Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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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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Vegas Countdown: The Top 10 News Stories of the Week

10. Caesars Entertainment Closing a Major Hotel

Caesars Entertainment, the parent company of Vegas properties like Caesars Palace, Paris, Bally's, Harrah's Las Vegas, and more has announced plans to close their Harrah's branded property in Tunica, Mississippi on June 2. The company will be keeping their Horseshoe and Tunica Roadhouse casino/hotels in Tunica open but the Harrah's closure will take more than 1,300 hotel rooms and one of the biggest casinos out of the market. The company has been under tremendous pressure over the last few years to try to find ways to reduce their staggering debt load (over $20 billion) and operating costs. What does this mean for their Vegas hotels? Nothing, most likely, although it has been rumored that they are actively trying to unload certain casinos from their portfolio including The Rio.

9. Blackout Hits the Vegas Strip

Imagine wandering down The Strip and all of the sudden all the lights go out. Someone forgot to pay the bill? Beginning of the zombie apocalypse? This actually happened this past Saturday night, March 29, but it wasn't either of the above scenarios (although if a zombie apocalypse ever happens, Vegas seems like the kind of place where it might start). Instead, it was Vegas' contribution to Earth Hour, a global event designed to bring awareness to energy conservation issues by encouraging people to turn off their lights for one hour. Most of the major hotels on The Strip and around the city took part by turning off all of their non-essential outdoor lighting.

8. No More Pink's at Red Rock

The Pink's Hot Dogs outlet that was located at Red Rock Resort closed recently, making it the third restaurant closure at the hotel in the last few weeks. A spokesperson for the property says it is part of a plan for them to bring management of their restaurant under the control of the hotel instead of leasing space to third parties. The Pink's on The Strip at Planet Hollywood is still up and running and not going anywhere. Pink's, for those who don't know, is an outlet of the famed Los Angeles hot dog stand that has been in business since 1939.

7. Cake Boss Bakery Opening

Buddy Valastro has had great success with Italian restaurant Buddy V's at The Palazzo but now he's going all in with the opening of Carlo's Bakery. The star of TLC's "Cake Boss" is patterning the new outlet on his famed New Jersey bake shop in business since 1910 and run by Valastro's family since 1964. It is located directly across the hall from Buddy V's on the second floor of the Palazzo portion of the Grand Canal Shoppes. It's actually a bit difficult to find if you don't know where you're going. If you are inside, take any escalator to the second floor Grand Canal Shoppes and look for Barney's, which is located right at the end of the main gondola canal. There's a side hallway that leads away from the shops and you'll find Buddy V's and Carlo's Bakery at the end, just before you go outside. If you are coming from outside, take the walkway that goes up by Madame Tussaud's, across the "Bridge of Sighs," and then along the front of the hotel on the second level. You'll see the entrance toward the end of that walkway.

6. RIP Mantecore

The white tiger that... *ahem*... "rescued" Roy Horn of Siegfried & Roy has died. The "rescue" happened in October of 2003 when the tiger bit Roy in the neck during a show at The Mirage, dragged him offstage, and nearly killed him. Horn was left partially paralyzed and the duo's long-running Vegas show was over. Horn refused to call the incident an "attack" and has insisted that the tiger sensed that he was having a stroke and was simply dragging him off stage to protect him. Mantecore was 17 and died after an unspecified illness.

5. VooDoo Skyline Finally Making Progress

Looks like the long-delayed VooDoo Skyline, a zipline-style attraction at The Rio, is finally making some forward momentum. Originally planned for a 2013 bow, it is just now getting built and will reportedly be undergoing testing soon. It's sort of like a zip line only you don't just let gravity do its thing, you are propelled at more than 30mph on a line between the two Rio hotel towers and then back again. Yikes. Who's gonna ride this one?

4. Riviera's 59th Anniversary

The Riviera will be turning 59 years old on April 20 and to celebrate, the hotel is giving away cash prizes ranging from $59 to $5,959. To enter, you have to be a member of the hotel's players' club and earn at least 59 points while gambling April 20-26. Every 59 points gets you an entry into the drawings that will be held on April 26 from noon until 8pm. The Riv is the second oldest hotel on The Strip, younger only than The Flamingo, which opened in 1946.

