Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Aliante Casino Hotel, North Las Vegas!











     Aliante Casino Hotel!
     The north end of the Las Vegas Valley is not as far away as it used to be, now that the I-215 Beltway is finally nearing completion.  Most of the temporary detour off-ramps that were in place during construction phases have disappeared.  This long stretch of road now flows smoothly from I-15 in the northeast close to Nellis AFB to the west end of town near Red Rock Canyon.  The distance to points of interest in North Las Vegas is still the same mileage, but it no longer takes more than an hour to get there when traffic is snarled up on the surface streets.
     What this means to visitors of downtown Las Vegas and locals in the valley is there are now more options to get some fresh air in a relaxed "Off The Strip" resort atmosphere.  Not everybody wants to be in the thick of thing every minute of the day on The Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street.  After a while, sensory overload takes over when too much time is spent in loud, crowded, neon lit primary tourist destinations.  Casino resorts located Off The Strip do offer a little more mellow atmosphere and some room to breathe freely.
   
     The Aliante Casino-Hotel-Spa is located at 7300 North Aliante Parkway in North Las Vegas.  The Aliente Parkway off-ramp is located on I-215 between Highway 95 and I-15.  Tourist will be happy to know that every major highway in the valley can be used to get to Aliante, so there is little need for a map.  
     Originally this resort was named "The Aliante Station" and it was one of many Station Casinos in the Las Vegas Valley.  Just before the Great Recession went full tilt in 2009, the Station Casino Corporation unveiled two luxury resort projects located in the outskirts of the city and one huge mega-resort located on the Las Vegas Strip.  The Red Rock Casino and Aliante Station luxury resorts were completed and the mega-resort Echelon project on The Strip failed financially in the first phase of construction.
     Because of the harsh economic climate during the recession, luxury was not in high demand and The Aliante Station was not turning profits like it should.  The Station Casino Corporation eventually unloaded The Aliente Station and now it is owned and operated by new entity.

     The current Aliante Resort logistical plan was driven by design and not dumb luck.  The Aliante Golf Club offers championship quality play.  The Aliante Casino Hotel was designed as a golfer's paradise with all amenities.  During the economic recession, the golfing destination theme was not exactly profitable, but now that the worst of economic times are over, the golfer's paradise theme is the key to success.
   The new Aliante Casino Hotel management team retained many facility features that the Station Casino Corporation left behind.  The atmosphere of comfortable luxury was retained.  The table gaming runs at a relaxed pace.  The level of service is classy, yet not stiff like at a formal luxury resort.  The overall feel of Aliante can be compared to what is found at a comfortable golf course country club.

     The restaurant and buffet prices at Aliante are about the same as the premium luxury Station Casino resorts, like the Green Valley Ranch and Red Rock.  Apparently the new owners of the Aliante placed heavy emphasis on maintaining restaurant customer satisfaction by improving quality, while retaining good dining value.  This hospitality strategy pleases the local clientele to no end, because Las Vegas locals always seem to prefer good food at a bargain price.
    The restaurant venue at Aliante appeals to working class members that seek comfort with class.  Golfers and those who are retirement age like the food venue too.  I dined at the Medley Buffet and in my opinion, this is easily one of the top five best premium local casino buffets in the valley.
     The 24/7 restaurant called "FARM" offers quality oriented diner style comfort food favorites and food creations made with flair.  Customers that I chatted with while playing cards all had great things to say about the "MRKT" restaurant.  MRKT is a classic fine dining steak & seafood restaurant and the atmosphere is perfect for special occasions.    

     As one can see, Aliante opened during the worst of economic times and this resort definitely faired well after a change of ownership.  The Aliante Casino Hotel has now found a viable niche in the local's casino scene.  The relaxed country club pace, atmosphere and amenities appeal to golfers, locals and those who seek comfort Off The Strip!  

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Bellagio Fountain Show, Las Vegas!















