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!



What the Golden Nugget Fee Means to Las Vegas

The $5 per night fee that the Golden Nugget will start charging in July is not being called a "Resort Fee." Instead, it's being branded a "Fremont Street Fee," levied (supposedly) to help the hotel recoup some of the money it has to pay to help keep the Fremont Street Experience up and running. Each of the major hotels along the pedestrian friendly attraction kick in an unspecified amount of money to the agency that runs it but the Golden Nugget is the first to want guests of the hotel to reimburse them for their costs.

They can call it whatever they want, but in the end it is just another extra fee that is not included in the advertised room rates.

The Golden Nugget is not the first Downtown hotel to charge a fee like this. The Plaza charges a $10 per night resort fee that covers things like Internet access, admission to their fitness center, local calls, and a few other things. But the Golden Nugget fee may very well be a game changer for Downtown Las Vegas, opening the door for other hotels in the area to hop on board and charge their own fees.

It could also be the sound of the starter's pistol for hotels around Las Vegas to start getting creative in the types of fees they charge. While some hotels are charging extra for things like late check-out, most of those fees are optional and will only be levied if you take advantage of whatever service they are offering. Since it seems like most hotels are unwilling to go above the $25 per night resort fee level that many of the bigger properties are maxed out at, other mandatory fees could be in the offing. Add a few bucks for an "energy recovery fee" and another few for an "entertainment fee" and a few more for a "housekeeping fee?"

Don't scoff. Have you rented a car at a major airport lately? At Las Vegas McCarran airport you are charged a $3.75 per day "consolidated facility charge" (to supposedly pay for the sparkly new consolidated rental car building); a 10% "concession recovery fee" (to allegedly help the car rental company pay for the rent the airport charges them to have a counter there); and $1.60 per day "vehicle license fee" (to theoretically pay for the license plates). The fact that the things that these fees are "paying for" probably don't cost anywhere near the amount of money the rental car companies rake in on these fees is beside the point. The point is that the rental car companies have found a way to put mandatory surcharges on every single transaction and if you want to rent a car you have to pay them.

So why don't hotels (and rental car companies for that matter) just bump up their rates instead of tacking on all these fees? Blame the Internet.

Although there are certainly differences between major hotels in Las Vegas, the differences between hotels in the same basic price range mostly involve things like decor and amenities. Some people have their favorites and are loyal to them but most Vegas visitors base their hotel decisions on one primary factor: the price. Picture a world in which one hotel advertises $119 per night but then adds on a $25 per night resort fee later and a hotel right across the street from it advertises at $144 per night but includes all of the things that the other hotel's resort fee covers. Which do you think will get more bookings?

Since most travel aggregation websites like Expedia and Travelocity offer the ability for people to sort by price, having the lowest - or at least showing up on the first page of those results - is critical.

The sad truth of the matter is that fees are here to stay, and not just in Las Vegas.


Hershey's Chocolate World Details Unwrapped

The Las Vegas Strip will get a whole lot sweeter when Hershey's Chocolate World retail experience opens at New York-New York in early 2014.

At 13,000 square-feet, it will be the second largest such facility in the world, behind only the theme-park style experience in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It will occupy two floors, have giant candy bars on the outside, and feature both attraction and retail experiences that will include all of the Hershey's brands including Kisses, Reese's, Twizzlers, and more.

The new store will be located between the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge and feature a towering Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar, an 18-foot Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and entrances in the shape of Hershey's Kisses Chocolates. Once inside, guests will be able to do things like customize candy wrappers and personalize Hershey's Kisses plumes.

It's all part of the revamp of the fronts of both New York-New York and neighboring Monte Carlo, which will involve adding new restaurants, retail, and park-like grounds facing The Strip. It will help to funnel people to a new arena that will be built behind the two hotels. Get more information about that project here.


Deal Alert: 3 Attractions for $57

If you are looking for some things to do on your next trip to Vegas but want to save a few bucks doing them, check out MGM Resorts 3 for $57 deal. For $57 you get passes to any three of the MGM Resorts attractions including Bodies, Titanic, and Score! at Luxor; Adventuredome at Circus Circus; CSI at MGM Grand; the Roller Coaster at New York-New York; the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay; and Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage.

Depending on which ones you choose, you can save anywhere from a few bucks up to a bunch. Buy individual tickets to the three attractions at Luxor, for example, and you'd spend over $90 so the $57 is quite a bargain.

