Venice versus Venice

21 03 2008

Who is more fake? The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas or the Venice Pavilion in the World Showcase at EPCOT Center at Disney World?

The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada:

The Venetian

The Venetian

Venice Pavilion, part of the World Showcase at EPCOT Center:

Venice at Epcot

And for comparison purposes, courtesy of my sister…

The Real Venice, Italy:

Belltower at St. Mark's Square

Above: Belltower at St. Mark’s Square

Doges Palace

Doges Palace

Above: Doges Palace

Rialto Bridge

Above: Rialto Bridge

I have to say, both Epcot and The Venetian did very faithful (albeit unrealistically clean) reproductions of Venetian landmarks.  I think The Venetian in Las Vegas did a slightly better job, though. Regardless, the similarity between the two reproductions is one of the reasons that many people characterize Las Vegas as the adult version of Disney World.


Review: The Mirage in Las Vegas

27 01 2008

The Mirage was the first modern mega resort built in Las Vegas, and is widely considered to have started the trend of mega resorts that revitalized Las Vegas in the 1990s. Built in 1989 by developer Steve Wynn, the Mirage was the first hotel financed by Wall Street (through junk bonds issued by Michael Milken) and was the most expensive hotel casino project at the time. Mirage Resorts was sold to MGM Grand in 2000 and MGM Mirage, the current corporation that owns The Mirage, was formed. We stayed in The Mirage hotel and casino for three nights during our December 2007 Las Vegas trip.

The Mirage

The Mirage is located between Caesar’s Palace and Treasure Island (TI), across from the Venetian, and has a tropical rainforest theme. The resort is surrounded by palm trees and elaborate fountains on the outside, and tropical flora feature prominently on the inside. The wall behind the hotel reception is a huge aquarium and nearby is an atrium featuring some palm trees and tropical plants over a river. There are hourly eruptions from an artificial volcano at night that can be seen on the Strip.

White Tiger at the Mirage

In terms of attractions, The Mirage used to be primarily known for Siegfried and Roy’s Magic and White Tiger show until Roy’s accident in 2003. Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, a small zoo featuring dolphins, the Royal White Tigers, and lions, panthers, and leopards, is still an attraction and can be visited for a fee. Nowadays, singer and comedian Danny Gans is featured on the main stage at The Mirage. The resort is also home to LOVE, the fantastic Cirque du Soleil show featuring music from The Beatles. Click here for my review of this theatrical production.


Out of the three Las Vegas hotel casinos where we have been guests, including the Venetian and Paris Las Vegas, I would rank The Mirage our third favorite. Although they are all very nice properties with four star accommodations and amenities, The Mirage has been showing its age recently. Having said that, we felt that The Mirage was the best value and one of the most convenient.

Check-in was a bit of a zoo, and it took about 15 minutes in all for the process. Our check-in person was a bit impersonal, but efficient. Our room was the last room off one of the wings, so it took forever to get to our room, but this is very common for large Las Vegas hotels.

Standard Room at The Mirage

We booked a standard nonsmoking standard room with a King size bed. The decor is very 90s looking, but comfortable and impeccably clean. The room was larger than a standard room at most hotels, because of what can only be described as a granite tiled foyer. I liked the vanity area, as it allowed me to continue getting ready while my husband used the bathroom. Think of the room quality as above a Sheraton or other business hotel but below a Fairmont. The hotel is planning on remodeling its rooms in 2008, which we felt was much needed because although everything was clean and tidy, there was clearly a lot of wear and tear.

Bathroom at The Mirage

The bathroom was pretty nice, with a granite countertop and a standard tub/shower combo. The hotel provided generic mint shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and soap that looked like it was custom made for this hotel.

I took a picture of the page that featured what the new rooms would look like in the Mirage’s magazine.

New Rooms at the Mirage

While I believe updates are much needed, I’m not sure that I love the new decor. It’s a little too loud for my taste.

View of North Strip

A view of the north Strip from our room.

The hotel’s location is very convenient to the upper part of the Strip. The Mirage is right across from the Venetian. It is also next to TI (connected through a free tram), which is, in turn, next to the Fashion Show Mall (after crossing the street on a pedestrian bridge). This mall is pretty much an expanded version of a regular mall, and has a huge food court. Like everything in Vegas, however, food court prices are inflated, though still cheaper than most restaurants on the Strip. In addition, there is a Tickets Tonight outlet at the mall. Across from the mall is Steve Wynn’s newest luxury resort casino development, Wynn Las Vegas.