3. Palms Beverage Butler Turns Registration Into Drinking Game

You have to hand it to The Palms. As most hotels in town are packing on fees (see the next story) and restrictions, this off-Strip hotel is adding fun and helpful new features to the experience of staying there. A few weeks ago they added their "24 Hour Check Out" concept, where instead of leaving at a set check-out time it is 24 hours after you checked in (arrive at 10pm, leave at 10pm). Now they are adding the Beverage Butler challenge to the check in process. A drink cart will be at the registration desk and upon arrival in line you will be offered a vodka, rum, or whiskey drink for $5. But if you wind up waiting in line for more than 5 minutes, the drink will be free. They have turned checking into the hotel into a drinking game which, in Vegas, is nothing short of genius! The Beverage Butler is available Sunday through Thursday from 4 to 7pm and Friday and Saturday from 4 to 8pm.

2. Fee Frenzy: MGM Adds $10 Phone Reservation Charge

What's that? You want to talk to a real live human being when making your Vegas hotel reservation? That will be $10 please. MGM Resorts has joined Caesars Entertainment in adding a $10 "processing" fee to any reservation made over the phone at any of its resorts including MGM Grand, Mirage, Bellagio, and Mandalay Bay to name a few. The goal is to try to get you do it yourself on the web instead of requiring a call center agent to be involved, which comes with the usual costs of having employees instead of a microchips. Caesars hotels like Caesars Palace, Harrah's, Paris, and Bally's have been charging this type of fee for years - I'm actually surprised it took MGM Resorts this long to jump on board.

1. Famous Singer Drugged and Robbed in Vegas

John Popper, the lead singer of the band Blues Traveler, had a scary Vegas visit last week. According to reports, he was at a Mandalay Bay bar and apparently wasn't paying enough attention to his drink because someone slipped something into it. The singer says he remembers getting on the elevator with a woman and then the next thing he knew he woke up in his room with tens of thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry missing. Here's the lesson (and not just for Vegas)... never, ever accept a drink from a stranger and keep it in your hand or view at all times! Popper is lucky that they only took his money.

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Study: Vegas Has the Most Expensive Room Service

I've been there... It's three in the morning and you've recently stumbled into your room and are ready to fall into bed but wait... you're hungry. You don't want to get dressed and go all the way back downstairs and walk all the way through the casino to try to find something to eat. Or maybe you are waking up with a hangover and can't face the idea of being out in public yet. Instead you call room service.

Or how about when you just need a bottle of water or something sweet or a quick hair of the dog? Open that mini-bar.

Well, if you're in Vegas you are most likely paying more for those room service and mini-bar items than you are in any other city in the US.

TripAdvisor.com has released the results of a study in which they looked at the average room service costs in 15 major cities in the country. They looked at the prices for some basic items - a club sandwich from room service, dry cleaning of a shirt, and some miscellaneous things from the mini-bar - at the top 10 4-star rated hotels in each city.

Vegas came out as the most expensive at $68.01, about 20 cents more than the next highest New York City. Denver came in at the lowest in the survey at about $41. Breaking the costs out showed Vegas with a $17 sandwich, about $15 to clean the shirt, and around $36 for water, soda, peanuts, and vodka from the mini-bar.

But here's an interesting side note on the study: just because you pay more for your room service charges than in other cities doesn't mean that your bill at the end of the stay will be bigger than in other cities. In fact, the average hotel room rate in Vegas was lower than any of the other cities surveyed by a pretty healthy margin. Vegas showed an average of $140 per night while Denver was at $265 per night. So if you were to stay one night in Vegas and get all of those room service items it would cost you around $208, while in Denver it would cost you $306.

Things like resort fees, which are omnipresent in Vegas but not as common in other cities, may help to even things out a bit but Las Vegas will still come out ahead in the final check out summary.

Regardless of how much you wind up paying, you will inevitably be paying too much for most of the things you get from room service. $17 for a club sandwich? $7 for a bottle of water?

The difficult thing about hotels on The Strip in Vegas is that even if you are willing to drag yourself out of your room, it's tough to find things much cheaper. The hotel restaurant at a 4-star resort will probably be charging around $15 for a club sandwich and the sundry store will probably be asking at least $5 for the bottle of water. Go on the hunt and you can probably save yourself another couple of bucks by finding a food court and a CVS or Walgreens (which isn't hard these days), but that seems to be missing the point. People don't order room service or get things from the mini-bar because of the value, they do it for the convenience.

But as most people know, convenience often comes with a cost.

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High Roller Opens

The High Roller is finally rolling! After months of anticipating, The Strip's newest attraction opened for business on Monday, March 31.

