The Mandalay Bay — gracing the far south end of the Las Vegas strip — has been home to incredible amounts of history over a relatively short time. Most of the history is good and one day is extremely tragic. But with its iconic gold windows dominating the edge of the strip closest to Las Vegas’ international airport, it’s immediately recognizable and totally alluring. 

Today, we’re going to walk through the history of the Mandalay Bay — dating all the way back to when the property was known as the Hacienda and daringly operated without a casino (though not on purpose). Now known for its epic pool complex and lovely convention space, we’ll end with an overview of what you can expect for your visit today. 

Let’s go! 

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The Hacienda 

Opened in June 1956, the Hacienda was a nearly 300 room hotel and… well just a hotel. It took a number of months, and the removal of one of the original partners (his track record wasn’t apparently clean enough for the gaming control board), to get a gaming license so the casino could open. 

It would become one of the first properties to actively work towards attracting families. And, though it seems fitting, that marketing angle is generally unrelated to the fact that it would eventually be purchased by Circus Circus enterprises. Yes, that Circus Circus. 

Hacienda Airlines 

In perhaps one of the more memorable marketing techniques in Vegas history, Warren Bayley (one of the original partners and owner of several Hacienda motels in California) would launch Hacienda Airlines to shuttle guests from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It became quite successful in luring weekend travelers with combo travel packages (not too different from what the California still does with Hawaiian guests today). 

It’s reported that there were as many as 30 airplanes in the fleet before the government found a way to shut it down. 

Hacienda Las Vegas airlines.

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Today, if you fly into the Las Vegas airport, you’ll see a small Cessna aircraft emblazoned with Hacienda branding hovering around the baggage terminal. If you ever wondered what that was all about — now you know that, in a way, it’s part of the history of the Mandalay Bay. 

Judy Bayley

This one might win you a trivia night question — do you know who the first woman to run a hotel and casino was? The headline of this section probably gave it away. 

Warren Bayley passed away unexpectedly in late December 1964 and his widow stepped up to continue the success of the property. She passed herself in 1971, but not before contributing mightily to a number of charitable causes around town

Today, the Judy Bayley theatre is maintained in her honor at UNLV. 

Horse and rider 

The Cessna isn’t the only bit of Hacienda that remains in Vegas today. You can also see the Horse and rider sign in downtown Las Vegas. It’s quite… glittery. But it’s a nice taste of neon history and one that you don’t have to buy admission to the Neon Museum to see (though they did apparently pay for its refurbishment. Thanks, folks!).

The restored Horse and Rider sign from the original Hacienda Las Vegas

Hacienda’s closing and the next era

Before Excalibur and Luxor were poorly maintained MGM properties, they were brand-new Circus Circus Enterprises properties. In the 90’s, theming took over Las Vegas and Circus Circus was at the forefront of the trend. 

They wanted to secure the south end of the strip and the Hacienda sat right next to their beautiful new properties. The company would end up purchasing the Hacienda and closing it on December 1, 1996. 

The Hacienda Las Vegas, moments before its implosion, with fireworks shooting from the top.

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Its implosion (a popular way to go for strip properties) was featured as part of Fox’s New Year’s eve special. A little more than three years later, the Mandalay Bay would open to the public. 

Mandalay Bay 

Mandalay Bay is an all-suite hotel. There are more than 3,000 of them. And, there are so many palm trees that there’s almost two for every suite. If you love the idea of a tropical lifestyle, but prefer to vacation in Vegas, the resort is perfect. 

But, despite its late 90’s opening, the resort still feels quite modern and the rooms are amazingly luxurious. Pick up and move this resort to a center strip location and you’ve got quite the expensive property on your hands. 

It’s a nice reprieve from the action of the strip and, even MGM’s (who now operates the casino) average players club member can find themselves with nice comp offers at this property. If you’re put off by Excalibur’s lack of luxury (or even modest quality) but don’t mind the far-south location of Mandalay Bay, it’s a good option for you. 

The early history of the Mandalay Bay 

After the Hacienda’s implosion, it took a few years for this massive mega resort to take shape. 

