HOTEL REVIEW: THE PLAZA

If someone told me that my first hotel review on Palm Trees & Neon would be of The Plaza in downtown Las Vegas, I’d have thought they were nuts. My favorite hotels include Aria, The Cosmopolitan, Delano, and Caesars. I used to do public relations for luxury hotels. I like nice hotels, really nice hotels. Some may even call me a hotel snob. But alas, we had a Groupon that was about to expire for Banger Brewery (review forthcoming) and a Hotel Tonight promo code for a free night at The Plaza, so we decided to give it a spin rather than pay for an Uber or Lyft. After all, it was only one night.

So first things first. When you stay at a hotel like The Plaza, or pretty much any of the downtown hotels, you have to adjust your expectations. These are older hotels, they cater to a different clientele, and they are exponentially cheaper than the top Strip hotels so you can’t go in expecting the Bellagio at The Plaza rates – which can be as low as around $20 a night in the slow season.

That being said, I went in with really low expectations and was pleasantly surprised.

Since 2010, The Plaza has been working steadily to update and renovate various aspects of the property. Most recently, they added a 50,000 sq ft pool deck expansion – which I did not see because I was only there briefly, and it was cold. The biggest coup for the hotel, which for years endured a reputation as something of a bargain basement type hotel, came in 2011 when it purchased brand new furniture – enough for all 1,037 rooms, as well as fixtures, at auction for pennies on the dollar from the failed Fountainbleu project on the Strip. Because Fountainbleu had been designed to compete against the top Strip resorts, that meant that the furnishings were an enormous step up from The Plaza’s former room stylings.

When we checked in there was absolutely zero line, however, I have seen the line at the check-in get very, very long, so I would definitely try to avoid peak check-in times. We were able to check-in early, but it was off-season. The lobby has been re-done and is clean and shiny, however, the scent that they pump through the ventilation system [as most Strip resorts do] is definitely not my favorite.

Our room was extremely spacious, clean, and overlooked the famous Fremont Street. The view would have been a lot better had they not erected the zip line tower smack in the middle of Fremont, but what can ya do, it’s not the hotel’s fault. Our room had one king bed, and then it had a little sitting area with a settee by the window. The bathroom had a closet bar/rack, a wall safe – which also came from Fountainbleu, and a vessel sink – which I’m just going to go out on a limb and assume was also from the failed Strip resort. The toilet and bathtub were separated by a door – which is not so in many hotels these days, so never take it for granted.

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plaza-deskAmazing hotels stand out for one reason: the details. Details in service, details in amenities, details in design. The Plaza is not quite there on the details. There’s a charming black and white picture of the historic hotel in the room which I loved because it is one of the oldest properties in town – not a hard feat, but still. But many times, the details weren’t there. The bed was a little hard, and the plaza-bathroompillows were a little lumpy; it took FOREVER for the water to get hot in the shower, seriously, I could probably have gone down and had a drink at the bar and come back up before it got hot; and there were no convenient outlets. I get that the hotel was built in 1971 but adding outlets is a VERY easy thing for most maintenance teams to do. There weren’t any outlets by the bed, and the only one by the desk was only accessible when I literally climbed over the desk to plug my phone charger into the wall. It’s almost 2017, virtually no one travels without at least a cell phone that requires charging. Anyways, those are my issues with the room.

 

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This was not even the biggest breakfast entree…

Back downstairs, The Plaza has a lot going on in terms of dining and entertainment. Las Vegas institution, Hash House A Go Go [technically it started in San Diego, but they’ve taken over Vegas with multiple locations], has an outpost just off the lobby and is the place to go if you’re REALLY hungry, and I mean REALLY REALLY hungry. They are famous, or maybe infamous?, for their larger-than-life, over the top creations. Hash House’s enormous, creative food sculptures will fill you up for days. If you’re looking for something late night, Pop Up Pizza is located just off the casino floor and serves up a solid thin crust, New York style pizza perfect for absorbing some of that alcohol you’ve no doubt ingested – did I mention there’s also a cute beer garden on the other side of the lobby – complete with cornhole sets.

 

 

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The beer garden

But every good Vegas hotel offers entertainment and The Plaza has recruited some of Vegas’ finest, longstanding acts. The Scintas hold court in the showroom and present a classic Vegas-style show with some comedy, some singing, and a dose of patriotism. The Scintas are a family act that has been performing in Vegas for a long, long time but they slightly adapt their show each night depending on the audience – the mark of true entertainers. After each show they head up to Oscar’s Steakhouse and meet guests and take pictures – they are extremely gracious with their time.

