Creepy Chills Lie Behind the Rose-colored Glass of “Lucky Dragon Hotel”


A surreal, eerie experience awaits those who check into the ill-fated casino resort…

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Two short years ago, the Lucky Dragon Casino Hotel was a beacon of hope for the troubled north end of Las Vegas Boulevard. With stalled projects like Fontainebleau and Echelon Place (the future Resorts World) as constant reminders and the SLS Las Vegas already stalling, this Asian-themed boutique hotel could very well have been a much-needed jump start.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Things looked even more promising when an early-December 2016 opening date got tossed out the window. To the surprise of just about everyone, Lucky Dragon‘s doors opened on November 19th, creating an avalanche of media hype, great PR…and once again, hope for this section of the Strip.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

The 203-room casino hotel offered three restaurants, a tea-garden lounge and quick-bite outlet as well as gambling that was designed to appeal to tourists from the Far East. Despite initial problems in getting the project financed and completed, Lucky Dragon was constructed around many Asian concepts of good fortune. Decor, lack of “unlucky” numeral four and feng shui were integral to Lucky Dragon’s design.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

By February of the following year, it was clear that luck had already begun to bleed away from the fledgling property. Media announcements hyped “improvements” to dining and gaming options. Dragon’s Alley food court was shut down to accommodate changes in the floor plan. High-end gaming was added to attract more cash flow.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                      Dragon’s Alley was an early victim of “improvements”…

Sadly, a month later Lucky Dragon‘s staff underwent a massive cut, with everyone from top managers to waiters being let go. As legal and financial troubles began to mount, live entertainment was added that summer as a new draw. Nevertheless, interest in the short-lived sensation had fallen away to essentially nothing.

By the time I finally got around to visiting the property last October, it was eerie, silent and virtually empty. Interestingly, the date was October 1st, 2017, the evening of the Las Vegas Massacre at Mandalay Bay‘s events center. So you can imagine that the entire night is burned into my memory…and this was a creepy way to start it off.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

As you can see from these photos, the casino and restaurants were nearly devoid of guests. What had gone wrong? Was it the unusual location in a sketchy neighborhood? Could the theme just be too targeted towards a specific demographic? Perhaps the place just sucked.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Walking around the casino building was such a downer that I quickly departed without even taking the skybridge over to the hotel tower (they’re two separate buildings, which could also be a factor in its failure).

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

By January of this year, the entire casino and restaurant operations were shut down, leaving the hotel and lobby lounge as the only survivors. How it has continued to function in its current state is anyone’s guess. Despite this, I’ve been itching to stay at the Dragon ever since…just out of morbid curiosity. After all, it could be quite a thrill, especially after just watching a full season of American Horror Story – Hotel.

Although this writer tends to fluctuate randomly between adventure (skydiving over the Vegas desert) and playing safe (no SAW Escape Room Experience for me, thank you) the idea of spending the night in a nearly-abandoned hotel sounded intriguing. So when an offer came up on Agoda.com for $24 a night with no resort fees, I swooped in like a vampire after a nubile virgin.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                   A view of the parking garage from the unattended valet area…

I arrived into town on the morning of June 14th, weary from lack of sleep and needing a nap before a function that evening. Phoning ahead to see what the soonest check-in time could be, the agent told me to come over now. There would be no additional fees for early arrival. Nice!

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

I headed straight over from the airport, found a parking spot in their convenient (and free) parking garage and made my way into the east structure. This is where things began to get ominous, as you can see from the photos.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

The former casino was dark, dreary and completely silent. Makeshift signs directed guests towards the opposite building via an enclosed skybridge. Access to restrooms and other areas was blocked off, not that anyone would want to explore, would they? (heh heh)…

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

       Reverse angle of the skybridge and casino (in the distance) from the hotel corridor…

At this point I’d encountered no one….not a single living soul. The silence was off-putting and in sharp contrast to the bright colors and modern decor that awaited me when I entered the lobby. A short walk past the concierge’s desk (which was actually manned) and I was facing the agent with whom I’d spoken on the phone.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

It was clear from the lack of patrons why a room was available at this hour. Aside from the back of a head near the reception desk (pictured above), I hadn’t passed a single guest.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Without a casino or any restaurants, the resort was likely to be slow…but completely dead? I’d never seen a Vegas hotel this devoid of activity and foot traffic. Even the Imperial Palace at its skeevy worst had always been packed with bargain travelers. So where was everyone?

