Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards: The Best of Las Vegas 2013

Last week I unveiled my picks in five categories: Best Attractions, Best Buffets, Best Nightlife, Best Shopping, and Best Casinos. This week we move on to The Best Hotels, Best Shows, Best Expensive and Affordable Restaurants, and the Biggest News Stories of 2013. And once again this year I'm making it not be all about me by including your Reader's Choice votes for the bests in several categories as well.

You can see all of the choices in all categories on the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards: The Best of 2013 page at any time.

As always, my choices are bound to elicit some commentary. If you have something you want to add, we'll be having a discussion about it on the Vegas4Visitors Facebook group.


The Best Hotels in Las Vegas for 2013

Comparing Vegas hotels continues to be one of the hardest parts of my job. How can you possibly pit a hotel like Bellagio against one like Red Rock Resort? They are both great hotels but they cater to different audiences, have different missions, are at vastly different price points, and are geographically so far apart that they could be in a differnt universe from one another. Trying to rank one of them ahead of the other and then seeing the very long list of hotels that I have to leave off the list makes me crazy year after year.

So to make myself a little less crazy, if that is possible, this year's Top 10 Las Vegas Hotels list was selected based on a slightly more narrow set of criteria than I usually use, emphasizing comfort, style, and overall "experience" over things like cost and value. So yeah, there aren't any budget properties on this list, but a great Las Vegas hotel for me should be more than just a place to sleep and shower. It should be special, memorable, and worthy of talking about after you get home, regardless of how much money it cost to stay there. It should be a unique and uniquely Vegas experience, one that you can't have anywhere else, and one that will make you get the bill at the end and say "totally worth it."

These 10 hotels do that and more, which is why I am selecting the following as the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards Best Hotels in Las Vegas for 2013.

1. Caesars Palace

Caesars is just a few years shy of its 50th birthday. In a town that turns the destruction of its history into a spectator sport, the fact that the hotel even exists is noteworthy but the fact that it regularly trounces the competition in terms of quality, comfort, service, amenities, and fun is nothing short of miraculous. Every major hotel in Vegas hits a high point of its own, but Caesars seems to hit more of them more often in ways that would make the Romans proud. All hail Caesars Palace, the Best Hotel in Las Vegas for 2013.

2. Mandalay Bay/THEhotel/Four Seasons

Put the three hotels at this complex together and you have a little something for everyone. The standard accommodations at Mandalay Bay are far beyond simply standard, with luxury appointments and terrific style. The suites at THEhotel (soon to become a Delano), are just plain old gorgeous - the kind of digs you never want to leave. And the attention to detail in everything from the lighting fixtures to the bath amenities at the pampering Four Seasons leaves a lasting impression. Throw in all the other stuff - you'll note that the toppers of my casual restaurants, shows, and nightlife lists are all here - and you have what really is a fantastic Las Vegas experience

3. Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

You could take one look at the gorgeous, uniquely interesting rooms and the awe-inspiring views from their balconies and declare the Cosmo's spot on this list justified. But then you have to throw in a fun casino, an eye-popping design, some really terrific restaurants and entertainment, and a general attitude of wacky abandon that is missing in many of the more grown-up, corporate hotels on The Strip. Anyplace that has a pop-up wedding chapel where they do faux ceremonies with gumball rings is going to be a favorite of mine.

4. Wynn/Encore

I like the sweet suite accommodations at Encore and the casino at Wynn. I prefer the quieter main pool at Encore and the show at Wynn. I love the spa at Encore and many of the restaurants at Wynn. What were once marketed as two separate properties are now billed as one and together they create an irresistible, albeit expensive, package. If luxury is the most important thing on your checklist, this is the place for you.

5. Bellagio

Speaking of luxury... What had started to grow staid has been reenergized by new, super-luxe rooms and new amenities throughout the hotel. There's an undeniable energy here that had been missing for a long time and when you combine that with the iconic Fountains, Conservatory, and Cirque du Soleil show what you get is something we'll call either classic modernism or modern classicism. Either way, it's just a great hotel.

6. Aria Las Vegas

Most Las Vegas hotels impress upon first viewing but by the second or third time you walk through, the wow-worthy moments are rare. Not so with Aria. The boldly visual design still bowls me over, especially when you stop to appreciate all of the textures and shapes that are used where other places put up plain old walls. From outside to inside, from the casino to the rooms, Aria continues to strike a chord with me.

