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

Shark Reef Celebrates 15 Years

The Shark Reef Aquarium had its 15th birthday on June 20th and visitors were the ones who got the presents. The aquarium at Mandalay Bay had discounted admission for everyone and randomly selected guests throughout the day to get behind-the-scenes tours of its 1.3 million gallon shipwreck exhibit. More than 2,000 animals are displayed at Shark Reef, including over 100 different species and featuring 15 species of sharks. Read more about Shark Reef.

Uber & Lyft Expected in Vegas Around Labor Day

Although the state cleared the way recently for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate legally in Nevada, it's taking some time to draft the necessary regulations and rules surrounding the operation of such ventures. The two companies had hoped to be up and running by July but it is looking more like Labor Day before you'll be able to summon a ride via one of the apps. The biggest question is whether or not you'll be able to use Uber and Lyft on The Strip. Common wisdom is that you'll be able to get dropped off at the major hotels but probably not picked up, at least not at the main entrances or along the actual Strip itself, but we'll see what happens when the cars start rolling in a few months. Read more about getting around Las Vegas.

May 2015 Las Vegas' Busiest Month Ever

If you were in Vegas in May of 2015 and thought, "Wow, there are a lot of people here," you weren't wrong. The month wound up setting a record for the most visitors to the city in history, with 3.74 million tourists coming for a little bit of Sin City fun. They also dropped a lot of money in the casinos, with gaming revenue in the state topping $1 billion for the first time since 2013. The crowds were driven by a series of special events including the big Mayweather-Pacquino fight at MGM Grand, the Rock in Rio concerts, and a couple of conventions. The previous record was 3.68 million set in March of 2014. So far 2015 is shaping up to be the busiest year in history and could exceed 2014's record of more than 41 million tourists.

Vegas Gambler Loses $500K; Says Casino Got Him Drunk

A Las Vegas man has been indicted by a grand jury after failing to appear at a hearing on charges that he wrote bad checks to fund a half-million dollar gambling spree at the Downtown Grand. During the investigation on the case, Mark Allen Johnston claimed that the casino got him drunk and therefore the whole check fraud thing was totally not his fault. The Nevada Gaming Control Board investigated the man's claims and pretty much said, "*cough*BS*cough," hence the indictment. A warrant is out for the man's arrest. Remember this story the next time you feel badly for losing $20 in a slot machine... you're welcome. Read more about the Downtown Grand.

Hard Rock Revamp Shutters Two Drinking Spots

The much revered Center Bar in the middle of the Hard Rock Hotel casino has been the site of much debauchery over the years; stories of celebrities (and regular folk), too much alcohol, and poor decision making are legend. But that all came to a close on June 28 as the bar shut down in anticipation of a major revamp to the main casino, which will reportedly be raising the now sunken circular portion to the level of the rest of the room and add new machines, new tables, and yes, a new bar where a brand new generation of bad choices can be made. The construction is underway now and should be complete by the end of the year. In addition, the Body English nightclub will be closing on July 3, making the second time the club has come and gone. It will be replaced by another nightclub to coincide with the revamps of the casino. Read more about the Hard Rock Hotel.

Adventuredome Price Increase

It's not just the resort fees that are getting more expensive. The Adventuredome indoor theme park at Circus Circus has just bumped its ticket prices to $31.95 per day for an all day ride pass for anyone over 48" and $17.95 for anyone under 48". That's up $2 for adults and $1 for kids. Individual ride prices have also gone up, now starting at $6 for the so-called "Family Rides" (the boring ones) all the way up to $12 for the roller coasters. Read more about the Adventuredome.

Most Hated Casino in Vegas

The Motley Fool did an article where they say they have determined the most hated casinos in America, including Las Vegas of course. Their highly scientific methodology? They looked on Yelp to see who got the lowest reviews. All right, I guess hate isn't scientific so why should they be? Anyway, Circus Circus came in at the top with over 1/4 of its reviews on Yelp being only 1 star. Other hated casinos, according to the report, were Excalibur, Treasure Island, the Hard Rock, and The Las Vegas Club. See all Vegas Hotels.

Pitbull Barks Up Mini-Residency at Planet Hollywood

Rapper and music mogul Pitbull is coming to Vegas for one of those increasingly popular mini-residencies that various hotels are trying out. His will consist of seven shows at Planet Hollywood from September 23 through October 7 in the same theater that Britney Spears, and next year Jennifer Lopez, call home. These are sometimes viewed as tryouts for full Vegas residencies but this one is pretty much guaranteed to be a one shot deal. The Venetian recently did a mini-residency for Diana Ross and the Hard Rock has had a series of them with everyone from KISS to Rascal Flatts. Tickets for the Pitbull shows are on sale now and range from $36 to $169 plus fees. Read more about Planet Hollywood.

