet-Friendly Hotels

Up until recently, if you wanted to bring Fido or Fluffy to Vegas with you, your options for lodging were fairly limited, with only one major hotel on the Strip allowing pets (the Four Seasons). Now, more hotels are jumping on the pet-friendly bandwagon, including all of the Caesars Entertainment properties. Their popular PetStay program allows dogs up to 50 pounds to get a taste of Sin City. There are fees associated, of course ($25–$40), and there are plenty of restrictions, but you get amenities like food and water dishes, recommended dog walking routes, and more. The program is offered at Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, Harrah’s, the Flamingo, Bally’s, Rio Suites, and the LINQ. For more information on PetStay, check out www.caesars.com/petstay. You can also contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (www.lasvegas.com; Black-Phone_bphone 877/847-4858) for info on other pet-friendly accommodations.

Following the trend of buffets being reborn, Excalibur’s underwent its own $6 million overhaul, revealed in late 2014. The remodel included transforming the dining room to more modern digs—all traces of the old Round Table theme have been erased—and updating the menu so that you and your knights have more international choices.

3850 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Tropicana Ave.). www.excalibur.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/937-7777 or 702/597-7700. 3,981 units. $45 and up double. Daily resort fee $29. Extra person $25. No discount for children. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $5–$8, valet $8–$13. Amenities: 5 restaurants; buffet; food court; casino; concierge; outdoor pools; room service; showrooms; wedding chapel; free Wi-Fi.

Luxor Las Vegas Red-Star1_redstar1    Though it was never as grand as the ruins at Giza, the black, bold Luxor pyramid that punctuates the Strip has lost its original kitschy glory. Sure, the exterior hasn’t changed, and the 315,000-watt beam of light that shoots from the top of the Luxor is still so powerful you can see it from outer space. But inside, the dynasty has definitely fallen. Gone are the once-unavoidable faux Egyptian monuments (save for Cleopatra’s Needle and the Sphinx in the front, as well as the ominous Ramses statues still guarding the main entrance) in favor of a toned-down environment. It’s a shame, really. The little details were what made Luxor so fun to explore. Today it’s known only for its reasonable room rates and connection to Mandalay Bay.

Most believe that the Pyramid Rooms are the best to stay in, if only for the inclinator (not an elevator) ride that guests must take to get to their abode. It’s a jolting, not-smooth ride at a 39-degree angle up the side of the building, but a novel way to change floors. But beyond that elevator ride, I don’t recommend the Pyramid for stays; the angled windows in it make the rooms in that tower feel smaller than they are. And if you need a tub, you’re out of luck in the pyramid. Bottom line: request a room in one of the other twin, 22-story cubes.

The casino feels enormous even by Las Vegas standards at 120,000 square feet, but ever since the stripping of the Egyptian kitsch, it’s pretty banal. Maybe the artifacts were too distracting from the clanging of more than 2,000 slot machines.

Luxor’s five-acre pool is divided into four sections. An oasis of faux Egyptian decor, it boasts one of the largest pool decks on the Strip. During the summer, there’s an LGBT-friendly pool party (one of the few on the Strip) Temptation Sundays, with a live DJ and lots of hot, sculpted eye candy.

What Luxor lacks in personality these days, it makes up for in entertainment options. Prop comedian Carrot Top’s long-running show is still a hit, while Cirque du Soleil-produced Criss Angel: Mindfreak (p. 209) is a hit with Angel’s loyal fans. Things can get educational as well, with visits to the popular Bodies and well-regarded Titanic exhibits, both of which are reviewed in chapter 6.

Though the restaurant collection is more diverse at neighbor Mandalay Bay, Luxor has a few of its own gems, such as modern Mexican Tacos & Tequila, and game-meat oriented Tender Steakhouse, covered in chapter 5.

3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. Reno and Hacienda aves.). www.luxor.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/777-0188 or 702/262-4000. 4,400 units. $63 and up double; $150 and up whirlpool suite; $249–$800 other suites. Resort fee $29. Extra person $35. No discount for children. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $5–$8, valet $8–$13. Amenities: 6 restaurants; buffet; food court; nightclub; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; 5 outdoor pools; room service; showrooms; spa; free Wi-Fi.

Monte Carlo Resort & Casino Red-Star1_redstar1    As far as moderate, middle-of-the-road Strip resorts go, Monte Carlo is probably the king of them all. It’s not all hoity-toity like Bellagio, but it’s not exactly the Riviera, either (R.I.P.). Yet, it’s quietly survived, making changes when needed, but, like its decor, remaining bland. Dependable and consistent in service and amenities, but bland.

There’s nothing wrong with bland or beige, the de rigeur color of Monte Carlo. It’s easy on the eyes. Classic lines and furnishings welcome you into the rooms, which offer respectably comfortable beds, granite bathrooms, and faux European wood furniture. And it’s one of the few hotels on the Strip where you can get from the reception area to your room without walking through the casino, making it a favorite of families. Feel like getting a little crazy? The 700-square-foot spa suites have oversize hot tubs smack dab next to the bed. Why Monte Carlo, you old devil you.

The addition of boutique Hotel 32 on the top floors has also spiced things up, offering a limo pickup, private elevator, personal suite assistant (are they not called butlers anymore?), and all the rest of the perks that come with being a VIP (and paying the VIP price). At the very least, the rooms are swankier, if not more colorful.

In the past year, Monte Carlo started taking advantage of its Strip-front property by opening a pedestrian plaza right on the Strip. It now connects to the 2-acre open air entertainment and retail space known as The Park, and you’re now within spitting distance of the new 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena, plus there’s a new theater in the works as we write. With restaurants such as Yusho (p. 106), 800 Degrees Pizza, Double Barrel Roadhouse, and local coffeehouse Sambalatte at the front of the hotel, passing tourists don’t even have to set foot into the casino for a drink or bite to eat. Indoors, Andre’s is still elegant French fare, and The Pub boasts a great craft beer selection, both of which are discussed in chapter 5.

The pool is fun, but even with the lazy river it isn’t the best on the Strip, having dropped in ranking behind those at Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand.

3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. Flamingo Rd. and Tropicana Ave.). www.montecarlo.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/311-8999 or 702/730-7777. 3,002 units. $69 and up double; $145 and up suite. Daily resort fee $33. Extra person $35. No discount for children. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $5–$8, valet $8–$13 Amenities: 7 restaurants; food court; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; fitness center; Jacuzzi; outdoor pool w/wave pool and lazy river; room service; showroom; spa; watersports equipment/rentals; wedding chapel; free Wi-Fi.

New York–New York Hotel & Casino Red-Star2_redstar2    The hotel that’s so-nice-they-named-it-twice is really good at detail (at least on the exterior). Even though the one-third-size replica of the New York skyline seems all crammed into the facade, it covers it all in 2.4 million square feet: the 150-foot Statue of Liberty, the 300-foot-long Brooklyn Bridge, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building. It’s like looking at a live-action cartoon postcard. And it’s these aesthetic touches that make this one of the quintessential Las Vegas resorts. People still want a hotel that has a roller coaster wrapped around it.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY HOTELS

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Vegas is simply not a good place to bring kids. Most of the major hotels no longer offer babysitting, and fewer offer discounts for children staying in a parent’s room (many others have lowered the age for children who can stay for free). But if you must bring them, you’ll be best served at the hotels below or in a non-casino hotel, particularly a reliable chain, and a place with kitchenettes.

bullCircus Circus Hotel & Casino (p. 71)    Centrally located on the Strip, this is our first choice if you’re traveling with the kids. The hotel’s mezzanine level offers ongoing circus acts daily from 11am to midnight, dozens of carnival games, and an arcade. And behind the hotel is a full amusement park.

bullExcalibur (p. 52)    Though the sword-and-sorcery theme has been considerably toned down, Excalibur features an entire floor of midway games and a large video-game arcade. It also has some child-oriented eateries and shows, but there’s a heavily promoted male-stripper show, too, so it’s not perfect.

bullFour Seasons (p. 47)    For free goodies, service, and general child pampering, the costly Four Seasons is probably worth the dough. Your kids will be spoiled!

bullMandalay Bay (p. 48)    Mandalay Bay certainly looks grown up, but it has a number of factors that make it family-friendly: good-size rooms to start—which you do not have to cross a casino to access; a variety of restaurants; a big ol’ shark attraction; and, best of all, the swimming area—wave pool, sandy beach, lazy river, lots of other pools—fun in the Vegas sun!

bullThe Orleans (p. 83)    Considered a “local” hotel, its proximity to the Strip makes it a viable alternative, especially for families seeking to take advantage of its plus-size pool area, kid’s activity area, bowling, and movie theaters.

bullStratosphere Casino Hotel (p. 70)    For families looking for reasonably priced, if not particularly exciting, digs, this is a good choice. Plus, it’s not in the middle of the Strip action, so you and your kids can avoid that. Thus far, it’s not moving in the “adult entertainment” direction, and it has thrill rides at the top.

Along with Monte Carlo, New York–New York has been pushing its offerings more to its front on the Strip, adding busy restaurants such as Shake Shack (there’s always a line, but worth it) and Tom’s Urban, along with candy-land Hershey’s World.

But while the outside of New York–New York is still exciting, the inside has been toned down, with less “New York-ness” to the casino floor and the rooms. Sure the rooms are sleek, with plush padded headboards, 40-inch flatscreen TVs, and marble in the bathrooms, but we miss the Chrysler Building-like Art Deco pizazz they once had. Call it gentrification.

One thing that hasn’t changed? It’s a long, looooonng slog from registration to your room, no matter which tower you’re in. But if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere . . . else in the hotel. (I’m sorry.)

The risqué resident Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity (p. 209) underwent a few show changes in the past year, but is still adult-oriented, a little less cheesy, and best for those who are really comfortable with the sensuality of the human body.

3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Tropicana Ave.). www.newyorknewyork.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/693-6763 or 702/740-6969. 2,024 units. $79 and up double. Daily resort fee $33. Extra person $35. No discount for children. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $7–$10, valet $13–$18; prices vary during special events. Amenities: 13 restaurants; food court; buffet; casino; executive-level rooms; fitness center; Jacuzzi; outdoor pool; room service; showroom; spa; free Wi-Fi.

Tropicana Las Vegas Red-Star1_redstar1    Sadly, the Tropicana has lost its soul and its way. A number of restaurants and attractions have come and gone as the resort’s new owners (Doubletree by Hilton, believe it or not) have attempted to define the iconic resort’s new identity. Luxurious? Sure. But there isn’t much memorable about it anymore, which is a bummer. They attempted to transport the Miami feel to its dining and pool parties, to minimal success, so the powers that be have kept things at status quo (reasonable rates, middle-of-the-road dining, active casino) until they discover the magic formula to make this once legendary property relevant again. It maintains its spectacular location, right on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana, at great value to guests, and that remains its saving grace.

If you do stay here, you’ll find that the $200 million spent on renovations transformed the main floor from a dark, dingy casino into a bright, white gambling palace. The rooms, which were completely gutted, follow suit in terms of brightness. Plantation-style shutters on the windows allow just the right amount of light in to highlight the bleach-white, high thread count linens; bamboo and rattan furniture makes you feel like you’ve checked into a beach house rather than a Strip hotel room. Our favorites are the Bungalow Deluxe Rooms, located just off the pool in two-story buildings, which feel very exclusive, and offer potent eye candy from their private balconies.

3801 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Tropicana Ave.). www.troplv.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/826-8767 or 702/739-2222. 1,375 units. $89 and up double. Resort fee $29. Extra person $25. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 3 restaurants; food court; casino; executive-level rooms; health club; 3 outdoor pools; showroom; wedding chapel; free Wi-Fi.

MID-STRIP

The middle of the Strip is from Harmon Avenue to Spring Mountain/Sands Road and features many of the grand Vegas gambling destinations you have seen in the movies.

Best for: People without transportation who want to be able to walk to everything they want to see.

Drawbacks: Peak times bring out massive crowds and higher prices.

Expensive

Bellagio Red-Star3_redstar3    The Bellagio has come to exemplify everything that’s recognized as luxury in Las Vegas. It was opened in 1989 by Steve Wynn (along with the Mirage), setting the standard for Las Vegas elegance. Nearly 2 decades later, the Lake Como-inspired resort is still at the top of its game.

Just walking into the Bellagio is a thrill. First you pass the aquatic spectacle of the Fountains of Bellagio (p. 158) outside, then enter into the lobby under a stunning ceiling garden of artist Dale Chihuly’s hand-blown flowers (p. ii). Follow your nose to the wafting scents from the lush Conservatory and Botanical Garden (p. 158), which changes its displays seasonally five times a year (the fifth, in case you’re wondering, is in celebration of Chinese New Year).

The handsome accommodations are available in two different color palettes, inspired by the attractions downstairs. The blue and platinum scheme, contemporary and relaxing, is meant to evoke the Fountains of Bellagio; while the serene green and plum pairing offers the earthy warmth of the Conservatory. The decor straddles the line between funky and elegant. Bathrooms are larger than most Brooklyn apartments, with marble vanities and large soaking tubs.