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Behind me was the deserted Cha Garden, a lounge and bar that specializes in specialty teas. The western wall is a series of glass doors that open up to a splashing pool, waterfall and garden. The decor is modern, soothing and of course, very feng shui. A small breakfast and coffee are served here each morning, included with the resort fee.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

And speaking of that resort fee, the agent attempted to charge it to my credit card, despite the “resort-fee inclusive” offer I booked under. She claimed that there was no such offer to her knowledge but my printout proved otherwise. And then came a lengthy wait as the clerk took my paperwork to an unseen manager in the back.

Upon her return, I was advised that the manager had been unable to reach Agoda and that they’d make a decision later as to whether I’d be assessed the resort fee ($28 plus tax). Or so they thought it was up to them. I’m not a cheapskate, but a deal’s a deal.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

I was finally assigned room 318 (despite being the only guest, the check-in process took nearly fifteen minutes) and headed back to the elevator. The hotel’s third floor was bright, clean and cheerful. So was the king-bed accommodations. Linens and furniture were in great shape, the carpeting looked fresh and the walls were decorated in soft, soothing colors.

In-room amenities were sparse but sufficient. TV, ironing board (iron by request), dual closets, clock radio and a digital safe are standard, as were a writing desk and easy chair. Two tiny bottles of water were stocked next to an ice bucket. There was no in-room coffeemaker, but your daily java is available for free in the lobby during morning hours.

The bathroom was simple but spotless and sleek. I especially liked the inclusion of a pair of insignia-branded robes. There were no toiletries provided except for a small tube of basic shampoo and two bars of soap. The walk-in shower was large and had a stationary head at a generous level, often a problem for people of my height or higher.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Aside from the unnerving quiet, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the constant pink glow that flooded my quarters via the rose-colored glass. It gave a nauseating sensation of being captive inside a strange glass cage…a suffocating, queasy feeling that was compounded by the less-than-attractive view. So the curtains were drawn closed and remained that way for the duration of my visit.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

After a nap and shower it was time to attend a function at a nearby resort. Once again, not a sound to be heard or a soul to say hello while strolling through the premises. At least this time the lighting had been turned up inside the vacant casino. That evening when I returned, the common areas were still silent…except for two somewhat rough-looking guys who seemed to have wandered in just to peek around.

With nobody to monitor things of this nature, the entire casino tower and hotel corridors are basically a free-for-all. It might have been reassuring to encounter at least some type of security presence. So I definitely don’t recommend staying at Lucky Dragon if you’re a solo female…or anyone who’s easily spooked.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

When suffling downstairs the next morning for some caffeine, there were actually other guests doing the same. I’d literally been here for over nine hours without seeing another patron. There was only a handful of guests, but all seemed pleasant, mannered and reserved…a bit surprising given the ludicrously-cheap rates.

The same agent was manning the reservation desk again. She advised me that management had been unable to reach the third-party booking site but wasn’t going to charge me the disputed resort fee. I let her know that I’d be showering and departing very soon, so the young lady kindly processed my check-out.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                                                               Taxi for one, please…

Without any crowds to speak of, it’s an easy in-out process at Lucky Dragon, which was a big plus to me. There are no long taxi lines, Uber/LYFT hordes or buses to maneuver around. The Sahara Avenue location just off the interstate makes it easy to get to and from the airport.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

There are plenty of reasons to stay at Lucky Dragon along with many downsides. I’ve already booked two future stays here but am almost certain it will be completely closed before year number two is up.

Attempts to make additional reservations on their website result in error messages, no matter what date combinations I entered. Also, a few third-party sites now offer this troubling type of message:

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                                                            Lastminutetravel.com

The north end of Las Vegas Boulevard may or may not be undergoing a renaissance, depending on whom you ask, but it’s unlikely that Lucky Dragon Hotel Casino will be part of its rebirth. Despite all the excitement this little place once brought to the city, its future looks anything but rosy.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

If you’re curious, adventurous, unafraid and would like to try a stay at Lucky Dragon, give them a call at 702.889.8018. Or you might have more success than I did booking at their website. The address is 300 West Sahara Avenue, adjacent to the Golden Steer Steakhouse.

Lucky Dragon Hotel is currently the best lodging bargain in Las Vegas. It’s new, extremely comfortable and very, very strange. Give it a try! Just don’t wait too long…the flaming breath inside this weird, unlucky little dragon will most likely be extinguished very soon.

