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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Life is Beautiful Festival Lineup Announced

Vegas is no stranger to music festivals, from the now dormant Vegoose to the Electic Daisy Carnival being held in a couple of weeks at the Las Vegas Speedway to the annual iHeartRadio mega-concerts at MGM Grand. The new Life is Beautiful festival aims to outdo all of them with a full weekend of music, food, and art that, if successful, will transform Downtown Las Vegas into one of the biggest parties the city has ever seen.

Scheduled for October 26-27, the festival will take over 15 blocks of Downtown Las Vegas with four outdoor stages, several indoor concert venues, food stations, art performances and shows, and lectures.

An eclectic lineup of both national and local music acts has already signed up to perform including The Killers, Kings of Leon, Beck, Imagine Dragons, Pretty Lights, Living Colour, and many more. Additional acts are expected to be announced in the coming months.

The food festival will feature demonstrations, culinary affairs, a beer and spirits garden, and a large-scale Moroccan-style bazaar with stations manned by more than 60 chefs, mixologists, and wine-makers. The tastemakers currrently on the roster include Hubert Keller, Cat Cora, Michael Mina, Rick Moonen, Charlie Palmer, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, Paul Bartolotta, Todd English, Kerry Simon, Carla Pellegrino, Andre Rochat, and Nobu Matsuhisa among others.

The art portion of the event will allow festival goers to actively engage with critically-acclaimed artists from around the globe and from within Downtown Las Vegas' progressive art scene. Programming will include street art, installations, murals, performance art, and theater groups. At this year's festival, Cirque du Soleil will present an act from new Michael Jackson One and performances of selections from six other resident Cirque du Soleil productions of Las Vegas.

The festival's speaker series will feature a diverse lineup of more than 25 speakers showcased in keynote and quick-format speeches, panel discussions, and workshops.

Tickets for the event are on sale now with an "early bird" special starting at $99.50 for a two day pass to everything. Once those tickets sell out, the prices will go up to $119.50, $139.50, and eventually $159.50 so buying early will save you some dough. There is also a special VIP package for $349.50 that includes access to a VIP lounge, special seating at all of the main stages, reserved restroom facilities, access to special food and drink vendors, a commemorative poster, and more.

Tickets and information are available via the website at lifeisbeautifulfestival.com.

Check out the video announcing the event:

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MGM Resorts Announces Southwest, Hyatt Partnerships

Everyone loves a rewards program, even when the amount of money you have to spend to get those rewards is significantly higher than it would be to just buy the things outright. But if you're going to be spending the money anyway on things like hotels, gambling, or flights, you might as well sign up for the loyalty programs offered by the various establishments you are a patron of.

Especially now that MGM Resorts is extending the ways you can get rewarded by striking up strategic partnerships with Southwest Airlines and Hyatt Hotels.

If you are a member of both the MGM Resorts M Life program and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program, you will earn points on both every time you book a stay at a participating MGM Resorts hotel. This includes Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, MGM Grand (and Signature), Mandalay Bay, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor, and Excalibur. Every visit to one of those hotels gets you 600 points on your Southwest rewards account.

In this instance the program doesn't work the other way around. If you, for instance, book a flight to Vegas or somewhere else, you don't get points on your M Life account.

But that both-ways benefit is in place for the Hyatt partnership. Members of both M Life and Hyatt's Gold Passport will be able to use their points on the two clubs to get rewards at each others properties. So for instance you can use your M Life points toward hotel rewards at Hyatt hotels around the globe and can use your Hyatt points toward rewards at the same list of MGM Resorts hotels as above.

All of the programs have restrictions, naturally. Check their websites for more details.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The High Calorie Award of the Week goes to Guy Fieri, the celebrity chef and TV host (of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives) who will be opening his first restaurant in Las Vegas this fall. The UNLV graduate will have a yet-to-be-named eatery at The Quad that will face The Strip and be adjacent to the upcoming Linq project.

The No Dankes Award of the Week goes to Wayne Newton, who is being forced to move out of his longtime Shenandoah estate in Las Vegas due to the collapse of plan that would've turned it into a tourist attraction. The company that was to create the attraction and Newton have been locked in legal battles for more than a year after the project sunk into bankruptcy. Newton will be moving his family and his exotic pet collection to another mansion nearby and there is no word yet on what will become of the original estate.

