MORE VEGAS INFO
VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
May 5, 2014
Vegas Countdown: The Top 10 News Stories of the Week
10 - Legends Moves Back to Nights
When the tribute show Legends in Concert moved from Harrah's to Flamingo in December of 2012, it was banished to an afternoon time slot - a move that many figured would spell the end of the road for the show, which has been playing in Vegas for more than 30 years. But those wily impersonators are getting the last laugh as the show moves to take back the nights with a new schedule now that comedian George Wallace has left the building. The new schedule runs Sunday and Monday at 7:30 and 9:30pm; Tuesday at 9:30pm; and Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 4 and 9:30pm. Read More About Legends In Concert.
9 - Record Breaking Tourism
Anybody out there go to Vegas in March? Did it seem a bit crowded? Well, it wasn't just your imagination. The city broke tourism records in March drawing in 3.7 million people, more than any other single month in history. March Madness, spring break, and a big construction convention helped to drive the record numbers. Pretty much everything was up in March - gaming revenue, room rates, and even show ticket prices, which have now hit an average of more than $80 per person. So good for Vegas that more people are coming to town but bad for the wallets of those that are coming.
8 - Stratosphere Welcomes 40 Millionth Guest
Hard to believe but it has been 18 years this month since The Stratosphere first started welcoming people to its 100+ story tower and during that time a lot of people have visited... 40 million to be exact. James Kennedy of Birmingham, England got a special greeting upon arrival at the tower earlier this week with the news that he was #40 million. He got a prize package that includes a hotel stay, dinner, and more. Read More About The Stratosphere.
7 - Madame Tussaud's Honors Mothers
The wax museum at The Venetian is continuing its Everyday Heroes campaign in May by honoring one of the biggest heroes out there: Mom. The campaign celebrates ordinary men and women who devote their lives to helping make our world a better place, providing free or heavily discounted admission for nurses, firefighters, military, and more with a different group chosen every month. Inspired by the Marvel super heroes currently on display in the Madame Tussauds Las Vegas attraction, mothers who visit the attraction any time in May will receive complimentary admission for themselves with the purchase of one child's full price admission. Read More About Madame Tussaud's.
6 - Cosmo Pool's Dive In Movies Return
As hot as it gets in Vegas in the summer, it should be no surprise that some of the biggest crowds can be found cooling off at the pools, but other than some sun tanning opportunities and those over-the-top day clubs, most pools are pretty sedate affairs. Not so at the Cosmo. This summer the Cosmopolitan will be offering a variety of entertainment options including a return of their popular Dive In Movies, a double feature every Monday of hit films shown on a big screen by the pool. This year's flicks include Julie & Julia, Goldfinger, The Princess Bride, The Amazing Spider Man, The Dark Knight Rises, The Lego Movie, The Hangover, and more. Show times are at 7 and 9:30pm and admission is free for hotel guests and only $5 for the general public. While you're watching the movie, you can indulge in cocktails, traditional movie snacks, and even a picnic provided by the Jose Andres restaurant Jaleo. The movies start May 5 and run through September 1. Read More About The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
5 - Green Valley Ranch Makeover
One of the best locals' casino-hotels, Green Valley Ranch, is getting a $20 million overhaul that will add new restaurants, redo rooms, and add some gaming options. Several of the older restaurants have already closed including Quinn's Irish Pub and Terra Verde and will be replaced by several others including a branch of Mercadito, the hugely popular Chicago-based Mexican restaurant; an outlet of Downtown Vegas' Pizza Rock; and a gastropub called the Tippling Hall. 300 of the standard rooms will get renovated along with some of the suites. In the casino, a new keno lounge is already open. The project will open in phases into early 2015. Read More About Green Valley Ranch.
