Vegas4Visitors.com Weekly Column by Rick Garman

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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Fall Comes Early at the Bellagio

Although it still feels like summer in many areas of the country, fall has official arrived at The Bellagio Conservatory with the launch last week of the Fall Harvest Show. The display features more than 50,000 flowers creating an autumnal scene with pumpkins and gourds, trees and trellises covered in fall-color leaves, and the centerpiece attraction, a 40-foot high mill pumping real water into a real pond. The display is free and will be open to the public 24 hours a day through November 30, 2014. Read more about the Bellagio Conservatory.

9. Stratosphere Crash Suspect Kills Self at The Rio

In last week's column I told you about 40 year old Ryan Brown of Indiana, who was arrested after he drove his pickup truck through the front doors of The Stratosphere. He told police that he did it because he had been on a weeklong drug bender and wanted to kill himself by jumping off the top of the Stratosphere Tower so he could get on the news. Although the details are hazy as to why, Brown was released when prosecutors said they needed more time to prepare a case against him. Brown apparently went to the Rio hotel, got a room, and hanged himself - he was found dead the day after he was released. I'm sure there are nuances that we don't know because we weren't there, but why a man who had some pretty obvious mental illness issues who publicaly declared that he wanted to kill himself was released without bail is a question that needs to be asked. Read more about The Stratosphere.

8. Wet 'n' Wild Helps Set Guiness Record

The World's Largest Swimming Lesson (WLSL) officially set the record for the largest simultaneous global swim lesson for the fifth time with 36,564 people from 22 countries and was certified by Guinness World Records. Wet 'n' Wild Las Vegas was an official host site with 71 participants. Importantly, WLSL helped raise awareness about the importance of learning to swim, particularly for children. Read more about Wet 'n' Wild.

7. Liberace Sign Installed at the Neon Museum

The Liberace Museum was a must-visit attraction in Las Vegas for most of the three decades of its existence. Ever since it closed in 2010 there have been efforts to get some version of the museum reopened but for now you'll have to make do with the giant neon sign that hung above the place, which is now on display at the Neon Museum. The sign, which features Liberace's signature and his signature piano and candlabra, was restored through a grant by the Shulman Family Foundation and is now part of the museum's permanent collection. Read more about the Neon Museum.

6. Wynn Las Vegas to Get Boston Sister

Wynn Las Vegas parent company Wynn Resorts has won a race for a casino license in Boston and will move forward with plans to build a $1.6 billion casino resort in the suburb of Everett along the Mystic River. The hotel will be smaller than the Vegas version - only 500 rooms - but the casino will be bigger with 3,000 slots and 150 table games, plus 8 restaurants, a mall, a riverfront walk, and more. It still needs to clear a few more hurdles before it is official but most expect those to be fairly easy and the resort has a projected opening date of late 2017. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.

5. Alleged Tax Cheat Busted at Wynn Las Vegas

Hopefully the new Boston Wynn won't have this problem... Wynn Las Vegas casino attendant Anthony Emmons figured out quite a scam (allegedly). Whenever a person from another country that doesn't have a tax treaty with the US wins a jackpot of more than $1,200, 30% is automatically withheld for taxes. For about 6 months Emmons (allegedly) falsified the tax documents, making the person be from the US or a country with a tax treaty but still deducted the 30%. Only that 30% went in his pocket (allegedly)... to the tune of more than $300,000! Emmons was arrested last week and charged with 10 counts of felony theft. Wynn Las Vegas reportedly repaid the IRS the missing tax money but will mostly likely go after Emmons civilly to get it back (if there is any left). Read more about Encore Las Vegas.

4. Bellagio Fountains: The Nightclub Version

The influence of the incredible Las Vegas nightclub scene can be found just about everywhere, from the designs of casinos to restaurants to shows and beyond. Now, Electronic Dance Music is even taking over the Bellagio Fountains with DJ Tiesto getting his own show that will rotate with the other more traditional Sinatra and Celine productions. The Tiesto show will feature a medley of three of his songs and was co-designed with the DJ to create unique visuals not featured in any other fountain show. Read more about the Bellagio Fountains.

3. Blues Festival Set for Riviera

Las Vegas often provides a good reason to metaphorically sing the blues - you know, at 4am when the ATM is telling you that you have exceeded your daily limit. But The Riviera is going to play host to some actual singing of the blues with the Big Blues Bender festival September 25-29. The four night event will feature an impressive lineup of music acts including BB King, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Buckwheat Zydeco, Tab Benoit, Blind Boys of Alabama, Charlie Musselwhite, and many more. The only way you can get tickets is to buy a package that includes a room at The Riviera (which may be another reason to sing the blues, but that's a story for another time) and packages start at $650 per person based on double occupancy (that includes all concerts and a room for four nights). You can learn more at BigBluesBender.com. Learn more about The Riviera.

