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!

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Bally's Room Makeover

Remember the days when instead of renovating an old hotel they would simply blow it up and start over? These more frugal times have stopped that kind of excess but that doesn't change the desire to make things in Vegas newer, bigger, and better. Such is the case with Bally's, which is going to be turning 40 years old in December.

Caesars Entertainment, the company that owns and runs Bally's, has announced plans to renovate nearly 800 of the hotel's more than 2,600 rooms. The South Tower, which is perhaps unsurprisingly located on the south side of the propery nearest to Paris Las Vegas, will get a complete top to bottom overhaul. Hallways and elevator bays will get new carpeting, wall coverings, and decor while the rooms will get fresh just about everything. It'll even come with a new name as it gets rebranded as the Jubilee Tower in honor of the long-running show playing at the hotel.

The new look moves the now staid and old-fashioned rooms into a much more modern arena, albeit with the kind of retro touches that are all the rage today - note the low slung furnishings and lamps and wallpaper that would be right at home in an episode of "Mad Men." Flat panel televisions, an in-room refrigerator, and redesigned bathrooms with glass-enclosed shower stalls will complete the efforts.

Now the bad news... they will be significantly more expensive. Opening prices for the rooms, which will start to come online in September, are averaging about $150 per night during the week and $200 and up on the weekends. Older rooms in the other tower are as low as $40 weekdays and not much more than $100 on weekends. Don't forget to also add in the new $18 per night resort fee on top of whatever premium you'll pay for the new rooms.

Plans are still afoot to revamp the front entrance of Bally's with a collection of boutiques and food outlets in an outdoor bazaar type setting. No word on when that will happen but they will need to do something to the rest of the hotel to justify these kinds of prices.

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Shelby Factory and Museum Planned

Mention the name Shelby to most car aficionados and you usually get a pretty strong reaction, often involving lustful declarations of desire for one of the classic American muscle machines the company creates.

The new Shelby museum and factory tour planned for a facility near The Strip may not get you any closer to owning one but it will get you closer to the cars themselves.

Carroll Shelby got his start in the automotive world as a race car driver, eventually winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and eight World Championship Formula One Races. He was picked by Sports Illustrated as the driver of the year for both 1956 and 1957.

He retired from racing in 1959 but opened a driving school and began building cars. His first and most classic was the Shelby Cobra, a hybrid of a British racing car body and a powerful Ford V-8 engine. Other legendary cars included the Daytona Coupe, the GT40, and the GT500 Mustang, all of which were done in partnership with Ford.

Shelby died in 2012 but the company has continued his legacy doing high performance versions of Ford vehicles like the Mustang derived Shelby 1000, which has a mind-boggling 1,100 horsepower, the Focus ST, and verging-on-insane Shelby Raptor, which has a supercharged, 575 horsepower engine... in a pickup truck. And not because people tow things with it.

The company has been based in Las Vegas since 1998 but has several different facilities for its operations. The new facility will consolidate all of that under one 135,000 square-foot roof and will include a museum and a factory tour. It will be located just south of the Bali Hai Golf Club, which is just south of Mandalay Bay, so a quick jaunt from that area of The Strip. It is scheduled to open in December of 2013.

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Fourth of July Fireworks

Las Vegas reserves its big fireworks show for New Year's Eve, but there are still plenty of places where you can catch some pyrotechnics to celebrate the Fourth of July including one this year on The Strip.

Caesars Palace will be having a show on July 4 starting at 9pm with the fireworks blasting off from the roof of the Roman Tower (for the record, that's the relatively low rise tower in the front, center of the property). Corporate sibling Paris Las Vegas will have a special viewing opportunity from the Eiffel Tower replica that will cost $49 and include a mini-American flag and a cocktail.

Station Casinos' annual fireworks show will be happening on both sides of town, one at Green Valley Ranch and one at Red Rock Resort. The nine-minute shows will be produced by the famous Grucci family, who have done displays for presidential inaugurations and The Olympics. Both shows are set to start at 9pm on July 4th.

