Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? You've come to the right place.

Each week you can come here to get the latest news, the juiciest gossip, and the best reviews for the most fabulous city in the world, Las Vegas. Hey... it says "fabulous" right on the welcome sign!

The latest weekly column will always be on this page, but you can go back through the archives (all the way back to 1999!) or take a look ahead and what's coming up next for Vegas by using the navigation on the left hand sidebar.

Thanks for visiting! Enjoy!

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Holidays in Vegas

It used to be that Christmas and the weeks leading up to it were the slowest time of the year in Las Vegas, with very little to do in the way of holiday festivities. These days there are still plenty of low cost rooms to be had and shorter lines at the buffets but there is lots of stuff to do that will put you in the holiday spirit. Here's a sampling:

Bellagio Conservatory
A must-visit on everyone's list should be the botanical gardens at Bellagio, which get all decked out every year with one of the most eye-popping holiday displays in town. There is usually a giant Christmas tree and plenty of faux-snow, plus more than a few lights and ornaments. The holiday display runs from December 2 through January 5, 2013.

Bellagio Fountains
One of the most iconic Vegas attractions takes on a decidedly holiday spin with the dancing waters choreographed to various Christmas songs. Expect "It's Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas," "Santa Baby," and "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" to name a few. The holiday songs will be in the rotation during the month of December.

Cosmopolitan Ice Skating
It's usually too chilly in Vegas in December to go swimming so the Cosmo has decided to embrace that weather reality and turn their pool area into a winter wonderland, complete with an ice staking rink, fire pits, and warm cocktails and s'mores. Mondays feature "Date Skate," where images of loving couples will be broadcast on the big marquee out in front of the hotel, Wednesdays will have resident DJs pumping up the jams, and Thursdays will feature retro music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The ice skating rink will be open from November 30 through January 5, 2013 from 3pm until 11pm Monday through Friday and 11am until 11pm Saturday and Sunday, except from December 24 through January 4 when it will be open 11am until 11pm daily. The cost is $15 per person with skate rentals at $5 more.

Crystals at CityCenter Holiday Display
The big mall at CityCenter usually decorates to the nines for the holidays with thousands of seasonal flowers (think poinsettias) and decorative ornaments. The display typically runs during the month of December.

Ethel M. Chocolate Factory Holiday Cactus Gardens
With the sweet smell of chocolate wafting in the air, the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory transforms their botanical cactus garden into a winter wonderland with half a million colorful lights adorning the plants. They also feature visits from Santa and local choirs performing carols. The display is on now through January 1 and is free of charge.

Fremont Street Experience
Glitter Gulch gets wintry in December with the addition of Christmas themed shows on the Viva Vision canopy, holiday concerts on the various stages, and lots of winter themed decorations. The light and sound shows are every hour on the hour after dark; concert acts and times vary.

Glittering Lights Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway
More than 2.5 miles of twinkling holiday lights adorn a drive-through spectacle at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Prices are $15 per car Monday through Thursday and $20 per car Friday through Sunday. The lights are lit now through January 6, 2013 and are open for goggling from 5:30 to 9pm Monday through Thursday and from 5:30 to 10pm Friday through Sunday. Note that traffic can be a bit of a nightmare around the event area so plan on some extra time.

The Great Santa Run
Opportunity Village - a local charity supporting people with learning disabilities - hosts this annual event that draws thousands of marathon runners dressed up like Santa Claus. There is a 5k run and a 1 mile walk plus bands, food, and more. The event this year is on Saturday, December 1 at 8am. You can get more info here.

Legends in Concert
This may be the very last time you can catch the holiday version of the long-running tribute show as it is closing its run at Harrah's after the New Year and doesn't have a new home yet. They usually add one or two Christmas songs to the line-up per artist.

Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
More than 3 million lights and holiday displays adorn the Magical Forest, an attraction put on by local charity Opportunity Village. But it isn't just lights... they also have Santa visits, carousel rides, a miniature golf course, and more spread out across three acres. All of the proceeds go to help people with learning disabilities. The Magical Forest is open now through December 31 from 5:30 until 9pm Sunday through Thursday and from 5:30 to 10pm Friday and Saturday and costs $10-$17 for adults and $8-14 for kids. You can get more information here.

Sam's Town Mystic Falls
The indoor atrium at Sam's Town on the east side of town gets a holiday makeover with polar bear sculptures, twinkling lights, holiday music, and a Cowboy Santa Claus. It's free and is open daily in the evenings.

Scuba Santa at Silverton
When you have a 117,000 gallon aquarium, what you do during the holidays it put a scuba diving Santa Claus in it. Or at least that's what the Silverton does. Kids can bring their wish list and an elf will communicate it to Santa via microphone. I love Las Vegas.

Springs Preserve Holiday Spectacular
The nature preserve just northwest of The Strip decorates with thousands of eco-friendly LED lights and offers reindeer pony rides, holiday arts and crafts, photos with Santa, food, choirs, and more. It runs December 8 and 9 and 15 through 23 and costs $8 for adults and $5 for kids.

Winter in Venice at The Venetian/Palazzo
The Venetian and Palazzo go all out for the holidays with a synthetic ice skating rink over the gondola canals in front of the hotel and carolers, holiday decor, and more inside. It runs from now through January 6, 2013.

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Bellagio Conservatory


 


Ethel M. Holiday Cactus Garden


 


Winter in Venice


 


Light Comes Back On

Light was the name of a revolutionary nightclub at Bellagio, which set the standard for high-energy, high-tech, and high cost nightlife entertainment. It even gave the name to the company that managed it, the Light Group.

Now Light and the Light Group are back in a partnership with Cirque du Soleil and MGM Resorts to create a next-generation nightclub at Mandalay Bay in the spring of 2013.

The club will merge cutting-edge technology with the latest music to produce an immersive experience in the 38,000-square-foot venue featuring state-of-the-art production and theatrics. Everyone in the club is part of the show with headlining DJs and performers leading the charge, coupled with exclusively built performance elements and visuals provided by revolutionary video mapping, lighting, sound and special effects experts Moment Factory, as well as avant-garde costumes and unique choreography.