Most of the upscale restaurants that were part of the opening team are still here, including Michael Mina, Fix, and Le Cirque, with a few newcomers that reflect Las Vegas’ changing appetites, like Yellowtail and Lago, which are all reviewed in chapter 5. Vodka and tea drinkers alike flock to Petrossian, while nightlife beats on at lounges such as Hyde Bellagio and Lily, all covered in chapter 8. Resident Cirque du Soleil show O (p. 208) is still an aquatic and acrobatic masterpiece.

The price points are pretty steep all around the hotel, and not just at the gaming tables. Weekend cabana rentals next to one of the six pools in its Mediterranean oasis are $300; head to the more-exclusive Cypress Pool, and just sitting in a chair will cost you a whopping $50—or more.

3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at the corner of Flamingo Rd.). www.bellagio.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/987-6667 or 702/693-7111. 3,933 units. $169 and up double; $450 and up suite. Resort fee $35. Extra person $50. No discount for children. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $7–$10, valet $13–$18; prices vary during special events. Amenities: 14 restaurants; buffet; nightclubs; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; large health club; 6 outdoor pools; room service; showrooms; spa; wedding chapel; free Wi-Fi.

Caesars Palace Red-Star3_redstar3    Caesars dips its toes into old Vegas and new Vegas, maintaining that kitschy, over-the-top cheesiness that was associated with the city for a long time (Roman columns and statues), while at the same time embracing all the modern elegance that’s become expected.

There are six towers of varying degrees of luxury. The most basic rooms are in the Roman and Forum towers, which are the oldest, but have been recently renovated with modern touches like mirrored headboards, sleeker lines, and in-mirror TVs in the bathroom. As the name implies, Palace Tower rooms (the closest to the convention space) are decidedly more regal, and larger, with wood and gold finishes. The Laurel Connection is a boutique hotel experience comprised of the Augustus and Octavius Towers, which not only have their own line of luxury amenities, but also a private valet on Flamingo, so guests don’t have to navigate the casino floor to get to their rooms. Floor-to-ceiling windows admit plenty of light into the big sleeping areas, which come complete with plush sofas that hug the corner of the room.

And yes, you can even book the Hangover Suite. The one in the film, however, isn’t an actual suite in the hotel, but a set modeled after the Emperor’s Suite in the Forum Tower. Just don’t end up on the roof.

The old Centurion Tower took on a new identity as The Nobu Hotel Las Vegas, named for the restaurants by modern Japanese pioneer Nobu Matsuhisa. Everything about it departs from the Caesars aesthetic: it’s appointed with contemporary and traditional Japanese decor such as mini-teak stools and black stone tile in the open showers. Exclusive amenities include sleep oils, Nobu’s own brand of tea in the mini-bar, and priority seating in the Nobu restaurant downstairs. You can even order Nobu fare as room service. Since the boutique essentially operates as its own entity, the smaller guest-to-staff ratio allows for more personalized service.

There are almost as many pools at the Garden of the Gods complex as there are hotel towers. Named for various Roman gods, each caters to its own niche of clientele based on its moniker. The Venus pool is European style (as in bikini top optional) and often has a DJ soundtrack, while you can play swim-up blackjack at Fortuna. Tucked away in the corner, Jupiter pool is the most secluded and quiet, but Bacchus is secluded in its own way, reserved for the high rollers, invited guests, and celebrities.

Dining options at Caesars Palace are diverse and renowned, including Italian favorite Rao’s, French gastronomic temple Restaurant Guy Savoy, and Bobby Flay’s first Vegas restaurant, Mesa Grill, as well as others reviewed in chapter 5.

Shoppers love wandering around the massive Forum Shops (p. 195) for high end retail. The Colosseum (p. 216) hosts resident acts such as Elton John, Mariah Carey, and Rod Stewart. Head outdoors to the big tent for Absinthe(p. 205), the most outrageous show on the Strip.

3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (just north of Flamingo Rd.). www.caesarspalace.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/427-7243 or 702/731-7110. 3,960 units. $119 and up double; $440 and up suite. Resort fee $32. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 11 restaurants; buffet; food court; nightclubs; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; 8 outdoor pools; room service; spa; 3 wedding chapels; free Wi-Fi.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Red-Star3_redstar3    When the Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, it was the start of a brand new era in Las Vegas. The town was slowly climbing out of the recession, and this was likely to be the last new resort to be built from the ground up for a long time. So it broke the mold.

What you’ll notice first about the Cosmopolitan is that there are so many things to notice. Crisp LED screens on the columns near check-in display fluid, moving graphics that keep guests entranced. A 9-foot, metallic Lucky Cat art installation in the pop-up exhibition space beckons those seeking good fortune (and who isn’t, in Vegas?). At one point, Liberace’s Rhinestone Roadster was even parked near the Strip entrance. There’s no shortage of visual stimulation in the 100,000-square-foot casino or the floors above, and that’s even without the frenetic slot machines.

They especially love their chandeliers at the Cosmopolitan. The three-story specimen in the middle of the casino floor is made of 2 million crystals and houses the multi-level Chandelier Bar. It joins the Bond Bar on the Strip side, which has live DJs and girls dancing in boxes above the crowd; and the more subdued Vesper Bar near registration (a spot where you’d likely find casino execs having a drink). Each has its own dedicated cocktail program to match the vibe.

The most basic rooms are quite swank, done up in relaxing blues and metallics, starting at around 500 square feet. Each features a giant, marble-tiled bathroom. The direct view from the bed right into the shower is . . . cool? (If you’re not feeling modest.) If it’s reasonable, upgrade to at least the terrace studio. In these, you also get the benefit of 200 more square feet and a kitchenette, plus a private terrace, a rarity on the Strip. The one-bedroom suites have even better amenities, like deep Japanese soaking tubs that look out the window, separate seating areas that can be closed off from the bedroom, and terraces that wrap around the corner of the building.

The Cosmopolitan’s restaurant collection also ushered in a new era for Vegas’ culinary scene. It helped move appetites away from celebrity chef-driven spots to more urban, real-food-city fare. Its Wicked Spoon Buffet reset the bar for the all-you-can-eat-experience (it, along with some of the other dozen restaurants at Cosmo, are reviewed in chapter 5).

Entertainment-wise, Cosmopolitan has made a name for itself as a stop for indie bands and big name artists. Sometimes they play the intimate Chelsea showroom, sometimes they’ll play outdoors to standing room only at the Boulevard Pool. The pool also serves as the daylife part of Marquee, one of the biggest nightclubs on the Strip. In winter, the pool gets covered, faux snow gets piped into the air, and the space becomes a skating rink.

The clientele here, whether they’re guests or not, tend to run on the younger side. This isn’t a quiet hotel, that’s for sure, nor does it ever aim to be.

3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.cosmopolitanlasvegas.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/551-7778 or 702/698-7000. 2,995 units. $140 and up double. Resort fee $30 per night. Extra person $30. Children under 17 stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 13 restaurants; buffet; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; heated outdoor pools; room service; spa.; free Wi-Fi.

The Cromwell Red-Star2_redstar2    At 188 rooms, this is probably the only hotel that can truly call itself “boutique,” which is exactly what The Cromwell was going for when it transformed the old, tired Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall into this handsome newbie.

Yes, the casino is still pretty dark inside, but now it’s the kind of sophisticated dark that you want to be caught in. Warm, sultry colors and textures decorate the casino floor, starting at the modern vintage (if there is such a thing) Bound Bar at the front, which allows guests to have a drink in the lobby without feeling overwhelmed by the casino. They kept the original red chandeliers of Bill’s, which fit in perfectly with the new, sexy digs.

The rooms tend to run a little smaller, but make up for it in luxurious appointments. Influenced by modern Paris (down to the French phrases elegantly scrawled on the carpets in the hallways), the accommodations feature dark, hardwood floors (practically unheard of in Las Vegas), antique trunks as furniture, tufted leather headboards, and deep, luscious berry hues. Bathrooms are definitely small, but pack a visual punch, with tall showers, handheld showerheads, and readable tile that offers more life coaching quotes. On the tech front, you no longer need a key to open your room. Opt for the eKey app that allows you to wave your iPhone over the pad on the door, et voila! Access granted. Perfect for those of us who have a habit of misplacing keycards.

While it’s dark in the casino, Giada (p. 115) de Laurentiis’ namesake restaurant on the second floor is a bright airy space awash in natural light. We review her first eatery in chapter 5.

The Cromwell is definitely aiming at a younger demographic—but those with disposable incomes; guests also receive admission to the party scene of the hotel. Nightclub mainstay Drai’s (p. 229) emerged from its basement lair to take over the rooftop and its pool for a nightlife and daylife component (though Drai’s Afterhours still operates ’til the wee hours of the morning down in the depths of the hotel).

3595 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.thecromwell.com. Red-Phone_redphone 844/426-2766 or 702/777-3777. 188 units. $99 and up double. Resort fee $32. Extra person $35. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: Restaurant; nightclubs, casino; concierge; heated outdoor pool; room service; free Wi-Fi.

The Venetian/Palazzo Las Vegas Red-Star2_redstar2    When Las Vegas was going through its period of building hotels in homage to other cities (New York-New York, Luxor, Paris Las Vegas), there was a tendency to create these hotels as more of a caricature of the real deal. Somehow, Venetian managed to escape that campy, kitschy feel; it is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and luxurious properties to come out of that trend.

The exterior, much like Paris Las Vegas, crams a lot of the actual city’s landmarks into one small footprint. There’s the canals and Campanile right at the front, and the Doge’s Palace facade—where the plaza sometimes gets shut down for private, hoity-toity events. Indoors, right at Venetian’s registration, guests are treated to Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, recreated in the type of gorgeous detail that carries through the rest of the property.

St. Mark’s Place is another masterful fake, an actual square within the Grand Canal Shoppes (p. 196), ringed by retailers and restaurants with “patio” seating. Wandering minstrels treat crowds to live performances. It’s a nice nod to the city, with less worry of pickpockets.

Both Venetian and Palazzo are proper all-suite hotels, with the smallest rooms starting at a generous 650 square feet. The suites are bi-level, with sunken living rooms that have full-size sleeper sofas on request, and even enough room to fit in two more comfortable chairs and a dining table with three seats. Colors are rich and royal, the entire space has a warm, relaxing glow, perfect for when you fall into one of the plush beds tucked with soft, high thread count sheets. Bathrooms are downright palatial, complete with deep, marble-encased Roman tubs, separate enclosed shower, and double vanities. Three TVs—one each in the bedroom and living rooms, and of course one in the bath—make sure that you’re always entertained.

Venetian also has boasting rights in the culinary realm: its arsenal of restaurants has more James Beard Award-winners (Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Mario Batali and Daniel Boulud) than any other property on the Strip, as well as celebrity chefs such as Buddy Valastro and Emeril Lagasse. See chapter 5 for a more detailed discussion.

The Grand Canal Shoppes meander between the Venetian and Palazzo, featuring faux canals which snake through them, complete with singing gondoliers. The Palazzo’s atrium features seasonal floral displays, as well as a waterfall. The Chinese New Year display is often one of the most elaborate on the Strip (the year of the dragon featured a giant, mechanical, fire-breathing one). Created with feng shui in mind, guests are encouraged to walk around it three times, clockwise, in order to bring good luck for the lunar new year.

3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.venetian.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/283-6423 or 702/414-1000. 7,093 units. $159 and up double. Resort fee $32. Extra person $35. Children 12 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 39 restaurants; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; outdoor pools; 24-hr. room service; extensive shopping mall; showrooms; spa; wedding chapels; free Wi-Fi.

Moderate

Bally’s Las Vegas Red-Star1_redstar1    The obvious reason to stay at Bally’s: its prime, center-Strip location. The less obvious reason? Some of its suites are darn nice (something that few visitors know).

What was originally the MGM Grand when it opened in 1973, Bally’s has pretty much stayed the same, as the rest of the Strip grew bigger and more opulent. It’s only in the past couple of years that we’ve been seeing more grand changes throughout the property, first inside, then out.

The Jubilee Tower rooms were the first to be completely renovated and are worth spending an extra $20 above the price of the standard rooms. If Bally’s feels a little dated on the outside, these spaces say otherwise, with polished wood furnishings, tufted headboards, pillow top beds, and lots of marble in the bathrooms. The colors are a little tame, but everything feels new and clean and swanky. Should you decide to go a little bigger—and you should—a suite here will run at least $100 less per night than you’ll find at Bellagio right across the street. The Jubilee Grand Suites will surprise you; they’re twice the size of the regular rooms, with lots of red, more amenities, and why, yes, that IS a whirlpool right in the middle of your room. The other non-Jubilee Tower rooms and suites are serviceable, but if you can afford to stay somewhere prettier, why not?

Most visitors who aren’t bedding down here stop by for the famed Sterling Brunch (p. 14) which runs nearly $100 a pop. BLT Steak replaced the classic Bally’s Steakhouse, but retained the brunch in the transition, so now you get to eat your endless caviar and lobster tails in a much more contemporary setting. It’s only a quick walk through the corridor connecting Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas next door to get to more dining options.

Finally, the front of Bally’s got a facelift early in 2015 with the addition of Grand Bazaar Shops (p. 195), an outdoor retail and dining experience with lots of tiny boutiques you won’t find elsewhere in Las Vegas.