 

In the “lounge,” which is really just a corner off of the casino, you will find Wonder Boogie, bringing disco back every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. They are a fantastic cover band that has been performing in Vegas for years as well and they mix things up with audience participation and games – they even taught me the hustle once. I’m not typically what you would call a “willing participant” in things like this, but they really make it fun.

I’ve seen both, The Scintas and Wonder Boogie, more times than I can count – and ALWAYS have a great time with them.

All in all, The Plaza has really worked on transforming itself into a solid little property that packs a lot of bang for your buck. It’s far from perfect, but it will definitely show you a good time.

The Plaza – 1 Main Street Las Vegas – plazalv.com 

 

THE HOLIDAY SEASON SKATES INTO THE PARK

park-xmas1Thanksgiving may still be a few days away, but tonight kicked off the Christmas season at The Park with the lighting of a 60 ft Christmas tree. This year marks the first year the dining and entertainment district, which opened last spring, has been open for the holidays.

The Park, and specifically Toshiba Plaza at the base of the T-Mobile Arena, has been transformed into a winter wonderland for the holidays. Guests enter the district through oversized ornaments and continue along the path beneath festive sparkling branches, dripping with icicle lights.

At the Toshiba Plaza, the aforementioned Christmas tree is anchored by a fairly spacious ice skating rink where guests can practice their axels and spins for the 2018 Winter Olympics. If skating’s not your thing, or you’re worried about broken bones[!!] there’s a bevy of tents surrounding the rink serving up their finest winter offerings from cupcakes to candy apples – and don’t forget the hot chocolate to warm you up!

You can lace up your skates for two hours for $15 – there’s a 20% discount for locals and military. The rink is open limited hours 4pm- 10pm [except on the weekends] until Dec. 10, and from Dec. 10-31 it opens at 10 am. and closes at 10 pm daily, with the exception of New Year’s Even when it closes at 12:30am.

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Santa’s home at The Park?

So Santa. In what looks like it’s straight out of a Christmas season Coca-Cola commercial, the jolly guy in the red suit will be available [I’m pretty sure in a Coke tent with an assortment of props because it’s 2016 and no one poses in a photo booth without props anymore, right?] during the same hours as the rink – except yesterday apparently, when I was there, of course. Pictures are $20 for a 6×8 photo.

 

But my favorite part, which I also have yet to see because I was there before 5pm [or because they were hanging out with Santa, I guess we’ll never know] is that they will have Christmas carolers strolling throughout Toshiba Plaza, The Park, as well as the NYNY bridge, and Monte Carlo Plaza. I’m a sucker for some good old fashioned Christmas carols. Seriously. So stay tuned for more on that one.

And if you were expecting a warm desert winter [like those who enjoy the pool in the winter] socks and gloves are available for $4 each.

Go forth and be festive!

 

FIRST LOOK: LUCKY DRAGON OPENS EARLY

dragon-1Lucky Dragon, the Strip’s first property tailored specifically for the ever-growing Asian market, quietly opened it’s doors last Saturday- two weeks ahead of it’s Dec. 3 scheduled grand opening. The casino, which is coupled with a boutique hotel, is the first to be built from the ground up in Las Vegas since The Cosmopolitan opened six years ago.

Small, yet mighty, the circular casino offers an authentic Asian, primarily Chinese, experience in everything from the gaming  [no poker room, few blackjack tables, lots of baccarat] to the cuisine which takes its cues from the street food found in Taipei and Beijing. The 27,500 sq ft casino is anchored by a stunning 2.5 story, 1.25 ton glass dragon sculpture which floats above the center bar.

The 9-story boutique hotel [where rooms are currently going for $499/night but are expected to fall after the Dec. 3 grand opening] is accessible via a sky bridge from the casino as well as directly from the outside. The ground level features a tea garden with the city’s only tea sommelier to guide guests in their choices.

 

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No fourth floor.

What you won’t find at Lucky dragon is a fourth floor as the number four is seen as unlucky; conversely, you will find the number eight hidden throughout – such as the eight-sided center bar, as the number eight is proposed to bring good fortune.