4 - The Commissary Adds Huge Tequila Collection
If you haven't been to The Commissary in Downtown Vegas, you really are missing out on some great food and now you'd miss out on a whole heck of a lot of tequila, too. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, the Latin themed restaurant is debuting a tequila collection comprised of over 100 unique and rare spirits. The collection was crated by a certified tequila expert by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (The Tequila Regulatory Council) and took nearly six months to create. Crazy expensive labels like Don Julio Patron Real 1942, El Mojito Mezcal, and Patron Anejo Grandiose will join every type of Patron including Blanco, Anejo, and Reprezado plus infused tequilas with flavors including jalapeno, tropical, and coconut. Prices range from $7 to $95 (!!) a shot. Read More About The Commissary.
3 - Cowabunga Delayed
Las Vegas' second major water park was supposed to be debuting over Memorial Day Weekend, but now it looks like you'll have to wait just a little longer to splash down at Cowabunga Bay. The park is under construction on the east side of town near theGalleria at Sunset Mall and, when complete, will include more than 23 acres of slides, pools, and amusements aiming to compete against the insanely popular Wet 'n' Wild, which opened on the west side of town last year. There is no official opening date yet - they are only saying "summer." Read More About Cowabunga Bay.
2 - The Park Unveiled
MGM Resorts has unveiled new renderings and detail of The Park, the new shopping and entertainment plaza they are building between New York-New York and Monte Carlo. The 8 acre park will be bisected by a newly aligned, curving and tree-lined roadway leading to the new 20,000 seat arena at the back of the property. In between will be plazas, water features, LED lighting at night, and many new restaurants, bars, and stores including Shake Shack, an outlet of Guillermo Pernot's popular NYC restaurant Cuba Libre, and a casual bar/restaurant from country star Dierks Bentley called Whiskey Row. Some of the Strip facing parts are done or under construction and the rest will open in phases through 2016. Read More About The Park.
1 - First Look at Delano Las Vegas
The first pictures and drawings have been released of what THEhotel will look like when the transformation to The Delano is complete. The look will be South Beach Miami meets the desert, with high end everything and (what they hope will be) a youthful, sexy vibe. The rooms are being renovated along with the lobby (and the bar & restaurant there). A dedicated pool area will be created at the Mandalay Bay main pool and Mix, the restaurant/nightclub at the top of the tower will get redone with new names and attitudes. Reservations are now being accepted for September 1, although THEhotel will stay open while the transition occurs. Construction should be fully completed by the end of the year. Read More About The Delano.
Rock in Rio Festival Grounds Planned for North Strip
One of the most historic bits of property on The Strip is going to get reborn as a 21st century events space designed to host what could be the biggest music festival in the city's history.
The Rock in Rio Festival is already a huge deal in Brazil, Spain, and Portugal, with the events there drawing upwards of 700,000 people to shows that have featured everyone from Justin Timberlake to Bruce Springsteen. The Las Vegas concerts will take place over two weekends in May of 2015, with an intention of having them every other year after that.
The festival grounds will be more than just a patch of dirt or a parking lot with some porta-potties thrown at it. Instead it will be a fully realized events space called "Rock City" with five outdoor stages, several movie set style streetscapes with food and merchandise vendors, carnival games and rides, and even zip lines running across the whole thing. It will hold up to 80,000 people at a time.
It will be built on the southwest corner of Sahara and The Strip, on the dusty plot of land that has been vacant ever since The Strip's first resort, El Rancho, burned down in 1960. It is right across the street from the upcoming SLS Las Vegas, the revamped version of the old Sahara Hotel and Casino.
After the Rock in Rio concert is over, the festial grounds will remain and be used for other big events throughout the year.
A line up of artists for the 2015 events will be released later in the year with tickets going on sale in January. If you're interested, you better pay attention to announcements. The most recent festival in Brazil sold out its 600,000 tickets in four hours.
Returning to Rose.Rabbit.Lie & Vegas Nocturne
One of my favorite things I have done in Las Vegas in recent memory is dinner, drinks, and fun at Rose.Rabbit.Lie and accompanying show Vegas Nocturne at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. It really is one of the most unique experiences in town right now; a nearly endless feast of food and entertainment unlike anything I have ever seen here or anywhere else for that matter.
The only thing that disappointed me was that there is so much going on in so many different parts of the venue that I couldn't see it all. I recently had a chance to go back and I caught a lot more but still didn't catch it all. I think you could probably go three or four times and still have more to see.
