Underrated Rio All-Suites Hotel returns fun, skin, value to Las Vegas

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - The first time the carnival line barrels right down the main gaming floor at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino, you think someone had to make a mistake. No dollar-sign-fixated Las Vegas casino in its right leadership mind could have approved this seemingly impromptu show.

Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino
Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino bears a distinctive look to help draw attention to its off Strip location.
Rio All Suites Hotel & CasinoRio Hotel - Chippendales DancerRio Hotel - Casino Floor

There's a clown, a woman on stilts, a babe in purple and gold tights somersaulting where space allows and a Chippendales dancer guy with his shirt off and his bowtie on. Most casinos cringe at the thought of the slightest distraction for their zombie-eyed slot machine addicts and their adrenalin-fueled roulette players.

There is a good reason the Bellagio shooting fountains go sky high outside with no hint - let alone view - from the casino floor. It's no accident those Caesar statues that come to life do it in the mall, a nice sized walk from any of the wagering action. Ditto for every pirate show and exploding volcano in town.

Distracting the rubes already gambling merrily or robotically away doesn't make the cut on many business plans. Distraction? The Rio doesn't stop at mere distraction. It's a down right commotion.

People look up from the beeping, whirling slots and smile, take a break as the line moves past. Others run to the long balcony overlooking the casino floor and start clapping away. Some guys dangle beads (the Rio supplies these too) hoping young women with daiquiri courage get inspired to lose that top.

It's all as unexpected as Pamela Anderson getting caught eating Kentucky Fried Chicken at first, but soon into a stay at Rio, it becomes part of the unique fabric. You sit down at a slot machine and a few minutes later, a cocktail waitress puts down her tray, jumps up on the platform connecting a bank of machines and starts dancing.

High-kicking, leg-showing Rockettes style dancing. Right above a few dazed slot players' heads. No joke.

A few minutes later, after everyone had the chance to examine her muscle tone from calf to upper thigh, she jumps down and starts taking drink orders again.

That's the Rio.

Because it's just off The Strip - down Flamingo Road and right past the entrance ramp to I-15 - Rio seems to try a little harder. This hotel is its own irreverent world, heavy on fun and service. Calling it the most underrated hotel in Vegas isn't a stretch.

In fact the difficulty is determining what other properties even belong in the conversation. Discovering Rio for the first time is like stumbling across a winning sports parlay ticket someone dropped onto a casino floor.

"I used to stay in the big ones - Mirage, Bellagio, Paris," New Jersey gambler Chuck Parrish said. "Then I took a chance one time here because the others were booked ... and I haven't really been back to the big ones.

"You don't need to with what you get here for the money."

Parrish stopped, took another look at the TravelGolf.com credential he'd been shown and shook his head.

"Don't get these room rates bumped up by blabbing about this place, man," Parrish said. It didn't sound like a request.

Sorry, Chuck. Rio is a four-star hotel you can often get for two-star prices. The rooms are big, though the all suites thing is a bit of a stretch. Many of the "suites" are just large single rooms with a couch. Throw in a couch and it's a suite in the hospitality industry today. You'll forgive Rio though. Its bathrooms are pretty large with marble sink countertops and its beds are comfortable.

The best thing about Rio is the scene outside your door.

This isn't some isolated second-class casino scene. Rio is a happening environment with a surprisingly good restaurant selection. Buzio's Seafood Restaurant turns out dishes every bit as good at Mandalay Bay's celebrated RM. Bamboleo - the Mexican place - had great pork tostados. In fact, it was hard to go wrong at Bamboleo, unless you ordered the very ordinary tacos.

There is a wine bar down a sort of cool iron staircase setting. There is also a Chinese Noodle Bar and two different buffets (regular and seafood). If you're on a guys golf trip, you might just end up spending all your time at the Titled Kilt however.

This place has some traditional Irish dishes, but the whole theme is just an excuse for the waitresses to wear very short plaid kilts (think Catholic schoolgirl skirts) and straining white blouses with a few buttons undone. Rio's Tilted Kilt is the rare place where the women are as good looking in person as they are in the ads. This place puts almost every Hooters in the country to shame.

"We're supposed to be golfing today, right?" Bob Connors asked his buddies as they sat around the Tilted Kilt, taking in the scenery. "When's that tee time again?"

"What tee time?" one of his friends shot back, smiling as another waitress went by.

Not to be one sided, Rio also gives you that Chippendales, where the men wear even less. Just remember it's an adult show. On this night, those in the second floor concourse mall of Rio watched a family of four - with two kids under the age of six - get turned away at Chippendales' garish blue-lighted entrance.

Las Vegas may be stroller city, but that's trying to take it a little extreme.

Rio does give off the impression that anything's possible. Rio pushes its linked course Rio Secco Golf Club. It's still not an objective sell, but at least it's a good course.

Rio also provides a free regular shuttle to and from The Strip, making its location not such a detriment.

Not that you'll find many better atmospheres than the one right downstairs from your room when the carnival line starts snaking through Rio.

It's fun. Go ahead and smile. You're allowed. It's supposed to be a vacation.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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