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts will be having a concert of classic American music from the Las Vegas Philharmonic with special guests Clint Holmes and Kristen Hertzenberg. The concert inside Reynolds Hall will be broadcast to the park outside where fireworks will go off at 9pm. For more information visit The Smith Center website.

And if you don't get enough on the Fourth of July you can also see fireworks on the sixth out at MonteLago Village at Lake Las Vegas. The weekend of festivities includes a classic car show, music, food, and more with the show starting at 9pm on Saturday night.

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Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Anvil to the Head Award of the Week goes to the Chuck Jones Experience at Circus Circus, which closed suddenly last week. The museum/attraction was dedicated to the work of the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner director and artist. The Jones family says they are trying to find another location for it somewhere in Vegas.

The Zipped Up Award of the Week goes to the Fremont Street Flightlinez zip line attraction, which closed over the weekend. It is making way for the upcoming mega zipline attraction at SlotZilla, which is expected to open this fall.

The Non-Belieber Award of the Week goes to Las Vegas Indoor Skydiving, which has banned pop star troublemaker Justin Bieber from ever using its facilities again. According to reps from the company, Bieber showed up and got free rides for him and all of his entourage in exchange for social media shout outs that never happened.

The We're #1 Award of the Week goes to the Bellagio Fountains, which were picked as the #1 tourist attraction in the United States by a poll of TripAdvisor.com users. The fountains came in at #12 on the global list.

The Fare Market Award of the Week goes to Las Vegas taxis, which are charging an additional 20 cents for pickups at McCarran airport as of July 1. The airport fee is now $2 per ride.

The Shakeup Award of the Week goes to the Riviera, which has seen several of its top executives either walk out or get fired. No one is really commenting on the management changes but it probably doesn't signal good things for the hotel.

The I'll Still Believe It When I See It Award of the Week goes to the X-Train, the party train concept that is being pitched for a Los Angeles to Vegas run starting in 2014. The company behind the scheme has announced that the train will start in Fullerton, about 25 miles southeast of Downtown Los Angeles, and end in North Las Vegas, about 15 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip. Yep... that sounds convenient.

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Save the Huntridge Effort Kicks Off

Most Vegas visitors probably aren't familiar with The Huntridge Theater, but it is one of the most historic and classic buildings in all of Las Vegas and a new effort is underway to save it.

The Huntridge opened in 1944 in a Streamline Moderne style building on Charleston Blvd at Maryland Parkway. Remember that in 1944, the Strip was just starting out with only two major hotels, El Rancho and the Frontier, up and running. The bulk of the action in Vegas was Downtown and the neighborhood where the Huntridge was built, just south and east of Fremont Street, sprung up as a WWII era suburb.

Historic footnotes for the theater include the facts that it was the first one in Las Vegas to have air conditioning, it was among the first in the United States to be racially integrated, and it was owned briefly by famed actresses Loretta Young and Irene Dunne.

The neighborhood around the theater began to decline in the 1970s and 1980s, just as the mega-plex rage took hold in the United States. The grand auditorium was cut in half to create two screens but it didn't help and eventually the theater closed.

It got a brief revival in the 1990s as a performing arts venue, mainly hosting alternative and punk bands. The building was in such disrepair that a portion of the roof collapsed in 1995 just before a concert by the punk rock group Circle Jerks. Lacking anywhere else to go, they set up their equipment in the parking lot and had the concert there.

The theater closed for good in 2004 and has been empty ever since. Despite multiple efforts to restore it to its former glory, the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is rapidly approaching the point of no return and contracts that are keeping the building from being torn down expire in 2017. But now an effort is underway to save the building that is asking for the public's help.

A consortium of investors including the people behind several popular Downtown businesses like the Emergency Arts complex, Downtown Cocktail Lounge, and the upcoming Life is Beautiful Festival have signed a purchase agreement for the building with the intent of restoring it as a performing arts venue. The project is estimated to cost as much as $10 million and in order to attract the investment capital they are turning toward the community to prove their support of the idea. They have launched a crowd-funding program that asks people to donate to the effort in exchange for everything from movie posters, t-shirts, memberships to a future subscriber series, tickets to a grand opening event in 2015, VIP parking spots, backstage access, and more.

