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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
March 30, 2015
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Get to Vegas Faster
If you drive to get to Las Vegas you may want to pay attention to Nevada Senate Bill 2, which will increase the speed limit on interstates and divided highways in rural areas up to 80 miles per hour. The current cap is 75 miles per hour and if the bill becomes a law it will make Nevada one of only a handful of states that allow drivers to go above that including neighboring Utah and Idaho. The bill is working its way through the legislature and is expected to pass and be signed by the Governor without too much trouble, so expect the new speedier limits to go into effect next year.
9. Please Don't Make Me Write This Story Again
Speaking of getting to Vegas, the idea that wouldn't die - a party train from Los Angeles to Vegas - has reared its ugly head once again. When I started writing about Las Vegas in the late 1990s, Amtrak service between the two cities had just been cancelled but there was the caveat that various public and private companies were working on ways of restoring that service. In the nearly two decades since there have been so many proposals to restore the service, from high-speed trains to low cost budget ideas to nightclubs on rails, that I have lost count. X-Train has been on the radar many times, always coming with big pronouncements that their party train service would launch within months and it never happens. That isn't stopping them from doing it again, saying now that they have enlisted students at UNLV to help them figure out how to run the train through the desert effectively and that the service will launch by New Year's Eve running from somewhere in LA to the Plaza in Downtown Vegas. Do they have the money, the deals in place to use the rails, or even an actual station or a deal to build one at The Plaza? Not so much. So yeah... file this one squarely in the "I'll Believe It When I See It" file. I wish it would stay there but my guess is that I'm going to have to write some version of this story again next year so see you then!
8. Strip Goes Dark for Earth Hour
If you were walking on The Strip last Saturday night and all the lights went out, I hope you didn't panic... it wasn't the start of the zombie apocalypse (which will most likely start in Las Vegas, don't you think?). Instead it was the annual observation of Earth Hour, which encourages people and businesses to turn off all non-essential lights and electronics to highlight the need for energy conservation. All of the major hotels on The Strip and many of the others around town took part, turning off the bulk of their exterior lighting.
7. Paris' New Casino Bar a Hint of Things to Come?
There's a new bar at Paris Las Vegas that is turning heads for a bunch of different reasons. Part of it is that it's really kind of pretty, done with a modern French-inspired design, tufted seats, chandeliers, and an eye-catching centerpiece that looks sort of like a giant flower. But another part of it is weather this might be the new direction for the look and feel of the hotel. Paris is one of the few heavily themed resorts that hasn't done a substantial update of its design aesthetic in recent years (I'm looking at you Luxor Las Vegas and New York-New York) and this new direction could be a harbinger of what the rest of the hotel could look like. It still definitely feels French, but in a much more contemporary way so it might be interesting. Read more about Paris Las Vegas.
6. Battle for Uber Rages On
The Uber ride sharing service tried to launch in Vegas last year but got kicked to the curb (pun intended) by the very powerful taxi commission who got judges to agree that the service was illegal under currently laws. So what did Uber do? Lobby to get the laws changed. A bill has been introduced in the state legislature that would allow ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate legally in Las Vegas under some much more stringent guidelines than in most other states including requiring FBI background checks for drivers, specific types of insurance, and more. The bill is expected to pass and that means you could have another transportation option in Vegas soon. Las Vegas Transportation: Las Vegas Taxis, Shuttles, Buses, & Ride Share - Vegas4Visitors
5. Springtime at Bellagio
The Bellagio Conservatory has ushered in spring with a new seasonal display featuring a Japanese garden inspired design. Cherry blossoms and bonsai trees fill the space with a recreation of a pagoda as the centerpiece. Decorative umbrellas and lanterns hang above along with sculptures of huge birds winging their way across the sky. Leading to the pagoda is a footbridge crossing a koi pond. The display is open 24 hours a day through May 11 and is free. Bellagio Conservatory - Vegas4Visitors
4. Caesars Adds New Eateries
If you're hungry at happen to be at Caesars Palace there are now even more places to satisfy your cravings than there were before. The Forum Food Court has added two new eateries including La Gloria is a branch of the popular San Antonio restaurant that serves Mexican street food (tacos, tortas, quesadillas, and the like) and Graeter's Ice Cream is the first Nevada outlet for the company that has been serving up sweet treats in and around Ohio since 1870. Nearby, the new restaurant from former Top Chef contestant Brian Malarkey has debuted. It's a branch of his Searsucker eatery with outlets in San Diego and Austin and it serves contemporary twist on classic American comfort food. It's located next door to the new Omnia nightclub. Caesars Palace - Vegas4Visitors
3. The Linq Debuts New Pool
The former Imperial Palace (and Quad) is now officially known as The Linq but that doesn't mean they are done making changes at the hotel. The new pool deck debuted last week and is a major upgrade to the rundown one that used to provide recreation (and the weekly luau). There are cabanas and day beds for rent and lots of chaise lounge chairs for free plus a bar and lounge space. The pool is only open to adults 21 and over at all times so if you are staying at The Linq with children you will have to go next door where you are allowed to use the much more kid-friendly Flamingo Las Vegas pool. Guests of other Caesars Entertainment properties can use the pool at The Linq for $10 and everyone else can get in for $20. Read more about The Linq.
