Westgate Las Vegas Celebrates 50th Anniversary In Style


Iconic hotel casino is Sin City’s first mega-resort…

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Many historians consider Mirage to be the first super-sized hotel concept in Las Vegas. The truth is that the resort now known as Westgate Las Vegas began the era more than 20 years earlier. Opened in the summer of 1969 as International Hotel, this massive structure became the largest hospitality destination in the world.

Full of superlatives and packed with luxurious amenities, the International was created with a goal of supplying top-quality accommodations and stellar entertainment with the best staff ever assembled.  A dream project of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, the 30-story structure was fast-tracked from ground-breaking to grand opening in under 17 months, an amazing feat even by today’s standards.61642082_2344871152275416_260241152320471040_n

Many of today’s visitors still refer to Westgate as “the former Las Vegas Hilton“, the name it carried from ’71 through 2012. During that time it would become associated with Elvis Presley’s landmark residency and later, Star Trek: The Experience. It was also home to dozens of legendary performers like Barbra Streisand, Liberace, Suzanne Somers, Charo, Wayne Newton, The Commodores, Sheena Easton and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Starlight Express.

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Five years ago the property was acquired by Westgate Resorts and CEO David Siegel pumped millions of dollars into a massive restoration project, keeping the entire resort operating as renovations took place. The new owner refused to allow his staff to lose their jobs during the transition, protecting thousands of workers from financial hardship.

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Siegel’s dedication and longtime love for the property was in full display during an epic 50th anniversary celebration on August 3rd. Invited guests strolled down an ornate corridor festooned with images of historic moments, pausing for photographs on the carpet before a pre-party cocktail reception.

Glass cases of memorabilia lined the perimeter of the room, recognizing noteworthy events and moments of the last five decades. Mr. Siegel joined Mayor Carolyn Goodman and President/GM Cami Christensen onstage to toast the legacy of the hotel. They also recognized the thousands of people who have contributed to its ongoing success.

Dignitaries from the worlds of entertainment and media then joined high-rollers and honored staff for a spectacular meal in the main dining hall. Guests enjoyed an appetizer of lobster tail and prawns, a main course of beef wellington and champagne as performers like Frankie Scinta and Zowie Bowie provided music and laughter.

Christensen then honored longtime employees including theater usher Angel Lopez Rosas. Mr. Rosas has been part of the service team since the hotel opened, working an estimated 12,000 shows. The party then moved to famed International Theater for a stunning performance by Elvis tribute artist Ted Torres Martin and “Sweet Inspirations”, which included a performer who had shared the very same stage with Presley during his sold-out residency.

Looking forward, Westgate continues to… (Click HERE to continue reading)

Photos: Sam Novak, Westgate Las Vegas

 

 

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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

Lost Vegas – When Your Favorites Are Gone Forever


The decision-makers of Vegas may want you to forget all about what “used to be”, but not me…

Everyone knows about the ever-changing face of Vegas. While the publicity machine churns out NEW! BETTER! BEST! in the hopes of grabbing your attention (and getting a fair share of your travel stash), they fail to mention that, in the process, you might be losing your favorite Vegas “whatevers”. Most times they’ll disappear, with no hope of returning and never to be mentioned again. In today’s round of “Lost Vegas”, I’ll share some of my own fond memories…and perhaps a couple of tears.

Chef Kerry Simon passed away in 2015 after battling MSA disease, a form of Parkinson’s. His death was preceded by the closing of two Vegas restaurants, Simon’s at Palms Place and KGB Burger Bar inside Harrah’s. While I was fond of Simon’s for its location and ambiance, it was the food at KGB that drew me back many times.

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My favorite item there was the Thanksgiving Turkey Burger, a one-of-a-kind holiday celebration on a bun: big juicy turkey patty, stuffing, cranberry relish and sprouts topped off with a layer of turkey gravy. That belt-buster was even better when washed down with a Captain Crunch milkshake.

My favorite KGB server, Chris, used to offer his own variation of the Crunch shake, topping it with strawberry syrup. All the better to evoke memories of morning cartoons with a bowl of Crunch Berries, the best variety of Captain Crunch.

Kerry’s legacy will live on at Carson Kitchen, his final culinary offering to Sin City. We’ll miss you, Mr. Simon…and those fond recollections of Thanksgiving and Saturday mornings in front of the TV.

From there we move to Neonopolis, the troubled downtown shopping/entertainment complex which has been mired by a history of failures. The biggest one-two punch came with the simultaneous closings of Krave Massive and Drink and Drag.

Both businesses catered primarily to the LGBTQ crowd, but Drink and Drag was much more of a progressive mix of gay and straight. This nightclub/bowling alley was the epitome of Vegas oddities, mixing lip-syncing drag queens, pool tables, tasty food and muscular shirtless bartenders into one wild ride.

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Always a blast, especially for those with an open mind, Drink and Drag quickly became a hit. The former Jillian’s location offered big entertainment–and a very unusual evening on the town…for chump change. Unfortunately, there was more behind-the-scenes drama than a truckload of divas sharing a dressing room. Management and liquor-license issues ultimately closed the doors, taking sister club Krave Massive (one level up) with it.

