The World’s Most Unique Movie Theater Reveals Expansion Plans in Las Vegas

….and you can make it possible through a perks-packed campaign…

If you only visit Las Vegas from time to time, you might be surprised to learn that Sin City has a lot in common with Hollywood. Not only have dozens of blockbuster movies and televisions shows been filmed here, but there is a vibrant community of filmmakers and actors. Production studios benefit from our gorgeous cinematic locations, wealth of acting talent and the tech industries that call our valley “home”.

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In addition, movie-going itself is a staple activity of our residents and visitors. Nearly every off-Strip hotel casino has a multiplex theater off the gambling floor. Our six-screen drive-in was one of only a few in the nation that were able to operate throughout last year’s closures. And during any normal year, Las Vegas attracts thousands of fans, celebrities and Hollywood heavy-hitters for conventions like Star Trek, Days of the Dead and CinemaCon (formerly known as ShoWest). 

The most recent only-in-Vegas experience came when The 35 Cinema opened this February in downtown Las Vegas. I told you all about the super-cool retro cinema here, and profiled its owner/creator John Lohmann in this piece. The response to his venture was so overwhelming that Mr. Lohmann decided to expand it into a three-screen multi-plex, keeping the concept intact while adding even more unique elements. 

The new location for The 35 Cinema wil be the sprawling, history-rich Commercial Center District World Village (or Commercial Center for short). It’s just a stone’s throw from Sahara Hotel and Westgate Las Vegas on East Sahara Avenue. Regular readers will recognize Commercial Center as the trendy location for businesses like a reborn Vickie’s Diner, ever-popular Lotus of Siam, The Vegas Room, The Nevada Room, Cineloggia Movie Artifact Museum, Hellbound Horror Collectibles and the wonderful Sci Fi Center of Las Vegas

981163_10153415767087452_6134307817601718767_oRelocating to Commercial Center is a no-brainer for The 35 Cinema. As a hotbed for fan-centric activities, this unique plaza will allow moviegoers to visit other movie-related businesses all in one visit. An expanded footprint for the Cinema makes it possible to run three movies at once (the former location was a single-screener) while providing hundreds of free parking spaces, on-property security, expanded hours, all-ages admission (not possible under their previous leasing agreement at Neonopolis), bar service, and lots more.

I so believe in and support this venture that I helped Lohmann to draft crowd-funding proposals to bring a bigger, better The 35 Cinema to Las Vegas. Here is the link to the IndieGogo campaign, which you can see in its entirety below:


The 35 Cinema: Where FILM comes BACK to the Cinema!

There’s never been a better time to rediscover movie-going. And Las Vegas has the ultimate way to experience the magic at The 35 Cinema….movies the way they were meant to be seen.

The 35 Cinema is the only multiplex theater of its kind in the world. What makes The 35 Cinema so special? It’s a retro movie house that presents timeless classics and cult favorites the way they were originally made and shown…with genuine 35 millimeter film and projectors.  

There are only a handful of theaters running 35mm film in the US.  But what make The 35 Cinema stand out above all the others is that it’s the only 100% revival theater in the world running exclusively on 100% film!  We will not be playing anything after the year 2000!

Today’s modern megaplexes utilize a totally digital format, essentially transforming their screens into over-sized televisions. Computers and electronic devices generate sound and imagery that are often called “hyper-realistic”. While the goal of this technology is a perfect presentation, what’s lacking is charm, warmth, and the intimacy of an old-time cinema.

The 35 Cinema restores the original format of movies, once thought to be lost forever. Let the sounds and flickering of 35mm projectors whisk you away on an unforgettable adventure. Classics like The Wizard of Oz, Singing In The Rain, Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Star Wars, Tron, A Nightmare On Elm Street…all of them were created using movie film, and nothing can replace the thrill of watching them that way.

The above video is not ours, but gives you an idea of the workings of a 35mm projector.

At The 35 Cinema, our meticulously-restored systems are a part of the show. Projectors are located within view of the auditorium, not hidden out of sight. Arrive early to watch our projectionist thread your movie through complex gears and pulleys, into a powerful lamp housing and onto massive take-up reels. Grab an ice-cold soft drink and a bag of the best popcorn in town, then settle in for vintage coming-attraction trailers before the landmark main feature.

Along with being the coolest retro theater in the world, The 35 Cinema is the ultimate gathering spot for cine-philes of all ages. We offer an ever-expanding schedule of fan events, celebrity appearances, themed festivals and all-day marathons. Rare props, movie memorabilia, and dozens of autographed photos take you back to when you first saw your favorites on the silver screen.

One of the many events we’ll be hosting will be our “Breakfast with the Toons” every Saturday and Sunday morning. You’ll be served a continental breakfast and get to watch two to three cartoon shorts before an animated feature! The fun part about it is it’ll be just like when you were a kid watching cartoons Saturday morning…you wont know what will be playing until it starts!

The 35 Cinema has so much to offer so…don’t miss this opportunity to be a part of the greatest cinematic experience of all time. The 35 CinemaMovies The Way They Were Meant To Be Seen.

Here is a rough draft of the floor plan for our new location in “The Commercial Center” of Las Vegas!

As you can see above, the floor plan for our new location includes a large concession stand, liquor bar and three cinemas. We also have areas of the theater that will be able to host VIP celebrity guests, original movie props and so much more.

Media on “The 35 Cinema”

Here are just a few of the news broadcasts “The 35 Cinema” was featured on at our first location!

What the money will be used for 

We already have some of the 35mm equipment in our possession, but we need more for additional auditoriums. We also require funding to secure our new Las Vegas location, construction, additional concession equipment and more.

