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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
November 19, 2012
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:
Cosmopolitan Ice Skating
Crystals at CityCenter Holiday Display
Ethel M. Chocolate Factory Holiday Cactus Gardens
Fremont Street Experience
Glittering Lights Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The Great Santa Run
Legends in Concert
Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Sam's Town Mystic Falls
Scuba Santa at Silverton
Springs Preserve Holiday Spectacular
Winter in Venice at The Venetian/Palazzo
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.
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.
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 KÀ. 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
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $115 million and demolition of the HoJo could start as soon as this summer.
The property is being developed by Marvin Lipschultz, a former Hollywood movie producer and real-estate developer. Lipschultz purchased the Howard Johnson hotel a couple of years ago, but South Beach will be his first major hotel-casino.
If all goes well, South Beach could open by 2004.
No word yet on if there will be giant dogs chasing them across a kitchen floor.
By the way, I was going to make up some wild story for April Fool's Day, but I don't know how I can possibly top the chuckwagon thing. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
That TV show made me want to go there and later, when I did, visions of private eye danger swirled in my head. It was on that first trip as an adult that I fell in love with Las Vegas. Although to be honest I was never as cool as Dan Tanna was. Nor as cool as Robert Urich was either.
Urich's passing at the age of 55 from a rare form of cancer brought back a lot of those early visions of Vegas. I was lucky enough to begin visiting the city at the tail end of the era personified by "Vega$" - 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
No costs for the units were divulged, but I'd guess they're going to be kinda pricey. Like sell a kidney pricey.
Because of course there was a lot of snowboarding going on in ancient Greece.
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
And yes, I said O'Lucky's charms. Sue me.
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.
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.
(this eventually became Red Rock Resort)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
A big thumbs down to Caesars for taking away this terrific entertainment venue.
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.
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. :)
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...
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.
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!
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!
How about a Chocolate World Like Willy Wonka's?
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.
Never mind. You officially know too much about me.
From the review of Light, a nightclub at Bellagio
From the review of Bullshrimp, a steakhouse at Green Valley Ranch
From the review of Stivali, an Italian restaurant at Circus Circus
From the review of Lady Luck
From the review of Skintight, a topless show at Harrah's
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)
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
From the review of the Liberace Museum
From the review of the Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues
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
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
From the review of Caesars Magical Empire
From the review of Darren Romeo, a musical magician at The Mirage
From the review of The Stardust
2002 Top 10 Shows