7. Red Rock Resort

Most Las Vegas hotels bill themselves as resorts but if you want the true resort experience your best bet is to head to the far west side of town to this gorgeous retreat perched on the edge of Red Rock Canyon. The casino is way more affordable and rewarding than you'd expect it to be when you see how richly detailed it is and the rooms are like cozy dens that you have to force yourself to leave. And with only 800 rooms, you'll get a level of service unlike the conveyor belt mentality at the 4,000 room mega-resorts.

8. MGM Grand

It's still too darned big, but all of the changes they have put in place over the last couple of years have made the size worth dealing with. Check out the new rooms; stylish and modern yet not overwhelmingly so. Then take a look at the terrific lineup of restaurants, shows, and nightclubs, many of which you will see on the other Best of lists this year. Grand, indeed.

9. The Mirage

24 years old and it's still a perennial contender on this list. How do they do it? By almost constantly improving the offerings, from cosmetic upgrades to changes to the lineup of restaurants and entertainment. It isn't a perfect hotel; others have bigger rooms and better amenities. But it's still a great hotel and that is nothing to sneeze at.

10. The Downtown Grand

I'm taking a flyer on this one, putting it on my list before it has a real chance to fully establish its bona fides. But what I've seen so far has impressed me in ways that a Las Vegas hotel hasn't in a long, long time. Visually, the hotel is a winner, with a retro-modern industrial design that makes it feel current yet classic. Prices are right and the service is beyond friendly. Could this steal the crown from the Golden Nugget as the best hotel in Downtown Las Vegas? It has for this year's list at least.

Reader's Choice: Caesars Palace

I love it when great minds think alike. The voting was tight, with hotels like Mirage and Bellagio coming close but in the end Caesars snuck it out to be the Vegas4Visitors reader's choice for Best Hotel in Las Vegas for 2013.


The Best Shows in Las Vegas for 2013

The entertainment scene in Las Vegas has changed a lot over the last few decades. While the showgirl is an endangered species these days you can't throw a commemorative drink cup without hitting a French Canadian circus performer (for the record, please don't throw a commemorative drink cup while in Las Vegas). But the great news is that never before have the shows in Sin City been so diverse, offering a little something for everyone and a lot of it absolutely fantastic. Take a look at this list and you'll find magicians, jugglers, singers, dancers, acrobats, impressionists, and more, all of whom put on a heck of a show. These are my choices for the Top 10 Awards Best Shows in Las Vegas for 2013.

1. Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil at Mandalay Bay

It's hard to separate the man from the music, but Cirque du Soleil not only does an amazing job of celebrating the (admittedly damaged) singer's songs, they elevate them to a new level of artistry that Jackson himself would probably be thrilled with (pun intended). Seeing the kind of stunts, dance, and visuals that Cirque is known for used to enhance, deepen, and, in some cases, completely reinvent some of the best pop music ever created is nothing short of mind-blowing. For me, that makes Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil the Best Show in Las Vegas for 2013.

2. Absinthe at Caesars Palace

It's the dirtiest, foulest, most profane show you will probably ever see outside of a strip club and yet it is also the most deliriously entertaining, reaching levels of jaw-dropping insanity that will leave you gasping (both from laughing too much and from the thrill of it all). The combination of blush-worthy humor and dramatic, up-close stunts creates an unforgettable night that is unlike anything else in Las Vegas.

3. Jeff Civillico at The Quad

A great Las Vegas show should have high energy, a sense of humor (either about the world or itself), and a unique talent on display that wows, amuses, and/or entertains. Civillico's juggernaut of a show has all of that and then some as the genially goofy guy juggles stuff, balances things, balances ON things, and cracks everyone up with his smart/silly, off-the-cuff patter. The afternoons in Vegas are a lot more fun with Civillico on the job.

4. Mac King at Harrah's

There's a reason that comedian/magician Mac King has been commanding the afternoon stage of Las Vegas for more than 13 years. His laugh-out-loud antics and how-did-he-do-that? magic are still just as fresh today as they ever have been and perhaps even more so, with King's finely honed sense of timing and presentation. One of the lowest ticket prices for one of the highest entertainment values makes this show a lock for the Top 10 year after year.

5. Vegas! The Show at Planet Hollywood

An already fantastic revue of the Vegas of yore has been energized even more with the addition of talented vocalist Josh Strickland (formerly of Peepshow) as one of the leads. He both blends in with and ups the game of the entire cast who seem to be having a ball as they rip through 70 years of Sin City entertainment. No other show in town has this much singing and dancing talent on one stage.

