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!



Sirens of TI Cancelled

A few weeks ago in my Weekly Awards, I gave the "Does It Really Have to Come Back Award of the Week" to the Sirens of TI show at Treasure Island, which had shut down temporarily to accommodate construction on a new shopping complex being built on the corner of The Strip and Spring Mountain Road. At the time, plans were to bring the show back by the end of the year with slight modifications to accommodate the smaller lagoon.

Now comes word that the Sirens show is closed permanently and will not come back, even in a modified version of its current incarnation.

Yes, Virgina... there really is a Santa Claus and apparently if you wish hard enough for something, it really can come true!

I've made no secret of my disdain for the Sirens show. It got its genesis when the hotel opened in 1993 with a silly but inoffensive stunt show called the Battle for Buccaneer Bay that featured pirates battling the British navy. There were dumb jokes and ham-handed "acting" and explosions and people diving into the lagoon and a ship sinking, but it was all Vegas spectacle-sized fun and one of those things you had to see at least once when you visit the city.

Then in 2003 the hotel was getting a makeover designed to increase its appeal with a younger, hipper audience and the pirate battle was revamped to the Sirens of TI show. It replaced the original wacky pirates with lingerie clad Sirens who battle hunky, shirtless marauders with things like bad music, strip-club worthy bump and grinds, and inane dialogue like "My name is Cinnamon, but every seaman that has sailed into my cove just calls me 'Sin.'"

By the time they got to the part where the sirens get mad because the pirates blow up their wardrobe closets and decide the only way to get even is to whip up a hurricane (because women couldn't possibly beat men unless they use witchcraft) you just wanted to sit down and find something cool to rest your head on because it was all so, so wrong.

In a way, I'm a bit saddened by the closure of Sirens. After all, it was my favorite thing to be snarky about in Vegas. Luckily PANDA! and Britney Spears are opening soon, so one of those should step in nicely to assume the role of target for my sarcasm cannon.

There is no indication of what, if anything, will replace the Sirens show but it seems hard for me to believe that the hotel will be satisfied with a CVS on the corner as its main lure. There has been some talk of possible expansions for Gilley's and Senor Frogs, the two party spots that ring the existing lagoon, but that is just conjecture at this point.

So for now, let us bow our heads as we watch the Sirens of TI sail off into the sunset... but only so they won't see us smiling in glee that they are gone. That would just be mean.


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 you'll find shorter lines at the buffets but there is plenty to do that will put you in the holiday spirit. Here's a sampling:

Bellagio Conservatory

A must-visit on everyone's list should be the botanical gardens at Bellagio, which get all decked out every year with one of the most eye-popping holiday displays in town. There is usually a giant Christmas tree and plenty of faux-snow, plus more than a few lights and ornaments. The holiday display runs from December 6 through January 5, 2014.

Bellagio Fountains

One of the most iconic Vegas attractions takes on a decidedly holiday spin with the dancing waters choreographed to various Christmas songs. Expect "It's Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas," "Santa Baby," and "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" to name a few. The holiday songs will be in the rotation during the month of December.

Cosmopolitan Ice Skating

It's usually too chilly in Vegas in December to go swimming so the Cosmo has decided to embrace that weather reality and turn their pool area into a winter wonderland, complete with an ice staking rink, fire pits, and warm cocktails and s'mores. Mondays feature "Date Skate," with couples specials and holiday movies playing on the marquee; Wednesdays will have resident DJs pumping up the jams; and Thursdays will feature retro music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The ice skating rink is open now through January 5, 2014 from 3pm until 12am Monday through Friday and 12pm until 12am Saturday and Sunday. The cost is $15 per person with skate rentals at $5 more.

Crystals at CityCenter Holiday Display

The big mall at CityCenter usually decorates to the nines for the holidays with thousands of seasonal flowers (think poinsettias) and decorative ornaments. The display typically runs during the month of December.

Ethel M. Chocolate Factory Holiday Cactus Gardens

With the sweet smell of chocolate wafting in the air, the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory transforms their botanical cactus garden into a winter wonderland with half a million colorful lights adorning the plants. They also feature visits from Santa and local choirs performing carols. The display is on now through January 1 and is free of charge.

