Find Your Inner Ariel at MERMAID SCHOOL


Weekend childrens’ classes are Westgate’s latest “outside the box”…

Going through my daily round of press release emails is a lot like attacking the pile of presents under the Christmas tree. Some of them I can’t wait to open up (“Chippendales Announces Latest Guest Host”). Others feel obligatory…like a Visa gift card from the mother-in-law (“Hash House A Go Go Introduces New Cocktail, Extends Happy Hour).

Then there are the ones that stink like rotten fish and get tossed into the garbage without opening (“Chris Brown Returns to Drai’s Nightclub”, “Mariah Carey Announces Christmas Show at Caesars Palace”). But my favorite emails are the ones that have you scratching your head in wonder. Things like “Learn To Be A Mermaid at Westgate Las Vegas”. Seriously?

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Regular readers know that bringing the children to Vegas is one of my biggest pet peeves. But Westgate is a different kind of resort. A privately-held timeshare company, their twenty-eight locations cater to families around the country. Of them, only the Vegas location on Paradise Road has a casino (and a topless revue).

Naturally there is crossover of timeshare owners with kids, so Westgate Las Vegas offers a limited selection of entertainment and activities that appeal to the little ones. Shows like Magic of Jen Kramer…and Dirk Arthur before her. Dining at the glorious gardens of Benihana Village. And yes, weekend mermaid classes.

I’ll admit to initially being tempted to toss this press release into the trash folder. But “only in Vegas” experiences should be treasured. So after a long night of partying with the guys, I donned my shades and took the elevator down to Westgate’s expansive third-floor pool deck to meet Mermaid Farasha and the little ones who had lined up for that morning’s class.

Mermaid Farasha DesertSiren goes by the name of Farasha Millner when in human form. A professional belly dancer and mermaid performer, Ms. Farasha travels with her mobile tank and seashell to entertain, educate and promote the “Mermaid Code of Ethics”. In other words, she’s a positive role model for youngsters…and anyone in need of a little course correction through the sea of life.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

I was able to briefly meet Mermaid Farasha before the morning’s class and she was indeed glowing with compliments and positive vibes. “Oooh, you give off a great energy” she cooed in my ear. “You’d make a great mer-man”. Yes, I really was blushing.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Although the Desert Siren was eager to begin, one fledgling mermaid had already been waiting long before anyone else arrived. Nine year old Carson Parker of Florida was up at the crack of dawn…and ready to slip into her fin.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Accompanied by great aunt Becky Knowles (left) and aunt Kelli Wilkin, Carson was staying at Westgate while mother Melissa Parker, the reigning Mrs. Florida America, was competing in the Mrs. America Pageant. That event was being held the same weekend at the off-Strip resort.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

With her mother in rehearsal for the evening’s show, Carson was eager to learn some new tricks in the water. As fortunes would have it, Carson was already an avid mermaid-er. Adept at doing front flips, she regularly practices at the family’s pool in Melbourne.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Word had gotten out to Vegas locals about the new classes, too. Seven-year-old Dionni signed up after her mother Tavia heard about Mermaid School from a Facebook friend…who in turn saw a piece on local station KTNV. She proudly posed with her new mermaid fin and couldn’t wait to begin.

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          Seven year old Dionni was eager to go “Under The Sea” in Mermaid School…

Also attending that weekend was Abbie Losch, aka “Mermaid Coral”. You may remember Abbie as the adventurous daughter of Westgate’s own superstar Chef Aaron Losch, whom I profiled earlier this year.

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                   Abbie Losch makes a striking mermaid at Westgate’s pool…

Inside the pool’s merchandise shop, other youngsters were lining up to buy or rent their fins. Some were singing from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”, whose soundtrack would soon be playing over and over (and over) on speakers during the morning’s lessons.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

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The class began with a preliminary introduction and explanation of basics for the newbies. The students were assisted in learning to don and stand in their fins. Then came introductions all around. The young ladies were asked to choose a personal mermaid name, then the real fun began.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

After a brief absence, the Desert Siren returned to the pool in full mermaid regalia and shimmied into the pool. Along with showing her students new maneuvers, Farasha emphasized the importance of support, encouragement and respect for each other and one’s own self.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

“You’re in control. You are beautiful. In the mermaid’s world we support one another” she told them. The students learned how to tread water, give a “tail salute” and speak seafaring lingo like “Shello!”. But most of all, they learned how to be feminine, graceful and kind. “There’s so much you can do with this. You are a Mer!”.

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

As the class wound down, curious onlookers came over to see what Mermaid School was all about and pose for pictures. Then a young boy swam over to chat to Mermaid Farasha about being a mer-man. “I love your British accent, handsome!”. Yes, the classes are open to boys as well.

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If interest continues to grow, there’s a possibility of adding adult groups into the mix. And why not? Apparently this is a new social movement. Mermaid Schools are popping up all over the country. And they’re a nice fit to Westgate’s other poolside offerings like sunrise yoga classes (Friday-Sunday from 7 am to 8 am, weather permitting) and the Silent Savana sunset sessions I told you about here.