3645 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Flamingo Rd.). www.ballyslv.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/634-3434 or 702/739-4111. 2,814 units. $36 and up double; $199 and up suite. Resort fee $29. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 4 restaurants; buffet; food court; casino; concierge; health club; outdoor pool; room service; showrooms; spa; 8 night-lit tennis courts; free Wi-Fi.

Flamingo Las Vegas Red-Star1_redstar1    Aside from the Tropicana, Flamingo is probably the most recognizable hotel name in Las Vegas, mainly because it’s the longest survivor on the Strip. Bugsy Siegel opened the 105-room (it would be considered “boutique” today) Flamingo in 1946, and 7 decades later, despite the fact that the original bones are completely gone, he’d probably still recognize the place.

The pink neon that has been burned into our collective memories still streams through the hotel, especially when you check into the FAB rooms and retro-inspired GO rooms. The main difference between the two? The GO rooms are prettier to look at, having been remodeled more recently, and come standard with showers only (FAB rooms do have tubs). The Flamingo embraces its Rat Pack history, with the GO rooms attempting to throw you back into all its mod glory, with vinyl padded headboards, black and white photos of Vegas days of yore, and pops of color on the striped wallpaper, all with modern amenities like electronic window treatments, and TVs built into the mirrors.

Shows such as Donny and Marie (p. 211) and Legends in Concert (p. 213) have been chugging along to sold-out crowds in search of nostalgia, while Olivia Newton-John recently threw her hat in the Vegas headliner ring.

The pool is one of the hotel’s biggest draws. Lush foliage covers 15 acres of lagoons, waterfalls, and streams, as well as five pools and whirlpools. The GO pool features DJ-driven pool time, but the other swimming spots are more family-friendly. You can find the flocks of the namesake bird on Flamingo Island, part of the property’s famed Wildlife Habitat, as well as other animals such as ducks, ibis and turtles, all part of this carefully maintained ecosystem. These species might not be native to Nevada, but they’re definitely a part of the Las Vegas landscape.

3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. Sands Ave. and Flamingo Rd.). www.flamingolv.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/732-2111 or 702/733-3111. 3,517 units. $85 and up double; $122 and up suite. Resort fee $29. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Timeshare suites available. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 4 restaurants; buffet; food court; casino; executive-level rooms; health club; 5 outdoor pools; room service; showrooms; spa; wedding chapels; free Wi-Fi.

Harrah’s Las Vegas Red-Star1_redstar1    What Harrah’s lacks in panache, it makes up for in location, and for the non-stop action on its casino floor. It’s not exactly the most luxurious or sophisticated on the Strip, but it is smack dab in the middle of it, and for that it’s worth a stay if you’re planning on a) doing stuff at lots of other hotels or b) gambling here the whole time.

Accommodations are forgettable-looking, with the expected amenities, but roomier than other hotels you’ll find at this price point. In a word, they’re just fine, with the exception of a handful of basic rooms that haven’t been updated yet—don’t be afraid to ask for more modern digs in the Carnaval South tower if you get stuck with one of them.

The casino is a gambler’s paradise, with more than 80 table games and 1,200 slot machines hungry for your money. Entertainment options are about right for the demographic: There’s the famous Improv Theater, where up-and-coming comedians take the stage, as well as headliners The Righteous Brothers and afternoon-favorite Mac King (p. 214) comedy show. Million Dollar Quartet (p. 214) is an underrated show that should be checked out if you’re a fan of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and/or Carl Perkins.

Restaurant wise, Ruth Chris’ is a good standby for steak, with a primo view of the Strip, while the new Fulton Street Food Hall (p. 121) is a nice recent addition. It’s not a food court, but you know those big market-like eating emporiums we’re seeing pop up around the country? This is Las Vegas’ version.

3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. Flamingo and Spring Mountain rds.). www.harrahslasvegas.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/427-7247 or 702/369-5000. 2,526 units. $65 and up double; $270 and up suite. Resort fee $29. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 5 restaurants; buffet; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; outdoor pool; room service; showroom; spa; free Wi-Fi.

The Mirage Red-Star2_redstar2    What we know of Las Vegas today—the over-the-top offerings, the temples of excess, all with the notion that luxury can be attainable even by regular folks—all started with The Mirage when it opened in 1989. Since then, hotels have only been getting bigger and more extravagant.

SO YOUR TRIP GOES SWIMMINGLY . . .

Part of the delight of the Vegas resort complexes is the gorgeous pools—what could be better for beating the summer heat? But there are pools and there are pools, so you’ll need to keep several things in mind when searching for the right one for you.

During the winter, it’s often too cold or windy to do much lounging, and even if the weather is amenable, the hotels often close part of their pool areas during winter and early spring. Also, the pools are not heated for the most part, but in fairness, they largely don’t need to be.

Most hotel pools are shallow, chest-high at best, only about 3 feet deep in many spots (the hotels want you gambling, not swimming). Diving is impossible—not that a single pool allows it anyway.

Although the stories about the “Death Ray” at CityCenter’s Vdara hotel were overblown (where the sun reflecting off the mirrored hotel exterior reportedly caused plastic to melt), be warned that sitting by pools that offer scant shade requires diligent application of sunscreen.

At any of the pools, you can rent a cabana (which often includes a TV, special lounge chairs, and—even better—poolside service), but these should be reserved as far in advance as possible, and most cost a hefty fee. If you are staying at a chain hotel, you will most likely find an average pool, but if you want to spend some time at a better one, be aware that most of the casino-hotel pool attendants will ask to see your room key. If they are busy, you might be able to sneak in, or at least blend in with a group ahead of you.

When it comes to our favorites, we tend to throw our support to those that offer luxurious landscaping, plenty of places to lounge, multiple dipping options, and some shade for those times when the desert sun gets to be too much. This is a good description of the pools at both The Mirage and the Flamingo, which offer acres of veritable tropical paradises for you to enjoy. Ditto the renovated pool area at the Tropicana, serving up a sunny Miami Beach-feeling among lush grounds.

If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, try the epic facility at Mandalay Bay, complete with a wave pool, a lazy-river ride, and good old-fashioned swimming holes, along with a sandy beach. MGM Grand has a similar facility, although not as big and without the waves.

Partying is not confined to the nightclubs these days. Many of the hotels offer pool-club experiences (p. 237), but even when they aren’t in full-on party mode, the pools at Hard Rock (sandy beaches, swim-up blackjack), the Palms (multilevel, high-end cabanas), Aria Las Vegas (acres of sexy modernity), and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (not one but two party pools overlooking the Strip) serve up high-energy frolicking.

But not all of them have an exploding volcano in front it.

It’s not just the volcano that’s set to explode every hour to music, but also the lush foliage in the domed atrium, the 20,000-gallon aquarium behind the check-in desk, and Siegfried and Roy’s (yes, they’re still around) Secret Garden Habitat, that keep the Mirage top-of-mind to would-be visitors. Even if you’ve never been here before, you know that volcano. You know Siegfried and Roy.

And beyond the fake lava, this is a darn nice place to stay. Accommodations are downright luxurious for the price point, with clean lines, bold colors and natural wood furnishings surrounding a great pillow top mattress on the bed. Neutral-colored marble in the bathroom is a nice touch, and the hotel is vocal about its ADA-accessible rooms.

Dining options in the past few years have gotten on par with the rest of the Strip: Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak focuses on good, properly-sourced meat cooked over an open fire; the new Portofino is inching its way into becoming one of the best Italian restaurants in town; The Pantry serves as the 24-hour coffee shop, but feels more like you’re eating in your mom’s kitchen; Carnegie Deli still serves some of the best football-sized, New York–style pastrami sandwiches in town.

The pool is open and heated all year, and considered one of the best on the Strip thanks to a lagoon-like setting, waterfalls, and waterslides. The adult-oriented Bare Pool Lounge allows for European-style sunbathing (read: topless) and is a nice oasis in its own right.

3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. Flamingo and Spring Mountain rds.). www.mirage.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/627-6667 or 702/791-7111. 3,044 units. $79 and up double; $160 and up suite. Resort fee $33. Extra person $35. No discount for children. Parking 1 hr. free, self-parking $7–$10, valet $13–$18; prices vary during special events. Amenities: 14 restaurants; buffet; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; outdoor pools; room service; showrooms; spa; free Wi-Fi.

Paris Las Vegas Casino Resort Red-Star3_redstar3    If visiting Paris, France is at the top of your bucket list—the Vegas version won’t let you cross it off, but it will give you a snapshot of what you’ll encounter in the real deal. The Eiffel Tower in front is half the size of the original, but is exact in detail, right down to the number of rivets that hold it all together and the glass elevator that takes you to the top observation deck.

Inside, you’re transported to Vegas’ idea of the City of Light, with the legs of the Eiffel Tower coming through the ceiling—painted with clouds—to give you the illusion that you are directly under it. The rooms, while clean, proficient, and larger than most standard accommodations, look only vaguely inspired by the French countryside. There are a few Empire-style furnishings, but they’re not fooling anyone. Buck up to stay in one of the Red Rooms, which are sexier than standard rooms and have cute, lip-shaped sofas to remind you of that French kiss. Considering you’re basically center-Strip, you won’t mind that the rooms aren’t that fancy for the price.

The Eiffel Tower Restaurant (p. 154) is still voted one of the most romantic spots in town. A meal at Gordon Ramsay Steak (p. 110) will set you back a bit, but is the best of his three restaurants on the Strip; make a reservation as soon as you can. French bistro Mon Ami Gabi (p. 118) seats you right in the front terrace of the hotel, offering some of the best people watching and a killer view of the Bellagio Fountains, but there’s better French food to be had in town, and all of this is covered in chapter 5.

Nightclub Chateau’s rooftop perch makes it one of the few clubs in town that lets you hang outdoors while celebrity hosts have parties indoors, and Jersey Boys is still going strong.

3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.parislv.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/266-5687 or 702/946-7000. 2,916 units. $75 and up double; $170 and up suite. Resort fee $32. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 12 restaurants; buffet; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; outdoor pool; room service; showrooms; spa; 2 wedding chapels; free Wi-Fi.

Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Red-Star2_redstar2    The giant, continuous LED screens that lead down to the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue might evoke the frenetic video boards of Times Square; they’re definitely just as bright! That amazing stretch of signage is one of the most dazzling on the Strip, and reminds us that this truly is still one of the most electrifying (if not electrified) places on earth.

Once inside, your senses get a break from the constant flash—the interior is modern and elegant, and even the usually frenetic casino floor feels glamorous. Every room has a similar earthy color palette of purple, green, and mustard, and velour-tufted headboards crown all the beds—but each room has its own theme, which is a swell use of the property’s insane amount of memorabilia. So you might have Laurel and Hardy or Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone peering down at you in the tub. The separate tub in the bathroom, incidentally, is a nice place to soak. If you’re staying in one of the tony Panorama Suites, corner rooms with sweeping views of the Strip, your tub is basically in the middle of the room so you can enjoy the view from your bubbles.

In addition to the PH rooms proper, we’re also including in this review a few thousand more from the adjoining Elara, a timeshare/hotel by Hilton Grand Vacations that you have to book through Hilton directly, though you don’t need to own a timeshare to stay there. But that type of property means that all units have kitchens, whether they’re in studios or four-room suites, making this quite kid-friendly.

Check-in tip: For some reason valet parking is always full here, even if you’re a guest. Unfortunately this means you have to self-park in the garage at the Miracle Mile Shops, then schlep your gear through the mall, which is a giant circle—so whether you go right or left from the garage doesn’t really matter. Some of the floor of the mall is still surfaced with cobblestone, so it’s a bumpy schlep at times.

Planet Hollywood has numerous dining options including Gordon Ramsay BurGR and the vegetarian-friendly Spice Market Buffet (discussed in chapter 5) and serious shopping opportunities (covered in chapter 7). For entertainment, Britney Spears headlines in the 4,000-seat Axis Theater a few times a month, at least through 2017.

3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.planethollywoodresort.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/333-9474 or 702/785-5555. 3,768 units. $79 and up double. Resort fee $32. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 11 restaurants; buffet; bars/lounges; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; 2 Jacuzzis; performing arts center; 2 outdoor pools; room service; showroom; spa; wedding chapel; free Wi-Fi.

The LINQ Red-Star1_redstar1    Formerly the pseudo-Asian-themed Imperial Palace, it took a few name changes before the powers that be settled on The LINQ—if only so it wouldn’t be so confusing when people were talking about The LINQ Promenade, a new shopping and retail space that extends straight from the Strip between The LINQ and Flamingo hotels.

The rebirth of IP into The LINQ meant a total overhaul of the property: brand spankin’ new casino floor, total gutting of the rooms, and a beautiful new facade to match. The new rooms are small, starting at 250 square feet (the 47-inch flatscreen TVs seem almost comically large in such a tiny space), but pack a punch visually. Deluxe rooms feature white linens, natural wood furnishing and Vegas-oriented wallpaper behind the beds, from mod patterns to huge macro images of old Las Vegas signs. Brand new poolside rooms double as cabanas, with patio access direct to the pool, if you’re interested in creating your own dayclub experience. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a great view of the High Roller (p. 155), the observation wheel that now marks the center of the Vegas skyline.

The pool itself now matches all the other beautiful pools you’ll find on the Strip, located on the second floor of tower 3. It’s 21-and-over, which obviously makes this not suitable for families, but ideal for young adults who are looking for a good time during the day.

