Do You Prefer Vintage Vegas Or Vegas 2.0?

By Michelle Baran
October 3, 2012
Courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau

Las Vegas is so many different things to so many different people. It can be a gambler's Eden, the ultimate family getaway, or a party-goer's paradise. Whatever Vegas is to its hoards of visitors, it's nothing if not constantly reinventing itself.

And now, one of its original hotels is reinventing itself too. The Flamingo Las Vegas is working on refurbishing 2,307 hotel rooms into what the hotel is calling "stylish and contemporary accommodations."

The ambitious revamp brings to bare how the Vegas of yore compares to today's newer, bigger, seemingly flashier Vegas. But is it a better Vegas?

The Flamingo Hotel opened in 1946, during a decade when some of the very first hotels and casinos were laying their foundation in the desert town. And while it may seem like there is unstoppable hotel development in Vegas today, back then sometimes as many as two or three hotels were opening in a given year.

In 1964, The Beatles arrived on The Strip and played two sold-out shows at the city's convention center. Vegas was making its name as a city of indulgence, indulgence in gambling, in blockbuster performers. And of course, a seedier side of the city was also emerging alongside all the glitz and glamour.

For those who still cherish that bygone Sin City and the heritage properties that helped establish it, the first 500 rooms of the Flamingo refurbishment will be available starting Jan. 2, and all of the rooms will be finished by late 2012, under the leadership of Las Vegas-based firm, Westar Architects.

"Flamingo has established itself as a one of the Strip's original resorts with a classic nostalgia reminiscent of vintage Las Vegas," said Rick Mazer, president of Flamingo Las Vegas.

But with newer and newer kids on the block, like The Cosmopolitan, which is turning one year old this month, it’s getting harder for the older properties to keep up. But they have one thing the new resorts will never have — history.

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Would You Go To Myanmar?

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a controversial destination, known probably more for its years of dictatorial rule than for its serene landscapes and golden pagodas. But in the wake of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Myanmar last week — signaling improved relations between the two countries as Myanmar continues to take greater steps towards democracy — travel companies are starting to beef up their Myanmar offerings in anticipation of increased demand for the off-the-beaten track destination. "We definitely expect Ms. Clinton's arrival in Burma to further increase the popularity of our brand new 'Visions of Burma' trip," said Mickey Huang, marketing manager for General Tours World Traveler. Huang said that General Tours added a new Myanmar trip with "guarded optimism" for 2012 as the country made "tentative but clear steps toward democracy," including the release of opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest last year. Thus far, General Tours' "Visions of Burma" itinerary is already one of the most-viewed tours on the company's website, and of the 20 tours that are brand new for 2012, it is among its bestsellers, according to Huang. Patricia Weismantel, product manager for Asia cycling adventure company SpiceRoads, said that bookings to Myanmar are "going extremely well." One traveler just back from the Asian nation, said she was very impressed with what the country had to offer from a tourism point of view. "I returned from Myanmar just over a week ago and am still trying to get my head around the absolutely fantastic travel experience this was," said Judie Parr of Malibu, Calif. She said that despite all the preconceived ideas, concerns and worries, the actual travel experience was "amazing." "This is the best trip I have done in 35 years and has become one of my very top travel experiences together with a safari and Papua New Guinea," said Parr. That's quite an endorsement, but not all travelers might feel the same. There are definitely possible ideological issues tourists might have with heading to Myanmar, given its not-so-rosy political past. Would you consider going to Myanmar? More from Budget Travel: Is Travel to Cuba Worth the Hassle? 5 Surprising Foreign Laws That Put Travelers at Risk Poll: To Red-Eye or Not to Red-Eye?


My Australian Thanksgiving

While my friends and family were enjoying turkey in the US, this year over Thanksgiving I found myself on assignment in Queensland, Australia. In lieu of an American-style meal, I decided to search out local cheap eats. This didn't mean skipping calories, but did bring tasty treats — including Vegemite, bugs, meat pies and fish & chips. Vegemite, a dark brown, vitamin B-rich yeast paste, often spread on toast, was something I didn't like when I first tried it in the UK. But it turns out an Australian version, made by Kraft since 1923, is more subtle — and to me, more appealing. I learned from a local while traveling through the bio-rich UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest (where among the notable creatures is crocodiles) that I had been eating Vegemite wrong. A very small amount of the salty paste (it tastes a bit like soy sauce) should be spread after you butter your toast, he advised, noting most people who don't know better use too much. It wasn't half bad. Having conquered that, I moved on to "bugs" — a type of prawn. No problem there, I like shrimp. You can wash the bugs down with a glass of Australian wine — maybe a Riesling from the Victoria "Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch" label, if you want to splurge. Fish & chips was a no brainer, and I had a wonderful, crispy example for only $12 at the RSL (The Returned & Services League), the equivalent of the VFW in Cooktown. The northern Queensland town is most famous as the place where Captain James Cook had to beach the Endeavour for repairs in 1770 — there's even an annual reenactment. Also in Cooktown, a pal and I enjoyed a surprisingly good Italian pizza ($18) at the aptly named The Italian Restaurant. Meat pies are a personal favorite and no one does them better than the Aussies. When I arrived in the beach town of Port Douglas, I started asking where to get "a pie." I was directed to Mocka's, a fixture for some 40 years. Current owner Nigel Quinn had just officially opened shop for the day and was putting a tray of the savory pies in his display case when I walked in around 9 a.m. The scent of buttery piecrust and steak — the most popular filling — had me salivating. I had already had my Vegemite and toast for brekkie (Aussie for breakfast) but made room for a steak pie ($4.95) anyway. For the uninitiated, meat pies have both a bottom and top crust for easy eating by hand. Inside is meat and gravy that oozes slightly when you take a bite. It's decadent deliciousness — and nothing like the frozen chicken pot pies at home. Later, in the seaside city of Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the meat and piecrust scent lured me into the newly opened Pie Face. The 24-hour pie shop is part of a chain of more than 60 stores, that was founded in Sydney by two fashion designers in 2003 – yes, apparently even those in the fashion industry eat the national dish, calorie-laden as it is. For $5.45, I grabbed a Thai chicken pie with just a touch of spice and ate every bit (they also do steak and a bunch of other varieties including a breakfast pie with bacon, eggs and cheese). Fortunately, Pie Face is soon to come closer to home. Next month an outlet is set to open on Broadway and West 53rd in New York, right near the Ed Sullivan Theater, home to the "Late Show with David Letterman." More in Budget Travel: Australia's Great Barrier Reef Made Easy Readers Best Australia Photos Eat Like a Local: Melbourne