And one more failed north-Strip resort will sit amongst the others in the dark.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Photos: Sammasseur, exterior shots by Greg C., American Horror Story: Hotel still from FX 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Westgate Turns Strip-side Gouging On Its Ear


Find out why I’m constantly fawning over Westgate Las Vegas…

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WestGate

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It’s worth noting that, since this article’s original publication nearly two years ago on another website, I have stayed numerous times at Westgate during non-peak/non-convention periods. During those visits, the gates were conveniently open..and so were the opportunities for free (and hassle-free) parking without even the need for ticket validation or a room key. Apparently the resort is enforcing controlled access only when the situation demands it…to enhance the experience of their own guests.

The following section, although a re-publishing, has been updated and revised with current information.

Ever since MGM Resorts instituted a complex and ever-rising parking charge at their Strip properties, it was only a matter of time before others like Caesars properties, Cosmopolitan and Wynn/Encore followed suit (let’s call it “resort fee deja vu”). But while these insulting fees basically stick it to everyone (excluding certain levels of play and resort-branded credit card holders), Westgate Las Vegas has a parking policy to protect and reward their guests.

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That statement might initially sound like the infamous public-relations nonsense issued by Caesars Entertainment Corporation when they instituted resort fees “because the public demanded them.” Not so at Westgate, where the intent is clearly to ensure that their lots aren’t being jammed by drivers who are actually heading elsewhere.

You see, Westgate Las Vegas is in the sticky position of being both 1) adjacent to a convention center that charges hefty parking fees, and 2) located on a monorail line that takes riders all the way to MGM Grand and other properties along the way that now charge parking fees.

When I met with reps from the Westgate marketing team a while back, the subject of parking policies came up. Rumors had been swirling about MGM’s plans and Westgate was already considering their options to address the ramifications.

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Soon after, both my friend (photographer Greg C.) and I separately discovered that the multi-story garages and open-air lots had been secured. Automated ticketing kiosks had been installed and a ten-dollar daily fee was now in effect.

But….this is important….the fee was reimbursable for hotel guests, restaurant diners, attendees to Westgate shows and those who come to visit the casino and sports book.

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The “To Serve You Better” double-talk that’s usually issued in these situations is actually genuine here. Westgate patrons won’t have to be concerned that conventioneers and monorail riders are using up the available parking spaces.

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Signs are liberally posted throughout Westgate to show where to get your ticket validated. Naturally, you’ll need to present your dining/show ticket/betting receipt/player’s card as proof of your patronage.

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Then you simply insert that validated ticket into the automated exit gate at the lots and garages. Hotel guests have it even simpler, as their room key operates the exit gates as well.

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In addition, Westgate charges $20 to utilize their valet service during events and conventions, especially those at the adjacent Las Vegas Convention Center. But once again, this fee is reimbursed for hotel guests.

While walking the property to photograph the lots, gates and kiosks, I noticed several circumstances where cars approached the gates, read the new policy signage, then backed out and left. This is only conjecture, but I have to assume that these persons weren’t actually Westgate customers, meaning the intent of the fees is working.

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If this program turns out to be successful, perhaps we can eventually expect other resorts in similar situations (think Tropicana, Venetian/Palazzo and Treasure Island) to try their hand at customer-friendly parking programs. And once again, this could work in their favor to take on the money-grubbing bigger chains.

The policies and practices in Las Vegas are ever-evolving…and they’re rarely designed to truly improve the Vegas visitor’s experience. So, while MGM and copycat properties are using parking fees as a blatant cash grab, more guest-friendly resorts will be protecting their own.

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That’s why I’ll be booking more stays at Westgate. You should consider them, too.

Follow this link for a current list of Westgate Las Vegas discounted room rates, packages and promotional specials.

 

Photos: Sammasseur

Is Sin City Determined To Drive You Away?


Asking the tough question that’s probably on lots of minds…

UPDATE: This week, MGM Resorts will initiate the second parking fee rate increase since they began charging in December 2016. That makes this article just as timely as ever. Blatant gouging of guests will continue as long as Vegas visitors shrug it off. Speak with your wallet and refuse to be ripped off. 

Back in 2016, while editing a guest writer’s article about the de-theming of Luxor Hotel Casino for another website, I felt a long-brewing flame inside me suddenly become a flash fire. The article reminded me of all the things I fell in love with that Vegas was so intent on removing. I felt the need to rant about the path that Sin City has headed down. This is the result of that emotional rush.

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   “Has anyone seen those talking camels?”...                       