6. Clint Holmes at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Vocalist Holmes is no stranger to the Las Vegas stages. His show at Harrah's was a crowd-pleasing throwback to the Rat Pack style songfests that used to rule this town but his new gig at the Jazz Cabaret theater at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts is smaller, more intimate, and a million times more impressive. Holmes is a master and his jazz-fueled arrangements of pop classics are sonically and artistically thrilling.

7. Mystère by Cirque du Soleil at Treasure Island

When Mystère debuted at Treasure Island in 1993 it not only raised the bar for Las Vegas entertainment it turned the bar into a plaything for a bunch of French Canadian circus performers. Twenty years and eight Cirque shows later, Mystère still amazes, mystifies, and moves audiences with its dreamy staging and thrilling acrobatics. A true Vegas legend.

8. Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas

One of these days I'm going to stop talking about how Le Rêve was fairly derivative and not that great when it first opened. But it's hard not to bring that up when talking about how fantastic the show has become. Dark and moody but with numerous bright spots, visually arresting, and often gasp-inducing, Le Rêve is now the best Cirque du Soleil show that Cirque du Soleil doesn't produce and a lot better than some of the ones they do. You'll note that the similarly water-themed O by Cirque du Soleil, while great, is not on my Top 10 list.

9. Penn & Teller at Rio Las Vegas

Magic shows often work because they depend on the audience being easily fooled; tricked into looking over here while the con is happening over there. Penn & Teller, on the other hand, depend on their audience being smart, appealing not only to the emotion that makes you say "wow" but also to the intellect that makes you say "I'm in on the gag." Who knew magic could be this brainy and still so much fun?

10. KÀ by Cirque du Soleil at MGM Grand

The 2013 accidental death of one of the performers in was tragic but it did highlight a fact that we, the audience, often forget when watching Cirque du Soleil shows: the stuff these talented acrobats, aerialists, and stunt people are doing are dangerous. This is not smoke and mirrors special effects; this is real people putting life and limb at risk for your entertainment. That remains a stunning achievement of both stunts and story even after the tragedy is a triumph that can't be underestimated.

Reader's Choice: Love by Cirque du Soleil at The Mirage

Okay, so we can't always be simpatico. Vegas4Visitors readers continued to show their love for The Beatles themed production, making it their pick for Best Show in Vegas for the second year in a row.


The Best Expensive Restaurants in Las Vegas for 2013

My definition of an "expensive" restaurant is one in which it will cost you at least $50 to have a full, satisfying meal. That doesn't mean you can't do it for less if you skimp but places this good will make you want the full experience, which will often bring a very high price tag.

Making this list was impossibly hard; for awhile I considered making it a Top 16 just because there were so many great restaurants I wanted to include. If this were a longer list, I would absolutely feature Table 10 at Palazzo, Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace, Estiatorio Milos at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Sinatra at Encore Las Vegas, Top of the World at The Stratosphere, and Comme Ça at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. But I guess if I'm going to have a Top 10 list I should stick with tradition and only include 10 entries so here are my picks for the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards Best Expensive Restaurants in Las Vegas for 2013.

1. L'Atelier at MGM Grand

I've had the pleasure of eating here twice now, and both times have provided me with meals that I will remember for the rest of my life. The prices are verging on outrageous until you actually take a bite and then it all starts to make sense. This should be on your list of places to visit before you die and it is absolutely at the top of this list for me, making L'Atelier the Best Expensive Restaurant in Las Vegas for 2013.

2. Old Homestead at Caesars Palace

It's hard to beat a good, old-fashioned steak when it comes to a satisfying meal and in Vegas you have lots of options on where to eat them; this city is a cow's worst nightmare. But if you want to go beyond a good steak to a truly great one, there is only one place to do it: Old Homestead. This Vegas version of a restaurant that has been in business in NYC for more than 150 years is, by far, the best steakhouse in town. Crazy expensive, but absolutely worth it.

3. Aureole at Mandalay Bay

Inspired is a word I keep coming back to when I think of the dining experience at Charlie Palmer's almost legendary Vegas restaurant. It isn't because of the four-story wine tower complete with catsuit clad lovelies who fly up to fetch bottles for guest (although that's cool) and it isn't because of the gorgeous dining room and impeccable service (although it certainly helps). In the end it's because of the food; amazing blends of flavors and textures that will help you truly understand the definition of term "fine dining."

