Image: Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
MGM MIRAGE
As the location of the famous House of Blues, the 4,332 room Mandalay Bay, in Las Vegas is the spot for travelers looking to be entertained inside and out of the (ear-splitting) casino. An annual summer concert series is held overlooking the wave pool at the beach at Mandalay Bay, which features real sand and a lazy river. Not up for a swim? Check out the Shark Reef aquarium, home to over 2000 animals — and that’s not counting the card sharks.
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updated 10/10/2007 3:20:58 PM ET 2007-10-10T19:20:58

Are you the kind of traveler who’s slightly allergic to three-room B&Bs that are impossible to find and require morning nibbling around a table full of strangers? Presenting the Forbes Traveler list of the world’s biggest hotels, which for some may represent the impersonal travel experience defined, but for thousands are simply the steel-and-concrete answers to any traveler’s most pressing question, “Where to stay?”

It’s no surprise that the more rooms a property has, the easier time you’ll have securing a reservation. Indeed, we based our rankings on that single criterion: room count. And while budget didn’t factor into it, it’s also a maxim of travel that the bigger the hotel, the lower the rates: a huge inventory of rooms means better deals and upgrades can often be had for the asking.

With very few exceptions, the biggest hotels in the United States are to be found in Las Vegas. In fact, until recently, Sin City’s MGM Grand, with 5,044 rooms, was the largest hotel in the world, but since 2006 that distinction has belonged to the First World Hotel in the Genting Highlands of Malaysia. Like most megahotels, the First World is about more than just a place to hang one’s hat—although with 6,118 rooms, doing so should be a cinch—the sizeable premises incorporate a theme park and a half-million square feet of shopping space, too. Speaking recently to Malaysian tourism officials, Alan Teo, president of the resort group that built the First World Hotel, said, "It is a huge and challenging task to cater to such volume in a single location. We have in place 32 check-in counters with 64 terminals located in the hotel lobby, requiring a Queue Management System to manage a maximum check-in capacity of 700 rooms per hour."

For guests and other gawkers, the memorable thing about this big hotel chart topper may be its gaily painted exterior—a veritable rainbow splash that might break a zoning code elsewhere but here just ramps up the fun factor. But for Teo, it just might be keeping all those sheets clean: “We are delighted that our Laundry Department was featured by Discovery Travel,” he declared in his speech. “The facility has a total floor space of 26,000 square feet allocated just to cater to the guest laundry and beddings requirements. The laundry department manages an amazing production of 40 tons worth of laundry per day.”

Hilton’s Hawaiian Village ranks 12th on our list. The hotel’s beginnings date back to 1954 when entrepreneur Henry J. Kaiser and partner Fritz Burns purchased the John Ena Estate in Waikiki, the adjacent Niumalu Hotel and several contiguous lots from individual owners originally totaling 20 acres. Resort press spokesperson Dara Young says, “One of the biggest draws about the Hilton Hawaiian Village is that it is a true oasis of a resort in world-famous Waikiki. We’re an all-inclusive resort on 22 acres featuring more than 3,200 rooms across six towers and five swimming pools—all found on Waikiki’s widest stretch of beach.” Young adds that despite its size, there is about 50 percent open space, leaving plenty of room to explore.

But by and large (and we do mean very large), Las Vegas steals this show. From The Venetian, Excalibur and Paris Las Vegas to the 3,066-room Palazzo set to welcome its first guests in December, Vegas is certifiably the king of the hospitality hill. The quintessentially concocted destinations, replete from the imported grains of sand and the never-ending circus to Celine Dion belting ‘em out with Old Faithful regularity, have transformed tourist experiences and expectations, reinventing itself even as it remains fundamentally the same: freewheeling, tacky and totally exuberant. It’s a combination that makes people—lots of them—curious, and begs over-the-top hotels to up the ante.

Image: The Venetian, Las Vegas
The Venetian
Cobblestone pathways, serenading gondoliers, and a network of canals make it clear that The Venetian is aptly named. Go for a romantic fake gondola ride or go shopping at the Grand Canal Shoppes at this hotel, and a few Bellinis later, fancy yourself vacationing in Venice, instead of Vegas! The 4,027 room Venetian also boasts an 11,000 square foot poker room, more than a dozen restaurants and bars, a business center, and a theater.
Why doesn’t Dubai show on our list? If that burgeoning city’s Burj al-Arab Hotel is the world’s tallest (1,053 feet), it still can’t top the others on our list for room count. (And before too long the Rose Tower, also in Dubai, will surpass the Burj, at 1,093 feet). Another hostelry that was a legend in its time (and not for luxury) but that didn’t make it onto the list is the now defunct Hotel Rossiya in Moscow. Built in 1967 on the orders of Nikita Khrushchev—who perhaps anticipated a rush of tourists eager to queue for bread at area bakeries—the 21-story monster had 3,200 rooms. But it closed in 2006 and is being demolished to make room for a new hotel of some 2,000 rooms.

If the mere thought of staying in a mammoth hotel like the 4,408-room Luxor seems the antithesis of inspired travel—expanding one’s horizons, eluding anonymity, reveling in discovery—consider the upside: You’re probably not going to want to drag the kids to a trendy boutique hotel in Rome, or party with your girlfriends at a standard-issue Westin in, say, Boston. Checking into one of the big boys might just unleash a summer camp kind of vibe, refocusing your priorities on a) fun, b) your convention or c) contemplating that half-scale Eiffel Tower looming above the desert floor outside your window.

Reservations, anyone?

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