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. Historic Vegas Golf Course Up for Sale

One of the most iconic bits of Vegas history is up for sale. The Las Vegas National golf course has a storied history dating all the way back to 1961 when it opened as the golf course for The Stardust. It became the go-to greens for everyone from Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack to Lefty Rosenthal and other members of the Las Vegas mafia. In fact, Rosenthal lived in a house along the course and the FBI very famously landed a plane on the greens during its investigation of the infamous mobster. The good news about the sale is that there are deed restrictions in place that will prevent the course from being ripped out and replaced with condos - it has to remain, at a bare minimum, a green space. Read more about Las Vegas National.

9. Lucky Dragon Runs Into Some Bad Luck

The under-construction Lucky Dragon hotel and casino ran into some trouble recently when the city council denied a proposal to give it tax credits to help finish the project. According to recent reports, the company behind the project has raised more than half of the financing needed to complete the $139 million hotel but needed the tax break (or some other financial commitment) to secure loans that would have covered the bulk of the rest of it. Meanwhile, construction continues and backers are confident that they will get the rest of the money needed to get the hotel open by 2016. This one may have to go back into the "I'll believe it when I see it" file. Read more about the Lucky Dragon.

8. Rock of Ages to Move to Rio

We already knew that the 80s hair metal jukebox musical Rock of Ages was going to be closing at The Venetian on January 3. But don't put your head-banging skills away just yet - the show is moving to The Rio. The show will open on January 25, 2016 in the former Crown Theater space, which will be renamed the Rock of Ages Theater. The show features classic 80s rock songs from big name acts like Journey, Foreigner, and Pat Benatar into a loose story about a rock club on the Sunset Strip being threatened with redevelopment. No word on whether the Bourbon Club will make the transition as well. It's an 80s themed rock club at The Venetian that is exiting when the show does. Read the review of Rock of Ages.

7. Britney Lights Up The Linq Christmas

Britney Spears kicked off the holiday season in Vegas over the weekend with a special tree lighting ceremony at The Linq Promenade. Hundreds of guests cheered as Britney took the stage to flip the switch on a 30-foot Christmas tree, decked out in red and gold with white lights. The ceremony also featured a holiday choir performance from Las Vegas' Doral Academy while the Fern Adair Conservatory for the Arts got the crowd pumped up with a performance to Britney Spears' "My Only Wish (This Year)." And of course Santa and his elves handed out gifts. The Linq will have a variety of festivities through Christmas with things like discounted tickets to the High Roller observation wheel, story time with Santa, and more. A nightly holiday is taking place in front of the fountain every hour from 5-9pm with carolers and entertainers. Read more about the Linq Promenade.

6. Bacchanal Buffet Offering a Taste of Caesars Palace

If you have always wanted to eat at the various restaurants at Caesars Palace but don't have the time or appetite to hit them all, you can sample many of them now in one convenient spot at the Bacchanal Buffet. For a limited time selections from Gordon Ramsay's Pub & Grill, Payard Patisserie, Old Homestead Steakhouse, and Rao's will be available at the buffet in addition to the 500 or so other items normally offered. There is no extra charge for the bonus bites but they are only going to be featured through December 20, 2015. Read more about the Bacchanal Buffet.

5. Paris Adding Budweiser "Beer Park"

The roof above Hexx Kitchen at Paris Las Vegas is going to get a lot more boozy next year with the debut of the Budweiser Beer Park, a 10,000 square-foot bar and grill. It will feature an outdoor grill, picnic tables, a grassy lawn with games like pool and darts, dozens of TVs showing the requisite sports action, and more than 100 draft, can, and bottle beers plus 36 more on tap. It is expected to be up and running in January, open day and evening for everyone and an over-21-only spot after 10pm. My only real comment is... lawn darts at an open-air Vegas bar overlooking The Strip? Yeah, that'll end well. Read more about Paris Las Vegas.

4. Skyvue Site For Sale

Remember those grand plans to build another giant observation wheel on the Vegas Strip? It was to be called Skyvue and construction actually started on a plot of land across the street from Mandalay Bay - that's what those big concrete pillars were going to support. Well, unsurprisingly to just about anyone paying attention, the whole plan fell apart and now the land (with the pillars) and several adjacent lots totally 38.5 acres are for sale. The asking price? $10 million per acre or nearly $400 million. Gulp. The stretch of land is zoned for gaming so it's possible that a new casino could go in there but doubtful any gaming company is going to raise their hand to bid on it anytime soon. Read about the observation wheel that did get built, The High Roller.

