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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
June 2, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10 - Fire at Excalibur
A small fire broke out in a basement service area at Excalibur on Saturday, May 31. The incident was reported around 11am and more than 70 firefighters responded to the hotel to quickly knock down the blaze, which is believed to have started in a linen cart. The smell of smoke could reportedly be detected throughout the casino out one point. No one was injured and operations at the hotel were not affected although some employees were evacuated from the service area and access to the main casino was briefly blocked by firefighters. Read more about The Excalibur.
9 - Strip News Racks To Be Replaced
Clark County has made what it, and several local news media outlets, are hailing as a big decision - to replace all of the ugly, battered news racks on The Strip that are usually filled with flyers for escort services or strip clubs with sleek, uniform, new ones... that will still be filled with flyers for escort services or strip clubs. The move is an attempt to "improve aesthetics" but seems to many, including me, like an expensive example of someone trying to put lipstick on the proverbial pig. The project will be starting soon and should be done by the end of the year.
8 - Erotic Heritage Museum to Reopen
It was a sad day in Vegas, as far as I was concerned, when one of the best attractions in town - The Erotic Heritage Museum - closed a few months ago. It was a fascinating examination of human sexuality that was perfect for a town like Las Vegas. A dispute between the owner of the collection and the owner of the building in which it was housed led to the facility being shut down and the museum's contents shipped off. Word now is that the museum will reopen this month but will not be the same as it used to be. The new version will feature an all new collection of artifacts, exhibits, and academia from various sources and will be operated as a for-profit attraction instead of a not-for-profit museum. Expect ticket prices in the $30 per person range.
7 - Wet 'n' Wild Opens New Thrill Ride
A new ride at Wet 'n' Wild is promising one-of-a-kind thrills for visitors to the water park. The only slide of its kind in Nevada, the Tornado is a four-person raft attraction that catapults riders from 36 feet in the air through a 110-foot tunnel before dropping them into the 45-foot-wide funnel where they spin back and forth through swirling water before plummeting into the eye of the storm. As the raft sweeps up the Tornado wall and crosses its centerline, guests experience weightlessness or zero gravity. With their raft almost vertical on the wall, riders report feeling like they are about to tip over, but the curved funnel wall keeps them perfectly safe. After a series of these oscillations, they descend through a tube to the exit pool. Read more about Wet 'n' Wild.
6 - McCarran Medical Clinic Now Open
We've all been there... a wild Vegas weekend leads to a miserable wait at the airport to go home as you curse your impulse control skills. Now you have somewhere to go for a little relief for your hangover and more serious things at the new McCarran Medical Clinic & Pharmacy. It's located in Terminal 1 near the A and B gates security checkpoint and features an urgent care, travel immunizations, a full-service pharmacy, a retail store, and more. The medical clinic is open daily from 9am until 6pm; the pharmacy daily from 9:30am until 6pm; and the retail store from 9am until 9pm. Learn more about the Las Vegas airport.
5 - MGM To Revamp Exit Strategy After Stampede
The MGM Grand says that it will be revising the way that people exit the Grand Garden Arena after a post-boxing match stampede last month left more than 50 people injured. Up until now, the 18,000 seat arena dumped everyone leaving the facility into a narrow shopping mall leading to the casino. Now they will use additional exits that will drive people toward less congested areas in an effort to avoid a repeat. Read more about the MGM Grand.
4 - Zarkana to Use Google Glass
Although many casinos and other businesses have banned the use of Google Glass, Cirque du Soleil is planning on embracing the wearable computer by incorporating its use into at least one of its shows. Zarkana at Aria Las Vegas will reportedly outfit some of its performers with the glasses so that audiences can see the stunts they perform from their point of view. If audience reaction is positive, expect it to be rolled out to other Cirque shows in Vegas and around the world. Read the review of Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil.