It was the vision of Circus Circus Enterprises, who also opened the Excalibur and Luxor around the same time. 

It was a decade of boom for Las Vegas — one that specifically involved lots of theming and an attempt to allure more families to the strip. Nobody focused on this more narrowly than Circus Circus. Mandalay Bay was to be a more upscale option (and it succeeded), but still approachable for families and conventioneers — not unlike the Hacienda before it. 

The massive pool complex with sand beaches, wave pools, and an impressive lazy river can keep kids and spouses occupied during conventions and secret jaunts to the Craps table. 

Construction issues

You may have heard rumors about the need for the Luxor to be imploded due to a settling of the foundation. I think this may be more rumor than truth as the theming years of Vegas have passed (I’m rooting for a bit of a comeback) and there are few resorts harder to de-theme than a giant pyramid. 

I digress… 

But did you know that its neighbor, Mandalay Bay, has faced similar troubles? The building’s main foundation settled by over a foot — pretty alarming movement for a hotel that would be 40+ stories tall. It almost completely derailed the storied history of the Mandalay Bay. 

The problem was apparently solved, at a cost of nearly $10 million, by drilling 500 “pin piles” four feet apart down 200 feet through the foundation. Each one is load tested at 600,000 lbs of pressure per square inch! 

Opening and Acquisition history of the Mandalay Bay Las Vegas

Mandalay Bay opened on March 2, 1999 and employed more than 5,000 people. The opening day entertainment included the likes of Bob Dylan and John Goodman. 

The Shark Reef aquarium opened a little more than a year later and is still a big attraction on the strip. The resort also tried to “borrow” a pair of Pandas to put on exhibit, but those plans eventually fell through after backlash. 

If you’re familiar with the Resorts World Asian-themed saga, you know this isn’t the first time a promised Las Vegas panda exhibit has fallen through. 

The Mandalay Bay Las Vegas sign

MGM would purchase Mandalay Bay in 2005. They continue to operate the property, though one of the strip’s two primary landlords, Blackstone would buy half (technically .1% less than half) of the actual physical property and building in 2020. 

But, making it the strip’s monopolistic landlord,Vici bought  Blackstone in 2021. So Vici pretty much owns Las Vegas. 

We’re not kidding — here’s a nice video that helps sum it all up (it still takes fifteen minutes to explain it all… with no fluff). 

MGM still owns (errr… operates) essentially every hotel and casino on the strip starting with Bellagio and going south on the west side, along with MGM Grand on the east side. 

That’s one reason you can get a tram or go via interior connected walkways from Excalibur to The Luxor, to Mandalay Bay. One way or another, MGM and Vici get your money. 

October 1, 2017 

We thought about not even including this part of Mandalay Bay’s history, but it’s a significant, though tragic, event. In the end, it’s probably less respectful to pretend it never happened. 

On this day, a man who shall not be named, used one of the upper floors of the hotel to set up a shooting massacre. He’d rain down hundreds of bullets on the grounds just across the strip where the Route 91 Harvest music festival was taking place. 

In the end, more than 60 people were killed as was the deranged man. 

The grounds now sit empty (though they’ve recently been purchased minus a bit of the land for a memorial). 

Will the Mandalay Bay brand go on? 

At least for me, it’s impossible to see Mandalay Bay and not think of that day. For that reason, and the fact that there have been so many brand name sales and transfers as of late, it’s rumored the Mandalay Bay may rebrand. 

Those rumors have quieted down and apparently it’s a major money maker for MGM to this day. So, even though The Mirage name might be available in the next several years (once Hard Rock’s name lease expires) and the tropical-themed Mandalay Bay property would be a perfect transition for the name, it may not happen after all. I still kind of hope it might. 

To my surprise, it turns out that experts say to keep the name, but since when have “experts” been right about anything? 

Additional hotels on the property 

The Mandalay Bay isn’t the only hotel on the property. In fact, since the beginning, Circus Circus had a partnership with the Four Seasons for a separate hotel, technically, within the Mandalay Bay resort tower. Located on floors 35-39, it’s a small portion of the building without its own gaming area and with separate spa and other facilities that are exclusive to Four Seasons guests (though the restrictions don’t go the other way around). 