As a contributor you can take advantage of our many Rewards:

Risks & Challenges

And what happens if The 35 Cinema doesn’t meet its goal? If we don’t succeed — It would be a sad day for 35mm, cinemas and Las Vegas as a whole. We’re relocating into a space 6 times the size of our first location and we’ll finally be family friendly (our first location was 21 and over due to the venue we were in.)

Our audience is growing and people are finding the magic of 35mm movies is still alive and we would love to keep it that way. You have to try our popcorn as well… It has been called “The Best Popcorn In Town!”

If we succeed with your help, we’ll immediately proceed with showing movies the way they were meant to be seen…on film and on a silver screen! We are The 35 Cinema…together!

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To be a backer of The 35 Cinema and reap rewards like the opportunity to meet movie stars, hold private screenings and much more, click here

Jason Takes Las Vegas at ‘Days of the Dead’

Frights and excitement collide this weekend at star-packed fan convention…


Update 5/10/21 -Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the film Richard Dreyfuss is currently working on is going longer than expected and has to cancel his Las Vegas appearance.

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Grab your hockey mask, bite down on some garlic and fill your bottle with holy water. The official Days of the Dead convention is coming to downtown’s Plaza Hotel May 14th through the 16th. And if you’re into horror films like I am, you’re sure to have a chilling, thrilling good time.

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The three day spook fest will be packed with stars, both big names and cult favorites. Perhaps the best-known celeb will be actor Richard Dreyfuss, who rose to fame in Steven Spielberg‘s JAWS. The two followed that blockbuster with their landmark sci-fi classic CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

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Dreyfuss will be on hand for photo ops and autographs, so bring your memorabilia and a whole lotta cash (star signatures aren’t cheap). Also from JAWS will be Susan Backlinie, who portrayed the ill-fated “Chrissie”. Backlinie’s character opened the film with one of the most famous scenes in movie history…a horrifying sequence that still makes people think twice about swimming in the ocean after dark.

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While we’re on the subject of Steven Spielberg, there will be a reunion of cast members from ET – The Extraterrestrial. Actors Dee Wallace, Robert Macnaughton and Henry Thomas are all slated to appear. Unfortunately, Drew Barrymore (“Gertie”) will not be among them. As for Dee Wallace, she also appeared in the cult horror classic The Howling, directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Eerie Indiana, Innerspace).

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Are you a fan of the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises? Then you’re in bloody-good luck, as actors from both series will be appearing next weekend. Singer/actors Alice Cooper (John Carpenter‘s PRINCE OF DARKNESS, JASON LIVES) and Slipknot‘s Corey Taylor (FEAR CLINIC, SHARKNADO 4) are on the roster as well.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors' Cast Reunites 30 Years Later

Another big reunion involves the unforgettable “Dream Warriors” team from A Nightmare on Elm Street Pt. 3. Six of the original cast will be sharing memories of the shoot, posing for photos and answering questions. Freddy Kreuger‘s arch-nemesis Heather Langenkamp, who appeared in three of the films, was scheduled but had to cancel. 

Class of 88: Listen to Lisa Wilcox Discuss A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM  MASTER on a New Episode of CORPSE CLUB - Daily Dead

Robert Englund and Lisa Wilcox in Elm St 4: The Dream Master

You may remember that Lisa Wilcox, the star of Elm Streets 4 and 5, resides in Las Vegas and is manager of The 35 Cinema. The retro movie house is currently closed while expanding into a larger location (see below). Ms. Wilcox will be meeting fans separately from Days of the Dead at Cineloggia, a unique museum for movie props. Be there between 5pm and 8pm on Saturday May 15th to chat with “Alice”, the only character to survive Freddy Kreuger twice.

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Lisa Wilcox isn’t the only Dream Master alumnus to have feet on both Las Vegas Boulevard and Elm Street. Cineloggia proprietor Nick Benson created the groundbreaking make-up and special effects for Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. And….he shares a birthday with “twinsie” Lisa Wilcox! Cineloggia is located at 900 Karen Ave. Suite D214 in the historic Commercial Center Plaza off Sahara Avenue. 

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Nick Benson’s filmography is vast and varied…

You might recognize Commercial Center as the home of  The Vegas Room Supper Club, The Nevada Room Piano Bar/Bistro, The Sci-Fi Center of Las Vegas. and Hellbound Horror Collectibles. It’s also the future location of a bigger, better The 35 Cinema…six times the space, three screens, free parking and all ages welcome to appropriate titles.

Classic and cult movies will be presented using pristine vintage film reels and true analog projectors, as they were originally meant to be seen. Look for The 35 Cinema to reopen in its new home sometime in early July.

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The visionaries of Commercial Center include (left to right) Bobby Watson and Tom Michel (The Vegas Room/The Nevada Room), Shane Bingham and John Lohmann (The 35 Cinema) Nick and Marla Benson (Cineloggia) and actress Lisa Wilcox (also of The 35 Cinema)

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Myself with Lisa Wilcox

Along with Cineloggia‘s meet-and-greet for Ms. Wilcox, there will be official Days of the Dead festivities at downtown’s The Nerd. The sci-fi/superhero bar hangout inside Neonopolis is set to host a nighttime launch party on Friday the 14th at 10pm. Click here for the latest events schedule from the official Days of the Dead site. 

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Days of the Dead host hotel The Plaza is rich with its own cinematic history. Casino‘s famous dinner scene between Robert DeNiro and Sharon Stone took place in what is now Oscar’s Steakhouse. Sci-fi and fantasy films Cool World with Brad Pitt, Back to the Future II and Honey I Blew Up The Kid featured the casino resort. The 1994 version of Stephen King‘s THE STAND was set within its iconic tower, where devil’s spawn Randall Flagg took up residence in the penthouse. 