The High Roller is the world's tallest observation wheel, standing at 550 feet high behind The Flamingo and Quad as part of The Linq shopping and entertainment complex. Each of the 28 enclosed cabins can hold up to 40 people for the ride, although there is limited seating so expect to stand most of the time. Thankfully, they are air conditioned.

It will take about 30 minute to complete a full revolution but they are recommending that you budget at least an hour to get your tickets, stand in line, board, ride, and leave. In case you're wondering, the wheel does not stop turning - it moves at about one foot per second, which will allow people to get on and off while it is in motion.

Tickets will range from $25 to $35 depending on what time of day you ride and will be good for one full revolution. Those tickets are for a specific time but you can also pay more for a "flex" ticket that allows you to come once at anytime during the day or over a couple of days and/or skip the line.

You can bring beverages on board but only those that are purchased at the High Roller bar - no outside drinks allowed. A word of warning though: there are no bathrooms in the pods so be careful how much you drink!

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Hotel Review: The Gold Coast

It's easy to overlook The Gold Coast. Although close to The Strip, it's not right on it and therefore not always top of mind. Plus, it isn't showy in the ways that its neighbors like The Palms and The Rio are. Instead it just plugs along, doing its job as the best value in the area and probably the best bet for budget-conscious Vegas visitors

For reference, The Gold Coast is located on Flamingo Road just west of The Strip and Interstate 15, right across the street from both The Rio and the Palms Resort. This puts it within spitting distance of The Strip although it's still quite a hike if you're out of shape or just plain lazy like me.

Rooms come in two varieties. The "Deluxe" rooms featured contemporary furnishings, a bed (or two), a flat screen TV with cable and pay-per-view movies, high-speed Internet, a hair dryer, iron and board, a coffee maker, and a bathroom with a walk-in shower (no tub). While not Bellagio level accommodations, they are nice and more than comfortable enough for the average Vegas visitor.

The "Premium" rooms cost a few bucks more but have newer, more modern furnishings, a bit more drawer space, and slightly upgraded bathrooms (these have tubs, but not the type you want to soak in for hours). The difference between the two rooms is most academic so I'd only upgrade if the cost differential was small. Although no one will confuse these for the digs at Wynn Las Vegas, they are several steps above the typical low-cost dormitories that are often attached to locals hotels.

The public areas are light and bright and the casino has a high ceiling, which gives it some much needed vertical space. Carpeting, furnishings, machines, and tables were all refreshed in 2013, although again here the changes were incremental - the overall vibe has remained the same, which is a good thing ultimately. Besides the standard slots, video poker, and table games in the casino you'll also find a keno lounge, a bingo parlor, and a sports book.

There are a bunch of restaurants including the very fine Ping Pang Pong, a very good and inexpensive buffet, a showroom, lounges, and bars to keep you fed, entertained, and/or happy.

In addition they have a 70-lane bowling alley, a small but respectable pool area, and a workout facility (only for hotel guests).

So even before I get to the cost factor I'm impressed by the Gold Coast but when you throw in the fact that you can get weekday rates here as low as $34 and weekends as low as $79 I'm really impressed. Obviously those rates, like those at all Vegas hotels, vary dramatically so it may not be that low when you call but they're still most likely going to be substantially lower than any other major hotel-casino near it. The published rates also don't include the nightly resort fee but the good news is that it is also lower here than what you'll pay at nearby hotels and it includes a free shuttle to The Strip.

If you want to be near The Strip but don't want to pay a fortune for the privilege, The Gold Coast should be at the top of your list when making your next Vegas vacation plans.

The Gold Coast
4000 West Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89103
800-331-5334
website
Check Rates
711 Rooms
Rack Rate: $59 and up double
Average Rate: $75-$125 per night
Resort Fee: $9.99 per night plus tax
Vegas4Visitors Rating: 69

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Show Review: RockTellz & Cocktails

If you have ever seen VH1's "Storytellers," you'll have an idea of what this live stage show at Planet Hollywood is like - hits from big name stars and the stories behind their careers, songs, and lives. It's more than just a concert, it's a journey through the history of music itself.

The success of the night will totally depend upon who is performing and chatting when you see it. So far they have had Meat Loaf, whose "Bat Out of Hell" album remains one of the best-selling of all time, and The Jacksons, including the remaining members of the original Jackson 5.

I saw The Jacksons and have to admit I went into the night fairly skeptical. These guys are a long ways from their child-star days and without Michael they have always seemed a little overwhelmed by the spectacular weight of their own material. But Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie, and Tito have aged gracefully and have a level of energy, talent, and enthusiasm that I can only hope to have when I'm their age (which, for the record, is all within a couple of years on either side of 60).