There are plenty of dining options in the LINQ Promenade next door, but you can get your own celebrity chef fix at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar (p. 117) right at the front of the hotel.

3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.caesars.com/linq. Red-Phone_redphone 800/634-6441 or 702/794-3366. 2,553 units. $61 and up double; $193 and up suite. Resort fee $29. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 8 restaurants; casino; concierge; health club; heated outdoor pool; room service; spa; showrooms; salon; auto museum; wedding chapel; free Wi-Fi.

Treasure Island Red-Star2_redstar2    Though it’s called Treasure Island (TI to locals), the pirate theme that gave this hotel its name is no longer as obvious. Recent renovations have toned down the property almost to a fault. Gone from the front is the swashbuckling Sirens of TI ship, once home to an innuendo-laden (and pretty stupid) show, to give way to a proposed shopping mall that is yet to open. Seems odd, with Fashion Show mall across Spring Mountain and the Shoppes at Palazzo right across the Boulevard, you’d think there are enough stores already to feed that fix. The hideous brown building that anchors the hotel at the corners of Spring Mountain and Las Vegas Boulevard houses a CVS and looks out of place, appearing more like a medical center than what should be a welcoming first sight for the formerly-fun property.

TI rooms, while pleasant enough, aren’t that exciting to look at. Don’t get us wrong, they’re cozy, with warm, earthy tones, but the TI-branded (“SensaTIonal”) pillow top mattresses are probably the best part of the deal.

Mystére (p. 208) is the longest running Cirque du Soleil show in town and is still considered one of the best.

3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at Spring Mountain Rd.). www.treasureisland.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/944-7444 or 702/894-7111. 2,885 units. $59 and up double; $99 and up suite. Resort fee $30. Extra person $30. Free for children 14 and under in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 9 restaurants; buffet; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; outdoor pool; room service; showroom; spa; wedding chapels; free Wi-Fi.

NORTH STRIP

The northern end of the Strip, from Spring Mountain/Sands Road to Charleston Avenue, is not quite as densely populated with major casinos, but still has enough Vegas flair to make it worth your while.

Best for: Visitors who want to be on the Strip but want a slightly more manageable experience from a crowd-and-congestion perspective.

Drawbacks: It’s a longer walk to most of what you’ll want to see; some of the hotels here are past their prime.

Expensive

Wynn/Encore Red-Star3_redstar3    The guy who basically invented the notion that Las Vegas could become a luxury destination for discerning guests? Steve Wynn. He’s credited with opening the Mirage and Bellagio and transforming Las Vegas into the high-service capital we know it as today. That’s the guy whose name is up on top of the hotel. He even signed the thing to let you know it’s his.

His eponymous hotel and sister property Encore (because he did it again . . . duh) are the epitome of modern luxury. Breathe in the lovely (quite possibly pumped in, but we don’t care) floral scent as you walk through the doors, and appreciate the lush red, gold, and green that accents the decor; it’s like walking through one big manufactured, Wynn-branded garden. These resorts are also humongous. No matter if you walk into Wynn or Encore, it’s a winding road through and around the casino floor, wherever you need to go. But there’s so much to visually take in, you won’t mind the trek.

The Wynn Tower features the hotel’s standard rooms, but they’re far from ordinary. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in lots of light, and, with a nice touch of feng shui, the beds face the windows as opposed to the walls, so you can wake up to a gorgeous view of the mountains or golf course. In fact, you won’t even have to get out of the ultra-plush bed to open the curtains in the morning. With a touch of a button on the panel on the bedside table, you can cast them open and say “hello, Las Vegas!” Rooms are awash in creamy tones, and the gorgeously appointed bathrooms are encased in plenty of marble, including the oversize bathtub next to the gloriously powerful shower. Soak it up, this is as glamorous as it gets.

Wynn Tower Suites offer slightly larger accommodations, but also have the benefit of a private entrance for check-in. It’s a higher price point, but the rate includes one ticket to Steve Wynn’s Showstoppers, a Vegas-style revue with a 30-piece orchestra and just as many performers who sing iconic Broadway numbers that also happen to be favorite tunes of Wynn himself. They also kick in access to the Tower Suites’ own pool.

The rooms of younger sister Encore next door are comparatively elegant and luxurious, following the same calming aesthetic, but with a few subtle, chic differences. Encore is all suites, with separate sitting and sleeping areas divided by a half wall. The black upholstery also makes the rooms seem far more contemporary. The pillow top Wynn Dream Bed lives up to its name (I had one of most restful sleeps I’ve ever had on the Strip on one). Bathrooms are downright palatial, with a giant tub next to the glass-enclosed shower, dual sinks and a 13-inch flatscreen TV, because feeling like you’re rich means having a TV in your bathroom.

The Moroccan hammam that is Encore’s spa is one of the most opulent on the Strip. The ornate mosaic tile in the lobby alone had me so entranced that it felt like the massage treatment was simply a nice bonus.

“Daylife” is a major component to Wynn and Encore, centered around three different pool areas, plus the clandestine digs of the Tower Suites pool. The Wynn and Encore pools are both calm and low-key, each with multiple bodies of water, Jacuzzis, and cabanas. The Encore European pool allows for topless sunbathing. Encore Beach Club, however, is another animal entirely: a daytime party on the weekends for guests more concerned with the live DJ than they are with their tans.

Eating at both these hotels will run up a bill, but high-end culinary options such as Costa di Mare (p. 123), Sinatra (p. 124), Botero, and Wing Lei, are totally worth the splurge.

3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (corner of Spring Mountain Rd.). www.wynnlasvegas.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/320-9966 or 702/770-7100. 4,750 units. $259 and up double. Resort fee $32. Extra person $50. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 19 restaurants; buffet; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; outdoor pools; room service; showrooms; spa; wedding chapels; free Wi-Fi.

Moderate

SLS Las Vegas Red-Star1_redstar1    What’s old becomes new again in Las Vegas. The iconic Sahara Hotel shuttered in 2011, and with it, one of the last outward vestiges of vintage Vegas disappeared. In its place, the sleek, sophisticated SLS ushered in the new guard of Vegas resorts, as well as made everyone take notice of the new things happening north of Wynn.

SLS is part of a chain of hotels that also have outposts in Los Angeles and Miami—if that tells you how trendy this place wants to be. They have big guns behind that mandate: power designer Philippe Starck was at the helm transforming the formerly kitschy Sahara into a temple of modern aesthetics, with edgy design, ornate chandeliers, and plenty of metallic colors throughout the casino floor.

But what they didn’t take into account is the hotel’s location. Sure, if you build it they will come, but the visitors SLS wants to come—the hip, L.A. weekenders, millennials with disposable income, the young and rich who aren’t necessarily celebrities—aren’t filling the place up as fast as management would like. SLS’s nearest neighbors are Circus Circus, Stratosphere, the World’s Largest Gift Shop and the abandoned Fontainbleu resort project. As a result, the SLS is the swankiest spot on that end of the Strip, but still offers rooms at near-budget prices.

That’s good news for budgeteers as the 325-square-foot rooms (small for the Strip, but average for the area) are as hip as you’d find in any modern boutique hotel in a big city. Platform beds give the illusion that sleepers are floating off the ground. Well-placed, wall-size mirrors—on the walls and the ceilings—make the room feel bigger, while cold metal and white bathroom features make good use of little space, with infinity sinks, and dual-head, glass-enclosed showers. In the “Lux Rooms” the designer juxtaposed classic French chandeliers and wall coverings featuring drawn-on trim, with modern furnishings and a stark white palette.

Many of the restaurants came under culinary director chef José Andrés, whose Bazaar Meat (p. 122) quickly became one of the most talked-about restaurants in town. Los Angeles imports Cleo (p. 122) and Umami Burger have also been a big hit with guests.

SLS owner SBE Entertainment is also in the nightlife business, so it’s got a few clubs to pay attention to as well, including Foxtail (p. 230), The Sayers Club, and daylife party Foxtail Pool Club.

Now that SLS is built, it just needs some time for everyone to come.

2535 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (corner of Sahara Ave.). www.slslasvegas.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/991-0887 or 702/761-7757 1,600 units. $55 and up double; $143 and up suites. Resort fee $30. Extra person $30. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 8 restaurants; executive-level rooms; fitness center; outdoor pools; room service; free Wi-Fi.

Stratosphere Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Red-Star1_redstar1    One of the best ways to get your bearings when you’re in Las Vegas: look for the Stratosphere. It’s at the very north tip of the Strip, and whatever you do, don’t call it the Space Needle (the Stratosphere Tower, the tallest freestanding tower in the United States, is twice the size, dammit!).

Beyond its size and the whiz-bang rides at the top, the Stratosphere has failed, in recent years at least, to make much of an impact on Las Vegas’ tourist market. So it finally stopped trying, and today, it’s a a no-muss, no-fuss budget accommodation.

Which is perfectly fine because heaven knows there’s an army of budget-conscious visitors just looking for a clean, inexpensive place to sleep. And Stratosphere fits that bill. So what if the exterior is dated and the standard rooms are so bland you’ll have trouble remembering what they look like as you exit them? They’re just fine. And for those who want slightly better than that, but still at an impressively reasonable price (usually) the “Select” category digs are surprisingly contemporary, with a warm color palate of red and brown, and such essentials as flatscreen TVs, and alarm clocks with MP3 docks. Bathrooms run small, but at these rates, who’s complaining?

And you’ll be within spitting distance of the best perch from which to see the entire Las Vegas Valley. At the top of the tower the elegant continental restaurant, Top of the World (p. 125) is in motion, giving guests a 360-degree view of the surrounding area, making one full revolution every 80 minutes. Thrill seekers climb up even higher to hang out (literally) on crazy rides that are discussed more on p. 157.

The big downside to staying here? The immediate area surrounding the hotel is a little shady. At night, take a cab or car if you’re leaving the hotel.

2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. St. Louis and Baltimore aves.). www.stratospherehotel.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/998-6937 or 702/380-7777. 2,444 units. $52 and up double; $146 and up suite. Resort fee $25. Extra person $15. Children 12 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 8 restaurants; buffet; several fast-food outlets; arcade; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; large pool area w/great views of the Strip; room service; showrooms; wedding chapel; fitness center; Wi-Fi (for a fee).

Inexpensive

Circus Circus Hotel & Casino Red-Star1_redstar1    Cheap? Check. Cheesy? Check. The last-standing reminder of when Vegas tried to go family-friendly? You betcha and thank goodness. This is one of the few places in Vegas where cash-strapped families can come without worry, knowing they won’t mortgage the house for a vacation, and that they can let their kids loose to be entertained (or entertain themselves). They do the latter on the midway level, with its hundreds of carnival games and non-stop circus performers. And we don’t mean a couple of sad jugglers or cut-rate clowns honking their noses—there is a permanent circus with serious athletes, from jaw-dropping trapeze artists and high wire acts, to acrobats, magicians, and yes, even some truly fantastic jugglers. It’s this free, delightful spectacle that keeps Circus Circus the best option for traveling families.

Sure, Circus Circus is a budget resort/casino in the sense that it’s way cheaper than anything new on the Strip, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find another that’s as massive and accommodating to all ages. There are almost 4,000 rooms over the three towers and five low-rise, motel-like Circus Manor buildings that sit on the property’s 68 acres. Circus Circus is also home to the only RV park on the Strip. If you’re going to be a stickler for modern appointments, the West and Casino towers were the most recently remodeled, with flatscreen TVs, Wi-Fi, and comfy pillow top mattresses. Standard room sizes are all comparable, averaging about 360 square feet, so the only thing that sets these two towers apart from the Skyrise Tower is that the latter feels slightly less blah and dated.

The enormous hotel also sports a casino to match its size, clocking in at 101,000 square feet, for when parents want to play a few games of their own. The dining options are mostly kid-friendly, with pizza, sandwiches, and a buffet to satisfy everyone’s taste. The Steakhouse (p. 124) is the hotel’s culinary diamond in the rough, a bona fide classic Vegas red meat joint with white tablecloths, good cuts of dry-aged beef, and stellar service.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Heavily themed hotels faded away in the 1990s, but may make a return with the proposed Resorts World Las Vegas. The Asian-inspired, $7-billion project from Malaysia-based gambling giant Genting Gaming will have at least 3,500 rooms, a 175,000-square-foot casino (the biggest in Vegas), a 4,000-seat showroom, an indoor waterpark, a panda habitat, and replicas of the Great Wall of China and the Terra Cotta Warriors. It will be located on the North Strip in place of the old Stardust and should open by late 2017.

We did say this place was family-friendly right? Indoor amusement park Adventuredome (p. 157) pleases kids of all ages—even the grown-up ones.

2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (btw. Circus Circus and Convention Center drives). www.circuscircus.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/434-9175 or 702/734-0410. 3,767 units. $26 and up double. Resort fee $23 per night. Extra person $20. Children 17 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self-parking, valet $8–$13. Amenities: 7 restaurants; buffet; several fast-food outlets; casino; circus acts and midway-style carnival games; executive-level rooms; outdoor pools; room service; wedding chapel; free Wi-Fi.

DOWNTOWN

The original Las Vegas, with classic and historic hotels, is Downtown; the glare of Glitter Gulch has become the must-see tourist destination of the Fremont Street Experience.