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It’s great to have conventions back in town, and Days of the Dead is sure to be a big success. VIP Packages are already sold out, as are discounted hotel rates for attendees, but you can still save money by ordering advance full-weekend passes. Members of the military are free with proper ID. 

If you’re a high-level enthusiast, why not consider becoming a volunteer? I’ve worked several fan conventions and been assigned to some incredible celebrities. Plus, your entry is free. You can do so by clicking here

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Days of the Dead will take place May 14-16 at Plaza Hotel at the corner of Main Street and Fremont in downtown Las Vegas. To make hotel reservations for The Plaza, click here. For tickets to Days of the Dead fan convention, click here. A COVID-19 protocol/safety page for the event is here

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Photos: Sam Novak, Days of the Dead/Cineloggia/Plaza Hotel/ via Facebook. Banner photo: Zach Zeller

 

MGM Resorts Unveils ‘CONVENE WITH CONFIDENCE’ Program


Hotel-casino chain announces In-room COVID-19 screenings and new protocols to accommodate the return of meetings and conventions:

Press Release 4/7/21: Following months of trials, MGM Resorts is adding cutting-edge enhancements to its Convene with Confidence program, one of the meeting industry’s most comprehensive health and safety plans, designed to get businesses back to doing business in person.

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Now welcoming larger groups in accordance with increased capacity limits in Nevada, MGM Resorts is offering meeting planners the option for on-site rapid, molecular COVID-19 testing delivering highly accurate results for events large and small.

Since pioneering Convene with Confidence in September 2020 with an option for attendee testing in partnership with CLEAR, Cue Health and Impact Health, MGM Resorts has safely hosted close to 300 meetings and groups within the approved size limits using the protocols outlined in the program. Trialing the digital application for entertainment and sporting events, the Vegas Golden Knights recently began using CLEAR’s Health Pass for CDC health survey screening – processing thousands of fans at T-Mobile Arena each game night – demonstrating it is a smooth and efficient process, even at scale.

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“Convene with Confidence is a result of close consultation with health experts and our increased focus on leveraging innovation to not only provide a better guest experience – but a safer one as well,” said Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Resorts’ CEO and President. “MGM Resorts has long been at the forefront of the rapidly evolving hospitality and events industries. We are confident we’ve built a program that enables companies to meet in person, giving them peace of mind as they do so.”

Stephanie Glanzer, MGM Resorts’ Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer, said, “Meetings and conventions are critical to our company and to Las Vegas, in addition to the organizations putting on these programs. Developing Convene with Confidence, a completely customizable program, with multiple options for planners and attendees, reflects our deep commitment to the future health of the meetings industry.”

CONVENE WITH CONFIDENCE

Convene with Confidence consists of detailed protocols that incorporate health and safety into every aspect of the convention and meeting process. Efforts range from smart planning of the event itself to contactless check-in and increased cleaning schedules of common areas, with special attention paid to high-contact areas such as doorknobs and food contact surfaces.

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Now fully operational within the Convene with Confidence ecosystem are several advancements, including optional COVID-19 testing protocol that delivers fast results and allows event organizers the ability to create a perimeter for their events and exhibitions.

Convene with Confidence Strategic Partnerships

  • MGM Resorts has partnered with CLEAR, the secure identity company, to leverage its Health Pass technology – a mobile app experience that links verified identity with COVID-19 health insights, including a real-time health questionnaire, COVID-19-related test results, temperature checks via integrated kiosks, and soon the ability to link to COVID-19 vaccination records.
  • MGM Resorts has partnered with Cue Health, a healthcare technology company whose easy-to-use, portable COVID-19 test provides lab-quality results directly to connected mobile smart devices in about 20 minutes. The Cue COVID-19 Test for Home and Over The Counter (OTC) use is the nation’s first molecular diagnostic test available without a prescription with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA. This fast and accurate molecular test, which was previously piloted for small groups, is now fully integrated into MGM’s   ecosystem and can be administered at scale.
  • Tests are administered by Impact Health, a national provider of point of care healthcare services specializing in high-profile and high-volume events. The company is currently used by several federal and state agencies as well as corporate clients across the U.S.

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How it Works

  1. Prior to the event, attendees download the CLEAR mobile app to set up their account and verify their identity.
  2. Before entering the venue, attendees answer a series of health survey questions.
  3. Upon arrival, attendees take a molecular or antigen test. Attendees can access results by securely linking their testing account to their Health Pass through the app.
  4. Attendees have their temperature checked at a kiosk (optional) and scan their QR code to share their health insights. Based on survey answers and test results, users are issued a red or green Health Pass on their app. Green indicates approval for event entry; red indicates further testing and healthcare support may be required.

Event Options

Convene with Confidence includes a robust catalogue of new options that allow planners to customize their events:

  • Virtual Site Visits – Virtual site inspections and pre-planning services are available, including careful planning of event, meal and break times to safely optimize guest movement throughout the meeting space.
  • Hybrid Meetings – While many groups begin to return in person, individuals who aren’t ready to travel can take advantage of virtual capabilities coordinated by MGM Resorts’ in-house production team, delivering immersive experiences for all attendees, whether in-person or at home.
  • Creative Catering – Mealtime can be a significant challenge for meeting planners, especially for large groups. MGM Resorts has reimagined the catering experience, showcasing the incredible work of its culinary team, but with limited interaction.
  • Maximizing Floor Plans – Floor plans have been adjusted to allow for proper physical distancing within all meetings and events whether a larger-scale trade show or a seated conference. With MGM Resorts’ four million square feet of meeting space on the Las Vegas Strip, planners have complete flexibility to customize event layouts.