2. Jeff Civillico to Try "Rappugling" at Planet Hollywood

What, you may be asking, is "rappugling?" Comedy juggler Jeff Civillico is going to attempt to rappel down the side of Planet Hollywood while juggling... rappel + juggling = rappugling. Why on earth would he want to do that? It's all a part of the annual Over the Edge fundraiser for the Special Olympics of Nevada. The event asks people to raise money for the opportunity to rappel down the side of a tall building. The first year Civillico did this he just did the rappel like everyone else. Last year he did it while riding a unicycle down the face of the building. This year, he's trying to up the ante with the rappugling stunt. You can watch a video that shows how he is planning on doing this and you can donate to Jeff's campaign on his fundraising page. Read the full review of Jeff Civillico's show.

1. Channing Tatum Readying Live "Magic Mike" Show for Vegas?

Actor Channing Tatum has been sending the local Las Vegas gossip-sphere into overdrive with several sightings around Las vegas and a Tweet that seem to indicate that he is getting ready to launch a live version of his male strip show movie "Magic Mike." Relax, ladies (and some guys) - he probably won't be appearing in it, but he will be producing the beefcake revue that, if rumors are to be believed, will deubt at the Hard Rock Hotel and then either find a spot for a permanent residency in Sin City and/or go on tour. The sequel to "Magic Mike" is reportedly set to debut sometime in 2015 so this is what you call "synergy." Read more about the Hard Rock Hotel.

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Hotel Review: The Cromwell Las Vegas

Originally opened in 1979 as the Barbary Coast, this small hotel was way past its prime during 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 $200 million renovation has given new life to the property, reinventing it as The Cromwell, a boutique luxury hotel with a sexy vibe, celebrity chef 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 with a new parking garage and porte corchere. Those driving should note that getting in can be a pain with the constant, often bumper-to-bumper traffic on Flamingo, but getting out is alleviated a little bit by an option to cut through the neighboring Flamingo hotel driveway to Linq Drive (formerly Audrie).

Just inside the doors is a gift shop selling the usual sundry store items (although not gum, for some strange reason) 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. There are only two positions at the main desk but with only 188 rooms, waits are usually minimal. Do the math - two people checking in for 188 rooms versus maybe 10 at a place with 4,000 rooms.

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 latter is where they serve an extensive free breakfast from 7 until 11am daily for hotel guests. Selections change but on the day I visited there were heaps of sausage, bacon, potatoes, pastries, and more plus a made-to-order omelet station. This is a really nice touch that helps to distinguish the hotel from every other one on The Strip.

The casino itself is tiny in comparison to the giants in Vegas - only 40,000 square feet. At only about 1/3 the size of most of the casinos on The Strip, a wide variety of gambling options is not on the menu but luckily the Flamingo casino is only steps away. There is a decent selection of slots, mostly low-limit, and tables plus 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.

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 encourages 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 watermelon or cucumber infused water 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 and both a rain and detachable shower head option. Both are mounted up high so adjusting them is going to be a challenge for shorter folks. I'm over six feet tall and I had to stretch to reach.

Rooms come equipped with the aforementioned minibar and safe, plus an iron and board, robes, and Wi-Fi included in the resort fee.

Pluses here include roughly nine million electrical outlets in convenient places so you don't have to crawl under the nightstand to plug in your phone charger; a connectivity station for the massive TV so you can plug in your laptop; and lots of mirrors to check your ensemble.

It's worth noting that there is no desk in these rooms so business travelers are going to have to put their laptops on the small dressing table. You can look at yourself while you type.

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.

This focus on the nightlife angle (even during the day) brings a couple of downsides for the middle-of-the-road traveler. First, the clientele is young and rowdy on nights the club is open and they take over much of the hotel. They aren't threatening in any way, just loud and obnoxious especially if you just want to sit at the 3 Card Poker table in peace. What is loud is the booming music from the open air nightclub on the roof, which goes until very late at night. This, combined with street noise, means the sensitive may want to bring ear plugs or a white noise machine.

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 from the Bill's and Barbary era 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.

THE CROMWELL

Location:

Contact:

Number of Rooms:

Rates:

Average:

Resort Fee:

Vegas4Visitors Rating:

Center Strip

3595 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Las Vegas, NV 89109

844-426-2766

website

188 Rooms

$249 and up double

Avg. $250-350

$25 per night plus tax

79

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Cracking Down on Public Drinking in Vegas

A few weeks ago I told you about a series of new laws put into effect designed to curb the abundance of alcohol along the Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas. Now another ordinance has been approved for The Strip that isn't aimed at booze, specifically, but rather the glass bottles it often comes in.

The Clark County Commission has passed the ordinance that will ban all glass bottles and containers from The Strip. The most obvious target of the ban is beer bottles but it does not discriminate and therefore all things glass are verbotten. That includes glass containers for soda, iced tea, and other soft drinks plus actual glasses for any kind of beverage.

Although most people will probably get a warning to start, the law provides for misdemeanor fines of up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail.

