Sunday, Feb. 26, 2006 | 8:22 a.m.
There is a pecking order among Las Vegas Strip resorts. My rankings follow, based on the overall experience I think the properties provide for guests and visitors - not on how profitable they are or how much they cost.
Ultra high-end: Wynn Las Vegas and Bellagio. Wynn Las Vegas gets the slight edge, with its on-site golf club, more intimate public and private spaces and superior architecture.
Bellagio has "O," dazzling fountains and the best poker room, by far, in the world. These are clearly the best two properties in Las Vegas, and the gap between these properties and all others is wide.
High-end convention hotels: Mandalay Bay and Venetian. Mandalay Bay gets the nod. Its "TheHotel at Mandalay" tower and Four Seasons are fantastic hotel products, and the property has a relaxed South Seas theme that's not nearly as heavy handed as the imitative style of the Venetian.
High end: Mirage, Caesars Palace and MGM Grand. While the Grand may have superior high-roller suites (the Mansion), shows and restaurants, its sheer size works against it.
The first modern megaresort, the Mirage remains an awesome resort, the kind of place where a guest can take a deep breath and relax amid beautiful surroundings and excellent service.
Caesars Palace has a lot of great attributes, including strong headliners, a new hotel tower, the fantastic Forum Shops and a central casino with a classic Vegas vibe. But the Caesars site has had so many expansions and so much remodeling that its crazy-quilt property layout is not guest-friendly.
Upper midmarket: Treasure Island, Paris, Monte Carlo, Luxor, New York-New York, Aladdin. Treasure Island's remodeling, except for its ugly marquee, is a big success. Paris has a couple of nice restaurants and a good location, but, like the Aladdin, it was built on the cheap, and it shows. Monte Carlo is the generic nice resort; nothing that stands out to make it incredibly great or awful.
Luxor has the city's most iconic (borrowed) architecture and a connection through Mandalay Place to Mandalay Bay, but its design has some downside, particularly for hotel guests staying in the pyramid. And the two towers north of the pyramid are boring glass boxes.
New York-New York's architecture has always been a little corny, but the hotel's amenities are pretty cool. Aladdin has a great location and an underrated mall, but some serious design problems persist.
Midmarket: Harrah's, Bally's, Barbary Coast, Excalibur, Flamingo, Stardust, Riviera, Tropicana. This category is really beginning to show its age. All but Harrah's, Excalibur and the Barbary Coast were once among the top properties on the Strip.
The Stardust is already slated for implosion next year, and it wouldn't surprise me if every one of these properties except the Excalibur is history within 10 years. Standouts in this category include the Tropicana's pool, Barbary Coast's restaurants and the Riviera's funky conventions.
Economy: Sahara, Circus Circus, Imperial Palace and New Frontier. The market's entry-level properties (along with downtown and the Stratosphere).
Circus Circus will probably outlast the others, and it has a superior steakhouse dating to its days as a corporate flagship. But Circus Circus and the Imperial Palace are the cheesiest properties on the Strip. The Sahara is old-school with a little NASCAR schmaltz and the New Frontier is an implosion waiting to happen.
Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Las Vegas Sun and executive editor of its sister publication, In Business Las Vegas. He can be reached at 259-4083 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.