The final incarnation of Strip mainstay Krave never really took hold downtown, despite a temporary life at Rio, which kept the brand in circulation during the construction phase. Promising to one day become the biggest gay venue in the world (complete with a rooftop pool) Krave Massive was more like Krave Minor…it lasted only four months. Most sections of the club were never completed, and those that were accessible lacked…a lot.

The former occupant of that third-floor space didn’t fare much better. Galaxy Theaters at Neonopolis once offered mainstream movies to downtown visitors and residents. What started off as a 14-screen multiplex was later downsized to 11. The theater complex was poorly maintained and drew a frequently rough customer demographic. It even operated without air conditioning (unthinkable in the desert heat) for the last several months of its existence.

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The theater was closed abruptly on the eve of the new Star Trek reboot on May 7th, 2009. Neonopolis frontman Rohit Joshi explained that without digital projection upgrades, Galaxy Theaters would need to “maintain its competitive edge” by shutting down. With logic like that, it’s no wonder that Neonopolis continues to sit mostly empty.

Speaking of Star Trek, the former Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton continues to garner mentions at the annual Trek convention at Rio. Offering rides, character experiences, weddings, dining, a mock-up of “Quark’s Bar”, gift shops and a museum, Star Trek Experience drew visitors from all over the world. For many, it was the only reason to visit the otherwise-floundering Hilton (now a more successful Westgate Hotel Casino).

Star Trek entrance

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At one point, Rohit Joshi (him again) promised to reopen Star Trek Experience at Neonopolis, in conjunction with a new Star Trek film on May 8, 2009. Obviously that didn’t work out so well. These days, the casino portion of the Star Trek space is being used by Westgate timeshare sales people as a presentation room. A curious end to an otherwise-legendary exhibit.

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In the 1990’s, it seemed like every casino wanted to have thrill rides – IMAX simulators, roller coasters, sometimes even an entire amusement park. A few remain, but two of my favorites are long gone. The first I experienced, on my inaugural trip to Vegas, was the High Roller. No, not the observation wheel at the Linq, but a roller coaster that once wound around the top of the Stratosphere. That slow-moving train was more about the height than the dips, but I’ll never forget stepping into the car, looking over the edge and saying “I must be insane to do this”. High Roller was closed and dismantled in December of 2005.

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Sahara Hotel was home to Speed: The Ride, a fast-moving coaster that shot riders from inside the building onto the Strip. It turned them upside down, then sped up even faster for a jaw-dropping vertical climb. Once the train came to a stop, it ran backwards and returned to the station through a cool misty fog, all in a very rapid 45 seconds.

Speed was dismantled with the closure of Sahara and was slated to be rebuilt near Mandalay Bay under the shadow of a second planned giant observation wheel called SkyVue. Years later, the pylons for that stalled project remained unfinished and the property has a “For Sale” sign on the corner of the lot. Was Rohit Joshi involved in this venture? We can’t help wondering…

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Free attractions were once a popular way to lure people into the casinos…and hopefully to keep them there. Now that gambling is no longer the hot ticket, every available space seems to be destined for retailing. Hence, the removal of the white tiger pool at Mirage for a burger joint, the lions at MGM Grand for a sports pub, the Sirens and Pirates at Treasure Island for a CVS Drugstore, and on and on.

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Many others are removed due to costly maintenance and staffing expenses, like Rio‘s Show In The Sky, the Gods of the Festival Fountain (moving statues) at Caesars Palace Forum Shops, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay Bay and the Roman centurions that once strolled through Caesars Palace. Some attractions just yield to the times, like Merlin’s Dragon Battle at Excalibur…and the Sphinx water/laser show and Nile River Ride, both at Luxor.

What favorite attractions, features or offerings do you miss in today’s Vegas? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Photos: Sammasseur, Greg C., Banner photo via Cuningham Group Architecture

Look Out, Vegas…Here I Come!


Yes, I’m finally moving to Las Vegas…

My love affair with Sin City began when I started dating my now-husband, a fresh-out-of-medical-school doctor. Ryan encouraged me to go with him to Las Vegas for our first vacation together. This was back in 2005…when we were both living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Ryan’s words echoed those of my mother, a long-time Vegas junkie. She was convinced that it was the place for me…and she was right. Our mutual fascination with the city even inspired a very popular article that I penned for Vegas Chatter.

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Now, after eight years of Oregon life…with frequent flights back and forth…it’s time to call Las Vegas home. We’ll still maintain a residence in Salem….Oregon’s capital, where its capitol building is located (if you want to have fun with English). But now my base of operations will be the southwest part of the Vegas valley in an area called Mountain’s Edge.

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Being one of the few non-locals (sometimes the only) on the team of several Vegas-centric websites has, I believe, given this writer a perspective that only visitors to the city can have. But I plan on maintaining that point of view going forward.

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It’s easy to allow amazing things to become “normal” when you see them every day. But I’m not about to become jaded with all that the Strip and surrounding regions have to offer. My heart will still be firmly planted in two different states. I’ll just be watching sunsets from my rooftop deck now…and keeping a watchful eye on the city from afar.

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The postings here might slow down a bit while we get things set up in the new household. My cats (especially one-eared panther Tommy) are going to love the view. But stick with Vegas Unfiltered through this very short adjustment period. Things are about to get really exciting!

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Photos: Sammasseur