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One of my favorite weekends of the year is in the books for 2019 and March Madness in Vegas did not disappoint. The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is one of the busiest weekends of the year in Vegas and one that we try to visit during each year. We didn’t didn’t partake in any of the viewing parties that are popular along the strip, rather we wandered up and down the strip and wondered to Fremont Street to take in the action.

This is always an interesting trip for me, as it’s more of a boys trip. We usually have a larger group, but with weddings, babies, and life, it ended up just being two of us this year. While it’s always fun with a group, the small group gave more opportunity to explore and hit up more nice restaurants that usual for this type of trip.

We also hit up a few nightclubs, including Hakkasan during Tiesto and two nights at On the Record, the new club in Park MGM. It was so much fun the first night, we went back the next night!

New York-New York Review

At the last minute, I decided to move my trip from Wednesday to Monday to Tuesday to Sunday, as my teams did not make the tournament, therefore I didn’t have to be around in case they played Sunday night. I was scheduled to arrive at about 6:00am on Wednesday, but because of the plane grounding at Southwest, I was able to switch my flight to the late Tuesday flight for free.

I tried moving my reservation at MGM Grand a day earlier, but it was quite a bit more expensive, so I just canceled my Sunday night and booked New York-New York for Tuesday evening. I arrived in Vegas at about 11:00pm and was only in NYNY for one night before moving to my comped MGM Grand room.


My hotel for NYNY was $41, booked 2 nights before leaving. When I arrived at the hotel, I, as usual, asked if they had complimentary upgrades. To my delight, they were able to upgrade me to one of the penthouse suites, moving me from the lowest level room to the highest level because of my Gold status. The only caveat was that I had to check out by noon, which was fine since I was planning to head to MGM Grand around that time anyway.

Besides the suite, the other perk for the upgrade was that the minibar was complimentary and they didn’t have to take the usual security deposit. The suite was definitely showing it’s age, but it was a nice, cool upgrade. I expect that this suite is not sold, rather only comped, as it has many of the original features. That said, the view was very cool, the simi-private elevator is a nice touch, and the multiple rooms were very nice.

The suite included a kitchenette, living room/dining room/desk area large area with a separate bedroom and large master bath with shower and jetted tub. The vanity had two sinks and a seated make-up area that would have been nice if needed. The bathroom and kitchenette each had glass block (showing when it was last updated) and there was uplighting in the ceilings with wood panels on the wall.

Overall, this was an awesome comp upgrade, but not a room I would have booked at the retail price. That said, I am fairly confident that’s the point and it was a great touch to start my trip. For those wondering, I did not use the $20 trick, rather just asked for a complimentary upgrade. I’ve found this method works well during non-peak times or for short stays like mine.





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After checking in and checking out my room, I went down and played blackjack. I did pretty well at NYNY, betting $20-25/hand and played for about three hours. When I went to the MLife desk the next morning (always do this, especially if you are not in a comped room), they comped my resort fee, so my entire stay, including penthouse suite upgrade and multiple drinks from the mini-bar (Diet Pepsi, Sierra Mist, & all the mini-waters I could carry) cost $41.

Overall, this experience is why I love Vegas and why I stay brand-loyal to MGM. I have always been taken care of as an MLife member and this experience is what I have come to expect and what keeps me coming back.

MGM Grand Review: Restaurants, Nightclub & Pool

MGM Grand is not my favorite hotel in Vegas, but it does have some of the best food and one of my favorite pool complexes on the strip. The size and location make it less than ideal if you are looking to do things around the strip. It took about 40 minutes to walk to Aria, which is the furthest away we went on this trip. We usually stay in the center (Aria/Cosmo) and find it is much easier to get around and see more of the strip.

That said, this trip, we planned on watching games and hitting up the pool during the day and hit up the restaurants and clubs at night. The highlight of MGM Grand is the pool complex, attached to Wet Republic. The weather was nice during the weekend, with highs in the mid 70’s.

It was not ideal pool weather, as it was cold outside of the pool with the breeze, but MGM heats the pools, so it was very nice in the water. We found a little alcove off the lazy river which was right next to the bar and had a few non-premium (i.e. free) chairs to put our stuff.

It was close to the Wet Republic Ultra Pool, so we got to enjoy the music from Steve Aoki party on the free side of the wall. We had planned to do a pool party, but we ended up just hitting up the pool and following the games on the phone.

