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MANDALAY BAY

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South Strip

3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Las Vegas, NV 89119

877-632-7000

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3,309 Rooms

$99 and up double

$150-$200 per night

$39.68 per night including tax

$10 per day self; $18 per day valet

88

AT A GLANCE

Highs

Beautiful hotel, tons of entertainment, great rooms.

Lows

Can be very expensive.

Location: 9

Near the heart of the South Strip action.

Price: 6

Not the most expensive in town, but still pricey.

Value: 9

You get tons of value for those high room rates.

Rooms: 10

Beautiful, luxurious, terrific views from the higher floors.

Casino: 8

Large, tastefully decorated, and always lively.

Amenities: 10

Rooms have everything you need.

Facilities: 10

Restaurants, clubs, showroom, casino, pools, and more.

Service: 9

Very good.

Fun: 8

This is a great place to go party the night away.

Bonus: 9

An excellent hotel.

Total: 88

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FULL REVIEW

Named after an obscure reference in a Rudyard Kipling novel, Mandalay Bay has what has been described as an 1800's Burma theme. If you know what that means you're more educated than I am. The easiest way to describe it would be a subtle South Seas look with lots of heavy stonework, lush foliage, and myriad tropical touches.

When it opened in 1999 it was billed as a hip, happening, luxury hotel aimed at a younger demographic looking for an upscale place to party and play. Over the years, as newer more decidedly youth-targeted hotels came on the scene, Mandalay Bay grew up, losing the whatever whimsy may have existed in the Burmese jungle and becoming a more grown up hotel.

Now the pendulum is swinging back the other way as the hotel have gotten a makeover. The casino is lighter and brighter than it used to be; the Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson show is drawing hordes of prime demographic audiences; and the Cirque du Soleil nightclub Light has block-long lines to get in. New restaurants, lounge spaces, and a poolside day club have also been added. The result of all these changes is a new, more youthful vibe and a definite increase in energy, both good and bad. Good in that it's a more exciting place to hang out and bad in that all of that excitement can get annoying after awhile.

In a welcome change of pace, you don't need to go through the casino area to get to the elevators or from the elevators to the pool area. The bad news is that check-in lines can be long at peak times and the elevator lobby, which sits at the intersection of several different paths, can be a navigation nightmare especially when loaded down with luggage. If you're driving in and choose to self-park, you do have quite a hike from the parking garage to the front desk through the casino but it's not as bad as it is in some other hotels (I'm looking at you Caesars Palace).

New rooms are on the way as well. King rooms are done in white and "cobalt" while Queen rooms will be in red and brown or purple and brown, each with a big mural over the bed, a minibar, a Keurig coffee machine, a flat screen TV, and lots of convenient power outlets. The first of the rooms will come online in July with the rest getting done by spring of 2016.

The existing standard rooms are comfortable, with each one covering about 550 square feet. This makes them fairly typical in terms of size with the exception of the bathrooms that are generously proportioned. Each has a dual vanity, deep tub, glass-enclosed shower, and a private water closet (room with a toilet). The plantation shutter type doors can be a pain to get open and closed but put your shoulder into it and you'll be fine.

Nice touches include the floor-to-ceiling windows that offer panoramic vistas, iron and ironing board, hair dryers, multiple phones (desk, bedside, bathroom), high speed Internet (included in the resort fee), iPod docking bedside clock radios, mini-bars, safes, and dual lighted closets. The decor has been updated to that sort of retro-sleek look that is all the rage these days - think oversized padded headboards, crisp white linens, low slung couches, and other mid-century modern touches. The overall effect is comfortable, casual, and inviting.

There are a variety of other rooms available from small junior suites to massive two-story affairs that wrap around the entire end of the wings offering 180-degree views of Las Vegas. Amenities and prices go up accordingly.

And if these rooms don't satisfy there are actually two other hotels that are part of the same property - Delano, an upscale boutique property operating in a separate tower and The Four Seasons, which runs several floors of the main tower.

As mentioned, the casino area has gotten some love with a more vibrant color scheme and improved lighting blasting away most of the sedate earth tones and dimly lit corners that used to dominate. It has high ceilings, good spacing between the slots and table games, and a pleasing lack of flashing commotion but the crowd, especially at the craps and blackjack tables, has gotten younger and more boisterous. Go on a weekend night when spillover from the nightclub is at its peak and the combination of noise from the patrons and music blasting from several open lounges is almost deafening.

In the center is a large lounge/nightclub and there are several bars and additional lounges scattered around the premises. Of them, the Mizuya Lounge is one of the best places for people who aren't 22 anymore but still want to go out for a drink and some dancing. They have some of the best live entertainment around and the energy is usually great, the drinks are cheaper, and you don't have to fight for floor space with the Paris Hilton clones that invade most nightclubs. Having said that, it is right by the lines for the main nightclub so again here you get some spillover on weekend nights.

That club, Light, is a fantastic collaboration with Cirque du Soleil. That's where you'll also find the amazing and original For the Record: Baz, a show that mashes up the plots and music from Baz Luhrmann films like Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge.

There are several restaurants including the amazing Citizens Kitchen and Fleur, a decent buffet, and a showroom that is home to the incredible Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson ONE show. There's also an arena for big concerts and sporting events, lots of shops, an animal exhibit Shark Reef aquarium, a large health club and spa, and convention and meeting space. Check out a few favorites under related reviews below.

Of special note is Mandalay Beach, the resort's beautiful pool area. Open only to guests of the three hotels on site, this gigantic playground offers three pools, several whirlpools, a lazy river ride, and a full sand beach fronting a huge wave pool capable of generating seven-foot swells. You can rent cabanas, surf and boogie boards, and inner tubes and get beverage and food service from the beach bar or even gamble in the small poolside casino. They have included a stage overlooking the beach and wave pool for concerts. I have to say it is one of the most appealing pool areas in town although if you're not a fan of the kids you may want to go elsewhere since this pool area draws a lot of them.

I ran into only one issue with service and that was with a particularly surly front desk agent who didn't have even a hint of remorse about me being forced to stand in a long line after the express check out incorrectly calculated my bill. Too bad because everyone else from dealers to housekeeping to the valet parking staff was great.

As with most Las Vegas hotels, rates have gotten more affordable since the recession began in 2008. What would once cost you easily $200 on the weekdays you can get for as low as half that, although around $150 is a more common average. Weekends are as low as $120 but $200 is probably closer to the norm. That's not cheap but it's a lot cheaper than it used to be. There is a $39.68 (including tax) resort fee that covers Internet, gym access, and a bunch of other stuff.

And don't forget about the fees for parking that were instituted in 2016. It costs $10 per day for self parking and $18 per day for valet for hotel guests and non-guests alike. The only way to get out of it is if you have a players' club card at the Pearl or above level, which gets you free self-parking and the Gold or above level, which gets you free valet.

One other minor complaint that won't apply to most people is the new layout of the parking garage, which creates epic traffic jams when people are trying to get out at peak times.

Although the new youthful vibe is not exactly my cup of tea, my overall impression of the new Mandalay Bay is generally a positive one. The Burmese jungle is back, baby!

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