Not only do the suits at MGM Mirage know not to mess with a good thing, they also know how to make it better. There's no finer example of this skill than the South Seas island-themed Mandalay Bay, one of the Strip's most luxurious resorts. At its heart has always been an 11-acre water park with a sandy beach, a wave pool, a lazy river, two additional pools and a jogging track set in lush green foliage, plus the Moorea Beach Club, a limited-access South Beach-esque retreat that transforms into a sultry hotspot on warm-weather weekend nights. But a recent $30-million expansion added a three-storey, climate-controlled, glass-fronted casino on the sand, where guests can enjoy beachside gambling, casual dining or sun-worshipping. Book one of the decked-out Villas Soleil, where you and 15 pals can take advantage of your own wet bar, MP3 player, flat-screen TV and private third-level pool.
The interior is just as impressive. An understated oasis of water features, lush foliage, huge aquariums and island architecture, it encompasses a sensuous spa, a classy collection of restaurants, a pair of wedding chapels, several theatres and the kid-friendly Shark Reef aquarium. Mandalay Place, a nice sky-bridge mall that connects the hotel with the Luxor, contains a number of upscale boutiques and restaurants, a chic barber and even Forty Deuce, a 'back-alley striptease lounge'. The convention facilities are among the city's best.
If all this doesn't work for you, there are two other hotels accessible from Mandalay Bay. A corridor off the lobby leads to the Four Seasons, which has its rooms on floors 35 to 39 but is run as a separate operation. Meanwhile, Thehotel at Mandalay Bay is an all-suites, casino-free tower that eschews the island theme entirely.
All the 2,791 guestrooms and suites at Mandalay Bay were remodelled in 2007 with a contemporary look and additional amenities: lofty pillow-top beds with triple sheeting, 42-in plasma-screen TVs, iPod docks and high-speed net access. Bathrooms come with 15-in LCD TVs and giant tubs. Larger suites command excellent views of the Strip or the surrounding mountains and come with wet bars.
Eating & drinking
Mandalay Bay is unusual among the major resorts on the Strip in that it locates many of its eateries in a 'restaurant row' away from the casino, so you can dine without seeing - or, just as crucially, hearing - so much as a single slot machine. The new boîte on the block is Michael Mina's Strip Steak, the first steakhouse by a chef previously known for his seafood. Other noteworthy spots include Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys; Charlie Palmer's Aureole; Wolfgang Puck's Trattoria del Lupo; and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's nouveau Mexican Border Grill. China Grill and Shanghai Lily serve Asian fare; Rumjungle is a Brazilian rodizio and rum bar/nightclub; and Red, White & Blue is a decent but too-pricey café.
You'll have to venture into the casino to sample the Cajun cooking at House of Blues, upstairs from the music venue. Try Sunday's soul-stirring Gospel Brunch or, if you can, the super-exclusive Foundation Room, which serves dinner to members and VIPs amid deluxe furnishings on the top floor. Ringing the casino are the nice 24-hour Raffles Café, the Noodle Shop and J-Pop, where music and sushi are the order of the evening. Over at Mandalay Place, carnivores can have theirs with lettuce and tomato at the Burger Bar; also here are RM Seafood (with two dining rooms, R-Bar-Café and the more intimate restaurant RM) and Chocolate Swan.
The 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center has a schedule of boxing events and concerts, but a better choice is the rather more acoustically reliable House of Blues, which features a concert roster rivalled only by the Pearl at the Palms. When the weather's warm, the hotel produces the Bay Rock Concert series on the beach. The hotel's resident show, imported from London but tweaked for Vegas, is featherweight Abba-fest Mix!, which will end its five-year run in summer 2008.
Leaving aside Forty Deuce at Thehotel at Mandalay Bay, Hollywood import Rumjungle, over in Mandalay Place, is the hottest nightclub, though Red Square draws a young, pretty crowd with pounding Latin beats, and the vodka selections at remain impressive. There's piano music in the casino's Orchid Lounge and, on weekends (6-8pm), at Charlie Palmer Steak inside the Four Seasons.
The 135,000sq ft (12,500sq m) casino is airier than many, with 2,400 machines (including nickel video slots that take up to 45 or 90 coins), but you have to hunt for good video poker machines. Table games, 122 of them, include blackjack, roulette, craps, Let it Ride, Caribbean stud, pai gow poker and mini baccarat. You'll also find a poker room where you can get your fix of seven-card stud and Texas or Omaha hold 'em. The race and sports book has 17 large screens, enough seating for some 300 sports fans, a bar and a good deli.