Before I continue with my opinion, here are some disclaimers:
1. I'm a Friend of the Bid for both bids.
2.Seattle's bid asks me for advice on WSFS issues. Reno's bid has so many experts on the subject that they don't need my assistance. But any group of fans can always ask me for WSFS advice, which I'll freely give until they are sick of hearing from me.
3. I'm chairman of next year's WSFS business meeting. Although it's highly unlikely, there is a very small chance that I could get involved in adjudicating any dispute over the election. Therefore, don't expect me to come out with an absolute endorsement of either site.
There is no perfect Worldcon site, no "Tucker Hotel." Every site is good and bad in different ways. How you should make your decision depends on what things are important to you. I know about some of the things I consider important, and about some of the things people have told me are important to them. You might well be surprised at what other people consider vitally important, and indeed, you might consider their choices trivial or even silly.
This report consists of both my and my wife Lisa's observations. She and I have been known to differ considerably on what we consider critical elements of what makes a good Worldcon site. Although I'm the one with the keyboard, I'm going to try and be fair about expressing Lisa's views, and she has read this before I posted it.
Lisa and I drove down South Virginia Street, Reno's main street – it's where the famous Reno Arch is located. We were staying in one of the downtown Reno hotels, approximately three miles (5 km) from the Convention Center/Atlantis/Peppermill hotels. Although I commonly walk long distances, I would not consider the downtown-to-convention center distance something I would routinely walk every day attending a convention. I couldn't possibly afford the time. (We didn't try this walk anyway, as Lisa had turned her ankle back in Wendover a couple of days ago.) If I were staying downtown, I'd have to drive between the sites or take a taxi, or possibly the public bus that does run down Virginia Street. This is neither free nor as convenient as the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall bus was in Denver. But if you intended to attend by staying at one of the many, many inexpensive hotels several miles away from the convention center, it's certainly doable if you have a car with which to commute to the convention.
Parking probably would not be a problem. Both hotels have large parking lots, both with open-to-the-sky flat parking lots. The Atlantis (the hotel that will be connected to the convention center by skywalk) has a large open-to-the-sky flat parking lot that had several RVs and vehicles with trailers parked in it, so anyone driving a tall or long vehicle is going to have a place to park. Most of the parking for the Atlantis is actually on the opposite side of Virginia Street from the hotel, with a large enclosed, air-conditioned skywalk connecting the parking lot to the hotel (about which I'll have more to say later). The Peppermill has a small open lot and a large parking garage. Both hotels' parking lots are free. The convention center has a large parking lot as well, but parking there is not free. As there was no event going while we visited, the convention center lots were closed, and there was no indication of what they would be charging for parking, or whether overnight parking would be allowed in those lots.
Most of this report will focus on the Atlantis, the primary property, and the one that will be connected by skywalk to the Convention Center. We did, however, also have a look at the Peppermill, the bid's secondary, overflow sleeping room property. The Peppermill is about 2/3 mile (about 1 km) north of the Atlantis. This weekend we visited is, as I recall, the equivalent weekend to the Reno bid's dates in 2011, so one might expect comparable weather. Today the weather here was hot, with temperatures just over 100 F (just under 40 C). It is dry and somewhat windy at times. If I were staying at the Peppermill, I would be loathe to walk between it and the Atlantis/Convention Center complex, although I might do it once a day, if I allowed the time for it. Running back to my hotel room would be out of the question unless it was urgent, and in which case I would get a taxi.
One interesting thing about the Peppermill is that it has a central area where all of the hotel's restaurants' menus are displayed on large screens along with pictures of those restaurants. This is a good place to go if you want to see all of what's available in the hotel.
The arrival experience at the Atlantis is apt to be somewhat different if you are flying and taking the airport shuttle (or taking the train and a taxi/shuttle from the train station in downtown Reno) versus driving. I addressed parking earlier; however, if staying at the hotel and driving, I recommend checking in first and unloading your bags, then parking after the bellmen have the bags, because slogging your bags from the parking lot through the casino to the hotel elevators is likely to be a pain.
Once you check in, you will be pointed at one of three banks of elevators. There are elevators serving the lower, middle, and upper thirds of the hotel towers. They run express to those sections of the hotels. There aren't enough elevators, but that's going to be true of all hotels – there are never enough elevators. I don't know in which section parties will be located. If the upper section, the "keycard" problem we had at the Sheraton Denver will occur, but I'm not going to speculate how the Reno team will handle this, as I've not discussed it with them.
You don't have to walk directly through the main casino to get from hotel check-in to the elevators, but the gaming areas are nearby and very obvious. You are effectively walking through the edge of the casino to get to the elevators, although not down the "main drag" of the place.
Getting back to the skywalk: When you reach the top of the skywalk that crosses Virginia Street, you are in a casino gaming area – and a restaurant! They have a sushi restaurant and oyster bar built across the bridge. You can of course walk through this area and descend the other side into the main building. (There are escalators and elevators on both ends of the skywalk.) The restaurant includes on the menu one of Lisa and my favorite dishes, shrimp pan roast, so we gave it a try for lunch. The pan roast does not compare well to that served at our favorite restaurant in the area, John's Oyster Bar at the Nugget in Sparks. Still, it is an interesting experience to eat in a restaurant sitting right over Reno's main street, with traffic rushing by below us.
The Atlantis has many restaurants besides the seafood house, including a buffet that claims to be one of the best in Reno. (We intend to try their Sunday brunch before we leave Reno this weekend.) We did not do a comprehensive review of menus, but Lisa did look at what we thought was the "coffee shop" restaurant, and was surprised to not find a 24-hour breakfast menu. Frankly, being able to get breakfast any time of the day or night is one of the things we find attractive about round-the-clock cities like Reno and Las Vegas. We may have been mistaken, as the Atlantis doesn't appear to have a central power core of restaurants the way the Peppermill does.