The food was just as spectacular as the first time and perhaps even more so if that's possible because I knew which dishes were the best of the best this time. Short rib stroganoff, braised pork with black truffle, Brussels sprouts with crispy chicken skin, "Heavenly Eggs" (black truffle and egg custard), caviar tacos... it really was just a non-stop lineup of one amazing taste after another.
We also corrected an error from the first visit and got the signature chocolate terrarium dessert. This is a massive pile of shaved, ground, and chunked chocolate; hazelnut cream; marshmallow; edible flowers; and more all done to look like the most delicious landscape you've ever seen. It's a demented genius food-as-art project that you almost don't want to eat because it's so beautiful. But you will eat it - more of it than you should if we are any guidepost. I loved how the waitress told us that it was all edible except for the metal stand that it comes on.
The entertainment, though - that's the thing that really sets this apart. It starts during dinner and unlike last time I made sure to get up in between courses to look around to see what was happening in other rooms in the rambling venue. That's part of the thrill - not only do you not know exactly what's going to happen next (is that a guy popping out of a wall?) you don't even know where it's going to happen.
Some of the acts in the variety style show have changed since the last time I saw it but all of my favorites were still there: Piff the Magic Dragon, the Irish "slap" dancers, the tap dancers, the fire breather, the guy in the bathtub, and more. In between shows I caught several of the acts that happen while they are resetting the main room including a boozy woman trying to horn in on the band and very limber woman doing an entire dance from inside a suitcase.
I was most excited, though, about catching the fish funeral. This is really hard to explain and I don't want to ruin it for you, but just trust me when I tell you that it is one of the funniest things I have seen in a long time. When they make the announcement that the funeral is about to begin in the cloakroom, run to try to catch it. The room is tiny and only accommodates about 8 people so once they reach that, they close the door and you're SOL if you haven't made it in time. Be prepared to be harassed by a guy in a dragon costume and/or his Chihuahua.
Speaking of whom, after I visited they announced a new midnight mini-show called Breakfast at Piffany's. Featuring comedy, magic, and a croissant auction (for charity), it is held in a small room that can only hold about 30 people so you have to make a reservation to see it. It's free if you can get in - you don't need to buy a show ticket for admission. I'm sad that it wasn't running when I was there. Guess I'm just going to have to again!
One of the best things about my job as a Vegas travel writer is telling people about the really cool, original, unique, fun, and exciting this to do in town. Right now this is at the top of my list and I hope it'll be at the top of yours, too.
Hotel Review: The Cromwell
Originally opened in 1979 as the Barbary Coast, this small hotel had fallen way past its prime over the last few years in its incarnation as Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon. It's not that there was anything expressly wrong with it, but it had grown worn and a bit dusty (metaphorically speaking), a relic of an era of cheap hotels, $3.99 prime rib specials, and low wager gambling that Vegas keeps trying to put in its rear view mirror.
A nearly $200 million renovation has given new life to the property, reinventing it as The Cromwell, a boutique luxury hotel with a sexy vibe, high-end dining, the latest gaming tech, and decidedly not-cheap room rates. It is aiming to be an experience for people who want things intimate and luxurious; there are only 188 rooms, which makes it microscopic when compared to the 4,000 room behemoths next door.
The bulk of the building was gutted and revamped, getting rid of the Victorian era San Francisco theme in favor of clean, modern lines in the casino and a bordello meets industrial loft design in the rooms. About the only thing that survived the transition, other than the basic footprint of the hotel, are the original chandeliers in the casino, which were overhauled and updated. It's a dramatic change from the Bill's days and mostly a good one.
The main arrival entrance for guests has shifted to the back of the property along Flamingo Road. A new parking garage was built along with a porte corchere staffed by doormen in formal suits and bowler hats.
Just inside the doors is a gift shop selling the usual sundry store items and some upscale but contemporary clothing, accessories, and more that try to express the feeling of the new hotel. It's the only option for shopping on the property so those with an itchy credit card will need to go elsewhere.
