Monday, August 29, 2011

Plaza Grand Re-Opening Review with Casino Pictures

The first 2 nights at the Plaza's re-opening was quite the interesting experience. I had found out about the "soft opening" date on short notice since the announced date was September 1 so I put together the trip in just a few days. Apparently I wasn't the only one surprised by the opening, the hotel wasn't quite ready yet either...

I arrived at the completely unfinished valet area near the bus terminal, which is the opposite side of the place from the lobby. It was about 6PM with an almost empty lobby but still had to wait a few minutes due to chaos behind the counter. Once I finally made it to the desk, the clerk struggled to find me a single king smoking like I had requested so I offered to take a double if that would help but still was asked if I could wait a few minutes in the lobby for her to check on the room. While I was waiting, an irate customer started yelling at a manager about problems with her first and second rooms. I have now done 4 grand opening in the past 2 years and the one thing I have learned is that if you want perfection, stay away from a new hotel! I soon returned and was given a double on the 7th floor of the South Tower, which is back over by the valet entrance! She told me that the South Tower was the only one open and I later found out there were only 75 rooms open in it. On the way to the elevators, I surveyed the casino which was about 2/3 finished and they made good progress on the rest during my stay. Getting into the elevators, I noticed what would become a theme of the stay... They remodeled about 90% of the place but the remaining 10% seems odd!. The 3 of the 4 elevator walls, the floor and ceiling were brand-spankin' new but the front wall was untouched, covered in scratches with cracked floor buttons. Same situation in the room hallway; it was almost completely redone but old wooded doors remain.

Inside the room, just about everything has been remodeled. The carpets and furniture are all new as is the bathroom with new tile and fixtures through-out. There is also a decent sized flat-screen TV with abundant HD programming. The room is done is dark brown and beige and is a nice if not minimalistic design. It is most certainly an major upgrade from the old room! One major downside is that the bathroom suffers from the "Gaughan Design" where the bathroom is at the far end of the room and doubles as the closet which leads to a very cramped space. It only has a single sink vanity and you could barely close the door when using the toilet. The other major complaint is that there isn't an outlet ANYWHERE near the work desk! I ended up pulling a power strip from elsewhere in the room and strung it across the floor. Definitely not a work-friendly design. The room also was participating in the "soft opening" as there were no linens on the bed except for a sheet and it didn't have simple amenities like soap or a pen. I assume this will be fixed before September 1st.

The rest of the place is definitely a work in progress. I don't know how much will be ready to go by big Grand Opening but it won't be the entire hotel for sure. The only restaurant open was the coffee bar. Hash House A Go Go looked nearly done and they said it would open next week. The food court only has a SUbway which was nearly open and a McDonald's that didn't look like it would make it by the 1st. Oscar's Steakhouse in the dome over the entrance is completely torn up and looks months away from opening. The main bar was open but the "Swinger's Club" lounge looked like it needed a lot of work but had a whole crew busy on it so it might make it for the opening. The sports book bar also looked very close to done. In the casino, the entire table game pit was open as was about 2/3 of the slot area. The sports book still was under construction and probably wouldn't be done on time. The pool area and tennis courts were a total mess and I wouldn't expect to see those done before next summer.

Of all the openings I have attended, this was definitely the roughest of the bunch. It just didn't seem like they were ready to open the doors and still might not be come September 1st. They obviously knew it as they made zero efforts to attract any crowd inside at all. If you looked at the place from Fremont Street, you would have never known it was even open. Pre-opening issues aside, the work that has been completed while not over the top is pretty nice, especially considering what the Plaza once was. The remodeled rooms are a huge upgrade but still can be had at affordable prices and the casino is now a place you actually might want to linger. The Plaza will never be confused with Aria or Cosmo but definitely becomes one of the top choices downtown overnight. I look forward to a return visit in a few months to see what the finished product is like and how much of that "unremodeled 10%" still remains.