"The nightclub will serve as a laboratory, very much like our special events and projects have done in the past, for different and new artistic possibilities," said Guy Laliberté, Founder, Cirque du Soleil.

Light is expected to open in March of 2013 in the space formerly occupied by rumjungle at Mandalay Bay. It will be timed to coincide with the launch of the new Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson production.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Thank God I Don't Have to Take a Bus Award of the Week goes to the taxi drivers in Vegas who agreed on a contract that would keep them behind the wheel instead of out on strike as had been threatened.

The Git Along Little Doggie Award of the Week goes to Garth Brooks, whose show at Wynn Las Vegas closed over the weekend. No word yet on what will replace the show but word on the streets is that Steve Wynn has hired director/choreographer Kenny Ortega to develop the concept for a new production show. Brooks will do a DVD of his Vegas show and is then rumored to be going out on tour in 2014.

The Stampede Award of the Week goes to Shania Twain, who rode into Caesars Palace on horseback accompanied by dozens of horses in a parade down Las Vegas Boulevard. The event was to signal the official beginning of Twain's residency at Caesars, which will see her doing shows at The Colosseum starting December 1, 2012.

The I Can See Your Lips Moving Award of the Week goes to Terry Fator who has signed a contract extension with The Mirage that will keep him and his ventriloquist dummies gainfully employed through 2016. The new contract comes with a new schedule that will have Fator performing Monday through Friday nights and off on the weekends so he can do other gigs.

The Grand Slam Award of the Week goes to Denny's, which has opened its first ever Downtown Las Vegas location at Neonopolis. In addition to the typical 24 hour menu, the Fremont Street location (at Neonopolis) embraces its Vegas roots by having a wedding chapel.

The Where's My Pickle Award of the Week goes to Treasure Island, which has closed Canter's Deli and replaced it with a new poker room. A hot dog stand will be added in what remains of the former deli space.

The What's in Name Award of the Week goes to LVH: The Las Vegas Hotel, which may be getting a new moniker soon. A company that is owned by the same parent as LVH has registered the name International Hotel & Casino, which is the original name of the property when it opened in 1969. Everyone is denying that the hotel will get rebranded but we'll see.

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Tip of the Hat


 


Horsing Around


 


Show Review: Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil

Replacing Elvis Presley must be an intimidating challenge. He was The King after all. But "Viva Elvis," the Cirque du Soleil tribute show has left the building (Aria, to be specific) and in its place is Zarkana, a much more traditionally Cirque show in ways both good and not so good.

The concept here is akin to a rock opera, with the main character Zark acting as a ringleader of sorts, introducing various circus style acts and clownish characters. According to the program there is a storyline - something about Zark on a quest to regain his lost magical powers - but you'd never know it if you didn't bother to leaf through the pages while waiting for the curtain to go up. The original touring version of the show was almost a musical, with songs and lyrics. The songs remain but the lyrics have been replaced by Cirque-style nonsensical babble - it sounds vaguely Italian - so what you are left with is people singing emphatically about, well, who knows? It seemed really important.

But you didn't come for the singing, you came for the classic Cirque acts, which usually amaze with their spectacle-sized execution. But in a strange reversal of expectations, the big acts feel a bit routine and less-than-impressive while the small acts offer the show's wow-worthy moments.

The two standout acts were so simple and small that it's hard to believe they could have had such an impact. The first was a woman doing sand art, manipulating a thin sheen of blue sand on a screen broadcast to the audience. Landscapes, people, and even scenes you've just witnessed on stage slowly emerge as she "finger paints" with the sand in ways that are nothing short of amazing.

The other act comes toward the end of the show is nothing more than a man dancing and showing off his impressive gymnastic skills. The staging is what makes it memorable, with lights casting his shadow in giant relief on the walls of the theater and a special effect behind him that mimics his movements in what appears to be wisps of smoke. Two pianists on grand pianos accompany the dancer, helping to making the piece almost heart-breaking in its simplicity. It was, by far, my favorite moment of the entire show.

Other smaller acts that made an impact included a woman opening the show with an impressive, although low-key, mastery of the art of bouncing tennis balls (I bet you didn't know that was an art form, but in this performer's hands it is); a couple balancing on ladders that provided a few clench-your-armrest gasps; and a gymnast doing some amazing stunts on a flexible plank suspended on the shoulders of two burly men.

The bigger acts, as mentioned, are not as big in terms of impact, at least to my jaded eyes and maybe to yours if you've had any experience with Cirque shows before. There's a high-wire act, a flying trapeze group, a spinning wheel device on which people run and jump and balance, a company of acrobats, and a cadre of people spinning in oversized rings. It's entertaining, to be sure, especially for folks who are new to Cirque, but many of the acts left me a bit cold.

So where does that leave Zarkana on the hierarchy of Las Vegas Cirque shows? If you've never seen one, start with Mystére or O. Then move on to the more challenging Love or . Believe with Criss Angel isn't really a Cirque show anymore, so leave that one out of the equation for now. I'd put Zumanity at the bottom of this particular human pyramid, so the good news for Zarkana is that it isn't my least favorite Cirque show in Vegas.

Vegas4Visitors Rating: B

Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil
Aria
3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
866-359-7111
website

Price:

  • $69-$180
  • Show Times:

  • Fri-Tue 7 & 9:30pm
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    Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil


     


    Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil


     


    Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil


     

    Buffet Review: Caesars Palace Bacchanal Buffet

    The evolution of the Las Vegas buffet from cheap (in all sense of the word including price and food quality) to extravagant (ditto) is officially complete with the arrival of the food orgy that is the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. It is packed to the rafters with more than 500 food choices and comes with a bill that can shock even the most jaded of eaters.

    The room is as richly appointed as the buffet selections, with coolly modern furnishings and lots of structural elements that divide up the big room into smaller, more manageable sections. The only downside is that the layout of the buffet stations, which are staggered around the room instead of in one long line, and a lack of any central walkways, means that people are criss-crossing the room in between tables, balancing overburdened plates of food almost constantly. Disaster is inevitable.