And unlike many of the other consolidation deals in town, you actually have some breathing room to use the tickets - passes are good for up to seven days from the date of purchase and there are no restrictions on things like time of day or length of stay.

To purchase, visit the New York-New York, MGM Grand, Mirage, or Mandalay Bay box offices or Circus Circus Adventuredome ticketing or call 866-606-7111.


Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Award of the Week Award of the Week goes to the Mob Museum, which was selected as the Project of the Year by the American Public Works Association. The award recognizes historic preservation efforts and was bestowed upon the museum for its restoration of the former Las Vegas courthouse building in which it resides.

The King Is Back in the Building Award of the Week goes to the King's Ransom Elvis memorabilia museum, which will be returning to Las Vegas. The exhibit of personal effects from Elvis Presley was at Imperial Palace (now The Quad) for a while and will be making its new, possibly permanent, return to Vegas at Binion's in Downtown Las Vegas later this summer.

The My Fair Maybe Award of the Week goes to the new festival and fair grounds project under construction across from Luxor. The former overflow parking lot is being spiffed up with landscaping and room for stages, exhibitions, and more so it could host big outdoor concerts, special interest festivals, fairs, or trade shows. The space can reportedly hold more than 60,000 people and is expected to have its debut this September for an as-yet-to-be-named concert.

The Shut Up and Drive Award of the Week goes to the Golden Nugget, which is hosting the $300,000 Great American Cash & Car Giveaway this summer. From July 1 through September 21, players can earn tickets to Wednesday and Saturday drawings where 50 people will each win $100 in cash plus an entry into the grand prize giveaway in September that will award three people with cars - a Chevrolet Corvette, Silverado pickup, or Equinox SUV. You have to be present to collect the cash but even if you aren't you still get entered into the car giveaway drawing and you don't have to be present to win that. Visit the website for more details.

The I Promise I'll Spell This Right Award of the Week goes to Giada De Laurentiis, the Food Network star who will be bringing her cooking specialties to a restaurant in Las Vegas in early 2014 at the upcoming Gansevoort hotel (formerly Bill's and Barbary Coast).

The Left High Heel Award of the Week goes to "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," the hit Broadway musical that is starting its 8-week run at The Venetian this week. The show, about drag queens trekking across the Australian outback, features disco era hits like "I Will Survive" and "We are Family." For more information visit the Venetian website.

The Right High Heel Award of the Week goes to "Kinky Boots," the recent Tony Award winning musical that will be getting its road company debut in Las Vegas in September of 2014. The show is about a struggling shoe factory that finds success creating fetish footwear for drag queens and features music by pop icon Cyndi Lauper.


Restaurant Review: Gordon Ramsay BurGR

The most casual of fiery celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's Vegas restaurants is, in many ways, the most successful. It's got a relaxed, almost whimsical approach to food, atmosphere, service, and cost that makes it accessible for just about everyone.

Located inside Planet Hollywood, just off the northernmost casino entrance from the Strip, the restaurant space is done with a flame motif, complete with a wall of fire feature and a sunny design of gold, orange, and red hues. Chairs and booths are comfy although a bit low for the height of the tables. There are also TVs, music, big pictures of Gordon Ramsay screaming, and open walls to the casino foot traffic so a peaceful respite for a light nosh is not in the cards here.

The food focus is, of course, on burgers... sorry, burGRs (bur G R, Gordon Ramsay, get it? told you it was whimsical), but we'll get to that in a moment. Start with the "Snacks" portion of the menu for a big heaping pile of their beer battered Maui onion rings, sprinkled with cheese and served with a slightly spicy chipotle ketchup and a sweet cheddar ranch dip. Delectable. Want more whimsy? Try the roasted jalapeno poppers; six crispy jumbo jalapenos done in cheddar and bacon and served in a cheddar ranch sauce. But here's the kicker... one of them is extra spicy but you aren't told which one... it gets to be a "fiery" surprise.

There are a couple of salads and hot dogs but the aforementioned burgers take up the bulk of the menu. You can go traditional with American cheese and butter lettuce or bump it up a notch with Maytag blue cheese and arugula or go all the way to "Hell's Kitchen" with asadero cheese and avocado. Other options, appropriate from the British chef's brain, include a "Euro" burger with truffle aoli and goat cheese, one topped with chantrelle mushrooms and figgy-onion jam, and another with English sharp cheddar cheese and mango chutney. You also have some non-beef options including veggie, duck, and chicken.