The What's in a Name Award of the Week goes to the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa, the new name for the hotel on the east side of town that used to be Ravella and before that the Ritz-Carlton. Hilton acquired the hotel from the Dolce Group earlier this year.

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Las Vegas Travel Planning: Deciding When to Go

Okay, you've decided you want to go to Vegas, but now you're wondering if it makes a difference in what it will cost, what you can do, and what the city is like depending on when you go. Of course it does!

I understand that many of you might not have the luxury of going at any time of the week or year, but it's important to understand that in Vegas, a week in one direction or another can make a huge difference. Flexibility is the key to getting the best deals since a room that may cost you $200 one weekend may only cost half that a week later.

As far as choosing what time of year to go, it depends on what is most important to you: getting the cheapest vacation possible or having really nice weather. These two things seem to be inversely proportional to one another, meaning that when the weather is nice, more people go and therefore it is more expensive. When the weather isn't so great, fewer people go and you can often get better rates.

Late November through Christmas and then early January through February are traditionally slow times for Vegas. There are exceptions when some big conventions or events hit but generally speaking those are pretty safe bets to get some bargains. The problem is that you're not going to get much pool time during those months. Daytime temperatures average in the 50s and 60s, which may sound tropical for those of you in snow-country, but it isn't terribly warm to the rest of us. Plus, most hotels close their pool areas during those months so no water frolicking for you. Nighttime temperatures can dip down into the 30s (which is just plain old cold), so if you choose this time of year be sure to bring a jacket or coat.

The summer months - late June through August - are traditionally off-season in Vegas. The downside here of course is the heat, with daytime temperatures averaging in the upper 90s or 100s. If you don't mind being hot, these are really good times to go for cheap room rates - but be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen!

If you're looking for really nice weather, mid-March through May and September through early October are usually the most moderate, with daytime temps in the 70s, 80s, and low 90s and there is usually plenty of sunshine. But as mentioned, these are also traditionally the busiest times of the year, with lots of vacationers and business travelers so expect higher rates and a lot more crowds.

Try to avoid holidays - even relatively minor ones like President's Day - unless you want to pay higher room rates and fight major crowds.

Once you choose a time of year, try to pick two or three periods when you could take your vacation. For instance, if you want to go for four days in July, you're going to have much more luck getting a good rate if you have several different choices when those four days can happen.

Generally speaking, weekends are more expensive than weekdays (unless there is a major convention in town). But the downside of traveling on weekdays is that there are fewer big name headliner concerts in town, most of which happen on the weekends. Lots of the ongoing shows and even restaurants are also closed on certain days of the week.

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Las Vegas Travel Planning: Choosing the Best Hotel

Everyone is always asking me, "What's the best hotel in Vegas?" and I always tell them that it depends on what is most important to you.

Many people are primarily concerned with the price. Of course that doesn't mean that they're willing to stay in a roach-infested dump just to get a $19 room rate, but it does often mean that people will sacrifice some of the frills, luxuries, and location advantages that the bigger, more expensive resorts in the heart of The Strip have to offer.

If this is you, one of the first things you should consider is location. Generally speaking, the hotels directly on The Strip are the most expensive, followed by the hotels just off The Strip (Paradise Road for example), then those Downtown, and finally the neighborhood casino/hotels scattered about the Las Vegas valley.

If you're a first time visitor, you might want to just bite the bullet and stay on The Strip, since that's where most of what you're going to want to see and do is located. But if you've been to Vegas before and you're looking for a low-cost trip to see it again, staying away from the main drag will usually save you a ton of money. Even if you factor in the cost of the rental car that you will need to get yourself around, it's still usually cheaper to stay at a neighborhood hotel than it is at even moderately priced hotels directly on The Strip.

Here's an example. I checked the rate at a very nice Boulder Highway hotel and the price of a small rental car for a Thursday through Sunday stay in June. The total for the car for three days and that room for three nights was $310. Then I checked the same three nights at one of the Strip hotels (and not even one of the most expensive) and the total without the rental car was more than double - almost $700! To save $400 I'll give up a view of The Strip and sit in a little bit of traffic.