The goal is to raise $150,000 by the middle of July, which the purchasers hope will lay the groundwork for other deep pocketed companies, individuals, and organizations to invest the needed capital to restore the buildings. They are over halfway there as of this writing and an event over the weekend with live bands, food trucks, and art displays in the parking lot raised even more.

If you would like to contribute to the effort to save the Huntridge, visit thehuntridge.com.

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Attraction Review: Wet 'n' Wild

The original Wet 'n' Wild water park had a pretty sweet location on some of the priciest real estate in the world - the Las Vegas Strip. Opened in 1985, it was located next door to what was then The Sahara (SLS Vegas these days) and across the street from Circus Circus. It was expected to be a huge draw for vacationing families as the city eyed a future as Orlando with slot machines. That family-friendly version of Vegas never materialized and the park was mainly popular with locals.

That closed in 2004 to make way for a massive, water-themed hotel and casino that never materialized and this arid city has been without water-based amusements beyond the hotel pools ever since.

Wet 'n' Wild is back in Las Vegas and although its location on the far west side of town may not be great for tourists, it is great for the city as a whole and for anyone who might have antsy kids itching for something interesting to do.

The mainly residential area in which the park sits is right on the edge of the Red Rock National Conservancy Area, with unobstructed views of the famous red hills that ring the Las Vegas Valley. It seems a bit odd at first to have this candy colored sprawl of splashing here at the footsteps of so much natural beauty but then you realize that this is Vegas and it totally makes sense.

Spread across 41 acres the park has more than two dozen rides and attractions from ones that will make your heart race with terrifying drops to ones that will make it slow down with lazy drifting.

Some of the rides are exclusive to this park. Rattler is a three-person raft slide that drops people through chambers that shake as you pass through; Constrictor is an enclosed slide with what are billed as the tightest and highest banking turns of any water slide in the world, all done in the dark; Canyon Cliffs drops riders from four story platform on a vertical drop at speeds of up to 33 feet per second; and Royal Flush Extreme puts people into a giant bowl that they spin around in as the water flushes into a pool below.

In addition to the adrenaline junky stuff there are also some more tame experiences. A 1,000-foot lazy river ride circles winds in a big loop around the park; a big wave pool provides some ocean like action; and Splash Island is geared toward kids with water cannons, slides, play areas, and a giant 300 gallon bucket that periodically dumps water on everyone underneath.

There are several grassy areas where you can set up your lawn chairs and beach umbrellas or if you feel like going the luxury route you can rent a private cabana. Note that while there are some shaded areas they fill up fast so bring your own or wear lots and lots of sunscreen.

Which brings me to a point about the Las Vegas desert... it gets a bit hot here. The temperature on the day I visited was a toasty 114 degrees, which is just a few degrees shy of the point at which meat begins to cook. I kind of wanted to die after being out in it for a few minutes but the massive crowd creating traffic jams in the lazy river ride and long lines at the slides didn't seem to care at all. Know thyself and pay attention to the weather forecast is my message, I guess.

If you are worried about the aforementioned lines, you can upgrade your pass to one that basically allows you to set an appointment and go play elsewhere until it's your time to go to the front of the line. It's like the Fast Pass system at Disney World only with people in bathing suits.

There are also lockers, a snack bar, a gift shop, a VIP entrance, and more. They have special events frequently including Friday night "Dive 'n' Movies" on a big screen at the end of the wave pool.

It's not cheap - about $40 for anyone over four feet tall - but that's for an all-day, unlimited pass so it works out to something like $2 per ride and that's only if you do each of them only once.

Whether or not it's worth the admission price and the long trek (about 20-30 minutes from The Strip depending on traffic) is probably dependent on how much the children you are traveling with are taking out their boredom on you. That's not to say that adults can't have a good time here, but this is primarily a family attraction so if the hotel pool isn't cutting it, put the kids in their bathing suits and call a cab.

Wet 'n' Wild
7055 S. Fort Apache Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89148
702-800-7474
website
Sun-Thu 10am-6pm
Fri-Sat 10am-10pm
$40 adults
$30 kids under 42"
Vegas4Visitors Rating: A-

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