Fremont Street Experience

Glitter Gulch gets wintry in December with the addition of Christmas themed shows on the Viva Vision canopy, holiday concerts on the various stages, and lots of winter themed decorations. The light and sound shows are every hour on the hour after dark; concert acts and times vary.

Glittering Lights Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway

More than 2.5 miles of twinkling holiday lights adorn a drive-through spectacle at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Prices are $15 per car Monday through Thursday and $20 per car Friday through Sunday and holidays. The lights are lit now through January 5, 2014 and are open for goggling from 5:30 to 9pm Sunday through Thursday and from 5:30 to 10pm Friday and Saturday. Note that traffic can be a bit of a nightmare around the event area so plan on some extra time.

The Great Santa Run

Opportunity Village - a local charity supporting people with learning disabilities - hosts this annual event that draws thousands of marathon runners dressed up like Santa Claus. There is a 5k run and a 1 mile walk plus bands, food, and more. The event this year is on Saturday, December 7 at 8am in Downtown Las Vegas. You can get more info here.

Legends in Concert

Every year the long-running impersonator show gets its festive on by adding a couple of Christmas songs to each of the performer's sets. This means you'll wind up with something like an "Elton John" doing "Rocket Man" and "Jingle Bell Rock." It's silly fun, so why not?

Magical Forest at Opportunity Village

More than 3 million lights and holiday displays adorn the Magical Forest, an attraction put on by local charity Opportunity Village. But it isn't just lights... they also have Santa visits, carousel rides, a miniature golf course, carnival games, a train ride, and more spread out across three acres. All of the proceeds go to help people with learning disabilities. The Magical Forest is open now through January 6, 2014 from 5:30 until 9pm Sunday through Thursday and from 5:30 to 10pm Friday and Saturday and costs $11-$20 for adults and $9-18 for kids. You can get more information here.

Sam's Town Mystic Falls

The indoor atrium at Sam's Town on the east side of town gets a holiday makeover with polar bear sculptures, twinkling lights, holiday music, and a Cowboy Santa Claus. It's free and is open daily in the evenings.

Scuba Santa at Silverton

When you have a 117,000 gallon aquarium, what you do during the holidays it put a scuba diving Santa Claus in it. Or at least that's what the Silverton does. Kids can bring their wish list and an elf will communicate it to Santa via microphone. I love Las Vegas.

Winter in Venice at The Venetian/Palazzo

The Venetian and Palazzo go all out for the holidays with a synthetic ice skating rink over the gondola canals in front of the hotel and carolers, holiday decor, and more inside. It runs from now through January 5, 2014.


New Year's Eve Room Rate Report

There are two things required to visit Las Vegas on New Year's Eve: patience and a big wallet. The latter is because it's usually darned expensive to ring in the new year in Sin City and the former is because, despite the cost, lots of people do it and by lots I mean an estimated 400,000 or so.

The big event is always the fireworks show over The Strip, which sees pyrotechnics being blasted off the roofs of hotels. The street is shut down and usually overflowing with revelers. It's quite a spectacle, but if you prefer to be indoors, there are all sorts of concerts, parties, and events happening pretty much anywhere you turn.

I'm going to be in Vegas for New Year's for the first time in a long time this December 31st. I have neither patience or a big wallet but I was lured by a free room offer and tickets to see Britney Spears, which sounds like the exact right bit of silly fun to say goodbye to what has been kind of a lousy year.

Every year I do a survey of the room rates and availability for New Year's Eve in Las Vegas; that's right, I've done all the work for you, so you can relax and peruse the list. This year, December 31 falls on a Tuesday, so I have checked prices for a two-night stay, coming in on Monday, December 30 and checking out on Wednesday, January 1. In all cases I looked at the lowest price room available for double occupancy and the rates below do not include taxes or resort fees.

