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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
May 13, 2013
Lucky 7: New Things to Do in Vegas This Summer
Memorial Day is coming up and that signals the start of the summer travel season as people pack up their suitcases and SUVs and hit the road (literally or metaphorically) to take their annual vacations. The one place most of those people don't go is Las Vegas. June, July, and August are traditionally the slowest months of the year as the convection oven temperatures and a general lack of things to do for the sullen teenagers that are often in the back of those SUVs conspire to keep people away.
The good news for sun-worshipers and those who are either always or temporarily without kids is that low visitation usually brings low room rates. I did a quick check of a handful of hotels and found rates during the week as low as $40 at Luxor and The Flamingo, $80 at Mandalay Bay, and hovering around $100 at Caesars Palace. Those rates are as much as half of what you would expect to pay during busier times of the year.
And if you do decide to take advantage of the low prices to plan a summer trip to Vegas, there are several debuts coming up that you may want to add to your Things to Do list.
The summer festival is back for a second year at The Venetian and Palazzo. Based on the summer festivals at villages around Italy, Carnevale in Vegas will feature live entertainment, food and wine tastings, costumed characters, and a 3-D laser light show projected on to the front of the hotel nightly. It runs from May 27 through September 8.
Michael Jackson One by Cirque du Soleil
The King of Pop returns to the stage in the form of this Cirque spectacle celebrating the music of Michael Jackson. Sneak peeks seem to indicate the show will do for MJ what LOVE did for The Beatles, with remixed and remastered versions of hits like "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "Bad," and "Smooth Criminal" accompanying dance, acrobatics, and eye-popping visuals. Preview performances start May 23 at Mandalay Bay and with the official opening in June.
Speaking of Cirque du Soleil, the first ever Cirque themed nightclub is expected to open Memorial Day weekend, also at Mandalay Bay. The nightclub will feature Cirque-style visuals and performers designed to give it a dream-like atmosphere. The day club will operate at a new pool and will feature DJs, multiple bars, and lots of pretty people in skimpy bathing suits (if the scene at other day clubs is repeated here).
After successful runs at the MGM Grand and Monte Carlo, the hip-hop dance troupe JabbaWockeeZ is getting their own custom built theater at Luxor. The group specializes in "how do they do that" popping and locking done in an irreverent style that is a must for any dance fan. The new show debuts May 18.
Wet 'n' Wild
When the original Wet 'n' Wild on The Strip closed in 2004 to make way for a casino that never got built, people with the company said it would return soon in a new location. "Soon" turned out to be almost a decade but Wet 'n' Wild is back, slated to open Memorial Day. The park features a variety of water slides (one of which is billed as having the highest, tightest banking turns in the world), a lazy raft ride, free-fall drop attractions, a surf pool, and much more. Tickets are $40 for adults and $30 for kids under 42" tall.
Although it has been delayed for months and required a last-minute bailout from deep-pocked investors, the biggest gay nightclub in the world is now on track to open June 15 at Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas. It will feature five separate dance floors, three bars, a theater, a comedy club, and more.
At 120 feet, SlotZilla will be the world's tallest slot machine but instead of dispensing money, it will dispense people flying out on the eight zip lines that run down Fremont Street. Four will be traditional seated zip lines while the other four will be more extreme - the rider is catapulted out of it at speeds over 30 miles per hour in a Superman-style flying position. The opening date for the attraction was supposed to be June but that may not be realistic based on the construction progress.
Top 10 Best Hamburgers in Vegas
Not content with just a National Hamburger Day on the 28th, the entire month of May has been designated National Hamburger Month by the people in charge of such things. In honor of that, I give you my picks for the best burgers in Vegas:
This Kerry Simon restaurant at Harrah's has what I consider to be the best of the best; huge, juicy burgers with soft buns and mouth-watering toppings. If you can only have one, go for the BBQ Bacon version with tangy sauce, applewood smoked bacon, and crispy onion straws.