We ate at two restaurants at this property – the Caribe Cafe and Cravings, the buffet. We thought Caribe Cafe was just ok. It was reasonably priced but looked like a restaurant for seniors. We had sandwiches that were satisfying but not spectacular. We had the Sunday champagne brunch at Cravings, which was about $22 each and it was worth it. We compared this price with having breakfast at the deli place there, and it came to about the same just to get a coffee, juice, omelet, and fruit. Cravings is an upscale buffet that features food from all over the world, including Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, traditional American breakfast, and others. I was impressed that they had steamed Asian buns and sushi (ok) at brunch. They even had crab legs and shrimp cocktail. I especially liked the made to order peach crepe. We ate a ton there, and I felt like I got my money’s worth (considering Vegas prices).

As with most of the mega resorts on the Strip, gambling here was relatively expensive. The minimum at table games was $10, and there were not a lot of 25 cent or penny slot machines. They did not have a lot of the gimmicky quarter slots with bonus rounds that I like to play. Hehehe. I don’t think I’ve ever won anything over $20 here.

Overall, we were very satisfied with our stay here. The room itself was fine, the housekeeping staff was great at keeping the rooms clean, and we had everything we needed. The front desk staff and concierge were not overly friendly, but they were professional.

Since we stayed here from 12/20 – 12/23, we were able to get a room for $70 a night for the first two nights and $139 a night for Saturday night. This is a great value for this quality hotel. According to tripadvisor, the average price for this property is $263 but this must include some of the suites because I haven’t seen those prices unless it is an in-demand time.  I would not pay more than $200 for this hotel.  We booked directly through the hotel’s website after searching for rooms through To research rooms, we looked at reviews and tips at

Next Reviews: The Venetian and Paris Las Vegas

Fabulous Las Vegas

14 01 2008

Although almost everyone has heard of Las Vegas, many people have never actually set foot into this almost magical city in the desert. The reputation of this city has at times reached mythical levels, as it combines so many superlatives. Also known as Sin City, Las Vegas is infamous, seedy, glamorous, and lavish all at once. Even among those who have visited, the city has transformed so much in the last twenty years that they may not recognize it. Once a city of vice known for quickie divorces that was controlled by the mob and an eccentric tycoon, the city has become the premiere gambling and convention capital of the world. Gigantic themed mega resorts line the famous Las Vegas Strip, aka Las Vegas Boulevard, while older, more historical hotel casinos hug the downtown area. Once the mega casinos began moving in, a real city rose to support the growth, driving up the real estate market in this area.

Welcome to Las Vegas!

Since the city is located in the middle of nowhere in the desert, everything must be flown or trucked in, which contributes to the artificial, over-the-top, and man-made feel of the place. Gigantic water features in many of the hotels, most notably the musical Bellagio fountains and the waterfalls at Wynn, almost seem to represent the human conquering of the desert.

Las Vegas from the Plane

A view of the strip from the plane. This photo is from 2005, so it excludes some of the newest resorts.

Our first visit to this strange but wonderful city was in 2005. My first impression of Las Vegas was that it felt like an adult Disney World. Since virtually every hotel has a casino, only adults are allowed into most of the hotel areas. However, every hotel has a strong theme that is pervasive in all of its decor and entertainment.  If it’s your first time to Las Vegas, count on at least an entire day just walking through and gawking at all the different casinos.

Paris, the Venetian, New York New York, Excalibur, and Luxor are among the most obvious themes. Even the former crown jewel, the magnificent Bellagio Hotel and Casino featured in Ocean’s 11, is based on the Italian countryside outside of Lake Como. Some of the wackier hotels are Circus Circus, the Rio, and Excalibur.


A view of the Bellagio from a Paris hotel room.

New York New York Casino

New York New York

The theme of the newest mega resort, Wynn, is over the top luxury as far as I can tell. They have an 18 hole golf course on the Strip and several waterfalls, all in the middle of the desert.


Steve Wynn’s latest creation… Wynn.

While gambling is its major source of revenue and its most prominent feature, Las Vegas offers much more than just gambling. All kinds of entertainment abound, including Broadway shows, magic shows, variety shows, and traditional revues, not to mention concerts and Cirque du Soleil. We have personally experienced Cirque du Soleil’s LOVE (review here) and Penn and Teller, the comedy magic team, and have highly enjoyed both performances.


In addition, over the last few years Las Vegas has experienced an explosion in the culinary sphere. Almost every celebrity chef has at least one restaurant in Vegas, including such luminaries as Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, and even Bobby Flay and Emeril. There is truly something for everyone, and something to do 24/7 year-round.

