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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
January 13, 2014
Resort Fee Update
It's a new year and in addition to the promise of new beginnings, good fortune, and happiness comes increases in those stupid resort fees that hotels in Las Vegas charge.
I have gone through and checked the fees at all of the major hotels on The Strip, Downtown, and in neighborhoods around the city and have found three hotels that have increased their fees, another that has added one, a hotel that MAY have added one, and three more that appear poised to add them.
Circus Circus has raised its fee from $11.14 per night including tax to $14.50 per night including tax. It covers most of the same stuff as before although it used to offer you two free drinks and now is two-for-one drinks.
Hooters has raised its fee from $12.95 per night plus tax to $14.95 per night plus tax. Is this a way to help pay for the rumored room renovations that were supposed to have gotten underway last year but still haven't? Hmmmm.
Tuscany Hotel & Casino, located just off The Strip on Flamingo, has raised its nightly fee from $14 to $17 plus tax, with no changes in what is offered.
JW Marriott has added a mandatory $14.99 per night (plus tax) resort fee. They used to have a resort fee that was optional - you could either pay it and get what was included or do the services like Internet and fitness center access ala carte. The new fee covers In-room Internet; access to spa and fitness center; a $20 spa treatment credit; and bottled water.
Meanwhile, confusion seems to reign over at the Best Western Mardi Gras. If you try to book a room online, it adds a $5 per night resort fee but it doesn't say what is included in that fee, if anything. Call the Best Western Mardi Gras front desk to make a reservation and they will insist that there is no resort fee. A rate quote for the exact same night in the exact same room over the phone, therefore, was $5 less than online. Unsure what's going on there but for now I'm calling this a new $5 per night fee.
And finally, the last bastions of fee-free Downtown Las Vegas seem poised to let their fortress walls fall. The California, Fremont, and Main Street Station hotels are not currently charging a resort fee but the fine print on their website booking pages has been modified to read "rates do not include resort fees or taxes." Before that sentence only read "rates do not include taxes" so the "resort fees" part has been added but no resort fee is being charged... yet.
You can check the full list of who charges what fees on the Resort Fees page on Vegas4Visitors.com or you can check each individual hotel as I have now added the fees to the details section next to the map on each page.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The Musical History Lesson Award of the Week goes to Rocktellz & Cocktails, the show at Planet Hollywood that puts legendary figures from the world of music on stage to perform their songs and tell stories about their careers. Meat Loaf will be returning to the series in February and will rotate shows with The Jacksons through April of 2014. Tickets are on sale now.
The Behind the Scenes Award of the Week goes to Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas, which is now offering show packages that include a backstage tour before the performance. Guests will be able to see practice areas, costume and dressing rooms, the pool, and the diving platform high above the theater. Tickets are $249 and include "preferred" seating for the show and a souvenir from the gift shop.
The Gold Standard Award of the Week goes to Bally's Sterling Brunch, which will close down February 2nd at the same time as its current host Bally's Steakhouse shuts its doors. For a long time the Brunch was the most expensive and extravagant of the Las Vegas weekend buffets but has been eclipsed over the last few years by the upscale offerings at places like Wynn Las Vegas and Caesars Palace. The steakhouse is being replaced by another steakhouse in May but it is unclear what form, if any, the Sterling Brunch will come back in.
Attraction Update: The Linq
Back in the day the idea of building a casino related facility that expressly kept people OUT of a casino would have been considered madness. But these days you have to remember that more than 50% of a resort's revenue comes from things other than gambling, so perhaps it is no surprise that Caesars Entertainment has built The Linq.
Linq is an outdoor entertainment and shopping district on The Strip in between The Flamingo and The Quad, which has turned a service alley into a pedestrian mall lined lined with stores, restaurants, bars, and more. It's sort of a miniature version of one of those malls designed to look like a city street (Los Angeles residents familiar with The Grove or Americana at Brand will know what I'm talking about) and has a pleasant vibe conducive to strolling, presuming it's not too hot or too cold.
Only a small portion of it is open now with a handful of stores and restaurants including a rebirth of O'Sheas, the small casino that was torn down to make way for this project. The rest of The Linq will open in the spring of 2014 and will feature a branch of the popular Yard House; Brooklyn Bowl, a concert, nightclub, and bowling alley venue; FAME, an Asian market and entertainment venue; the return of the Ghiradelli chocolate shop; The Titled Kilt Irish pub; a Polaroid Museum and store; and Vegas' first outlet of Los Angeles' famed Sprinkles cupcake store among others.
It will all lead to the High Roller observation wheel, billed as the biggest of its kind in the world, standing at 550 feet high. That should also open in the spring.
Finally, behind the wheel will be a new 19-acre parking lot that will be zoned for festivals and other outdoor events.