Although you could go with one of their standard burgers (the Kobe with caramelized onions and havarti is noteworthy), it's the BYOB - build your own burger - section that you should go with. Five different meat choices (including one without meat), nine cheeses, sauces, toppings, buns, and more make this a do-it-yourself dream.
Upscale burger joints usually make me itch, but this one at The Cosmopolitan is so fun and original and serves such amazing burgers I'm willing to let the trendy trappings pass. Skip the fancy tandoori chicken concoctions and go straight for the Gold Standard burger - sirloin, bacon, goat cheddar, and garlic-chive aioli. It's so good you won't feel like an idiot for having something called garlic-chive aioli on your burger.
You have to suffer through some taunting from the staff at this Excalibur restaurant but it's worth it to get to eat one of their burgers, which are so juicy they taste like they just came off a summer, backyard barbeque. Those who don't have to worry about things like cholesterol should check out the Cheezy Mo Fo burger with a 1/2 pound of meat and five (!!) different kinds of cheeses.
This little slip of a restaurant/snack bar at Caesars Palace has some big tastes, especially when it comes to their delicious burgers. I highly recommend the Bleu version with tangy cheese and crispy bacon. Yum!
The massive burgers at this Treasure Island honky-tonk are too big for any one person to eat - at least any one sane or responsible person - but once their Cowboy burger hits the table in front of you, topped with pulled pork, jalapeno jack cheese, crispy onions, and Jack Daniels' BBQ sauce, you're going to want to try.
Although the standard burgers at this Palazzo eatery are mostly in the "very good" instead of "great" category, you can't ignore the stroke of genius/madness that is their I Love Bacon burger. They grind bacon in with the ground beef and then top it with bacon and then slather on bacon mayo. Come on!!
Located at Paris Las Vegas, the almost endless menu may lure you in different directions - and if it's to their amazing crepes, I won't blame you a bit - but pay attention to their burgers, especially the "Signature" which features fried onions, American and Muenster cheese, and a white chocolate bun. Not as strange as it sounds.
There isn't a bum note on the menu at this restaurant at Crystals at CityCenter, but you'd be remiss in not trying one of their burgers, which are enormous, flavorful, and downright decadent. Need proof? How about the Buffalo burger, topped with creamy blue cheese, cole slaw, and hot sauce. Yep - they did that.
I'm including this place at Neonopolis on the list not necessarily because the burgers are all that great but it's impossible not to at least be amused by the sheer insanity that is involved in their construction. Their Quadruple Bypass burger has two pounds of beef and twenty strips of bacon, coming in at a mind-boggling 8,000 calories. That's ridiculous and yet somehow fitting for a country that has a National Hamburger Month.
The Return of Frommer's Las Vegas
I first became associated with the world-renowned Frommer's brand of guide books way back in 1997. It was my entry into the world of Vegas travel writing and my first book was the 1998 edition of Frommer's Las Vegas, co-written with my friend Mary Herczog. Since then I've gone on to create the Vegas4Visitors.com website and author nearly a dozen guide books but the Frommer's guides have always been near and dear to me.
Frommer's has been in the news lately, first with its sale to Google last year and more recently with its return to the Frommer family. When it was owned by Internet behemoth, it was widely reported that the print guides would cease publication and I believed the 2013 edition of my Frommer's Las Vegas book would be the last.
But founder Arthur Frommer and his daughter Pauline are back in charge of the company and I am happy to report that the printed guide books will be back, including a new version of Frommer's Las Vegas for 2014.
I can't tell you too much more about it yet except to say that the new edition will be more curated, focusing on the best of Sin City from the high-profile tourist attractions to the off-the-beaten-track hidden gems. It'll be perfect for all types of Vegas visitors, from the first-timer to the frequent flyer.
There is no formal publication date yet - I'll keep you posted.
Neon Museum Memberships
It just debuted a few months ago but the Neon Museum has already become a must-visit destination for any true Vegas fan. Their entertaining and informative tours of the boneyard where old neon signs are kept is one of the best Sin City experiences around.
Now you have a chance to support the non-profit museum's efforts to preserve and restore these classic bits of history by becoming a Neon Museum member.