2. Venetian Sued Over Resort Fees
Benjamin Brin of Studio City, California may become a Vegas hero. He is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit that has been filed against the The Venetian and Palazzo against the way they disclosed... or rather didn't disclose... the fact that the charged a resort fee when making an online booking. The suit says that the Venetian website didn't include the resort fee info until after the reservation was made. The Venetian says it has since changed its website, a move made in response to another lawsuit about the same topic currently on appeal. Could this result in hotels no longer charging the fees? No. But they are going to have to be better at playing by the Federal Trade Commission's warning to be more upfront about what they are charging. Read more about The Venetian.
1. Penn & Teller Grand Marshals of AIDS Walk Las Vegas
Penn & Teller will serve as grand marshals of the AIDS Walk Las Vegas for the 14th year in a row in April and are putting their money where their mouths are to make it extra special. In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the event, the duo is challenging walkers to raise at least $250 that they will match dollar for dollar. Challenge participants gain access to a VIP area at the walk and exclusive incentives, including a meet and greet and tickets to Britney Spears for the highest fundraiser. The event is the largest fundraiser of the year for Aid for AIDS of Nevada. Last year's AIDS Walk saw more than 10,000 participants, raising nearly $440,000 to directly benefit client services, including prevention education, transportation vouchers to healthcare providers, rent and utility assistance, nutritional counseling, food vouchers, and kids' programs. Learn more about AFAN.
Shopping Smackdown! The Forum Shops vs. The Grand Canal Shoppes
The Casino Cage Match feature I run occasionally has been popular, as I pit two similar hotels in a head to head battle in several different categories to see which comes out on top. So I figured it would be fun to extend the idea to other areas, hence the Shopping Smackdown.
Las Vegas is one of the top shopping destinations in the world. According to a report by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, shopping ranks as the 4th highest expenditure for most Vegas visitors, behind only gambling, hotel room, and food & drink. So most visitors spend more money in the stores than they do on things like shows, attractions, transportation, and so on.
On the four mile stretch of road that is the Las Vegas Strip, there are no fewer than five major malls (Fashion Show, Forum Shops, Grand Canal Shoppes, The Crystals, and Miracle Mile) plus another dozen or so boutique collections like the Esplanade at Wynn Las Vegas, The Grand Bazaar Shoppes, and Mandalay Place.
So let's pit two of the major theme malls against one another and see what happens.
In one corner we have the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. This mall is much more than its Roman street scene design and kitschy talking statues. It ranked as the most profitable shopping center in the country, making more money per square foot than any other mall in the US.
In the other corner we have the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. Mostly known for the canal running up the center of it, the mall recently got an expansion of sorts when the former Shoppes at Palazzo were folded under the Grand Canal Shoppes banner. Now it is all considered to be one big mall.
Let the smackdown begin!
Both malls are located on the Center Strip, right in the heart of all the action, so this category is a tie.
