One Traveler’s Ranking of Las Vegas Casinos

During our Las Vegas trip a few weeks back (see this post and this post), I visited 12 different hotel casinos.  There were several that I didn’t visit this time that I have visited in the past and know well.  I do not like all of them, and my like or dislike has nothing to do with whether I won or lost money.  This post includes my thoughts on the ones I know and a final ranking.  If you don’t see a Casino (i.e., Rio, Hard Rock, TI), it’s because I haven’t spent any time there recently.

Full-disclosure – I am a slot player.  As such, here’s what I want in the casinos I go to and what forms the basis of my ranking:

  • Newer slot machines and newer poker machines
  • A floor plan I can navigate
  • Light
  • High ceilings
  • Bathrooms are easy to find
  • Frequent drink offers from waitresses
  • Some level of winning – I don’t have to win big or every time, but don’t eat my money without giving something back.

Newer Slot Machines and Newer Poker Machines

Three Best — Aria, Palazzo, Wynn.

Three Worst — Luxor, Monte Carlo, New York-New York

Casinos need to keep up with the times.  If I can visit a casino after one year and find the same machines in the same spot, I think that’s bad.  Newer machines have larger screens, so I don’t want to see the smaller ones any longer.  Lastly, I’d like to see casinos keep up with trends:  machines with more than one screen, machines with respins, and newer theme machines.  This year’s new themes are Sex and the City, Amazing Race, Lord of the Rings, and the Monkees.

A Floor Plan I Can Navigate

Three Best — Palazzo, Wynn, Palms

Three Worst — New York-New York, Planet Hollywood, Caesar’s

Please make your casinos big, square and open, with easy-to-find exits.  I can never find the exit at New York-New York.  I get lost in Caesar’s – really.  PH is just a mess with a big circular area with the down escalators to the buffet in the middle.  Yuk.

Light

Three Best — Aria, Palazzo, Palms

Three Worst — Luxor, Monte Carlo, Caesar’s

Back in the day, casinos had no windows and doors were sealed so no light could get in.  No longer.  I want real light from the outside coming in.  The Palms is a bit like the casinos on Native American reservations I’ve seen in Minnesota and Arizona, with big entry ways that carry light in from the parking lot.  Luxor, Monte Carlo and Caesar’s are old school.  The casinos are deep inside the building with no light at all.

High Ceilings

Three Best — Aria, New York-New York, Palazzo

Three Worst — Flamingo, Monte Carlo, Palms

High ceiling for me equals comfort.  I don’t want to feel claustrophobic.  As much as I dislike New York-New York, the ceilings there can’t get much higher.  On the other hand, the ceilings at Monte Carlo are so low that I think the little black “eyes in the sky” hit people on the head as they walk by.

Bathrooms are Easy to Find

Three Best — Palms, Venetian, Wynn

Three Worst — Aria, Flamingo, Harrah’s

Honestly, I had trouble coming up with three best here.  Let me make a special shout out to the Palms, with very clearly market restrooms with directional signs.  Good for them.  As far as Aria, Flamingo and Harrah’s – I’ve been home 10 days, and I’m still looking for the bathroom at all three places.

Frequent Drink Offers from Waitresses

Three Best — Aria, Palms, Wynn

Three Worst — MGM, New York-New York, Planet Hollywood

Kudos to Aria here.  I was approached at least once every 10 minutes and asked for a drink.  On the other hand, I played over an hour in the same spot at PH and MGM and wasn’t asked once.

Some Level of Winning

Three Best — Flamingo, Harrah’s, MGM

Three Worst — Caesar’s, New York-New York, Palms

I come not to praise Caesar’s, but to curse it.  I could win once, couldn’t I?  Just a few bells or bonus games?  Say what you will about Flamingo and Harrah’s, but I win there.  I won this trip, the trip before that, and the trip before that.