    Menu items will vary from day to day and by time of day but here's a sampling of what was on tap when we hit the place for a Saturday brunch: breakfast items including scrambled eggs, eggs benedict, eggs Florentine, made-to-order omelets, bacon, regular pancakes, red-velvet pancakes, waffles, bacon, patty sausage, link sausage, and more; seafood items including snow crab, king crab, crab legs, oysters, mussels, and more; Japanese specialties including a wide variety of sushi and sashimi; Chinese dishes including fried rice, potstickers, dim sum, and made-to-order stir fry; about 10 different pizzas from a wood-burning oven; a carving station with ham, turkey, roast beef, and two different kinds of sausage; American dishes; Italian dishes; Mexican dishes... I started to get dizzy after that and lost track, but there was a freaking lot of food.

    A full dessert station offers hand-made crepes, hand-scooped ice cream and gelato, cookies, pies, cakes, and much, much more.

    Everything we sampled was good to very good, warm when it was supposed to be and cold when it was meant to be. My personal favorite was the made-to-order omelet (ham, cheese, onion, and tomato for me), which takes a few minutes but is totally worth it.

    Okay, so now, the prices. Are you sitting down? Breakfast is $22, lunch is $29, weekend brunch is $42 (including champagne), and dinner is $45. Granted, you will pay that much (and more) at many traditional restaurants in Vegas for food that isn't as good but this is still a shockingly high price to pay for an all-you-can-eatery.

    I think there are buffets that are just as good (or nearly as good) that are anywhere from a few bucks cheaper (Wynn, Bellagio) to substantially cheaper (Main Street Station) but I will say that despite the high costs you feel as though you got your money's worth.

    Caesars Palace Bacchanal Buffet
    Caesars Palace
    3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
    Las Vegas, NV 89109
    866-227-5938
    website

    Hours:

  • Daily 7am-10pm
  • Restaurant Type:

  • Buffet
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    Hungry?


     

    A Look Back: 600 Weekly Columns

    In a few weeks I will be writing my 600th Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column!

    The Vegas4Visitors Weekly Column debuted in September of 1999 and I have been averaging about 45 of them a year, every year since. The one you are reading today is the 593rd so if things go according to plan we'll see 600 right after the start of 2013 (which, by the way, marks the 15th Anniversary of Vegas4Visitors.com).

    Every week from now until 600, I'm going to rerun some of my favorite pieces from columns of days gone by. This week it's time to look at 2002, including the news of the year, some favorite quotes from reviews (mostly snarky in nature), and my picks for the best of the year in shows, restaurants, attractions, and hotels.

    One of the strangest things about going through the 2002 columns is how cyclical Vegas is. 2002 was the first year I reviewed The Palms and the Amazing Johnathan, both of which I just revisited for updated reviews last week. Fitzgerald's was remodeled in 2002 and last week I toured it again after it became The D Las Vegas. It was also the year that the nightclub Light debuted and this week they announced a new version of Light in conjunction with Cirque du Soleil. Then there was that whole thing with the tic-tac-toe playing chicken...

    January 14
    New Year's Eve in Vegas
    The country's overall fear of flying also made the drive worse than normal. I came in from Los Angeles on a rainy Saturday and the trip that I can make in around 4 hours was a 7-hour odyssey, complete with traffic jams, accidents, and a strange incident involving a motor home, a carload of teenagers with guns, and a lot of highway patrol officers. But perhaps that's a story for another time.

    Green Valley Ranch Opens
    The newest hotel in Vegas opened a few weeks ago with a star-studded party and fireworks celebrating the latest link in the Station Casinos chain. Green Valley Ranch debuted December 18th with a swanky soiree designed to show off the upscale resort as a hip, hot spot for both locals and tourists.

    The guest list was a mix of both Las Vegas and national celebrities with Siegfried and Roy mingling with Cindy Crawford and Craig Kilborn. Flowing champagne, open bars, and free food at all of the facilities restaurants (including Fatburger!) made the VIP event a raucous success. Under a canopy of fireworks, the doors opened to the general public at 9pm and the hotel was ready for business.

    January 21
    Vacation Village Closes
    Vacation Village, a small hotel/casino located on the southernmost edges of The Strip, closed suddenly last week after a bankruptcy judge approved a transfer of ownership. More than 300 employees were laid off and guests that had been staying in the hotel were transferred to other locations in Las Vegas.

    January 28
    Price is Riot
    People often ask me why I like Las Vegas - it's because of stories like this....

    A near-riot ensued last week at The Rio Suites hotel when tickets to a taping of "The Price is Right" ran out. No, I'm not making this up.

    It seemed simple enough: tape the 30th Anniversary special of the hit game show "The Price is Right" at a theater at The Rio Suites in Las Vegas and offer free tickets to anyone who wants to watch and possibly "Come on Down!" What could go wrong?

    Well, for starters the theater in which the taping was to occur only holds 900 people. According to some reports there were that many people waiting to claim those coveted seats the night before the tickets were to be handed out. By the next morning, hours before the scheduled 10am ticket disbursement, the crowd had swelled to as much as 10,000 hearty souls. 10,000 people vying for 900 seats - you do the math.

    Sensing trouble, hotel officials began handing out the tickets at 5:30am and within minutes they were gone, but the roughly 9,100 people who were left out in the proverbial cold weren't too happy about it. Pushing and shoving and shouting ensued and eventually the local Las Vegas police department had to be called in to keep things from escalating into a full-blown riot.

    February 4
    Tropicana to be Demolished
    Aztar Corporation, the company that holds a 50% ownership stake of the fabled Tropicana Hotel & Casino on The Strip, has announced plans to buy out their partner and redevelop the property. Plans are still on the drawing board at this time, but the action could lead to the 45-year-old hotel being demolished to make way for one or two new resorts.

    The company paid $117.5 million for the half they didn't already own and is now going forward with developing an overall strategy for the highly visible plot of land that the Tropicana sits on. Although it will probably be at least a year before they even decide what is going to happen, company officials seem to indicating that the Tropicana probably won't make it to its 47th birthday in 2004.