Glanzer added, “As vaccine distribution and utilization increase across the country, we are assessing options that would enable those meetings clients who so desire to seamlessly add proof of vaccine to their criteria for attendees. There is no singular formula for a successful program and our expert team will guide each client in building a framework that works for their organization.”

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IN-ROOM TESTING

Enhancing MGM Resorts mission to provide seamless and convenient travel solutions, all guests can now take advantage of a selection of in-room COVID-19 testing options at its Las Vegas properties.

In collaboration with Henderson-based Community Ambulance, guests can choose from three tests depending on their travel schedules and requirements of their next destination. This new offering builds on MGM Resorts’ robust Seven-Point Safety Plan, designed to deter the spread of the virus and protect guests and employees.

In-room testing options are available at MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas properties and include:

●          Standard RT-PCR Test – results in approximately 24 – 72 hours, based on lab availability

●          Fast Molecular (NAAT) Test – results in approximately 20 minutes

●          Rapid Antigen Test – results in approximately 20 – 30 minutes

Community Ambulance analyzes all test types and delivers results electronically to the guest.

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Testing appointments are available daily from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. by calling guest services at the guest’s host hotel. Prices for in-room testing range from $140 to $230. Additional charges may apply for same day/after-hours requests and cancellations.


Here is my article, as published on 8/4/20, that details the Stay Well Lodging/Convention experience already in place:

There’s no question that traveling can have exhausting effects, both physically and mentally. Combine that with a few days of traditional Las Vegas excess and you’re likely to feel run down…or perhaps even ill. There are many types of recovery services available to counteract these symptoms. Or, you can be pro-active by booking your vacation in a Stay Well™ room at MGM Resorts.

Created by New York City corporation DELOS, the trademarked Stay Well™ concept was brought to Sin City in 2012 when dozens of fully-equipped, non-smoking rooms were introduced at MGM Grand. Since then, they’ve greatly expanded the number of rooms, introduced a Stay Well lounge and expanded the lineup to Park MGM and Mirage resorts. A select group of Stay Well protocols are also featured under the banner of “Fresh by Stay Well” at New York NY, Excalibur, and Luxor.

What makes a Stay Well™ room different from others? Everything! From the air you breathe to the water you shower in. From the sound-dampened walls and plant-extract memory foam mattress to red-spectrum circadian lighting, Stay Well enhances your body’s ability to relax, recover, rest and reinvigorate.

A Stay Well app by Cleveland Clinic allows you to maximize the available amenities and benefits. And perhaps most important of all, dangerous germs, viruses and other microbes are given the heave-ho by using non-toxic cleaning products and UV light-cleaning tools.

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Famed alternative-medicine advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra serves as an advisory board member for DELOS. He endorses the benefits of their specialized guest rooms. “Stay Well Rooms are built on many individual features, which when combined, have an unprecedented positive health impact for the traveler. Your wellness experience has been specially designed in collaboration with leading doctors, architects, engineers, and medical institutions.”

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“Amenities like purified air, healthy lighting, an allergy-friendly environment, dawn simulation, and aromatherapy increase energy, reduce stress, improve productivity and enhance your sleep quality. Our vitamin C shower infuser reduces chlorine to help skin and hair stay soft and smooth. Stay balanced, stay fresh, Stay Well.”

With all of today’s fears of contaminants within gathering spaces, Stay Well has expanded to offer its proactive health protocols to convention guests at MGM Grand by way of “Stay Well Meetings”. Air purification removes toxins, allergens, smoke and microbes from the air. Surfaces are treated with “WELL Shield”, a self-cleaning photocatalytic coating that destroys harmful organic compounds. Cleveland Clinic provides innovative menus and online tools to combat the negative effects of travel (like jet lag and poor diets).

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Stay Well amenities are clearly identified on the booking page of each hotel’s website. Every MGM Resorts property in Las Vegas (with the exception of Signature at MGM Grand) should be offering Stay Well enhancements or fully-conceived guest rooms by summer 2020. While no single program can prevent illness or provide absolute safety from infection, it’s helpful to know that options are available. So now you can reduce risk and reap the benefits of a healthier Vegas experience at the same time.

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Photos: MGM Resorts, Stay Well by DELOS

WESTGATE VACATION VILLAS – The ‘Big Daddy’ of Orlando Resorts


In the concluding chapter of my exciting post-COVID research excursion, I tour the magnificent birthplace of Westgate Resorts…

If you’ve stayed with me this far, we’ve spent the past few weeks on a journey from Las Vegas to Orlando, with day-long jaunts to Cocoa Beach and a rustic dude ranch. Now we’re in Kissimmee, the land of theme parks and never-ending sunshine. That’s where we cap off our vacation (ahem….”research”) with a visit to Westgate Vacation Villas Resort.

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A massive one-stop destination, Westgate Vacation Villas Resort is the “Big Daddy” of Westgate’s portfolio. This is where it all began, with two unassuming structures erected next to a small lake. Founder David A. Siegel had decided to try his hand at a fledgling concept called “timeshares” when the Orlando region was poised to boom. Mr. Siegel had joked that if the vacation-ownership concept flopped, he could bulldoze the “A-B buildings” into the water and call it a day. But the curious lined up in droves and the rest is history.

The original 16-unit complex has grown into a full-service destination boasting hundreds of guest suites throughout a gorgeous collection of towers and modern villas. At its core is Westgate Town Center, a resort-with-a-resort that’s also the heart of this massive operation.

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With all of the activities in and around greater Orlando, you might think that a self-contained resort would be overkill, especially with Disney Parks, Universal Orlando, Sea World, and numerous water parks nearby. Well, think again. At the moment, many attractions are shuttered. Those that are currently open operate under restrictions that might dampen your concept of fun.