A small lobby has a private check-in room for those who want to avoid the glare of the spotlight.
A large lobby bar, Bound, is open to both the registration area and the casino and is the site of a Thursday through Sunday cocktail hour at 5pm with the hotel's general manager and other executives, giving an opportunity for guests to interact with the staff of the property in ways they never have before. Another big lounge takes up a huge portion of the middle of the casino with two bars and lots of casual seating.
The casino itself is tiny in comparison to the giants on The Strip - only 40,000 square feet, about 1/3 the size of The Venetian's casino - but still pretty well stocked. It seems as if there are more tables and fewer slots than there was when it was Bill's but there is enough gambling to keep you amused. There is a microscopic high limit area and a reservable, semi-private gaming lounge, but no sports book, bingo hall, keno lounge, or poker room. The decor is nice, with a streamlined modern effect that is pleasant, although it, like much of the rest of the hotel, is dimly lit, lending a bit of a cave-like feel.
Unlike Bill's, the play here is a part of Caesars Entertainment's Total Rewards players' club.
Go upstairs and things get a lot more interesting quickly. The elevator lobbies provide a strong statement, with funky mirrors, beautiful bordello-inspired settees, and readable carpeting. By that, I mean that the carpet has large printed statements woven into it, most of which encouraging guests to relax and embrace a laissez faire attitude. This is also where you'll find a well-stocked amenity station, offering self-serve coffee and light bites in the morning and beverages like tea or lemonade in the afternoon. It's an interesting idea but I'm not sure it will be sustainable considering the antics of many Vegas visitors ("wouldn't it be funny if we stole this coffee urn and put it in the pool?!").
Because of the limitations of revamping an existing building, the hallways are narrow and have low-ceilings, but they have done a good job of turning that into a dramatic presentation with more of the "novel" carpeting, soft uplighting by the floor boards, and lighted panels by all of the doors. It's dark and moody, which may not be to everyone's taste but is certainly more memorable than most bland hallways in Vegas hotels.
Rooms also didn't get any bigger, which makes them feel tiny by modern Vegas standards, especially considering how much stuff they cram inside. There's a bed (or 2), a leather sofa or sectional, a chair, a chest of drawers with a safe and minibar, a massive 55" television on the wall, an armoire, nightstands, a dressing vanity, and a small table on which they put things like backgammon sets or checkerboards. So yes, well-stocked, but it feels a bit overwhelming especially when you factor in the bold decor. It's sort of a mix of a Parisian boudoir and a NYC loft, with hard wood floors, rich purple accents, antique luggage-inspired furnishings, and eye-popping, original photography of things like a naughty masquerade ball. Don't get me wrong - I really like all of it - but I'd like it a lot more if it were in a room that was about 50% larger and with more natural light.
Regarding the latter, there is one small window that has an awning over it outside and the rest of the exterior wall space is taken up by the bathroom. You can decide for yourself if you think that makes the rooms feel cozy or cave-like. Try to get a south-facing room (even if it costs you a few extra bucks) otherwise you'll be looking at a wall or the side of The Flamingo. This is less because of the view (go outside if you want to see it) and more about it being even darker in the rooms that face to the north.
Bathrooms are quite wee but well presented with a generous shower (no tub) featuring bold tiles with more words and phrases on them.
Rooms come equipped with the aforementioned minibar and safe plus an iron and board, robes, and Wi-Fi included in the resort fee.
A series of bigger suites adds more floor space and fancy appointments from dining room tables and full kitchens to soaking tubs.
Dining and nightlife are the big focal points here, with a restaurant from Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis serving up her light Italian, Mediterranean, and California cuisine, and three separate party venues from Victor Drai. They include a rooftop pool club for daytime fun, an adjacent nightclub for after dark shenanigans, and a basement level after hours club to keep things going until dawn. That's all there is on site - no buffet, no spa, no roller coaster - but all of that stuff is available at the surrounding hotels.
