I had to head back to Vegas for my friend’s wedding in mid-September 2021. It was going to be held at the Taco Bell Cantina across from Aria, the bride-to-be told me. Coincidentally, a couple of massive music festivals (Life is Beautiful and iHeartRadio) were also scheduled for the same September weekend, so cash rates were sky high. But whatever the cost, I wasn’t going to miss her special day in that most unusual of venues!
With my Vegas comps long gone dry from lack of play during the pandemic, I’d initially made a booking with points back in the spring (when I’d gotten the save-the-date notice) at a noncasino IHG property way off Strip for two nights (mostly as a backup). I was, of course, mocked by Travel Fanboy for this potential award stay. Admittedly, it wasn’t very Vegasy.
Chastened, I’d switched over by mid-summer to Excalibur and Caesars, for a night apiece, when cash rates were temporarily down. Finally, about a month out, I found a solid American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts deal for the new Conrad Las Vegas at Resorts World. So I booked that for the Thursday night I was going to be in town and dumped the “Dirty Castle.” When TFB found out about my double-switch, he asked me to write up a review—my first one for him in a good long while.
I gotta admit, my expectations for the new Conrad were pretty high after I’d gone to the Resorts World soft opening in late June 2021, which I’d spoken to TFB about on his podcast. Booking it through FHR was just icing—or so I thought at the time.
The Amex FHR deal
The Amex FHR deal for Conrad Las Vegas was particularly good because I’d get not only the usual FHR perks (e.g., a $100-minimum experience credit and guaranteed 4 pm checkout), but also a $200 statement credit for the hotel booking—which was part of the package (or “coupon book”) of new Platnimum card benefits from Amex in July 2021.
There are other ways for visitors without Hilton status to get FHR-like perks. But FHR was the way to go for me, especially given the new $200 statement credit:
- I paid $335.35 for my stay. I was charged $270.98 up front, and when I checked out, I was charged another $64.37 for the resort fee, taxes, and restaurant tips charged to my room.
- I got $351.72 in credits. Besides the $200 statement credit for the room booking, I received $151.72 (out of the maximum of $191) in food and beverage credit (the $125 experience credit plus the $66 breakfast credit).
- The net was $16.37 in my favor. Even though I’d left some $40 in F&B credit on the table, Amex and Hilton ended up paying me $16.37 to sleep over. (Yes, yes, points & miles nerds, that doesn’t exactly account for the $550 annual fee I’d paid for my Amex Plat, but set that aside if you can; anyways, I’ve already made up for the hefty fee, which will jump up to $695 in year 2, in many other ways.)
See below for the sheet that reception desk staff politely handed me at 12:30 am, after I’d arrived by Uber. It gives you the breakdown of what Conrad Las Vegas was offering for an FHR booking as of mid-September 2021. Notably, the Awana Spa at Resorts World opened around the same time, so it’s possible the F&B credit will be changed to a (less desirable for me) spa credit eventually.
Generally speaking, Vegas is usually the best FHR value for many Amex Platinum cardholders, at least in a U.S. context, because FHR bookings in other cities are typically very pricey (think north of $400 per night).
The Conrad room
I was originally booked in a Conrad Premium King Room. As part of the FHR deal, I was “upgraded” to the same room with a Strip view (specifically, room No. 25236). Here’s my admittedly stunning view facing south in the morning.
This standard room also featured some superb views of the multiple Resorts World pools, which I didn’t end up experiencing because I didn’t make the time.
The bed was on the firmer side—not unlike the beds of the integrated resorts I’d stayed in across Macau, Singapore, and Manila. I prefer this quality in a bed, so I slept pretty well (the plush pillows were a bonus). The rest of the furniture in the bedroom was nothing special. The red chairs were particularly generic, even by non-Vegas-room standards (they reminded me of the ones I’d occupied in stuffy libraries during college). Neutrals dominated the carpeting, curtains, and much of the walls, though some patterns were incorporated to break up the monotony. I take it that in Vegas, neutrals (and earth tones) are supposed to signify understated, refined, perhaps mature luxury. But upon closer examination, the materials looked or felt too cheap for the design choices to sufficiently match—or maybe mask—the quality level. In the plus column, there were plenty of electrical outlets (AC and USB) near the bed—which is a must these days.
I liked that a fridge was available to store my own sodas and other drinks (another plus). As usual in Las Vegas, I didn’t take anything from the attached minibar, though in retrospect, I probably should have, given how much F&B credit I’d left unspent.
The nondescript abstract expressionist wall art (above the bed and next to the de facto giant flat screen TV) was just okay. I didn’t really care for either painting—they didn’t provoke in me a strong feeling, either good or bad.
I liked the design of the bathroom somewhat better than that of the bedroom. To me, it was more aesthetically pleasing, though nothing really stood out except for the mirror lighting. (The Stevens Group might want to incorporate that mirror lighting into the next room remodel of The D.)
Unfortunately, there was no tub. But that’s the trend in Las Vegas these days, even for higher-end properties like Bellagio.
Also, there were no tiny individual bottles of shampoo, conditioner, or body wash to use or take home. Instead, wall dispensers—which never ever seem luxurious, even if they’re filled with fancy product like Byredo’s Mojave Ghost—were affixed along the wall of the large shower. The shower pressure was low to mediocre. I’m guessing the dispensers and pressure setting were environmentally friendly (or simply cost-saving) measures.