Best for: Budget-minded tourists; those looking for a friendlier atmosphere than the snooty Strip.

Drawbacks: Harder-to-find upscale experiences; the surrounding neighborhoods can be a bit rough.

Moderate

The D Las Vegas Casino Hotel Red-Star1_redstar1    Why is this place called “The D”? Well, it’s a nod to Detroit, the hometown of the property owners; or it could reference to the nickname of CEO Derek Stevens. Final guess: an homage to the neighborhood of Downtown Las Vegas. Nah, scratch that. With all the Detroit references, this may well be the only hotel in the United States, outside of Detroit itself, that uses Motor City as its inspiration. (Non-Detroit related, but just as quirky, a large-scale, bronze replica of Brussels’ Mannekin Pis statue also greets guests outside the main valet, an homage to the Stevens’ Belgian roots.)

And you know what? That downright-weird homage works. The two-level casino floor is far more airy than when it had its Irish theme (under the old management). The 638 rooms all got a nice refresher too, with bold red and black accents throughout. They’re not the fanciest hotel rooms you’ll find in town, but for Downtown, and for the price, these are veritable sanctuaries.

The aptly named Longbar—the longest bar in Nevada, naturally—is one of the few bars left in Vegas where flair bartenders whip bottles about their heads before they make you a drink. Detroit exports American Coney Island (open 24 hr., like the original) and Joe Vicari’s Andiamo Steakhouse make The D a favorite stop for Motor City natives, but both are tasty enough to warrant a trip even if you’ve never been there.

Final fun (or perhaps odd fact): The D is one of two hotels in town (the other is Golden Gate, see below) to accept crypto-currency Bitcoin as payment at its front desk, restaurants and retail shop.

301 Fremont St. (at 3rd St.). www.thed.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/274-5825 or 702/388-2400. 638 units. $29 and up double. Resort fee $20. Extra person $20. Children 11 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 3 restaurants; lounge; casino; concierge; unheated outdoor pool; room service; free Wi-Fi.

The Downtown Grand Red-Star2_redstar2    We said good-bye to Lady Luck Casino in order to welcome the Downtown Grand, and to be fair, we think Lady Luck is okay with it. Because now she’s been reborn as a hipster hotel with a trendy, industrial aesthetic. Reclaimed factory space? Exposed brick walls? Funky chandeliers and framed artwork on the ceilings? Are we still in Vegas? The 25,000-square-foot casino floor reminds us, of course, yes.

There are five different room types to choose from, the smallest a respectable 350 square feet, which is fine if you don’t want to move around a whole lot. The next level up, Premium, are usually corner rooms at 450 square feet, with room for extra seats. All come equipped with conventional and USB plugs near the beds, 46-inch flatscreens, and are decorated straight out of the Crate & Barrel’s CB2 catalog.

There were a few hiccups with the restaurants as the Downtown Grand tried to forge a culinary identity. It started with eight eateries, but now only four remain (three of which are across the street from the hotel proper): S+O, its 24-hour restaurant, plus Pizza Rock and old-timer Triple George Grill, all of which serve Downtown Grand guests.

The pool on the roof is a nice touch. It’s big enough that it doesn’t feel jam packed, even when non-guest locals hang out on a Sunday afternoon, which happens often, and means the scene here has a definite cool-neighborhood feel. Guests enjoy meeting the locals and vice-versa.

206 N. 3rd St. (btw. Stewart and Ogden aves.). www.downtowngrand.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/384-7263. 680 units. $31 and up double. Resort fee $22. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 4 restaurants; 6 bars; rooftop pool; fitness center; casino; room service; free Wi-Fi.

Golden Nugget Red-Star2_redstar2    One of the most iconic facades of Downtown, the white and gold sparkling face of the Golden Nugget may seem like it’s a throwback, but the interior is light years ahead. Since 2005, the Golden Nugget has spent $300 million on upgrades to keep the hotel in step with Las Vegas’ ever-changing zeitgeist. The Gold Tower boasts lots of gold and black mod decor, thanks to a recent $15 million redo, plus the spa and salon just saw $800,000 worth of upgrades. The Rush Tower rooms were unveiled in 2009 and are just as comfortable and plush, but bigger, and with a more sedate color palette. Both offer cloud-like pillow top mattresses, 42-inch plasma TVs and excellent views. Hopefully the Carson, the last of the towers, will get a redo in the near future.

But why are we talking rooms? It’s the pool area that’s made this place justly famous. At The Tank, you can swim (kind of literally) with sharks, or at the very least, go screaming down a tube that cuts through the live shark aquarium. The three-story pool complex also features waterfalls and a bar that stays open year-round, even when the pool isn’t.

If you’ve come to see the Hand of Faith, the world’s largest gold nugget, unfortunately you’ll have to travel to the Laughlin, Nevada Golden Nugget, where it is currently on display.

129 E. Fremont St. (at Casino Center Blvd.). www.goldennugget.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/846-5336 or 702/385-7111. 2,419 units. $69 and up double; $259 and up suite. Resort fee $25. Extra person $20. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking (with validation). Amenities: 8 restaurants; buffet; bars, lounges, and nightclub; casino; executive-level rooms; health club; outdoor pool; room service; showroom; spa; Wi-Fi (for a fee).

Inexpensive

California Hotel & Casino Red-Star1_redstar1    Las Vegas is sometimes referred to as the “Ninth Island,” in that so many people from Hawaii end up here. And those trading in their own paradise for ours, just for a visit, like to stay at the California, which has manufactured its own brand of “Aloha.” A Hawaiian theme touches all the public areas of the hotel, from casino dealers decked out in gaudy Hawaiian shirts to restaurant menus heavy with Island faves such as saimin, moco loco, and the ever-popular oxtail soup.

Guestrooms depart from “island style” (thankfully, I’d say). Like sister properties the Downtown Fremont Hotel and Main Street Station, rooms are understated, but comfortable (to be honest, they appear to be cookie cutters of each other) with standard amenities all at decent prices. Other than the Hawaiian theme, staying at one of these hotels is just like staying at any of the others in the same family. But for the value, and if you really need to get your spam sushi fix, the California does in a pinch.

12 Ogden Ave. (at 1st St.). www.thecal.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/634-6255 or 702/385-1222. 781 units. $55 and up double. No resort fee. Extra person $10. Children 13 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 5 restaurants; casino; small rooftop pool; Wi-Fi (for a fee).

El Cortez Hotel & Casino Red-Star1_redstar1    With the revitalization of the Fremont East Entertainment District (that’s at the other end of the Fremont Street Experience tunnel), El Cortez managed to dust itself off, revamp and renew with the area, which is now teeming with new, trendy bars and restaurants. Touting itself as the “longest continuously operating hotel-casino in Las Vegas,” El Cortez’s rich history began in 1941, and is peppered with names like Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel (two of the “businessmen” who purchased it in 1945), and Jackie Gaughan (who bought it in 1963, selling it to corporate interests in 2008). The hotel is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and the sign that sits atop the corner of Fremont Street and Seventh Streets has been the same since the 1940s.

Ten Designer Suites are the result of collaboration between the hotel and Las Vegas Design Center, where four lucky winners showcase their take on the city’s iconic aesthetic: live out your Sin City fantasy in a mob-themed suite, in 1950’s glam chic, or in digs reminiscent of vintage Vegas, among others. Revealed in 2009, the tony Cabana Suites are in a separate tower entirely, a new batch of 64 boutique rooms that straddle both vintage decor and ultra-contemporary design. The original rooms may pale in comparison to all the new additions. They’re vintage as in “traditional” not “hipster,” but run larger than plenty of other rooms Downtown, and are usually priced quite affordably.

During Downtown’s home-grown autumn music, food, and arts festival, Life is Beautiful, El Cortez is smack dab in the middle of it all. If you’re planning on attending, staying here is a fantastic idea. But thanks to being set right in the heart of the now-gentrifying Downtown, it’s still one of the coolest places to stay, even when there’s not a festival going on.

600 Fremont St. (btw. 6th and 7th sts.). www.elcortezhotelcasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/634-6703 or 702/385-5200. 428 units. $28 and up double; $55 and up suite. Resort fee $9. Extra person $10. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 2 restaurants; casino; free Wi-Fi.

Four Queens Red-Star1_redstar1    Old school Vegas is alive and well at Four Queens, which has been open since 1966. It’s a popular spot for those serious about gambling, who don’t need all the frills of a Strip casino and are fine with camping out in one spot as their stacks of chips rises and falls.

The rooms won’t be winning interior design awards anytime soon, thanks to the garishly striped drapes and non-descript standard hotel art, but they serve their purpose as a clean, comfortable place to rest your head and gather yourself for a night of braving the Fremont Street Experience, which is right outside Four Queens’ door. The South Tower’s rooms are bigger, but the North Tower offers views of the hubbub of FSE, so choose wisely.

In-house Chicago Brewing Company serves a satisfying bar menu, as well as a selection of its own microbrews, which you can get in a 64-ounce to-go jug known as a growler, though it may be cumbersome to tote around as you walk Downtown. Local prom favorite Hugo’s Cellar (p. 126) is one of the last examples you can find of vintage Vegas dining, a proficient gourmet room that still greets ladies with long-stemmed red roses.

202 Fremont St. (at Casino Center Blvd.). www.fourqueens.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/634-6045 or 702/385-4011. 690 units. $39 and up double; $110 and up suite. No resort fee. Extra person $15. Children 11 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 3 restaurants; 2 bars; casino; room service; Wi-Fi (for a fee).

Fremont Hotel & Casino Red-Star1_redstar1    You know those Vegas movie montages where the camera gives a 360-spinning view from the overwhelmed traveler who is visually assaulted by the flashing lights and activity of old Vegas? That’s usually filmed right in front of the Fremont Hotel, under the $70 million LED canopy that is the Fremont Street Experience. The Fremont is pretty much Ground Zero if you plan on spending the majority of your time in the area. With rooms that start at around 280 square feet, you’re paying (not a lot) for location here. Rooms are clean, comfortable, and decorated with serene, low-key and modern furnishings to give your mind a rest from the constant activity that’s just outside.

Food isn’t a focus here, with a couple of chain restaurants and obligatory buffet (though we’d hardly call eight stations a decent buffet by Vegas standards), but you’re close enough to all the new culinary delights opening Downtown that it won’t matter. Also those looking for a day at the pool will be disappointed; you’ll have to go across the street to sister hotel California if you want to catch some pool time.

200 E. Fremont St. (btw. Casino Center Blvd. and 3rd St.). www.fremontcasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/634-6182 or 702/385-3232. 447 units. $48 and up double. No resort fee. Extra person $10. No discount for children. Free valet parking; no self-parking. Amenities: 3 restaurants; buffet; casino; access to outdoor pool at nearby California Hotel; Wi-Fi (for a fee).

The Golden Gate Red-Star1_redstar1    Las Vegas just celebrated its sesquicentennial this year, and the only spot that’s been around nearly as long is The Golden Gate, formerly known as The Nevada Hotel, which opened in 1906. Even then it was at the forefront of modern technology. The hotel was the site of the first telephone in the state in 1907. Its number was 1.

The hotel survived all attempts to outlaw fun in Nevada—gambling from 1910 to 1931, and Prohibition from 1920 to 1933—and became a mainstay in Las Vegas lore, through the roaring ’20s, the Rat Pack era, and the whispered days of the Vegas mob. Frank Sinatra used to sit at the Casino Bar before and after performances. The bar still serves his signature Frankie Two Fingers: two fingers of Jack Daniels, splash of water, and four ice cubes.

In 2012, Golden Gate finally underwent a much-needed renovation after stagnating for 50 years, remodeling 106 of the rooms that had been there since 1906, and adding a new, five-story luxury tower, including two showgirl-inspired penthouses, complete with giant feather motifs in the carpet, vintage photographs on the walls of beautiful girls in ornate headdresses, and black and whites of Marilyn Monroe. These suites take over the entire fifth floor. The new, and pretty fab, non-suite rooms give a nod to the design aesthetic of Mad Men: some swinging ’60s mod patterns on the curtains and furnishings; black, brown, and red leather touches and Art-deco accents, plus requisite vintage photos of Vegas celebrities who frequented the hotel in its heyday. The rooms and bathrooms are tiny, but well-appointed, with queen beds and 32-inch flatscreen TVs; suites have wet bars and sectional couches.

The 99-cent shrimp cocktail was allegedly born here, and, for what we can only assume is nostalgia, is still a draw at the 24-hour coffee shop Du-Par’s, despite it now being $3.99.

Golden Gate’s longevity also means it embraces the trappings of the 21st century. This, along with The D, is one of the first hotels to accept crypto-currency Bitcoin as payment (though you still can’t gamble with Bitcoin—they’re not that progressive).

1 Fremont St. www.goldengatecasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/426-1906 or 702/385-1906. 120 units. $25 and up for up to 4 people. Resort fee $20. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 2 restaurants; casino; bars; free Wi-Fi.

Main Street Station Red-Star2_redstar2    The Victorian-themed Main Street Station is an underrated hotel and one of the great bargains in the city.

Taking a walk through the casino is like being in a well-organized, less-dusty antique shop; the chandeliers come from the Coca-Cola building in Austin and the Figaro Opera House in Paris, France, and the ornate hammered-tin ceilings are also vintage. Men get a more modern glimpse of history in the restroom off the casino floor, where there’s a bona fide chunk of the Berlin Wall on display.