There were few surprises. The expensive hotels are expensive and the cheap ones are, well, not cheap but cheaper than the expensive ones. The lowest rates I found on The Strip were at The Quad, where one of their no frills rooms will run you $415 for the two nights; Circus Circus, where one of their basic Manor rooms will cost $444 total; and Riviera, where one of their simple rooms will run you $448. Others in the "not bad" category include Stratosphere at $480, Excalibur at $540, Luxor at $564, and Flamingo at $580.

On the other end of the scale you have hotels like Aria, which is demanding $1,013 for the two nights; The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, where you'll pay $1,050; and The Four Seasons at $1,078. Wynn/Encore would be at $1,158 for the two nights but they are requiring a three-night minimum stay, so you'll have to add either Sunday or Wednesday for an additional $300 or so. But even that doesn't match the two-night rate at Nobu Hotel Las Vegas, which is asking (an absolutely ridiculous) $1,538. For that cost, it better include Nobu investor Robert DeNiro coming to tuck my ass into bed.

Go Downtown and the prices are more reasonable. El Cortez has the lowest rate I found anywhere in town at $180 for both nights. Other good deals can be found at The California for $300 total; The Four Queens at $298; and The Golden Gate at $249. Those are much more expensive than they normally cost, but compared to prices elsewhere, a relative bargain.

Move out to the neighborhood hotels and you can also find some really good prices. Texas Station, Fiesta Rancho, Fiesta Henderson, and Sunset Station all range between $200 and $260 for the two nights.

By the way, I could only find two hotels that were showing sold out signs... The Fremont in Downtown Las Vegas and the Mandarin Oriental on The Strip.

Here's the full report:

Arizona Charlie's East$109$149$258
Best Western Mardi Gras$169$169$338
Boulder Station$105$150$255
Caesars Palace$529$599$1,128
The California$125$175$300
Circus Circus$179$265$444
Cosmoplitan of Las Vegas$400$650$1,050
The D$139$199$338
Downtown Grand$129$199$328
Eastside Cannery$120$160$280
El Cortez$90$90$180
Encore$459$699 $1,158*
Fiesta Henderson$110$130$240
Fiesta Rancho$90$110$200
Four Queens$139$159$298
Four Seasons$539$539$1,078
Fremontsold out sold outsold out
Gold Coast$159$199$358
Golden Gate$99$150$249
Golden Nugget$139$229$368
Green Valley Ranch$170$210$380
Hard Rock$260$399$659
Hilton Lake Las Vegas$149$149$298
JW Marriott$229$229$458
M Resortsold outsold outsold out
Main Street Station$175$175$350
Mandalay Bay$248$423$671
Mandarinsold outsold outsold out
MGM Grand$239$410$649
Monte Carlo$252$399$651
New York-New York$280$445$725
Nobu Hotel$749$789$1,538
Palace Station$125$170$298
Planet Hollywood$399$449$848
The Quad$202$213$415
Red Rock Resort$260$280$540
Sam's Town$115$315$430
Santa Fe Station$100$120$220
Silver Sevens$170$230$400
South Point$140$140$280
Sunset Station$110$150$260
Texas Station$90$110$200
Treasure Island$234$386$620
Trump International$269$399$668
Westin Lake Las Vegas$130$130$260
Wynn$459$699 $1,158*

Resort Fee Update

The relentless invasion of the resort fee is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, a recent check of the fees at hotels around Las Vegas found increases at several hotels and the addition of a fee at one that hadn't charged one before.

Aliante Hotel on the far north side of town was one of the few that didn't charge a fee at all, but now is asking for $9.99 plus tax per night. This includes Internet, coffee and tea service, local and domestic long distance calls, daily newspaper, airport boarding pass printing, and valet parking.

That drops the number of hotels not charging a fee to 11. For the record, they are Arizona Charlie's East, the Best Western Mardi Gras Inn, The California, The Cannery, Eastside Cannery, El Cortez, Four Queens, The Fremont, JW Marriott, M Resort, and Main Street Station. Every one of the major (and quite a few of the minor) hotels on The Strip charges a nightly resort fee although the one at Venetian/Palazzo is optional; you may choose to pay for the things it covers ala carte if you want.