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That doesn’t mean you should forgo a longed-desired trip to the Sunshine State. On the contrary! Now is a terrific time to travel, especially for the reasons I’ve cited here. Just know that these are unpredictable times. Depending on the location and activity, you may be subject to face mask and temperature-scans. You’ll want to research the current requirements and protocols of your destination before leaving home.

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It’s also highly recommended that you build flexibility into your itinerary, just in case some of the attractions on your list happen to be shuttered when you arrive. In our new normal, things can change without notice. That won’t be much of a concern if you stay at  Westgate Vacation Villas.

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So, what’s there to do here? How about 14 temperature-controlled pools, hot tubs, and wading pools as a starter? Many of them offer bars, like Banana Cabana, which serves hot foods and pizza, too. If you want to stay cool, relax at the Disney Movie Theater or splash around Shipwreck Island Water Park (more on that one below).

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At Swan Lake, you can rent giant paddleboats, or stay onshore and grab a putter for Jurassic Golf. There are soccer and baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts, and picnic areas with barbeque grills and outdoor kitchens. Grab some bicycles, challenge your high score at Mission Control Game Room, or learn how to play horseshoes and shuffleboard. Click here for a constantly-updated list of what’s open and available.

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Director of Activities Dexter Candelaria was supervising the resort’s meticulous Fitness Center when I arrived. An ambitious young man brimming with enthusiasm, he was excited to tell me all about the fun events that he and his team have created. Candelaria stressed that every activity meets Westgate CARES health and sanitation guidelines while reminding us that “fun” and “safety” don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The resort regularly publishes a list of games and virtual activities created especially for their guests, all with post-COVID safety concerns in mind. Choose from socially-distanced yoga classes, magic and cooking lessons, “Name That Tune”, poolside bingo, ping pong challenges, tie-dye creation, spin classes, and prepacked craft kits to enjoy in your suite or villa.

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Despite the resort’s sprawling footprint, Westgate Vacation Villas specializes in personalized, attentive service. Many associates have been here a very long time, rising through the ranks as they’ve mastered the art of customer satisfaction. This was evident at the drive-up check-in station, where two skilled team members demonstrated the new process, which limits personal contact and allows you to register without ever leaving the vehicle.

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Arriving by shuttle or taxi? No problem. Head inside Town Center‘s lobby, where you’ll find a traditional registration area, retrofitted to accommodate social distancing practices. There’s a welcome center, Sid’s Bistro, Tickets2You theme park service, and timeshare guest services.

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The back wall of Town Center‘s main building is a window to Shipwreck Island Water Park. A two-story masterpiece available only to resort guests and timeshare owners, Shipwreck Island features water slides, a lazy river, jetted palm trees, and of course, a pirate ship at its center. Surrounding the fun are Jolley Roger’s Galley, Crow’s Nest Bar, and Sea Dog’s Bar, with more on the way soon.

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The recently-opened Villa Italiano Chophouse is a Floridian take on Fresco Italiano, one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas. It even has the familiar Vespa scooters out front. An elevated dining experience with an extensive wine list and cocktail selections, Villa Italiano Chophouse serves steaks, salads, pasta, pizza….and my weakness, Chicken Parmesan. Visit their full menu by clicking here.

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As our tour was winding down, my guides and I stopped for lunch at Draft’s Sports Bar and Grill. Another favorite that I’ve dined at in both Westgate Park City and Westgate Lakes Resort, this one’s the true original. Pub fare, taphouse-worthy beer selections, and those infamous Draft’s shakes are just a few things you’ll crave again and again.

Outside of Town Center Pavilion, preparations were underway to relaunch the on-site hydroponics garden. Vegetables and herbs grown there will be used in the kitchens of resort restaurants. Inside, Hershey’s Ice Cream Shop brings back the world-famous flavors of my home state (Pennsylvania).

Next to Draft’s is Joe’s Marketplace and Deli, where you can pick up hot foods, snacks, and groceries to prepare you own meals back at the villa. They’ve also got a Corodvano Joe’s Pizza counter, which delivers directly to you. Then there’s a full-menu room service, which includes alcoholic beverages. Cheers!

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Accommodations at Westgate Vacation Villas range from Deluxe Studio Villas to sprawling Four Bedroom Presidential Villas. The economical Studio Villa is larger than a standard hotel room, with more than 500 square feet of living space. Each features a kitchenette with a coffeemaker, refrigerator, microwave, and toaster. The studio can sleep up to four, and bathrooms include a jetted tub and walk-in shower. All full-sized villas include a washer/dryer combo, handy if you’re staying for an extended period.

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The resort has a marina, business center, 10,000 square foot conference center, laundry facilities, three playgrounds, and six meeting rooms. There is no charge for parking, all rooms are non-smoking, and pets are welcome for an additional fee. Activities and common areas are ADA-compliant for guests with special needs. Those wishing to rent scooters can reserve them in advance by clicking here.

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Each year, Westgate Vacation Villas hosts a salute to the American military. Hundreds of free vacations are gifted to real-life heroes and their families. Then during American Military Month, a multi-day celebration takes place on the resort grounds. This year’s gathering was put on hold for obvious reasons, but here’s a portion of the press release from 2019’s event:

“For three action-packed days, Westgate Resorts served and honored the incredible men, women and families who sacrifice to protect and strengthen our country,” said David Siegel, Founder & CEO of Westgate Resorts and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. “We are proud to be able to provide a complimentary vacation full of special festivities each year to those who have faithfully served and protected our freedoms.”

