Here comes mike_ch's Las Vegas construction update April 2007. This one covers Paris, Planet Hollywood/Aladdin, Bellagio, City Center, NYNY, Excalibur, Mandalay Bay and Luxor.
Thanks again to him for providing this stuff.
Photos are located here: http://www.ratevegas.com/photo/most_recent
There are also some new videos, located here: http://www.ratevegas.com/photo/videos
Technorati Tags: aladdin, bellagio, casino design, gaming industry, harrahs, las vegas, lasvegas, luxor, mandalay bay, mgm mirage, planet hollywood, project citycenter, trip report, vegas, vegas photos, video
Folks, this update is a bit different than usual, as I started my adventure on Flamingo Blvd as usual and traveled south from there, so there's no Encore or Palazzo in this update. They will be there in the next update. Not going north gave me the additional time to check out some mid/south developments, such as CityCenter and largely the new Planet Hollywood, which by the time you read this will have been calming down after it's premiere event. As you'll see, the star is making her way down the red carpet, but sheesh, she is NOT ready for her close-up. Along with the photos, I tried to get some videos of the especially questionable lobby design but employee huddles where everywhere and they seemed to all get intimidating stone faces anytime I brought my camera out, so I got what I could without risking upsetting anyone.
The sports bar in the hallway between Paris and Bally's is open for those of you seeking Le Burger du Cheese. In a great moment of timing, I managed to get into the buffet at the last minute of breakfast and get lunch for a breakfast rate. My review has been posted to the RV database. It is a duck lips buffet, which offers less to the traditional middle-american diet than the Bellagio and certainly way less than Planet Hollywood. But it has a few unique elements. A decent value, and a good bargain at the breakfast rate.
Just as I made a last day visit to the Stardust, I make a last day visit to the Aladdin. Except really, I don't think I should even call it that. The fact is that this hotel is both ready for opening and at the same time it's completely not ready at all. I'm still not sure why they decided to hold an event the next day, except that some people were doubting this place would ever open.
When I first arrived, I thought "I guess they abandoned any intentions of having obvious construction complete before the press event." The fact is that the whole Strip facade from the entrance along past the restaurants and all the way down to the end corner is still undergoing work. That is not a pretty sight, and this will probably be the first Strip hotel in some time (ever?) to hold an opening party with a big "don't worry, we're open during this construction!" banner hung on the front.
Honestly, if they were going to go this route they could have held their event on Monday instead of Tuesday, except they were busy putting all the finishing touches on the revamped entrance. And by the way, how did the PH folks fix the Aladdin's infamous entry access? Did they expand the frontage out closer to the street with a door that didn't require going upstairs to get to? No, they just built some moving ramps and enough additional stairs to make the casino entrance look more like the entrance to a sports venue. Otherwise, there's no reason to set the Aladdin/PH transition on Tuesday because there's really nothing left that says Aladdin anymore. They're almost as ready on Monday as they will be on Tuesday, but it's still not ready enough for most our tastes.
Inside the Miracle Mile mall, Urban Outfitters was open and some trendy-looking signs were hung up pointing to common amenities like restrooms and ATMs, but everything else is incomplete. Just inside the doorway, half the shops have a contemporary storefront while others still look like a market in Iran. The PH casino has changed since I last saw it. The colored stripes that could be seen on the walls in the original portion of the hotel have been expanded all the way around the casino. Instead of changing colors like crazy they now slowly drift from color to color. The "Extra Lounge," promoting the celebrity gossip show, was partially open, you could sit at the bar but the lounge itself was closed as wait staff was still being trained. There were some very generic looking Extra reel slots nearby.
On the balcony wall over the table games they've put up a bunch of flat panel HDTVs, but two of them were zoomed in as though they wanted the screens to combine and display an enormous picture, while all the other sets were displaying the whole picture on each screen. On the opposite wall, where that stupid wall decoration with the light-up flowers and flashing blue walls used to be, there's now three enormous screens running soothing computer animation like a simulation of running water.
Meanwhile, up on the balcony itself, they've completely run out of ideas. The PH folks actually have more floor space than they seemingly know what to do with. Most of the upstairs balcony is empty space. A place formerly used for a temporary registration desk is now a very poor looking sports book. In a dark corner there were a bunch of chairs and enormous projection screens displaying output from a DVD player. They seemed to me to be looking over the video reel for the outdoors bigscreen whenever the PH installs one, but I'm just guessing entirely. The gift shop up there is still called Open Sesame. Somebody in the comments asked about the spa, and the original Elemis spa is still there, although the hallways back there are nicer looking than ever.