Furthermore, because of the international clientele, there is truly a wide variety of food to choose from, and ethnic foods are fairly authentic.  Case in point, Las Vegas is a huge destination for tourists and businessmen from Asia who love to gamble, particularly the Chinese. There is even a small Chinatown in the suburbs of Las Vegas. Each casino has at least one Chinese restaurant and a Japanese place, sometimes more. We recently returned from our latest trip to Las Vegas the week before Christmas, and found that both Wang Lee-Hom and Jacky Cheung were performing. The casinos are in the business of getting guests to stay as long as possible, so it is only logical that the Chinese food in Las Vegas is quite authentic.

Review: Cirque du Soleil “Love”

9 01 2008

It’s typically a good sign when you are still listening to the soundtrack from a show you watched two weeks ago. Right now, I am listening to the Beatles “Love” CD from the new Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Obviously, music from the Beatles is timeless, but when I listen to songs like “Here Comes the Sun” and “Octopus’s Garden,” I also see the Cirque du Soleil acts in my mind’s eye. In a word, LOVE, the Cirque du Soleil’s new Beatles themed show, was spectacular.

Beatles LOVE

LOVE is a Beatles concert, theatrical production, and circus all combined in one show with a touch of signature Cirque du Soleil whimsy and artistry. Add a state of the art 360 degree stage, cool lighting effects, gorgeous and weird costumes, and of course over the top Vegas sentiment and you start coming close to describing the experience. The show samples more than 100 original Beatles recordings that have been reorchestrated and arranged to be a continuous 1.5 hours of music. There are acts/dances/performances that correspond to each musical piece, starting from an English chimney top scene reminiscent of Mary Popplins to four groovy roller skaters doing tricks on two U pipes to an underwater scene complete with jellyfish, octopus, and seaweed, and many many performances in between. There are balance acts, trapeze performances, tricycles that operate by themselves with only shoes, flash dances, and even a bubble performance. My personal favorite was the underwater jellyfish from “Octopus’s Garden” and the giant smoky bubbles.

While there is no real storyline, the show loosely follows the main male lead, a shy, tentative, but hopeful man looking for love. The rest of the show follows in a psychadelic haze, with Sgt. Pepper, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Eleanor Rigby, and Lady Madonna making appearances. Bright, flowy costumes, strange contraptions, structures that are assembled and disassembled, and the constantly metamorphisizing stage completed the strange but wonderful package that is the show.

In my unprofessional opinion, the musical arrangements, costumes, and choreography were out of this world. I can say without a doubt that I was entertained for the entire length of the show. The music was paced so that there was never a lull or dull moment, with one song leading seamlessly into another. The transitions between the acts were made to be part of the show, although I’m sure the high tech movable custom stage certainly helped execute on the creator’s visions. I marveled at the athleticism and artistry of the Cirque performers. I was not a Beatles fan particularly before I saw the show, though I liked them, but I can say I am a fan now!

The show’s concept was conceived between Guy Laliberte, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, and the late George Harrison in 2000. After years of negotiations between Cirque, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison (after George’s death), and the Beatles’ holding company Apple Corps., all those involved came to an agreement that allowed this show to happen. The show opened in 2006.

LOVE is housed in the Mirage, and tickets are from roughly $95-150 per person. While this is a bit steep, it is standard for a Cirque du Soleil show. We sat in the nosebleed seats on the balcony – we were literally two rows from the absolute last row in the theatre – but were able to see everything since it is a theatre that was custom designed for this show, and it’s not a large theatre. Having said that, we saw that performers mingled with the audience on the stage level, and there is even one act that includes the audience on the first floor. We bought our tickets at the Mirage concierge, but you can also get them from several different sources. Note that most Cirque du Soleil shows available from such discount brokers as TicketsTonight are usually not discount since these shows are so popular. The ticket brokers instead will have tickets for sold out shows that are often at or above retail price (for Cirque du Soleil shows, except Zumanity).

A Short Description of the Different Cirque du Soleil Shows in Las Vegas:

Mystere – The original Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas, and thus the most traditional, located in TI (formerly called Treasure Island)

O – The water themed Cirque du Soleil show at the Bellagio. Most people I’ve talked to who have seen this show say it is a little slower paced than the other Cirque shows. There is a big pool that is used in the show.

KA – The Cirque du Soleil show that is centered around the story of imperial twins who are separated in their youth and go through trials and encounters with KA, the powerful fire. (I had to look it up) Located at the MGM Grand.

Zumanity – The Cirque du Soleil show about human sexuality. This is an over 18 show and located at New York New York.

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