The rooms run a little small at 400 square feet, but are adequate for a Downtown stay. Sadly their contemporary decor is a departure from all the historical artifacts downstairs. Suites are slightly larger, but their color schemes and furnishings are more dated than in the rooms. The amenities are all up-to-date, though, including flatscreen TVs, cable TV, Internet for purchase, and refrigerators. Tip: The noisier part of the tower is the north side, nearer the freeway, so light sleepers should opt for the south side.

You can head right over to Fremont Street Experience for a full-on Vegas experience, but if you crave something more low-key, Triple 7 Brewery is right inside the hotel. Its catch-all menu (steaks, seafood, pizza, and even sushi) is fine, but the surprise comes from the decent selection of microbrews. There’s a seasonal selection, including a rotating IPA on draft. The Garden Court Buffet remains a favorite in town and is described in chapter 5.

200 N. Main St. (btw. Fremont St. and I-95). www.mainstreetcasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/465-0711 or 702/387-1896. 406 units. $36 and up double. No resort fee. Extra person $10. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 2 restaurants; buffet; casino; access to outdoor pool at nearby California Hotel; free shuttle to Strip and sister properties; Wi-Fi $9.99 for 24 hr.

Oasis at Gold Spike Red-Star2_redstar2    When Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh moved his company into Las Vegas’ old town hall and invested $350 million of his own money into buying properties and backing small businesses who promised to move into Downtown, it looked like the area was on the verge of a total turnaround. That initiative, called the Downtown Project, hasn’t yet created the promised Las Vegas utopia (in fact, the success of the endeavor is still being hotly debated), but one of the results is that the “Project” went into the hotel business. Oasis is the hotel portion of Gold Spike, a formerly sketchy hotel and casino that was transformed into a trendy bar and playground (the Living Room offers pool tables and shuffleboard, while the Backyard features giant Jenga blocks and boards to play cornhole).

I have to say: the Oasis lives up to its name. It’s a serene, 44-room getaway from all millennial-oriented fun downstairs. Look past the fact that the rooms are referred to as “crash pads” and appreciate that they’re custom designed with beautiful minimalist art, comfy furnishings, and solid walls to keep them quiet. Ultra-contemporary touches include co-working space in the lobby, bike rentals, and turntables with a selection of vinyl. The bathrooms are more spacious than normal, with spa showers, but no tubs. The pool courtyard is a bit on the small side, but not too small for a hotel with less than 50 rooms. It’s latest claim to fame is that the Oasis was home to the 31st (!) season of MTV’s The Real World (yes, that show is apparently still running). Should you want to start being “real” yourself, the decked-out, 5,000-square-foot, 3-bedroom penthouse is available for a stay.

Note: This place is so modern, it doesn’t have in-room phones or alarm clocks (since most guests simply use smartphones). But they will furnish them upon request.

217 Las Vegas Blvd. www.oasisatgoldspike.com. Red-Phone_redphone 702/768-9823. 44 units. $39 and up double; $69 and up suite. Resort fee $20. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: Restaurant; room service; fitness center; business center; pets welcome (for a fee); outdoor pool; free Wi-Fi.

The Plaza Hotel & Casino Red-Star2_redstar2    How the Plaza, which has stood on Main Street since 1971, got so darn nice looking is one of those only-in-Vegas tales. We can thank the Fontainebleu, a luxury property that was supposed to go up on the north end of the Strip, for going bankrupt halfway through construction. When it couldn’t be finished, all of its “soft goods”—furniture, upholstery, carpets, beddings—had to go, and it all went to pretty-up the Plaza as part of its $35 million renovation.

And with the Fontainebleu’s new furnishings (cushy beds and sheets, fab vintage photos for the walls, Keurig coffeemakers in the suites), you’d never guess that the Plaza had once been one of Downtown’s dingiest properties. Today, guests feel they’ve snagged a luxurious Strip experience at rock-bottom Downtown prices.

The hotel anchors the Fremont Street Experience, so you can walk right out the front door under the neon canopy, but make it a night in taking dinner at Oscar’s (p. 126)—the namesake restaurant of former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman—or gorge yourself on the obscenely large plates of food from Hash House A-Go-Go (p. 117).

The notion of “you get what you pay for” doesn’t apply at the Plaza; you’ll get so much more than you expect.

1 Main St. www.plazahotelcasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/634-6575 or 702/386-2110. 1,003 units. $29 and up double. Resort fee $15. Extra person $15. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 4 restaurants; food court; casino; showrooms; bars and lounges; wedding chapel; salon; fitness center; outdoor pool; tennis courts; free Wi-Fi.

JUST OFF THE STRIP

Within about a mile east, west, and south of the Strip are dozens of hotels, many of which offer the same kind of casino-resort experience but usually at significantly cheaper rates.

Best for: People with a car at their disposal; those who want to be near the action but not in the thick of it.

Drawbacks: Traffic to and from the Strip can be a nightmare, even if you are only driving a mile.

Expensive

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Red-Star2_redstar2    For visitors seeking to achieve a certain level of “cool,” the Hard Rock is the place. The off-Strip hotel advertises itself as where celebrities party when they’re in town (and to be fair, sometimes they do), selling the notion that if you stay here, you’ll be as groovy as the stars whose memorabilia decorates the casino floor and walls, or maybe even a . . . Kardashian? They’re still cool, right?

Even if you haven’t had your 15 minutes of fame, the rooms will make you feel like a big shot. Original Casino Tower rooms boast ultramodern furnishings, a steely color palette, and French doors that fully open onto a railing, but no balcony (just don’t channel your inner Keith Richards and throw anything out the window). Paradise Tower rooms run slightly larger and are warmer in color, but have the same amenities, including fully stocked mini-bars, 40-inch TVs, and extra-large showers. The newest, HRH Tower features all suites, but departs from the color scheme and goes with clean white all around, from the linen and furnishings to the TV hutch that separates the sleeping and living rooms. Open-minded guests might be interested in the fetish-themed Provocateur Penthouse, enhanced with furniture custom made for more risqué activities.

Notorious weekend pool party Rehab is now more than 10 years old and just as debauched as ever, with plenty of hard, barely-clad bodies jamming themselves into the pool for all-day booze and DJ-fueled revelry. If you’re in your early 20s and are trying to spend your entire Vegas trip drunk and wet, you’ll be at Rehab. That’s not to say if you fall outside of that demographic, you’ll have a bad time. The Joint welcomes huge-named rock acts, and the nightclubs are a steady stream of hip hop and EDM acts each weekend. There’s enough varying levels of cool that everyone can leave feeling like they’re the rock star.

4455 Paradise Rd. (at Harmon Ave.). www.hardrockhotel.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/473-7625 or 702/693-5000. 1,489 units. $48 and up double; $177 and up suite. Resort fee $28. Extra person $35. Children 12 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 6 restaurants; casino; concert venues; concierge; fitness center; spa; executive-level rooms; outdoor pools w/lazy river and sandy-beach bottom; room service; free Wi-Fi.

RELIABLE CHAIN ALTERNATIVES

Most people who come to Las Vegas want to stay in one of the big megaresorts on the Strip. But sometimes budget, timing, or having points useable for a free stay may steer you to a more traditional lodging. Just about every hotel chain has at least one outlet in the city, and all offer the kind of reliable, comfortable, and often affordable accommodations that they are known for. Here are some examples, all of which are located within a mile or two of the Strip, so you can have the best of both worlds.

Best Western Mardi Gras, 3500 Paradise Rd.; mardigrasinn.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/634-6501

Best Western McCarran, 4970 Paradise Rd.; bwvegas.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/275-4743

Candlewood Suites, 4034 Paradise Rd.; ihg.com/candlewood; Black-Phone_bphone_box 877/226-3539

Clarion Hotel, 305 Convention Center Dr.; choicehotels.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 702/952-8000

Courtyard by Marriott, 3275 Paradise Rd.; marriott.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/661-1064

Courtyard by Marriott, 5845 Dean Martin Dr.; marriott.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/321-2211

Embassy Suites, 3600 Paradise Rd.; lasvegasembassysuites.com Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/362-2779

Embassy Suites, 4315 Swenson St.; embassysuites.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/362-2779

Fairfield Inn by Marriott, 3850 S. Paradise Rd.; marriott.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 702/791-0899

Fairfield Inn Suites, 5775 Dean Martin Dr.; marriott.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 702/895-9810

Hampton Inn, 4975 S. Dean Martin Dr.; hamptoninntropicana.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 702/948-8100

Holiday Inn Express, 5760 Polaris Ave.; hiexpress.com/lasvegas; Black-Phone_bphone_box 888/465-4329

Hyatt Place, 4520 Paradise Rd.; lasvegas.place.hyatt.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 702/369-3366

La Quinta Inn and Suites, 3970 Paradise Rd.; laquintalasvegasairportnorth.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/753-3757

Las Vegas Marriott, 325 Convention Center Dr.; marriott.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 702/650-2000

Renaissance Las Vegas, 3400 Paradise Rd.; renaissancelasvegas.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 702/784-5700

Residence Inn, 3225 Paradise Rd.; marriott.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/677-8328

Residence Inn, 370 Hughes Center Dr.; marriott.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 702/650-5510

Staybridge Suites, 5735 Dean Martin Dr.; staybridge.com/lasvegas; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/238-8889

Super 8, 4250 Koval Lane; super8.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/454-3213

Travelodge, 3735 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; travelodgevegasstrip.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/525-4055

Palms Casino Resort Red-Star2_redstar2    The Palms first planted its stake in pop culture as the home to seven strangers in the first installment of Real World: Las Vegas, then as a constant backdrop on E! reality show The Girls Next Door when Hugh Hefner–mates visited the Playboy-branded tower, now known as the Fantasy Tower. These days, Palms has maintained its cool factor without needing any camera time, with a recent multi-million dollar renovation that included all the rooms in the Ivory Tower, nightclubs, and new restaurants.

You’ve got to be a serious high roller to even think about staying in the insane suites of the Fantasy Tower, which include the two-floor, Hardwood Suite, complete with basketball court, or the sensually charged Erotic Suite, which features a huge rotating bed and mirrored ceiling among other, ahem, amenities. For us mere mortals, there’s the Ivory Tower (home of the still-pimped-out Real World Suite). The original building of the Palms, with its 428 guest rooms, even at 440 square feet, is still super swank. Warm wood furnishings nicely play off the fuchsia, teal, and silver of the throw blanket and chaise lounge. A stark-white bathroom is meant to evoke being in the spa, and it’s pretty close, with open showers (no tubs, sorry), frosted glass and lots of marble. If you really need to stretch out, upgrade to the Superior Room with its Jacuzzi, or if you’re feeling especially fancy, a 1,200-square-foot one-bedroom at Palms Place, which features a state-of-the-art whirlpool bathtub.

But tub or not, you won’t have a problem cooling down when you’ve got the sprawling pool deck just below. Ditch Fridays, a massive 21-and-over pool party, remains a rowdy way for visitors and hotel guests to kick off their weekends—though if you’d prefer to relax on Friday afternoons, you may want to request a room that doesn’t overlook the pool. Also, there is lots more skin both in and around the pool now that world’s largest Hooters (seriously) has set up shop on the perimeter.

The nightlife scene is going through a little facelift right now; only Ghostbar remains as a club option. But Palms’ restaurant game has remained strong. The addition of Chicago Chinese restaurant Lao Sze Chuan has been met with great fanfare, while Alizé and N9NE Steakhouse have remained consistently good dining options. Brunch favorite Simon at Palms Place has been replaced by burger-centric Café 6, but still offers the same serene views of the Palms Place pool.

4321 W. Flamingo Rd. (just west of I-15). www.palms.com. Red-Phone_redphone 866/942-7777 or 702/942-7777. 1,300 units. $79 and up double. Resort fee $29. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 9 restaurants; buffet; food court; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; movie theaters; nightclubs and bars; showroom; outdoor pool; room service; spa; fitness center; free Wi-Fi.

Moderate

Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino Red-Star2_redstar2    The multi-towered Rio stands in all its purple and red-striped glory just off the main drag of the Strip on Flamingo. Though it’s technically off-Strip, it’s got all the excitement of the storied Boulevard. This is definitely a rowdy spot geared towards revelers, so if you’re looking for a quiet getaway, the Rio might not be your cup of tea.

The other selling point here is the (usually) moderate price of the digs, but I must insert one warning: though it’s a self-billed “all-suite” hotel, don’t be misled. Instead of separate sleeping and living spaces, the rooms are merely bigger, clocking in starting at 600 square feet, with couches and coffee tables across from the beds. The newly-renovated Samba Suites add a much needed splash of teal to the otherwise neutral colors of the original rooms, as well as upgraded, dark-wood furniture and chrome finishes.

No matter which room you go with, floor-to-ceiling windows and a high floor choice offer spectacular views of the area.

