Friday, January 21, 2011

Aria Wrap Coming Apart At The Seams?

How long has this thing been up? A week? LOOK AT IT!

These were shot by Amy from Panorama Towers tonight. She didn't notice it this morning, so she thinks it might be intentional or that they're working on fixing something. But I just can't figure out how that could be; if they were peeling some of it off, would they send a crew out there to just pull at corners and leave them hanging?

What's interesting is that when I was at the Panorama condo on Monday, there was a chunk of the H that was missing. That's been fixed. So my hunch is that they've had trouble applying this wrap because the building surface isn't smooth. Part of the reason they got LEED Gold Certification for Aria was that the windows are designed with a small overhang above it that reduced the amount of sunlight gets into the rooms and, thus, reduced the A/C usage.

Here's another theory: Aria is uncomfortable with this desecration and humiliation as our dogs are when Miles tries to put a sweaters on them. The soul of the building is protesting, Mr. Murren. Set it free!

By the way, it occurs to me that MGM Resorts would've been wiser to wrap Vdara instead. It's not as prestigious a property, it actually faces south so as to face to California-to-Vegas-bound cars and -- added bonus! -- it could mitigate the sun glare from the Death Ray. And now there's another reason: The wrap would probably stick better.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Six-Point Cosmopolitan Overview, Finally

OK. I've been lax at writing up some more general opinions of Cosmopolitan, so this post is past due. We stayed at the resort last week for Miles' birthday and I've had many meals there by now. Lots and lots has been written already, so I figured I'd provide some points I don't think have been mulled. You can also read The Olds' reaction, our adventure with our dogs and my Flickr set. Also, Hunter Hillegas' photo set is terrific as well.

1. Layout/Orientation. The resort's compact layout of the building is quite convenient in ways that have not been fully noted. Yes, it creates a concentrated, urbanesque energy that the spread-out Aria/CityCenter aspires to but lacks. But, also, there are two tall, slim towers, so rooms are really never more than a moment's walk to an elevator and the elevators are generally surprisingly prompt. Because the second, third and fourth floors are parallel above the casino and consist of wide, usually empty halls for the convention area, it's incredibly easy to cross from one end of the resort to the other without having to bob and weave through the pedestrian traffic on the casino level. Another thing that impressed me is that I have often spotted workmen changing the directional signage at the elevator banks. Nothing has actually moved in the hotel, but they seem intent on tweaking and tweaking that as they figure out what visitors need to know to get where they're going. Smart.

2. Food. Plenty has been made of several Cosmo eateries -- and we've now over the course of the past month or so had sensational meals at Scarpetta and Jaleo and average-to-poor meals at The Henry and Holstein's. But the unheralded winner among them is ... The Wicked Spoon. Yes, the buffet. Just when you think there's nothing new left to do with this old Vegas staple, the Cosmo folks reinvent it anyway. How? Well, portion control, for one thing. They put most of the offerings in individual-sized metal bowls or dishes that say, "Take one and come back if you want another" instead of having you dump piles of food you will not eat on a plate. Here's how they mete out shrimp, for instance, in two or three to a dish to make you stop and say, "Do I really want/need 30?":

Portion-control shrimp cocktail at Wicked Spoon

Here are a couple of other shots (by Amy, whose set you can find here) of one round from the buffet and the pretty dessert section:

Individual portions also results in more interesting and seemingly fresher food, including an amazing chicken pot pie and an outstanding chili baked under cornbread.

One word of caution, regarding dessert. This green-and-orange thing is as vile as it appears...

A Vile Dessert At Wicked Spoon

...and the purple logs below taste like soap.

The purple ones taste like soap

Also smart and surprisingly novel is that each table automatically gets a large bottle of water. How did nobody think of that before? Oh, and, finally, a shout out to...

The Coolest Creamer Ever

...the cutest little creamer I've ever seen. The waiter said people steal 'em, and I'm not surprised.