3 - Rappel Planet Hollywood
There are a lot of new thrill rides opening in town including SlotZilla and the VooDoo Zipline, but one of the most thrilling is only available once a year - an opportunity to rappel more than 350 feet down the side of Planet Hollywood. It's a part of Rappel Planet Hollywood, a charity event designed to raise money for the Special Olympics. Only 85 people will be allowed to do it on October 11, 2014 and each must raise at least $1,000 in donations. You can read more and register at rappelplanethollywood.com. Read more about Planet Hollywood.
2 - The Cromwell Officially Open
The Cromwell, the new boutique hotel that used to be Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon had its official grand opening last week. The rooftop pool and nightclub operated by Victor Drai is now up and running and the new restaurant by Giada De Laurentiis is set to formally start greeting diners this week. Read the full review of The Cromwell.
1 - Hershey's Chocolate World Opens
The Strip got a little sweeter last week with the opening of the new flagship Hershey's Chocolate World store at New York-New York. It's hard to miss the place - it's behind the giant 70-foot-tall Hershey's chocolate bar and giant Hershey's kisses attached to the front of the building. At more than 13,000 square feet across two levels it is one of the biggest Hershey's stores in the country and features pretty much everything having to do with chocolate. Those expecting a theme park style experience like the one in Hershey, Pennsylvania will be disappointed; although there are a few opportunities to do things like customize your chocolate bars and a couple of chocolate sculptures (one of the Statue of Liberty and another of the Empire State Building) this is primarily a retail store and not an attraction. It's open daily from 9am until 11pm. Read more about New York-New York.
VooDoo Zipline Opens
The latest thrill ride in Vegas is now open with brave souls able to take a zipline style ride between the two hotel towers at The Rio, more than 500 feet in the air.
The "zipline style" caveat is important. This is not a traditional zipline where you get into a harness and then let gravity do its job between point A and point B. Instead, you are strapped into a seat that is almost like one you'd see at a ski-lift, with a high-back and a full bench that accommodate up to two people. The seat is then sent the length of the line between the two towers via a motor that propells riders at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.
Once you get to the other end, you go back to the starting point... backwards!
The ride is open Monday through Thursday from noon until midnight and from 10am until midnight Friday through Sunday. The cost is $25 to ride during the day (until 5:30pm) and then $37 to ride at night.
No one under 21 is allowed to ride after 5:30pm. You must be at least 48 inches tall to ride, weigh no more than 300 pounds, and no more than 450 pounds combined for two riders.
Las Vegas Visitor Demographics Are Changing
The Baby Boomer generation is hitting retirement age but apparently they are doing something other than go to Vegas with all their spare time and disposable income.
A new survey by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority shows that the median age of Las Vegas visitors is going down - from 50 just a few years ago to 46 in 2013. Retirees, which used to make up as much of a 1/3 of the Vegas audience is down to only 20% of the total number of Vegas visitors in 2013.
Even more interestingly, they are spending less on gambling and spending more on eating and drinking. Only 71% of respondents to the LVCVA survey said they gambled and expenditures on food and beverage have been going up steadily for the last five years, now an average of $279 per trip.
The impact of this can be seen up and down The Strip as hotels are scrambling to put in more and more non-gaming attractions like The Linq and The Park and to expand dining, retail, and nightlife offerings. Whether these kinds of offerings are driving the new demographics or vice versa is probably a chicken v. egg discussion that is best left to the academics.
Here's some other interesting tidbits from the LVCVA report:
The percentage of people visiting Las Vegas for the first time continues to fall and is now only at 15%.
The percentage of people who say that gambling is their primary reason for visiting Vegas had been falling for years - all the way down to 7% in 2011. That rebounded in 2013 with 15% of respondents listing it as their primary reason for coming to town.
Most people - 58% to be specific - got to Las Vegas by ground transportation (car, bus, RV) with the remaining 42% arriving by plane.
Approximately 1/3 of visitors say they made it to Downtown Las Vegas during their last trip.
Most visitors stayed 3 nights and reported paying an average of around $84 per night.