Swiss Museum Aims to Cure Information Overload

Run a Internet search on "information overload" and you'll be swamped with results: more than 7,170,000 results hits in a quarter-of-a second. Everybody faces a tsunami of information every day. And that doesn't even count e-mails to respond to, virtual friends to check in on, and news articles to "like." Well, now you can receive "treatment" for information overload at the Museum for Communication, in Bern, Switzerland, which is showcasing a temporary exhibition through next summer called "Warning: Communication Can Be Dangerous to Your Health." The exhibition starts with a room lined with 12,000 books on a shelf, representing all of the new information published worldwide daily, according to a report on the museum by Agnes Pedrero of AFP. Visitors who are overwhelmed by information go to a "check-up room," where they fill out a questionnaire. Visitors then have two options: They can enter the room behind the red door or the room behind the orange door. The red door leads to a meditation room with black cushions and a red light with a woman's calming voice urging the visitor to let go of stress. The alternate room with an orange door leads to a simulated nature scene, where you can think calm thoughts. As you leave the exhibit, a vending machine punches out for you a cheat sheet of tips—called "Comucaine"—to take with you after you leave. The tips on staying sane despite the "data deluge" and the "time famine" include: find time to focus, with as many distractions turned off as possible. Try to avoid checking your e-mail first in the morning, insisting on a half-hour out for yourself for some project that's important to you—as opposed to something that's "urgently" needed by someone else, such as your child, your boss, your spouse. That may seem like common sense. But if it's one thing this museum exhibit shows, the more information one consumes, the less common sense one has. ADVICE ON DIGITAL DETOX VACATIONS FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 7 Ways to Unplug on Any Vacation Six Digital Detox Vacation Ideas No GPS. No Cell Phone. It's a Digital Detox Vacation in 2011


Is Travel to Cuba Worth the Hassle?

Cuba has long been forbidden territory for Americans. Only the most intrepid travelers have made it to the country, mostly by going through Mexico or Canada. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('4396eea8-7d47-46f3-b1c9-a8d3dd7ebc74');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)But the rules are changing. This year, the Obama administration eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, making it possible for Americans to go to the small Caribbean island as long as they make the trip with a licensed tour operator performing "people-to-people" trips. The goal? To encourage interaction between the two countries. This week we introduced our first-ever deal to Cuba. At $1899, the price tag is higher than most of our deals, especially for a destination that is so close to home. The rate includes your visa, round-trip airfare to Havana, four nights in the city, all meals, transfers, and your tour guide. During the trip, you'll meet Cuban artists, a professor who specializes in U.S./Cuban relations, and you'll visit an elementary school and housing project. Our deals team spends an enormous amount of time finding and vetting deals to make sure that the offers we highlight in our Real Deals section are just that—real deals—not the smoke and mirror "discounts" you find on many other sites. We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to feature this deal. On the one hand, it's an opportunity to experience a picturesque city with a fascinating history, not to mention one that has traditionally been tricky for us to visit. On the other hand, it's pretty pricey and as anyone who knows anything about Cuba is aware—a Cuban vacation isn't your typical Caribbean getaway. You don't come here to work on your tan, down mojitos, and practice your moves in the disco. You come here to see the sights and learn about history. And careful planning is essential. You have to bring with you all the cash you plan to spend because there are no ATMs in the country and credit cards aren't accepted. WiFi connections are slow, chances are you won't get service on your cell phone, and the lack of streetlights makes it difficult to get around after dark. And good luck getting to know the locals—Cubans are notoriously reserved, especially around foreigners. Still, the price is pretty good when you consider that it covers pretty much everything you'll need while you're here (food, board, tours). Plus, there is the allure of this part of the world and the novelty of being able to visit an area formerly off limits. The case for including the deal was compelling and eventually, the "for Cuba" contingent of our office won—and the deal was featured. Whether you book it or not is up to you. What do you think? Were we right to include a deal to Cuba on our site? And would you ever consider booking a deal like this? SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 8 Most Complicated Countries to Visit 10 Record-Breaking Bridges 10 Most Interesting Beaches