    According to the Las Vegas Sun, one of the options currently under consideration would involve replacing the Tropicana with two smaller resort hotel-casinos, although in this particular instance, "smaller" is a relative term. The 34-acre site could be divided in half, each with a 2000 to 3000 room hotel and gigantic 100,000 square-foot casinos. That would mean that just one of the two replacement hotels would be larger in both room inventory and casino space than the existing Tropicana.

    The other option would be to develop some sort of single, gargantuan mega-resort that would take up the entire parcel of land. This option is probably much less likely for economic and marketing reasons.

    Regardless of which plan is picked, the demolition of the Tropicana seems to be a foregone conclusion.

    February 11
    Predicting the Future
    2005 and beyond: This is all just guessing at this point, but I'd expect to see the San Francisco replacement for the Frontier in 2005 or 2006 and probably the first of two hotel/casinos to replace The Tropicana.

    I'd also expect some major action in other places on the north Strip near Le Reve such as a possible London themed casino hotel where the old El Rancho used to be and, dare I say it, new incarnations for The Stardust and Sahara. What I mean by that is just as massive new development on the center and south end of The Strip signaled the end of hotels like The Dunes and Sands, I think the competition from places like Le Reve and the San Francisco hotel will force oldsters like The Stardust and Sahara closer to the demolition pile.

    Of course that's just my opinion and I'm often wrong, but if I wind up being right, I intend to be very smug about it.

    February 18
    New South Beach Hotel Planned
    HoJo and IHOP are out and Miami is in as a new hotel won approval for construction near the southern end of The Strip. The new art-deco themed hotel to be named South Beach will replace the aging Howard Johnson's and International House of Pancakes located on the southeast corner of Tropicana and Industrial, just across the freeway from Excalibur and New York-New York.

    South Beach is expected to feature 460 rooms and timeshares in a 24-story tower, a smallish 26,000 square-foot casino, a restaurant, and a pool deck and recreation area designed by the same folks who did the outside of Treasure Island. The entire project is estimated to cost approximately $115 million and demolition of the HoJo could start as soon as this summer.

    The property is being developed by Marvin Lipschultz, a former Hollywood movie producer and real-estate developer. Lipschultz purchased the Howard Johnson hotel a couple of years ago, but South Beach will be his first major hotel-casino.

    If all goes well, South Beach could open by 2004.

    March 11
    South Beach Hotel Opposed
    Speaking of MGM MIRAGE, they have joined forces with Station Casinos to oppose the development of a new Miami themed hotel/casino on Tropicana. The new hotel to be known as South Beach was approved by the city council a couple of weeks ago and will replace the Howard Johnson on the southeast corner of Tropicana and Industrial, just over the freeway from New York-New York and Excalibur. MGM MIRAGE and Station, which owns Wild Wild West just across the street from the proposed new development, both say that the plans for South Beach are too big and will adversely affect traffic in the area.

    April 1
    Chuckwagon Races
    And finally, this news from Vegas that makes me want to rest my head on something cool.... Organizers have announced that Las Vegas will be the site for the Championship Chuckwagon Races, an event that requires competitors to load a stove and tent poles into a horse drawn covered- wagon and then race it around an obstacle course and oval track. The "sport" is apparently huge in Canada and "race" officials are hoping to bring the "excitement" to the US. The Las Vegas Stampede, as it will be known, is scheduled for September 19-22.

    No word yet on if there will be giant dogs chasing them across a kitchen floor.

    By the way, I was going to make up some wild story for April Fool's Day, but I don't know how I can possibly top the chuckwagon thing. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

    April 8
    Goodman Proposes Mafia Museum
    And finally, our favorite Mayor Oscar Goodman is touting a plan to convert a historic post office near downtown into a... are you ready for this... mafia museum. Goodman, who spent much of the '70s and '80s as an attorney for various mob bosses, wants the museum to house memorabilia, exhibits, and displays that focus on the mafia's influence in Las Vegas. He insists that it would not be used to glorify illegal activity, but rather to acknowledge the fact that while most, if not all, of that activity is gone from the city today, much of Vegas' fame was built on the money and influence of certain well-connected "family" members.

    April 29
    The Dan Tanna Era
    It's probably going too far to say that Robert Urich is the reason that you're reading this column today. But to a 12-year old kid in Iowa, the sexy-suave allure of private eye Dan Tanna was undeniable as he zipped around town in his red '57 Thunderbird, mixing it up with beautiful showgirls and lowlife hoodlums in one fell swoop, all with the backdrop of what was obviously the most glamorous, most decadent, most id-inspiring city in the world: "Vega$."

    That TV show made me want to go there and later, when I did, visions of private eye danger swirled in my head. It was on that first trip as an adult that I fell in love with Las Vegas. Although to be honest I was never as cool as Dan Tanna was. Nor as cool as Robert Urich was either.

    Urich's passing at the age of 55 from a rare form of cancer brought back a lot of those early visions of Vegas. I was lucky enough to begin visiting the city at the tail end of the era personified by "Vega$" - the slightly debauched '70s and early '80s where The Sands, The Dunes, the original MGM Grand, and Dan Tanna's home The Desert Inn ruled the city with their zippy-modern glass chandeliers, riotous disco era carpeting, and smoky mirrors on every available surface.

    The Desert Inn, where Urich's character worked and played, was remodeled into an all-shades-of-beige resort and later, as seemed inevitable at some point, closed and was torn down to make way for another all-shades-of-beige resort only with a couple of billion dollars thrown at it.

    Even Tanna's home - the converted warehouse that was a teenage kid's dream pad - (come on! He parked his car inside!!) - was torn down years ago to make way for a mini-mall or an Arby's or something equally as pedestrian. I know it was just a building where they shot the exteriors, and the inside was on a soundstage somewhere else, but it was still cool and it was still torn down to make way for a mini-mall or an Arby's.