I like what I see so far of The Linq. It's got a good layout, an eye-pleasing design, and an interesting roster of tenants. Watch for a review of the full facility sometime after it opens in the spring of 2014.
Show Review: Brad Garrett's Comedy Club
I don't normally review comedy clubs since the experience of visiting one usually totally depends on the people standing on stage trying to make you laugh. If they're good, then you'll probably have a good time regardless of the specifics of how the club is laid out or how the service from the wait staff was. Bad comedians will ruin a terrific theater and great cocktail service. Since most of the comedy clubs in Vegas - like most comedy clubs pretty much everywhere - don't have a regular set of comics, it's impossible for me to tell you if the show you are going to see is any going to be any good or not.
Brad Garrett's Comedy Club at the MGM Grand is a bit different. It's got all the comedy club tropes including caricatures and pictures of funny people all over the walls, cocktail tables and chairs with a few booths, and a small stage and a microphone. But what it also has is the club's namesake, comedian and actor Brad Garrett.
He may be best known for his role as the long-suffering brother of Ray Romano's character on "Everybody Loves Raymond," but Garrett has been doing standup comedy for decades and has had a host of other roles in movies and on TV, including a 2013/2014 stint in a recurring role as Robin Williams uptight, gay business partner on "The Crazy Ones."
Garrett isn't on stage every night at his eponymous club but he is there often enough that you should be paying attention to the schedule when you are booking a trip to Vegas. It's worth the extra effort and extra few bucks to catch a show with him acting as the opening act and emcee.
Those expecting the family-friendly Robert Romano will be in for a bit of a surprise. Garrett's stand-up style is more in keeping with Don Rickles, with insults aimed at pretty much every social, racial, and gender target hurled at various audience members with stunning speed. In other, less capable hands, this type of comedy usually either offends or bores me, but Garrett is so crafty that he managed to not only make me laugh, but made the people he was insulting laugh even harder. I think it's because he wasn't telling hateful jokes about Mexicans in general, but rather teasing the specific couple of Mexican descent in the front row and poking fun at the race-related stereotypes we all at least know about. His material doesn't come off as mean-spirited or angry and despite its decidedly R-rated, boundary crossing nature, feels downright good-natured. It's just a joke, folks.
However, be warned: don't sit in the front row if you don't want to be the butt of the jokes. The second row is a little iffy, also.
Garrett's long history in the stand-up comedy world means that his club probably has the pull to be able to book better-than-average comedians. The three I saw along with Garrett were all accomplished - with numerous "Tonight Show" appearances, comedy specials, and the like - but more importantly they were consistently funny. Again, your mileage may vary. Here's a hint: check the schedule and then go on YouTube to catch some clips of the comedians that will be performing when you are considering a visit. It'll help you determine whether or not these will be people you want to spend a couple of hours with.
And again, not that it matters all that much, but the club itself is very nice although hard to find if you don't know where to look. It's in the MGM Grand Underground shopping arcade, which goes from the lobby to the parking garage. They put a lot of chairs in a fairly small space but it didn't feel too crowded, the chairs were comfortable, and the sightlines were good. They offer a full bar of moderately high-priced drinks and three different kinds of gourmet popcorn, all served by attentive cocktail waitresses. I've been to most of the comedy clubs in town and this one has the best vibe as far as I'm concerned.
Just remember my warning about the front row.
Attraction Review: Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas
When I first visited Madame Tussaud's at The Venetian, I must admit that I approached with a tiny bit of trepidation. If you've seen 1953's "House of Wax" with Vincent Price you'll know what I'm talking about. These places always kind of creep me out.
But over the last few years, the Vegas Tussaud's has been, well, Vegas-a-fied adding more spectacle and show to proceedings that I think make it a much more enjoyable experience overall. A 2013 overhaul and expansion have only solidified it as a fun, kitschy bit of Vegas entertainment.
For the uninitiated, Madame Tussaud was a real person, having risen to fame for her lifelike wax figures during the French revolution. She was forced to prove her allegiance to France by creating death masks for executed French nobles. Charming and not at all creepy, right?
For the last 200 or so years, the wax figures have moved from royalty to celebrity, with museums in London, Amsterdam, New York, Hong Kong, and this one in Las Vegas.
The 30,000 square-foot facility is divided up into several themed-rooms with celebrities from all walks of life featured throughout. Although the exact people immortalized rotate periodically, figure upon seeing celebrities from movies, television, music, sports, and even politics.
Some of the figures are so good that you want to touch them - which you can. They encourage you to poke and prod and take pictures along the way. I admit to very hesitantly touching a few of the figures because I was sure they were going to leap up and strangle me and encase me in wax so I could be displayed... sorry... got carried away there.