Accessibility and Navigation
The Forum Shops are accessible from one entrance on The Strip or from inside the hotel, so it's easy to get inside. They also have their own valet parking and the main garage is not too far away.
My problem has always been the traffic pattern they force you to follow once you're in there. When coming in from The Strip, they make you go all the way around to get to the escalators to go up to the main level and then make you go all the way around again to get to the mall - no shortcuts. The same thing happens near the main fountain, where you are forced to walk all the way around it instead of being allowed to cut through. This is, of course, designed to get you to walk by stores that may not otherwise get foot traffic but it's still annoying for those of us who want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
The Grand Canal Shoppes are accessible from multiple doors on The Strip at both the Venetian and Palazzo and from inside both hotels. The main parking garage at The Venetian offers direct access and there is also a valet located there as well.
Inside, getting around makes sense and is pretty easy but there are some inconveniences created by the canal. If you see a store on the other side of it you want to check out, you may have to walk a bit to find a bridge and then double back to get to it. The canal also creates some narrow-ish paths in some places, which can lead to traffic congestion at busy times of the day.
Because of the way The Forum Shops forces you to go out of your way to get where you are going, I have to give this one to The Grand Canal Shoppes.
The Forum Shops mall is a bit bigger, both in terms of square footage and the number of stores, but it really is in the type and (at least perceived) quality of stores between the two malls where the differences start to become more obvious.
At the Forum Shops, you'll find lots of high-end, designer labels like Gucci, Allsaints, Hugo Boss, Armani, and Louis Vuitton. They have some more casual stores like Gap and H&M, but the focus here really is on the luxury brand names.
Over at Grand Canal Shoppes, the lineup is a little more spread out in terms of accessibility. The Palazzo part of the mall has the higher end stores like Bauman's Rare Books and Barney's New York while the Venetian part has the more down-to-earth stores like Banana Republic and Victoria's Secret. The one thing I have noticed here is that there seems to be a lot more "no name" stores and by that I mean ones that aren't part of a major national chain. You get to decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
I'm not impressed by labels, but I still have to give this one to The Forum Shops just because the stores are bit more recognizable and interesting.
If you have just read the above, it should come as no surprise that the prices are higher at The Forum Shops. For that reason, I have to tip this category to the Grand Canal Shoppes.
This one is pretty easy - between the food court and the various other eateries scattered about there are more than two dozen places to eat and drink at the Grand Canal Shoppes including Buddy V's and Table 10. The Forum Shops has about half as many and most of them are pretty high end joints like Spago and The Palm.
The winner here is the Grand Canal Shoppes.
At the Forum Shops there is a silly bit of entertainment with the Atlantis Fountain show, where giant statues of various mythic figures come to life and argue about stuff while fire and lighting effects dance around. It's amusing in a cheesy way but absolutely not worthy of going out of your way to see.
The gondolas that wind their way up and down the waters of the Grand Canal Shoppes are also kind of silly - you're taking a boat ride... in a mall! - but there's something undeniably charming about it. They also have wandering Italian renaissance style entertainers, which adds to the ambience.
Gotta give this one to the Grand Canal Shoppes.
When it first opened, the Forum Shops was the epitome of wow, with its Roman street scenes, talking statues, and (later) circular escalator. But the Grand Canal Shoppes upped the ante with its gondolas and replicas of famous Italian landmarks like the Bridge of Sighs and an indoor version of St. Mark's Square. It's all much more camera-worthy and so for that I have to give this category to the Grand Canal Shoppes.
With a win in 5 categories and a tie in a 6th, this is a runaway victory for the Grand Canal Shoppes!
Las Vegas Entertainment Update
First, the production will be substantially revamped from the last iteration that ran from 2011 until late last year. The details of how it will be different have not been released but expect most of the same classic songs but with different staging and special effects.
Second, unlike her past contracts with Caesars, which called for as many as 200 shows a year across several years, the length of this new engagement only goes for 40 shows. This is, most likely, due to ongoing concerns about her husband's health, which was cited as the reason she ended all of her public appearances in 2014. Rene Angelil, he former manager, has been battling throat cancer and is reportedly only able to get nutrition through a feeding tube at this point.