 

Gorgeous as it is, Lucky Dragon certainly doesn’t feel like a typical Strip property. The intimate casino feels more like a locals casino, and that’s probably on purpose. Despite the fact that mere days before scheduled December opening, Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport will begin receiving direct flights from Beijing thanks to Hainan Airlines, Lucky Dragon’s target customers are more likely to drive in from Southern California or the Las Vegas Valley than they are to fly in from Asia. Indeed, their target customers are the more than 200,000 Asians already in Las Vegas, as well as those in other immigrant communities in Southern California, Northern California, as well as Vancouver.

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dragon-4Lucky Dragon will still “officially” open it’s doors on Dec. 3 with an extravagant series of Asian demonstrations, including a firecracker show, which according to Asian custom is a way of driving away evil spirits, as well as a traditional lion and dragon dance to bring good luck and good fortune to all. In addition, the world’s largest Kung Fu tea service will run throughout the hotel during the day.

Lucky Dragon is located just off the north end of the Strip at 300 W. Sahara Avenue.

 

IT’S ALWAYS POOL SEASON IN VEGAS… SORT OF

Las Vegas is a land dotted with palm trees and endless sunshine, but buyer beware, all that shines is not necessarily warm. If your plan is to lounge by a glamorous Vegas pool and soak up the rays, you may want to plan your trip wisely. While Las Vegas is in fact in the desert and the sun does show itself around 300 days out of the year, it does get cold. Like really cold. I mean seriously, I’ve seen it snow.

That being said, many of the pools here stay open year round. I guess if you’re from Canada maybe what my thin blood considers “down jacket weather,” you consider pool weather? Ergo, in this beautiful desert land, I can wear my winter coat and you can wear your bikini and we can all coexist – although you will have fewer options.

If you’re looking to get your polar bear swim on, here are some of your options:

Stay warm by the fire with a s'more or two or three.

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Moorea Beach Club at Mandalay Bay: Usually “toptional” during warmer months, this day club turns into an all-ages pool after October. For those of us who think it’s a little chilly to take a dip, they also offer reservable firepits and S’mores packages. Open 9am-5pm.

What a blissful way to spend a Sunday! Photo by @worldtraveladventurers

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Bellagio Pool: If you really want to get in the water without going into shock, the pool at the Bellagio is probably one of your best bets as they keep the main pool warmed to a toasty 80 degrees all winter. The Cypress Pool is closed for the season, but the hot tubs are open. Open 9am-5pm.

#VenusPool is waiting…

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Venus Pool Club at Caesars Palace: Like Moorea Beach Club, this typically adults only day club welcomes guests of all ages in the colder months. Open 9am-6pm.

Escape from the ordinary. #HowManyDays until you're here?

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MGM Grand Pools: Guests staying at MGM Grand have a choice of two pools during the winter- the Academy or the Producers pools. The Producers Pool is nice for those avid swimmers as they typically have three lap lanes blocked off. Open 9am-6pm.

Time to dive into some relaxation! The view isn't half bad either. #vegas

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Soleil at Paris: The Soleil Pool at Paris has a couple things going for it – the first is that it is a relatively small pool so maybe, just maybe the sun will warm it faster. The second is that it is IN. THE. SUN. There’s not really a spec of shade at this pool so that sunshine will definitely help keep you warm. There is also a hot tub – sadly, that’s in the shade. Open 10am-4pm. 

Our pool is heated and open all year long!😎💙#LINQLife #TheLINQPool

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Linq Pool: The Linq pool is a rectangular little party pool that is in the shade nearly all day – BUT it is HEATED. They have games and floating beer pong tables for those die hard, winter pool partiers. Open 9am-5pm.

I'm ready for some Sunday Funday action at @marqueelv Dome today! I go on at 3 🙌🏽🙌🏽

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Marquee Day Club at Cosmopolitan: If you’re really looking to step up your pool party game, the Marquee Day Club puts up their #dayclubdome and keeps the summer party going every  Saturday, Oct. 29- March 13, and on holiday weekend Sundays. Open 11:30am-sunset. 

It's a perfect day for the pool. When are you arriving?

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Palazzo Pool: The Palazzo Pool is open to guests at the Venetian and Palazzo and is an expansive pool deck surrounded by tropical foliage. The Venetian/Palazzo pool complex is one of my favorite pools during the summer because of their labyrinth of little pools. Open 10am-4pm. 