And some are charging more. Excalibur's fee is now at $20.16 including tax, up from $16.80 the last time I checked. Neighbor Luxor is also up, from $20.16 to $22.40 per night.

Just off The Strip, The Rio is now charging $20 per night, up from $18.

Even out in the boonies, rates are rising. The Westin Lake Las Vegas was at $22 per night and is now $25.

Everyone always asks me why hotels charge the fees instead of just adding those costs to the nightly rate. It's really all about marketing. Instead of advertising a $50 per night rate, a hotel can advertise a $25 per night rate and add a $25 per night resort fee in the fine print. This allows them to show up higher in rate sorted search results on travel consolidation sites like Travelocity and Expedia, a key component in driving reservations.

You can read the full report on the Resort Fee page.


Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards

The Mega Award of the Week goes to progressive jackpot slot machines, which just got approval to be linked to other similar machines outside of the state of Nevada. This should result in higher jackpots, much like the multi-state linked Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries. Other states still need to approve the plan but you should start seeing some record-breaking jackpots at some point in 2014. The current record high jackpot was $38.7 million, won in 2003 on a Megabucks machine at Excalibur.

The Sibling Award of the Week goes to the Golden Nugget, which is going to get a new sister property in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The parent company purchased a gambling boat moored on Lake Charles from Ameristar and plans to build a new Golden Nugget branded casino-hotel on the property. There are currently Golden Nugget branded casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Biloxi, Mississippi; and Laughlin, Nevada in addition to the one in Downtown Las Vegas.

The Stargazing Award of the Week goes to the Neon Museum, which is going to host an astronomy event January 4th and 6th at 9pm. The lights of the Neon Boneyard will be turned down so guests can use telescopes to look at lights in the sky, like the ISON comet and Jupiter, both of which are expected to be visible on those evenings. It's free but you have to register your attendance by sending an email to

The Sunny Days Award of the Week goes to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, which had a groundbreaking last week for a new array of solar panels that will provide power to the Sin City icon. The construction project is expected to be complete by early next year.

The DVR Reminder Award of the Week goes to me, for reminding you to set yours to record the Garth Brooks concert special being broadcast live from Wynn/Encore on November 29th on CBS. Even if you aren't a fan of Brooks or even of country music, his shows in Vegas were fantastic and if this one is even half as good you'll want to see it.

The Waxy Buildup Award of the Week goes to Madame Tussaud's at The Venetian, which just unveiled a multi-million dollar makeover. Several of the themed rooms got cosmetic upgrades and a new Marvel super hero attraction was added featuring the likenesses of Iron Man, Thor, and more. Comic legend Stan Lee oversaw the ceremonial ribbon cutting for the opening last week (see picture).

The Speaking of Super Heroes Award of the Week goes to Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark, the Broadway musical that will be making its way to a casino showroom in Vegas in 2015. Featuring high-tech stunts (that have ended in injuries for some of the performers) and music from U2's Bono and The Edge, the show will be closing its run in New York in January and it will get a Vegas production at a still to be named hotel. My bet is on The Venetian but nothing is formal yet.

The Get Your Groove On Award of the Week goes to the Eletric Daisy Carnival, which has selected June 20-22, 2014 as its dates for next year's event. Tickets go on sale December 2nd.


Hotel Review: Bally's

When the original MGM Grand opened in 1973 it was the largest and most luxurious hotel in the world. Four decades and a name change to Bally's later, the hotel is no longer the biggest, boldest, or quite frankly "best" hotel in the city, much less the world. But really, that's only because of comparisons to bigger, grander places like Bellagio just across the street. Remove those comparisons and you have a nice hotel, often at a fraction of what you'd pay to stay at most of its neighbors.

It's tough to compete here in Vegas. After all, the hotel sits at what is undeniably one of the most competitive corners in the world. With hotels like the aforementioned Bellagio plus Paris, Caesars Palace, The Venetian, and The Mirage within steps of Bally's front door, they would've had to make the building jump up and down and go "Hey, look at me!" just to get noticed.

