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Gaming Traveler: Upping the ante on dinner vista

In Vegas, Dinner in the Sky hoists 22 patrons 160 feet aloft (with bubbly served as a calmative).

Restaurants offering panoramic vistas along with the entrees are easy to find in Las Vegas - the dining room atop the faux Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel-casino and the aptly named Top of the World in the soaring Stratosphere Tower are just two.

But while those and a few others may have wonderful bird's-eye views, there's a new Vegas dining experience that actually allows diners to take wing.

Dinner in the Sky gathers customers around a 22-person table, straps them into race-car-style seats, then hoists them with a crane 160 feet above the desert floor for a 360-degree prospect of the Las Vegas Valley. Free-flowing champagne helps calm nerves as chicken and beef entrees are served, and an amiable host works the table.

"Obviously, there's a certain amount of nervousness and skepticism at first among a lot of people," proprietor Michael Hinden said. "But those early emotions actually work to our advantage, because when they have this spectacular experience and they find how tranquil it actually is up there, people are so pleased afterward."

Hinden pointed out that special events using the same table and crane-lift arrangement have been held throughout the world. The high-flying dinner made a brief previous appearance in Vegas in 2007.

However, the current incarnation as a general-audience attraction began about six months ago, in time for New Year's Eve. Since then, lift-offs have been regularly scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights, weather permitting, at a Sahara Avenue location about a half-mile west of the Strip.

On Aug. 1, the operation is scheduled to move right onto Las Vegas Boulevard just north of the Fashion Show Mall, near Donald Trump's condo tower and across the street from Steve Wynn's swanky resort.

At the moment, Dinner in the Sky is pricing its "flights" at $169 and $199 (the higher price is for sunset dinners). Those rates are expected to rise by $80 and $90 after the move to the Strip.

Included in the base price is a red-carpet cocktail reception with hors d'oeuvres, champagne toast, pre-dinner photo, entree (choice of chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto, artichokes, and gorgonzola; or filet mignon medallions), dessert and, of course, the trip aloft lasting 30 to 45 minutes. On-board staff includes a chef preparing finishing touches, waiters, and a table host. Extra-cost add-ons include limo hotel pick-up and in-flight photos taken by the table host. More information,

Opera phans invited. The hit musical Phantom of the Opera has attracted a legion of devotees - "phans" as they're sometimes known - who make regular pilgrimages to see their favorite show and discuss its nuances on Web sites.

Now, Phantom followers will have an opportunity for an immersive experience in the hauntingly elegant world created by French author Gaston Leroux and set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Venetian casino resort in Las Vegas, where the show has had a successful three-year run so far.

Phantom Fans Week is scheduled for Sept. 16-20 with a menu of events that includes a town-hall-like meeting with the cast; a special meet-and-greet with Vegas Phantom Anthony Crivello; "insider sessions" discussing the elaborate costuming and makeup, the $40 million theater, and the massive-chandelier special effect; a masquerade ball; dinner with producer Scott Zeiger; and a keynote address by original director Hal Prince, who also directed the Vegas adaptation, Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular.

"We see this as an opportunity to reawaken our fans and the critical press," Zeiger said, "in much the same way that our creative team did when this show [in Las Vegas] was assembled."

The address by Prince alone is likely to generate considerable excitement among the Phantom faithful, Zeiger said.

"Hal Prince is folklorishly famous in theater, and he's not immediately accessible to anyone," Zeiger said. "This will be the first time he's back in Las Vegas since the show opened there."

In creating a fan experience, the Las Vegas Phantom is able to capitalize on its special circumstance as a resident show in a 4,000-room resort where the dedicated theater resembles the Opera Garnier in Paris, the setting for the play. From the prominent signage throughout the resort to dainty notes from the Phantom left on guest pillows, the music of the night seems to constantly beckon.

There are various packages for fan week starting at $250 that include all insider sessions, one show performance, the masquerade ball, and Prince's keynote address. Package upgrades allow fans to see the show up to four times, and there are a few extra-cost add-ons: dinner with Zeiger at Wolfgang Puck's Postrio ($80), and a farewell garden brunch at Bouchon ($40). For schedule and pricing - there are discounts for early registrations by June 25 and July 31 - see

All-in means all-off, almost. The Excalibur, the Vegas casino with the storybook castle exterior, is upping the ante on Sin City gambling by adding a little sex to its poker room. In a stylized version of "strip" poker recently introduced there, patrons don't do any disrobing, but a professional dancer does.

The "strip" tournaments are being held Saturday nights (9 and 11 p.m.) with $40 buy-ins. The tournaments are limited to two tables (20 players), and as every other player is eliminated, the dancer removes an article of clothing and struts "a lap around the two tables," according to rules posted on the casino Web site ( The rules note that, even when the last article is removed, the dancer will remain "minimally though appropriately covered" - and will take a photo with the winner.


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