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A love letter to The Mirage, the hotel that changed the world — and my life

Dec. 25, 2021
7 min read
large gold and white building with rocky waterfall, palm trees and glass dome
A love letter to The Mirage, the hotel that changed the world — and my life
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I didn’t know it the first time I stepped foot (or rolled, really) into The Mirage, but the stroller I was sitting in was entering hallowed ground in the hotel world. I was four years old, it was 1996, and my parents had just driven myself, my brother and my grandma, (Magaw, as we called her), from the Texas panhandle to the Las Vegas Strip to celebrate Christmas in style.

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We weren’t staying at The Mirage.

In fact, we were on the far end of the Strip at the MGM Grand, but I can still remember, if just for a fleeting second, how magical it felt to enter that larger-than-life space. Above me, the glass atrium felt like a spaceship, people from all walks of life floated by in every direction, slot machines were dinging and rattling, coins were jingling in large plastic buckets and, as far as the pictures show — I was enthralled.

But the thing I remember the most were the fish, a giant wall of them, full of more shapes, colors and designs than any little boy from rural, cotton-growing, “Friday Night Lights” West Texas had ever seen. That was the moment when I fell in love with The Mirage — and hotels as a whole.

Me and my older brother celebrating Christmas at The Mirage in 1996. (Photo courtesy of Tanner Saunders/The Points Guy)

Now, flash forward a quarter of a century, and my love for The Mirage hasn’t changed. Though I may have ditched my stroller and OshKosh B'gosh overalls, every time I visit Las Vegas it’s essential for me to walk under that big glass dome and say hi to those fish, though now it’s usually while I’m in line to check in to the hotel instead of gawking from a distance.

Related: Yes, Las Vegas can be done on a tight budget — here’s how

When The Mirage opened its doors for the first time back in 1989, three years before I came into existence, it changed the world — at least the hotel world.

Set on 77 acres, Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn set out to build a megaresort. And he did. At the time, it was the largest hotel on the planet, and it redefined what a resort could with its sprawling size, seemingly endless dining options, toned down but visible theme (technically Polynesian, in case you were wondering) and overall sense of luxury.

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It also opened up Las Vegas as a family-friendly destination thanks to its over-the-top erupting volcano, Siegfried & Roy’s magic show featuring white tigers and the chance to temporarily escape the mundaneness of everyday life to feel like you and your family entered a tropical paradise hidden in the middle of the Nevada desert. A mirage, if you will.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Since that first trip to Las Vegas, back when my wallet (also OshKosh) only held a library card, I’ve returned countless times. And, in a way, over the years, it feels like I’ve grown up with The Mirage, which became an MGM property in 2000 and was just acquired by Hard Rock International.

On those earlier trips (mostly work trips my parents let me tag along on), we’d slip into The Mirage for a buffet free-for-all or step out on the Strip to watch the volcano. My parents would usually let me pick out a slot machine that “felt right” and one would play $5 while the other stood back with me on the kid-designated carpet.

The summer before my senior year of high school, my relationship with The Mirage ascended to a whole new level. My mom booked a massive suite to stay in for a work trip and let me invite a friend. Over the course of a long weekend, we lounged in the dry summer heat by the pool, drank Dr Pepper from champagne glasses, saw "The Beatles LOVE" by Cirque du Soleil and generally acted like we owned the place. It was a great story to tell our friends back in the sleepy town of Levelland, Texas.

Me and my friend Rebecca in our Mirage suite before heading to see The Beatles Love. (Photo courtesy of Tanner Saunders/The Points Guy)

Before I knew it, I was 21, and my wallet — now Coach, maybe American Eagle — had my driver’s license, my college ID and an MGM player’s card. Then, I was drinking Champagne from a champagne glass and feeling too scared to sit down at a blackjack table. I’d spend hours playing penny slots with my dad, my mom anchored down at a craps table.

It was at The Mirage the first time I won big — $800 on an Ellen-themed slot machine. And it was Howie Mandle’s voice at the Deal or No Deal machine, tucked away between the bathroom and the ticket office, that frequently convinced me to say “no deal,” sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

Christmas at The Mirage in 2019. (Photos courtesy of Tanner Saunders/The Points Guy)

For Christmas of 2019, my family shared a suite at The Mirage, the last time we’d see each other for more than 15 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the silly memories of 2 a.m. steak and eggs, me still trying to learn to play craps from my mom and everyone recounting their antics the next morning that held me through that long separation.

And then, just this month, we evolved again. Celebrating my best friend’s 30th birthday, 15 friends gathered, yet again, in a two-bedroom suite on top of The Mirage. This time I saw my favorite casino through the blurry lens of old college friends celebrating the privilege of getting older.

Three of my closest friends decorating our suite for a 30th birthday party at The Mirage. (Photo by Tanner Saunders/The Points Guy)

We danced with cowboys in the sportsbook to a live country band; we scouted out the machines that “felt right,” just like my parents taught me; and we had a moment when we looked around and realized how weird it was that we’d all "grown up."

Mostly, we talked about how annoying it was that I knew every nook and cranny across the resort's 77 acres.

Soon, we’ll say goodbye to The Mirage and hello to the Hard Rock Las Vegas. The volcano will have one more triumphant explosion and then be paved over to build a larger-than-life building in the shape of a guitar.

After that, who knows what next? I don’t even know what’s next for me. We’ve aged and we’ve changed — and we’ll change again. But what won’t change, and I’m certain of it, are the memories I made over the years in the hotel that will always feel like my hotel.

Featured image by GC Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023