3. Rooms. Yes, the rooms are sensational. And you can see many outstanding shots of them taken by Multiple-Trippie-Award-Winner Hunter Hillegas in his Flickr group. But it's the balconies and the spectacular views of neighbors that make the place work:

Bellagio Fountains From Floor 66

Planet Hollywood Marquee From Bed

One fun detail I really dug was this wallpaper in the bathroom:

Cool Bathroom Wallpaper

4. Parking. It's a small but genius thing -- and that's where Cosmo really distinguishes itself anyway, in the details -- but each parking space has a little light hanging over it. When it's red, it's occupied. When it's green, it's empty. See:

Self-Park garage

What does this mean? Well, you can now scan far into the distance and across the concrete jungle to find a spot. If you can't appreciate this, you've never spent gallons of gas roaming a massive parking structure for a space.

And on that topic, it is necessary to note that the horrific scenarios that Steve Wynn had predicted for the valet and parking areas here have not yet materialized. I've been in and out of Cosmo dozens of times now and I've never had a problem or seen a significant backup. I can see where the choke points might happen, but so far I've been lucky and, perhaps, so has the resort.

5. People = Animals. Cosmo decided to install user-friendly art and then put this on their come-on on the homepage:

And so they did. They came and they sat in the giant shoes, the pulled on the wall installations, they let their kids hang on the telescopes. And as a result, as Kristen Peterson wrote in the Las Vegas Weekly, there's been a lot of damage and now they've sometimes cordoned these pieces off:

I write "sometimes" because these ropes were there when Peterson did her piece, gone when Miles and I stayed and back again this week. Any which way, it's too bad. It's also completely predictable. But how THIS happened...

Broken Mirror

...I don't wanna know.

It's a little amazing, frankly, that nobody has taken a big-ass swing down the three-story chandelier. Clearly, there's a compulsion to interact with it:

Lady In Crystals

6. Problems.
Service and technology remain troublesome. Our Do-Not-Disturb sign went missing the night we arrived. It took three calls over the course of two hours to get someone to bring us a new one. Somewhere during that time, the TV also stopped working; it had been futzy since we arrived anyway. One call to the front desk yielded this odd answer: "Some of our guests have informed us that if you unplug the TV and plug it in again, sometimes that helps." It didn't. In a follow-up call, we learned the cable was on the blink for the whole tower. Huh. The TV did not resume working until the next morning. When checking out, the bell desk promised to send someone with a luggage cart at 12:45 p.m. He showed up at 1:15 p.m. At the valet desk, several guests found that the scan-your-own-valet-ticket thing didn't actually work when they asked why their cars hadn't arrived and learned the computer hadn't told anyone to get it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MGM CEO Jim Murren At Chinese State Dinner

A day after the re-elected senator he stumped heartily for called the Chinese president a dictator, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren and wife Heather are on the White House guest list for tonight's state dinner. They're one of two sets of Nevadans on the list; Limin Liu and Dr. Hugh Shapiro of Reno are the others but I don't know them.

It's an interesting invite. Murren is one of the three gaming CEOs doing serious business in China. It stands to reason that Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn wouldn't be invited given how outspoken they've been against the Obama administration. Still, Murren is also the only one who has not made absurd, suck-up remarks about how terrific Beijing is to its citizens. So who knows how these things are decided?

Sen. Reid is not attending. Interestingly, his decision not to go was not overanalyzed the way House Speaker John Boehner's was. Hmm.

Last night, I caught the bit in Jon Ralston's daily email about Reid's remarks that Hu Jintao is a dictator and posted a piece on Politics Daily later that evening. From there, it spread across the mainstream media, although nobody else had any first-hand knowledge of how sensitive Beijing is to such remarks. I, of course, was editing Chinese propaganda a decade ago.

Also tangentially related to Vegas on the guest list or just plain interesting: Maya Lin, Yo Yo Ma, Rupert Murdoch's wife Wendy (sans Rupe), Jackie Chan (with a male companion, his agent), President Carter, Herbie Hancock, Michelle Kwan, Barbra Streisand (with Mr. Streisand), Vera Wang, Anna Wintour and out gay actor B.D. Wong (with his mom, I think).

Monday, January 17, 2011

We Have Not Pod-Faded

Got this Anonymous comment on another post today:

Pretending that the podcast doesn't exist is not a classy way of closing it down or reducing it to an occasional ep whichever is the case. On the other hand, it is in the long tradition of commercial radio where one day there's suddenly music or a new guy where there used to be somebody else, and there's never a word of explanation.

