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Please note: This article was written in 1996. Ownership of the Stratosphere Tower and other things mentioned herein have changed.|
So what do you do after spending over 2 years building (see the history of the Stratosphere Tower) one of the modern wonders of the world (as in "Wonder how long it will last?"), while overcoming constant setbacks and ridicule? Why, you throw a momentous grand opening party, of course. And, if it's in Las Vegas, you invite ten thousand of your closest friends over for an evening of free sights, free food and free fireworks. At least that's what the newly completed Stratosphere Hotel and Casino did last night, Monday April, 29, 1996.
Somehow, the lists must have got mixed up in the mail room, because our LVLG staff was actually invited to the grand opening reception as VIP guests rather than the usual method of having to pull rank with media credentials. The party started at 6:00pm sharp. When we arrived, fashionably late, as usual, the party was already in full swing, with fully arrayed show girls hovering about and always ready to pose for souvenir photos. We bumped into the usual local celebrities including Governor Miller and Mayor Jones along with a number of TV stars who were also invited.
Then it was straight off to the "main attraction" the long-awaited ride to the top of the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River! Well, almost straight. After winding our merry way amid minstrels and acrobats through the Eiffel tower steps and mall-like corridors (which they assured us will one day actually be filled with stores, but which at the moment appeared more like a nicely painted, plywood, laboratory, mouse maze) we came to an abrupt stop at the end of a line of people, the front of which disappeared down a long ramp and around a corner.
Okay, folks, lets stop here for a second and think about this. Remember the old fox, rooster and cabbage in the boat riddle? The one where the poor farmer has to cross the river with his produce to sell it, but can't leave certain combinations together. Let's solve this one Las Vegas style. Say you invite 10,000 assorted guests you wish to impress (foxes, roosters and maybe even cabbages) to the other side of the river. You own a very fast motor boat, or, let's say in this case it's an elevator. In fact, FOUR fast elevators capable of crossing the river in about 40 seconds. How LONG is it going to take you to get all those guests to the other side of the river, er, to the top of your property? Oh, we forgot to mention you can only fit about 30 in an elevator safely at a time. Well, okay, 40 if everyone holds their breath and counts to 40 (or 108 if you're counting floors). Allowing time for safe boarding and unboarding and return trips to the ground, our calculations came out to about 4 hours... Pity those who arrived after 6:30pm!
The interminable line took about an hour and a half to wind its way to the elevator doors. A minute later we were top side. On floor 108 (according to the illuminated elevator readout) the doors open to a central corridor with four outlets. We chose the nearest and escaped the crowd to find ourselves looking over the whole of Las Vegas and the surrounding desert!
The observation level (not to be confused with the observation deck which
is outside and closed at the time because of the fireworks being setup there)
is an expansive, non-claustrophobic, windowed area permitting full views of
any part of the valley. This is the uppermost enclosed level of the Stratosphere
structure which corresponds to the widest point on the top pod.
On the lower pod level there is a wonderful restaurant where the floor rotates 360 degrees. Contrary to popular belief, the building itself does not rotate. while eating you get an amazing everchanging view. On a balcony above this restaurant rests an equally lovely lounge/cocktail area (which does not rotate) with the same amazing, but static outside view, but with a constantly changing view of the diners below. There is a slight feeling of vertigo, because of the expansive angle of the windows and the general "you-are-there" feeling of all the lights at night, but it's definitely not a "bad" sort of feeling. Hopefully by time you get there they'll be serving alcoholic beverages too rather than just the refreshing colas and juice which we were limited to. By the way, the whole hotel, at the time of this writing, only serves "Pepsi, No Coke!".
You probably already know about the wedding chapels and the exciting rides on the roof of the aerial pod, so we won't go into them in detail. Suffice it to say that, as scary as they sound, the roller coaster only reaches 30 mph (faster than that and we understand centrifugal force starts to take over) and lasts less than a minute. The Space Shot appears totally stable and safe so long as you and your friends haven't had dinner first.
Touring the casino, we start to notice a trend. An overwhelming
predisposition with balloons! Not the rubbery, helium filled type that
clowns like to molest into shapes, but the large, hot-air filled type.
They're literally EVERYWHERE!
The buffet is relatively small in size, but was packed with wonderful things. We can't guarantee that the crab legs and claws, exotic fruits and dessert bar, are the standard fare, for this place, but if so, we'd expect them to be eaten out of business in no time. There are also a number of other restaurants, including Roxies, a 50's themed cafe complete with biker waiters and singing waitresses (exactly what this has to do with the world's fair theme someone please let me know), and Big Sky a cowboy ribs joint with a live country western stage band.
The casino itself is divided into 3 main "pavilions", just like the world's fairs, with different themes. The "Pavilion of Fun" is filled with whimsical figures like those at left, scattered among the tops of gambling machine banks.
The "Pavilion of Imagination" is represented by this statue just inside the main entrance. (Later moved to a less conspicuous location)
The mural above, from the "Pavilion of the World" is typical to that found about that section of the casino.
Finally, at 10:30pm sharp, came the incredible fireworks and light display. With no precedents of this type to follow, the organizers (inset left) have to be congratulated on putting together a wonderfully choreographed, once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. With pre-recorded electronic music on loudspeakers the 7,000 watt colored xenon lights and fiber optics went into action! It turned the pod into an alien spacecraft ready to take off. Then the fireworks began, and although lasting only about 10 minutes (or about 3 rolls of film), they went off without a hitch turning the entire structure into one huge roman candle to top off opening night at the Las Vegas Stratosphere Tower.