4. Raku Grill

A quick glance at the menu would lead you to believe that this restaurant shouldn't be on the expensive list. After all, each item is only a few bucks. But the skewers of meat, veggies, and fish cooked over a charcoal grill are bite sized and so insanely delicious that you'll wind up ordering a slew of them and easily running up quite a hefty tab. And you know what? It's so good you won't care.

5. Alizé at The Palms

French food can be intimidating to some but here at legendary Vegas chef Andre Rochat's restaurant it is accessible for just about any taste and pleasing to just about any palate. It's one of those places where you take a bite and then want to bang your fist on the table because what you have just tasted is so good you can barely stand it. Factor in the unparalleled view from the big windows overlooking The Strip and you have a perennial winner.

6. Buddy V's at Palazzo

I struggled for a bit whether to put this restaurant on the inexpensive or expensive list. You can do it fairly cheap if you try but the food is so good that you shouldn't have to limit yourself just to save a few bucks. Italian favorites from "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro are the draw here and once you taste the Sunday Gravy or lasagna you won't want to stop.

7. Bartolotta at Wynn Las Vegas

I'm not much of a seafood fan but if all fish tasted like it does here I'd be eating it all the time. Chef Paul Bartolotta has the freshest of the fresh flown in from the chilly waters of the northern Mediterranean daily and the simple yet elegant preparation turns what could be a pedestrian affair into a divine delight.

8. Fleur at Mandalday Bay

When Chef Hubert Keller re-imagined his beloved Fleur de Lys restaurant, which served exquisite full course and tasting menus, into this one that focuses instead on small plates, purists worried that the magic would get lost in the translation. They were wrong because everything that was amazing about the first Fleur still holds true with this one.

9. Todd's Unique Dining

In a town full of gastronomic delights, who would've thought that you could find some of best gourmet cuisine as this out-of-the-way, independent restaurant located in a strip mall in suburban Henderson? But find it you will as Chef Todd Clore turns out fantastic meals using only the freshest of ingredients, usually locally sourced and always lovingly prepared.

10. Andiamo Steakhouse at The D Las Vegas

There is much to love here, from the dark and clubby dining room to the stellar service and the terrific steaks. But it is the Italian favorites (pastas, risotto, gnocchi, and more) that make this place stand out among a sea of steakhouses. One of the only fine dining options in Downtown Vegas and absolutely the best.

Reader's Choice: Delmonico at The Venetian

Vegas4Visitors readers certainly didn't have a beef with Delmonico, making Emeril Lagasse's steakhouse their pick for the Best Restaurant in Las Vegas for 2013.


The Best Affordable Restaurants in Las Vegas for 2013

If you read the above description of "expensive" restaurants it should come as no surprise that my definition of affordable means you can get a full, satisfying meal for less than $50 per person. It doesn't mean that you can't spend more, especially if you load up on appetizers and drinks, but you can have a great experience without breaking the bank.

And yes, I understand that $49 per person is probably not affordable for a lot of people, but I had to draw the line somewhere and that seemed like as good a place to do it as any.

As with the expensive list, there were a bunch of places I wanted to include that I couldn't find room for so I we'll give honorable mention to Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas, Ping Pang Pong at The Gold Coast, The Cupcakery at Monte Carlo, Rí Rá Irish Pub at Mandalay Bay, munchbar at Caesars Palace, Gordon Ramsay BurGR at Planet Hollywood, and Todd English PUB at Crystals at CityCenter.

And in case you're wondering why Capriotti's didn't make it on to the list this year, it was only because they have expanded to a dozen states and Washington DC, making it less of an experience that you can only get in Vegas. I still consider their sandwiches to be the best in the known universe and if you don't have one near you, visiting one while you are in Las Vegas is absolutely worth the time and effort.

So with those caveats in mind, here are my picks for the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards Best Affordable Restaurants in Las Vegas for 2013.

1. Citizens Kitchen at Mandalay Bay

This casual kitchen serves heaping platefuls of American comfort food from fried chicken to spaghetti and meatballs to one of the best versions of a meatloaf I have ever tasted (sorry mom, yours is good too). It's the way every one of those chain restaurants that serves conveyor belt versions of the same stuff should be like but isn't (and you know exactly which chains I'm talking about, don't you?). Fun, affordable, comfortable... Citizens Kitchen is the Best Affordable Restaurant in Las Vegas for 2013.