Since beginning my own Vegas addiction in 2005, I’ve helplessly watched as some of my favorite attractions have been yanked out and tossed into that box labeled “When Vegas Was Better”. They include SPEED, the roller coaster at Sahara, the HIGH ROLLER ride atop the Stratosphere (their own roller coaster, not that slow-moving LINQ observation wheel), MGM Grand‘s Lion Habitat and the indoor white tiger pool at Mirage.

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          Rio’s “Show In The Sky” was scaled way back and ultimately removed…

Then there are the gorgeous exterior fountains at Paris and Monte Carlo, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay BayRio’s legendary Show In The Sky, moving statues and costumed Roman gladiators strolling around Caesars Palace …and on and on.

With rumors swirling of both Luxor and Excalibur getting another strip-down, that guest writer’s article really hit home. It prompted me to finally vocalize something that I’m convinced is on lots of other readers’ minds.

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         The Linq Hotel – from dump to overpriced eyesore in the name of progress…

Not only have the attractions and free shows been ripped out, but the campiness and fun of hotel themes have been chiseled away ad nauseam. Sure, Imperial Palace was a flophouse. But it was also extremely affordable, had a unified faux-Asian charm…and those unforgettable Dealertainers. Now we have The Linq – a stupidly-named, generic exercise in blandness stocked with Ikea-grade furniture, glaringly-bright interiors and a hideous exterior paint job that defies explanation.

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                                                   Sorry, SLS, but I prefer this…

Rants

                                                                    …to this…

In an alternate universe, Imperial Palace regulars might have moved down to Bill’s Gambling Hall or up the Strip to Sahara to get their affordable room and themed surroundings. But not in THIS reality, where Sahara’s Moroccan stylings were jettisoned in favor of white-on-white at the absurdly-overpriced SLS (three letters that represent nothing, really).

Remember the Victorian-era rich woods, stained glass and gorgeous chandeliers at Bill’s Gambling Hall (originally Barbary Coast)? That stylish little hotel got put on a salt-free diet of beige, blandness and more beige. It was refitted and renamed the meaningless Cromwell a few years ago (who exactly is Cromwell…a stuffy old butler?).

Bye-bye, Victorian Rooms $4.99 steak and eggs…hello to Giada and $60.00 for a 7-oz filet. I’m sure that Giada’s dental work didn’t come cheaply, but should you have to pay for it?

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                                           $36.00 for ravioli…just because I can…

There was once a time when guests arriving at Paris were greeted with quaint French phrases. Those arriving at Luxor could take a Nile riverboat to their inclinator (an angular elevator in the pyramid). Treasure Island was alive with buccaneers and a swashbuckling outdoor show.

The mirage-themed….er, Mirage was lined with bamboo accents and staff members wore tropical shirts (the volcano erupted way more frequently, too). Now the only thing that really sets these hotels apart from one another is the amount of their respective mandatory fees.

The fact that this trend continues could mean two things from where I stand. Either people don’t really care, or the powers that be aren’t concerned with what you want. When you poke around the internet and read things like “I’m done with Vegas. I can visit shopping malls at home and gamble at my local casino without being ripped off for everything”, you have to ask yourself who is right.

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                      These prices are long gone…and so is the restaurant itself…

I still love Vegas, enough to visit at least twice a month. But you can believe that my spending habits, entertainment choices and lodging selections have been altered dramatically. At first, it was a retreat into the Downtown area. where hotels and restaurants were much cheaper, parking was free and resort fees where unheard-of. Then Fremont Street and the surrounding area got bit by the same dollar-sucking bug.

These days, the ancient and crumbling Golden Gate Hotel tacks on an additional $20 per day to your bill (for nothing, really). Mermaids and the 99-cent hot dog are both gone. Parking meters line the city streets, gates block your entrance into hotel garages until you pay up, and the Gold Spike‘s $5.99 Prime Rib special will set you back $37 at Oscars (and side dishes are no longer part of the meal, by the way).

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                Those talking statues have left Caesars Palace for parts unknown…

After Downtown and the Strip both nickeled-and-dimed me to the point of defeat, I scoured the outlying areas in search of new haunts. And what did I find? Themes! Value! Free attractions! Yes, they’re still out there, waiting for you die-hards to discover. There really aren’t many remaining, and even the resorts that offer these beloved relics of yesterday’s Vegas have been affected by money-grubbing, albeit to a much lesser extent.

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                            Eastside Cannery – new, gorgeous, affordable…

We’re talking the likes of Sam’s Town (excellent cheap Firelight Buffet and lovely Mystic Falls attraction and show) and Eastside Cannery…one of my favorite Vegas hotels with no resort fees until very recently, extremely reasonable rates, free Wi-Fi and Strip-quality rooms on Boulder Highway.