There’s a vast array of entertainment options at the Rio, from long-running magicians Penn & Teller, to eye candy performances by the Chippendales, not to mention rooftop nightclub and lounge VooDoo. You won’t go hungry either, with its sprawling Carnival World & Seafood Buffet, Chinese favorite KJ Kitchen and Dimsum and Guy Fieri’s newest Mexican spot, El Burro Burracho. Just make sure you wait a spell after you eat if you’re going to take a ride on the VooDoo Zipline that suspends you 490 feet in the air and, well, zips you back and forth between the two towers. If a few rounds of golf is on your agenda, the Rio features access to tee times at Rio Secco and Cascata Golf courses.

3700 W. Flamingo Rd. (just west of I-15). www.riolasvegas.com. Red-Phone_redphone 888/752-9746 or 702/777-7777. 2,582 units. $39 and up suite. Resort fee $29. Extra person $30. No discount for children. Amenities: 11 restaurants; 2 buffets; multiple fast-food outlets; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; golf course; health club; spa; outdoor pools; showrooms; room service; free Wi-Fi.

Tuscany Suites & Casino Red-Star1_redstar1    While you’re not exactly transported to Italy when you’re at Tuscany Suites, you’re definitely transplanted to a more laid-back Sin City (and one that’s less costly than a Strip hotel).

The all-suite hotel offers a high level of customer service and generous rooms that start at 650 square feet of space. They’re nothing to write home about in the looks department, though they do boast separate dining areas, and come equipped with refrigerators and wet bars, which make this a family-friendly option. Each has either two queens or one king bed alongside a living room with full-size couch and chair. A small casino is also on site.

The immense conference and banquet space brings in most of Tuscany Suites’ clientele, so many revelers carry on their event from their hall straight to the Piazza Lounge for after-parties before retiring to their rooms. The lounge is often bumping with great live entertainment, and packed with guests having a fantastic time.

255 E. Flamingo Rd. www.tuscanylv.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/887-2261 or 702/893-8933. 700 units. $79 and up suite. Resort fee $24. Extra person $20. Children 12 and under stay free in parent’s room. Amenities: 3 restaurants; lounge; casino; concierge; fitness center; outdoor pool; room service; free Wi-Fi.

Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino Red-Star1_redstar1    Formerly the Las Vegas Hilton—and briefly, LVH—Westgate has taken over the hotel most convenient to the Convention Center. The developers are best known for their timeshare properties around the country. They treated the 40-year-old hotel and casino to a multi-million-dollar facelift, hoping to make the iconic property near the north of the Strip relevant once again. Though they converted some of the rooms into timeshares while they were at it, it still operates primarily as a hotel, so you don’t need to own one to reserve a night here.

The premium rooms are still efficient, but since it’s a new hotel, try to stay in one of the updated rooms or 300 suites. The Signature Rooms reveal some much-needed color and pizzazz, and Hollywood-inspired touches like black tufted-leather headboards and red-leather pullout sofas in the king suites. Marble floors, Keurig coffeemakers, 60-inch TVs, and sateen linens have guests relaxing in style.

The hotel has a lot of dining options, including the country’s largest Benihana, Park City, Utah transplant The Edge Steakhouse and a 24-hour American comfort food spot, Sid’s Café, named for Westgate Las Vegas owner David Siegel’s father, Sid Siegel.

Close proximity to the Las Vegas Convention Center make this an easy choice if you’re attending a show there, but a convenient Monorail spot on-property also makes the rest of the Strip just as accessible.

There’s 95,000 square feet of gaming space, so this isn’t the biggest casino floor in town, but nearly 5,000 square feet of it constitutes the world’s largest race and sportsbook called the “SuperBook” (bonus: it’s totally non-smoking).

3000 Paradise Rd. (at Riviera Blvd.). www.westgatelasvegasresort.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/732-7117 or 702/732-5111. 3,000 units. $67 and up double. Resort fee $33. Extra person $35. Children 17 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 11 restaurants; buffet; food court; casino; executive-level rooms; health club; spa; outdoor pool; room service; showrooms; 6 tennis courts; free Wi-Fi.

Inexpensive

The Gold Coast Red-Star1_redstar1    Close proximity to the Strip, as well as having the more upscale Rio and Palms within throwing distance, makes this budget-friendly hotel a contender for those who want to be near the action without necessarily paying for it. Definitely a locals favorite thanks to cheaper room rates and well-prepared, well-priced drinks and meals, Gold Coast isn’t the most glamorous of hotels, but it gets the job done.

The rooms start on the small side, at about 320 square feet, but they’re appointed as nicely as anywhere else. What they lack in space they make up for in style, with contemporary furniture and textures throughout a space that won’t for a second make you think you’ve opted for a second-rate hotel room. Flatscreen TVs, in-room coffeemakers, hair dryers, and ironing boards are among the amenities; bathrooms are a little tight, but are efficient with the space available, and spotless.

The 86,000-square-foot casino is always teeming with locals who know the right places to make their bets, with nearly 2,000 slot and video poker machines at the ready. There’s also a 70-lane bowling alley should you want to throw a few rocks, and Ping Pang Pong (p. 137), long considered one of the best Chinese restaurants in Las Vegas.

Shuttle service takes you where you want to go on the Strip, as well as to sister property The Orleans (see below).

4000 W. Flamingo Rd. www.goldcoastcasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/331-5334 or 702/367-7111. 711 units. $45 and up double. Resort fee $16. Extra person $20. Children under 15 stay free in parents’ room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 4 restaurants; buffet; fast-food outlets; bowling alley; casino; executive-level rooms; fitness center; heated outdoor pool; room service; barber shop; free Wi-Fi.

The Orleans Red-Star1_redstar1    Unless you’re really into faux New Orleans decor, The Orleans probably hasn’t hit your radar. But in all fairness, it’s a reasonably priced, if oddly placed, hotel and casino that serves its purpose. Set on Tropicana Avenue a non-walkable distance from the Strip (though shuttles run continuously between it and sister properties Gold Coast near the Strip, Sam’s Town to the far east, and Suncoast on the west side of town), The Orleans is a self-contained resort with an 18-screen movie theater, bowling alley, massive arena, and a showroom that hosts well-established comedians and throwback artists that make you think, “Oh. Don McLean is still alive.”

In the midst of a $30 million renovation, The Orleans has updated the hotel, abandoning the previous beige color scheme for warmer tones and more upscale decor. They’ve played up the all-suite moniker they’ve given themselves, keeping the separate sitting areas set off from the sleeping space. The second phase of the upgrade includes new dining options, including the sleek Alder & Birch, a modern steakhouse whose clean lines stick out like a sore (but pretty) thumb off of The Orleans’ Mardi Gras-laden casino floor and Ondori Asian Kitchen, with more to come.

If you’ve rented a car or don’t mind cabbing it down to Las Vegas Boulevard, you’ll be satisfied with your choice to stay here. What it lacks in authenticity it definitely makes up for in value.

4500 W. Tropicana Ave. (west of the Strip and I-15). www.orleanscasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/675-3267 or 702/365-7111. 1,886 units. $50 and up double; $185 and up suite. Resort fee $16. Extra person $20. Children 15 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 8 restaurants; buffet; food court; 9,000-seat arena; 70-lane bowiling center; casino; children’s center offering amusements and day care for kids 3–12; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; 18-screen movie theater; outdoor pools; room service; showroom; spa; free Wi-Fi.

Palace Station Red-Star1_redstar1    When the Fertitta family started their chain of casinos dedicated to locals, they opened the first, interestingly enough, as close as possible to the Strip. In business since 1976, but known then as simply “The Casino,” Palace Station has stood proud over I-15 near Sahara as a reminder to those hotels located on Las Vegas Boulevard that the locals have a stake in this town, too. Palace’s proximity to the Strip is definitely an advantage, but those looking for a truly luxurious experience might be let down. The rooms are adequate, clean, and comfortable, but basic in terms of amenities and size. In other words, should you take selfies in the room, you won’t be using #highroller as a hashtag unless you’re being ironic.

Though the Courtyard Rooms are lighter on the wallet than the Tower Rooms, they definitely show it (though they have the advantage of being non-smoking). If you can afford it, opt to stay in the 21-floor Luxury Tower, if only because it’s much more comfortable, with pillow top mattresses, 42-inch flatscreen TVs, modern decor, and better views of the Strip.

Palace Station is a required stop for serious players who want to get their money’s worth out of a night of gambling, with lower limits than those a few blocks away on the Strip. More than 100,000 square feet of casino holds the most baccarat and pai gow tile games off the Strip, and an always-busy Asian gaming section. There are more than 1,700 one-armed bandits and video poker machines to chunk your change into (just kidding, machines don’t take or give coins anymore), 44 table games and a 307-seat bingo hall—the closest to the Strip—that runs from 9am to 11pm 7 days a week.

The Oyster Bar remains a popular eatery for both locals and visitors, the 10-seat bar often has long lines of hungry regulars who are there for dozens of raw, plump oysters and giant, seafood-filled pan roasts made to order. This spot, like the rest of Palace Station, is no-frills Las Vegas, but will fill you up.

2411 W. Sahara Ave. www.palacestation.com. Red-Phone_redphone 800/678-2846 or 702/367-2411. 1,011 units. $35 and up for up to 4 people. $17 resort fee. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 7 restaurants; buffet; food court; airport and Strip shuttle; arcade; casino; executive-level rooms; fitness center; outdoor pools; room service; free Wi-Fi.

Silver Sevens Red-Star1_redstar1    When this low-slung hotel near the airport was called Terrible’s—named after a local chain of gas stations—a common question arose: “Why would I go someplace called Terrible?” To be fair, it never really lived up to its unfortunate moniker, and under its recent name and management change, things have certainly taken a turn for the better. It’s the ultimate in budget Vegas vacation properties—low-limit gaming, easy-on-the-wallet accommodations and dining—without any hint of sketchiness.

The rooms in the newer tower feature calm blue and brown decor, and perfunctory amenities: flat-panel TVs, decent beds, and a smaller-than-average bathroom, but you get what you pay for. One bonus is that all of the rooms are non-smoking, so you don’t have to deal with the scent of the last guest’s habit. And while you may not like the idea of the daily resort fee, this one is only $17 and includes access to the fitness center, free Wi-Fi both in the rooms and at the Corona Cantina, and transportation to and from the Strip and McCarran International Airport.

The pool is nice little surprise in the middle of the hotel’s courtyard, an oasis away from the loud traffic from the surrounding Paradise and Flamingo Roads. If you’re really watching your pennies, there’s also a buffet, 24-hour coffee shop, and a passable steak house, but you’re close enough to the Strip that you can eat better if you just take a little walk.

4100 Paradise Rd. (at Flamingo Rd.). www.silversevenscasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/773-4596 or 702/733-7000. 330 units. $29 and up double. Resort fee $17. Extra person $12. Children 17 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 4 restaurants; buffet; outdoor pool; fitness center; room service; free Wi-Fi.

SOUTH & EAST OF THE STRIP

The main areas worth knowing about are the Boulder Highway strip on the far east side of town, the bedroom community of Henderson, and Lake Las Vegas—all of which offer a range of casino and non-casino hotels that can save you money and/or provide a unique Vegas experience.

Best for: Repeat visitors who want to try something new; value hunters.

Drawbacks: You’ll have to drive to get to most of the major tourist attractions; upper-end restaurants and shows are harder to find.

LOCALS’ HOTELS

Most residents of Las Vegas—the locals—never go anywhere near the Strip. They prefer to play, eat, be entertained, and occasionally stay, at casino-hotels in their own neighborhoods, partly because of convenience, but mostly because it usually costs a lot less money. All of the following hotels are, admittedly, located away from the main tourist areas, but if you have a car at your disposal, you can save yourself some dough by trying them. Several offer free shuttles to other sister properties.

Just south of the Strip along I-15 is Silverton, 3333 Blue Diamond Rd. (www.silvertoncasino.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 866/946-4373 or 702/263-7777), a delightful ski lodge–themed hotel and casino with a warm casino, surprisingly stylish rooms (considering how cheap they usually are; figure in the $40–$75 range), and several affordable restaurants. The sports-minded may want to stop here just for the massive Bass Pro Shops attached to the complex, offering everything from skis to the boats with which to pull people wearing them.

About 5 miles west of the Strip along Boulder Highway are several locals’ hotel options. The biggest and best known is Sam’s Town, 5111 Boulder Hwy. (www.samstownlv.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 866/897-8696 or 702/456-7777). In addition to the second-biggest casino in town (behind only MGM Grand), the western-themed property has a 56-lane bowling alley, an 18-screen movie theater, more than a dozen restaurants, bars and lounges, and a big indoor atrium with a silly light-and-laser show. The rooms are nothing to write home about, but they are fine, especially for the bargain-basement prices they go for. Another favorite is Boulder Station Black-Star1_bstar1_box, 4111 Boulder Hwy. (www.boulderstation.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/683-7777 or 702/432-7777), which has more than 300 guest rooms, a 75,000-square-foot casino, movie theaters, restaurants, bars, and a concert venue. Rates usually run from $75 to $125 a night, but rooms can be had for as little as $49 per night. Arizona Charlie’s East Black-Star1_bstar1_box, 4575 Boulder Hwy. (www.arizonacharlies.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 888/236-9066 or 702/951-5900) features 300 minisuites, a 37,000-square-foot casino, several restaurants, and a casino lounge. It’s only a step or two above budget accommodations, but priced similarly, and still very well maintained. Lastly, the Eastside Cannery Black-Star1_bstar1_box, 5255 Boulder Hwy. (www.arizonacharlies.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 866/999-4899 or 702/856-5300) has a casino, several restaurants, bars and lounges, and 300 very stylish rooms that rival the Strip for amenities and decor, but are miles away in terms of price.