    The destruction of The Desert Inn and the square cement building that represented all of the "Vega$" dreams were more than just the relentless forward march of progress. They were a passing of sorts. The Dan Tanna Era was officially over.

    But that era, like the actor who personified it, will be remembered fondly at least in this little corner of the Internet world. Turn on those reruns of "Vega$" and watch history rocket by in the background. Look! That was the Desert Inn with its black glass fašade and Wayne Newton on the marquee. Over there... that tower. No, it's not the Stratosphere but the Landmark. And there's The Sands. The Dunes. The Castaways. The Hacienda.

    And look there! It's Dan Tanna and his red '57 Thunderbird, cruising The Strip the way it was meant to be cruised.

    Rest in peace Mr. Urich.

    Trump in Vegas
    Donald Trump is reportedly set to make his first foray into Las Vegas with a proposed $300 million luxury condominium complex to be constructed next door to The New Frontier, just off The Strip. Trump Tower Las Vegas will be a co-venture between Atlantic City mainstay Trump and Frontier owner Phil Ruffin that will feature 300 units in a 60-story tower. Located on Fashion Show Drive, just behind The Frontier and across the street from the expanding Fashion Show Mall, the complex is slated to break ground by the end of the year with condos available to move into sometime in 2004.

    No costs for the units were divulged, but I'd guess they're going to be kinda pricey. Like sell a kidney pricey.

    May 6
    And In Other News...
    And finally, in the "I'll Believe It When I See It" category, a developer/producer is reportedly buying up land behind Paris and Bally's to build a $35 million theater to house a new water-themed show called "Aquaria." The only reason this is especially notable now is because famed swimmer Esther Williams has signed on board to design costumes and co-produce the whole thing. The show will apparently feature some sort of story about a Greek goddess, swimming, snowboarding, and ice-skating.

    Because of course there was a lot of snowboarding going on in ancient Greece.

    May 27
    Trip Report
    I thought you should all know that I'm never flying to Vegas again. Now, I don't want to start any kind of airline boycott or feel like I'm personally responsible for ruining the Vegas economy, so please don't let my experience sour you on air travel, but it's out there and I'm sticking by it. I'm never flying to Vegas again.

    There was a moment when the plane powered down and took a sudden, dramatic dive to the right when pretty much everyone on board was convinced that it was all over. I somehow resisted the urge to scream like a 9-year old girl and after a few heart-stopping moments the plane leveled out and everything was fine. Until we landed more or less on one wheel while strong, gusty winds jerked the plane around.

    So it's official. Driving to Vegas is the wave of the future. Of course the weekend I went, a giant SUV went careening off I-15 on the way to Vegas killing several of the people on board so maybe I'll just stay home from now on. Diving airplanes and crashing cars don't happen too often when I'm sitting on my fat butt watching TV.

    Goodbye Mr. O'Lucky
    One of Downtown Vegas' most beloved icons is going the way of the dinosaur with the announcement that crews at Fitzgerald's will take down Mr. O'Lucky, the giant 34-foot leprechaun/mascot that stands guard over the Fremont Street hotel. But O'Lucky's charms won't be gone forever. The hotel plans to donate the statue to the Neon Museum where it will be restored and put on permanent display either on The Fremont Street Experience or in the museum's future home. The statue removal is part of a hotel-wide sprucing up that will see new dining facilities, carpet, and paint.

    And yes, I said O'Lucky's charms. Sue me.

    June 17
    Tic Tac Toe Chicken
    You may think I'm a bit cuckoo, but what I consider to be the most important development in gaming has arrived on The Las Vegas Strip since the invention of the slot machine: your chance to win $10,000 by playing Tic Tac Toe against a live chicken at the Tropicana.

    How can you not love this idea? (Unless you're a member of PETA, but that's a discussion for another time.)

    The $10,000 Chicken Challenge pits one of fifteen specially trained live chickens against untrained live people like you in an electronic Tic Tac Toe game. If you beat the chicken, you win $10,000. Now, before you go getting all "cocky," you should probably be aware that they've been doing this at the Tropicana in Atlantic City for almost a year now and only five people have won.

    The wacky promotion launched here last week with all sorts of typically over-the-top Vegas fanfare. The star of the show "Ginger" was flown in by helicopter and then ushered down a red carpet to her high-tech coop on a velvet draped golden "barge" by four guys in tuxedos. Of course there was an Elvis impersonator and showgirls on hand to make it a truly Vegas experience.

    And as if that wasn't enough, Phyllis Diller was on hand to inaugurate the new attraction resplendent in a feathered outfit. She played Ginger and tied, which wins the player nothing by the way.

    June 24
    New Cirque Shows Planned
    Can't get enough of those amazing circus-meets-performance-art Cirque du Soleil productions in Vegas? Well, there's good news as two more hotels have announced upcoming Cirque productions. MGM MIRAGE officials have not only confirmed long bandied rumors that a Cirque show will replace Lord of the Dance at New York-New York but that they will also replace the Rick Springfield rock extravaganza EFX Alive at the MGM Grand.

    July 1
    Fremont East
    The proposal to turn a crime-ridden section of Downtown Las Vegas into an urban hotspot got a ceremonial kick-off last week as the mayor and a city councilman drove giant street sweepers through the neighborhood. The six blocks of Fremont Street just east of the Fremont Street Experience are the target for the city's revitalization plan that will hopefully transform the strip of tacky souvenir shops and rundown motels into a hub for nightclubs, taverns, and shopping. To get things started, city police will be increasing their presence to try to rid the area of prostitution and drug dealing with cosmetic sprucing and new businesses hoped for by sometime next year.

    July 22
    Giant Pandas at Mandalay Bay?
    The Washington Post is reporting that officials at Mandalay Bay are considering building a $10 million glass-domed enclosure to house two giant pandas. The facility would not only offer the public a chance to see them, but allow on-site researchers an opportunity to study ways of returning the species from the brink of extinction. Some animal rights advocates are decrying the idea as exploitation but others hope that it will follow the pattern of The Mirage's dolphin habitat, which has become one of the most successful research, education, and breeding programs in the country.

