2017 In Review – Ranking The Resorts


There’s something for everyone when choosing a hotel. But not all of them deserve your business…

Best Luxury ResortPalazzo

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The Venetian‘s more contemporary sister property has what it takes to satisfy your luxury needs without overt attempts at “hipness” (Cosmopolitan) or coasting on a previously-established reputation (Bellagio).

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The Palazzo offers easy access from Las Vegas Boulevard, free parking, spacious rooms, flawless service, gorgeous common areas, lush pools and an airy, high-ceiling casino. Visitors can indulge in top-notch lounges (check out my write-up of the new Rosina Cocktail Lounge), restaurants, shops, the famous Canyon Ranch Spa and the Best Overall Show in Vegas (BAZ: A Musical Mash-up). You can learn more by visiting my full write-up here.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Palazzo is easily my choice for best five-star accommodations in Las Vegas.

Most Improved ResortWestgate Las Vegas

My relationship with Westgate (aka the former Las Vegas Hilton) began three years ago….and was rocky to say the least. An unflattering article I had penned for VegasChatter.com got a very professional response from a member of the team in charge of transforming the aging off-Strip giant into a newly-born destination.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

“Give us another chance. We’ve got great things happening here”. That was the message, in essence, of the Westgate Las Vegas representative. And he wasn’t just tossing some pretty words and glitter in my direction. Promises were kept…and I’ve been back many many times since.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

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The current state of Westgate is one of gloriously-restored elegance. Brass has been polished, gorgeous chandeliers have been restored, the marble flooring is immaculate and guest rooms are all modern and sleek.

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The property has recruited some of the finest chefs in the city to operate an admirable line-up of new restaurants (see my monthly series of profiles to learn more about the people behind the dishes). Then there’s the glorious new Serenity Spa, an extension of Westgate’s acclaimed facility in Park City, Utah (you can see my detailed experiences at Serenity Spa here).

Serenity Spa Westgate

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Every Westgate staffer from valet to reservations to the hostess at Sid’s Cafe will offer their name and ask you for yours. There’s a vibe throughout the casino that’s palpable and contagious. You’ll feel that your patronage and presence are appreciated…and you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

You can expect lots of new entertainment offerings to take up residence at Westgate this year (Barry Manilow is coming back!) and you can continue to enjoy free parking as a hotel/casino guest.

By the way…don’t be put off by the off-Strip location. A convenient monorail station at the FRONT of the hotel (not far in the rear like everywhere else) can get you from your room to center Strip in a matter of minutes.

Re-think your ideas of how a 2018 visit to Las Vegas should be. Give Westgate a try…and prepare to be wowed.

Steepest DeclineRio Las Vegas

Best Worst Vegas 2017

A short decade ago, the Rio was one of my favorite places to stay and play. There was a vibrance throughout the resort that made it worth the visit. These days, it’s just a sad red-and-blue stepchild of the Caesars family, mostly forgotten and seemingly just hanging on.

The restaurants are nothing to brag about, Masquerade Village is still a giant echo chamber, Kiss by Monster Mini Golf turned out to be a dud and the once-legendary Carnival World Buffet now operates on limited hours. At least there’s still the wonderful Chippendales and new WOW – World of Wonder to keep me stopping by for a few hours.

Miniature stages throughout the gaming floor used to light up regularly for songs and dances by “Bever-tainers”. Now those performance spaces sit empty and ignored (a current cocktail server told me that “most of them are broken and just don’t work anymore”). The stage and overhead tracks for once-popular Rio Show In The Sky also remain, dusty and forgotten.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

An unpleasant odor permeates certain areas of this hotel, uncomfortable reminders of the Legionnaire’s Disease incident that affected numerous visitors last year. Guest rooms and common areas are maintained with indifference. The conditions of the fitness facilities and spa areas have badly deteriorated as well.

There are better places to choose than Rio Las Vegas…and the ever-rising mandatory resort fee (currently $34.01 per day, up from $18.99 plus tax in 2016) does nothing to make me want to book there again. After a lackluster stay in mid-December resulted in my complaining via email and phone to the manager, I cancelled my next visit (which was scheduled for the very next week).

Staffers at Rio seem to be going through the motions of their chores across the board, much like the team at Sahara did in the years leading up to its closure. Which brings us to…

In The Throes of DeathSLS (the former Sahara)

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Driving towards the north Strip property once know as Sahara, you’d be hard-pressed to know exactly what the name is. The sign reads SLS at the bottom and a giant twinkling W at the top. Why, exactly? Because this is a property with an identity crisis…and no good reason for existing in its current state.

SLS Las Vegas answers a question that nobody in their right mind would ask: “What would happen if you whitewashed (literally and figuratively) a heavily themed historic property, filled it with Vegas-lite duplicates of Los Angeles dining/nightclub favorites, then tried to lure the L.A. millenials over the state line?”.