Stations Casinos dot the entire valley, each one offering a different personality with plenty of attractions and dining options that won’t break the bank. They’ve also taken ownership of the faltering Palms Casino west of the Strip. My favorite of their value-geared locations is Texas Station for its atmosphere, cheap dining and movie theaters.

Palace Station, which is currently undergoing a major renovation, is my go-to for Feast Buffet. There, weekday dinners are only $10.99 and breakfast is $7.99 Monday-Saturday. Sunday brunch is $11.99 vs. $23.49 at Excalibur and $25.99 at Mandalay Bay, making it totally worth the drive for quality basics. And parking is still free…as it SHOULD  be.

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     Serene Hotel on E. Harmon Ave. offers a nice alternative to Strip gouging…

Let’s not forget the wide array of smaller boutique hotels, like SereneArtisan, aging Royal Resort and Tuscany Suites that offer a lot more style and personality than the Aria “office complex” ever could. Unfortunately, most of these have tacked on mandatory fees like their Strip counterparts, but are far less expensive overall than the big boys. And you won’t have to stand in line and be subjected to a pat-down just to take a dip in the pool.

It’s no secret that Vegas casinos have seen a drop in revenue, resulting in actions to make up that money elsewhere. Bottle service, admission fees, higher show prices, fewer free drinks for casino players, rationed complimentary cocktails using less alcohol and cheaper spirits, cutbacks on Player’s Club rewards. Maybe if they never rolled out the universally-hated 6:5 Blackjack odds, a bottle of water wouldn’t cost seven dollars?

I know that there are those of you out there, reading this now, who say “Things change. Vegas moves forward. The days of old Vegas are over”. To you I respond “That’s true if you accept it”. But why have we as a collective group of Vegas-goers allowed this to happen?

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                                 Sorry, Holly…we’re not buying into your lies…

Can you really state, with total honesty, that it’s fair for this city to tack on Resort Fees, Parking Fees, Energy Surcharges, Live Entertainment Taxes, Customer Facility Charges, Concession Recovery Fees, Concession and Franchise Fees, Room Preference Fees, Telephone Call Convenience Fees, Ticket Convenience Fees, Credit Card Usage Fees, Live Reservation Operator Surcharges, Early Check-in Fees, In-room Safe Usage Fees…and many more…to your visit?

How soon before they install machines to collect quarters before you can use the casino restroom? When I was a writer for VegasChatter, we learned that some restaurants were starting to tack on an extra charge to serve you a glass of tap water along with your meal. Yes, tap water! Of course, their response was the typical “to serve our customers better” nonsense.

Isn’t it outrageous to you that free in-room coffeemakers, continental breakfast and wireless internet (things that are standard in just about every basic motel around the nation) are not provided in Las Vegas? Apparently not, because thousands of people shrug it off every day.

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Stratosphere has attempted to counteract “Today’s Vegas” with an ad campaign that has wonderful intentions. Called “Take Vegas Back“, Stratosphere is running commercials and filling the city with billboards and print ads. They plead for a return to the days when average Joes and Janes could enjoy themselves in Sin City without having to be super-rich or super-gorgeous. Too bad the hotel itself is a bit hypocritical by charging a $32.99 plus tax Daily Resort Fee…and a bacon double-cheeseburger is $15.99 in their casual Roxy’s Diner.

Once this city is completely consumed by blandness, fraudulent extortion charges, soaring prices and declining customer service, this writer may reach the point where Vegas becomes the rare once-a-year destination. After all, there are plenty of other places to visit where you can get bang for your buck. You know…like Vegas USED to be.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Things could revert if we stopped being so docile towards this nonsense and actually spoke out/fought back/refused to go along. Perhaps we’re seeing signs of this already, at least in regards to MGM’s parking fees, where rumors of show closings and dramatically-dropping retail sales quickly surfaced.

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                 HEXX and Budweiser Beer Park – two levels of scamming…

Why stop there? Let the hoteliers, restaurateurs and politicians know that you’ve had enough. Scott Roeben of VitalVegas.com put it beautifully when he exposed the CNF Concession and Franchise Fee at HEXX, Budweiser Beer ParkCabo Wabo Cantina, Senor Frogs and others:

Vegas visitors have long bemoaned the fact hotels charge resort fees, but Cabo Wabo Cantina and a few other Strip restaurants charge this concession fee, and it’s far worse than a resort fee because you get nothing whatsoever for it. It’s just a fee tacked onto your bill.