Final Ranking

  1. Wynn
  2. Aria
  3. Palazzo
  4. Harrah’s
  5. Flamingo
  6. Venetian
  7. Mirage
  8. Mandalay Bay
  9. Palms
  10. Bellagio
  11. Encore
  12. MGM
  13. Luxor
  14. Planet Hollywood
  15. Monte Carlo
  16. Caesar’s

One last note – we have been up to Fremont Street and into some of the casinos up there, like the Golden Nugget.  They have an entirely different feel.  They are small, cramped, less glitzy and more smoky.  Some say that you can win up there, but we didn’t notice anything appreciably different.  Because of the large number of casinos on Fremont Street, I excluded them from the rankings.  They would be towards the bottom anyway.

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Trip Report – Aria Hotel and Casino at City Center in Las Vegas

Tuesday night, Mrs. Spidey and I returned home from four nights at the Aria Hotel & Casino at City Center in Las Vegas.  We arrived on Friday evening and left on Tuesday afternoon.  I posted already about our discovery of the Buffet of Buffets, so I won’t rehash that here.  In this post, I’ll stay focused on the hotel itself.

Our Room

We stayed in a Corner Suite on the 8th floor.  We were disappointed by the low floor, but that was actually better than their first proposal of the 5th floor.  I think we’ve learned our lesson about arriving at 7pm on a Friday evening in the summer.  Most of the high floors were already taken.

The Corner Suites are local at the far ends of the hallways – literally as far as you can walk, a good three to four minutes from the elevators.  They are 920 square feet and consist of a small entry way, a powder room, a sitting room, a bedroom, and a bathroom.

The sitting room had a small bar area that included both the mini-bar with items to purchase and any empty fridge for your own water.  Be careful, as this is one of those mini-bars where just lifting an item can result in a charge.  Examine your bill carefully, as we were billed for some chocolate almonds we never ate.  We used the mini-fridge to store a 12-pack of Diet Coke we bought at a CVS just out on the Strip.  The sitting room also has a desk, a couch and chair, and what appeared to be about a 50-inch HDTV.  The bedroom had a king-sized bed and a smaller HDTV.  The bathroom had two sinks, separate shower and tub, and a separate commode, which included a “washlet” toilet.  More on that in a later post.  There is also a television in the bathroom.

The Sitting Room in the Aria Corner Suite 8125

One of the room’s signatures is the way the curtains, lights, temperature and television are all controlled by a master handheld at the side of the bed and on the television.  Curtains and lights can also be controlled on the wall in several locations.  We found this interesting, but not the easiest system to use.  The curtain buttons on the walls are not labeled.  As a result, it’s not clear which control controls which curtain until you see what moves when you press a button.  In addition, the controls on the television remote are a bit sticky.  Sometimes you click up or down to go to another item and sometimes you click sideways.

The Room Controls on the Bedroom TV

The other signature is the floor to ceiling windows of the Corner Suite.  Although our view was more limited from the eighth floor, the windows and views didn’t disappoint.  There were great views from bedroom, bathroom, and sitting room.

The Tub in Aria's Corner Suite with a View of the Strip

The View from Corner Suite Bedroom Including the City Center Tram and the Rio

Because we had a suite, we were given newspapers every morning, and the wireless internet was free for up to four devices.  We had two laptops and an iPhone connected.  If you are in a regular room, the WiFi costs $15 per day.  Remember this when you compare rates.

Things we liked – separate sinks, a desk outside the bedroom, three televisions, the windows (for the view and for the light), the available mini-fridge, the ease of connecting to WiFi, the 2:30pm checkout time upon request, the quality of the housekeeping, and the washlet toilet.

Things we didn’t like — the pillows (too smushy and not enough), the slippery floor of the shower, the complexity of the electronic controls, and the slow draining sinks..

The Casino

Mrs. Spidey and I play machines, not tables.  From what we saw there was plenty of variety among the tables, and I clearly saw $10 blackjack tables mid-day.  The video poker machines were relatively basic and standard.  We saw few of the newer machines that allow multiple bets and multiple hands.  The slot machines did seem to be among the newer machines, including Amazing Race machines, Monopoly machines, and Sex and the City machines.  Compared to other hotels we visited, the Aria Casino definitely has a newer feel to it and, in that way, is like the Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo.  Places like Monte Carlo, Harrah’s and the Flamingo have a much cheaper, outdated feel.  Mrs. Spidey turned $100 into $300 on dollar video poker.  I won periodically on the slots, but Mrs. Spidey was the winner in the family.