Overall, if you are spending time in the pool area, MGM Grand is one of the best. There are different pools that each have a bit of a different vibe, plenty of chairs (at least during March when we were there), and plenty of bars and bar staff. The prices are not for the faint of heart, but we ended up doing buckets of five Dos XX tallboys for $36.

Other notes on MGM Grand: The casino is huge. It’s a bit of a maze and even after 4 days, I still found myself going the wrong way on occassion, especially off the elevator. It is a haul to get anywhere from the room, so we didn’t end up going back to the room unless absolutely necssisary.

I upgraded to a Stay Well King room and enjoyed the amenities. namely the bed (very comfy!) and the air purifier. Indianapolis is a smoke-free city, so the smoke from the casino often bothers me over a few days. With the Stay Well room, I didn’t have any sinus problems this trip. This will be a new must when booking at MGM.

The food is always a highlight of MGM and we didn’t get to hit up all our favorite spots. I wanted to do Morimoto’s again, but didn’t end up making it this trip. There were also a few other places I want to visit eventually, but a guys trip isn’t ideal (i.e. Joel Rubicon’s restaurants). That said, everywhere we did go was really good.

Pub 1842 – Michael Mina

I am a big fan of Michael Mina’s concepts and Pub 1842 was no different. Vegas is expensive in general, but Pub 1842 seemed even a bit more pricey than other similar restaurants, although the quality was very high.

This was my first meal after checking in and I ate alone, as my group didn’t arrive till later. I had the PB Crunch Burger with pimento cheese, bacon jam, potato chips, peanut butter on the burger with a side of the BBQ seasoned fries. It was $19, but was one of the best burgers I’ve had, so nothing but good things to say about the food.

It was busy for lunch and I set at the bar and got solid service. I ordered the Bloody Mary and it wasn’t my favorite, but nicely presented. I would definitely go back top Pub 1842 if I was staying at the MGM Grand, but it’s not a place I would make a special effort to visit. Not a knock, more just a statement on the quality of restaurants up and down the strip.

Overall, my meal was about $36 after tip and I’d recommend it.

Emeril’s Fish House

After a day at the pool, we wanted seafood and picked Emerils over Morimotos. We started with two orders of the Emeril’s Barbecued Shrimp with Rosemary Biscuit and Shaved Chives. This is our go-to app here and we usually end up here for Happy Hour rather than dinner. This is one of those apps that we always order even though there are others that look and sounds great. It’s just too good to pass up when we did land at an Emeril’s.

For my main course, I had the Scallop seasonal special with fennel sauce and vegetables. It included 3 nice size scallops and had a nice, fresh flavor. Overall, it hit the spot and was very well put together dish.

My brother had the Pan Fried Rainbow Trout with Jumbo Lump Crab, Haricot Vert, Cherry Tomatoes and Butter Sauce. It was pretty popular and was also very tasty. I preferred the scallops, but that was more of what I was in the mood for. Both were tasty and Emiril’s is alway a solid choice. I didn’t get a drink and my brother got one

Overall, our meal at Emeril’s was $150 after tip (or about $75/person).

Hakkasan Resturaunt

I had two meals that move into my favorite restaurants in Vegas and Hakkasan moved onto this list. We decided to do the $88 tasting menu that included

  • Hakka steamed dim sum platter: har gau, scallop shumai, Chinese chive dumpling and prawn and chicken dumpling with pak choi
  • Grilled pork ribs with sweet plum and Chinese clove
  • Calimari
  • Sanpei chicken claypot with Thai sweet basil
  • Chouzhou style sea bass claypot
  • Sweet and sour pork with pomegranate
  • Four style vegetable in sweet Szechuan sauce
  • Egg and scallion fried rice
  • Ice Cream with Macaroons

The dim sum and calamari were both top-notch and the best I’ve had. Dim sum is one of my favorite dishes and these were outstanding. Each dish was full of flavor and enjoyable. It was a huge amount of food and we didn’t come anywhere close to finishing everything between the two of us. That said, we did finish the sweet and sour pork, so it’s safe to say it was our favorite.

We had 3 drinks, each was very solid. The smokey negroni had a bit too smokey of a flavor, so of the 3, it was our least favorite. One of the fun touches, the large round ice cubes had the Hakkasan logo etched in each. Kind of cool.

Buddha’s Palm
Maker’s 46 bourbon, Velvet Falernum, yuzu juice, yuzu marmalade, black grapes, white balsamic vinegar, mint

Smoky Negroni
Botanist gin, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, Campari, Hickory wood smoke

Whiskey in the Tropics
Ambros Banana whiskey, Banane du Brésil, guava, lime, mango jasmine syrup

I was worried the whiskey in the tropics would be too sweet, but it was actually really tasty without being sweet. It was my after dinner drink and fit that well with the macaroons and ice cream.