Now, really. Does anyone honestly think that I of all people would go gently into that good night without an explanation or announcement? Seriously?

No, we haven't given up the show. We've just hit a few successive snags. First, we were out of the studio on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, both Saturdays. Then, for the past few weeks our engineer, Kaan, has been crippled by an epic case of gout. And now we've just learned that LVRocks.Com will be shutting down as of February anyhow.

So we're in a bit of a scramble. One of the lovely parts of our unusual experience as podcasters has been that we've had a place to do it that didn't require us to futz too much with equipment and such. Instead, we've focused on producing a journalistically credible program with a patina of professionalism that comes from our work backgrounds and Miles' brilliant voice. We love the Internet and all things media, but we're not really technologically inclined. If you don't believe me, take a look at the train wreck that is my website.

That said, it looks like it's time to invest in some proper equipment and start producing the show from our home. I've consulted with pals Hunter Hillegas and Tim Dressen about how it's done and we'll be figuring this out in some form or fashion in the next couple of days.

It is certainly true that from time to time we run out of steam and need a break. We've been at this for more than five years, have put out about 300 episodes although we never numbered them. And the rewards are many: Interaction with so many wonderful listeners, an audio diary of our relationship, the ability as journalists to be in better touch with Las Vegas consumers than probably any other reporters covering this destination, the chance to share the nifty Vegas-related tchochkes we accumulate with our trivia winners, the revenues from donations and advertising that modestly compensate us for the thousands of hours.

We'll be back quite soon. Hopefully we'll have a chat room and webcam, too. And doing this from home will mean Black, Jack and Aces can make cameos. We'll do our best.

Stick around and don't give up on us so easily. We certainly wouldn't give up on any of you in the manner referenced above.

Miss America Stomps Miss USA In TV Ratings

Norm Clarke reported this morning that the Miss America pageant netted 6.6 million viewers on ABC on Saturday and declared it a success because that's a 47 percent uptick from the 2010 pageant's 4.5 million viewers in the first-run on the cable network TLC.

That seemed like spin to me because 6.6 million viewers is really not that great for network TV and at least on TLC the pageant enjoyed reruns that garnered even more viewers after the fact.

Then I went to compare apples to apples for quite a surprise: The Miss USA in 2010 broadcast on NBC drew just 5.25 million viewers in May and that was up 5% from 2009. And that's the pageant that all the tabloids adore because there's always a stray pole dancer or mini-Palin in the running. (The winner, 17-year-old Teresa Scanlan, a religious kid from small-town Nebraska who said she'd like to be president and thinks Wikileaks involves "espionage," is already being analyzed for her potential Palinistic attributes.)

Seeing how the media narrative leading up to Saturday's event involved the Miss America v Miss USA storyline -- with now-former Miss America Caressa Cameron snarking to me for AOL News that she'd never "heard anyone say she wanted to grow up to be Miss USA" -- the Miss America gang can be rightfully pleased.

I had a surprisingly good time covering this thing for Agence France-Presse on Saturday and offering a fun barb here and there via Twitter. It's not something I ever cared about before even though my own sister once won Miss Pee Wee New York or some-such and got to compete in some Miss America event in Atlantic City when she was an unbelievably cute 3-year-old. I've been friends with many gays who make Miss America a major, major thing and, in fact, that crowd certainly set Planet Hollywood aflame on Saturday.

I think it was most fun because I was seated besides Nebraska native Cara Roberts, Norm's other half, and behind a particularly jolly Robin Leach who was Tweeting via iPad. I had picked up a big bag of Jelly Bellys before the show and shared, which couldn't have hurt. I'm not sure Cara had really had them before because she was marveling at the buttered-popcorn flavor. Jelly Belly veterans know us from some buttered-popcorn beans.

Also, despite our recent scrums, Robin was incredibly friendly to me and even tried to let me access the Web via his Myfi card when my iPhone was, predictably, not cooperating. And he wasn't even in it for the Jelly Bellys, which he declined.