This is by no means an inclusive list of all the open pools in Las Vegas and the hours are subject to change so please verify with the hotel before your visit.

 

 

FREE ADMISSION TO BGFA TODAY

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Children on the Seashore – Pierre Auguste Renoir

When people think of Las Vegas, they typically don’t think about fine arts, but there is a hidden gem that seeks to change that. Nestled in the back of the Bellagio, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts [BGFA] is where “great art goes on vacation,” and today, in celebration of National Museum Day, it’s free to see.

The gallery works in partnership with museums around the world to bring traveling exhibits to the intimate exhibition space. Currently, “Town and Country: From Degas to Picasso” is on display showcasing work inspired by the industrial revolution and urbanization.

BGFA is open daily 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and offers complimentary docent tours at 2 p.m. If you don’t make it there today for free admission, tickets will set you back $16; $14 for Nevada residents and seniors 65 and older; students, teachers and military with valid ID. Children 12 and younger are free.

 

SOMETHING TO TACO ‘BOUT

tacos-3Happy Taco Tuesday, y’all! In honor of my first Taco Tuesday post, I wanted to share with y’all my absolute favorite place to get an authentic, Mexican street-style taco in Las Vegas: Tacos El Gordo de Tijuana B.C. Though they have been in the food service industry since 1972, the family-owned eatery first started dishing up their mouth-watering tacos packed with Tijuana flavors in San Diego in 1998 before expanding to Las Vegas in 2010.

Today, Tacos El Gordo is a Las Vegas favorite with three locations throughout the valley. For tourists and the late night crowd, the most convenient location is located on the north end of the Strip – walking distance to the Wynn – on Las Vegas Boulevard between Desert Inn and Convention Center Dr.

When you order at Tacos El Gordo, your actual order dictates where you order – which can sometimes throw off taco newbies. My go-to order is the carne asada tacos and a cheese quesadilla – because let me tell you, nowhere makes these simple little cheese quesadillas quite like they do and they complement the spice of the taco perfectly. But back to the tacos, the meat options or vast and varied – from beef brisket to pork stomach to tongue, nestled in a warm corn tortilla and topped with spicy salsa and fresh house-made guacamole. I like to add radish slices and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, too.

The flavors and authenticity of Tacos El Gordo speak for themselves, but in case you needed a little extra incentive, you know how presidents and presidential candidates often try to find those little hole-in-the-wall places with exceptional food, and humble, great American dream style stories (a la President Obama and the amazing Ben’s Chili Bowl)? Well when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visited Las Vegas recently, she stopped by for a taco from Tacos El Gordo before hitting up her rally in downtown Vegas.

Go forth and have tacos!

Tacos El Gordo: 3049 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109

 

VEGAS HAS BIKES!

 

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You can rent a cruiser 24-hours a day at one of 21 RTC Bike Share stations.

Earlier this the month, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada [RTC] quietly rolled out a new program that, while a seemingly small step, is actually quite significant in terms of establishing Las Vegas as a “real” city; ladies and gentlemen, Las Vegas now has a bike share program downtown.

Every single major city from New York to car-obsessed Los Angeles has a bike share program. These programs appeal not only to tourists who don’t want the expense or hassle of renting a car, but also to locals. In New York City, a city that I would certainly be a more than a little bit nervous riding a bike in, the tremendously successful Citi Bike program has provided a new transportation option in a city where the majority of both residents and visitors don’t have access to a car. In Vegas a majority of our tourists are traveling from countries where biking is far more popular than in the U.S.which means that they may be far more likely to rent a bike than a car – especially if they aren’t as comfortable with driving laws etc.

RTC Bike Share is a partnership between RTC, Bicycle Transit Systems [Bike Transit], and BCycle. There are currently 21 stations sprinkled throughout downtown where riders may “check out” a bike for just $4 for a 30-minute ride, $8 for a 24-hour pass [riders can take as many trips as they want within that period] or $20 for a 30-day pass. There are 180 bikes and they can be returned to any RTC Bike Share station.

This is all great and I’m all for it, except one little thing. Have you seen the drivers in Las Vegas? They. Are. Scary. I’m scared to drive in Vegas half the time, let alone share a road with them without a metal box protecting my bod. Downtown Las Vegas currently offers a number of bike lanes and routes and even more are planned for the future, so fingers crossed, this program really takes off. Would you ride a bike in Las Vegas?