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What’s new and changing in Las Vegas in 2023

First Person Exploits into the Unknown: Yes, it’s still possible to get away on a Vegas winter getaway vacation.

REGINA - Regular readers out there may have noticed my articles have been missing for the past week.

The reason is because I took the week off to go to Las Vegas on winter vacation! Honestly, things had been slow, and January is usually not a busy month for my beats anyway. Knowing this situation will not last long with the Legislature returning in March, and after coming to the realization that it had been four long pandemic-filled years since I set foot anywhere outside of Canada, I booked the trip to the Nevada desert.

Here’s the main reason I want to write about it. For weeks on end, we have seen a never-ending stream of news reports about “chaos in the travel industry.” 

It has been one story after another about airlines cancelling Saskatchewan routes to sun destinations, of winter getaway vacations getting ruined, of weather delays, and of people struggling to get their money back. You also have stories about lost luggage. It’s enough to turn people right off of travel.

What you do not hear enough about are the stories of the people who had no issues whatsoever. I guess the bad news is what gets the "hits."

In my case, I had a hassle free experience. I flew direct from Regina to Las Vegas on a Monday afternoon and then flew back on Thursday evening. I had no issues with the WestJet flights, and as a bonus, my luggage arrived as well.

My real point is for readers to not lose hope, and to not let news reports leave you discouraged. Besides, we are now past the holiday period which is always a hassle every year. If you really are desperate to escape the ice and snow, it is possible to fly to a sun destination and not encounter heaps of problems. If you want my take, your best bet in this current air travel climate is to make this the year to go to the U.S.A. for your sun destination, and to make it a direct flight if at all possible. 

Two things to say about Las Vegas flights. I have consistently encountered few significant delays over the years, and you have to believe the usual clear skies and mid-50 degree F weather in Las Vegas in January are a big reason for that.

The second thing to point out: I did not book Sunwing. Very important, and it also cut down significantly on the places to go.

On to my thoughts about what’s new in Las Vegas. It seems one of the constants about Vegas is change. There are always new resorts and casinos going up, and legendary old resorts coming down. 

One of the most obvious examples of this is the opening of Resorts World Las Vegas, a massive and brand-new casino and resort towards the more northern end of the Las Vegas Strip, just south of Circus Circus. 

I took a walk around at this new resort and was impressed by the high-end stores and the general layout of the casino. It was obvious the resort was appealing to a more Asian clientele because of the Asian themes associated with the place. 

I suppose now is the time to point out that 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit. During my whole time in Las Vegas, places on the Strip never let you forget that it was the Chinese New Year, with constant promotion and some impressive displays at the major casinos in which rabbits were prominently featured. They just relentlessly let you know this was the Year of the Rabbit. Las Vegas clearly loves their Chinese visitors, based on what I saw there.

One thing notable about Resorts World is it is on the former site of the Stardust, one of the legendary old-line casinos. Right at the front entrance inside Resorts World, I noticed a memorial tribute to the former property: it was a depiction of the famous old Stardust sign mounted on a bust, coloured in bright red.

This was a nice thing to do, even though the Stardust was quite infamous for being run by the Mob. It’s strange: on the one hand Las Vegas is very big on remembering its history such as Hoover Dam, the nuclear tests, the Rat Pack, Elvis, and even the unsavoury aspects like the Mob involvement. But on the flip side, they’ve also been notorious for imploding their legendary casinos and resorts. 

The Landmark, Sands, Dunes, Desert Inn, Frontier, the Riviera, and many others — gone. Of course, the Stardust "bit the dust" years ago. It’s good to see the old property remembered, and for something else to finally go up on that empty lot. But if you're big into wanting to preserve historic buildings, Las Vegas must drive you up the wall.

Other changes on the Strip include name changes in recent years to longtime properties. One name change happened at the Monte Carlo a few years ago. The name was changed to “Park MGM” and a big upgrade happened there. The main claim to fame for the Park MGM now is this was the first casino on the Strip to go totally smoke-free. That is something they have heavily promoted.

Another name change happened at what until recently had been the Bally’s casino located just north of the Paris Las Vegas. In December, the entire property was renamed Horseshoe, a revival of the name of the old Binion’s Horseshoe property that was located downtown. 