It's the interactive exhibits that really make the cover charge more palatable. You can put yourself in the set of "The Hangover" with Bradley Cooper (and get a surprise if you check the closet); cup J-Lo's, umm, "assets" and get a blushing reaction from her; sing Karaoke and get judged by Simon Cowell; box with Muhammad Ali; become a guest on "The Jerry Springer Show;" and even do the iconic "Smooth Criminal" "lean" with some help from a well-placed green-screen device. A full Vegas themed room has everyone from Siegfried & Roy to Better Midler to the Rat Pack and Elvis, of course.
These exhibits also change periodically but it gives you an idea of what you can expect.
A 2013 addition is dedicated to Marvel Super Heroes like The Avengers, complete with a 4-D theater showing an animated movie that puts Spider-Man, The Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man in a battle to save earth once again. It includes water, wind, and shaking special effects to heighten the typical 3-D movie experience and while it may not break any new ground, it's a fun distraction with a few surprises.
At $30 a pop, it's a little pricey for wax, but it's worth noting that you can get 20% off your ticket price if you buy online in advance. The website link is above.
I personally miss the haunted house section they used to have but that's just my personal taste and the newer attractions will more than make up for its absence for most visitors. And it must have for me, at least a little, because every time I visit I wind up bumping the grade up a notch, this time to a B+.
Las Vegas History: Caesars Palace
Jay Sarno built a small empire of motels in Georgia, California, and Texas but dreamed of a different kind of Las Vegas experience than was currently in the market. His idea of a "European" hotel/casino with an ornate design and more family-friendly appointments was met with disdain by the casino industry and the idea of building it so far back from the highway, fronted by gardens and fountains, was viewed as crazy.
Financing the hotel was not easy. A building boom in the 1950s had mostly been funded by organized crime, but a nationwide and Las Vegas specific crackdown on the mob made it harder for underworld figures to be openly involved in Sin City casinos. Between 1946 and 1958 about a dozen major hotel-casinos opened, mostly thanks to mafia money. But between The Stardust's 1958 opening and the 1966 opening of Caesars Palace only one other major property debuted (The Aladdin, also in 1966).
Tracing the mafia's roots in most hotels of the era is pretty easy but while there were rumors that everyone from Sam Giancana to Myer Lansky had a hand in Caesars Palace, nothing has ever been explicitly documented. Sarno got the nearly $25 million it took to build the property with loans from the Teamsters Union and from an investment of a partner who gained a fortune through an east coast insurance company.
There is some discrepancy in the history logs as to when ground breaking and construction actually began, which range from 1962 to 1965, but it is most likely in late 1964 or early 1965.
The Roman theme was always a part of the plan but the hotel's name changed from inception to inauguration. Originally it was to be called Cabana Palace, named after the chain of Cabana motels that had earned Sarno a small fortune. Desert Palace was also floated as a possibility but Caesars Palace was eventually selected because Sarno thought it would evoke royalty.
The hotel debuted on August 5, 1966 with 700 guest rooms, the 800 seat Circus Maximus showroom featuring a production starring Andy Williams, two restaurants, and a main casino that acted as a hub for the entire hotel. Although common today, the idea of a casino being the centerpiece through which guests would have to pass to get to other areas of the hotel was revolutionary for the time.
The hotel was an immediate hit, garnering lots of press for its gaudy Roman design and a staff that was costumed in togas and gladiator uniforms.
Sarno used the success of the hotel to expand his empire, opening the Circus Circus casino up the street in 1968, but he was forced to let go of Caesars Palace in 1969. The government was investigating possible organized crime involvement of a senior financial executive with Sarno's company and although the man was never charged, the threat of it was enough to convince Sarno that he needed to sell. The Lum's Restaurant chain bought the property on September 30, 1969 for $60 million.
The property changed owners several times over the years and has been associated with various hotel chains including Sheraton and Hilton. The last major ownership transfer happened in 2005 when Harrah's Entertainment bought the hotel and then renamed itself Caesars Entertainment.
Expansions and remodeling have kept the hotel current and competitive. A 1970 expansion added the 14-story Centurion Tower; the 22-story Fantasy Tower was added in 1979 (later renamed the Forum Tower); a state-of-the-art Omnimax movie theater was added in 1980; The Forum Shops mall was added in 1992; the 1,100 room Palace Tower debuted in 1997; the 4,000 seat Colosseum showroom opened in 2003; the 1,000 room Augustus Tower opened in 2005; and the 1,000 room Octavius Tower debuted in 2012.
The Centurion Tower was remodeled in 2012 and rebranded as the Nobu Hotel Las Vegas, a hotel-within-a-hotel concept run and managed by the company that manages the Nobu Japanese restaurant chain. It opened to the public in 2013.
Including the Nobu tower, the hotel currently has nearly 4,000 rooms, over 150,000 square-feet of casino space, more than two dozen restaurants, more than a half million square-feet of shopping, a dozen bars and lounges, and eight pools.