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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The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week

10. Zumanity To Close for Makeover January 3

We knew that the adult themed Cirque du Soleil production Zumanity at New York-New York was going to get an upgrade but now we know when. The show will close on January 3 and take several weeks off as it integrates new numbers and staging. Although no one is commenting officially, most rumors are saying that about 75% of the existing show (and cast) are being jettisoned and that the new version will have a sleeker and sexier vibe to it when it starts its run on January 20, 2015. Read the review of the current version of Zumanity.

9. New Year's Eve Soundtrack to Include Mariah, Whitney, Pitbull

The soundtrack for this year's 8 1/2 minute long New Year's Eve spectacular has been set. It'll be called "Don't Stop the Party" (pretty appropriate for Vegas, don't ya think?) and will include: "Auld Lang Syne" as sung by Mariah Carey; "The Star Spangled Banner" by Whitney Houston; "Girl on Fire" by Alicia Keys; "Counting Stars" by One Republic; "Burn" by Ellie Goulding; and of course "Don't Stop the Party" by Pitbull. There will be more than 80,000 individual pyrotechnic devices set off from the roofs of Aria, Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood, Stratosphere, Treasure Island, and The Venetian.

8. Harmon Hotel Lawsuit Settled

MGM Resorts has reached a settlement with a construction company in a lawsuit over the failed Harmon hotel tower at CityCenter. The building was deemed to have substantial construction defects that made it unsafe for occupancy and is currently being torn down floor by floor. MGM said the construction company screwed up and the construction company said MGM screwed up. So who won? The terms of the settlement were not officially released but SEC filings show that MGM Resorts wound up paying the construction company $189 million to make the case go away. That's less than the estimated $400 million cost of building the hotel so it may have been a mixed bag with blame being accepted on both sides. No word yet on what will replace the Harmon once demolition is complete.

7. Vegas Visitation Record: 40 Million!

Up until this week the highest total number of visitors to Vegas in one year was 39.7 million. This week the city has officially broken that record and for the first time ever gone over 40 million people. The big question is whether or not it can get to 41 million with all of the people coming to town for New Year's Eve

6. Vegas Sign Adds Parking

If you happen to go visit the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign anytime soon you might notice a big mess in front of it. That's where they are expanding the parking lot in the center median of Las Vegas Boulevard to accommodate more cars and buses, which are usually overflowing the existing small lot. The new area will be about triple the size of the current one and will also include crosswalks and a traffic light, finally allowing pedestrians the opportunity to visit the sign without having to dodge traffic. Long overdue. Read more about the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign.

5. Shania Ends Vegas Residency, But Wait...

Right after country superstar Shania Twain ended her two year residency at Caesars Palace she announced that she was coming back for at least 21 more dates in September and October of 2015. And there may be even more dates scheduled in 2016. So is she still a resident headliner at Caesars? Not officially and not exclusively - she'll just be doing dates at the hotel when she can fit it into her schedule.

4. Nightclub Ownership Shakeup

For years the Light Group has been the dominant player in the Las Vegas nightclub wars, managing places like Light at Mandalay Bay, 1OAK at The Mirage, and Bank at Bellagio to name a few, plus restaurants like Citizens Kitchen at Mandalay Bay and Diablo's Cantina at Monte Carlo. Upstart Hakkasan came along last year with its mega-club at MGM Grand and has now purchased a majority interest in the Light Group's portfolio. This means that the bulk of the clubs at MGM Resorts are now managed under one umbrella. Next on their world dominance list: opening the new Omnia nightclub at Caesars Palace that is replacing Pure and creating whatever will replace the now shuttered Haze at Aria Las Vegas.

3. Absinthe Cast Changes

Sad news for one of my favorite shows in Vegas - Absinthe host The Gazillionaire and his sidekick Penny Pibbets are leaving the Sin City production to open new versions in Australia and in Europe. New actors will be inserted in to moderate the proceedings but it does mean that Penny's demented sock puppet theater, a highlight of the show, will no longer be featured. Booooo. Read my review of Absinthe.

2. Cosmo's New Owner & CEO

The Nevada Gaming Commission has dotted the final i and crossed the final t allowing the sale of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to move forward. The new owners are The Blackstone Group, or rather Blackstone Realty Partners VII, a division of the main company (and yes, there is a Blackstone Realty Partners I, II, II, etc.). They are the largest alternative investment private equity groups in the world (meaning investing in things other than stocks and bonds), managing $30 billion in assets in the United States alone and more than $200 billion worldwide. Some of the marquee names they own all or part of include Hilton Hotels Corporation (including the legendary Waldorf-Astoria in New York City), Legoland, Publix Supermarkets, Houghton Mifflin book publishers, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museums, La Quinta Inns & Suites, General Growth Properties (which manages malls across the country), The Weather Channel, Busch Entertainment (Sea World, etc.), and Wyndham Worldwide. Their first act was to install former CityCenter President Bill McBeath as CEO of the Cosmo. Read the review of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

1. Wacky Rumor of the Week: Liberace Hologram Show

The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that a deal is being worked out to bring a new show to a Vegas casino that will star Liberace... or rather, a hologram of him. The company behind the technology that allowed the late Tupac Shakur to perform at the Coachella music festival in 2012 says they are working with the Liberace Foundation to create the full-length stage show that will incorporate both virtual and real staging and props from the flamboyant pianist's collection. They say that the Faux-berace (tm Vegas4Visitors.com) will even be able to interact with audiences. (Wait... Lie-berace? Whatever, I'm trademarking both of them.) I'm sorry, but can we please just let people be dead? I am placing this one so deep into the "I'll Believe It When I See It" file that I'm not sure my arm can reach that far.