That former property just carries the Binion’s name these days, but it had gained legendary status as the locale of the annual World Series of Poker in its earlier days. History has now come full circle: the World Series of Poker has now relocated to a new "Horseshoe" property, moving on from the Rio as of 2022. As a side note, the current Horseshoe/Bally's property itself had at one point been called the MGM Grand, a name that now adorns the emerald-colored resort further to the south.

Since we have mentioned downtown, we should talk about the big changes seen in the Fremont Street area in recent years. 

The first time I had visited downtown Vegas several years ago, I wasn’t impressed. I thought the place was a bit of a dump and past its prime. Things have really changed in terms of development, most noticeably with the arrival of the new Circa resort on Fremont Street in 2020.

It is billed as an adults-only (over-21) resort, to the point where they ask to see your ID when you go in. (No joke.) This place is really impressive, especially for folks who are into sports and sports betting.

The Circa includes a sports book which is three stories high with multiple screens, and seating for 1,000 people. The sports betting media company VSiN is set up there, with a studio overlooking the sports book with its broadcasters on the air live. 

Up above, the Circa has a Stadium Swim area where people can jump in the swimming pools and watch the sports on a massive LED big screen, complete with scores and betting lines. Good stuff. 

The Circa is located where the former Las Vegas Club as well as Glitter Gulch used to be. That latter venue was memorable for its former neon sign featuring “Vegas Vickie" that dominated Fremont Street.

In yet another example of Las Vegas remembering its heritage while also tearing it down, the Vegas Vickie sign was restored and now hangs inside the Circa itself. Be sure to check that out.

Down the street over at “the D”, there have been some interesting renovations there. Of interest to Canadians: a new bar area called “BarCanada.” Expect to see lots of NHL hockey games on the TV screens located there.

There are other noticeable sports-related changes in Las Vegas, and those mainly involve the arrival of major pro sports in Vegas in a big way. The Golden Knights were the first to arrive, but there is plenty more.

When your plane lands at the Harry Reid International Airport (that’s right, they even changed the name of the airport), one of the most noticeable things about the Vegas skyline is seeing the brand-new, shiny black Allegiant Stadium, quite conveniently named for the airline. 

It is the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders, and among the really noticeable changes from the last time I was here has been the proliferation of Raiders merchandise now available. I noticed several official Raiders stores selling Raiders jerseys, Raiders clothing and other items. Clearly, the NFL is taking over, but Vegas locals are also proud of their winning Las Vegas Aces WNBA team (World Champs) as well as their brand-new National Lacrosse League team the Las Vegas Desert Dogs. I saw a few promos for the Desert Dogs inside the Mandalay Bay where their arena is located.

Perhaps the biggest sporting change on the horizon in Las Vegas is a major event happening in 2023: the Formula One race. The inaugural event takes place Nov. 16-18 on a night street circuit located right on the Strip. 

You can sense people in Vegas are excited about it, and they should be. It looks to be a big spectacle on TV. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s the only way you or I will be watching this race: on TV. 

Three-day general admission tickets alone start at $500, which is a fortune in its own right, but the better seats run upwards into the thousands of dollars! Yet there is no shortage of people willing to pay this amount to see Max Verstappen.

Talk about ridiculous! I’ve attended IndyCar series races for much better value, and better racing for that matter. So much for F1. Hopefully someone over there will grab some sense and lower the prices.

Those are some of the most obvious changes seen in Las Vegas in 2023, but before I wrap it up we should talk about an impending change happening at the Mirage. 

The resort is still there, for now, but in the meantime it will be renovated and remodelled to become the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas by 2025. 

It’s the end of an iconic Mirage brand that changed Las Vegas tourism and ushered in the era of the mega-resort when it first arrived, with family-friendly attractions like the "dolphin habitat". What visitors say they will miss the most is the “volcano” out front, and the eruptions that dazzle people walking along the Strip.

With the Hard Rock coming soon, a bright new "guitar"-shaped structure will soon tower over the Strip, but it looks like the volcano’s days are numbered. As usual, the one constant you can count on about Las Vegas is that things keep on changing. 

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