Of course, not everyone is as concerned with cost as they are with what the hotel has to offer and where they will feel most comfortable. For instance, some people want a relaxing getaway with lots of time around the pool, maybe a visit to a really nice spa, and plenty of room service. Others may be looking for the party set and may want a hotel with some hip nightclubs and the kind of younger clientele that will make them feel comfortable. Of course there are those that want to avoid those party places with every fiber of their being and prefer a more mature crowd.

Are you traveling with kids or friends? Are you more inclined to eat at a fancy restaurant or a cheap buffet? Are you planning to do a lot of gambling or do you just want to see shows, shopping, and attractions?

All of these are very important questions to ask yourself before you choose your hotel. And then once you know what you're looking to get out of your trip, the heavy lifting happens. You have to do some research.

Start by reading the reviews of all the hotels on this site and pay close attention to our rating system that gives a 0-10 score for things like location, price, amenities, and service. Then, check other websites and/or travel guides like Frommer's and Fodor's. Don't trust one opinion - not even mine!

The only thing to be careful about when trolling the web for information is that most other Vegas websites don't offer true reviews of the hotels. Unlike Vegas4Visitors.com, they often accept advertising directly from the very hotels they are reviewing so most of the "opinion" you see is pretty glowing. Frankly, I've been shocked at some of the stuff I've seen on competing websites. One "review" called a hotel that almost everyone agrees is a dump "quirky in an old-school Vegas way." Um, yeah.

On Vegas4Visitors you may see advertising for Las Vegas hotels, but it all handled through a third-party service (Google). We don't have direct contact with those hotels or their advertising budgets, whereas some of the other sites do. So here you may see an ad for a Vegas hotel or one for lowering your mortgage rates - we have very little control over it.

Once you've done your homework, pick the top five hotels that you think suit you best and start calling to check rates on the dates you want to travel. Best rate wins in my opinion.

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Las Vegas Travel Planning: Managing Your Money

Getting money is not a problem in Vegas - ATM machines are almost as common as slot machines and are located in every casino, convenience store, and bank.

Keeping your money is an entirely different story. What with the hotel rates, expensive restaurants, and high show-ticket prices it's not surprising that people wind up spending more dough in Vegas than they planned to.

Oh yeah, there are the casinos also. Almost forgot about that.

Now many of you who have never been to Vegas before may be thinking that you have the self-determination and good sense not to blow junior's college fund at the craps table, and that may be true for some people. But I can tell you that Vegas rakes in billions of dollars every year from people who think they have self-determination and good sense.

So how do you make sure to keep your life savings intact if you're worried that you can't keep your willpower intact? Here are a few rules that I try to live by. Admittedly I often fail to live by them but that doesn't mean they aren't good ideas:

  • Consider gambling as an entertainment expense and not as a way to make money. Before your trip, budget only the amount you're willing to lose and consider that money gone. Think of it this way: you're heading to New York and you budget $500 to see a bunch of Broadway shows. You wouldn't expect to have any of that money left when you return, would you? The same goes for gambling. And if you're lucky enough to have any left when your trip is over, you're ahead of the game - literally.
  • Budget your entertainment, food, and hotel money in one column and use a credit card to cover it, then put your gambling budget in another column and bring cash or traveler's check to cover that.
  • Only bring one credit card and leave your ATM card, traveler checks, checkbook, and all but maybe a small store of emergency cash at home. This will keep you from running back to the ATM when you're just sure that double-diamond slot machine is going to hit. In Las Vegas you can use a credit card for almost everything, including emergencies, so as long as you have that one card you should be covered for anything unexpected that may happen (provided you have enough credit available on that card!)
  • Try to use a credit card that doesn't have or allow cash advances. It's very easy to take cash from your credit card and it's another temptation you don't need.
  • Keep the money in your gambling budget separate from everything else - that way it'll be a lot easier to keep track of exactly how much money you're losing in the casino. Plus, if you have the fortitude to do so, you can stand by the mantra that once your gambling budget is gone, you stop gambling.
  • Get out of the casinos! Gambling is very seductive but there are so many things to see and do in Las Vegas to distract you from the lure of the bells and whistles that all you have to do is step outside, get a breath of fresh air, and take in the scenery. It'll help you to clear your head and realize that you've just blown through half of your gambling budget in ten minutes and maybe you should go ride a roller coaster instead.
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