    A final decision on the exhibit will depend on licensing and deals with the Chinese government, reportedly for up to $100 million, but if all goes well the pandas could be in place by the end of 2004.

    July 29
    New Station Casino Planned
    Buoyed by their smash hit Green Valley Ranch, Station Casinos has announced plans to build another hotel casino in the Las Vegas area, set to debut in 2005. The new property will be constructed in Summerlin, a bedroom community on the northwest side of town, not too far from the Suncoast and JW Marriott/Rampart hotel casinos.

    (this eventually became Red Rock Resort)

    August 26
    Tropicana Chicken Defeated
    In a stunning upset, a Las Vegas woman became the first person to beat Ginger, the tic-tac-toe playing chicken at the Tropicana. Barbara Howell walked away $10,000 richer and more than a little cocky about her victory, especially considering the tens of thousands of folks who have gone head to head with the chicken and lost.

    The lucky Vegas woman who beat Ginger didn't say what she planned on doing with her winnings, but one would presume a celebratory dinner at KFC might be in order.

    September 2
    Bellagio Expansion Back on Track
    Officials with the Bellagio have announced plans to add nearly 1,000 rooms to the upscale Strip property, bringing their total room inventory to just under 4,000. The new Spa Tower, as it will be known, will be constructed just south of the existing hotel's pool and will have direct access to an expanded spa and salon.

    The plans for this expansion have been sitting on the proverbial shelf since 2000 when MGM purchased the Bellagio and the rest of the Mirage Resorts. Former Mirage chair Steve Wynn had announced the new tower just prior to the buyout but the new owners put them on hold and then delayed them again after the September 11th terrorist attacks caused a massive downturn in the Vegas economy.

    September 16
    Maxim Sold
    The beleaguered Maxim will get new look, a new name, and a new mission according to plans released by the new owners who snapped up the now-closed hotel and casino for a cool $38 million. It will be reborn sometime next year in the Westin chain of upscale hotels.

    Ohio based Columbia-Sussex Corporation purchased the beleaguered Maxim last week and plans to substantially renovate the entire property. Interior and exterior upgrades, including a completely new facade, will begin next month with completion expected by late 2003.

    November 18
    National Folds
    The long-troubled National Airlines folded suddenly last week, leaving employees and passengers stranded. The Las Vegas based carrier had been operating in bankruptcy for more than a year but executives with the airline decided that they'd never be able to turn the business around and so they pulled the plug without any warning.

    Within a few hours the National counters at airports nationwide had been stripped of computers, schedules, and even the signs off the wall. Passengers arriving to catch flights were lucky to catch any employee willing to tell them they had gone out of business and weren't giving refunds or alternate flight assistance. Many were forced to camp out in airports overnight and pay full fare tickets on other airlines to get home.

    November 25
    Moon Hotel Proposed
    If nothing else, you have to admire his chutzpah.

    Michael Henderson had an idea for what could become not only the biggest and most expensive hotel in the world, but the greatest Las Vegas themed resort in history: a $5 billion, 10,000 room hotel with a casino and other public areas in a 40-plus-story recreation of the moon.

    But not content to let his grand idea become a story he would tell a cocktail parties, Henderson spent over $1 million to build a scale model, launch a high-tech website, and hold press conferences to try and lure investors to pony up the money to get the thing built.

    Among the features of the proposed hotel:

    • 10,000 rooms, making it the largest hotel in the world
    • 350 foot tall replica of the moon with a casino and much more inside
    • A wave pool in the shape of a moon crater with a lunar landing module in the center accessible through underwater glass walkways.
    • An indoor aquatic center with scuba diving and a weightless "experience."
    • A scale replica of the International Space Station hovering above the lobby, housing a science and technology exhibit.
    • A terrestrial biosphere with a vineyard and organic gardens.
    • A fully enclosed winter sports arena with downhill skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating.
    • Indoor champion golf course and tennis courts.
    • A 60,000-seat entertainment and sports arena.
    • Indoor moon-buggy ride and rock climbing mountain.
    • The largest convention center in the world with private helipads.
    • A showroom featuring Cirque du Lune, a lunar themed show from Cirque du Soleil.
    So when will you be able to make your own moon landing in Las Vegas? Well, probably never.

    All of this is, as mentioned, just an idea that Henderson is trying to get people interested in by holding the aforementioned press conference. The chances that anyone would be willing to front him the $5 billion to build it are about the same as you rolling a dozen sevens in a row at the craps table. Especially when most analysts believe that as envisioned Henderson's $5 billion estimate is probably conservative by at least half.

    Cashless Slots
    MGM MIRAGE has announced that they are going to convert almost all slots machines in their six Las Vegas area casinos to a cashless ticket system. The new system will allow users to insert cash or coins into a machine and cash-out with a paper ticket that can either be inserted into another machine or cashed at any cage. The E-Z Pay ticket slots have proven very popular in smaller local casinos but this will be the first time they will be used extensively on The Strip. Expect to see the machines at MGM Grand, Bellagio, New York-New York, Mirage, Treasure Island, and Golden Nugget by next summer.

    December 2
    Magical Empire Closes
    And finally, a sad closing to note. One of my favorite attractions in Vegas, Caesars Magical Empire, has shut its doors for good. Rumors of the closure of the magical dinner theater experience have dogged the attraction for years, mostly ramping up in early 2000 when the hotel was close to signing a deal to replace it with an upscale nightclub. That deal apparently fell through but may be resurrected again with rumors of a famous Latin singer "Conga"-ing her way through the space to check it out for a possible new nightspot.

    A big thumbs down to Caesars for taking away this terrific entertainment venue.