But the building isn't bouncing and Bally's operates in a comfortable groove as the quiet, stable, relatively inexpensive piece of the Center Strip puzzle. In a way it has become the "safe bet" of The Strip. It may not make your pulse race like you've just placed your entire life-savings on Black-17, but you can still have a good time playing odd or even, right?

Perhaps the proposed revamps to the front of the hotel will change all that. Due by 2014, the Grand Bazaar Shops will take up most of the space between the sidewalk and the front door of the hotel, with about 150 vendors selling all manner of "stuff" in a lively outdoor market. There will also be something called Crystal Starbust, which apparently is not a stripper but some sort of New Year's Eve style light and sound show.

The casino/lobby/restaurant row is one large room done in muted earth tones, marble, and chandeliers. They have done some freshening here and there including a makeover for the lounge and some of the restaurants and it's nice, but again it's nothing terribly special. I hate to use the word "unmemorable" but it seems to apply here. I've been to the Bally's casino many times but when asked to describe it, all I can say is, "it's nice".

I can say that the spacing of the machines is good and the ceiling is high so there isn't a sense of claustrophobia that I feel in other places. The good news, at least for me, is that I seem to win here often. Like serious winnings. Like one night when I hit a $2,000 jackpot and about 20 minutes later hit a $2,800 jackpot. Who cares about décor? I like this place.

A high-limit area offers machines from $5 to "you've-got-to-be-kidding" levels, a sports book serves up all the game wagers you can think of, and a short walkway takes you to the additional gaming options of neighbor and sister hotel Paris Las Vegas.

Which brings up a note. There is no parking garage for Bally's - you have to park next door at Paris Las Vegas and use the walkway to get to Bally's. It's a relatively short walk, and getting to the front desk will take you about the same amount of time and energy as getting to the front desk of Paris. Or you could just skip it all and use the valet (provided it isn't full, which it is usually on weekend nights).

There are multiple room configurations and the ones you want to pay the most attention to are the Jubilee! Tower accommodations. Created in 2013, they have a bold red and brown color palate with some really nice accents like chrome sconces and lighting fixtures. It is all that retro-mod, "Mad Men" era style and perhaps tries a little too much to be hip, but they're competitive now with the newer, bigger rooms elsewhere on The Strip. All have wireless Internet, flat panel TVs, refrigerators that you can put your own stuff in, safes, irons and boards, and a host of other amenities to make things comfortable.

Older "Deluxe" and "Classic" rooms in the North Tower are a bit larger than your average accommodation but really suffer in comparison to the Jubilee! rooms (and most other accommodations on The Strip). There's nothing wrong with them - everything is clean and comfortable - but you'll find some wear and tear and just a general feeling of things being dated. They aren't the types of rooms you want to spend a lot of time in doing anything other than sleeping. Pay the extra few bucks for (or sweet talk your way into) a Jubilee! room if you can.

As expected there are a host of restaurants and bars, a production show Jubilee! (one of the few remaining topless revues in town), a very nice pool area, a health club/spa, tennis courts, and a shopping arcade.

The service has always been top-notch, with a friendly, attentive staff; short waits for check-in, valet, and room service; and plenty of casino personnel for change and drinks.

So a very good hotel that you will probably overlook for something to get your heart pounding. How about this? Rates here are usually substantially less than the hotels that surround it. I've seen rates as low as $59 during the week and $99 on weekends. To be fair it is usually higher than that and the new Jubilee! rooms are significantly more, but you could double those rates and still come in less than what you'd pay at Bellagio, Paris, Caesars, and others nearby. This is before you add in the nightly resort fee of $18 per night that covers things like Internet, local calls, and fitness center access, but since everyone is charging a resort fee these days it still means you'll probably end up with a lower bill than at neighboring hotels. I don't know about you, but saving money gets my heart pounding.

Bally's Las Vegas
3645 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Check Rates
2,814 Rooms
$69 and up double
Avg. $100-$150 per night
Vegas4Visitors Rating: 77