Service is terrific throughout the experience with a higher-than-average staff to guest ratio providing personal attention at every turn. This is the kind of place where the front desk agents can do more than just check you into the hotel, they can provide full concierge arrangements. They go out of their way to make you feel pampered, which is great for most people but if you're more of a "leave me alone I can do it myself" kind of person, this may be a bit overwhelming.
So with all of these upgrades you might be expecting an uptick in the prices as well and you would be correct. Rates are starting at around $249 per night weekdays and $299 weekends and going up from there. Add in the $25 per night resort fee and you are squarely in Bellagio, Venetian, or Cosmo territory. My personal taste would direct me toward one of those bigger (and better lit) resorts but that's just me. If small and intimate is your taste, you want a hotel in the middle of the action, and you want one with a casino, there really is no better option in Vegas.
FYI - the hotel has not released official photos, hence the renderings.
3595 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
$249 and up double
Average per night $250-350
Resort Fee: $25 per night plus tax
Vegas4Visitors Rating: 79 (out of 100)
Attraction Review: SlotZilla
You gotta love Las Vegas. Where else are you going to find the "world's tallest slot machine;" a zip line attraction that has spinning reels, giant neon showgirls on the side, and screaming people coming out of the coin tray?
SlotZilla replaces the Fremont Street Flightlinez, a set of zip lines that were meant to be temporary and felt like it. There you took an elevator to the top of a parking garage and then walked out on to what seemed like a rickety construction of scaffolds over Fremont Street. The new version is a 12-story concrete and metal structure (shaped like a giant slot machine) that feels much more substantial (and safer, at least in my mind).
You start in the office near the base of the tower, just across from Neonopolis to get your tickets. You probably won't get to buy and ride immediately but instead get an assigned time at which you can come back. The thing is incredibly popular already and passes are selling out quickly so get there early or call ahead if you want a choice of times. After signing the "if you die it isn't our fault" type of waivers, you get a wrist band and head over to tower.
A queue line on the first level requires that you get weighed (don't worry, only the attendant can see how much it is) and then provides more warnings about all of the horrible things that can happen to you when doing this. Then you get strapped into your harnesses and a quick, shuddery elevator ride takes you up to one of the two launch platforms.
As of this writing only the zip lines are open. These launch from about midway up the tower, about 77 feet up, and put riders in the traditional seated style. There's another queue line when you get up there and then the attendants attach the rigging to the lines, attach you to the rigging, and then open the safety gates. Several steps go down and you are supposed to walk down them until you can get into your seated position without touching the floor. As soon as you do this, you start to slide down the line but then are stopped by a big metal thing blocking forward progress. Anyone who is at all frightened of doing this in the first place will probably find this to be the scariest moment of the ride. I know I did.
The metal things open and away you go. The lines run about 850 feet down several blocks of Fremont Street, under the Viva Vision canopy, to a platform near Binion's. It goes by really fast, especially if you are holding on for dear life completely convinced that you are going to die at any moment. At least that's how it felt for me.
Having said that, it is kind of cool to be rushing along through one of the most historic areas of Vegas, with the giant neon signs surrounding you and crowds of people below point and laughing at how scared you look. Or maybe it was just me. Try to go at night for the fully lit up effect.
The biggest warning I can give you about this is that the ride ends very abruptly, with the rigging running into a stopping device without any benefit of slowing down first. It's jarring, to say the least.
The upper "zoomlines" run from near the top of the tower, some 114 feet up, all the way down the length of the Fremont Street Experience to near The Golden Gate, about 1,700 feet away. These will feature a totally different experience in that you don't go sitting down, they strap you into a harness and you fly in a horizontal "Superman" position, face down. I'll let someone else do this one when these open this summer.
There are no age restrictions but there are height and weight ones. You have to weigh at least 60 pounds but not more than 300 and anyone over 6'8" is not allowed on the lower zip line rides.
Adrenaline junkies will probably find the zip lines very tame but they can go upstairs to the zoom lines. On the other end of the scale, I am evidence that even people with paralyzing fears of heights can tolerate (if not necessarily enjoy) the ride as well.
But beyond how it is as a ride is the fact that it is a nearly perfect bit of Vegas kitsch - a giant slot machine in the middle of Fremont Street. How can you not give that an A?
