Hardly fit for a knight: Review of Excalibur Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
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Stepping into the sprawling Excalibur Hotel and Casino is supposed to be a trip back in time.
But instead of being transported to the land of King Arthur, Guinevere and Merlin, I felt like I had arrived in a stained, scuffed and heavily trafficked version of Las Vegas in the 1990s.
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Excalibur was built in a time before “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” when the city was trying to brand itself as a family-friendly destination. I actually remember visiting it as a kid in the early 90s.
Today, the theme has been partially removed, rooms have been touched up but not truly modernized and the whole complex feels lost in time and worse for wear.
If you can look past all of that — and there is a lot to look past — it’s a clean hotel right on the Strip. And the price is always right. And that’s why I really checked into Excalibur.
TPG sent a team of reporters to Vegas. As part of the trip, I focused on experiencing Las Vegas on a budget. At the same time, senior writer Zach Griff was checking into a 1,050-square-foot penthouse at the Aria Sky Suites that cost $600. (Clearly, I lost out on the fancy assignment but would argue that I got to have more fun. Maybe.)
During my 19 trips to Las Vegas, I have stayed in just about every type of hotel. There was a cheap trip at the Circus Circus Manor House (it’s next to the hotel’s RV park) and an upscale stay at Encore. I’ve been at the new Resorts World, the Mirage, Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay and the Luxor.
I knew the Excalibur would be far from luxurious, but could I recommend it for travelers in town on a tight budget?
For this trip, rates in Vegas were really cheap. My gold membership in the M life Rewards casino loyalty program – matched from my World of Hyatt status – afforded me some pretty incredible rates. For my Monday night stay, I could have booked the MGM Grand for $38 a night (plus the $39 resort fee and tax). Rooms at the NoMad Las Vegas started at $68, plus a resort fee and tax.
And then there was the Excalibur.
Through M life, I could get a room for just $22 – well, plus the $35 nightly resort fee and tax on both the room rate and the resort fee. That’s pretty much one of the best offers you can get for a room right on the Strip.
But for this story, I wanted to go even cheaper. This is TPG, after all, and we do everything possible to maximize loyalty programs and other discounts.
And this is where my extreme-couponing mindset for travel really paid off.
For years, I’ve been playing a free online game called myVEGAS Slots. It’s run by a company called Playstudios, which partners with several travel and entertainment companies for rewards, including MGM Resorts. In the past, I have redeemed credits from the game for free nights at Las Vegas hotels, earned free slot machine credits, free meals, show tickets and match plays for table games.
So, of course, I went ahead and redeemed credits for a free night at Excalibur. (I should note there were also plenty of other, much nicer, Strip hotels available but for the sake of this story, I went with the most inexpensive option.)
Granted, nothing in life is truly free.
The worst part about Las Vegas hotels is the resort fees. As we saw above, the fee can often be more than the room rate itself. In this case, the $35 resort fee totaled $39.68 after taxes. All in, that is probably as cheap as you’re going to get to stay on the Strip. The hotel also tried to upsell me for a guaranteed early check-in (an extra $20) or guaranteed late checkout ($30 more) and a dog-friendly fee of $50. I declined them all.
Finally, World of Hyatt members can get points and elite night stays for MGM casinos in Las Vegas. But it all depends on how you book.
In the past, I have received both for my free nights via Playstudios.
So, I was curious how this stay would credit.
Interestingly enough, I didn’t receive an elite night credit for this trip but did get points — and my 30% Globalist bonus — on the $35 resort fee.
Arrival and check-in
I’d like to say I was welcomed to the castle by scores of trumpeters. But there was no royal fanfare here. Instead, I pulled into the self-parking lot, popped my trunk and wheeled my suitcase into the casino.
My M life gold status did mean I avoided the $15 daily parking fee.
I walked through the casino and made the trek to the front desk. I could have used the hotel’s app to check in but wanted to ensure that my World of Hyatt number was in the reservation.
There was a long line at the front desk. Again, I was happy to have M life status; it meant I could use the priority check-in line. Too bad it wasn’t moving much faster than the normal line.
Once I got to the desk, I was quickly handed my key and told my World of Hyatt number was already linked, meaning I wasted 15 minutes of my life.
With my keys, I walked through the casino to the Resort Tower elevators.
And here is where I encountered my first disappointment.
I had been upgraded to a Strip-view room on the 26th floor. But when I got into the elevator my key didn’t work on the scanner to get to my floor. Neither did anyone else’s. In fact, during my whole 18-plus hours at the resort, that one elevator key reader never seemed to work, meaning all the guests needed to wait for one of the other four high-floor elevators.
Excalibur king room
Let’s just start out by acknowledging that no royalty would ever stay in this king room. Again, it cost less than $40.
