Recently my wife and I had an unplanned staycation on a Saturday night in Las Vegas. We ended up staying at the Rio and decided to document our experience. Since then, we have learned more about the recent sale of Rio and the plans for its renovation. Here’s the Rio video review we made for the Vegas Showbiz YouTube channel.
Rio sale and renovation plans
In September 2019, Caesars Entertainment Inc. sold Rio to New York City-based Dreamscape Companies for $516 million. The sale terms allowed Caesars to continue operating Rio (while paying rent to Dreamscape) no later than December 2023. The new ownership group, consisting of east coast self-described “real estate guys,” are breaking into the gaming industry for the first time based on this sale.
Significant changes are coming to Rio, but the biggest question was whether a rebranding was coming (as is the case with Ballys becoming Horseshoe this year) or if the Rio theme would live on. New ownership has since publicly stated that they intend to lean into the existing Rio brand. They plan to embrace Rio’s Brazilian heritage by creating a more authentic atmosphere. You can probably expect significant tributes to the Amazon rain forest built into the central hotel and casino areas.
Reviewing this new version of Rio will be great when the time comes, but for now, what we’re dealing with is a property that has lost most of its luster over the past few years.
Saturday night in Las Vegas
Around noon on a recent Saturday in Las Vegas, I went to MGM Grand to shop for show tickets. Unfortunately, the little ticket counter in their downstairs shopping area was closed, so I soon found myself in the box office line next to the Ka theater. I was shopping for tickets that evening and had a list of shows playing at various MGM properties that we were interested in seeing.
I purchased two tickets to Shin Lim’s show “Limitless,” and the plan was to see the show, make a video review of the show, and do a written review for VegasShow.biz. We did all of those things, but about two hours before leaving for the show, Jessica said, “Maybe we should pack a bag and get a room after the show. Perhaps if they knew we were at the show and it was late enough, they could give us a good deal on a room. If so, you could do your first room review.”
I liked the idea and figured we had nothing to lose, so I packed a bag, and we made our way down to the Mirage. After the show, we spoke to a couple of guys at the Mirage hotel desk. They were really friendly but couldn’t hook us up with any kind of room deal that night. Not only was it Saturday night, but it was a busy weekend in Las Vegas due to UFC, Nascar, and college basketball all going on simultaneously. So, the best they could offer us was a 2nd-floor room for $399 plus taxes and resort fees.
Randomly calling Rio
Once we realized the Mirage wasn’t going to work out, we decided to walk around and see what other options we had. We walked across the street to Harrahs, then over to Linq. Prices at Linq were better, meaning under $300, but we didn’t feel good about it when the person helping us started commenting on how bad their prices were that night. We were just about to call it a night when I decided to call the Rio.
We could find a better deal by looking at something away from the strip, and honestly, my ears perked up when the initial price they listed was below $200. I knew this was our last chance to make it happen, and hearing that lower price initially got me on the hook. But unfortunately, once they tacked on the taxes and resort fee, it was $259. Still, for the sake of content creation and fun in Las Vegas, I decided to go for it.
Checking into the hotel
We arrived at 11:00 pm, and we already knew we had to check out the following morning no later than 11:00, so if we wanted to document this experience, time would be of the essence. We were hungry but had been notified twice (once on the phone while booking the room and again while checking into the hotel) that we had three choices of restaurants until midnight, then only one or two after midnight.
We got up to the room to drop off our stuff, then headed down to the All American Bar and Grill for a late dinner. We arrived at 11:20 pm, only to be rudely greeted by a server shouting to us that the restaurant was closed as he walked by. This was frustrating to hear based on what we had already been told about our dining options. We knew we needed to eat, but our only option at this point was the Sports Deli. We don’t eat meat, so our options were limited, but we were able to make it work with cheese pizza and French fries. This was definitely not how we envisioned our dinner that night, and I actually considered driving us somewhere, but we ultimately decided to stay put.
Not much going on for a Saturday night
The first thing I noticed about Saturday night at Rio was that there wasn’t a whole lot going on. There was a long line to an elevator, and at first, I thought it was people waiting to get to their room. However, it turned out to be the elevator taking you up to Voodoo Nightclub, which is 51 stories up on the roof of the Rio. I didn’t go up there and can’t speak to how busy it was, but it should be noted that Voodoo Steak is also up there on the 50th floor of Rio. The restaurant is only open on Friday and Saturday nights, so if you want to experience the beautiful glass elevator at the Rio, you will need to pick a weekend evening to do so.