The CNF charge is, in fact, worse than a resort fee, because guests typically don’t learn about the gratuitous fee until their bill arrives, when it’s too late to choose another restaurant.

Adding to the outrage of the CNF charge is the fact it’s added to your bill before the sales tax is calculated, so you’re paying tax on a tax.

What can you do if you’re presented with a bill that includes a CNF charge you didn’t know about? Refuse to pay it. Talk to a manager, demand the charge be reversed and raise holy hell. Tell everyone you know to stay away. E-mail. Tweet. Comment on Facebook. Rant. Rail. Fight back.

Let these venues know we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it in the cornhole anymore.

Scott has also gone on camera and used his site to expose other customer-gouging practices, particularly at MGM Resorts.

And then there’s Branden Powers, the man behind Golden Tiki and the new Evel Pie pizza joint in Downtown, who wrote this beautiful treatise on the “old ways” for Las Vegas Review Journal:

Because of my history with this great city, I want to make sure that its past is not forgotten. We need more Las Vegas. Nightclubs, arenas and professional sports teams are all great. But we need places where people can go talk to each other, share a cocktail and dine on a great steak while watching a classic performer.

People want to experience the Las Vegas of yesteryear because they love its history as much as I do. We need to make sure that is protected. Our history like all things in the desert is slowly evaporating. We never should have lost JUBILEE, the last classic showgirl revue. We should have rallied around it, supported it and funded it as a community.

It’s important that places like The Golden SteerFrankie’s Tiki RoomCasa Di AmoreHugo’s Cellar and The Peppermill Lounge, just to name a few, live on.

I intend to carry the torch and not only protect our legacy but also rebuild it anew with places like The Golden Tiki that seem as if they’ve always been there. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 12, 2016

If more folks had the fortitude of Scott Roeben and Branden Powers, Las Vegas could actually return to the days of being affordable. And it would be lots more fun than it already is.

This article previously appeared on another website in a different form.

Photos: Sammasseur, Stratosphere.com, Caesars.com. Excerpts used by permission of Scott Roeben and Branden Powers

Feeling the Love for PALAZZO


Searching for elegance at Bellagio and Wynn but finding it quietly tucked away…

Last month this writer spent two weeks experiencing the pleasures of three top-tier resorts – Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo. All are established, respected and great at what they do. Each of them is a 5-star property catering to similar demographics, yet they’re distinct in style and flavor.

Palazzo is the sister property to Venetian. Opened in December of 2007, it’s listed by Wikipedia as the second-largest building in the Western Hemisphere, yet its presence on the Strip is as understated as the clean lines and Earth tones that make up its superstructure.

Inside, two cavernous domes oversee your entrance from either the main lobby or through the waterfall atrium connecting Palazzo to Venetian‘s Grand Canal Shoppes and Restaurant Row.

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Both Bellagio and Wynn sprang from the mind of legendary Steve Wynn, so of course they are essentially kindred hotels. Both have ornate decor, colorful seasonal displays, art collections, water-themed production shows created by the same man (Franco Dragone) and outdoor fountains synchronized to familiar musical standards.

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        Deja-view….                             

Unfortunately, Bellagio’s ownership and operations now rest in the hands of MGM Resorts International. That’s the money-grubbing corporation which introduced universally-reviled mandatory resort fees to the Strip, along with parking and valet charges. Their now-notorious profit-growth plan was designed to suck every last dollar out of the consumer’s pocket.

The results are even apparent in a luxury resort such as this, where you pay $12 a day to park while risking damage to your undercarriage. Some have even lost their tires and wheels (check out this mind-bending incident from April 2017), so clearly those extra fees aren’t going towards additional security, which is odd for a casino that has been robbed time and again.

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Wynn/Encore initially resisted resort fees but caved when they became the new normal. I truly expected them to continue offering free parking and valet services, but that is no longer the case. One could argue that all Strip resorts should be on equal footing in respect to their parking arrangements, yet Wynn/Encore is far removed from the core of those affected.

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“Let’s put an ATM next to the garage payment kiosks and see if anyone gets the message”….

There is little to no chance of drivers using Wynn/Encore garages to visit other properties, especially with neighbors like Treasure Island still offering free parking. Installing gates and kiosks this week reeks of yet another money grab…and an insult to valued guests.