    December 16
    Your Ideas for Vegas Hotels
    A few weeks ago I did a story about the wild and wacky idea one man has for building a huge lunar-themed resort in Vegas complete with a 40-story replica of the moon. I figured some of you might have interesting ideas for what should compete against the city skylines and pyramids on the Vegas Strip and apparently I was right. Here are some of the best ideas submitted from our readers:

    Haunted House. Take the decor from the Addams Family, the Munsters, and just about any horror film from the 1950's or 1960's. It would be Halloween every day of the year. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman wander around greeting visitors. The rooms would have canopy beds with black drapes. The lounge's signature drink would be variations on the Bloody Mary.
    -- Glenn in Alberta, Canada

    How about one based on the Arctic? The Canadian (or Alaska) north? Faux ice everywhere, rooms that look like igloos or rustic cabins, the odd animatronic moose here and there, the Northern Lights on the ceiling (done by laser light)... they would of course crank up the air conditioning so that it's always a bit on the cool side inside. The overall experience would be part Northern Exposure, part Nanuk Of The North. :)
    -- Glenn in Alberta, Canada

    You have a miniature version of New York, a miniature version of Paris, a miniature version of Venice...how about a miniature version of Las Vegas itself? The Vegas Las Vegas would have a complete miniature version of Vegas, with scaled down versions of all of the casinos on the Strip. You could even have miniature implosion ceremonies as the corresponding aging casinos themselves are imploded, and have "grand openings" of the new scale casinos that are built in their place. For the ultimate self-referential city, the self-referential possibilities are limitless...
    -- Mark (location not provided)

    A giant Robot Casino. Think about it, it's a wonderful thing. The robot would walk around from Las Vegas to LA. It would be shaped like a 50s idea of a Robot. The Robot would have a dock in the outskirts of Las Vegas and would walk about in 2000 feet high casing, The Robot would also carry 7000 rooms, a sports arena, 7 lounges, 5000 bathrooms, 8000 crew spaces, and at the very top would be a glass room where people can scare themselves silly.
    --Austin in Seattle, Washington

    For as long as I've been going to Vegas, I've had this idea for a "theme" casino: What is the one thing you would NEVER find in the desert? A huge iceberg! Think of it... A huge translucent iceberg that glows blue-white at night... All the waitresses could dress in short parkas...A manmade snow "park"... Gawd!.... I blubber just thinking about it!
    -- Bill (location not provided)

    How about a trip to hell? Linda Blair would just love it! Can you imagine a pit landing with a special escort from the devil himself! 10,000 rooms would just about accommodate everyone going there anyway! Lot's a laughs and dollars!
    -- Peter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    How about a Chocolate World Like Willy Wonka's?
    -- Terry in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

    Wow, you guys are creative! Who knows, maybe someday we'll have an edible chocolate casino on the Strip. I know I'd go.

    Thank you to everyone who sent in suggestions.

    Review Quotes
    From the review of Bravo starring Charo
    As a child who watched way too much television in the 70s and 80s, I remember Charo as the busty, Spanish jiggle girl that she so often portrayed in episodes of "The Love Boat," "Fantasy Island," the odd Bob Hope special, and one particularly disturbing episode of "Facts of Life" where Natalie winds up at this truck stop and...

    Never mind. You officially know too much about me.

    From the review of Light, a nightclub at Bellagio
    First, the door staff deserves special mention. I've been invited to many of these kinds of clubs in Las Vegas as a guest for the purposes of review and as such I often get placed on the so-called "VIP" list. You'd think this would mean that despite my receding hairline, Sears fashion, and ten extra pounds (oh just play along) that I would receive at least some form of simple courtesy, but in my experience the door staff at most chi-chi nightclubs have fallen somewhere between dismissive and downright rude.

    From the review of Bullshrimp, a steakhouse at Green Valley Ranch
    They have many tempting offerings but let me throw myself down on the train tracks here and state, for once and for all, that Mauler's various restaurants offer the best cheesecake in the world. You heard me. The best cheesecake IN THE WORLD! Light and fluffy, moist and creamy... I can't possible describe it. You have to order it and be transported.

    From the review of Stivali, an Italian restaurant at Circus Circus
    My one and only complaint with Stivali was purely a demographic one. Because it's located at Circus Circus, it is popular with families and their children. I spent the last 20 minutes of my meal being stared at by the 2-year-old in the next booth who apparently found me much more fascinating than the meal his parents were ordering.

    From the review of Lady Luck
    The casino has been remodeled, removing some of the more obnoxious and overwhelming elements and updating the carpeting and the like. It's still a bit crowded and smoky for my tastes, but it's a lot better on both of those issues than it used to be. Although it wouldn't be my first choice for gambling, it isn't an entirely unpleasant place to lose your money - or win some as I did while waiting for our hotel tour. Winning always makes me predisposed to liking a casino.

    From the review of Skintight, a topless show at Harrah's
    There's also a new "celebrity" guest star in Vanna Lace, a former Penthouse cover girl and Miss Nude Universe, a title that I wasn't aware existed and am not exactly sure how you obtain. I mean, do you have to go through Miss Nude Kansas and Miss Nude USA before you get to Miss Nude Universe? And how do they work the sash thing?

    Really, the only part of the show that I'm not crazy about is the guest star Lace. Don't get me wrong... in addition to being a beautiful woman, she is a classically trained ballet dancer and if you can get past the fact that she's spinning around topless in a giant globe, she's actually got a natural athleticism missing from most women who spin around topless in giant globes.

    From the review of Showgirls of Magic, at the San Remo (now Hooter's)
    Okay, so there's this part in "Showgirls of Magic" where a very large man (in terms of girth) comes out dressed as Cher from her "If I Could Turn Back Time" video (the one with the leather jacket and not much else) and lip-syncs a duet of "I've Got You Babe" with a little person (ie: person with dwarfism) dressed as Sonny Bono circa 1968.

    I was convinced at that point that someone had slipped some mind-altering drug into my bottle of water and that at any moment I'd start screaming about pink crocodiles while trying to claw my eyes out. It was that weird.

    And then there's the Great Antoine, the aforementioned little person who wears a turban and fake buck-teeth while performing some really basic magic tricks. Really it's all just an excuse to put him next to a showgirl and allow him to leer at the part of said showgirl that he happens to be eye level with. If you think that's funny, you're going to love this guy. You can go through puberty later.