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Caesars To File For Bankruptcy in January

It had been talked about and rumored for the better part of a year but now Caesars Entertainment has formally announced that it will declare bankruptcy in January of 2015.

The company has been working with its creditors for the last several months to create what is called a structured bankruptcy, meaning that the deals of who is going to get what have already been mostly worked out. The Chapter 11 filing will propose to split the company into several smaller companies and reorganize itself in a way that will shed about $10 billion of their nearly $23 billion debt and, more critically, reduce the interest payments on that debt to about a quarter of the $1.7 billion they have to pay every year.

Caesars Entertainment and its affiliates manage more than 40 casinos around the world, including Las Vegas properties Caesars Palace, Harrah's, The Linq, The Flamingo, The Cromwell, Bally's, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, and The Rio.

The trouble for Caesars started back in 2008 when two private equity firms took over the publicly held company (then known as Harrah's Entertainment) and created more than $25 billion in debt in the process. At the time this was seen as a risky move but not a crazy one considering the company was raking in nearly $10 billion a year in revenue.

The problem was that the buyout happened on the eve of the global recession, which drove down profits and the company started losing money. If they didn't have the high-interest debt payments, the company would be in great shape, but saddled with those kinds of obligations they can't seem to dig themselves out of the hole they are in.

But dig, they have tried. Over the last few years they have continued to spend money like drunken sailors in an effort to create new revenue streams. In Las Vegas they spent about $200 million on the Nobu hotel portion of Caesars Palace, another $200 million on turning the Barbary Coast into The Cromwell, and more than half a billion on the new Linq pedestrian mall, High Roller observation wheel, and renovations of the old Imperial Palace hotel into The Linq. They also opened shiny new casinos in Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio to try to break into new markets.

At the same time they began various restructuring games that moved certain hotels into subsidiary companies. Caesars Growth Partners, for instance, is the official owner on paper of Planet Hollywood, The Cromwell, The Linq, and Bally's along with the Horseshoe in Baltimore and their interactive division.

More dramatic moves were made in Mississippi and New Jersey where they shuttered the Harrah's Tunica and the Atlantic City Showboat.

All of this was done to try to protect certain assets and maximize the payouts to creditors so that the bankruptcy filing could be as smooth as possible.

What this means to their Vegas properties is yet to be determined. None of them are in danger of closing - the Vegas market is simply too hot right now for that to happen. There is a possibility of pieces of the puzzle being sold though. Rumors have heated up that The Rio is going to be sold as a consequence of all of this. No potential buyer has been identified.

The day to day operations of the individual hotels will probably not be affected. If you hadn't just read about it here, you probably would never know what was happening behind the scenes.

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The Lowdown on High Taxi Fares and Ripoffs

It just got more expensive to take a taxi in Las Vegas. The Nevada Taxi Commission has implemented a previously announced fare hike of about 8% across the board. The price for all cab companies is now $3.45 to get in (up from $3.30) and then $2.86 per mile (up from $2.60). If the taximeter senses that the cab is moving less than 8-12 mph, an additional pro-rated charge of $32.40 per hour will be added for wait time, which is up from $30.

The only thing that hasn't changed is the $2.00 surcharge for fares originating at McCarran International Airport.

Since we're talking about taking cabs in Vegas, I thought it would be a good time to rerun my piece about how to make sure you're not getting ripped off when you do.

Long-hauling - the illegal practice of a cab driver taking the long-route to boost a fare - is not unique to Vegas but it is an epidemic. A 2013 audit by the state legislature found that passengers were overcharged an estimate of $15 million in 2012 and that nearly 1 in 4 cab rides from the airport to The Strip were fleeced for more money than they should have paid, turning what should be a $15 ride into a $50 one.

How do they get away with this? Simple... most Vegas visitors don't know that they are being taken for a "ride" (so to speak) because they don't know the ins and outs, highways and byways of the city. If you want to make sure you're not being taken advantage of, you have to know the best way to get where you're going and how much it should cost you.

If you're coming from the airport and going to The Strip or Downtown, your cab should exit on Swenson Road going north. If you ever see the cab going south on the 215 bypass (you'll know because you'll go through a tunnel) you're being long-hauled.

For the South Strip hotels like MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, the cab should turn left on Tropicana Avenue. The 3-4 mile ride should cost you in the neighborhood of about $18-$20 before tip.