Vegas Legend Kirk Kerkorian Dies

The name Kirk Kerkorian may not be immediately recognizable to the average Vegas visitor but the things he did in Vegas are. Kerkorian was the driving force behind the International Hotel, which later became the Las Vegas Hilton and now the Westgate; the original MGM Grand that opened in 1973 and is now Bally's; the current MGM Grand; and CityCenter. He was the founder and largest single shareholder of MGM Resorts, which includes hotels like Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, and more. Kerkorian died June 15 at the age of 98. Read the history of the original MGM Grand.

Trouble at the SLS?

Since reopening the revamped Sahara as the SLS Las Vegas, the hotel has struggled to find an audience willing to make the trek to the relative no-man's land of the North Strip. Room rates have been slashed, restaurants have closed, and now according to a filing with the SEC, the hotel lost $35 million in its first quarter. The investment firm that is backing the hotel has had to dump more than $5 million into the property to keep paying the bills and is reportedly expecting to have to put in at least another $40 to keep things going through the end of the year. The hoped for boon from the Rock in Rio festival across the street in May also reportedly didn't do a lot for the hotel's bottom line and now there are more recent and impending closures inside the property including one of the Fred Segal boutiques and, reportedly, the main nightclub Life. The big question is whether the hotel can hang on long enough to reap the benefits from upcoming development on the North Strip like Resorts World, which isn't expected to open until 2018. Read more about the SLS Las Vegas.

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Frontier Replacement Gets a Name: Alon Las Vegas

There's a big plot of land across the street from Wynn Las Vegas that used to be home to the Frontier, but it has been empty since that hotel was demolished in 2007. Now we know a little bit more about what's going to go there, including a name: Alon Las Vegas.

Fox 5 Television in Las Vegas broadcast a report about a proposal submitted to Clark County for the new resort that is being planned by Crown Resorts. The project is going to be run by Australian billionaire James Packer (who is also Mariah Carey's boyfriend, apparently) and former Wynn Las Vegas executive Andrew Pascal.

According to the plans, the first phase of Alon Las Vegas will be relatively small compared to other mega-resorts on The Strip, with just 1,100 rooms in two towers. Compare that to the 5,000 rooms at MGM Grand or even the 3,000 planned at the upcoming Resorts World Las Vegas being built almost next door. In terms of overall size it would place it above boutique properties like The Cromwell, which has about 200 rooms, and the Mandarin Oriental with about 400, but below properties like the non-gaming Vdara with 1,500 and SLS Las Vegas, which has about 1,600. It is expected that the rooms will be generously proportioned suites so what they will lack in inventory they will make up for in square footage.

The hotel would be fronted by a major water feature although the details of what exactly that will be were not included in the plans. There will be a casino, nightclubs, restaurants, and more and it will be staffed by more than 4,500 people.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2016 with an opening date by late 2018.

Crown Resorts and Packer himself would not comment on the leak of the info in the plans other than to say they were "disappointed" that it got out there before they had a chance to reveal it formally. They also insist that the information is very preliminary and may not represent the final product.

The property was the site of the Frontier, which opened in 1942 as the second major resort on the Las Vegas Strip. It was purchased by an Israeli corporation in 2007 and imploded that year to make way for what was going to be a $5 billion version of New York's famed Plaza hotel, but the economic collapse of 2008 put a stake in the heart of the plans. The land has been vacant and inactive until last year when Packer's Crown Resorts stepped in to buy it.

By the way, I haven't been able to find any specific meaning behind the name Alon. In Spanish it means "large-winged" or "the wing of a chicken" but I can't imagine that is what they were going for. It does mean that it will place it first alphabetically in the list of major resorts on The Strip, which must annoy the folks at Aria. Although Aliante, on the north side of town, can still smirk a little.

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Monte Carlo Revamp Forces Blue Man, Jabbawockeez Moves

MGM Resorts has still not formally announced what they are going to do to the Monte Carlo but whatever it's going to be, it looks like it's going to be big - big enough that their resident show Blue Man Group is going to need to move out of the theater they have occupied for the last couple of years to smaller digs down the street at Luxor.

For BMG this makes gives them a full-circle experience in Las Vegas. The group debuted in the city at Luxor in 2000 performing in the main theater there for five years. They then moved to The Venetian until 2012 and then to Monte Carlo.

The major difference this time, though, is that they will be performing in a much smaller theater. The main showroom at Monte Carlo, and their former homes at Venetian and Luxor, each seated about 1,800 people whereas the attractions level theater they will be moving into seats about a third of that. How this will affect the production is yet to be seen but I'm guessing we can say goodbye to the giant floating eyeballs at a minimum.