While you are in the casino, don’t forget to sign up and use an MGM Mirage Players Club card (now called M Life), even if you only play machines.  We played for four days and ended up getting a combined $23 in free play and $50 off our bill.  Get the card, play, and then visit the desk to ask for the comps.  They won’t come automatically.

The Pool and Spa

The Aria pool is nothing fancy.  There are two pools there, plus the Liquid Pool, which explodes on the weekend with a young crowd.  I have not seen so many people in such a small wading pool.  There appeared to be enough lounge chairs and plenty of umbrellas at the main pools.  It was not difficult to find a waitress, and there were cups and a jug of ice water for anyone to have.

We visited the spa/gym twice.  Each visit was $30, but there is a 3 days for $80 deal as well.  The $30 gives you access to the gym and the locker room areas.   The gym had plenty of weights and cardio equipment.  The treadmill on which I ran had an adapter for my iPhone.  Once I plugged in my iPhone, I was able to listen to music or play videos from my iPhone on the television screen.  The machine was also compatible with the Nike+ iPod app and automatically recorded my workout.

The spa was very comfortable and well-appointed, second in my opinion only to the Wynn.  The spa has a sauna, a steam room, three hot whirlpools and one cold plunge pool.  There are ample towels and the robes are comfortable.  There are plenty of grooming supplies from Q-tips to disposable razors to shaving cream to hand lotion.  Both times I worked out, I spent more time up in the locker area than in the gym, relaxing on a lounge chair near the whirlpool.  In fact, I wrote the Sunday post about George Steinbrenner on my iPhone sitting there.

There are two other pluses to the gym.  First, with access you get unlimited drinks – they have waters, juices, and sodas – plus fruit, tea and coffee.  Second, there is a co-ed porch overlooking the main pool.  On this porch is a small pool and a few chairs.  In theory, you could pay your $30 every day to have access to this porch.

All-in-all, I was very impressed with the gym.  It is very relaxing and a great way to stay out of the casino or, in my case, out of the heat.

I should also mention that I visited the salon for a shave.  I had never been shaved with a straight razor before.  The shave cost $75 including tip, but included facial treatments beyond the shave.  Vinnie, the barber, was very friendly and conversational, although I worried about answering him when the straight razor was moving down my neck.

The Location

City Center is located between Bellagio and the Monte Carlo, just across the street from Planet Hollywood.  You can walk inside through to the Monte Carlo and take a tram over to the backside of the Bellagio.  Aria is set back a bit, however, even in comparison to some of the other hotels.  It was about a ten minute walk from the lobby out to Las Vegas Boulevard.  We walked through the Crystals mall out to an overpass between the still under construction Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood.  Initially, we had some trouble finding the exit, as Crystals is still being built out, and store construction creates a few dead ends.  Once we figured it out, we were fine.  Whether we took the tram to the Bellagio or walked out to the road, it was a bit of a trek from hotel to street.  That much said, it’s right in the middle of the strip and, even in the heat, we had an easy walk back from the Palazzo one night after seeing Jersey Boys and eating dinner at Dos Caminos.

Bottom Line

The Aria is probably our second favorite hotel now behind the Wynn, although, for comparison, we’d like to stay at Bellagio one more time when the pool is open.  We feel like the Wynn’s basic room (often going for $99 in the summer mid-week) is sufficiently large with floor to ceiling windows, that we don’t need to pay for a suite to be comfortable.

Despite our challenges with the electronics, the room was indeed comfortable.  The pool was easily accessible, and we had no trouble finding machines we liked to gamble.  We only ate at the buffet and Todd English’s Public Urban Bar, but they were very good.  If we had to do it again, we’d get there a bit earlier to get a higher floor.

Our New Las Vegas Vacation Diet

Mrs. Spidey and I are finishing up a four-day vacation in Las Vegas. We’re staying at the new Aria hotel in City Center, and I’ll have more on that in Wednesday’s travel post.