For Center Strip hotels like Caesars Palace or Bellagio, the cab should continue up Swenson, cut over to Paradise Road, and then turn left on Harmon Avenue or Flamingo Road. This is about a 4 mile ride and should cost you about $20-22 before tip.

For North Strip hotels like Wynn Las Vegas or The Stratosphere the cab should continue up Paradise to Sands Avenue or Sahara Avenue and then turn left. This 4-5 mile ride should cost you $22-25 before tip.

If you're heading Downtown there are several routes that the cab could take including continuing on Paradise to Las Vegas Boulevard near The Stratosphere and then north to Fremont Street or, depending on the time of day, the cab could cut over to Interstate 15 via Tropicana and go into Downtown from there. The latter route is longer but may wind up being faster if street traffic is really bad. The trip is about 10 miles and should cost you about $30 before tip. Note that if you do take I-15, the driver should still not take the I-215 south out of the airport.

Note that all of these fares are subject to additional costs for "wait time." If you are stuck in traffic and not moving, you get charged at a pro-rated cost of $32.40 per hour if the cab is moving less than 12 miles per hour for an extended period of time. So for instance, if you get stuck in a jam for 10 minutes, you'll wind up with a $6 wait time addition to your fare (give or take).

Going from one place to another on The Strip is a little trickier to predict and depends a lot on when you are trying to go. If it is on a busy Friday or Saturday night, you may want to stay away from The Strip where bumper-to-bumper traffic can cost you a lot of those wait time penalties. Using Dean Martin Drive, Frank Sinatra Drive, Industrial Road, Koval Lane, and even Interstate 15, which all parallel The Strip but often have a lot less traffic, will be longer in terms of mileage but may get you there faster so it could all work out to be about the same fare-wise.

The best thing to do is to use an interactive map either online or on your smartphone to get the exact mileage via the shortest route between where you are and where you're going, then do the math to figure out what your fare should be. When you get in the cab, tell the driver where you are going and what you expect the fare to be (say something like "I'm going to Mandalay Bay, so that should be about $20, right?"). That will put the driver on notice that you aren't some hapless tourist who isn't going to let someone scam them out of their hard earned money.

Except maybe in the casino.

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Shopping Review: Hershey's Chocolate World

The Strip is a little sweeter now that the flagship Hershey's Chocolate World at New York-New York is giving people the sugar rushes they have been craving.

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 or the brand. Don't expect just bags of candy, although they have plenty of that also. There's also a huge selection of other treats including cupcakes (York Peppermint or Reese's Pieces flavors by chance?), brownies, dipped fruit, fudge, and so much more that my head started to hurt. I sampled the double chocolate caramel brownie and a chocolate dipped strawberry and was very pleased with my choices.

Oh and of course don't forget about all of the logo merchandise with Hershey's or Reese's or whatever slapped on clothing, gifts, accessories, jewelry, and more.

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.

But those bakery items elevate this particular store a notch above the places like M&M World and the World of Coca Cola right across the street in my opinion. I'll take another one of those brownies now, please.

Prices are ridiculous - you'll pay more for the exact same bag of candy here than you will at the supermarket down the street - but they probably don't have Hershey's chocolate coffee mugs, so whatever.

Hershey's Chocolate World
New York-New York
3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
702-698-7000
website
Daily 9am-11pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+

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Attraction Review: Famous People's Eyeglass Museum

Calling this a museum is stretching the definition of the word to the breaking point - display case in a doctor's office is more accurate. And yet there is something utterly charming about this exhibit of eyeglasses from famous people that makes it worth a detour if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

I'm not joking about the doctor's office. The display is in Henderson at the optometry office of Dr. Gomesindo Hendricks and it fills a display case on one wall of the waiting room. You don't need to be visiting to get your eyes checked - you can just go in to look at the specs, of which there are probably a hundred pairs or so from people of all celebrity walks of life. A few famous names: Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, Norm Crosby, Walter Cronkite, Ronald Reagan, Mr. Rogers, Cole Porter, Betty White, Robert Kennedy, and even the President of Liberia, although that's all that the sticker says - no name.

There is a big book full of letters from the people who sent in the glasses, usually assistants or PR people of the famous folk who donated a pair. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be any correlation between the order of the glasses in the case and the order of the letters in the binder so finding the one for any specific specs seemed impossible.

Another bummer is that some of the glasses have seen better days - preservation doesn't seem to be high on the list of priorities at Dr. Hendricks' office.

Having said that, there is something kitchsy and fun about the display. It's like those giant balls of twine or thimble museums that you might pull of the highway to get a look at on some road trip. This is totally not worth driving to Henderson to see on its own but if you happen to be in the area it is worth a five minute pit stop.

Famous People's Eyeglass Museum
61 E. Lake Mead Parkway
Henderson, NV
702-518-0934
website
Free
Mon, Wed, & Fri 8am-4pm
Tue, Thu 9am-5pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B

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