That smaller theater at Luxor is currently home to the Jabbawockeez dance troupe. They will be moving across the street to the MGM Grand to perform at Beacher's Madhouse. This will be the second time the Blue Men have displaced the dancers - they started their run in Vegas at the Monte Carlo theater that BMG took over in 2012. The Beacher's space is also a step down size-wise for Jabbawockeez, with more of a nightclub feeling than a traditional theater space.

A major question is when is all this going to happen? Tickets for the Blue Man Group at Monte Carlo and Jabbawockeez at Luxor are currently on sale through the end of the year but it is believed that the move will probably happen by the fall. Whether or not they move back to their respective homes at some point in the future is unknown.

The even bigger question is, what exactly are they going to do to Monte Carlo that is going to force this displacement?

Rumors are flying fast and furious but the latest scuttlebutt is that the renovation and rebranding of the hotel will be so extensive that they may need to shut it down while they are doing it. It is expected that the property will get an entirely new look both inside and out, completely revamped rooms, and probably a new theater, hence the show shuffle. There are some rumors that the theater will be completely torn out and a new, much larger competitor to rooms like the 4,000 seat Colosseum at Caesars Palace or Axis Theater at Planet Hollywood will be built in its place. It will most likely get a brand new name also. Although this hasn't been announced either, my money is that the word "park" will be in it somewhere. The Park is the name of the restaurant and entertainment district being developed in between New York-New York and Monte Carlo and the street running through it, that used to be Rue de Monte Carlo, has already been renamed Park Avenue.

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Hotel Review: The Linq

For years, this hotel operated as The Imperial Palace, a stalwart, if not particularly nice, hotel/casino that catered to budget minded travelers. Then, a couple of years ago, they started remodeling the place, giving it a whole new look and feel in the public areas including a completely revamped casino, new restaurants, bars, and more. That new look came with a new name: The Quad. Nobody knows why.

Now, the hotel has gotten even more remodeling and yet another new name, becoming The Linq Hotel & Casino in deference to the neighboring shopping plaza of the same name. In fact, it is all considered one big thing now - The Linq is the hotel, the casino, the shopping and entertainment plaza and the giant High Roller observation wheel out back.

Almost all of the public areas of the hotel received an extreme makeover designed to remove all traces of the IP's worn Asian theme with something lighter, brighter, and more modern. The exterior has gotten an eye-searing multi-hued paint job that is capped off by a light feature at the front that appears to spin and twirl like a vortex (which is what the thing is called) but rest assured that the inside is much more subdued than that.

The porte cochere was relocated to the north side of the building facing Harrah's, which means you can't enter from Las Vegas Boulevard anymore - you have to drive (or take a cab) in through the back of the property. That's a giant pain the rear, literally, since the streets behind the hotels on that side of The Strip are a nightmarish mess of stop signs, blind turns, and too much traffic. I was there on a busy weekend and it took me nearly 20 minutes to get from the valet to Flamingo Road, about two blocks away. To be fair, it wasn't always like that but it can be so give yourself some extra time if you are driving or cabbing it.

The good news is that they have the fastest valet parking in town. Simply wave your ticket at a sensor near the front door and it notifies an attendant to grab your ride from a garage just a few steps away. I never waited more than 5 minutes to get my car whereas it took me almost 30 minutes to get it out of the valet at Caesars Palace.

The front desk was relocated and expanded and they also added a VIP lounge for extra special guests. Try to be one because the lines at the main registration were often epic during my visit. Again, I was there on an unusually busy weekend but at one point there were upwards of 100 people waiting to check in and none of them looked happy about it. I know I wouldn't have been.

Adjacent to the front desk is a new gaming area and lobby bar featuring a smaller copy of the exterior vortex light feature and done in a the same blue, purple, gold, and green hues that look, um, "interesting" on the outside of the building. It's a nice enough looking space but perhaps one of the best features of it is that there are electrical outlets and USB charging stations at almost every seat, making it a great place to grab a drink and take care of the drained battery on your phone at the same time.

The rest of the casino was fully revamped as well. The new look is all muted earth tones (with the occasional splash of vibrant red or orange) and modern furnishings. It's bigger than it sued to be since they expanded into the space that used to be neighboring O'Shea's and out to The Strip where the main driveway and Rockhouse nightclub used to be, but actually feels smaller since it is divided up into different sections to accommodate for walls and other structural details they couldn't move.

It's a billion times nicer than the old IP but kind of bland. They have plenty of table games and more than enough of the latest slots, although it's important to note that most of them are of the penny and nickel variety. Their "High Limit" room consists of a corner with about 10 machines that accepted $5 or $10 pulls so if you are a high roller on the slots you may want to wander next door to Harrah's or The Flamingo where they have more choices.

There are several other casino bars and a new version of the O'Shea's, complete with its own gaming tables, cheap drinks, and their traditional "leprechaun mayor."