We like Las Vegas. We’ve been here about once each year in the recent past, usually while our kids are off at summer camp.  Over the years, we’ve stayed at ten different hotels on the strip. We like sitting by the pool and relaxing. We like gambling a bit. We like the food, and we like the spas.

While we aren’t newbies and know our way around, I know we are more like the average tourist.  We aren’t high stakes gamblers, preferring slot machines over table games.  We aren’t in for the weekend from Southern California solely to party.  We don’t stay out often much past 1:00am, and, if we do, it’s because I’m in the casino playing lower denomination slots.

And, like most other average tourists, we’re watching both our bottom lines and our waist lines.  I think this year we may have figured out one easy way to do both and enjoy ourselves.

(As a quick side note – if you think you are overweight and want to feel good about yourself, come to Las Vegas.  I think all the stock footage the networks use when talking about obesity was shot here.  If you don’t think Americans, on average, needs to lose some pounds, come to Las Vegas.)

Not eating is not the answer to watching your finances and your calories.  On our trips, we have eaten at some very good and very expensive restaurants. We’ve eaten at Alex at the Wynn and Sinatra’s at the Encore. We’ve also eaten at both Capital Grille and Morton‘s here, and the restaurant up in the Eiffel Tower at Paris. We also ate at the now-closed Commander’s Palace in about 2005, when it was still at the Alladin, which has since morphed to Planet Hollywood.

Our new Las Vegas Vacation Diet has five parts:

  1. Eat a big breakfast at a buffet sometime after 9:30.  Take a few pieces of fruit or cookies with you for snacks later.
  2. Hit the hotel spa/gym in the afternoon for a workout.  (This may be the most critical step.)
  3. Snack on the free apples, oranges and drinks in the spa.
  4. Eat dinner at about 7:oo or so at a buffet.  Again, take a piece of fruit or two for later.
  5. Walk up and down the strip, avoid taxis where possible.  (For example, you can’t really walk to Rio, the Palms, or Hard Rock.)

No, I’m not nuts for including two buffets as part of a diet.  First, I’m not assuming you will lose weight in Las Vegas.  That’s stupid.  Of course you won’t. The challenge is to limit how much you gain.  Second, if you have willpower and stop when you are full, buffets at the better hotels do have good food and good variety.

Thanks to the good people at Harrah’s, there is also a great economical way to make this happen.  They’ve introduced something call the Buffet of Buffets.  For $40 (after joining their Total Rewards frequent player program – which is free), a person can eat at seven different buffets under the Harrah’s umbrella for 24 hours.  This isn’t three meals, this is legitimately unlimited.  You can slip in any time for a dish of ice cream or banana, although be wary of long lines to be seated, as you can’t avoid them.  You do not have to stay at one of their hotels to be eligible.

We went to Paris for brunch on Sunday morning and purchased our 24-hours worth there.  (We did pay $10 more per person to cut the ridiculously large line.)  We strategized to eat breakfast a bit later, so we’d have time on Monday morning to eat breakfast again within the 24 hours.  We later had dinner at Planet Hollywood and breakfast Monday at the Flamingo.  Of course, if you want to have lunch as well, you can.  We were still full from breakfast nearly to dinner time.

You need to factor the spa/gym cost into your equation.  Here at the Aria it’s $30 per day ($80 for three), but that includes the drinks and food noted above, plus sauna, steam room, whirlpools, towels, robes, etc.  We recommend a workout followed by at least 90 minutes of relaxation up in the spa.

That nets to $70 per person per day for food and exercise, not including tips.  We challenge you to eat three meals here for under $70 per day without going to McDonald’s or something else you can find back at home.

We didn’t follow this diet two days in a row because, honestly, we can’t take buffets that many times in a row for dinner.  As noted above, we do like good restaurants.  We also like breakfast buffets, which is why we chose to start our 24 hours in the morning.   However, if you can take buffets at every meal, then, thanks to Harrah’s, you can utilize this New Las Vegas Vacation Diet for your entire stay and watch your bottom line and your waistline.