Memberships start at just $35 per year for the La Concha membership, which is available to students, seniors, active military/veterans and Nevada residents. It includes one free single-use museum admission pass, advance notice and invitation to all special events throughout the year, and 10 percent off store merchandise.
The Sahara membership for $75 includes everything the La Concha Membership offers, except instead of a single-use pass, members receive a single pass good for admission for an entire year and a Neon Museum t-shirt.
The Aladdin membership at $250 includes an annual family pass good for two adults and two children plus 50% off for accompanying guests and other commemorative gifts.
Go up to the Silver Slipper membership at $500 and you get all of the above plus four single-use admission passes that you can give to family and friends so they can visit on their own.
The Stardust level is $1,000 and features six single-use admission passes plus a ticket to any special event of the member's choosing.
At the top of the chain is the Corporate level membership at $2,500, which entitles you t four annual adult passes, two tickets to the event of your choice, discounts, and gifts.
For more information visit the Neon Museum website.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Stomach Turning Award of the Week goes to the Firefly restaurant, which closed after a food poisoning outbreak a couple of weeks ago. The health department has updated the size and scope of the outbreak, now saying that more than 200 people were sickened. The owner of the restaurant says it will not reopen - at least not in its current location.
The Final Curtain Award of the Week goes to the CBS TV show Vegas, which was cancelled last week. The show was set in 1960s era Vegas and bugged the crap out of me because they played fast and loose with Sin City's actual history. In their world, The Stardust and the Golden Nugget were next door to each other.
The Culinary Curveball Award of the Week goes to Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef and Iron Chef America fame, who will be opening an eponymously title Japanese restaurant at The Mirage in 2014. It will replace the existing Japanois restaurant
The Carnaval Award of the Week goes to The Rio for their "festive" new room designs. Several hundred of the suite in the Masquerade tower have been updated with the new look, which is expected to roll out to the rest of the rooms over the next year.
The History in the Making Award of the Week goes to El Cortez in Downtown Las Vegas, which debuted a plaque officially recognizing it's place on the National Registry of Historic Places. Opened in 1941 and once owned by Bugsy Siegel, the El is the oldest casino in Las Vegas to continually operate under the same name at the same location.
Dining Review: Gigi's Cupcakes
Years ago a friend of mine and I were on a road trip through the SE United States and were using a rented GPS device to try to find our way to Music Row in Nashville. This is what happened (I promise it has relevance):
- A bit daunted by a lack of any actual information, we dragged out the much-neglected GPS system that we got with [our rental car] but hadn't actually used since the trip started. We plugged in "Music Row" and the gadget pointed us in a direction that we just took on faith would be the right one.
But then a strange thing happened. As we were approaching Music Row, Mary asked "How does it know? It could be taking us anywhere, will there be cake there?" Moments later, the GPS sent us on a road that didn't go to Music Row and in our recalibration to get back on track, Rick spotted a place called Gigi's Cupcakes.
It seems that the GPS not only knew what it was doing, it knew exactly what we wanted. The GPS is now our best friend.
That was my first experience with Gigi's Cupcakes, which got its start in Nashville and has since gone on to nationwide fame including two outlets in Las Vegas - one on Flamingo a bit east of The Strip and one at the Plaza Hotel in Downtown Las Vegas.
The shop is small but light and airy with big windows facing out toward the Fremont Street Experience. Perhaps it is because of the size of the store that they focus on the miniature versions of their cupcakes instead of the full-size. This can be both a good and bad thing in that you can sample more flavors without the commitment but once you find something you like there will be less of it than you probably want.
Like most cupcake stores, the flavors change regularly so you never know exactly what you're going to get but regulars include carrot cake, strawberry shortcake, chocolate salted caramel, and a wedding cake style that is quite yummy. If they have the white chocolate raspberry or mint chocolate available those are personal favorites of mine that I recommend highly.
The winner on these is the frosting, sweet and creamy, while the cakes have consistenly been a little more dense than I like but that's mainly just a personal preference. If I had my druthers I'd go for the Cupcakery's confections but Gigi's will more than satisfy in its place.