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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
December 1, 2014
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. World's Most Popular Denny's Reopens
Hard to believe but the Denny's that was located at Casino Royale on The Strip - next door to The Venetian - was the highest grossing restaurant in the entire company's worldwide chain. It closed earlier this year so it could get an extreme makeover and was reopened last week with a second floor view of The Strip, floor to ceiling windows that open, and a small balcony so you can drop your Grand Slam on unsuspecting tourists. I'm kidding. Don't do that. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day. Read the review of the Downtown Denny's, which has its own wedding chapel!
9. Uber Shuts Down in Vegas
After a judge ruled earlier this week that Uber was operating illegally in Nevada, the company has ceased operations in the state. The ride-share service had been running in the residential parts of Las Vegas since late October but had been challenged by the powerful Nevada Taxi Authority who said they were putting what amounted to unlicensed cabs on the streets. Uber, which operates in dozens of countries and states around the world, says it will continue to fight in court and will be back at some point. In the meantime, check the transportation resources page on Vegas4Visitors.com for tips on how to get around Vegas.
8. KÀ Final Battle Scene Restored After Performer's Death
It was almost a year and a half ago - June 2013 - when a performer in Cirque du Soleil's KÀ at the MGM Grand fell to her death during the show's climactic battle scene. That part of the production has been missing from the show ever since it reopened in July of 2013 but it is coming back starting next week. Cirque officials say that they have made technical changes to improve safety but otherwise the scene is the same as it was, with performers acting out a martial arts style battle while the stage is tilted up on its end. Read the full review of KÀ.
7. Le Rêve Debuts New $3 Million Number
One of the things that has kept Le Rêve running at Wynn Las Vegas for nearly 10 years is by keeping it fresh, frequently adding new numbers, acts, and special effects to the show so audiences can come back again and again and not feel like they are seeing the same thing every time. The show has recently installed a new production piece that was estimated to have cost around $3 million featuring walls of water that feature projections and lighting on and in them along with new choreography from "Dancing with the Stars" dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Read the full review of Le Rêve.
6. Delano Drops Parking Fee
Of all the outrageous fees hotels are charging, few got as much outrage as the $20 per night valet parking charge the Delano had instituted when it first opened. Apparently the folks at the hotel listened and in a rare bit of good news for Vegas visitors, they have quietly dropped the fee. This leaves the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental as the only hotels on The Strip to charge for parking. Read the full review of The Delano Las Vegas.
5. Revamped Excalibur Buffet to Open in January
The Roundtable Buffet at Excalibur has never been what you might call a epicurean destination. It was always more of a fueling station - a relatively low cost way to shovel lots of decent, if uninspiring, food into your stomach so you could keep up your punishing Vegas schedule. It closed back in September for an overhaul but it's only now that we are hearing the details that could place it in a whole new league. The new version of the buffet is costing more than $6 million to build and it will feature several live-action cooking stations and upgraded menu selections. That cost is significantly less than the estimated $17 million it took to build Caesars Bacchanal Buffet, now considered to be the pinnacle of the all-you-can-eatery hill in Vegas, but it's still a big chunk of change and should wind up much nicer than it was before. Look for it in January. Read more about Excalibur.
4. Tropicana Hosts JFK Exhibition
In the space that was formerly occupied by the Mob Attraction, The Tropicana has now opened a temporary exhibition on the life of President John F. Kennedy. It features some big ticket items - a full-size replica of the Boeing 707 Air Force One that was in use on the day Kennedy was shot; two Lincoln Continentals that were in the president's fleet; a full size replica of his Oval Office; personal memorabilia; and more. It's open now until January 3 from 10am-10pm and tickets are $24.95. Read the full review of the Tropicana.
3. Snow Tubing, Snowfalls at The Linq
Add one more place to your list of holiday themed destinations in Vegas this year. The Linq promenade has announced plans to add a 30-foot high hill behind the High Roller observation wheel that people can go tubing on starting December 5th. It'll be open 4-10pm Mon-Fri and 2-10pm Sat-Sun and will cost $5 per slide or $20 for an all-day pass. Then on December 8, the Linq promenade will be transformed into a winter wonderland complete with holiday decorations, carolers, and snow showers every half-hour in the afternoons and evenings. For a list of other holiday themed things to do in Vegas, check out the story in last week's column.
2. Golden Nugget Unveils New Rooms
The Golden Nugget has long been considered the best of Downtown's many hotels, but increasing competition from newly revamped properties like the Downtown Grand, The D, and The Plaza have pushed the Grand Dame of Downtown to up its ante. They have done so by revamping their Gold Tower rooms with a sleek new modern design, contemporary furnishings, revamped bathrooms with new fixtures, and upgraded technology (bigger flat panel TVs, for instance). They will probably be redoing the rooms in the Carson Tower to match at some point but for now if you want the nicest and best the Nugget has to offer go for the Gold or Rush Tower rooms. Read the full review of the Golden Nugget.