2. Culinary Dropout at The Hard Rock Hotel

This fun bistro treads some of the same territory as Citizens Kitchen but twists it up a bit with some hip menu items and an even hipper staff. You can go full-on comfort food and not be disappointed (the meatloaf here is fantastic too) or you can go edgier with a charcuterie plate or a chicken curry dish. Whatever you choose it's going to be good and not too expensive.

3. Eat Downtown Las Vegas

I can't speak highly enough of this tiny slip of a place off-the-beaten track in Downtown Vegas. It's got a great, retro-diner vibe and the food is like an organic, farm-fresh dream come true. It's only open for breakfast and lunch and whichever you choose, be prepared to get so much food that the next meal becomes irrelevant. And I command you to get the beignets. You can thank me later.

4. Hash House a Go Go at The Quad

If you don't know about the mad, twisted farm food at Hash House you really can't call yourself a true fan of Las Vegas. There are four of them in town (with a fifth on the way) and no matter which you go to you'll find enormous portions and a quality that simply can't be matched by most restaurants at this price point. Go, go, now!

5. La Comida

Although a bit on the pricey side for Downtown, this place is a comparative bargain when you consider the quality of the home style Mexican dishes and the fact that similar meals on The Strip would cost 30% more. This is the real deal: authentic regional recipes that have the kind of flavor and presentation that makes you think "mama" is in the kitchen cooking.

6. Lola's: A Louisiana Kitchen

This one is easy: it offers the best Creole and Cajun cooking I have tasted outside of Louisiana. That's actually not a high bar to beat since most attempts at the cuisine outside of its region of origin are pretty bad, but this one excels for its authentic New Orleans flavors and a zesty, let the good times roll attitude.

7. KGB at Harrah's

I've said it before and I'll say it again... best burgers in Las Vegas. I know you have your opinion on that particular topic but if you don't think KGB beats all the other competitors for the crown you are, to put it simply, plain wrong. Big, beautifully constructed, flavorful, juicy masterpieces; I want one right now.

8. PUB 1842 at MGM Grand

Gastropubs are already starting to wear out their welcome in my book but if they were all as good as this one from Chef Michael Mina I'd want one on every casino corner. Terrific food, including their own BBQ pit, and inventive, barrel-aged cocktails and craft beer makes this a fun alternative to the boring diners that are nowhere near as interesting.

9. Sugar Factory at Paris Las Vegas

I was leery walking into this place. After all, this is the restaurant version of the place that offers custom lollipops from celebrities like Britney Spears and various Kardashians. But imagine my surprise when I found a delightful, Strip-facing dining room serving up a huge variety of delicious food, from crepes to sandwiches to steaks and more. And those desserts! Worth it for that alone.

10. Radio City Pizza

Yet another reason to head to Downtown Las Vegas. This terrific pizza joint serves up slices or whole pies with inventive toppings and a presentation that will make you swoon. The breakfast pizza - basically a massive omelet on a pizza crust - will make you never want to eat at a breakfast buffet again.


Biggest Las Vegas News Stories of 2013

The good news for Vegas is that after several years of bad news (bankruptcies! closures! fewer visitors! locusts!) there was finally some good news as the economy started picking back up and people's attitude about Sin City picked back up as well. New development, increased tourism, more revenue, and even some new, purely Vegas wacky ideas started filtering into the conversation and turned the year into a hopeful sign that the city is on the way back.

Here are my picks for the Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards Biggest News Stories in Las Vegas for 2013.

1. Resorts World Plans Themed Mega-Casino

It sounds like something straight out of the 1990s: plans to build a Chinese themed mega-resort with thousands of hotel rooms, a massive casino, a mall, an indoor water park, a giant panda habitat, and a replica of the Great Wall of China. But Resorts World Las Vegas is not a headline from the heady days of Vegas' big boom, this is a current plan for the land that used to be home to The Stardust and is now an abandoned construction site. The first really surprising thing about this is that it's going to be a theme casino; something that hasn't really happened here since The Venetian opened in 1999. Second, that anyone is willing to spend billions of dollars to build something this big when the last financially successful resort to open in Vegas was the Wynn/Encore complex in the mid-2000s. Will this kick off a new wave of investment and development in Vegas? Will it draw more people and more revenue to a still struggling local economy? Will I be able to pet the pandas?! No matter how, or even if, it all turns out, the idea of it all is absolutely the Biggest News Story of 2013.