Other expenditures include averages of around $279 per trip for food and drink, $60 for local transportation, $141 for shopping, $40 for shows, and $10 for sightseeing.
As mentioned above, the percentage of people saying they gambled continues to decline from 83% in 2009 all the way down to 71% in 2013.
The average gambling budget for those who do gamble is going up - from $481 per trip in 2009 to $530 in 2013.
72% of respondents said they saw a show, 87% say they saw a lounge act, and 15% visited some other type of paid attraction.
79% of respondents were married, 33% were from California, 20% were from a foreign country (up significanlty from 14% in 2009), and 88% reported a household income of more than $40,000 per year.
You can read the full report at LVCVA.com.
Sterling Brunch Returns
For most of its 40 year history, the Sterling Brunch at Bally's was the only place on The Strip where you could get a truly upscale all-you-can-eat experience. It was the most expensive, most over-the-top buffet in town, with prices for unlimited fine champagne, caviar, and more running upwards of $50 per head, a price that was considered outrageous when most buffets were a fraction of that.
Now of course you have places like the Bellagio Buffet, the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas, and Caesars Bacchanal Buffet, where people don't blink at paying a similar price for weekend brunches. The Sterling Brunch became an afterthought and closed last year. Now it's back, being served inside the new BLT Steak restaurant at Bally's on the weekends and it is aiming to recapture it's most expensive and most over-the-top titles.
Food options include lobster, filet mignon, freshly shucked oysters, rack of lamb, caviar, and more. It is the only brunch on The Strip that is serving real champagne, as opposed to sparkling wine that they call champagne at all of the other buffets.
The price? How does $90 sound? If it makes you feel any better, Total Rewards players' club members get $5 off.
The Sterling Brunch is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30am until 2:30pm. Reservations are recommended and can be arranged by calling 702-967-7258.
Attraction Review: Shelby American Heritage Center
Texas born Carroll Shelby started out his love affair as a race car driver, racking up wins and speed records around the world and named as Sports Illustrated's driver of the year in 1956 and 1957.
In the 1960s he turned to manufacturing, creating his iconic Cobra roadster and then a series of customized Mustangs and other vehicles for Ford. His GT350 and GT500 Mustangs became some of the most sought after muscle cars on the road and continue to draw huge prices when the few remaining examples show up for sale.
This facility, relocated from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to just south of The Strip, features a full garage facility where they make their current roster of high-performance vehicles plus a big gift shop and small museum dedicated to the life and work of Shelby.
There are about two dozen cars on display, from the first Cobra that Shelby ever built to a replica of his award-winning Le Mans racer and several pristine 1960s era Mustangs. There are even a few examples of his forgettable work with Chrysler in the 1980s, including the imminently silly GLH, a tiny econobox that got a giant engine and the letters meaning "Goes Like Hell," and a pickup truck. The rest are new models, including the 850hp Shelby Super Snake, which will run you at least another $30,000 on top of the price of the Mustang on which it is based.
There are some engines on display plus the walls are lined with photos and there's a gift shop that takes up almost as much space as the cars do.
You can tour the facility on your own but there is very little contextual information or even signage describing the vehicles. If you are interested in finding out more, you should take one of the tours, which are led by various Shelby associates. The man who led the group I was on had been affiliated with the company for decades and knew Shelby personally so he was able to tell plenty of behind-the-scenes stories that helped fill out the history. For instance, when they were trying to come up with a name for the first Mustang partnership he was doing with Ford, Shelby told one of his staff to go outside and count off the number of steps between the conference room in which they were sitting and the garage. When the guy came back with a number of 348, Shelby said, "Let's round it up" and the now classic GT350 was born.
The tour lasts about an hour. Your mileage may vary (so to speak) depending on who is leading yours and you kind of have to be an appreciator of racing and/or cars in general to fully enjoy this experience.
Getting in to the museum and taking a tour are completely free but they do accept donations, all of which goes to the Carroll Shelby Foundation supporting organ donation. Shelby, who died in 2012, had a heart and kidney transplant and dedicated much of his riches to the foundation, which provides financial assistance, research grants, and education campaigns.
