In part two of “WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT VEGAS?”, I add my own personal favorites to the list of “lost Vegas” memories…
In part one of this article, I looked at some of the places that MERCEDES IN THE MORNING listeners cited as their dearly-departed favorites. Today, I’ll add my own personal recollections of “Lost Vegas”.
Myself with “Buck and Winnie” at Harrah’s
Yes, it’s true that “Buck and Winnie” have become a part of Harrah’s history. They’ll live on in thousands of photos taken throughout the years. In looking back through my own album of Sin City memories, it became clear that plenty has changed since that first visit in 2004. How many of these do you remember?
MERMAIDS CASINO – Fremont Street Experience
For those who love a dive bar, MERMAIDS CASINO was sheer nirvana. When entering, you were adorned in Mardi Gras beads, given a ticket for an hourly drawing, then picked your spot at a slot machine.
Before you could spin the wheels for your first play, a cocktail had arrived…and many more would follow. Slots were loose, servers were pleasant, and the entire place existed simply for fun.
Gabriella and LingLing were longtime MERMAIDS favorites
The rear area’s food counter almost always had a line for cheap hot dogs, burgers, and chocolate bananas. It reeked of onions and deep-fried Twinkies, which somehow only added to the experience. The bathrooms were revolting, but that never seemed to matter. You were winning…and having a blast!
MERMAIDS and surrounding businesses like GLITTER GULCH were sacrificed for Derek Stevens’ dream project, the very expensive CIRCA Resort Casino. In his desire to revitalize Fremont Street, Stevens took away its gritty, affordable heart. And that makes me sad. There will never be another place quite like MERMAIDS.
HIGH ROLLER COASTER – The Stratosphere Hotel
Long before The Linq‘s giant observation wheel, “High Roller” was a coaster atop The Stratosphere tower. Part of a four-pack of thrill rides, this one was the tamest. It wound somewhat slowly around the base of the Sky Pod. Here it is pictured beneath BIG SHOT, a needle that shoots you toward the clouds.
HIGH ROLLER was the very first amusement ride I experienced in Sin City. Despite its limitations, the very notion of a roller coaster in the sky was enough to set my pulse racing.
The aging HIGH ROLLER was eventually deemed unworthy of repair and was dismantled in late 2005. You can still see remnants of the track if you know where to look. Three other rides continue to operate at the rebranded STRAT Hotel Casino.
Many other attractions have been removed due to costly maintenance and staffing expenses, like Gods of the Festival Fountain (moving statues) at Caesars Palace Forum Shops, the lobby aquarium at Mandalay Bay, and the Roman centurions that once strolled through Caesars Palace.
Some attractions just yield to the times, like Merlin’s Dragon Battle at Excalibur…and the Sphinx water/laser show and Nile River Ride, both at Luxor.
STAR TREK THE EXPERIENCE – Las Vegas Hilton
Meeting my first Borg drone at Las Vegas Hilton in 2004
Getting to finally visit STAR TREK THE EXPERIENCE was an absolute thrill for this fan. It drew visitors from all over the world and helped to keep the franchise alive between movies and television series. In later years, many cited it as the only reason to visit a floundering Las Vegas Hilton (now the successful Westgate Hotel Casino).
Upon entry, guests strolled through “History of the Future Museum” on their way to two rides…”BORG INVASION 4D” and “KLINGON ENCOUNTER”. Food and drinks were served at “Quark’s Bar”, a recreation from the Deep Space 9 series. Of course, there was a gift shop, photo ops, and a behind-the-scenes tour. Trek-themed weddings were a biggie, too.
The attraction opened in 1988 and closed its doors twenty years later. There was an effort to rebuild it at downtown’s Neonopolis to coincide with the hit 2009 film reboot. Obviously, that didn’t work out, and artifacts from the attraction were auctioned off and scattered across the globe.
You can still spy some remnants of Trek decor in Westgate’s lobby store. The casino portion of the attraction was converted to a presentation room for Westgate timeshare salespeople. A rather curious end to a legendary exhibit.
SPEED: THE RIDE – Sahara Las Vegas
SPEED: THE RIDE was the exact opposite of Stratosphere’s HIGH ROLLER. It was fast, low to the ground, traveled upside down, and even ran backward after reaching its peak.