3. Garth Brooks Coming Back to Vegas

He did three years of stripped down performances at Wynn Las Vegas but now country superstar Garth Brooks is bringing his full-blown spectacle of a tour to Vegas for a series of shows set for the upcoming Las Vegas Arena . Brooks will do four shows over the Fourth of July weekend in 2016 with concerts set for 7pm on July 2, 7 and 10:30pm on July 3, and 5pm on July 4 to allow time for everyone to see some fireworks. Tickets are $85 and go on sale December 11 at 10am through the website garthvegas.com or by calling 855-411-4849.

2. California Hotel To Get a Revamp

Things are going to get a little sunnier in California - or at least the Vegas hotel with that name. The Downtown stalwart is going to get a multi-million dollar makeover that will revamp all of the property's 500 rooms, the public spaces including the casino, and the restaurant line-up. It will retain its Polynesian roots since the hotel is very popular with Hawaiian tourists. The remodeling is expected to start right after the New Year and be done sometime in the middle of 2016. Read more about The California.

1. Bellagio Conservatory Launches Holiday Display

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Bellagio Conservatory where the annual holiday display has launched. The centerpiece is a 42 foot white fir tree adorned with more than 7,000 twinkling lights and 2,500 ornaments. It sits amidst a winter wonderland of more than 30,000 seasonal plants, a "snow tunnel" where you'll find oversized stockings hung with care, giant snow globes, and wintery animal creations in the form of penguins and even a giant rocking horse. The holiday display is open 24 hours a day through January 3, 2016 and is free. Read more about the Bellagio Conservatory.

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Vegas4Visitors Top 10 Awards 2015: 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 2015 Top 10 Awards and once again this year I'm giving you a chance to make your voice heard with the Vegas4Visitors Readers' Choice.

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 2015?) and all you have to do is reply in the comments to that post. They will be posted on Facebook starting Monday, December 7th, 2015.

If you are not on Facebook, you can also send me a quick e-mail with your choices at rick@vegas4visitors.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.

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.

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Attraction Review: Wayne Newton's Casa de Shenandoah

The history of getting Wayne Newton's Casa de Shenandoah estate open for visitors is a long and tortured one involving all sorts of, well, let's just call it "unpleasantness." There were lawsuits and bankruptcies and plans for a Newton-themed car wash that I'm really only bringing up because you probably heard about it somewhere along the way.

You can forget about all of that, because the estate is now not only open for tourists, but it is one of the more interesting and unique things you can do in Las Vegas.

For those who don't know who Wayne Newton is, pardon me while I sit down and sigh because you have just reminded me of how old I am. Anyway, Newton is a singer and entertainer who got his start as a teenager in the late 1950s and made it big in 1963 with his hit "Danke Schoen," which you may remember as the song Ferris Bueller lip synced in the parade right before he did "Twist and Shout."

What's that? You don't know who Ferris Bueller is? Wow, I really am old.

Newton got a gig as a lounge entertainer in Vegas before he was technically old enough to even be in a casino and turned that into a life-long career that earned him the nickname Mr. Las Vegas. He even owned a Las Vegas casino for a little while - The Aladdin.

As a young man with money to burn, he bought a couple of acres on the southeast side of the city and built a small ranch house with some space for horses. Over the years he expanded the footprint to more than 50 acres and added a mansion, guest houses, expanded stables for his Arabian horses, and room for exotic animals, his car collection, and more. Today all of that has been turned into a tourist attraction complete with an onsite museum and a visitors' center across the street.

There are several tour options available.

The basic "Gold" tour starts with an introductory film about Newton's life in the visitors' center (which also has the requisite gift shop) followed by a bus ride across the street onto the actual estate grounds where you are delivered to the museum complex. In it is Newton's private jet, which you can explore the interior of, his car collection of Rolls Royce's and other toys, and lots and lots of memorabilia from costumes to mementos, photographs, and more. A tour guide walks you around providing color commentary and there are videos of Newton along the way offering more behind-the-scenes stories. It's a nice effect, giving personal context to what otherwise might be a glass case full of stuff.

After that you jump back on the bus and trundle through the beautifully landscaped grounds of lush lawns, aquifer-fed ponds and fountains, and trees to the stable area. Here you get to see a demonstration of the Arabian horses and what makes them so unique, which could involve them trotting in a ring or even swimming if you go during the summer. The facility has more than 60 of them and they are undeniably graceful and beautiful animals.

Speaking of animals, your next stop is the part of the estate where they keep all manner of exotic critters including monkeys, peacocks, wallabies, and more. It's not a huge zoo but there are some fun things to look at and some interesting stories to hear - one of the monkeys has its own dog.