There were only three interesting things happening on the balcony: One, a slot tournament using PH Resort slots. Two, a glass case with some movie props and figurines. There's a few things from Harry Potter, one of John Wayne's old cowboy hats, and some posters. This glass case seems kind of lonely up here and I was hoping the hotel would have a lot of this memorabilia stuff and hopefully switch out often with the remaining restaurants opened in tourist cities around the globe. This wasn't what I imagined. Three, and most interesting, is the store and theater area for Stomp Out Loud. Although it wasn't opened this area seems pretty fun with a lot of "trash" hanging off the walls like the usual can lid, as well as more unusual fare like a slot machine reel and some roulette wheels. The whole thing reminded me a bit of Blue Man Group's antics, and it's probably a good idea to give the crowd that kind of energy from the start since Stomp itself seems to have disappeared off people's radar in recent years.
Also upstairs is the old London Club area, which still hosts penny slots and yet curiously looks a step above the rest of the property as far as quality of design and materials, although the old bar by the escalator was being torn out today.
Signage is a disappointing mix of new signs and the old Blue/Gold relics. Very strange to walk into an elevator core with modern decorating and these signs intentionally trying to look like a cheap middle east themed tourist trap. The lobby in the bottom floor is quite possibly the ugliest one known to Vegas. The wall of light behind the registration desk is gaudy enough to tie the Reno Peppermill, and looks like it belongs there. On a gentle note, the colors of the wall of light slowly change, synchronized with the slowly changing colors along the balcony walls of the casino.
There's been a lot of negativity about this place since the word was first announced, mostly because the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain is an easy punchline. I don't think a lot of that is warranted, although certainly they don't deserve endless praise. Their finished product is much more in-line with what Las Vegas is advertising itself as than their embarrassing concept art. That registration desk is pretty ugly, but the resort as a whole stands a fair chance against the likes of Paris, Monte Carlo, NYNY (who have raised their prices at some point in the past few years.) They have to get some quality restaurants and make better use of their floorplan and fully modernize the Miracle Mile and probably open up a nightclub before they can give The Mirage a run for it's money, but hey, it's only Day Zero.
So to sum it up, I think they probably have the right goals, I just question whether they have the pocketbooks to make it happen since there's plenty of signs for concern, such as how they only modernized the signs that needed new directions. There is likely a market for people who want the Palms vibe without the Palms cost and the Palms location, the question is are they likely to trade in the Palms cachet for the total non-cachet of Planet Hollywood to achieve it? The risks of negative brand equity are certainly real.
In the last update, spring decorating had come to the lobby and conservatory. In this update, spring comes to the building exterior. Bellagio is almost beginning to feel like a little nature habitat in the middle of the strip, as the trees have grown in well over the decade and animals that somehow find themselves in or over the valley will find the site has plants and water in abundance.
Walking around outside the taxi stand towards the lake, the sound of birds singing is everywhere. For a moment I thought it was a really good sound system hidden somewhere on the roof of the low-rise building. Then, I spot a hummingbird flying around between the trees. It's been years since the last time I saw a hummingbird, way back in my CA hometown. A wild momma duck and her children bob along in the front lake. They avoid getting blasted by the dancing fountains by sticking to a territory between the Fontana Lounge balcony and Jasmine. It made me think back to a few years ago when Venetian management was called cold-hearted when they were unhappy to find a Momma Duck and her kids jumped the Strip and moved to the canals from the Mirage water feature. They demanded the gondoliers to stop feeding the ducks and a rumor persisted that they cranked up the amount of chlorine in the canal to make the water less desirable.
All in all, it would be interesting to know what steps if any the management plans to take about all the wildlife outside. I think all the animals around are a compliment to the beautiful setting but they do make waste and take a toll on the building. Historically Bellagio has had a pretty good history keeping their exteriors looking nice without resorting to the kind of animal-be-gone tricks you see at other casinos, like ugly spiked metal strips along the tops of objects to keep birds from perching there. The animal presence wasn't so noticeable in previous springs and it's likely the critters could all disappear on their own accord or otherwise in time for the temperatures spike well into and over 95 in a few weeks.