Plaza Casino and Lobby Pictures

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

First Look at the Grand Re-Opening of the Plaza Hotel

I wanted to get the rooms pics posted so I won't go into great detail right now but here is a quick summary of what I have seen thus far...

  • Its a VERY soft opening with virtually zero restaurants operating with the sole exceptions being the coffee bar and Subway. Everything else comes next week.
  • A large part of the casino are still under construction as are a few bars.
  • The room remodel seems pretty nice for the most part with a few small issues that I will point out in my full review. Cosmo spoiled me last year!
  • There was zero full-pay video poker in any of the 8 or 10 machines I checked at the .25 and dollar levels.

Its definitely not the opening of City Center by any stretch of the imagination but it's still pretty cool staying at any place on the first night. Look for public area pictures and the full room review soon!

South Tower Room Pictures

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunset Station Review with Suite and Pool Pictures

After waiting to the last minute to book this trip, it was surprisingly difficult to get rooms near the Strip for my last 2 nights. The first night, I got lucky at Hard Rock and ended up with a comped room. For the second night, I decided to book online at Sunset Station. I have never stayed out there before so seemed like a good time to cross it off the list. Station Casinos now offers an interesting feature when booking a room, you can offer to take an upgrade at a discounted price at the time of the booking if it's available at check-in. It was $20 for a junior suite, normally $50 more than a regular room or a full suite for $50, which is $200 more. It's almost like doing the front desk "$20 trick" upfront! Since the room was comped, I said "What the hell!" and offered to take either one. When I arrived at Sunset, I had totally forgotten about this until I was about to walk up to the desk. We start the process and he mentions that my room is comped. He then says that he can upgrade me to a suite for free. I ask if its a Junior Suite and say no, a full suite. Nice! It's a cool feature but its even better for free.

The suite was on the 4th floor at the end of the hallway and is gigantic. Considerably larger than the 1BR suite at South Point that we have become used to. As you enter the room, there is a large, marble-covered bar which leads to the dining area. Next to that is the a seating area with 2 couches, a large coffee table fronted by a big flat-screen TV. There is a half bath off the seating area as well. The master bath was also enormous with dual sinks seperated by a makeup area, a large jacuzzi tub and stand alone shower stall. The bedroom, which was small compared to the rest of the room, was the least impressive part of the suite but did have a very comfortable bed. While the suite clearly was a bit on the older side, everything was in very good shape and nicely decorated if not a bit tacky for my tastes. I ended up hanging out quite a bit in the room and really enjoyed it. The seating area made a great place to do a little computer work while watching the big TV.

Downstairs, Sunset Station is the quintessential Station property with the standard line-up of restaurants; Italian, Mexican, Steak, Buffet and Food Court and locals amenities like movie theater and bowling alley. One of the few differences from other Station places is a Hooters restaurant. The pool area is one of the larger ones for a locals casino with plenty of space to layout with not a lot of company. One of the changes for the better around town recently was the decision to dump the Coco's Restaurants and go back to in-house coffee shops at the Station hotels. I applaude this decision and had a great late-night breakfast at the Grand Cafe. I also enjoyed a quick bit at the bowling alley snack, which was very tasty. Im not a bowler but love their snack bars! As for the casino... Ugghh! I had the worse run of the trip at Sunset and had one of the worst sessions ever. I literally walked away from the machine at one point shaking my head, wondering how I could have lost so much so fast. Fortunately, I had done fairly well up to that point so that cushioned the blow a little. When multi-play video poker goes bad, it goes BAD! Aside from the distaste from getting my ass handed to me, Sunset Station is actually a pretty nice place to play. The drink service definitely could have been better though.