Fortunately for those of us who rent cars on our trips, the garages at Venetian and Palazzo are well-maintained and free of charge…at least for now. In the case of Palazzo, conveniently-located escalators and elevators bring guests directly into the lobby, center of the casino or near the showroom. Even when not staying at Palazzo, I frequently dine at wonderful Grand Lux Cafe, in part due to the ease of access (the food, service and free Wi-Fi rock, too).

But, I digress. Let’s delve into the resorts themselves, and why I favor Palazzo over the other two. For me, it all comes down to atmosphere…how I’m treated as a guest and whether I felt comfortable and relaxed in my surroundings.

While Bellagio is the oldest of the three, its rooms remain in tip-top shape and have recently-refreshed decor. Furniture, bedding and fixtures are all lovely, thanks to excellent maintenance. Unfortunately during my three-day stay, the room rumbled throughout the daylight hours until 7 pm with the sound of jackhammers, thanks to renovations above me.

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Bellagio Fountain-View King…          

A complaint to the front desk resulted in a $100.00 food/beverage credit being added to my account. It was willingly offered after my complaint – not something I was soliciting, as I was trying to write and needed to know when the pounding would stop so I could work. Nevertheless, the incessant noise tainted my stay and rattled my teeth loose. It would have been nice if they’d alerted us about construction prior to check-in, but they didn’t.

Noise can also be an issue at Wynn/Encore, especially if you’re hoping for a restful night. With its beach clubs and nightclubs, a constant thump-thump-thump rises up the sides of both towers. It’s a frequent complaint on travel sites for those who are accustomed to the elegance that Wynn initially offered in its early days.

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Wynn Tower King, Strip View…                

These days, Wynn/Encore has shifted from sophistication to the trendy club scene. It lures in a rowdy crowd that carries on loudly throughout common areas, casinos and elevators, in stark contrast to their expensive, classy surroundings. The effect is very off-putting and a disappointing about-face.

It wasn’t that long ago that trouble-making celebs like Paris Hilton and bad-behavior rappers like Lil Wayne were barred from Wynn/Encore. Now their kind seem to be openly courted. The type that this element attracts make Wynn/Encore the most money…yet are openly mocked by Steve as he collects a hefty share of their trust funds…and their snickers from his supposed sexual-predator history.

 

Take care not to collide with a stroller while reading Wynn’s “No Stroller” signs…

Along with “club kids”, the corridors and casinos at Wynn are inexplicably jammed to the max with real children, too. Despite a “No Stroller” policy posted at each and every entrance, there is nothing done to enforce this rule. The dreaded sound of screeching children at all hours of the day and night does nothing to convey the atmosphere of a luxury hotel…unless your idea of opulence is a cuticle trim at the Wal-mart nail spa.

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An unattended child parties down at Wynn’s “Parasol Up” casino bar…              

Earlier a few years back, the outspoken Mr. Wynn took heat for saying “nobody likes being around poor people”. One would assume, then, that he avoids visiting Bellagio these days. My biggest gripe about that Strip-center showpiece is the massive crowd that continuously flows through the lobby and into the Conservatory and Botanical Garden.

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Bellagio is one of the most expensive and well-regarded hotels in the city…yet the masses choking its heart tend make the lobby resemble a redneck State Fair. Thousands of flip-flops, cargo shorts, pajama bottoms, tank tops and yard-long drinks shuffle beneath a $10,000,000.00 Dale Chihuly ceiling every day, having no idea what it is or why it’s unique.

These everyday gawkers are in stark contrast to the multi-million-dollar surroundings, carrying their bad behavior, lack of manners, beer coolers and overflowing strollers with them. Call me snobby (I prefer the term “outspoken”, which is why this site is a one-man operation) but if I’m staying at a palatial resort, I want to be around a classier group of people.

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Palazzo Luxury King Suite (standard), Golf Course View…  

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   Every Palazzo room is a spacious suite with sunken living quarters and desk…     

That’s why I enjoyed my stay at Palazzo so much. Venetian‘s sister property has the right level of vibe, elegance and excitement to check off every box on my wish list. It has somehow managed to achieve the proper balance between fun and classy…and draws in a pleasant and appreciative crowd…minus the throngs that lug ice chests and beer coozies with them.

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Palazzo‘s porte cochere is absolutely gorgeous, but you wouldn’t really discover it unless you were a guest. Indoor attractions like the massive waterfall and spectacular atrium fountain don’t draw in nearly as many sidewalk gawkers as Bellagio‘s conservatory, either.

Palazzo hasn’t always been devoid of nightclubs, but that clearly isn’t their focus. Lavo continues to operate, but now as a restaurant and lounge. Their nightlife offerings were shuttered after a few years, allowing the focus to shift back to long-running Tao at Venetian.

