Friday, May 6, 2011

The 'Best of' Las Vegas Hotels

While most people spend their days in Las Vegas hoping to strike it rich on the casino floor, I spent my time pretending I was rich as I swanned through the fabulous hotels. I admit it, I love people watching and I'm entranced by pretty, shiny things - the famous hotels of the Las Vegas Strip have plenty of both.  During my three visits to Las Vegas, I've spent hours wandering through miles and miles of opulent hallways, discovering hidden features and making a mental list of my favorites.  What follows is my personal list of Las Vegas Superlatives:

Water feature at Mandalay Bay
All-time Favorite: Mandalay Bay
Tucked away at the far southern end of the Strip, this hotel seems much less chaotic and harried than many of the others.  It's not cute (New York, New York) or gimmicky (Excalibur) or ridiculously lavish (Wynn or Bellagio), but it has an atmosphere of almost colonial elegance that, in my opinion, sets it apart from the rest.  It also has a free monorail service, connecting it to the Luxor and the Excalibur, which makes it more accessible than you might think.

Eavesdropping on a wedding at the Venetian - so romantic!
Best Theme: Luxor and the Venetian
These two hotels really trade on an element of fantasy.  The Luxor is dark and mysterious - obelisks tower over the lobby and the casino floor - while the Venetian works hard to create the outdoors indoors, replicating St. Marks Square and the canals of Venice, complete with serpentine alleys, countless footbridges and singing gondoliers.

Bellagio Fountain Show
Best Free Attractions: Bellagio
In addition to it's famous outdoor fountain - one of my favorite attractions on the Strip - it also boasts an impressive lobby. Here, you can view the amazing Dale Chihuly blown-glass ceiling installation and also visit the Conservatory and Botanical Garden. The floral exhibits change with the seasons, and the butterfly habitat is always a hit with adults and children alike. If that's not enough, the Bellagio is also home to the world's largest chocolate fountain, at the Jean-Philippe Patisserie!

Luxury at the Wynn/Encore
Most Luxurious: Wynn/Encore and the Bellagio
Stuffed to the hilt with swanky designer shops and decked out in lavish, brightly colored fabrics and enchanting butterfly-themed mosaic floors, the Wynn and Encore are brimming with luxury. Between the rich, jewel-toned color scheme and the whimsical decor, the ambiance is very Alice-in-Wonderland. Not to be missed are the glittering white crystal peacocks near the Encore's Baccarat lounge, and the view overlooking the Lake of Dreams at the Wynn. The Bellagio exudes its own brand of luxury, more understated and European in style.  Be sure to visit in the evening when the outdoor fountain show is most impressive, and save some time for a visit to the Conservatory.

Excalibur at Night
Most 'Cheesy': Excalibur
Perhaps my objections arise from having grown up amidst real castles in England, or maybe this concept is just more appealing for the younger set, but I'm not a great fan of the Excalibur. It's not as flashy, classy or new as most of the other hotels on the Strip, and if I wanted a Disney-style environment, I'd rather just go to Disneyland. That being said, it does seem to be popular with the little ones and there are a variety of eateries and entertainments to cater to most tastes.

The iconic Sahara sign
Best 'Old' Vegas: Flamingo and the Sahara
The Flamingo wins this particular honor based almost entirely on its impressive display of exterior lights, although the interior also has an 'old' Vegas feel.  The Sahara seems the most unchanged, its iconic sign transporting you to Rat Pack era Las Vegas. Sadly, the Sahara is reported to be closing later this month - with only the possibility of renovation and reopening in the years to come.

Fountain at the Palazzo
Most Underrated: Palazzo
The Palazzo blends so seamlessly into the neighboring Venetian - joined, as they are, by a shopping plaza - that I completely missed it on my first two trips to Las Vegas! I decided to remedy the omission by spending an extra bit of time getting to know this hotel and it was certainly worthwhile.  The Palazzo belongs to the same 'luxury class' as the Bellagio, Wynn and Encore, but is a bit more understated. That being said, it has it's own share of designer shops, a beautiful plaza, complete with impressive fountain, and the best casino-floor carpet on the Strip ('cause that's something to brag about!).

Most Overrated: Paris
Sure, the Eiffel Tower is cool, and the little 'Parisian street-style' shops are cute, but I scratched my head when I heard that Paris was one of the most popular hotels on the strip. Like the Venetian and New York, New York, Paris attempts to recreate the outdoors indoors - just not as successfully. For a theme hotel, I'd rather spend my time in the Luxor, the Venetian, or New York, New York.  Of course, they don't sell buttery croissants or house a lavish, French-themed buffet - for those things, we'll always have Paris.

Best Bathroom: Paris
Okay, so maybe my judgment of Paris was a little harsh and hasty. In the spirit of 'saying something nice,' this hotel has amazing bathrooms! Believe it or not, hotel bathrooms were not one of my original judging criteria, but I created the category after visiting the Mademoiselles at Paris. The sinks were porcelain and covered with delicately drawn wildflowers - very Provencal - but what really cinched it for me was the 'French Lessons' recording they played over the stereo to entertain you during your 'visit.' Expecting the usual "my name is" and "how do you get to the ___," I was amused to hear them demonstrating more Vegas-appropriate phrases, including "I am never drinking again" and"Apart for being sexy, what do you do for a living?" The hotel may be underwhelming, but at least it still proves the old maxim: when in Paris, be sure to visit the Ladies room!

Most Risque/ Least Family Friendly: Planet Hollywood (sorry, no picture, folks)
I'm not sure I really understand the concept of this hotel, so it's probably my least favorite on the Strip (hence the lack of pictures!). It's loud and dark and doesn't really seem to have a 'theme.' Also, with a special, dance-table-and-pole-equipped gambling area called the 'Pleasure Pit,' it's the least family-appropriate at any time of day. I'm sure this is a big draw for some people, just not me.

NY Skyline - Las Vegas style!
Most Fun/ Most Family Friendly: New York, New York
From the mini Brooklyn Bridge outside, to the giant roller coaster coaxing screams from riders overhead, this hotel is just plain fun. I love the interior food court which is styled to look like the character-filled streets of Greenwich Village.  Just like its namesake city, this hotel offers a huge variety of entertainment and dining options.  Both kids and grown-ups will be impressed by the massive Statue of Liberty, made from thousands of jelly beans, in one of the shops on the upper level!

Sweet Lady Liberty

A few notes about this treatment of the Strip's most famous hotels: Just because an establishment didn't make the list, doesn't mean that it's not worth visiting (I like Caesar's Palace, for example, even though it's not mentioned even once!) - it just means they didn't fit into any of the categories above. For every category that made the cut, there were at least two or three others I considered, so if you have any questions, just ask!


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  2. shiny things - the famous hotels of the Las las vegas Vegas Strip have plenty of both. During my three visits to Las Vegas,