You'll need a cab to get here or, if driving, a strong sense of direction. Take The Strip south to Sunset Road, just before you get to the Town Square shopping complex. Turn right but don't take the bridge that goes up and over I-15. Instead, veer off to the right and follow the signs for Ensworth Street, which runs parallel to the freeway. Turn right and you'll see the facility on your right.
Shelby American Heritage Center
6405 Ensworth St.
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Tours Mon-Fri 10:30am & 1:30pm
Saturday 10:30am only
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+
Dining Review: Triple George Grill
This is the third time I have eaten at and reviewed Triple George Grill. The first was shortly after it opened years ago when the focus of the menu was American comfort food - meatloaf, fried chicken, and a few steaks thrown in for good measure. It was fantastic, affordable, and a lonely outpost of decent food in the Downtown area.
Then something changed and not for the better. The menu was refocused to be more steakhouse generic and the prices went up dramatically across the board. Less interesting food and less interesting prices? Sorry, but I was not a fan.
Now the restaurant is making changes again, pulling back on the steakhouse vibe and trying to become more of a little-bit-of-everything bistro. It's a welcome change of pace but something funny has happened along the way: Downtown dining got good. Whereas this restaurant had very little competition before now there are probably a dozen places in the neighborhood that offer really fantastic meals at similar, or even lower, price points. That makes the challenge for Triple George Grill even larger.
The space is still a winner, albeit a noisy one if you sit in the main dining room. A big bar dominates with some tables and cozy, high-walled booths ringing the room. There's a lot of hustle and bustle and so those looking for a quiet meal may want to request a table in the back room that is less interesting visually but definitely less hectic.
The meal started out with high hopes in the form of a warm loaf of bread accompanied by butter sitting in a pool of olive oil and garlic. Certainly a cholesterol bomb but delicious to the point where I ate too much of it.
From there though we veered off into less than impressive territory. Appetizers are steakhouse basic with things like crab and shrimp cocktail, bruschetta, and calamari not rising to the level of must-sample. The baked onion soup was good - hearty with a full head of gooey cheese - but not mind blowing. Perhaps that is an unfair expectation for onion soup but that's what I was looking for.
We also passed by the side and entree sized salads, which are more of the traditional variety: Caesar, beefsteak tomato, cobb, chopped, wedge, and the like. There is a filet caprese that caught our eye but ultimately we moved on to the main courses.
A small section of "Favorites" includes comfort food items like pot roast and chicken pot pie alongside veal scaloppini and a couple of sandwiches. The rest of the entrees come in seafood, chicken, steaks and chops, and pasta varieties with the aforementioned little-bit-of-everything scale. There's a filet mignon and grilled chicken fettuccini and buttermilk fried chicken and shrimp scampi to name a few examples and while it's good to have options it can make the menu and the overall dining experience feel a little scattershot.
We tried the pan-seared sole and a special catch of the day fish dish and both were very well prepared and flavorful but not exceptional. Ditto the buttermilk fried chicken, which had a little too much breading (which was unexpectedly spicy) and a pool of gravy that was too bland.
There was nothing expressly wrong with anything that we ate but there was nothing exciting or even especially memorable (other than the bread).
I also wish it were a few bucks cheaper. Compared to Strip restaurants it's a veritable bargain but for a Downtown restaurant it needs to be really fantastic to justify charging $13 for a hamburger and $42 for a steak. There are some more moderately priced items on the menu - most of the "Favorites," chicken dishes, and pasta are under $20, but once you add in tax, tip, appetizers, and the like you will quite easily go over $40 per person and could go over $75 with some of the pricier dishes.
The folks at the restaurant said that it is still in flux - that they are continuing to refine the menu and the food. I hope so because I really want to love this place again. For now, the best I can do is like it and with so many great Downtown dining destinations these days, that just isn't good enough.