Highlights of 2019 Military Weekend included a Military Resource Fair featuring 25 military organizations, Red, White & Blue 5K Run, a stirring performance of the play Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret by Scott Mann, a special appearance by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and an incredible outdoor concert featuring Gary Sinise & The Lt. Dan Band with Lee Greenwood followed by a spectacular fireworks display. Guests also enjoyed free admission to the state-of-the-art Shipwreck Island Water Park. In addition, the Westgate Resorts Foundation contributed $50,000 to military nonprofit organizations.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a timeshare owner to enjoy Westgate Resorts. They’re combination destinations that welcome traditional hotel guests, too. But if you find yourself wanting to learn the details of vacation ownership, presentations and resort previews are always available.

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After returning to Sin City, I attended the grand re-opening of Westgate Las Vegas. It was a spectacular and emotional affair that brought together hundreds of associates and a very dedicated management team. I also spent the past two weekends staying there, as it’s become my staycation go-to. As with all Westgate properties, everyone goes above and beyond to make sure you feel at home.

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So we’ve circled back to the spot where my fondness for Westgate began. Several years later, this company continues to strive harder, do better, and make you feel like family. We’ve also reached the end of my Westgate Orlando Resorts series. Four very different experiences in four glorious days, all operating under strict sanitation protocols to provide a fabulous and safe post-COVID vacation experience.

By the way…with travel prices still at all-time lows (and no job opportunities for this writer in the current economic climate, sorry to say), I’ve decided to revisit Westgate Orlando in a few weeks. Get the margaritas ready, guys…I’m coming back!

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Disclaimer – this is not a paid endorsement for Westgate Resorts. My opinions are my own. As the Vegas Unfiltered Blog slogan states, “Probably biased. Definitely honest”. 

Photos: Sam Novak (some villa interiors courtesy of Westgate)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Virtual Hosting’ – Workshops and Conferences With Sin City Flair


Vegas entertainers transform your online events from drab to fab with professional results…

If you’ve participated in online meetings at sites like ZOOM, Skype and Messenger Desktop, you know that they can sometimes be dry and clunky affairs. If that’s the case, perhaps you or your employers should consider a professional host.

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Virtual meetings are a burgeoning field that will continue to grow in this era of social distancing. Fortunately, two entertainers with Sin City backgrounds have already mastered the techniques of this platform and can transform your conference into a fun-filled yet productive affair.

Jeff Civillico

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Jeff Civillico has been thrilling Las Vegas audiences for about a decade. Energetic and charismatic, the “action comic” has been a staple at corporate functions for the majority of his career. Quick-witted and gifted with flawless audience interaction, he knows how to capture and hold your attention.

Civillico’s experience on the Vegas stage has given him a unique perspective when it comes to emceeing. He’s hosted his own Vegas-based talk show and a pilot for Travel Channel. Throw in some tech-savvy ingenuity and it’s clear that Jeff is already at the forefront of virtual hosting.

Initially, I was skeptical of virtual events, thinking “so much of what I do is based on connecting with the audience… how could this possibly work?” I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the virtual events I’ve hosted so far. There’s emotion, laughter, spontaneity, even real applause… you just have to unmute everyone to get it! Is it the same? No. Is it as good? If we’re being honest, no. But does it still work in a different way? Yes, I believe so. – Jeff Ciillico

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So how does having a host boost the success of web-based meetings? It’s all in the flow. As Jeff explains it:

A professional host has gone from being a nice add-on feature for your in-person event to an ESSENTIAL piece of your virtual event. Virtual meetings are going to be a little bumpy and potentially disjointed, especially in the short term. It’s going to be more difficult to get and keep attendees’ attention. You need someone who can pull all the event elements together to create a cohesive conference experience that is still engaging and impactful. You need a professional.

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The difference between virtual and real conferences is similar to the “movie theater experience” versus watching something on television. It’s easier to be distracted or lose interest when you’re on your own turf. A professional host utilizes his or her unique skills to draw attendees in and capture their focus. For Civillico, team-building exercises and comedy seem to work best:

People are loving these shows/team-building workshop combos! It’s common knowledge that the attention span of a virtual event is shorter than an in-person event… “squirrel!” … so I’ve been combining my clean comedy show with a juggling workshop and it’s proven to be very successful.

One of the basic principals of performance art is “Know Your Audience”. That rule applies to corporate functions as well. Civillico tailors each hosting gig to maximize participation, engagement, and positive response from attendees. That leads to more productive meetings and greater long-term results.

These workshops can be more “corporate” for employees and reinforce themes of connection, trust, and teamwork. Or they can be more “entertainment-based” for families of employees. Regardless of how you want to customize them for your organization, these events are high energy, interactive, and FUN!

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Win-Win Entertainment is a not-for-profit organization that Jeff spearheads. Based in Las Vegas, Win-Win Entertainment creates opportunities for professional performers to share their time and talent with children in need. They’re 100 percent volunteer-based, have no paid staff, and all performers donate their time for every event.

Win-Win has gone virtual during the pandemic, too, making it possible to continue its mission using the power of technology. Click HERE to learn more about how the organization has “pivoted” during the COVID-19 crisis.

We’re not going to let the coronavirus stop us from bringing smiles to children who need them. That’s our mission. That’s what we do. So for the time being instead of our regular in-person talent visits to children’s hospitals, we’re arranging “virtual visits.” After testing these virtual visits with several of our hospital partners, we’re rolling them out to our entire performer community.

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Jeff gave the final performance of his Las Vegas residency last December, but his work with audiences and charities is far from over. Visit jeffcivillico.com or call (702) 777-2782 for more information.

Jay Jay –

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Jay Jay is another virtual host with Sin City DNA. Like Jeff, he’s a high-energy, outrageously funny, and an absurdly handsome dynamo. The Australian entertainer/motivational speaker/model/TV show host has traveled the world, fronting gigs of every size with a level of expertise rarely seen, especially at his young age.