Despite Farasha‘s suggestion that I try on the fins myself, I’ll leave that kind of fun to the younger guests. I’ll be content just to sip a fireball mojito and watch the activities from The Playground, Westgate’s 21-and-up dayclub that I told you about here.

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      Kate’s Island Shop at Westgate’s retail corridor has gotten into the mermaid spirit…

That’s what’s so great about Sin City. There’s something for every taste. And just when you think you’ve seen and done it all, another WTF press release will appear in your in-box. Let’s hope the next one isn’t “Mariah Carey Extends Latest Residency”. There’s got to be a limit to the madness!

Mermaid Farasha School Westgate

All participants agreed to being interviewed and their guardians signed waivers for press coverage…

Tickets for Mermaid Class are available at Serenity Spa at Westgate’s 3rd floor pool deck. Call 702-732-5648 to purchase tickets by phone. Classes are capped at 15 students.

  • Ages: 7-12. [Participants must know how to swim/parent or guardian must be present during the duration of the class and sign Mermaid School waiver.]

  • Price: $25.00 per class

  • Dates/Time: Saturdays & Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. 

Photos: Sammasseur, Jamie Losch

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Looking Down on Fremont’s “Ground Zero”

Downtown demolition zone signals changes that aren’t necessarily improvements…

A familiar phrase regarding Las Vegas is “The only constant is change”. That observation has traditionally applied to the Strip, but historic Downtown is undergoing its own cycle of reinvention…at the cost of what made it unique.

While revitalization of the Fremont East zone has brought a welcome influx of new ideas (cool restaurants, hip bars and Downtown Container Park), that same influence has resulted in dramatic differences to the Fremont Street Experience corridor that aren’t necessarily welcome.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

Demolition and construction on and around Fremont Street now faces the same scrutiny that took place when it was closed to vehicular traffic and topped with the current video canopy. Purists lamented losing the ability to drive their cars down Fremont Street to bask in historic hotel architecture and glorious neon.

In 2017, that same area is now choked with outdoor bars/patios, vendor kiosks, street performers, homeless beggars and a hideous eyesore known as SlotZilla. That thrill ride re-purposed the Viva Vision screen as a tunnel for the zip-line attraction.

For this writer, one of the saddest developments on Fremont was the closure of longtime favorites Mermaids Casino, sister operation La Bayou and the Las Vegas Club Casino Hotel. All were sentimental go-to’s that represented value, history and a true vintage-Vegas feel.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

Now two of them, along with “gentlemen’s club” Glitter Gulch, are being leveled along with nearby structures for construction of a brand-new casino/hotel. La Bayou‘s demo resulted in the soon-to-open expansion of adjacent Golden Gate Hotel, the oldest remaining building on Fremont Street. That one-time favorite had already gotten a major modernization and expansion a few years back that resulted in removal of wonderful Bay City Diner and the beloved 99-cent shrimp-cocktail counter.

It seems that whenever I fall for a business or landmark in Las Vegas, my affection guarantees it’ll wind up in the demolition cross-hairs. Sure, renovation brings new visitors and attention to an area, but for some of us, “progress” feels like a slap in the face.

Mermaids was an absolute must on my Fremont Street stops. Cocktail waitresses Gabriella and Ling Ling were bright spots each and every time. They took care of me like nobody on the Strip ever would.

Now, 99-cent hot dogs and the endless supply of free drinks have been taken away. Those friendly ladies who once recognized me from trip to trip have literally disappeared.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

The grungy smell of Las Vegas Club hotel, along with its creaky elevators and humble rooms, was a minor but tolerable drawback of staying there. LVC was a serviceable option whenever I needed clean, simple budget lodging. Just a few years back I was able to stay there for only $14 a night…with no resort fee, free parking and gloriously-easy in/out access.

The newer North Tower, which I got upgraded to on that particular stay, was easily on par with the rooms at 4 Queens and Fremont Hotel. Plus, they were absolutely massive by Downtown standards and a had recently been modernized. Both towers of Las Vegas Club were fortunate enough to get refreshed up with the same carpeting and furniture that Plaza Hotel had obtained from the failed Fontainebleau project.

This summer, the Las Vegas Club is being brought down by the same ambitious innovators who added $20 resort fees and intensely-loud music to their Downtown hotels. While many view Derek and Greg Stevens as saviors, to myself and many other historic Downtown fans, they’ve become mixed blessings.

Nobody enjoys seeing the places they fall in love with being torn down for the sake of progress. No matter what rises in those locations, it won’t be the same. They’ll be expensive, more Strip-like and less of what made Fremont Street an alternative.

Fremont Street Ground Zero

So say goodbye to Vegas Vickie and other glorious pieces of neon art that once shone down on visitors. No matter when or where they end up, they won’t be in their original home.

As for the structures that will eventually rise from the footprint of Las Vegas Club and Mermaids…they’ll only be “lip-service improvements”. New hotels can never fill the void left by long-lost favorites that were just fine back in the day.

Photos: [A friend]