JR Swift’s Blog

What I’m Thinking About Today

Las Vegas Hotels

Posted by jrswift on March 26, 2007

As a preface, let me say that I finally booked a room over the weekend and am very happy with my choice. I’ll keep you in some suspense as I walk you through my selection process and hopefully some of what I do can help you.

As you may remember, this is largely a “cheapo” trip to Vegas. I have stayed in a few very nice places over the years. Last year, we spent three nights at TI (Treasure Island) which is pretty upscale and I’ve also stayed at the Aladdin and the Hilton which are pretty fair properties with some very nice amenities. No visits to the Bellagio or Wynn or the Venetian and I doubt there ever will be as I have a hard time justifying spending $200 or more for a single night’s lodging. Typically $100 is about the most I want to spend but this year I was trying to do it for about $50! But can you really stay someplace “decent” for those kinds of rates? Well…depends on what you call decent.

Las Vegas has well over 100,000 hotel/motel rooms with more on the drawing board so it would seem that there would be something for just about everyone. To a large degree that is true. Of course most of those rooms are concentrated along a 4-mile stretch of South Las Vegas Blvd known as the “Strip.” And a large percentage of those rooms are in the $100 and up range so it is not the best place to look for bargain fun in Sin City. Now, to be fair, $100 a night is not a bad deal when you consider the surroundings and the amenities available and I would encourage any first time visitor to bite the bullet and pay that and maybe more so much of my advice here is not focused on that first time visitor.

(As an aside, here is my advice for the first-time Vegas visitor about lodging. Stay somewhere on the strip between the Wynn on the north and the Mandalay Bay on the South and ideally somewhere between the Mirage and NY NY. That is going to give you the easiest walking access to the places you are going to want to be. Avoid the north Strip as there is not as much to do and anything south of Mandalay Bay can hardly be called the Strip at all. Most any hotel in this area will do as you really won’t know any better. I’d probably steer clear of the Imperial Palace or Excalibur if I were you but even those places aren’t totally awful…just mostly. Find a decent price and take it. That’s it…all the advice you need.)

To get a room for $50 or less, you are going to have to compromise both room quality and location. Even the worst room on the good part of the Strip is usually going to cost you more than that amount. That means accepting the fact that you’ll be off the main tourist area and, after a few trips to Las Vegas, you may not think that is such a bad thing. The crowds and nonstop chaos can be pretty tiring after a while and it is nice to be able to retreat to a slightly more laid back setting.

One option is the northern part of the Strip. That option may not be there for long. In the last couple of years, we’ve already lost reasonably priced accomodations at the Stardust and the Westward Ho. The Frontier may be the next to go and Circus Circus and the Sahara may not be far behind. These hotels will be replaced by far more expensive and exclusive places. The only advantage of this is that the “good part” of the Strip will grow farther north. But really, how much further can you wander and how many more “fabulous hotels” can you walk through and gamble in? I, for one, will miss the old school places and their old school prices. Right now you can still get a pretty good deal if you are willing to stay in one of these places. Frankly, I’ve been there and done that. In addition to being a good place to sleep and a good base of operations, I actually prefer that a hotel provide me with some decent gambling, entertainment and food or at least give me easy access to those things. I don’t really feel that any of these places do that. The Stratosphere is a fairly fun place and I actually enjoy gambling there but it is kind of “out there” so it isn’t for everyone. If I had to chose one of these places, I’d likely pick the Sahara. It is very nicely located for someone with a car and the rooms are decent for the price. Even if you don’t have a car, it is a stop on the Las Vegas monorail so it is fairly easy to get to the good part of the Strip. On the hand, the Sahara has pretty lousy food, pretty lousy entertainment (unless you are huge NASCAR fan) and a casino that feels tired and worn out and always makes me feel the same way. So you pick your poison.

The other traditional budget option is to stay Downtown. Other than having a number of casinos bunched together and some neon lights, Downtown is really nothing like the Strip. The only real attraction is the Fremont Street Experience, a overhead light show which is fairly interesting if you haven’t already seen it a dozen times. On the other hand, there is a lot of good gaming available and usually at much lower stakes than you’ll find elsewhere. There isn’t as much gourmet food but you can eat cheap and eat well here if you aren’t too picky. And the rooms tend to be dirt cheap, even at the nicer places. The other bonus is that it doesn’t matter nearly as much where you stay downtown because most all the hotels are within easy walking distance of one another. It takes more time to navigate through the MGM Grand than it does to walk all of downtown. Not surprisingly, the clientele is older and poorer and a lot less “beautiful” than the crowds down at the Bellagio but that also isn’t always a bad thing. I looked at a number of downtown properties this time but chose not to stay there. One reason was that I didn’t want to change hotels this trip and spending 4 or 5 days downtown is probably too much unless you are absolutely in love with the place. One or two days is more like it.

Most all of the downtown properties have some warts but that is one of the reasons they are more affordable. Even the nicest hotel downtown (which everyone agrees is the Golden Nugget) can sometimes be had for significantly less than $100 midweek. It is really one of the best values in town and a genuinely classy hotel and has a very loyal clientele because of it. At the other extreme is a place like the Gold Spike which just barely escapes being a transient hotel and has, shall we say, some very colorful patrons. While rooms here can be as little as $20 or $30 a night, it probably won’t be worth it for most people.

Beyond those places, most of downtown lacks a distinctive personality. The Boyd hotels (Main Street Station, the Fremont and particularly the California) attract a very large Hawaiian clientele which can sometimes make rooms there harder to come by and more expensive than at other places and they are probably worth a bit more. The Plaza is just big and you’ll either love it or hate it. I lean more toward love but you probably want to see it before you sleep there. Its sister property the (Las) Vegas Club is smaller but pretty similar and actually attempts a kind of sports theme though pretty half-heartedly. The Golden Gate is a tiny casino with tiny rooms mostly known for their fabulous 99 cent shrimp cocktails and some other good food specials. Might be an OK place for a single traveller who isn’t too large but not a good first choice.

Binions is a legendary casino that is past its prime. The hotel is much the same and they tend to charge more than hotels that are a better choice. Fitzgeralds makes some effort to play off the whole “luck of the Irish” theme and has some pretty good rooms at pretty good prices but is hardly an exciting place to stay and has really bad food. The Four Queens used to be known for a giant slot machine and blackjack table that were practically in the street. They draw a lot of people off the street with promotions and draw a few travellers in with their reasonable rates and might be a good middle of the road choice. They even have a genuinely “nice” restaurant tucked away in the basement if you are feeling romantic. A couple of blocks down the street is the venerable El Cortez. It is a little isolated and the neighborhood is not what it used to be (or maybe it never was) but it is safe and clean. Arguably the best rooms for the money downtown are in its tower. If you can get past the location, it can be an excellent choice.  Most all of these rooms will fall somewhere between about $40-$60 dollars midweek and a bit more on the weekend.  If you see a cheaper rate, it is likely an older or more threadbare room so investigate closely before committing yourself.

So if I didn’t choose to stay on the Strip or Downtown, where did I go? For many people those two areas are all they will ever see of Las Vegas and, in my opinion, that’s a shame. There is a whole world of hotel/casinos out there in that great big place referred to as “Off Strip” and, in our next episode, we’ll take a look at a few of them and narrow down our choices to one.

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