Constantly I hear from clients that a company has been using one of their internal staff to MC their conference. Usually the rationale is that the person
“can talk well on a mic” or “can tell a few jokes”.  This may be true but what clients don’t understand is that being good on the mic or telling a few jokes is far from what a professional MC actually does.

A great MC should be facilitating the event, getting your guests involved, and interacting with each other, plus really pushing the key messages and main themes. So when your guests do leave, it’s an event that they will talk about for years to come. – Jay Jay

Jay also draws his hosting skills from the world of entertainment. His comedy and crowd engagement abilities are unforgettable. He’s also quite a magician, as you can see from this clip:

Sin City audiences were stunned when Jay stepped up to the mic last year for an interim hosting gig at Aussie Heat. Not only did he whip the crowd into a frenzy, but he got into the act and ripped off his shirt to flaunt a stunning set of abs.

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Jay is at the top of his game when it comes to emceeing your function. Better yet, he can turn the reins over to you…AFTER teaching you how to become a more powerful public speaker. And what that boils down to is having a plan of action for when the pandemic shutdown passes.

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I work with people who are in control of their own boat. What are we doing now? And what are we doing post-COVID? What’s your plan? This is the time to deal with it because there are no distractions now. It’s my plan to get you out of your head and give you accountability.

I never care about what level you’re at. I care that you listen, you take action and you get your “wins”. When you get your “wins’ it feels amazing. I’ve heard all the excuses – I’ve made half of them. But it’s not about me. Most people have never had anyone in their corner. I want to speak to your soul and move you straightaway.

What Jay promises is a guaranteed success for you and your business. His methods are targeted at booking more clients, achieving greater financial opportunities, and delivering highly-impactful messages. To help, he’s offered free online motivational-speaking classes that emphasize support for COVID-19-affected individuals. Once you see what Jay can do, you’ll want to be a regular client, too.

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You’re itching to get back out on stage so you can impact millions! But hey – remember your stage isn’t only physical. You can now be on stage virtually. Want to be BOOKED out on virtual stages globally? I’ve made my chess move, it’s your turn. DM me and we can set up a call and make that happen for you! – Your Success Wingman

Contact Jay Jay by following this link

Photos, Jeff Civillico, Win-Win Entertainment, Jay Jay

Bring the Excitement of Vegas to Your Home with ‘Virtual Experiences’


‘Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition’ and ‘Chippendales’ are just two of many Sin City favorites to enjoy under your own roof…

So, you’ve binge-watched every Netflix series and reruns of “FRIENDS” are making you want to hit the “unfriend” button. What’s a quarantined Vegas junkie to do? Well, if you saw yesterday’s article on the Mondays Dark Live Stream Telethon, you know that Sin City is doing its best to make you happy…while keeping its own artistic muscles in shape for an eventual ramp-up.

As efforts to assist furloughed entertainers are underway, you’re undoubtedly going through your own form of Sin City withdrawal. Now you can gather your fellow Vegas fans (following social-distancing guidelines, of course) and organize a virtual party for honest-to-goodness Las Vegas experiences. They’re brought to you by the same people who make your in-person visits so memorable.

TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AT TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBIT

Followers of my contributions to Las Vegas Magazine and BestOfVegas.com know that I’ve penned several articles on TITANIC: The Artifact Exhibition. This self-guided attraction is the biggest collection of recovered articles in this world. Inside are splendid recreations of the decks, staterooms, cabins and more. Immersive special effects allow you to experience the freezing air, feel the throb of the massive engines, and listen to voices from the past.

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TITANIC: The Virtual Experience, is a newly-launched 3-dimensional tour of Luxor‘s 25,000 square foot attraction. It’s accessible on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The virtual experience is available at two price levels – the Light Version for $5 and the Full Version for $15. Both price levels are accessible for one week and can be renewed at the point of purchase. Options include these benefits:

Light Version – $5

  • Virtual walkthrough of the 13 galleries inside the 25,000 square feet exhibition
  • Detailed information and photos of each artifact on display
  • View what life was like aboard the “Ship of Dreams” through full-scale room re-creations of the Grand Staircase, Promenade Deck, Veranda Café, and more
  • View the largest piece ever recovered, a 15-ton portion of the Ship’s hull
  • Learn about conservation and recovery efforts of the artifacts recovered from the ocean floor

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Full Version – $15

  • All offerings of the basic tour experience
  • Audio tour available in multiple languages
  • Exclusive video content
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video of artifacts as they are being recovered from the wreck site at the ocean floor
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video of curators on board the recovery ship discussing the artifacts immediately after they were pulled from the ocean floor
    • Dive Expedition 2010 – Video from Titanic’s wreck site, including underwater footage of the Ship’s bow, stern, vast debris field, and more
  • Animated timeline of Titanic from the point of striking the iceberg to the sinking
  • Additional facts and information about Titanic, the wreck site, artifacts, personal stories of her passengers and crew

For more information, visit Titanic.live.

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If you’re looking for something a little less “educational” and a lot more “titillating”, then perhaps you might want to investigate Chippendales@Home, a new interactive virtual experience. Chippendales@Home allows you and your squad to hang out and party with the world-famous hunks live in your own homes.

Chat, flirt, play games, get or give a virtual lap dance – you’ll get to know the Chippendales performers in your own intimate group setting as they host your party making sure your night is special and memorable. Each 30-minute party will feature at least two Chippendales cast members and utilizes the streaming platforms ZOOM, House Party, FaceTime, and Google Hangout.

In addition to Chippendales@Home, the brand has been cranking out online experiences as people are urged to stay inside. Recent digital offerings include at-home workouts with cast members, Instagram Live chats with alumnus of the brand, and light-hearted digital content such as one of its current cast members performing a lap dance for a 12-pack of toilet paper.