    From the review of Seven, a nightclub on The Strip where CityCenter is now
    There is a large bar/serving area with a few standing tables and then the large dance floor with a stage set up for, presumably, live concerts, although on the night of my visit the entertainment was being provided by a house DJ. The music was pretty straight ahead pop/dance with an up-tempo remix of Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U" being about the only thing that stuck in my head, for which, of course, I may never forgive them.

    From the review of the Liberace Museum
    Oh yeah, there's also a new entryway shaped like a giant rhinestone topped by a giant pink piano, a huge wall designed to look like sheets of music ("Beer Barrel Polka" of course), and an outdoor patio for parties shaped like a giant record, just in case you worried that the place was getting too serious.

    From the review of the Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues
    Now it's important to note that these are obviously deeply religious people and they will encourage you to stand up and wave your hands and praise Jesus and the whole nine yards so if you feel like you can't get past that for 45 minutes of really fantastic music, don't go. But if you are a true believer, or like me someone who just loves pure Gospel music and will worry about the whole heaven and hell thing later, this absolutely has to be on your list of things to do on your next trip to Vegas.

    And don't forget, it'll make you feel better for gambling and drinking and going to strip clubs and topless shows the night before.

    From the review of The Scintas at The Rio
    My opinion is that these folks - a family act featuring music and comedy - is a glorified version of something you'd see at the Holiday Inn lounge off Route 5 in Topeka. And unfortunately that's more of insult to Topeka than it is for the Scintas. It is practically a fossilized remnant of a "classic" Vegas lounge act, just in a nicer showroom with better production values.

    They opened with "We Are Family," the Sister Sledge disco classic turned into almost a parody of the satires of such acts that have appeared on Saturday Night Live for two decades - from Bill Murray's lounge lizard to the Sweeney Sisters to the Culps. Later, Chrissi managed to turn the word "Crazy," the titular lament from Patsy Cline, into a fifteen syllable word. Cuh-ray-ay-zee-yuh. Okay, not fifteen, but five and that's three too many in my opinion.

    And then there was the "comedy." I lost count of the groups they slurred. Polish jokes? Got 'em. Making fun of blind people? Oh yes. Several homophobic references scattered the show including that completely original bit about Siegfried and Roy being gay. Really? I had no idea! What a surprise and what an interesting bit of comedy. Please. It was crude, insulting, and more importantly not funny and it drove me for the exit 30 minutes before the show was over.

    From the review of Gladys Knight at The Flamingo
    First, can we state for the record, that the woman looks amazing. Okay, okay, we were thirty feet away, she was wearing makeup, and the lighting was really good but we all agreed that she doesn't look at day over 35. For those of us who are 35 and look a solid 10 years older than that on a good day, this accomplishment deserves some recognition.

    From the review of Caesars Magical Empire
    Special props here have to go to Octavius (aka Lloyd) who kept the evening moving with some slight-of-hand magic and a lot of jovially caustic off-the-cuff humor. This guy was sharp and quick-witted as he bantered with our group with a sort of British Charles Nelson Reilly glee that was a thrill to watch and listen to. One of our fellow diners worked for Monsanto (the big chemical company) and Octavius' one-liners about testing on rabbits probably would've driven PETA members to the exits but I was laughing so hard I could barely eat my dinner.

    From the review of Darren Romeo, a musical magician at The Mirage
    Obviously understanding that the last thing Vegas needed was just another magic act, illusionist Darren Romeo has created something unique for his new daytime show at The Mirage: a magical musical. Call it "The Fantasticks" meets Siegfried and Roy.

    From the review of The Stardust
    To be sure, no one will confuse The Stardust for one of those billion-dollar temples to excess further down the street. Although it has the requisite neon and smoke-filled casino, it has none of the glitz, glamour, and spectacle that have defined Las Vegas casinos for the last decade or so. It's up to you to decide if that's a good thing or bad thing.

    2002 Top 10 Shows

    1. Penn & Teller
    2. Second City
    3. Mystére by Cirque du Soleil
    4. Blue Man Group
    5. Rita Rudner
    6. Gladys Knight
    7. Bravo featuring Charo
    8. O by Cirque du Soleil
    9. Clint Holmes
    10. Thunder from Down Under
    2002 Top 10 Attractions
    1. Fremont Street Experience
    2. Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix
    3. Bellagio Fountains
    4. Mirage Dolphin Habitat
    5. Eiffel Tower Experience
    6. Treausre Island Pirate Battle
    7. Casino Legends Hall of Fame
    8. Liberace Museum
    9. Chicken Challenge
    10. Caesars Magical Empire
    2002 Top 10 Restaurants
    1. Austins
    2. Alizé
    3. Capriotti's
    4. Rosemary's
    5. Carluccio's Tivoli Gardens
    6. Border Grill
    7. PF Chang's China Bistro
    8. Picasso
    9. Memphis Championship Barbecue
    10. Triple 7 Brew Pub
    2002 Top 10 Hotels
    1. Green Valley Ranch
    2. Mirage
    3. Luxor
    4. New York-New York
    5. Main Street Station
    6. Paris Las Vegas
    7. Boulder Station
    8. Sunset Station
    9. The Palms
    10. The Stratosphere
    11. return to the top

     


    Vegas 2002


     


    Green Valley Ranch Opens


     


    Price is Riot


     


    Spoiler: It Wasn't Demolished


     


    Spoiler: It Was Demolished


     


    It Took 10 More Years to Get Built


     


    Robert Urich


     


    He Wasn't Fired


     


    It Ended Poorly For Mr. O'Lucky


     


    Best. Thing. Ever.


     


    One Of Them Became This


     


    Pandas Didn't Happen


     


    It Became This


     


    Spa Tower


     


    The Maxim Became the Westin


     


    Moon Hotel & Casino Model


     


    All Hail


     


    Cuchi


     


    Lady Luck


     


    Skintight


     


    Showgirls


     


    Seven


     


    Bejeweled


     


    Please Don't Hurt Me


     


    Disappeared


     


    Top Show of 2002


     


    Top Attraction of 2002


     


    Top Restaurant of 2002


     


    Top Hotel of 2002


     

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