By far, the largest issue I had with Sunset Station happened at 6:15AM when I was awakened by a guy with gas-powered grass blower directly under my window. I dealt with it for a few minutes before going downstairs and absolutely exploding on this poor landscaper. I followed it up with a trip to the front desk where the clerk said that she couldnt really do anything about it. Really? The vendor YOU ARE PAYING is waking your guests at 6AM. I think you can have a little chat with them! Aside from the horrible wake up call, I enjoyed the stay at Sunset for the most part. The free upgrade was very nice and the room was great. The casino and hotel has just about anything you would expect from a Strip hotel except for the Strip. I wouldn't hesitate to stay there again for a night but anything longer than that would probably be a bit of a bore. If you need to stay in Henderson, you won't be disappointed but you certainly also aren't going to get the "Vegas Feel" like you would out on the Strip.

Room Pictures
Pool Pictures

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Monday, August 8, 2011

The week in Vegas News - August 8

Highlights of the top news stories of the week...

This week, Hooters Hotel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy under a pile of debt. The filing wasn't unexpected and in fact, surprising that it took this long. This place is the poster child for the bad investments that companies made in the glory days a few years back. The debt load is over $175 million but even in its best years, it wasn't making more than $10-12M a year profit. What competent lender would lend almost 20 years of profit to someone? The people behind these loans deserve to lose their shorts for violating the most basic rules of lending and common sense for that matter.

In a follow-up to last week's story about "disorder" on and around the pedestrian bridges, Clark County commisioners are to set up a panel to look at ways of curbing the proliferation of street performers and vendors that have sprung up on the Strip. While that's nice that they are discussing the problem, how about simply putting more cops and hotel security out there now? Seems pretty easy and can be done without some panel of bureaucrats taking months to do anything.

Caesars Entertainment, formerly Harrah's, has received the green light to start construction on "Project Linq." The $500 million project will create a shopping, dining and entertainment plaza between the Flamingo and O'Shea's. The highlight will be a 550 foot tall "Observation Wheel" with 28 cabins each holding 40 people. Also as part of the project, a desperately needed facelift to the facades of the Imperial Palace and O'Shea's. Kudos to Caesars for taking the plunge on the first major construction project in years on the Strip.

Lastly, there were a few interesting articles about Vegas weather and its water supply. Early in the week, the LV Sun ran a piece about the Southern Nevada Water Authority's never-ending quest for more water. This was ironically followed later in the week with a story about the near-record amount of run-off coming down the Colorado from the Rockies causing a 20 foot rise in Lake Mead from the record lows last year. Finally, while much of the nation has been baking under a massive heatwave, Las Vegas has actually been experiencing a "cool" summer.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Monte Carlo Review and Room Pictures

The first night of my recent trip was in a standard room at the Monte Carlo. I have stayed there a couple of times a few years ago and enjoyed it and have spent a decent amount of time there recently while staying at Aria and Bellagio. They have updated the room slightly since my last stay so it was time for a return trip to see how things have changed in the past year and or two.

I arrived on a Sunday around 2PM and the lobby was absolutely packed. It took well over a half hour to get checked in. There are individual lines for each desk clerk but with the amount of people waiting, the system quickly fell apart. They definitely need to improve their queue process when there are large crowds. After finally making it to the Front Desk, I was given a 2 queen bed room on the 14th floor overlooking the back of New York-New York. Not the most spectacular view but I have had worse in Vegas. The room is pretty standard with a desk, 2 chairs, a nightstand and an armiore/TV stand. The room itself is largely unchanged from my last stay in December 2009. The only real difference is the TV and armoire have been replaced with a flat-screen TV and smaller armoire and new linens are on the beds. The bathroom is also unchanged with a single sink and combo tub/shower. The fact that the room is virtually unchange really showed in the room I had. The chairs and desk were pretty beat up. The walls had many scuff marks on them including a huge one right between the 2 beds. The carpet is getting a little tired as was the hallway leading to the room. The bathroom is also unchanged with a single sink and a combo tub/shower. The biggest complaint, however, was the horrible TV service provided on those new flat-screens. Not only isn't it in HD, it was barely even watchable through all the fuzz. I know they don't want you in your room but not even being able to catch the local news is pretty weak. With all that said, the room wasn't really terrible - pretty much inline with most other older, mid-priced joints in town. I guess I have just been spoiled staying at all the newer places on the Strip!