2. Life is Beautiful Festival Launches

I will freely admit that I thought this was going to be a disaster. Trying to do launch a two-day festival of this size and scope - with dozens of music artists, food vendors, arts projects, speakers, and more spread across 15 blocks of Downtown Las Vegas - in a city that has a hard time paying attention to anything for very long was lunacy as far as I was concerned. But the Life is Beautiful Festival turned out to be a huge success, not only from a logistical and organizational standpoint but from an energy and atmosphere one. In one weekend they managed to establish the Downtown area as a creative and cultural epicenter that can appeal to visitors and locals alike. I've already got the last weekend of October 2014 blocked out for the next one!

3. The Downtown Grand Opens

It took the better part of a decade but getting the former Lady Luck back up and running signals a watershed moment, not only for Downtown Las Vegas but for Las Vegas as a whole. The Downtown Grand is the capper in a run of remodels including The Plaza and The D that are steadily transforming Downtown into an affordable but still stylish alternative to The Strip and it's a solid step in recovery of the city. The fact that it's a well-designed, interesting addition to the Vegas scene seems almost like a bonus.

4. Downtown Resort Fees

Of course success, as they say, breeds contempt and a healthy dose of the latter must reserved for the hotels in Downtown Las Vegas that succumbed to the siren call of the resort fee. The battle had already been waged and lost on The Strip, with every major property now charging a nightly fee on top of their regular room rates to pay for things like Internet service and gym access. Even a lot of the local neighborhood casinos were demanding their share of the fee-ing frenzy. But Downtown had remained fee-free until this year when nearly half of the major hotels in the area (Golden Nugget, The D Las Vegas, Golden Gate, Plaza) added them, with the rest expected to follow suit sooner rather than later.

5. Britney Spears Comes to Vegas

Love her, hate her, or not care enough to feel one way or another, you have to admit that Britney Spears becoming a resident artist at Planet Hollywood for two years is a pretty big deal... although maybe not in the way you might be thinking. It's really less about Spears and more about what she represents; a sea-shift in the demographic appeal and pop culture popularity from the typical Vegas headliners that mostly cater to an older, more middle-of-the-road set (I'm looking at you Celine... and Elton... and pretty much everyone else). It's a gamble that may not work but if Brit's fans, who are exactly the kind of audience Vegas wants in its hip nightclubs and restaurants, show up, it could change the definition of a Vegas headliner forever.

6. Shopping Is the New Black

For a long time, development in Vegas meant finding ways to get more slot machines or gaming tables on the property. But these days shopping is the hot commodity, with new malls (big, small, indoor, outdoor, and otherwise) planned for The Flamingo & Quad, New York-New York & Monte Carlo, The Tropicana, Bally's, and Treasure Island. The latter is even replacing the long-running Sirens of TI show, which brings us to...

7. Sirens Pirate Battle Attraction Ends

For a decade, the pirate battle stunt show at Treasure Island was one of the best free attractions in Vegas, an epic bit of silliness that involved the British Navy, scurrilous scalawags, and a sinking ship. For the next decade it was an epic bit of stupidity, redone with a supposed-to-be-sexy update that involved scantily clad women, dumb music, and borderline offensive dialogue. Regardless of what it became, it was an iconic Vegas attraction that has now sailed into the sunset and for that, Vegas is a little less fun. Now what am I going to be snarky about? Oh right... PANDA!

8. Tragedy Strikes at Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil has always been a refuge from the real world, with its ethereal theatrics and impossible to believe acrobatics creating an entirely different, fantastical universe. But the death of performer Sarah Guyard-Guillot, who slipped from her harness during the climactic battle scene and plunged more than 70 feet to a pit below the stage in June, and the serious injury of another Cirque performer in Zarkana later in the year, reminded us that these are real people doing insanely dangerous things for our amusement. Sometimes the real world really sucks.

9. Violence in Vegas

Crime in Vegas is certainly nothing new, but this year seemed to have more than its share of tragic headlines: a rolling gun battle on The Strip ends with two people killed in a fiery collision with a cab; a carjacking ends with a crash that kills two, one of whom was a man in town for his bachelor party; a disagreement over a cover charge at a nightclub at Bally's ends with a good Samaritan shot dead... the list goes on and on. Vegas was built on the concept of being completely removed from real world concerns, but as a wise man very recently said, sometimes the real world... well, you know.

10. Vegas4Visitors 15th Anniversary

I know that it really wasn't that big of a story for Las Vegas but it was a big deal to me and this is my list so get over it. I launched in September of 1998, just a few weeks before Bellagio opened, and the fact that it is still going after all these years is a testament to the city and the people who love it. I'm happy we're all still here to enjoy it.