     The Bellagio Fountains, Las Vegas!
     The Bellagio Fountains are a prime Las Vegas tourist attraction and the show is free of charge.  Considering the thousands of spectators that line up around Lake Bellagio each day to watch the show each hour, The Bellagio Fountains is by far one of the most successful entertainment venues in the history of the Las Vegas Strip.   
     The Bellagio Fountain show involves a complex system of high pressure water jet nozzles that are positioned just below the surface of Bellagio Lake.  If I recall correctly, the most powerful water fountain jets are operated with pressure generated from steam, which produces an immense amount of sheer thrust.  Some of the high pressure fountain jets produce vertical bursts of water that exceed 450 feet in height!   
     Every Bellagio Fountain Show is coordinated with a musical score.  The selection of tunes range from Elvis and Frank Sinatra classics to Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean."  Holiday songs and marches are also incorporated in the music venue.  
     On the day that I photographed the Bellagio Fountain Show, the cloudy overcast had just broke up and sunlight started pouring through.  The visual effect was quite dramatic.  Moments like this are the perfect time to see the Bellagio Water Fountain Show.

    Rooms at nearby casino resorts and restaurants offer good views of the Bellagio Fountains.  I once dined with a guest at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant across The Strip at the Paris Hotel Casino and the fountain show definitely enhanced the evening, even though the view was partially obstructed.  
     The best place to get restaurant tables or a room with a view of the fountains is at Bellagio itself.  Many restaurants and clubs offer lakeside veranda seating with an unobstructed view of the show.  Rooms overlooking Lake Bellagio can also be booked.  There are even several romantic wedding procession courtyard locations on site near the Bellagio Fountains!
     The Bellagio Fountain Show certainly is a spectacular event!  Relaxing in the sunshine by the lake and chilling out with a little bit of overspray from the powerful fountain blasts, while listening to classic hits of the past, does have a way of putting a smile one's face.  The Bellagio Fountain Show is simply a must to see when visiting Las Vegas!                       

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stovepipe Wells Village, Death Valley!












     Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley!
     Stovepipe Wells is located on California Route 190 in Death Valley.  Landmarks near this Death Valley hotel resort are Mesquite Dunes and the Devil's Cornfield.  Stovepipe Wells is also where the dirt road to Mosaic Canyon begins.  
     Stovepipe Wells started as a mining community about 100 years ago.  When the age of the automobile began, this small community came to life.  In 1925 a hotel resort was built at Stovepipe Wells to accommodate travelers on the scenic Death Valley Toll Road.  Stovepipe Wells eventually evolved into a village of sorts with a saloon, hotel, restaurant, general store, gas station and even a small airport.  This resort offers every amenity that one would expect in the modern age.  
     The old Stovepipe Wells Hotel is a National Historic Landmark.  One thing that has changed since this old Death Valley travel destination expanded operations is the official name.  Most folks call this little oasis by the original name, "Stovepipe Wells."  On nearly every travel brochure, it is called "Stovepipe Wells Village."  On some documents, part of the name is spelled as two words, "Stove Pipe."  No matter what name is used, anybody that is familiar with Death Valley knows what is being talked about!

     Stovepipe Wells Village is a busy destination and tourists flock to this place to find relief from the summertime extreme heat.  I stopped at Stovepipe Wells on the way to the Mosaic Canyon and the employees at the general store were very courteous and professional.  This resort now has a modern look and well maintained.  I was impressed with how everything is "spit and polish!"

     The day after I visited Stovepipe Wells, a rare torrential rain storm struck the area.  The dry wash that runs from Mosaic Canyon at the top of the mountain, leads straight downhill to Stovepipe Wells.  As one can imagine, a flash flood roared downhill toward the Stovepipe Wells Village.  The resort was flooded and the guests had to be temporarily evacuated that evening.  
     I was working at another Death Valley resort just down the road at that time and many people from Stovepipe Wells sought refuge at our resort.  The funny thing is, the Furnace Creek Resort is also located where another dry wash winds down from the Funeral Mountains, so that area was under a flash flood threat too.  Luckily, the flash flood stayed within the Funeral Mountain dry wash boundaries, so all was well.  

     It is weird when the barren Death Valley desert is bone dry for years, then all of a sudden a dry wash running down from the mountain looks like Colorado River white water rapids!  When flash flood warnings are broadcasted, it is best to heed the warning.  
     It pays to keep an eye out for those rare rain storms that pop up during the summer monsoon season.  Death Valley is surrounded by mountains and most of the basin of Death Valley is well below sea level.  Water does run down hill, so stay out of dry washes when it looks like rain, even if the storm clouds are several miles away.  A dry wash can flood in less than five minutes, even if the rain is falling several miles beyond the horizon. 
     Flash floods not only swamp the dry washes with a wall of water, these fast moving floods carry huge boulders that can crush cars.  Many people perish in flash floods each year, so remain on high ground till the storm is over!  Death Valley can be a very unforgiving place.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

MGM Grand, Las Vegas!