As a limited-time thank-you to those who are keeping us safe and healthy, Chippendales is offering Chippendales@Home free to health care workers and first responders. Ticket-holders whose shows were postponed also receive the experience free of charge. For more info or to arrange your own virtual party, visit this link or call 866-CHIPP999.

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If you’re a fan of the long-running SUPERNATURAL series on CW Network, you were probably excited for the annual convention at RIO Las Vegas in March. Sadly, the virus was just beginning to spread and some of you might have opted to avoid the crowds and wait for next year’s star-studded gala.

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Now in an innovative move, Creation Entertainment has scheduled a virtual SUPERNATURAL convention with the participation of three fan favorites. Beginning Saturday, April 18th and running through Saturday, April 25th, director Richard Speight, Jr. and stars Lisa Berry (Billie) and Ruth Connell (Rowena) will host a series of Q & A sessions, chats, tarot card readings, invocations and more.

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What makes this event unique is that a portion of proceeds will go to charities and non-profits like Meals On Wheels, St. Michaels Hospital (Toronto) and Random Acts. For some sessions, participants are asked to pay what they can. Auctions will be held to join in on events designed for a limited number of fans.

To register for the SUPERNATURAL Virtual-Con, click HERE. Participants should create user accounts on the platforms ZOOM and StageIt in advance. Creation Entertainment also brings the official Star Trek Convention to Rio Las Vegas each year.

Whitney Phoenix Strikes a Chord at Bellagio Las Vegas

In addition to these large-scale offerings, there is a wide variety of concerts, intimate performances and live chats being broadcast, as well as the at-home workouts and dance classes I told you about right here.

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Bellagio‘s beloved lounge pianist Whitney Phoenix and singer/actress/comedienne wife Marianne LeMoine Phoenix (50 Pounds From Stardom) shared this marvelous evening recently.

Whitney also took to the keyboard for a solo set while Marianne fielded requests from viewers:

The smooth and classy Craig Canter has been giving regular performances from his own virtual lounge that he calls  “The Piano Room”:

Westgate‘s favorite crooner Mark O’Toole brought us some big band highlights. He sent video clips and updates from the cruise ship he was “stranded” on for an extended time, hoping for a port to disembark at and return to the States. Combine that with canceled flights and missing luggage, and it’s safe to say that poor Mark endured the kind of adventure that movies are made about.

Despite weeks of madness and uncertainty, Mark took a break from relaxing to assist in beloved artist Neal Portnoy‘s efforts to raise funds for out-of-work performers. Portnoy created a collection of custom mugs, each featuring a local entertainer immortalized in the artist’s unique style. Get yours by clicking here, and check out this extremely funny video:

The marvelous David Goldrake, whose IMAGINARIUM magic production at Tropicana garnered my “Best New Show of 2018”, has been entertaining internet audiences with a series of tricks and lessons:

If you know of any other Vegas virtual experiences, online entertainment or events that you’d like to be added to this article, please leave a comment or email me: Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog

Top 5 Reasons To Visit Rio’s ‘Star Trek Convention’


Official event returns to Las Vegas for the tenth big year…

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This summer, Rio Hotel Casino is once again playing host to the world’s largest Official Star Trek Convention. Celebrating a decade in Sin City, the annual gathering is expected to lure over 15,000 fans from around the globe. Packed with attractions, concerts, meet-and-greet’s, celebrity panels and a massive vendor hall, this year’s Trek Con promises to be the biggest and best yet.

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There are plenty of great reasons for you to freshen your Starfleet uniform and head to Rio’s Convention Hall. Here are the top five:

  1. Meet Celebrities Face to Face – Star Trek conventions bring famous actors up close and personal. Aside from panel discussions and Q & A’s, celebrities pose for photo ops, sign autographs and have personal conversations with you. In addition to cast members from all of the Trek movies and series, you can hobnob with actors like  Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law), Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman (Land of the Lost), Jeffrey Combs (the Re-Animator films), Doug Jones (Hellboy, The Shape of Water) Clint Howard (Austin Powers, Apollo 13) and dozens more.  Attra_004-large
  2. Cosplay is Halloween for Grown-ups – You don’t have to wait until the end of October to dress up and have a blast. Trek Con fans are famous for their elaborate get-ups. Keep in mind that this isn’t limited to Starfleet attire. Fantasy characters from Mad Max to Chewbacca, Captain America to Frodo Baggins are likely to make appearances. So make sure to bring your camera (or an back-up charger for your smartphone) and snap away. Better yet, join in on the fun and enter the official Costume Contest and Parade. Emergency costume repairs will be available to all participants for free.Attra_029-large
  3. Memorabilia of Every Kind – In 2019, it’s absolutely cool to collect those lunchboxes, posters, comic books and trading cards that you so desperately wanted as a child. Better yet, add to your existing collection or replace something you lost through the years. The Vendor Hall is massive, and the celebrities will be right there with you, scanning through collectibles or manning their own booths of merchandise and photos. Bring the kids and share your love for science fiction with them. n-event_005-large
  4. The Fun Carries On Well Into The Evening – Fans will be entertained long after the stars come out. Eccentric actor Brent Spiner (Independence Day and its sequel) will present a concert with his band on Saturday. There are fan gathering, dinners, wedding packages, “Klingon Karaoke”, a Star Trek Rat Pack show and after-hours dance hosted by ST: Voyager actor Tim Russ. Attra_001-large.jpg

Click HERE to continue reading this article as BestOfVegas.com.

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The Official Star Trek Convention takes place at Rio Las Vegas July 31st through August 4th. The event is family-friendly. Tickets are available at www.creationent.com or at the door. Hours are Wednesday and Thursday 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

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Images/banner by Creation Entertainment, used with permission