Speaking of the building itself, it's starting to show signs of getting older. Some of the domes along the waterfront are starting to show their age, one has a large discoloration. The dome on the very top of the original hotel tower looks VERY weathered, and can the wear can be seen by anyone with normal vision all the way out at the sidewalk. There is also the slight discoloration on both hotel towers associated with the drainage system at work, but it's only visible up close and it was probably expected to occur when they designed the system that way. I don't any of this is a sign of someone's neglect as much as it is the building changing as years pass by.
There's a building infrastructure that's been going up near the CVS. The beginning stages of Mandarin Oriental? It looks like the right spot by my guess. There's a number of utilitarian looking columns sticking up in front of the hotel tower, I suppose to hold up that circular roadway.
The upstairs Haagen-Dazs opened. The Schrafft's just a few feet away is also still running and looks like it has no intentions of shutting down from the competition. Keep in mind that NY-NY has had an H-D upstairs in the arcade area forever, but I was taken aback to see two ice cream parlors steps away in the same location. It's also worth noting that H-D seems to be the preferred ice cream of MGM-Mirage as it's in many of their food courts except Treasure Island which of course has a popular Ben & Jerry's. The Schrafft's is connected to a Tropicana juice bar (no, not THAT Tropicana, think orange juice instead of casinos) so it's unlikely they'll leave unless both businesses lose money or hotel management gives them the boot. As I said before, the Schrafft's is one of the more genuinely New York artifacts in NY-NY, and I hope it sticks around.
Dick's Last Resort is now on resort maps, although the area itself is still walled. The new sports book opened some time ago, and while it's mostly a dark open space like all sports book there are some small decorative touches that keep in mind the medieval theme without being completely in your face about it.
One of the gals from Bravo network's Top Chef is personally creating specials at THEcafe. If you're interested, talk to the reception or waiter because I'm not sure what THEdetails are, so it's possible she might only be working dinner or something.
Also in the food realm, the JPop sushi bar & lounge is finished and fully open near Red White & Blue where there used to be a more traditional Coral Reef Lounge. Everybody loves HD projection screens, so a number of them displaying various groovy patterns and the faces of anonymous Asian people are hanging around the lounge. Really, the bar seems to be pretty successful but I haven't been around in the evening to judge the success of the lounge. There used to be a tank with some sea animals in the old lounge which was why it was called Coral Reef, now as JPop the tank windows are covered up. Also, the lounge extends pretty far into the casino now.
Finally, a few directional signs behind JPop are in BAD shape. These signs basically tell you that Shark Reef and Border Grill are down restaurant row, but time hasn't been kind to them and a few abusive guests didn't help them, either. There's three or so of these signs in the area, and only one of them looks anything close to intact, the worst has as many as half the letters missing. A photo ought to be available in the gallery if you want to see for yourself. Somebody should do something about this because if you're entering from the parking garage (which a lot of LA weekenders coming for a visit are) it's one of the first few things you'll run into after you get past Rumjungle and Lupo. Rehab the signs, put a more permanent message on them (reminds me of the etched glass on the Mirage front doors replacing the stickers), or get rid of them completely. Just don't let them sit there because it really does drag the place down a notch to any visitor who sees it.
You think two Haagen-Dasz and a Schrafft's is a bit much? Brace yourself, because Luxor now has three Starbucks! One in the food court on the attractions level, one in the lobby, and one in the casino by the poker and Club desk. The club desk location was formerly Keno and it meant any business in that little nook was usually not doing too well. I knew the coffee house refurb in the lobby would make it a Starbucks, but I thought the one in back would close as a result. Guess not.
Most of the pool area is drained. Could renovations be underway? I was hoping for as much a few weeks ago when the Mandalay pool enhancements were given a press release. Speaking of renovations, the Nile Bar is now also under walls, construction-style lighting can be seen from behind the southeast corner wall where Hamada of Japan used to be. Walls over the glass of the casino's upper-level restaurants mean that Isis is still becoming Aspen and the old Sacred Sea Room space still sits dark.
The Aurora lounge now has some signs. In other sign related news there's directional signs around the casino which say Aurora Bar in them. What's interesting about these signs is that they're the typical Luxor directional sign we've all seen before, with the white letters on the brown background and the zig-zag accents. Elsewhere in the resort, particularly around the Galleria (no longer in Giza) and the buffet MGM Mirage had been trying with a new sign design with modern white lettering on a black background with red accents. I don't know if the effort for the new signs fizzled or what.
That ends our tour. Enjoy the photos!