Whether you valet or do it yourself, parking your car makes the first and last impression of any visit to a Strip casino.
Despite that, it seems there isn’t a lot of attention paid to the experience, especially if you park in a hotel garage, says Ralph Stern, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Architecture.
And, if you’ve been in a few of the garages on the Strip, you know no two are alike. They could even be described as "the good, the bad and the ugly."
"Given the spectacle Las Vegas is, and the attention given to porte-cocheres or front doors, it does seem that the garage is still the back door," Stern says. "It may give the impression that if you’re parking your own car you can’t be that important."
Warren Vander Helm, a principal in the Los Angeles-based Parking Design Group, agrees. Casinos, he says are "still missing the boat in terms of improving the parking experience for the automobile public."
The design and placement of a parking garage often is a function of space and money, Vander Helm says. The number of spaces in each depends on local codes; generally, the bigger the resort, the larger the garage.
While each is unique, there are a few common elements that make a good, or bad, garage, he says.
The good points? Good lighting, clear sightlines (openness), safety and ease of navigation. The opposite of any of those and you have a less-than-perfect parking structure, Vander Helm says.
The Review-Journal reviewed 10 garages on the Strip, chosen for their reputations among staff members. Some are known as good parking garages while others are not. We rated the garages on a scale of one to five cars, with five being the best and one being the worst.
Circus Circus: Three garages. Don’t be fooled by the marquee clown pointing at the porte-cochere; this is not the way to access the garages. Instead, turn onto Circus Circus Drive from Las Vegas Boulevard or from Industrial Road behind the resort. Turn left for garages one and two (with five stories each) or right for the Skyrise garage (six stories) if you’re approaching from the boulevard. You don’t have to go inside the casino to play games, either; just drive around the parking garages. You can play dodge the pedestrian or, if you’re walking, the game becomes avoid the moving vehicle. Parking is at an angle and the spaces are small. Overall, the garages aren’t aging well, because they look dirty and run-down. Still, if you want to brave self-parking, go to the No. 1 garage or the Skyrise garage and park on the third floor where you’ll have direct access to the hotel. 1 car.
Imperial Palace: Four stories. There’s a reason so many parking garages are featured in scary movies: They can be dark, spooky places, much like the Imperial Palace garage. It’s not well-lit and the navigation of it makes little sense. You can turn a corner thinking you’re going down an aisle but find yourself on another level. It’s confusing, the ceilings are low and the spaces are frighteningly small. Wear your walking shoes if you go because you’ll be hoofing it quite a distance just to get to the hotel. Wear your waders if it’s raining because the garage often takes on water. Access it from the Strip or from Winnick Avenue behind the property. 1 car.
Mandalay Bay: Six stories. It’s big, but parking is plentiful, lighting is mostly good and it’s easy to navigate. It’s also clean. The headache is trying to catch the elevator. There are only two, and they’re often in use. Newly opened escalators offer another option, though. Overall, this is one of the better big garages. To get there from the Strip, turn onto Mandalay Bay Road or take Frank Sinatra Drive. 4 cars.
MGM Grand: Seven stories. Getting there’s easy enough: You can access the garage from Tropicana Avenue, the Strip or Koval Lane. Inside it’s clean and the layout is straightforward, but there are so many sections of parking that it’s easy to lose your car. It’s also dimly lit in some spots. The main drawback is its size and it just doesn’t feel driver-friendly. If you happen to be leaving after an event, expect to wait a long time to get out. 3 cars.
The Mirage: Eight stories. If you enter from Spring Mountain Road, which is fairly convenient, expect to be confused (you can access it from the Strip, too). The first garage you come upon is actually Treasure Island’s and signs for both point in the same direction. But once inside, The Mirage garage is nice. It’s clean and easy to navigate; you can easily see where you’re going. The casino bridge is on the fourth floor, so expect parking to be difficult there. The top floor has plenty of spaces. 4 cars.
Planet Hollywood: 10 stories: Another big garage but a good one. You can access it from Las Vegas Boulevard or Harmon Avenue. The first two floors are dedicated to valet parking; the last two are employees only. The floors are open, if somewhat dark, and the hike to the property isn’t as far as it looks. It’s clean but dingy. Note that access on the third floor leads to the Miracle Mile Shops, so if you’re going to the casino, you have a walk ahead of you. Even people checking into the hotel have to lug their baggage through the mall. 3 1/2 cars.
Sahara: Two garages. The Paradise Road garage has six levels while the Las Vegas Boulevard structure has seven levels. They’re clean but claustrophobic. Lighting is good. Narrow lanes mean you have to creep around each corner to ensure you don’t slam into oncoming traffic. Parking is on an incline, too. The Paradise Road garage is close to the hotel; you have to walk across only the valet lanes to the front doors. One problem: Its elevator doesn’t always work. The garages are old but good for their age. 3 cars.
Treasure Island: Seven stories. Access it from Spring Mountain Road or the Strip. Park on level three for access to the casino. Getting in and out is easy, as long as you can handle the four-way stop at the garage entrance. Inside, it’s clean and spacious but doesn’t have the best lighting. 3 1/2 cars.
The Venetian: 14 stories. If there are levels of hell, The Venetian garage has 14 of them. It’s clean, but it’s big and scary and always seems to be under construction. Cars fly up and down the ramp at high speeds. Once you pull onto a floor, you have to do a lot of cruising to find an empty spot. Casino access is on the third floor but that’s where valet parking is found. You can access it from Las Vegas Boulevard or from behind the resort on Koval Lane. 2 cars.
Wynn Las Vegas: With four levels, a ramp on the outside of the garage and digital counters displaying the number of spaces available on individual floors, this garage is the best of the bunch. Access to the casino is on the first floor and simple, too. The lighting could be a little brighter, but overall, you may want to go to Wynn just to park in the garage. Access the garage from the Strip. 5 cars.
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 380-4564.