But from the moment I stepped off the elevator, I was hit with a smell I couldn’t quite identify: a mix of leftover 1990s cigarettes (it was a nonsmoking floor) mixed with must.
There were housekeeping carts blocking the hallway and dragon silhouettes on the carpeting. It was almost like the hotel was urging me to turn around and get back into my car.
Here is where I will pause and say that the room was clean, the locks worked and I felt safe. The water pressure was good and the air conditioning was strong.
So, if that is all you are looking for, it was a $40 well spent. But for just a few dollars more, you can get a room at the much nicer MGM Grand, Park MGM or New York, New York.
Related: Advice for staying safe in Las Vegas
That’s about the end of my niceties. Let’s enter the room.
The photo above speaks volumes: Everything in the room was chipped, dented, dated and basic.
There are so many words to describe the furniture. Nothing quite matched. It was all in bad shape but usable. The television was ridiculously small but was, at least, a flat-screen model.
It felt as if someone had simply rummaged through other hotel bankruptcies to pick up a bunch of cheap furniture. There wasn’t even any theming here: I might have preferred a medieval-inspired bed and a set of thrones in the sitting area.
But no, the Excalibur’s theme pretty much ended in the hallway. This was just a hodgepodge of random hotel furniture. Power outlets were scarce and nowhere near the nightstands.
Like I said, thankfully, the air conditioning was strong.
Then there was the bathroom.
It had a toilet that flushed, a sink that worked and a shower with decent pressure. (I’m really trying to be nice here but that’s about all I can say.)
Nothing about the shower was inviting, except perhaps the thought you might wash off some of the hotel’s grime by stepping (quickly) into it.
If I had packed shower shoes or flip-flops, I probably would have worn them.
There were both bulk shampoo and soap dispensers in the shower and individual bottles on the counter.
Finally, there was my view.
This was probably the best part of the room. Too bad the windows were so dirty that I couldn’t always enjoy it. I could see most of the Strip from here, and the view looked right over the New York, New York roller coaster.
A few hours later, I regretted that proximity. The window lacked any real soundproofing and, as I was trying to sleep, I kept hearing people scream as they went off the first drop.
The hallway door and connecting room door weren’t thick either and I heard plenty of noise through both. (Pro tip: Always travel with spare earplugs and download a white noise app to your phone.)
Since I was paying the $35 (plus tax) resort fee, I decided to spend a little time exploring all I was offered.
The first stop was the pool complex.
There are three nearly identical pools here, plus a smaller pool and hot tub in a corner. One of the main pools, which featured a small waterslide, was closed on this late June day. The other two were packed. Maybe the hotel didn’t have enough lifeguards to open all three.
The pool chairs were basic and shade was hard to find. There was a castle-themed structure next to one of the pools but the area was otherwise unremarkable.
The fitness center was large and had a wide range of equipment. Just don’t expect any of the latest machines, let alone Peloton bikes. But there were lots of towels and free mini bottles of water.
There is really no reason to remark into the dining here. The buffet and the Camelot Steakhouse were closed when I visited. My other food options were mostly chains: Dick’s Last Resort, Buca di Beppo, Johnny Rockets, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Cinnabon, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Krispy Kreme, Pizza Hut Express, Popeyes, Schlotzsky’s and Starbucks.
I was intrigued by the fast-food chain called Hot Dog on a Stick but just couldn’t bring myself to order anything. There are limits to how far I will go for a good story.
Finally, there is the arcade.
When I was a teenager, my parents actually brought me here. It’s a quick way to spend money. Almost as quick as the casino. (I did walk away with $40 from the $5 blackjack table I found during my Monday night stay.)
As a parent, I do like that there is a kid-friendly attraction here. I still might not stay at the hotel, but it’s good to know it exists if you want a place where the kids can play with their own loud machines with flashing lights.
Even knights must end their hotel stays with checkout.
On my last day, I was working in my room, looking forward to the standard 11 a.m. checkout. I even hung the “do not disturb” sign on my door.
But at 9:10 a.m., housekeeping was knocking on the door, asking me when I planned to leave. I got another knock at 9:45 a.m. It was annoying, but at least I was on work phone calls instead of still sleeping — something most tourists were probably still doing. And a royal wake-up call is probably not on most travelers’ agendas.
The Excalibur has a great location and is part of the M life Rewards program, making it a good destination for travelers with Hyatt status. And, well, that’s about it.
You don’t stay at the Excalibur because you love the hotel; you stay there because of the price and maybe the proximity to the airport. That said, there are plenty of nicer places nearby you can book for only an extra $10 a night.
So, take my cavalier advice and spend the extra money.
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