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The answer is “not much”. There’s no reason for the hip L.A. crowd to come to Vegas for inferior copies of what they already have. Nevertheless, the combined arrogance of Sam Nazarian and SBE led to betting heavily…and losing…on a proposition that was never going to work.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

All seven Fred Segal stores were shuttered, along with LIFE Nightclub and an excellent buffet that lasted all of three months. SLS promised to reopen the buffet in early 2015. I’m still waiting.

If only SBE has taken a cue from Westgate and honored the Sahara‘s legacy with a little updating instead of throwing it out the back door, they’d probably be sharing a different place on this list.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Someday, logical will prevail and SLS (which sold off a portion of the resort to the W hotel chain…that tower now operates as a separate entity) will be reborn once more as “The New Sahara”. Until that time, you can consider SLS to be as good as….

DeadLucky Dragon

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Here’s another resort with no good reason for existing. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing worthwhile to offer guests, the Lucky Dragon announced the closure of its casino and restaurants just yesterday.

This has got to be some kind of record. After only 13 months and one day of operations, a brand-new casino resort has shut down everything but the tiny little hotel. Employees have been sent packing only four days into the new year…a sad start for them and a bad omen for any hope of Resorts World actually making an impact on the north end of the Strip.

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It was clear after a highly-touted early opening that just a few months into the year, Lucky Dragon was anything but lucky. Restaurants Pearl Ocean and Dragon Alley were reworked along with the high-limit areas of the gaming floor. The excitement of a brand-new hotel casino had completely fizzled, and by the time I visited in late mid October, at least one restaurant was shuttered and the entire complex was virtually empty.

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As the financials are reworked and optimistic press releases tout a full reopening of Lucky Dragon, expect the northern face of the famous Las Vegas Strip to continue fighting some really persistent blemishes. And one big blue tumor.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Abandoned Fontainebleau Resort                         

 

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palace Station Rises Rapidly From The Rails


The frequently-overlooked locals hotel is climbing to the sky…and back into relevance…

Sure, sure….all the north Strip talk continues to center around Resorts World. And whether Fontainebleau will ever open. And if SLS will  have its name restored to Sahara….or totally close. Nobody talks about Lucky Dragon anymore, because….ZZZZzzzzz…..

But if you peek over the interstate, just a stone’s throw from the legendary Golden Steer Steakhouse, you might see a little action worth paying attention to. That’s because the scene of OJ’s crime (no, the other one) is getting a lot more than a fresh coat of paint. Palace Station on West Sahara Avenue is getting an infusion of some big bucks…and a brand spanking new hotel tower.

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         The train is pulling into the Station with a few more sleeping cars…

If you’re an infrequent visitor to Sin City, you might not even be familiar with Station Casinos. The railroad-themed chain has destinations sprinkled throughout the valley, carrying such catchy names as Sante Fe Station, Sunset Station, Boulder Station, Texas Station. And of course Palace Station, the original and very first stop on the line.

Locals casinos such as this are usually pretty low on the luxury stylings, offering great value and lots of casual entertainment and food selections. In more recent years, the chain has gone upscale and shaved away the choo-choo theming, erecting more modern palaces (sorry, couldn’t resist) like Green Valley Ranch and Red Rock Casino.

Not all of them succeeded (bye bye, Aliante Station) but the ones that did raised their profile, and apparently their bottom line, allowing for the acquisition of Palms Casino in 2016. Now they’re looking backwards and refreshing those themed resorts of the past.

How do they do that, exactly? Well, in the case of Palace Station, it’s so long railroad theme. And the removal of outdated motel-style “Courtyard Rooms”. In their place is a new 27-story, 600-room hotel tower, rising from the ground at a pretty epic pace (take that, Resorts World). Those will be in addition to the existing 576 rooms and suites.

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                           Above photos taken on September 2nd, 2017

With a new porte cochere already in operation for arriving guests, updating taking is place inside as well (new Bingo Room and restaurants, modernized look and an impending re-do of the lowest-priced buffet anywhere). There will be a new multi-screen theater coming with the expansion.

While all that construction activity may not currently be the best atmosphere for a stay, you might want to check things out once construction is completed (nobody enjoys the sound of jackhammers with one going on in our heads already – thanks, Mr. Bartender).

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    Pics from October 22nd, 2017 demonstrate the speedy progress being made…

With conventions being the future hot ticket for Vegas, it isn’t surprising that Palace Station is erecting a new meeting space as well. Again, they’re way ahead of the announced expansion of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority aka the Vegas Convention Center. Those plans flattened my beloved Riviera Hotel more than a year ago, with nary the slightest evidence of new construction activity. Not even a hammer.

It will be several years before Resorts World greets its first guest, so enjoy all those photos of construction cranes on other sites. In the meantime, I’ll be marking my calendar for a stay at the reborn Palace Station.

The project is slated for completion in late 2018. But don’t be surprised if they beat that deadline by a wide margin. All aboard!

Photos courtesy of Greg C.