     MGM Grand, Las Vegas!
     The MGM Grand in Las Vegas is world famous for a number of reasons.  This casino resort has the second highest room capacity in the world and it is at the top of the occupancy list in America.  The sheer numbers involved with describing the MGM Grand resort does command respect from anybody in the hospitality industry.
     The MGM Grand hosts many world championship boxing matches and sporting events, so this resort always is in the news.  Top musical acts perform here on a regular basis.  The nightclubs and cabarets in the MGM Grand are at the top of the charts too.
     Conventioneers like the fact that the MGM Grand staff is capable of handling a banquet for thousands of guests with ease.  Speaking of food, gourmands relish the thought of dining at MGM Grand because so many top chefs operate restaurants on site.
     MGM Grand also has earned high credentials with travelers worldwide because of this company's commitment to the green movement and sustainability.  When it comes to environmental responsibility, MGM Grand is never described as being complacent or negligent.  Millions of dollars have been spent on constantly upgrading the MGM Grand resort facility to reduce its environment footprint.  As far as it goes, MGM Resorts international operates every property as if it is a model of sustainability that others should follow.      

     As one can see, MGM Grand is famous because this resort has so much to offer.  The company leadership team constantly strives to keep this resort in a position of being the leader of the pack.  It is said that MGM Grand sets the standards that all other resorts are judged by.
     Much of the success of this company can be attributed to Kirk Kerkorian, who recently passed away.  Kirk Kerkorian certainly had great business savvy and he was instrumental in initiating the long term development of Las Vegas.   He will always be remembered as being the first to successfully put a modern mega-resort plan into action.  In all, Kerkorian actually holds the title of building 3 hotel complexes and each held the title of being the largest mega-resort in the world.  In the end, this man was worth billions and this certainly gave MGM Grand a secure future.

     I have visited MGM Grand many times in the past, both as a visitor from Chicago and as a Las Vegas resident.  I have never booked a room at this resort, but I used to be a VIP guest at one of the sister properties, the Aria Casino Resort.  I was not granted VIP status at Aria because of gambling.  I actually do not risk much money at all.  I was given the VIP recognition because I spent so much money dining in nearly every restaurant in the resort!
     After experiencing the food at nearly every restaurant in Aria during a convention that I attended a few years ago, I finally made my way out the door with the intent of dining at the MGM Grand.  Back in those days I was on a gourmet restaurant kick, so I decided to have dinner at one of Chef Joel Robuchon's restaurants, L' Atelier!
     L'Atelier takes the cake for being one of the greatest casual fine dining restaurants in Las Vegas.  As every gourmand knows, Joel Robuchon is renowned for being the chef of the century.  The cuisine that he and his team designs at each of his restaurants worldwide is heads and tails above the rest.
     As far as cost goes, a dinner with wine and aperitifs can cost a small fortune at one of Joel Robuchon's formal fine dining restaurants, but the experience is well worth the price.  Unfortunately, not all of us live on an unlimited budget and this where L'Atelier at MGM Grand fits in.  L'Atelier offers petite portions, full entrées and pre fixe tasting menus within a reasonably moderate price range.  The service and atmosphere is relaxed, yet the food is as gourmet as can be.
     Those who seek the Joel Robuchon cuisine experience for a modest price will certainly be happy at L'Atelier.  I tried a signature cocktail and Foie Gras Stuffed Quail with Black Truffle Crème Potato while there and this entrée definitely satisfied cravings for something nice on my birthday.  A decadent birthday dinner at Joel Robuchon' L'Atelier in MGM Grand is always a good thing!