The food lineup changed with almost every old restaurant thrown own in favor of new ones, led by an insanely popular restaurant from an insanely popular Food Channel star in the form of Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen. Good news - fabulous Hash House a Go Go is staying put and is reason enough to visit the place right there. Amazing news - now you can get Hash House delivered as room service in the mornings! Dinner can be ordered from any of the restaurants in the shopping promenade including Brooklyn Bowl.

The pool area has been completely redone with private cabanas, poolside rooms, and daybeds. It's worth noting that it is only open to 21 and over - if you have kids you have to go next door to the Flamingo pool.

There is no nightclub, but guests of the hotel get complimentary VIP admission to Drai's at The Cromwell just down the street.

Entertainment comes in the form of comic juggler Jeff Civillico and the gender bending female impersonator show Divas Las Vegas plus the High Roller observation wheel out back and various entertainment like concerts and shows at Brooklyn Bowl. And of course the classic cars on display at the Auto Collections are still chugging along.

Eventually the entire hotel will get scrubbed of its Imperial Palace era. For instance the old showroom is getting a makeover by the fall of 2015 and the rest of the outdated portions should follow soon after.

But of course the most important part of the remodel is the rooms and they have gotten a similar extreme makeover. The first place where you can see the difference is as soon as you step off the elevators. These areas used to be almost utilitarian, with exposed concrete walls and tile floors. Now they have nice wood walls, carpeting, paint, and lighting that immediately creates a much nicer impression.

The rooms themselves are all sleek, modern, and youthful with wild iconic Vegas inspired murals and contemporary furnishings. It's very IKEA in look and feel although from the upper end of that company's catalogue - it is actually more substantial than it looks at first. There is a built in desk, a huge flat screen TV, comfortable beds, and lots of easily accessible places to plug stuff in. I had just stayed at Caesars Palace the night before I stayed here where I had to pull a nightstand out from the wall to access an outlet for my phone to charge overnight. At The Linq, I just plugged it in to the outlet on top of the built in nightstand. My back thanks you.

Although roughly nine billion times nicer than the old rooms, there are still a few downsides when comparing them with newer, nicer resorts. They are smaller and darker to start and the old-school wall-mounted air conditioner, while highly effective, reveals its 1970s origins. It's also a bit of a bummer that they got rid of the balconies but I'm guessing that was a strategic decision based upon the younger crowd they are hoping to lure here.

Bathrooms were completely revamped as well with new fixtures, marble tile, and rainfall showers. They aren't very big but a sliding pocket door improves the space issue a little bit. There's also a nicely organized closet with an organizational cubbies, drawers, and hanging space - again, very IKEA, but nicer.

A couple other minor complaints. The elevators were modernized but this includes a sensor that you have to wave your key at to get to your floor. If there are 10 people getting on the elevator at once, all going to different floors, all 10 people have to wave their card at the sensor and to say that it was finicky is probably understating things. I saw several people take rides to floors they didn't want to go to because they didn't hit the sensor fast enough. I was one of them.

Noise can also be a factor depending on where your room is located. Mine had a Strip view, which was nice, but it was overlooking the main porte corchere and Carnaval Court bar next door at Harrah's. The honking (from the overwhelming traffic) and the live bands were loud enough to be distracting.

Of course, all of this updating means that the prices will be updating as well. The IP and Quad era rooms may not have been much to talk about but they were darned cheap. As The Linq, things are anywhere from a little to a lot more expensive. The cheapest you'll find is about $30 and that's during a summer weekday. $50-$75 will be more common and weekends range from $100-$200. And that's before they tack on the mandatory $25 per night resort fee.

This is still a ridiculous bargain compared to the rates at nearby hotels, which will always be more expensive for rooms that aren't necessarily that much nicer. I think the changes the hotel has made are worth the increased cost and make this hotel equal to, or better than, other mid-range properties. You won't find a better hotel on the Las Vegas Strip for this kind of money.

Highs

Location; nice renovations; can be very cheap to stay here.

Lows

Not as cheap as it used to be; dumb resort fee; access issues if you are driving.

Location: 10

Right in the heart of the Center Strip.

Price: 8

You can often get cheap rooms here.

Value: 8

The revamped rooms make you feel like you are getting a good deal.

Rooms: 7

Not the nicest in town but the nicest for the money.

Casino: 8

Remodeling has made this a much better place to gamble; still friendly.

Amenities: 7

New rooms are very well stocked.

Facilities: 7

Lots to do here.

Service: 9

Among the friendliest in town.

Fun: 7

A good place for affordable fun.

Bonus: 8

The changes have been very well executed; good job!

The Linq
Center Strip
3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
800-634-6441
website
2,700 Rooms
$39 and up double
$75-$125 per night
$25 per night plus tax
Vegas4Visitors Rating: 79

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