As for the rest of the resort, they are billing themselves as "Affordable Luxury." I guess it sounded better than "Slightly above average!" There is a good collection of decent but not over-the-top expensive restaurants including longtime Vegas favorite, Andre's and The Pub microbrewery plus a large food court for quick eats. The pool area is a step above most but not quite top 5, sort of like a "mini" Mandalay Bay with a lazy river and wave pool but on a smaller scale. The casino is about what you would expect on the Strip with limits much more affordable than its neighbor, Aria. I did play a little machine play and did OK, milking the drink service which was definitely hit or miss depending on location.

All things considered, the stay at Monte Carlo was perfectly average for an average Strip hotel. The room, while a little disappointing to me, was on par with what I have gotten at similar places like Luxor, Flamingo and Bally's on recent stays. The older mid-range places are starting to show their age and the economy has caused them to defer maintenance longer than they normally would have in better times. Like I said, I have become a little spoiled lately staying at Cosmo, City Center and Bellagio so when I stay in an older room, I definitely notice it. None of the issues I had were deal-breakers but if the cut-backs on everyday maintenance continue for much longer, it's eventually going to take it's toll.

Room Pictures

Monte Carlo Room Picture

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Monday, August 1, 2011

The Week in Vegas News - August 1

On Monday, the LV Business Press reported on the topping-off of the Harmon Corner shopping complex next to Planet Hollywood. The 110,000 Sq.Ft, 3-story enclosed shopping center will be anchored by a Walgreens drug store and will have 16 other shops. Started in February, it is expected to be completed before Christmas. It's good to see construction continuing on the Strip and the place looks to actually have places regular people shop like Walgreens and a Panda Express fast food joint. It's in a good location as well, at the foot of the pedestrian bridge from Cosmopolitan and City Center. This one looks like it might have what it takes to avoid being another skeleton on the Strip.

Speaking of the Strip bridges, the county is FINALLY looking into ways to "curb the disorder" on and near them that has sprung up in recent months. The Strip has always been plagued by "porn slappers" handing out cards but lately it has exploded into people peddling bottled water and trinkets and others dressed as Disney characters hawking pictures to tourists. There also seems to be a lot more  questionable people loitering about, particularly at night.

It's about time the county and hopefully the casinos start to address this problem. If a guy in his 30s who grew up in New York feels a bit worried about his safety, how does a couple in their 60s from the Mid-West feel? In all my years of going to Las Vegas, I never questioned my safety but in the last few trips it has happened more than once on those bridges at night. There is often a casino at the end of the bridge so its incumbent on them to make sure they are safe. If my livelihood was affected by what happened out there, I would put extra security on even if for nothing but appearences. Show a little force and the problem will solve itself.

In the week's financial news, Las Vegas Sands (owners of the Venetian and Palazzo) absolutely crushed it with revenues up 48% over last year, almost entirely on growth outside of Las Vegas and the US. Meanwhile, Boyd Gaming (The Coasts, Orleans, Sam's Town and 3 downtown casinos) who is heavily dependent on Las Vegas, had essentially flat revenues with the LV Locals segment down slightly over last year.

Lastly, a couple of "only in Vegas" stories... Ever wondered what it takes to do the laundry at the MGM Grand each day? Not many places have to wash the sheets and towels of 6,000 rooms! The scale of things in Vegas and the MGM in particular is simply incredible.

The LVRJ also ran an interesting piece on how everyone is using creative marketing to keep business alive during the Great Recession and Las Vegas' 32 Nudie Bars are no exception. Free drinks, buffets and half price lap dances are all the rage these days to get people through the door. Good stuff!

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