Buoyed by an audience that was almost delirious with glee at every note, dance step, and dramatic pause - they take a lot of dramatic pauses - the foursome set the stage by blasting through many of their biggest hits including "Blame it on the Boogie" and "Rock with You." Their vocals seem to be boosted a bit by some unseen background singers but unlike a certain pop princess performing in a theater just down the hall, they are doing the bulk of the heavy lifting here. Not having Michael's distinctive voice is an issue for about half a minute and then you forget about it with Marlon and Jermaine primarily taking the lead and doing great with it.

There's a lot of choreography, much of inspired by (or outright copied from) Michael's signature moves, but they do it well and so its hard to fault them for imitating greatness.

After what we'll call the "first act," they sit down to chat and reminisce (and probably catch their breath). Their stories seem as intricately staged as the rest of the show, but they are still fun stories to hear. They shared the origin of the group's name (an old woman in a rest home picked it for them), tales of living with Berry Gordy and Diana Ross as children, and even some Vegas specific material like how Marlon and Michael used to sneak in to watch Siegfried & Roy's shows at The Frontier way back in the day.

Then it's back to the music, with a medley of the early hits ("ABC," I Want You Back," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "I'll Be There," etc.), a touching tribute to Michael ("Gone Too Soon"), and then into the showstoppers like "Can You Feel It" and Shake Your Body." They earned their standing ovation at the end.

Each version of RockTellz will be different and so you should pay attention to who is performing before getting your tickets. If you can catch The Jacksons, you should absolutely do so.

RockTellz & Cocktails
Planet Hollywood
3665 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-785-5395
website
$69-$149
Tue & Thu-Sun 7 & 9:30pm (varies)
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A-

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Restaurant Review: Fu

The list of really good Asian restaurants in Las Vegas is sadly very short. You go to Blossom at Aria if you want an upscale experience; you go to Ping Pang Pong at Gold Coast if you want a more authentic one; and you go to Red 8 at Wynn Las Vegas if you want something in between. Fu at the Hard Rock Hotel belongs on the list for sure, crossing boundaries to be both casual and upscale, authentic and traditional, cheap and expensive.

The room is nice enough but not terribly special, tucked into a corner at the far back end of the casino. There are some cozy booths, lots of tables, and the requisite Asian decor, but nothing you're going to want to Instagram.

Instead, save your storage space for pictures of the food, which is displayed in a menu that is many pages long and features and almost paralyzing set of options. Asian tapas kick things off with some interesting dim sum style items like steamed roast pork buns and pan-Asian specialties from edamame to Japanese calamari to chilled shrimp and jellyfish. We sampled the potstickers because we're traditional that way and weren't disappointed. The spicy Thai basil minced chicken lettuce wraps were fantastic also but beware the descriptive word "spicy" in their title - they ain't kidding. Have water standing by is all I'm saying.

A variety of soups and porridges and vegetarian options segue into the provincial favorites, which includes items like eggplant with pork, preserved pork with Chinese sausage, and scallops with steamed tofu.

Wok fried noodles and rice dishes will be comforting to those looking the familiar and again cross international lines with items like Hong Kong chow mein, Pad Thai, and more. We sampled the vegetable fried rice and ate way more of it than we expected to because it was just that good.

All that and we haven't even gotten to the entrees list. Nearly two dozen options include sweet and sour pork, Korean BBQ beef short ribs, Peking duck, pan-fried scallops, and Kung Pao chicken. The grilled tenderloin comes in a delicious "Fu sauce" made of several different types of soy, ginger, and cream, giving it a wonderfully different texture and taste. We also liked the pepper beef, with big chunks of tender meat tossed with vegetables.

Short version: it was all really good.

The service was terrific - very knowledgeable about the long menu and eager to guide us to places that fit our specific tastes.

Costs are reasonable for a restaurant serving this caliber of food in a Vegas casino. Most of the starters are under $12; most soups and veggie dishes under $15; ditto most noodles and rice dishes; and the main courses mostly in the $16-$30 range.

The list of good Asian restaurants in Vegas is still too short but I'm happy to have Fu on it.

By the way, in case you are wondering, Fu means "luck" in Chinese. Sorry to disappoint.

Fu
Hard Rock Hotel
4455 Paradise Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89169
702-522-8188
website
Sun-Thu 11:30am-10:30pm
Fri-Sat 11:30am-12am
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+

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