May 2010
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Las Vegas iPhone apps suck balls, save lives

It looks like it is becoming the norm that every Las Vegas casino has to have it’s own promotional iPhone app.  It’s such a shame that the ones I’ve seen so far have failed to live up to the hype.

I’ve already let my thoughts be known about the Caesars Palace app, and I still keep on checking back to see which of their customers’ pictures they’ve passed on to total strangers lately.  It’s disgraceful that this is still going on.  Be it man, child or dog – they don’t discriminate.

MGM Mirage have now entered the fray with apps for three of their hotels: MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and New York-New York.

They’re all much the same.  The brief probably read: “like the web site, but more iPhone-y”.

Well it mostly meets that brief, and where it wasn’t possible to make things iPhone-y enough, they just ship you off to parts of the web site instead.

Like for reservations, which has a special mobile version just for this screen size – although it comes at the expense of no longer looking like it’s part of the app.  That’s more than can be said for the player’s club link.  Below is as much as you can see at any one time (you can’t pinch to zoom out).  I don’t think they got the memo about Flash not playing on the iPhone, either.

You have to include Twitter these days.  It’s the law.  Here’s how:  first you pretend everyone cares about this junk, then you assume that they don’t already have a more convenient way to read it.  Loading each little nugget of crap separately is just about perfect.

Finally, throw in an unscalable, nastily-compressed copy of the floor plan and you’re good to go.

Maybe I am just a little too picky about this kind of stuff.  Or maybe I’m just jealous of whoever got this job, and annoyed that the contract went to someone who doesn’t appear to care about the image their corner-cutting is portraying for the resorts involved.

I’ll admit that I don’t really give two hoots about NY-NY, and if I was developing this it would be tough not to include a hysterical laughing sound if someone tapped a button that said “I want to eat here”.

But MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay are – like Caesars – primo properties.  Huge, huge Las Vegas brands.  They deserve so much better than this.

So do I have anything nice to say today?  Not about these apps, but MGM Mirage did release one other iPhone app last week – an “augmented reality” browser for the Las Vegas Strip.

Or at least for the half of the Strip that’s dominated by their hotels.  Although it includes the neighbouring Tropicana and Paris, once you get north of Flamingo Road, you’re on your own.

Even though I haven’t had chance to try this out on site yet, I like the concept and, assuming it works just as well in reality as it does when you simulate being there, I like the way it behaves. I know my way around town pretty well but I can still appreciate this as I still haven’t got my head around which part of CityCenter is which.

Veer is the one that looks like it’s falling over.  Harmon’s the one that actually might.  Beyond that…

The simulation mode virtually puts you on the Tropicana Avenue intersection, and from there you can spin around 360 degrees and see what hotels would be in view.  In this case, It showed me a bunch of casinos out there, in the corner of my office, just behind Summerfest Bear.

It might not seem like a big deal at first, but showing the distances on here is brilliant.  These buildings are so huge, you can lose all concept of size and distance.

When you think, “What’s that big pyramid thing?  It can’t be far away – let’s check it out!”, this app can help to put things in perspective.

And when the sun is beating down with triple-digit heat and you still think walking from Bellagio to Luxor sounds like a great idea, it may actually save lives.

How to not sell timeshares

(I just found a few half written blogs that should have been in the last trip report.  Pardon me while I catch up.  The photo below was taken on April 4th 2010.)

I’d love to name and shame, but I didn’t catch his name. So a photo will have to do.  This guy is my nomination for Worst Timeshare Seller ever.

If you’re a male walking around Las Vegas, you have to expect to get cards and magazines for (let’s call them) strippers pushed in your face.  That’s just the way it is.  In fact, many porn-slappers don’t discriminate on gender.  They just want to get rid of as many of their flyers as they can so they keep a pretty open mind about who might want to use their clients’ services.

But although their bright orange uniforms can make it look like some sort of brothel-sponsored chain gang littering up the streets, they’re not really that invasive.  They don’t stop you when you’re walking and they don’t cause a fuss if you ignore them.  They slap their wares to get your attention, hope you take one and then move on to the next punter.

If you’re a couple walking around Las Vegas, timeshare sellers are a much bigger pest.

Notably, they have never approached me when I’ve been walking on my own.  In fact, I’ve seen them turn away if I walk towards them.  But when I’m with Claire, it’s like they’re ants and we have our faces painted with jam.

Although I don’t usually give them chance to finish, if you’re a couple in Las Vegas and someone comes running after you to ask if you’d like to see a free show, I’m sure this is the catch 100% of the time.

Yes, you will get show tickets, but you’ll have to sit through hours of hard sell to earn them.  And who wants to spend their valuable Vegas time doing that?

It’s not even that I don’t have an interest in vacation property ownership in Las Vegas.  For how often I go there, it would actually make sense to invest in something, and a timeshare could be an affordable start.

But I’ve run some numbers on a few resorts.  Regardless of how much the timeshare itself actually costs, and ignoring comped or discounted hotel nights based on casino play, the amount you end up paying in maintenance fees each year exceeds the cost of a comparable hotel.