I'm hopeful I'll have an awesome Vegas-related Miss America column this week for the Weekly on a topic nobody else caught. It really depends on whether I can reach the one I want to speak to on Tuesday.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Staycation At Cosmo Part I: The Pet Thing

It was Miles' birthday last week, so it seemed like just the right moment to check into the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and celebrate. And since the Cosmo is a pet-friendly resort, we decided to give it a whirl to see how exactly that works. The deal is you can bring dogs under 25 pounds and, while the policy is a maximum of two, we called and they let us bring all three. There's a $250 deposit per pet and you get $200 of it back regardless of your length of stay if nothing goes awry.

We'd never checked into a pet-friendly place before, and it was really kind of an interesting thing. When we arrived, the dogs were in their crates and were put on the luggage carts:

...although we could have walked them on their leashes in the public areas. We just weren't sure, so we played it safe. On the counter in our room was a whole spread of stuff...

...including treats, puppy pads, bowls and a small patch of astroturf for the outside terrace.

Unfortunately, our guys were a bit weirded out by the strangeness of the situation and just wouldn't make use of the pads or the turf. So instead, I walked them regularly in a fascinating outdoor pool area on the fourth floor.

It's this gigantic expanse of pools and cabanas with five tiers, many with turf on it. Here are some images:

The area was large enough to enjoy a decent walk with the dogs and it's open 24 hours a day. That, in and of itself, seems unique to me; most resorts shut down access to the pool area after a certain hour.

There were lovebirds all over this area enjoying the tremendous views at all hours...

...and even some taking swims in the middle of the night.

Traveling with pets is an interesting experience, but not one I'm keen to do again anytime soon. We were trying to relax but we felt guilty leaving the dogs crated in the room, we felt nervous when we were in the room that they might do something wrong if we didn't keep watch over them and I felt a bit freakish and pathetic walking around with three little animals when I needed to take them out.

The reaction of other visitors was mixed. Most people lit up at the sight of the dogs and several wanted to pet them; it was nice to have Aces, who likes anyone who likes her, because Black and Jack have always been defensive and noisy around strangers. In this setting and with their new little sister setting an example, they were very sweet to those who wished to pet them.

That said, we stayed on weeknights, so it seemed that many of the people at the Cosmo were conventioneers. Some found the idea of encountering animals delightful and told me all about their own pets. Others, I could tell, were in a business-like mode and found the presence of dogs a distraction from their conventioneering headspace.

I also had a particularly harrowing moment on the elevator. We were going down, the doors opened and Aces decided to saunter out just when the doors were about to close. I was able to yank her back in, but I had terrible images of the doors closing with her outside, the elevator starting to move and ... yikes.

The Cosmo staff couldn't have been more friendly and encouraging with the pets, but I do wish that they had provided us with some information as to where we were permitted to take the dogs. I've heard since that there's actually a dog-run of sorts in the back of the building near the Jockey Club connection.

So that's the pet report. More to come, but in the meantime, here's our guys and gal:


Aria Wrap: Even Worse Than We Thought

That's it?

It appears the desecration of Aria is complete. And the outcome, if it is even possible, is worse than expected. "Elvis is in the Building"? With no further instructions? No reference to the name of the show? Just a sign that could also be hung on the Stratosphere (America Superstars), Harrah's ("Legends In Concert"), Bill's (Fat Elvis) and the Viva Las Vegas wedding chapel, among others?

There's no grace or beauty in the sign, either. This, remember, was what the VegasTripping gang had imagined this would look like:

THAT would have been more graceful and less visually off-putting.

But more importantly, they've now damaged the elegance of a world-class building and spent many thousands of dollars doing so. And the message is . . . unclear. Isn't the purpose of advertising to raise awareness of something? The sign MGM Resorts just put on Aria assumes you already know about the Viva Elvis show inside. But if you already know, what do you need the ad for? And if you don't know? Well, that sign doesn't scream, "Ooh, I gotta find out what that's all about!" does it?

Somehow I suspect most Vegas-goers think that there's some sort of Elvis something in every building on The Strip. Also, that it's tacky kitsch. Also, tourists don't see the back of this building all that much, so the billboard is only useful to drive-by traffic on I-15.

I just can't come up with any scenario where this make senses from the point of view of protecting or promoting a brand. These folks are just too cute by half.