As far as the main floor of Rio goes, the slots area was empty, and there were only a couple of people in the Kiss-themed mini-golf area. The center of the casino had the most people, but it was a bit crazy in that area. Between the loud gamblers at the craps table and the belligerently intoxicated young women making their way towards the elevators, making our way across the casino floor was more of an adventure than expected.
Rio hotel room review
To put it as briefly as possible, the two words that best describe our room at the Rio are “spacious” and “dated.” It was a single king room on the west side of the hotel, meaning we didn’t have much of a view. We could see the Palms, but that’s about it. If I were to return for a stay at the Rio, I would prefer to stay on the eastern side of the hotel. The views of the strip on that side are outstanding, especially at nighttime.
Our room included a king-sized bed, vanity with a TV inside, two bedside tables, a small table and chairs, a small sofa, a large vanity, a closet, and a separate toilet and shower. Unfortunately, the carpet looked dingy, and we couldn’t help but notice the big seam running across the room floor. The room’s overall decor was dated, but it was clean, and the bed was comfortable. Maybe a bit soft for my tastes but nice for a single evening.
We slept soundly between the comfy bed, blackout curtains, and lack of little people and pets to bother us. I believe my wife’s exact words on Sunday morning were, “That was the best I’ve slept in 10 years.”
Sunday morning at the Rio
Two things stood out to me while exploring Rio on Sunday morning.
- How many people will stand in line at Starbucks
- How many people are (still) gambling
Regarding Starbucks, I was born and raised in Seattle, so I get the coffee thing. However, I still associate Starbucks with the loss of the Sonics, and I’d prefer to give my money to a small business. Plus, I don’t think their coffee is anything special. Therefore, I rarely go to Starbucks but always marvel at their in-person and drive-through lines.
I was walking around the casino at 8:00 am on this particular Sunday morning and couldn’t help but notice how many people at the craps table appeared to be still going strong from Saturday night. Of course, the rest of the pit games were dead, but I got a kick out of the people playing slot machines in their pajamas. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure what’s worse; staying out all night playing craps past sunrise or waking up early Sunday morning needing to play slots so bad that you can’t even change out of my pajamas before heading down to the casino.
This quiet time in Rio allowed me (and my video camera) to explore more of the property undisturbed. The pool area was closed and under construction, yet they still had no problem charging me a $40 resort fee for my overnight stay. The spa was closed too. The weight room was open, but it was nothing special at all. The fact that we had to pay a resort fee was definitely my biggest complaint about the experience.
Palazzo Suites at Rio
During this Sunday morning exploration, I stumbled upon the Palazzo Suites at the Rio. They have an understated entrance, but this is the nicest part of the resort for sure. Located near the convention center area, just past the Hash House restaurant, the Palazzo Suites instantly reminded me of Europe.
These are 14,000 square foot villas featuring six bedrooms, each with its own king-sized bed and full bathroom. The bathrooms feature a spa tub and are decked out with Bvlgari products. Plus, each room has a private balcony with its own jetted hot tub. So if you’re looking to do Vegas in style with a large group of friends, Palazzo Suites, also known as Palazzo Villas, is well worth your consideration.
Having learned more about the sale of the Rio since our stay, I think our impressions make more sense. We already know Caesars Entertainment is on its way out of this property, so they’re putting the minimum into it. I remember the Rio being much nicer about 15 years ago, so I’m personally excited to see what the new owners will do with it.
Knowing that it will live on as “The Rio” is nice, and I can’t wait to do another review once the transformation is complete. It’s sad to see how far downhill this place has gone over the past couple of years, but if the new owners are going to spruce it up and bring it back to its original glory, then that can’t happen soon enough. Hopefully, Caesars doesn’t drag this out by continuing to rent the property until the end of 2023.
After 15 years of visiting Las Vegas and living in Las Vegas, this was our first time getting a hotel room there. It feels crazy saying that, but it’s never been necessary due to always having family and friends in the area. While it may not have been an outstanding hotel experience, it was a fun night, and we have no regrets. The Rio still has a lot of potential as a hotel, so I’m excited about the changes.
Until we meet again, Rio!