Commissioners say that unlike the container bans in Downtown, this one is more about cleaning up trash and the inevitable broken glass on The Strip. It's worth noting that it will still be okay to drink on The Strip, you just have to use a plastic or aluminum container. You can also have glass bottles if they stay unopened in a bag while you cart them back to your room from the CVS.

In Downtown the city ordinances ban drinking alcohol from any bottles or cans. You can still carry cups of booze, and bottles and cans of non-alcoholic drinks are fine, but if you get caught drinking a beer from a bottle, the fine ranges from $250 to $500. These laws were put into effect to try to cut down on the overly boisterous activity that some feel has been getting a little bit out of control in the very popular Downtown area.

I don't have a strong opinion about any of this, to be honest. I don't consider drinking a bottle of beer while I stroll up and down The Strip some sort of essential Las Vegas experience. Drinking a beer from a 64-ounce, plastic replica of the Stratosphere Tower while I stroll up and down The Strip is absolutely an essential Las Vegas but luckily plastic containers are still cool.

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The Fall Fee Frenzy

Summer is over and that means more people are heading to Vegas and THAT means that Vegas is getting more expensive. In addition to room rates moving up as they usually do when things get busier, fall is traditionally the time when many hotels will raise prices on everything from buffets to show tickets.

It's also the time when they will increase the amounts of their notorious resort fees and/or add entirely new fees just to make people crazy, apparently.

This year's Fall Fee Frenzy kicked off last week with word that several of Boyd Gaming's hotels had increased their resort fees without adding any new services or perks to the package it covers. The fees at Orleans, Sam's Town, Suncoast, and Gold Coast went up from $9.99 to $12.99 and still cover the basics like low-bandwidth Internet, local and toll free calls, fitness center access, and a shuttle that takes guests to and from The Strip.

So far Boyd Gaming's Downtown properties Fremont, California, and Main Street Station are still not charging a resort fee but I'm expecting that will fall soon. Those three properties are among only a handful of major casino-hotels in Vegas not charging them including Arizona Charlie's East, The Cannery and the Cannery East, The Four Queens, and M Resort. Every other hotel charges one, with the fees ranging from $5 up to $25 (plus tax) per night. So far no one has gone over that $25 mark but I'm expecting that will be broken soon as well, perhaps even before the end of the year.

But resort fees are not the only fees Vegas visitors have to contend with. The new Delano Las Vegas has instituted a $20 per night fee if you leave you car overnight at with the valet. This matches the fee charged by the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental for overnight valet parking. In all instances, you can avoid the fees by either self-parking or using one of the other valets, although in the case of both the Four Seasons and Mandarin that will end with a very long walk.

Other charges that are cropping up on people's Vegas hotel bills including things like a fee for putting your own item in the hotel mini-bar ($25 per night at Aria for example), fees for early check-in and late check-out ($20 and $30 respectively at Mandalay Bay for instance), and additional fees for higher bandwidth Internet or for connecting multiple devices (anywhere from $5-$15 per night).

Why are hotels nickel and diming us to death? Because it is insanely profitable. Hotels in the United States (not just in Las Vegas) are expected to collect a record $2.25 billion in fees in 2014. That's up 6% over last year.

In other words, get used to the fees... they are here to stay.

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Life is Beautiful Festival Art Program

The Life is Beautiful Festival unveiled another pillar for its 2014 festival last week with the announcement of an art program designed to create a live urban gallery with m large-scale murals and installments to interactive art centers and igalleries.

The festival's art program is comprised of two separate initiatives, each bringing artists out of their traditional studios and galleries and into the streets of Downtown Las Vegas. The art program will be expanding in 2014 to also take over the Western Hotel with an immersive art experience.

Many of the murals created for last year's festival are still in place around the Downtown area and this year's program seeks to boost that with contributions from some of the biggest names in the international street art scene. Contributing artists include Borondo, a Spanish urban artist who has done large-scale street art around the globe; Cyrcle, a collection of street artists from Los Angeles; D*Face from the United Kingdom who was a contemporary of folk hero Banksy; an dmore from Japan, Canada, Australia, Irerland, Belgium, and Italy.

In addition to the street art, a first-class gallery art program curated by Patrick Duffy, President of the Las Vegas Art Museum. His program is set to take over the Western Hotel and will be a multi-sensorial experience showcasing installments and collaborations from artists including: Audrey Barcio, Camilla Quinn, Eric Tillinghast, Gina Quaranto, and more alonsgide works from students at the Las Vegas Academy.

Several one of a kind works will be created for the festival including an original mural design from Tim Bavington, best known for his brightly colored sculpture outside The Smith Center of Performing Arts and Sush Machida, contemporary Japanese artist whose work can be seen throughout Las Vegas.

The Life is Beautiful Festival runs October 24-26 in Downtown Las Vegas and features music from artists like Kanye West, Foo Fighters, OutKast, Lionel Richie, and more; food from chefs such as Giada De Laurentiis, Cat Cora, Hubert Keller, and others; a speaker series; performances from local shows including Cirque du Soleil; and much more. Tickets are on sale now at lifeisbeautiful.com.

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