A short-lived stint of The Act Nightclub on the upper floor of the shopping atrium was deemed too outrageous by the operators of Palazzo, who found nudity and shocking activity to be against the otherwise-conservative nature of the resort. The Sands Corp. forced its closure and the space, to my knowledge, remains empty.

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The rowdy Bourbon Room at Venetian was replaced this year as The Dorsey, an elegant affair featuring unique cocktails by famed Sam Ross in an atmosphere that evokes the sitting room and library of a stately mansion. Somehow the shelves of books and fireplace manage to feel hip without being stuffy, again reflective of that delicate balance that Palazzo and Venetian carry out so well.

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The pool scene at Palazzo is also lively without wallowing in vulgarity, especially at the adults-only Aquatic Club. That new day club offers throwback-style, super-cool server costumes and a slick intimate party atmosphere with retro sass. The service is impeccable and Wolfgang Puck makes a pretty mean turkey burger!

Just like Cirque du Soleil’s “O” and “Le Reve” reflect Steve Wynn’s fondness for water acrobatics, BAZ – Star Crossed Love represents the style and sensibilities of Palazzo. Hip, classy, bold and unique, the movie-musical mash-up BAZ dazzles the eye and puts a song (or thirty) in your heart.

Its attention to details is rich without smashing you over the head…just like the hotel it calls home. Too bad its final performance is July 29th 2018, but hey, it had a great run!

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BAZ: Star Crossed Love is sass, class and flash…               

Head clearance is another pleasing element of Palazzo. Both Wynn and Bellagio have very low ceilings throughout their casinos, which accentuate an already crowded atmosphere. The vertical height of Palazzo‘s casino is easily double that of the other properties, offering more natural lighting, fresher air and a spaciousness that compliments the nicely-spread slot machines and table games.

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As for the check-in areas, the less said about Bellagio‘s, the better. While the gardens behind the reservation desk are gorgeous, the lines are chaotic and smack dab in the middle of that human tide of fanny packs. No matter what time of day or night that you arrive, you’ll feel like a silver orb inside a pinball game.

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Wynn‘s check-in area for the original tower (there’s a separate entrance and desk for Encore) has undergone its own embarrassing problems of late. A brand-new arrival area, immediately to the right of the front entrance, lasted about a month before an onslaught of guest complaints (cramped quarters and a sloggy queuing system) shut it down.

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Guests weren’t the only ones confused by the constantly moving reservation desk…

The backlash prompted a reopening of the original reservation desk and dismantling of the new one during my stay. For a resort that prides itself on impeccable attention to detail, this must have stung!

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No such problems exist in the elegant and cathedral-like Palazzo reservation counter, which is as glorious as it is spacious. Despite the enormity of the property and its 3,000+ rooms, the check-in center is a model of efficiency…and once again, class.  The same could be said of the staff that I encounter whenever walking through Palazzo. Everyone I speak to is friendly, helpful, and comes across as genuine.

Perhaps that’s why I am writing this article. It’s easy to fall under the spell of gorgeous surroundings, and Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo are indeed palatial resorts. But once you’ve “been there, done that” with back-to-back stays at each of the Big Three, you begin to notice the differences. You realize that one of those places stood out in ways you never noticed before.

My takeaway is that the deterioration of decorum has rendered the notion of luxury resorts to be rather pointless in most cases. Despite their beginnings as palaces for the more affluent traveler, Bellagio has now devolved into a pseudo Mall of the Americas and Wynn/Encore version 2017 is essentially douche-bag central.

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Thank goodness Palazzo remains everything a five-star resort should be. No amount of glitz and glamour from Wynn’s current or former properties can replace the high-end experience of staying at the big P. It rises above the others by staying true to its purpose…and makes Palazzo my favorite luxury hotel on the Strip.

Photos by Sammasseur, Palazzo via Facebook, TripAdvisor, Expedia

Featured image courtesy Scott and Ryan Lyons

A side note:

There’s a widely-held misconception that critics and bloggers give favorable reviews when the object of their analysis has been comped. That notion is so common that even a former editor suggested that my scathing review of Magic Mike Live stemmed from not being invited to the media premiere (it’s a nauseating stink-fest no matter the circumstances).

As purveyors of our craft, it’s our responsibility to offer truthful opinions. That being said, when we’re invited guests, we’re likely to receive over-the-top service and perks galore. But as professionals, we can sift through the glitter and judge objectively.