1. Jeff Dunham Show Debuts at Planet Hollywood
Comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham has set up shop at Planet Hollywood with a new residency that debuted last week. The show, entitled "Not Playing with a Full Deck," features Dunham's wacky cast of characters including Walter the Grumpy Retiree, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, redeck Bubba J, and more. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 7pm and Saturday and Sunday at 4pm and 7pm with tickets starting at $72 plus taxes and fees. The show is currently booked through March but it is expected to be a regular, permanent gig for as long as people keep coming. Read more about Planet Hollywood.
Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2014: Readers' Choice
It's almost time for my annual year-end picks of my favorite Las Vegas hotels, restaurants, shows, attractions, and more with the 2014 Top 10 Awards and once again this year I'm giving you a chance to make your voice heard with the Vegas4Visitors Readers' Choice. And just like last year, your Readers' Choice votes come with a chance to win!
You can weigh in with your opinion in one of two ways. First, you can go join the Vegas4Visitors Facebook group where we'll be having what I hope are lively discussions about your picks. I'll post a question (ie: What's your pick for the Best Las Vegas Hotel of 2014?) and all you have to do is reply in the comments to that post. They will be posted on Facebook starting Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014.
If you are not on Facebook, you can also send me a quick e-mail with your choices at email@example.com. Be sure to include the phrase TOP 10 AWARDS in the subject line so I don't lose it in my spam folder.
Here are the categories:
- Best Hotels
- Best Shows
- Best Attractions
- Best Restaurant
- Best Buffet
- Best Bar or Nightclub
- Best Casino
You can send me your picks via Facebook or e-mail any time before Saturday, December 15th at 12:01am Pacific Standard Time.
Everyone who votes in one of the categories will be automatically entered to win a autographed copy of my new Frommer's Las Vegas 2015 guide book. You can only vote once per category but each of those votes count as a separate entry.
I'll be unveiling your choices for those categories and my picks for those and several other categories in a series of special columns starting in a couple of weeks. The winner of the autographed guide book will be announced just before Christmas.
Updated Show Review: Jeff Civillico
Afternoons in Vegas can be an uninspiring time (wow, it's hot) and afternoon shows in Vegas can be the same (wow, they're not). For the most part they are smaller in terms of production value and ticket price and are often attended by tourists who just want an air conditioned place to sit for awhile that doesn't involve cards or spinning reels.
So it takes a special breed of performer to be able to get over those hurdles and only a couple exist in Vegas with the talent and skill to clear them: Mac King at Harrah's and Jeff Civillico at The LINQ.
A world-champion juggler by the time he was 15, Civillico can keep just about anything in the air - balls, rings, clubs, food, bowling balls, chainsaws, fiery batons, light up batons - you name it and he can probably juggle it. And he may be doing so while perched on a unicycle or with a Go Pro camera strapped to his head so you can see it from his point of view.
But like Mac King, whose magic almost becomes secondary to the comedy, Civillico uses juggling as a base from which to build a very entertaining, highly interactive, off-the-cuff performance that is as sly as it is laugh-out-loud funny. His hyperactive energy sometimes even masks how quick-witted he is, leaving big chunks of the audience a beat or two behind the jokes that he is making up as he goes along.
Audience participation is a big element here that gives the production an anything-can-happen vibe. From two guys enlisted to help Civillico get on to a tall unicycle (and then mercilessly teased about it for the rest of the show) to kids brought up to spin plates, the audience and its ringleader are never quite sure where a particular bit is going to go.
That last bit is important because the improvisatory nature of the show means that it is different every time you see it. I caught it two times within a few months of each other and enjoyed myself both times because it felt completely fresh even though most of the big "acts" within it were the same.
It's also a very family friendly show, with kids actively encouraged to attend and join in the fun. The good news for those of us without kids (on purpose) is that Civillico doesn't dumb down the comedy to a 9-year-old level.
In addition to being a good value all on its own, buying a ticket means you also get discounts on other shows, dining, and attractions within the Caesars Entertainment portfolio. Offers change so check with the box office for details.
Comedy, juggling, derring-do, interactivity... Jeff Civillico's show is a must-see in Vegas for his ability to keep all of the different balls in the air, both literally and figuratively.
Updated Show Review: Chippendales
The Chippendales dancers are probably the most famous slabs of beefcake in the world, having entertained (mostly female) audiences since 1979. Their signature cuffs and bow ties are as much of a cultural touchstone as Playboy's bunny ears.
But in this day and age where you can see as much skin as you want on the Internet and television, are acts like Chippendales still relevant? Do women really need this kind of bump and grind, peek-a-boo fantasy parade the way they did before you could see "the full Monty" and more online? Judging by the audience reaction when I saw the show, the answer is a resounding yes.
The space at The Rio is part showroom, part nightclub with a big lounge space out front and an equally big bar designed, I'm guessing, to eliminate whatever inhibitions the female audience members may have left before going into the actual showroom.