Tickets for the new set of shows are on sale now.
Suzanne Somers has officially confirmed her rumored residency at the Westgate Hotel (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton). The actress and entertainer most famous for her role as Chrissy on the sitcom "Three's Company" will be taking over the space long known as the Shimmer Cabaret. It will be remodeled and rebranded as Suzanne's and will host her song and dance show five nights a week starting May 23. Her contract calls for 140 shows (or 28 weeks' worth) through May of 2016 and if it is successful could be extended beyond that.
But Somers is not stopping at the cabaret in terms of her involvement with the hotel. As a longtime health and fitness advocate (thighmaster anyone?), the hotel is launching a Suzanne Somers branded spa that will feature her brand of organic skin care products and the Suzanne Somers Organics Spa Cafe that will have dishes based on the recipes from her successful line of cookbooks.
And finally, it looks like the puppets aren't going anywhere anytime soon. The headline residency for ventriloquist Jeff Dunham at Planet Hollywood is doing well - so well, that it has been extended beyond its original June end date to October of this year. If ticket sales continue as strongly as they have been it'll most likely get extended again, although Dunham may take some breaks to do road shows here and there.
Las Vegas for Seniors
There are virtually no benefits to having lived a long life, at least when it comes to getting discounts in Vegas. Unlike other cities that regularly feature reduced rates on everything from hotel rooms to meals for senior citizens, Vegas is pretty stingy when it comes to that sort of thing.
Some of the smaller chain hotels off The Strip (think Courtyard, La Quinta, Motel 6) will offer discounts to seniors and/or AARP members but at the big places on The Strip you'll pay the same rate as everyone else does.
Ditto restaurants and buffets where the thought of an early bird special would probably make most Vegas chefs gasp with horror.
Shows are the same story, with the only price variations are based on how good the seat is and not who is sitting in it (although some do offer discounts for children).
Attractions and some other forms of entertainment are really the only places where you can find senior discounts. Most of the major attractions, museums, and sights will knock a couple of bucks off admission for folks over 62 and you may find specials at some recreation facilities as well.
Other than that, Vegas is pretty blind when it comes to age and since it is a full-service, 24-hour town it can address just about any need you may have while you're visiting. Run out of a prescription? There are more than a dozen pharmacies on or within a few blocks of The Strip, most open all night. Having trouble getting around? Major hotels can arrange scooters or wheelchairs with very little notice.
7 Best Places to Have a Cocktail
There's a difference between a drink and a cocktail.
A drink is something you get from a bartender who probably really doesn't need to think too much about what he or she is pouring. It'll have a couple of basic ingredients - a booze or two and a mixer or two, and if you're going really crazy it might be blended or shaken or stirred.
A cocktail, on the other hand, is more of a creation. It requires more time and energy to create and often contains and well-thought-out blend of ingredients, some of which may need to be crafted by hand (muddle cucumber, anyone?). They are almost always served in a fancier glass (no to-go cups here) and are often more expensive than your run-of-the-gin-mill drink.
Interestingly, drinks and cocktails might be the same basic thing, just created in different ways. For instance, pour some tequila, lime juice from a bottle, Cointreau over some ice and you've got a margarita, which is a drink if there ever was one. Use fancier tequila, squeeze the lime juice by hand, maybe add some jalapeno, and suddenly you've got a cocktail.
You can get drinks anywhere in Vegas but if you are looking for a real cocktail, these are the best places to find them.
Inventive champagne cocktails with fresh ingredients in a luxurious setting created by Elton John's husband David Furnish.
Many of the best mixologists in the world can be found here, creating some of the finest cocktails you can get at any price.
The handmade ingredients are what make this one stand out among the loud, general din of Downtown Las Vegas.
A lobby bar that goes above and beyond with new world remixes of old school drink classics.
A sanctuary style ultralounge without the attitude serving some really good libations. Plus, it has the word right there in the title.
Although it is a haven for those into the craft beer scene, it also has an interesting cocktail list often with seasonal specials that are worth checking out.
Skip the sometimes raucous main bar and head for the hidden speakeasy called The Laundry where they up the ante on their already good cocktails.