The Gold tour doesn't go inside the mansion but if you upgrade to the Platinum tour you'll get to wander the first floor of the 14,000 square-foot house including the "Red Room," filled with more memorabilia including Franklin D. Roosevelt's desk. It's all done in Newton's flamboyant taste, which I'd describe as Elvis meets Liberace circa 1974 - kitschy, a little tacky but in a flagrant display of wealth kind of way, and fun.

Go all the way up to the Diamond tour and you'll get all of the above plus a private tour guide, access to the mansion's second floor bedrooms, a peek at the house's hidden rooms and passageways, and a tour of the ranch house that they bill as his "childhood home" (even though he was technically a young adult when he lived there).

Go all in and you're looking at a nearly $100 price tag but that's for more than three and a half hours of guided touring around the estate. The basic package costs a third of that but you still get a couple of hours' worth of access so no matter which way you swing it, there's a lot of bang for your buck. They'll also create special tours for groups so if you and your friends don't have three hours to spare, give them a call and ask what they can do.

Getting there is the most obvious barrier for most visitors. It's located about 6 miles southeast of The Strip, just past the eastern edge of McCarran International Airport and Sunset Park. That means you'll need a car or a cab or an Uber to get there although it is worth noting that there is limited shuttle service - call for details.

It's also worth mentioning that for parts of the tour you will be outside, so a July afternoon when it's 113 degrees may not be the best time to go.

The thing that I found most interesting about it is that while it is all about Wayne Newton, it also isn't in a lot of ways. Yes, the costumes and the pictures of him shaking hands with everyone from presidents to movie stars are everywhere and there's a bit of hagiography going on but the cars, the animals, the horses, and the big house are really just kind of cool to look at even if you don't know who Wayne Newton is. This is more than Wayne Newton's history, it's Las Vegas history and, in many ways, a history of the last 50 years or so of the entertainment industry.

I enjoyed my time at Casa de Shenandoah. It's an interesting time capsule and a really nice respite from the typical Vegas madness.

Wayne Newton's Casa de Shenandoah
3310 E. Sunset Dr.
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-547-4811
website
$35-$95
Mon-Sat 9am-6pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: B+

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Staying Safe in Las Vegas

Highlighting the heightened tensions at high-profile public places, the Palace Station casino was evacuated last week after an employee found a suspicious item. It turned out to be nothing more than an e-cigarette and everyone was allowed back inside after a short time, but it is interesting to note how seriously everyone is taking such reports after the attacks on restaurants and a theater in Paris, France recently.

Las Vegas casinos are among the safest public spaces in the world. With high-tech fire suppression systems and security cameras covering every square inch, you're probably safer sitting at a slot machine than you are in your car on the way to the supermarket. Having said that, there are minimal, if any, security checkpoints to access the properties in a vehicle and there are no metal detectors or other screening measures at the doors.

And of course, as with all technology-based systems such as these there is always the risk for a failure, especially in the event of a catastrophic event such as a terrorist attack, something Las Vegas is certainly not immune to. While the odds of something like that happening to you are miniscule covering a few basic safety guidelines could be lifesaving in the event the odds turn against you.

Las Vegas casinos are huge places, often with more than 100,000 square-feet of slot machines, table games, bars, lounges, and people - lots of people. It's easy to get turned around and lost even on a normal day especially if you're visiting a place for the first time.

But most casinos have some sort of easily identifiable landmark that you can use as a touchstone in the event of an emergency - something that is visible from most areas of the room. Whether it is a statue, a bar, or even a grand light fixture above the table games, take a moment when you enter a casino to notice what that landmark may be and how it relates to the main exit.

Taking a moment to stop and look at the maps found inside the main entrance of most large casinos can also help. You don't have to memorize it - you'd be surprised how much you'll remember even with a quick glance.

The natural inclination for most people during an emergency is to head back out the way the came in. During the tragic nightclub fire in Rhode Island many years ago most of the crowd headed toward the single front door when other emergency exits were closer and unblocked. As you're wandering around looking for that winning slot machine take the time to make a mental note of where the alternate exits are located.

People have grown very complacent regarding alarms. True, most of the time if the sirens and strobe lights go off while you're in a casino it will be a false alarm, but the few minutes that you stand around waiting for someone to tell you if there is an actual threat can make the difference between life and death. If the alarm goes off, head for the exits. If it is a false alarm, the slot machines will still be there when you get back.

And again here, it's worth mentioning the old "don't panic" mantra. Easier said than done, right? If you're in a crowded casino with thousands of other people and something catastrophic happens there will be a panic - it's probably the only sure bet you can make in Vegas. But by following the few steps listed above you'll be armed with knowledge that most others won't be, allowing you to avoid participating in the panic.

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