SPEED was boarded from inside Sahara’s NASCAR CAFE. It shot outdoors into an underground tunnel filled with mist, performed an inverted loop in front of the hotel, then continued around its porte-cochere before finally rising upward.
I loved SPEED. It was a must-do that usually made me want to toss my lunch, but was worth it. For a full day of thrills, I would hop off the monorail at Sahara, walk down to Stratosphere and enjoy a few hours of their rides.
Afterward, I’d stop at Sahara for SPEED, then take the monorail to nearby Hilton for Star Trek The Experience. Hard to believe there’s so little like this to do on the north end of the Strip now.
Outside of the city in the small town of Primm, Buffalo Bill’s Hotel Casino was home to massive DESPERADO, once billed as the world’s tallest hypercoaster. In an amazingly fast trip, DESPERADO departed from inside the casino and did an entire circle of the property before returning to the station. It was permanently closed after the pandemic.
Vegas animal exhibits, like thrill rides, have gone the way of the dinosaur for the most part. Mirage’s current transition to HARD ROCK HOTEL means that days are over for Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and the Dolphin Habitat.
Twenty years ago, a moving walkway lured pedestrians into The Mirage casino. Even before the sound of slot machines hit their ears, visitors would encounter a pool where white tigers frolicked and splashed. It was replaced by a burger restaurant.
Down at MGM Grand, the famous lions were wrangled and permanently returned to Lion Habitat Ranch, a not-for-profit sanctuary at the southern end of the valley. You can still visit them, but it requires a drive. As with Mirage, the MGM Lion Habitat was replaced by a bar and restaurant. Because, you know, $$$$…
That’s not to say that animal attractions haven’t fallen out of favor with cultural norms. Most shows have eliminated involvement with performing animals, Mirage Dolphin Habit has been the target of years of protests, and even SeaQuest has been in the news for fines and violations.
Environmental issues have definitely affected Vegas decor. The lower that Lake Mead becomes, the less likely you’ll find greenery and water features throughout the city. It’s a safe bet to say that iconic Fountains of Bellagio will remain, but the ornate ones in front of Monte Carlo (now Park MGM) and Paris Hotel have been replaced by….wait for it….restaurants and bars.
The “water wall” in front of Planet Hollywood‘s CABO WABO CANTINA has been dry for years, Treasure Island‘s lake was downsized, Bally’s ripped out its gardens in favor of hideous Grand Bazaar Shops, and even Wynn’s aquatic spectacular LE REVE was replaced by the extremely dry AWAKENING.
Original cast members from LE REVE circa 2004
Speaking of shows, there used to be plenty of free ones. Tropicana offered AIRPLAY, an aerial circus act directly over the casino.
Rio All-Suite Hotel Casino offered “Masquerade Show In The Sky”, an hourly extravaganza of music and parade floats that glided above the casino. Guests could ride them (for a fee) as dancers tossed beads to the crowd below. Onstage, Brazilian songs and choreography reflected the hotel’s Rio de Janeiro theme.
In later years, the Brazilian carnival theme was replaced by a sexy reimagining starring Chippendales host Jaymes Vaughan. The entire production was yanked in early 2103 and led to the painful ghost town that is now Rio’s Masquerade Village.
Treasure Island‘s long-running family pirate show “Battle for Buccaneer Bay” took a sword to the gut in favor of a more decidedly adult-oriented premise. Like Rio’s “Masquerade Show In the Sky”, “Battle” was revamped into something sexy, called “Sirens of T.I.”. The sirens were silenced after a decade and a CVS drugstore and Marvel Avengers attraction took over much of the lake frontage.
News of the closure, which occurred not long after SHOW IN THE SKY took its last lap, was a shock to “Sirens” performers. “They lied to us and told us we would have a job,” said a cast member. “And then they called us today to come in and sign separation papers and turn in IDs.”
A wise tourist knows that nothing in Las Vegas lasts forever. So if you’ve been putting off an activity, show, restaurant, or attraction, VEGAS 411 suggests that you visit it quickly.
If you have any of your own favorites to offer, just add a comment to this article, email me at email@example.com, or visit our Facebook page.