Not everyone likes casinos, and if our experience at Westercon is any indications, casinos are a little uneasy about folks in funny costumes (other than their own staff) disturbing the casino patrons. So we wanted to see how easy it was to get between the sleeping room areas and the convention center. The answer appears to be, "pretty easy, except for the arcade." The "natural" path from the hotel to the Reno Convention Center is going to be on the second floor – especially because that's where the hotel's function space will be, and I assume that the convention intends to use that space for nighttime programming. Two of the banks of elevators empty out into space next to the arcade, and the shortest and most direct path takes you through the arcade into the function space and over to where the skywalk to the Convention Center is under construction. This will probably be mildly annoying, but not actively distressing. It does, however, point out that we're not likely to "own" the space in this hotel the way our conventions sometimes do.
We walked down to the convention center skywalk. As it won't be complete until later this year, we obviously couldn't walk it yet, but we did go downstairs, then outside and walked the parallel path, crossing the side street that separates the hotel and convention center. My official Standlee Unit measurement is 190 paces door to door. This doesn't count any distance to get to the section of the convention center we're using; I don't know exactly what piece of the Reno Convention Center the bid is using, but I assume they aren't using it all, because the place has about 500,000 square feet of space, which is much more than a Worldcon needs.
We pulled on the door to the Convention Center, and were surprised to find it open. There did not appear to be an event in the building, and we did not go inside, as we didn't want to cause any problems. With the exception of the one time we rode the hotel elevators up and down (which are glass type and have a nice view, but are not for the acrophobic), we did not go to areas closed to the general public.
Returning to the Atlantis from the convention center, we went back up to the function space level and poked around a bit more. There is one restaurant/bar in this area, with a decent menu and a seating area for the bar that opens out into a sort of crossroads of function space. It looks to me like this would be a natural sort of mixing area for people coming and going from/to the convention center and hotel, and it may become a very good evening social space depending on how the bid decides to arrange evening programming.
An interesting little area here is marked "Registration" on the hotel map. It's not hotel registration – that's downstairs. It's an area that conventions can use for registering their members. It's far too small to handle a proper Worldcon registration, which I assume would be run out of the convention center, but I suspect that if the space is available, super-early pre-reg pickup (say Monday and Tuesday pre-con, if available) might be run from this space, and possibly an evening registration area could be done here. I wouldn't want to make a convention's operational decisions for them while they were still a bid, but this space looks quite likely and useful, given its central location within the hotel mix.
There looks to be a good selection of hotel function rooms and ballrooms here, all of which can be rearranged in the usual ways. They also have a very cushy Boardroom. It looked a little bit to me like a movie set, full of potential bells and whistles at the individual stations around the table. Given that it's about the same size as the room I usually request for WSFS Mark Protection Committee meetings, I briefly fantasized about an MPC meeting in there. I flashed on James Bond stock villain behavior, as I thought of pushing a button that sent an underperforming MPC member to a watery grave in one of the hotel's fish tanks one floor below. ("I'm very disappointed in you, Mr. Yalow.")
Some other observations about the area near the convention center. It's not downtown Reno. It's three miles south, and it has what I call a "suburban" air about it. There is a Raley's full-service grocery store diagonally across the street, which will make buying supplies for parties pretty easy. Also in the Raley's center is a shop that will rent tuxedos, something I recall being asked about at past Worldcons. There are other grocery and food stores on the opposite side of the convention center. There is also a 24-hour Walgreen's drug store between the Atlantis and the Peppermill.
A few long blocks down Virginia Street (about half a mile/1 km south by the odometer on my car) was a coin laundry that included "fluff and fold" service (they do your laundry for you). Given that I hauled my laundry several miles across Yokohama, I would have thought nothing of rolling it this distance down the street to wash it. Yes, the availability of laundry service and fluff-and-fold is something I've seen asked about many times on Worldcon sites.
Besides the large number of restaurants at both hotels, there are a variety of restaurants up and down Virginia Street, some of which I would consider walking distance. I don't intend to give a restaurant guide, but the key take-away is that you won't go hungry here, and that you'll be able to eat at any time of the day or night. I would have liked to have had this choice myself in 2002, when I complained that there were no 24-hour restaurants easily convenient to the site of the Worldcon I was co-chairing.
Will this space support a Worldcon? I think so. It is perfect? No. The secondary hotel is a lot further away from the primary hotel than, say, the Anaheim Marriott is from the Anaheim Hilton. And being a casino/resort property, we'll be sharing it with a lot of non-convention attendees. But it does seem to me that we could be pretty comfortable here, especially for those who end up staying in the Atlantis, who will have the opportunity to stay indoors for the entire five days, if that's what they want to do. Those who want to drive their RVs to the con will be able to do so without being told "Park at the airport and take a shuttle" (something someone once told Lisa). People who fly or take the train will have convenient access to the site. It won't be part of an interesting downtown area with lots of things to do within easy walking distance, but I see no fatal flaws in the site, either, especially if there is no other event in the portion of the convention center we aren't using.
Finally, I want to reiterate that I am not speaking officially for anyone or any group. I represent neither the bids nor the administering convention. These are merely my personal observations about the site through the eyes of an experienced Worldcon runner and his wife, who isn't so much a conrunner as a canary in the coal mine who is good at spotting flaws that those of us who run too many conventions may miss.