Just down the street, you’ll find locals’ favorite Sunset Station Black-Star1_bstar1_box, 1301 W. Sunset Rd., Henderson (www.sunsetstation.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 888/786-7389 or 702/547-7777), with 450 fairly basic hotel rooms, but a host of amenities like a bowling alley; movie theaters; an outdoor amphitheater; a really nice, low-limits casino; lots of restaurants; a very good buffet; and more. Meanwhile, nearby Fiesta Henderson Black-Star1_bstar1_box, 777 W. Lake Mead Dr., Henderson (www.fiestahendersonlasvegas.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 888/899-7770 or 702/558-7000) is a Southwestern-themed joint with basic yet comfortable lodgings, plus plenty of gaming options, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and more. Things are cheap here, with rooms going for as low as $30 a night during the week.

On the north and west sides of town are several smaller properties popular with locals. Fiesta Rancho Black-Star1_bstar1_box, 2400 N. Rancho Rd. (www.fiestarancholasvegas.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 888/899-7770 or 702/631-7000) is similar in concept and execution to its sister property mentioned above. In addition to the 100 rooms, there is a big casino and a regulation-size ice-skating rink, complete with equipment rentals and lessons (p. 185). Prices go as low as $40 a night. Right across the street is Texas Station, 2101 Texas Star Lane, North Las Vegas (www.aliantecasinohotel.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 800/654-8888 or 702/631-1000), which (unsurprisingly, owing to its name) has a “Yeehaw!” theme covering its basic motel rooms, bowling alley, movie theaters, big casino, and one of the best steakhouses in town, Austins. If you continue north—about as far north as you can go without running into a mountain—you’ll find Aliante Casino and Hotel Black-Star2_bstar2_box, 7300 Aliante Pkwy., North Las Vegas (www.aliantecasinohotel.com; Black-Phone_bphone_box 877/477-7627 or 702/692-7777), a beautifully done resort with smallish rooms that are gorgeously decorated with all of the latest amenities. The facility boasts several restaurants, bars and lounges, a Strip-worthy pool, and a big casino, all wrapped up in warm design elements. It’s a solid 25-minute drive from the Strip without traffic, but with prices as low as $29 a night for rooms this nice, it might just be worth it.

Expensive

Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa & Casino Red-Star3_redstar3    Green Valley claimed its title as the posh side east of the Strip when this opulent hotel opened its doors in 2005. Part of the Stations Casinos family of properties dedicated to giving locals the same luxurious experience as its Strip counterparts, Green Valley Ranch set the ever-raising bar for amenities and restaurants that we continue to see today in spots such as Red Rock in Summerlin and Aliante on the north side, at incredibly reasonable prices.

The tiled eaves, exposed stone walls, vaulted ceilings, and mosaic stone walls of the registration and lobby area that scream Mediterranean decor continue into the expansive, 95,000-square-foot casino floor that’s jam-packed with locals and visitors alike. Lower limits and a bingo room draw in plenty of habitual players, but there isn’t that sense of desperation that you might catch a whiff of at other off-Strip slot factories.

Casino guests and locals get to take full advantage of the lagoon-like pool that offers 17 private cabanas, as well as one of the most posh spas off the Strip, complete with 22 treatment rooms, co-ed steam rooms, Jacuzzis, and a private outdoor lap pool.

The 495 guest rooms are as nice as the public areas, starting at 5,000 square feet—generous for an off-Strip hotel. And when you upgrade to one of 80 luxury suites, your square footage increases immensely, from 695 square feet to the behemoth 4,000-square-foot Penthouse, all of which have ultra-comfortable beds, marble bathrooms, and in-room martini bars.

The caliber of dining has also improved over the years. Hank’s Fine Steak and Martinis has held strong since opening, with great cuts of meat and ice cold martinis, while on Fridays at Feast Buffet, the buffet’s best kept secret, “Mama” Sarah Jamerson, a beloved line cook from New Orleans, prepares crab legs to order for a long line of in-the-know guests.

Green Valley Ranch is a perfect spot to become a regular when you visit. They know the true meaning of customer service.

2300 Paseo Verde Pkwy. (at I-215). www.greenvalleyranchresort.com. Red-Phone_redphone 866/782-9487 or 702/617-7777. 495 units. $140 and up double. Resort fee $32. Extra person $35. Children 17 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 7 restaurants; buffet; food court; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; spa; health club; lounge; movie theaters; outdoor pools; room service; free shuttle service to the airport and the Strip; free Wi-Fi.

Moderate

M Resort Red-Star2_redstar2    If you’re making the trek from California on I-15, The M Resort is your first indication that you’re about to enter Sin City proper, but your last chance if you want the Las Vegas experience without being inundated with the Vegas experience. About 10 miles to the south of Mandalay Bay, M Resort has the luxury, sophistication, and swank design that are hallmarks of many of today’s Vegas properties; but with much better value, a low-key clientele of locals, and a lower threshold for sensory overload from throngs of visitors.

Built by the Marnell family (the “M” in M Resort), who are also responsible for such iconic hotels as The Mirage, Caesars Palace and Wynn, the hotel’s casino relies on its natural surroundings to accent its beauty. Skylights above the casino floor allow abundant light in, so there’s no casino-cave feeling; decor is in natural materials such as wood, crystal, stone, and mother-of-pearl.

In each of the nearly 400 rooms, dark wood paneling combined with ample natural light make everything seem airy, and the contemporary touches abound. Foreign travelers will be familiar with inserting the key in the holder next to the door to power the room up; remove it and everything shuts down. Windows from the bedroom into the bathroom might make you feel exposed, but once you’re soaking in the tub, with a killer view of the desert, you won’t even notice (and no, they probably can’t see you from outside the hotel).

Some 30,000 square feet of the hotel is kitchen space devoted to food and beverage, including Anthony’s Prime Steak and Seafood (named for M Resort president Anthony Marnell) and his namesake Gourmet Burgers and Brews, as well as the hugely popular Studio B Buffet, which puts out a legendary seafood spread on weekends.

Oenophiles can spend time in the property’s own wine cellar, or catch some rays on the glorious pool deck, where most of the restaurants also have patio seating. On weekends, Daydream Pool is a DJ-driven pool party where locals who have worked hard all week take some leisure time without having to deal with over-zealous partiers from the Strip.

It might be a good hike from the Strip, but the vibe and value make this a serious contender for a relaxing getaway.

12300 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (at St. Rose Pkwy.). www.themresort.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/673-7678 or 702/797-1000. 390 units. $135 and up double. No resort fee. Extra person $30. Children 17 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 8 restaurants; buffet; casino; concierge; executive-level rooms; health club; spa; salon; heated outdoor pool; room service; shuttle service to the airport and Strip; Wi-Fi (for a fee).

Inexpensive

South Point Red-Star2_redstar2    The gold, gleaming towers that stand apart from the Strip are bound to catch your eye, making you wonder, who stays all the way out there when the main attraction is close enough to touch? The answer: budget-conscious travelers who still fulfill their need for expensive-feeling accommodations. And they also probably like horses.

Similar in caliber to The Orleans and Gold Coast, South Point offers decent rooms at reasonable prices. You can spend what you save on lodgings right at South Point, either on the sprawling casino floor or at its myriad entertainment options, such as the bowling alley, cinema, or, during the right time of year, at the 500,000-square-foot Arena and Equestrian Center.

Super old-school continental restaurant Michael’s Gourmet Room is alive and well at South Point, after being transported there from Barbary Coast many years ago—stained glass dome and all. There’s a perfunctory steak house, old school oyster bar, and a Mexican spot, but one of the most pleasant surprises is finding Midwestern favorite Steak ‘n Shake flipping burgers until late at night.

The rooms are spacious for the area, starting at about 500 square feet, with all the amenities you’d find in rooms further north on Las Vegas Boulevard: 42-inch plasma screen TVs and comfy beds, all in a subdued color palate. And let’s face it, for those who just want a place to store their stuff and lay their head at night (or morning), the price at South Point—often a whole $100 less than its Strip counterparts on any given night—is always right.

9777 Las Vegas Blvd. S. www.southpointcasino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 866/796-7111 or 702/796-7111. 2,163 units. $79 and up double. Resort fee $14. Extra person $20. Children 16 and under stay free in parent’s room. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 11 restaurants; buffet; several fast-food outlets; 70-lane bowling center; casino; concierge; 4,400-seat equestrian and events center; 16-screen movie theater; outdoor pool; room service; spa; fitness center; free Wi-Fi.

NORTH & WEST OF THE STRIP

Summerlin, on the far west side of town, and North Las Vegas (north of the city, appropriately enough) are suburbs that have pockets of casino-hotel options ranging from budget to luxury, and lots of outdoor opportunities from golf to hiking and beyond.

Best for: The recreation-minded; people who want a more relaxing Vegas vacation.

Drawbacks: Long drives to the Strip and fewer entertainment options.

Expensive

JW Marriott Red-Star2_redstar2    If the whole point of staying off the Strip is so you can feel like you’re not in Las Vegas, then JW Marriott has your name written all over it. A mere 15 minutes from Las Vegas Boulevard, through the cul-de-sacs and fancy plaza shopping of Summerlin, JW Marriott sits on 54 acres of a pristinely landscaped grounds. A lot of the resorts that go up in town seem to be all steel and glass, but this 500-room hotel stays very West Coast with its Spanish mission-style buildings.

Part of JW Marriott’s charm is that it’s literally an oasis away from the Strip’s madness. A large, resort-style pool features waterfalls, and Spa Aquae allows guest to tune out in serene lounges, cold dipping pools, and soothing steam rooms. Yet while you’re away from the Strip, you’re not missing out on any of its luxurious appointments. JW Marriott’s rooms are stacked with visually bland but plush furnishings, big screen TVs, rainfall showers, and marble throughout the bathrooms. Ground-floor rooms offer outdoor patios—something relatively unheard of for standard rooms—and a nice perch to have when the weather permits.

This may be a non-gaming hotel, but most visitors aren’t here to put their money on red. Rather, they come to see how they do on the greens. The TPC Las Vegas course is one of the most prestigious golf courses in the state, complete with babbling brooks and quaint foot bridges over 18 holes, making this one of the few hotels in town where you can actually enjoy the grounds where it sits.

And in the event you decide you do want that casino experience, the adjacent Rampart Casino will bring you right back.

221 N. Rampart Blvd. www.jwlasvegasresort.com. Red-Phone_redphone 877/869-8777 or 702/869-7777. 500 units. $124 and up for up to 4 people. Resort fee $19. Free self- and valet parking. Amenities: 9 restaurants; buffet; casino; concierge; fitness center; outdoor pool; room service; spa; free Wi-Fi.

Red Rock Resort Red-Star3_redstar3    When the far-west property opened in 2006, many assumed it would be a close facsimile to sister property Green Valley Ranch, which is pretty tony in its own right. The 800-room hotel and casino Red Rock Resort proved to be the swankier sister, even giving Strip contenders a run for their money.

Set right against the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (see chapter 9), it’s one of the most picturesque places you can stay, with red-tinged mountains just to the west and the lights of the Strip about 10 miles away to the east. Whichever side you decide to stay on, there’s no such thing as a bad view.

It’s perfect for those who want the Vegas experience without the craziness of the Strip, complete with an 80,000-square-foot casino that is like a maze through the subdued, gorgeous main floor, with 3,000 slot and video poker machines. And unlike many of the Strip casinos, Red Rock’s bingo hall is popular with visitors and locals alike—of all ages. There tends to be a lot of locals coming through Red Rock Resort and many bring their families, as it’s not just for gambling, with options such as a luxury bowling alley, and even a day care center. Pool-wise, there’s the three-acre water feature, complete with beach, Jacuzzis, and even a stage for outdoor concerts by big-name acts. Downtown Summerlin, a new shopping mecca, just opened next door.

The Red Rock has seen a recent renaissance in its recent dining offerings, going beyond the standard proficient buffet, coffee shop, and food court that is typical of locals’ casinos. Its stellar steak house, T-Bones, is chugging along nicely, but they’ve also recently added 8 Noodle Bar for those who prefer to slurp Asian fare, the Italian cuisine resto Salute, and Hearthstone, the hotel’s attempt at a trendy, neighborhood comfort-food eatery—which they manage to pull off with success. Lovely outdoor patio seating is available at all these spots (a nice option for those who want to get away from the casino).

The rooms take their cue from the natural landscape surrounding the resort and are done in earthy colors, with such niceties as 42-inch plasma TVs, sound systems you can jack your iPod into, and enormous bathrooms. Pair all that with the views and you might just forget that you’re in Sin City.

11011 W. Charleston Rd. www.redrocklasvegas.com. Red-Phone_redphone 866/767-7773 or 702/797-7777. 816 units. $160 and up (up to 4 people). Resort fee $32. Extra person $35. Children 15 and under stay free in parent’s room. Amenities: 10 restaurants; buffet; food court; bars and lounges; casino; concierge; day-care center; health club; 16-screen movie theater; outdoor pools and beach area; room service; spa; free Wi-Fi.