     About one year later after I moved back home to Las Vegas, guests from Chicago flew into town and they gave me a call.  The guests wanted to do the classic Las Vegas Prime Rib Buffet experience, but they did not know where to look.  Honestly, even though I know Vegas like the back of my hand, the request was not easy to fulfill.  Sure, there are plenty of casino buffets that cater to the locals, but the quality of the prime rib at casinos off The Strip is hit or miss.  Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not exactly something to write home about.
     I figured that the best bet would be to check the casino websites on the Vegas Strip and Fremont Street.  Old fashioned slow roasted Prime Rib Buffets is what Las Vegas used to be famous for, but because of the recent economic recession, many of the top casinos stopped offering Prime Rib at their buffet carving stations as a cost cutting measure.  Needless to say, finding a good Prime Rib Buffet on a Wednesday night during poor economic times was like seeking elusive prey.
     After about an hour of browsing menus, I finally narrowed down the search.  Only one casino offered an appealing Prime Rib Buffet special on a Wednesday night and the place just happened to be the MGM Grand.  In fact, the MGM website stated that the Prime Rib was Herb Crusted.  The Prime Rib was also advertised as being USDA Prime Grade Beef.  This made the price of admission sound even sweeter.  Rarely does any restaurant offer the best beef that money can buy on a buffet, but then again this is Las Vegas and customer satisfaction is what the MGM Grand is all about!

     The guests from Chicago and I were thoroughly please with the atmosphere and food quality at the MGM Grand Buffet.  This buffet is famous for specialty items, like an authentic Osso Buco and signature desserts.  My guests from Chicago only had one thing in mind and that was to gorge on perfectly cooked Herb Crusted Prime Rib!  I joined in on the fun too and made 3 trips to the carving station.
     After the last round, we all waddled over to the dessert station, which happened to be a full scale pastry shop that was constructed at one end of the buffet room.  The folks from Chicago certainly got their fill of fine food and they could not stop talking about the fun they had sampling one gourmet item after the next.  We all agreed that the MGM Grand Buffet Prime Rib Night experience was nothing less than awesome!

     The MGM Grand has plenty of loyal customers and many of the patrons simply will not book a stay anywhere else in Vegas.  This modern mega-resort is like a city within itself and anything that the heart may desire can be found in this place.  If a little getaway excursion of decadence, casual luxury and great entertainment is what you seek, the MGM Grand is the place to be!          

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Las Vegas Pride Parade!



























     The Fabulous Las Vegas Pride Parade! 
     The annual Las Vegas Pride Parade draws thousands of participants and spectators.  The number of the Pride Parade participants and sponsors has steadily increased each year and now the procession is well over mile in length.  
     The 2015 Las Vegas Pride events take place in the community this week.  The Pride Parade is scheduled to start at 7:00PM on September 18th.  The downtown Vegas Pride Parade route runs on 4th Street from the Arts District by Charleston, north to the other side of Fremont Street.  

     Smiles can be seen everywhere and the atmosphere definitely is festive.  Rainbow colors glow from horizon to horizon.  Colorful floats roll down the street and many have risqué alternative themes that would not exactly be acceptable in a conservative Thanksgiving Parade.  The Pride Parade enables members of the community to let it all hang out while promoting equality and harmony.  
     The Las Vegas Pride Parade really takes the cake, as far as creativity goes!  The slogans, signs and recitations send positive messages of equality and hope for a world without hate.  Spectators and activists from coast to coast travel to Las Vegas just to participate in this fantastic parade.  The choice to be in Vegas for this event simply is a matter of Pride!   

     Because Las Vegas has a reputation of being a city where anything goes, there is plenty of artistic talent to be found here.  The floats and costumes seen in the Pride Parade definitely fit the bill of fare.  A lot of hard work goes into making the parade event happen and the onlookers certainly are thoroughly entertained.
     Change does not occur if members of society just resign to being couch potatoes.  Getting up off the duff and participating in peaceful organized activism inspires change.  Same Sex Marriage legalization is a good example of societal change that is a direct result of organized activism in the gay and lesbian community.  Participating in the Pride Parade is a means for promoting worthwhile causes that benefit the community as a whole.  Banners for everything from AIDS Support Groups to Planned Parenthood can be seen in the Pride Parade.

     Unfortunately I have been stuck on jobs in Wyoming and Philadelphia and I will not be able to photograph the 2015 Las Vegas Pride Parade.  The slideshow above contains many photos of Pride Parades from recent years.  The photos drew a positive response from the community in the past when the Pride Parade articles were published at my old website.  Thanks go out for all the nice comments from way back when!

     Of course an event like the Pride Parade would be nothing if it was not for the thousands of onlookers that show up to see the procession.  Celebrating freedom of choice is always a good thing!  So, pack a bottle of water to stay hydrated, bring a camera and show some support for the community at the fabulous Las Vegas Pride Parade!