We sampled the blue cheese burger, the Uber Cheese burger (with three different kinds melting off the top), and the "fish and crisp" sandwich. The burgers were both great - smoky flavor, soft buns, savory toppings that felt like quality marriages of taste instead of a cheap afterthought condiments. While they may not be my favorite burgers in all of Las Vegas, they are still really, very good and absolutely worth your time and stomach space.

The fish sandwich had an odd presentation - the bulk of a beer battered cod (including the tail) wedged into a mini-loaf of bread with dill tartar sauce - but was as good as the fish and chips that we have sampled at other Gordon Ramsay restaurants and that's saying a lot.

Oh and you can't forget about the milkshakes. Each is a towering construction of creamy goodness with three different layers of flavors that you can either consume one at a time or mix together. The caramel, chocolate, and toffee was our favorite.

Prices are pretty reasonable. Burgers are all $14-$16 and you can get a buck off if you show your Total Rewards players' club card. More than McDonald's, sure, but about average for an upscale burger joint like this.

You have a lot of choices in Vegas for that particular type of restaurant with a few standouts like KGB and Holstein's. Add this place to that short list.

Gordon Ramsay BurGR
Planet Hollywood
3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109

Sun-Thu 11am-12am
Fri-Sat 11am-2am

Vegas4Visitors Rating: B+


Show Review: JabbaWockeeZ PRiSM

As shows like "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" move from buzzworthy mega-hits to comfortable middle-America television viewing, so too have JabbaWockeeZ made a move, both geographically and tonally. Now in their own custom theater at Luxor, the hip-hop dance crew's show seems to be aiming for a broader audience than just the B-Boy afficianados that follow their every move. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on your point of view.

As a bit of background, the troupe got their big break on another televised dance competition, "America's Best Dance Crew" on MTV. Their gimmick was what set them apart - all of the dancers are covered from head to toe, including masks - but it was their talent in the hip-hop style that allowed them to take the title.

After a series of sold-out short-stint runs at MGM Grand, JabbaWockeeZ got a full-time gig at Monte Carlo in 2010 and now have a moderately sized and very comfy theater on the second-floor attractions level at Luxor.

The show is basically a series of hip-hop dance routines wrapped up in a (very) loose storyline about yin and yang, left brain versus right bright, and living a life in full color. Or something like that. The only words spoken are from random snippets of movie and TV dialogue so it's definitely open to intepretation.

But nevermind that - here it is all about the dance and here is where the real difference is between the old and new show.

The crew of guys (are they guys? who knows?) specializes in hip-hop movement but they throw in a mix of other styles from pop and lock to B-boy to even some modern, almost lyrical movement. Some of what they do is as ingenious and exciting as it always has been. A piece where they worked together with a video screen behind them to simulate various modes of transportation from car to plane to submarine is kind of brilliant and the section where they evoke a Motown singing group is inventive and fun.

But then they go and do "Gangham Style" and "The Harlem Shake" just because they know it'll get cheers from the audience and people who came to see actual "dance" sigh.

And even the good stuff doesn't hit the kinds of soaring heights their previous show did. There was a JabbaWockeeZ version of dance's greatest hits starting with a hip-hop homage to Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain" and blasting through James Brown and '70s funk, and 80's rap styles that was as close to genius as you can get in a Las Vegas show.

By comparison, everything here feels a little more safe, more mainstream, and more aimed toward a mass-appeal audience. I point to "Gangham Style" once again as evidence.

There was also a little disappointment from the technique perspective in some areas. One of the keys to this type of dance is the hard-hitting, exacting precision in which it is executed. Too many times the dancers were not quite in sync with one another and that's so unlike the JabbaWockeeZ that it was a bit jarring. Maybe I just caught them on an off night.

It's worth noting that most of the routines are not the high-energy hip hop that you might see on music videos or even in segments on SYTYCD. It's slower and more exacting as the group moves in waves of motion, interacting with one another.

Having said that, their masked shtick is fun and often funny. The crew's blank-expression face coverings evokes a dancing version of the Blue Man Group especially when they are doing audience participation skits. Warning: if you are a pretty woman and you see them coming your way just go with it and try to have fun.

The first time I saw JabbaWockeeZ I had low expectations and was blown away. This time I had high expectations and was a little let down, but only a little. It is still the best purely dance-focused show in Las Vegas.

JabbaWockeeZ: PRiSM
3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Tickets: $60-$90
Thu-Sat 7 & 9:30pm
Sun-Mon 7pm
Vegas4Visitors Rating: B+