This was one of my two favorite meals and highly recommended. Overall, our 2 meals and 3 drinks plus tip was about $300 ($150/person).

Hakkasan Club – Tiesto

After finishing dinner at around 10:00 pm, the waitress asked us if we were going to the Tiësto concert at the Hakkasan club. We had planned on it but found that with dinner at Hakkasan, you can enter through a VIP entrance without cover with our receipt. This was huge, because by the time we got back to the club at near midnight, the line was insanely long and our “guest list” ended at 11 for guys.

We were able to grab our friends we’d met from the line, walk straight to the front and go in the entrance. Great experience and something we will remember in the future for popular concerts at Hakkasan.

The club was packed for Tiësto. I personally don’t mind a crowded club every now, especially when a big act is in town. We found a nice spot in front of a VIP area. Overall, the sets were good and we enjoyed ourselves. I’ll post a full review, but Hakkasan isn’t my style, but I always enjoy it. There’s always something going on, with good music, the best sound system in the world, and world-class people watching in the VIP areas.

Overall, each round of 4 drinks were around $100 (our group was not drinking wells), but because I got us in, everyone was buying my drinks. For the first time ever, I spent $0 at a club… #Winning. If you like clubs or if you love people watching and can stay up late, I recommend giving Hakkasan a try, especially when a top act is at the DJ booth.

My Poor MGM Grand Experience

I love Vegas and try to focus on the positives. I am a bit of a cheerleader, but because I always have a great time and believe it is a great place to visit. That said, I feel a responsibility to highlight the other side on occasion. I hope it can encourage management to consider how some of these seemingly innoxious policies can affect our trips and our loyalty.

If we ignore the small things, the will continue to erode the experience. I want you to have an amazing time and feel the Vegas vibe that draws me there multiple times a year, so feedback is critical.

My first and last experience at MGM Grand left a poor taste in my mouth. Everything I said about the feeling special and loyal at NYNY seemed to be missing at MGM Grand. When checking in to the room, I asked, as usual, for any complimentary upgrades.

I had a queen strip view room which was totally comped for my trip, so I was not expecting any additional upgrades, but always worth asking. Because of the time of year, I offered to move to a king room in the same strip view tier, because I know queens are gold during March Madness (and actually slightly more expensive).

They offered me a non-strip view king right away (it was around 1:00 pm as I was checking in), which I declined and made clear I was only interested in a strip view. I asked if they had any paid upgrades and they offered a King Stay Well room that was available at the time for $35.

I never mind paying a bit extra if the benefit is there, so I decided the comfy bed, air purification system, and Aromatherapy would be worth trying and the extra cost. Based on the conversation, I fully expected a strip view Stay Well King room, which was not what I received. The view was beyond disappointing and I kept the blackout curtains closed most of my trip.

I was disappointed with the view and felt tricked paying for an upgrade, but I was in Vegas so I figured I’d let it slide and get my vacation back on track. When I found out hours later that the my buddy (who booked the same room and is also gold) received a complimentary upgrade for the same room, it left a sour taste in my mouth. Not a major issue and I think the “upgrade” was a decent value still, but the nickel and dime feel is not what I expect or have been accustom to with MGM. It felt like a sleazy used-car sale versus an experience I would expect as part of the MGM family.

This opinion was cemented when I called down for a late checkout (which I do at every hotel and every stay in Vegas) to get a noon checkout so I would watch the first round of games and then pack before leaving. I was honestly shocked when they said the late checkout was $10 for noon or $20 for 1pm. I’ve paid for a 3-4pm late checkout, but never for noon! It was just another example where MGM had a chance to make my trip better and ended up turning me completely off to the experience.

Last year I earned over 140,000 tier credits with MGM hotels and spent 14 nights in MGM properties. I expect to spend at least the same amount of time and money in Vegas this year and already have my next trip in June scheduled at the Aria. In the grand scheme of things, $150 in room upgrades and $10 for a late checkout are insignificant, but part of the reason I like Vegas is that it feels special. This reminded me that my loyalty is not always reciprocated and gave me an opening to check out other properties outside of the MGM family. I canceled part of my Aria trip and moved my reservation to the Wynn based on this experience.

I will post the rest of my review outside of the MGM properties soon, so check back for more!

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