Fremont Street Experience
425 Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A
Attraction Review: High Roller
The first reference I can find for a plan to build the world's tallest observation wheel in Vegas is way back in 1999. The Voyager wheel, as it was called, would've been built at a new, water themed resort next door to the Sahara where Wet 'n' Wild used to be. Later the wheel plans were associated with The Rio and with the jazz-themed resort called Montreaux that was to replace The Frontier.
Obviously none of those ever came to fruition but Vegas finally has the world's tallest observation wheel with the 2014 opening of The High Roller. It has already dramatically altered the Vegas skyline and is pretty cool, albeit expensive, addition to your list of things to do in Sin City.
Standing at 550-feet high, the wheel is located at the end of The Linq, a shopping promenade between The Quad and The Flamingo. You can get tickets at the box office but I highly recommend buying them online ahead of time since the lines can be very long. You'll get your choice of available times set in 10 minute increments (7:50, 8:00, 8:10, etc.) and you have to be there at your prescribed time or your ticket is useless unless you get one of the more expensive "Flex" passes, which allow you to come any time you want on a certain day or within a three-day period.
There are several queue lines and areas on multiple levels. When I visited at about 8pm on a Saturday night there was absolutely no one in line - we walked in, zipped upstairs past the full bar (yes, you can take drinks on board but only those that are purchased here), and walked immediately out to the loading area. Based on the number of people I saw standing in line to buy tickets that was probably an anomaly so be prepared to wait.
The wheel never stops rotating - it moves slowly at a pace of about one foot per second so you're able to get on and off but you kind of have to hurry and hope the people in front of you are doing the same. Just in case they aren't, there are giant nets underneath the loading area to catch anyone who might fall. This could be a ride in and of itself!
The High Roller has 28 high-tech pod-like cabins, fully enclosed and air conditioned. Maybe a little too air conditioned - the one I rode was freezing cold although there had been a rather sudden temperature drop outside after a storm moved through so maybe they just hadn't caught up yet. TVs ring the cabin giving you updates on how far up you are and lots of random factoids that you can absolutely ignore.
The floor and ceiling are solid but most of the walls are glass, so you get great views without too much terror for those with height phobias like me. As mentioned, it moves very slowly so there is no thrill ride type sense of movement - in fact, you kind of have to really pay attention to the surroundings to know that you are moving at all. There were moments when I needed to hold on to something just to feel a little more secure but as long as I didn't walk right up to the glass or look down, I was fine - and I'm a big baby about these kinds of things.
Each cabin is billed as being able to hold up to 40 people but if you happen to get stuck on one that is that full, be prepared to jockey for prime viewing space. The one I was on had about 25 people and it was tough to get enough open window space to take pictures.
The views are pretty cool from way up there. You can see most of the Center Strip, including the Bellagio Fountains, and pretty much all of the South Strip including CityCenter and Luxor. The North Strip is blocked by nearby tall buildings like Palazzo but there's not as much interesting to see up there anyway. Beyond The Strip you can see all the way to Red Rock Canyon to the west and Boulder Highway (and beyond) to the east.
It takes about 30 minutes to make a full revolution. There are few seats but not enough for everyone so be prepared to stand for the duration.
Prices range from $25 for a ride during the day to $35 for a ride at night, which is probably when you want to go to get the best bright-lights-big-city views. Add in extra dough for the flexible time options all the way up to $60 for a VIP, skip-the-line experience. $25-$35 is a lot for a 30 minute ride, especially when the significantly taller Stratosphere Tower is only around $20 and you can go anytime you want and stay for as long as you want. Granted, it doesn't go around in a big circle, but still.
FYI, the High Roller is the first of two observation wheels in Las Vegas. The other, SkyVue, is sort of under construction on the south end of The Strip near Mandalay Bay although not much has happened with it lately. The developers are saying it will debut in 2015 but I'll believe it when I see it.
And if you want to ride the world's tallest observation wheel you should hurry up and do it in Vegas while you can. Plans are underway to build an even bigger wheel in New York by 2016.