Once you've taken your seat in the big black box of a room you have two basic choices: try to scream louder and make more of a spectacle of yourself than the women who stopped at the bar or sit quietly and be amused by same. I chose the latter option, for the record.
I mention this, not as an indictment against the people in attendance, but rather as a cautionary tale for anyone with an overdeveloped sense of propriety and decorum. Granted, if you are one of those people you probably wouldn't be coming to see Chippendales in the first place but just in case you feel obligated because your cousin Linda wants to have her bachelorette party there, you should just accept the fact that you're going to be shocked by the behavior of the other women around you.
Because ultimately, the Chippendales dancers want you to be shocking. The rules of social engagement officially stop at the doors to the theater and this becomes the ultimate testing ground for the city's one-time catch phrase, redone for these purposes as "What happens in the Chippendales showroom stays in the Chippendales showroom."
The show features lots of special effects, some high-tech staging, loud (really loud) music, evocative fantasy fulfillment sketches (construction workers, cowboys, etc.), and fairly decent choreography that most of the guys keep up with if not necessarily excel at. There are a couple of honest to g-string dancers tucked in and amongst the beefcake and these guys were razor sharp in their execution of the dance moves.
You also get some familiar faces if you can tear your eyes away from the bodies long enough to catch them. The two guys who appeared on a season of "The Amazing Race" are regularly featured as are the occasional celebrity guest host. Past participants have included Ian Ziering of "90210" and "Sharknado" fame (infamy?) and Jeff Timmons of the group 98 degrees.
But you don't care about all that. You just want to know if the guys are hot and how much of their clothes they take off. The answers: yeah and a lot, respectively. You'll see everything except for the aforementioned Monty, which is not legal to show in Las Vegas just in case you're wondering. There's someone for just about every taste, from the Latin lover to the long-haired rocker, so long as perfectly toned and impossibly handsome are the base lines from which you are starting.
There is a certain amount of over-processed rigidity in the show's structure.
Wait. Can I say rigidity in a review of Chippendales?
Everything seems very carefully timed and placed, essentially eliminating the "anything can happen" vibe a real strip show should have. The similarly low-body-fat dancers at Thunder from Down Under seem to have a more raucous, good humor about the whole thing but with that you have to trade off better production values and overall execution so it's up to you.
By the way, men are allowed in the audience but you're going to be vastly outnumbered.
So ladies, this is all about you. Go, enjoy, be crazy, and then return to your mates with a wide Cheshire grin on your face while refusing to answer any questions. Remember - it stays in the Chippendales theater.
Show Review: Véronic: Voices
I have to admit a bias right up front: I have never been a huge fan of vocal impersonator shows. I'm not talking about full impersonator shows like Legends in Concert or Divas Las Vegas, where the impersonators attempt to recreate both the sound and the visuals of the person they are aping - those can be entertaining depending on the skill of the artist. I'm talking about vocal-only impersonations, where the person looks like themselves but tries to sound like other people.
There have been several of these shows in Vegas over the years, the most famous of which were probably the late Danny Gans' production at The Rio and The Mirage and Gordie Brown who has appeared all over town. Terry Fator does it too, sort of, only he is doing it with a puppet so that doesn't really count.
For the most part my reaction to these shows is that the person has a couple of really good impressions and then the rest only kinda, sorta sounds like who they are trying to be if you close your eyes and maybe concentrate really hard. Unfortunately that was my reaction to Véronic: Voices, a vocal impersonation show at Bally's with a twist: the impersonator is a woman in an arena usually dominated by men dating all the way back to Rich Little and beyond probably.
Véronic De Caire is a French Canadian artist who has released French language albums and appeared as a judge on the French version of the X-Factor. She got a boost a few years ago when Celine Dion picked her to be her opening act during a 2008 concert stop in Montreal and Dion is backing Véronic's show in Vegas.
I can understand the mentorship. Celine is one of the few singers that Véronic does a pretty good job of imitating and they kind of look a little bit alike so that helps. Véronic's impression of Dion is close vocally and she captures the singer's affectations quite well. Others that she did a decent job on include Pink and her rock rasp, Taylor Swift and her pop/country twang, and Shakira's unique inflections (although let's be honest, even I could do a halfway decent Shakira).
Then there are the kinda/sorta impressions where she sort of grazes by the famous voices but never quite lands them. This would include people like Adele, Christina Aguilera, Patsy Cline, and Nora Jones to name a few.
After that the impressions were either cartoonish (Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, and Beyonce) or not even close. Attempts to sound like Karen Carpenter, Billie Holiday, and Donna Summer were so far off the mark that they were almost insulting to the memories of those great artists.
Interestingly, I seemed to be in the minority in my opinion of the show based upon the reaction the night I saw the production. Audiences filled with Celine Dion fans and French Canadians are eating it up. I just didn't get it but again maybe that's my bias against these types of shows coloring my opinion.
To be clear, Véronic is a very good singer so even when she isn't actually doing a good job of impersonating someone it isn't unpleasant to listen to her. Maybe she should do a show where she can be herself instead of trying to be other people.