The bathrobe and complimentary slippers (something many Vegas resorts have done away with) were comfortable. But this was not a room I wanted to spend a lot of time in—even with a 4 pm checkout time—so those amenities (not pictured) didn’t count for much.
Resorts World’s food and drink
There’s only one option for breakfast at Conrad Las Vegas under the FHR deal: The Kitchen. The steak and eggs served there were better than average, but not as well prepared as a similar meal I’d had at Primrose as part of a previous FHR stay at NoMad in June 2021.
For lunch, my pal E. from Jersey (who was also in town for the Taco Bell wedding) and I had some Malaysian rice noodles from Googgle Man’s Char Kuey Teow—one of the “food stalls” of Famous Foods Street Eats within Resorts World. This dish was very delicious and reasonably priced for Vegas. Moreover, it did remind me of some meals I’d had while traveling in Southeast Asia. But let’s be clear: while the food is prepared hawker-style, Famous Foods’ layout is more akin to a U.S.-style food court than an authentic hawker center (which tends to be open air).
The true standout of the Resorts World F&B experience was Starlight on 66. I spent an hour and change up there just soaking in the atmosphere. I didn’t even mind the rowdy rich kids running up their bills. I liked it more than Skyfall Lounge at Delano or SkyBar at Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas. It’s on par with the NoMad Bar at Park MGM. And it’s just shy of the tier encompassing the Ritz-Carlton Bar & Lounge at Galaxy Macau and the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo (probably the most magical bar I, along with ScarJo and Bill Murray, have ever spent time in). Yes, Starlight on 66 is a true gem, and you don’t even have to be a hotel guest to enjoy it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Resorts World has done away with traditional room service in favor of GrubHub delivery from its on-site restaurants. I didn’t use the service because I didn’t want to potentially mess up my credits on the FHR deal. Someone else can
be the guinea pig shed light on how that mix between Grubhub and Amex FHR works or doesn’t.
My initial impressions of Resorts World (which I’d shared with Adam on his podcast) were solely based on the soft opening festivities of June 24, 2021. My views on Resorts World—the first new megaresort on the Vegas Strip in 11 years and the ultimate successor to Stardust—were mostly favorable. It reminded me of some of the integrated resorts in Macau that I’d enjoyed, such as Galaxy Macau and City of Dreams (discordant design-wise, but not without a design through-line, and generally fun, with pockets of real luxury). I liked the Resorts World in Las Vegas better than the literally underground one in Sentosa, Singapore, or the one on a former military camp near the airport in Manila. But on my first visit to the Vegas property, I hadn’t slept over.
Now that I’ve stayed at its Conrad and experienced it under more typical conditions, I know Resorts World will not be a top choice for future Vegas visits, even on an FHR deal. It doesn’t seem like leveling up to Crockfords will matter all that much. Actually, leveling down to the less aspirational, but more Vegasy, Hilton (whose rooms I happen to find downright ugly) might be the best way to go to derive the most value.
While I appreciate all the Famous Foods dining options, part of me wonders how long it’ll take before Genting substitutes in a Shake Shack or a Popeye’s to broaden Resorts World’s appeal to the U.S. mass market. The evolution of the restaurant lineup, as well as other parts of the integrated resort, may depend on if they can start flying in vaccinated high rollers from Asia, once the U.S. border restrictions are relaxed in November 2021. As one well-known Vegas podcaster often says, time will tell.
With almost 1,500 rooms, the Conrad Las Vegas at Resorts World is the biggest Conrad in the world. When you scale up a luxury brand (or at least one positioned that way by the parent company)—that is, when you go Vegas with it—you risk hurting it. At a high-capacity hotel like this Conrad, you’ll likely lose the little things in terms of service, and even style, that the brand becomes associated with. For instance, from my stay, I didn’t receive either a rubber duckie or a teddy bear that Conrads worldwide have become known for (the picture below features the ones I got from Conrad Macao). I think they’re breaking—or at least putting the brakes on—the Conrad brand with this Vegas outpost.
The overall feeling I got from my second visit to Resorts World Las Vegas is that Genting and Hilton ran out of steam, conviction, and money—barely crossing the finish line with a couple of remarkable common spaces, but lackluster room product (across all three Hilton brands, if you buy the early consensus). If I’d paid the full cash rate for my Conrad stay, I’d have been sorely disappointed. But maybe my expectations were way out of whack. This may have happened in no small part because Wynn had actually sued Genting for design copycatting.
If you approach the Resorts World complex as a solid mid-tier or upper-mid-tier play (say, as the North Strip equivalent of the Mandalay Bay complex), then you’ll likely feel just fine staying there—with or without an FHR deal. Or if you think of it more as a solid corporate type hotel with a casino (like the MtM guys more or less do), then it may even surpass your expectations. Given its proximity to the Las Vegas Convention Center (soon just a
Tesla Vegas Loop ride away), Resorts World could be ideal for many business travelers, especially those who are also Hilton loyalists. But I think Vegas vacationers seeking a luxury experience at a good value can do much better. (So much of this, of course, depends on semantics and personal standards for luxury.) I’ll definitely go back for Starlight on 66—and maybe the “secret” speakeasy I missed on both my visits. But if I can help it, in spite of the lingering mystique surrounding the founder’s first name, I’ll be sleeping elsewhere in Vegas.
And oh, in case you’re wondering what happened at my friend’s Taco Bell wedding, I can’t really say. That’s not my story to tell. That one stays in Vegas. Well, sorta.