THE Hotel and Delano

In December 2003, a separate tower (with the same iconic “gold” look) would open as THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay. 

You’d know it now as Delano (pronounced like Franklin “Delano” Roosevelt). It also has 43 floors like the Mandalay Bay and boasts more than 1,100 all-suite rooms. 

The Mandalay Bay today

The Mandalay Bay remains a very luxurious property — one of the nicest in the MGM portfolio. It had a $100 million dollar renovation in 2016, so the rooms are still relatively fresh. 

It’s a hit for conventions and for families who love the pool scene. And, recently, it’s been getting more love from foodies for its lineup (it recently got a Whalburgers, though I’m unsure if foodies respect that place or not. So…?).

With a full history of the Mandalay Bay now tucked away, let’s discuss a bit about what you can expect from the mega resort today. 

Restaurants at Mandalay Bay 

I don’t know the Mandalay Bay like the back of my hand (like I do with probably at least a dozen other properties in Vegas),  but the first thing that comes to mind without doing any research is Rí Rá Irish Pub. This place is authentic and always seems to have some sort of live music going on. I first became enamored with the place seeing it on a Las Vegas Vlog (I think it was The Coin Show) and have seen it mentioned more and more lately. The website says it was actually built from a reconstructed pub restored in Ireland and then shipped to Las Vegas. THAT is dedication. 

Michael Mina’s StripSteak is another “household name” for Las Vegas-obsessed lunatics like myself. It’s one of the most premium options on the property but gets consistently high reviews. It’s listed as a top 10 steakhouse in Las Vegas by Conde Nast among numerous other accolades. One of their most unique signature items is the Caviar Jelly Doughnuts — a bargain at $17. Though the menu says, “each,” and they look small. So maybe I’ll take that back. If you want one of the most amazing steaks in your life — spring for the Japanese A5 Wagyu. It’s $260 and is only 5oz, so you’ll need to add some sides for sure. 

There’s a Starbucks, of course, as well as a great selection of mid-tier Mexican, Italian, Asian, and American offerings. The Mandalay Bay also mentions a buffet, but note that it’s actually talking about the one at Luxor. 

That said, it’s a relatively quick, connected walk to Luxor and then over to The Excalibur. So if you’re okay with walking, it’s not too hard to get to some additional options including the food court at Luxor that has a number of cheap eats. 

The pool scene

Mandalay Bay is known for its massive pool complex. The 11 acres include a wave pool, lazy river, multiple beach clubs with more private pools, a grill, three bars, and more. There’s a dedicated beach stage, for example, where DJs and performers can boost the typical pool fun or even host a dedicated, ticketed event if they want. 

If you remember many of the pool scenes in the show Las Vegas (boy do we miss that show), any of the big events like the surfing competition were filmed here or based off the Mandalay Bay pool. 

But don’t take my word for it, get influenced by one of these hand-picked videos from popular Vegas influencers: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQB70RnXn5w

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9dYm2HFV38

Entertainment

The Mandalay bay has more than enough to keep you entertained in the evenings after a lovely day swimming. Beyond the casino, there’s multiple venues from the House of Blues music hall to Michelob Ultra arena that can hold some pretty big acts. 

There’s also the aforementioned Shark Reef Aquarium and Mandalay Bay is home to Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil. 

Plus, though we’ve hammered it a bit for a poor location, it is rather convenient if you feel the need to check the Las Vegas sign off your bucket list. From there, it’s a quick jaunt over to the Pinball Hall of Fame and Las Vegas’ most famous Harley Davidson outpost. 

During games at Allegiant Stadium, the property and its neighbor, Luxor, team up for a “Fan District” event for tailgating. Personally, the accounts I’ve heard give this a poor review. So do some research before you commit. Sorry folks, gotta keep it real! 

So you can see a Cirque performance, comedy show, concert, and pregame for a football game all while popping out for some slots or craps. 

The only thing you won’t find? Those two pandas. 

Psst: Love Las Vegas history? Check out our Las Vegas souvenirs – many of which pay tribute to the icons of bright light city’s past.