Here’s a quick example I just found: a week’s timeshare in Polo Towers (a decent location on the Strip, between Planet Hollywood and MGM Grand, opposite Monte Carlo) currently costs $1,016 in annual fees to maintain.

You might not get the best rate from a general reservation, but if you can’t find a promotional rate for a week at one of the neighbouring hotels for under a grand, you’re just not looking hard enough.

Alternatively, you could purchase 1/52nd of a room in the Grandview resort (technically “on Las Vegas Boulevard” but way South, several miles past Mandalay Bay) and get a bill for $677/year.  This place is near to the South Point, where they’re currently promoting a $42/night rate for summer weeknights – and it seems to be widely available too.  If this is the location you want to stay in, expect a typical week to cost about $400.

Hotels win, even before you take into account the five figure downpayment that’s needed to secure the privilege of staying in the exact same room for the exact same week of every year.

So, yes, I’ve done some research and I’m quite certain I don’t want a timeshare.  And even if I did, I wouldn’t buy if from some scumbag who gets in my way when I’m walking.

The trick is to spot them before they spot you.  Or, to just not care about being rude to the fuckers.

I like to avoid confrontations on holiday.  I’m there to chill out, after all.  So these are my two strategies:

If I see them well in advance, before they’ve had chance to lock onto us, we’ll split up and pull a cunning flanking manoeuvre, passing them as two individual units on either side and regrouping once back in neutral territory.  We’ve done this enough times that if one of us just says something like “You go left” or “Quick! Split!” we know exactly what to do, and it’s pretty effective.

If it’s too late and we’re already firmly in their sights, I still try not to engage the enemy.  We simply walk past, both chanting “No no no no no no no no no”, progressively louder until they go away.  It’s usually enough.  Very occasionally, when they don’t get the message, I have been known to descend into abuse and expletives.

Which is what happened this time.

Our friend pictured above had a commanding strategic advantage with his location.  He stood at the foot of the escalator leading down from the newest walkway over the Strip – between Aria and Planet Hollywood.

From there, he has chance to see you coming a good 15 seconds before you get to the bottom so he can get into position ready to harass.

It’s pretty horrible.  You know exactly what is going to happen and can’t do anything about it.  Which is probably why things didn’t go down particularly pleasantly.

It’s been so long since I started writing this that I can’t remember the gory details, but it began with him trying to block my way at the bottom of the escalator.  I brushed past and said, “Oh go away, I’ve had enough of you lot already”.

Or words to that effect.  In fact, I think I actually was that polite to start with.

Apparently he thought by engaging us he still stood a chance of selling an overpriced piece of real estate.

“Hey man?  Why come to Vegas with a bad attitude?”.  And from there it descended into little more than a discussion of who actually was the ignorant dickwad.

Well, I’d argue that causing a scene on the very street where you’re hoping to entice happy holidaymakers by to sign up for a lengthy presentation is quite possibly the worst sales tactic you can employ.

This is Vegas.  Take a tip from one of the gazillion card players you must come into contact with every day.

Once you know you’re beat, just muck your cards and move on to the next hand.

Hello (again) there

Apparently it took a momentous win for me to start blogging again after an unexpected month off.  (If I just say “work commitments”, will that do?)

It was like one of those moments on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire when you can tell they know the answer to a big money question well before the four possible answers are revealed.

Only this time, the prize was even better: a Cheap Trick baseball cap.

This competition had my name written all over it.  I just happened to notice an older Facebook post by Paris Las Vegas saying there’d be another competition any minute now to promote the new show by Cheap Trick at their hotel.  I thought two possible things could happen: they’d ask the only possible Cheap Trick-related question that I would actually know the answer to, or it’d be a mad Google scramble while dozens of Facebook fans fall over themselves for the privilege of wearing some free advertising.  I kept the page open, just in case.

Sometimes it’s just your lucky night:

Actually I was later than third to answer, I saw a number of other wrong answers drop off the top (including, I’m sure I didn’t imagine it, one from FHBM’s Tim Dressen – dude I can’t believe I beat you on this) but I was quite amazed nobody else got it right.

Perhaps Rock Band really is for eight year olds, and I really am having a mid-life crisis with this pretending-to-be-a-drummer phase.

But whatever.  It was one of those moments that was meant to be.  This song makes up 50% of all the Cheap Trick songs I could name, and I haven’t played another video game (unless Lego Rock Band counts) in over two years.

I think I was just due a win.

Even with my limited knowledge of this band though, I’d actually quite like to see their show in Las Vegas.  It’s doing a stint at Paris this summer and some of the dates collide with mine.

It’s an odd concept: they’re playing through the entire Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album.

It’s not a Beatles tribute band, it’s Cheap Trick.  But playing The Beatles.  Followed by a bunch of hits I’m probably supposed to know.

But after some deliberation, I’d already decided to decline Ticketmaster’s kind offer of securing two tickets for the price of three and take a risk that there’ll actually be some available at the hotel when I get into town in July.

It’s a calculated gamble.  There’s significantly less hype for this show than for Matt Goss playing twice a week to 200 people, and they can’t give those tickets away.

But if it doesn’t happen, well meh.  I can always listen to the real Beatles while wearing my Cheap Trick cap by the pool….