An Expedition to Luxor

© Photo copyright Larry Orcutt

Since this review was written, the hotel has undergone extensive renovation. The Nile River is gone, as are some of the attractions. Presumably, someone remembered that gambling is the casino's primary function.

We arrived at Luxor after a long tedious drive through the hot and barren desert. When we reached our destination, we were greeted with the sight of the Sphinx, bearing the likeness of King Tutankhamun, guarding a large black pyramid. No, this was not the Luxor of Egypt, for neither the Sphinx nor the Great Pyramid may be found there, but rather the Luxor of Circus Circus Enterprises in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Great Pyramid and Sphinx, which have nothing to do with Tutankhamun, are in reality located in Giza, but the designers of Las Vegas casinos are not prone to let reality stand in the way of their grand visions.

Luxor is indeed a grand vision. Approaching on foot from the Strip, one walks past rows of ram-headed sphinxes similar to those found at the Temples of Karnak and Amun at Luxor. Dancing waters play in the fountain at the Sphinx's feet, which at night are accompanied by a pointless laser show. Entering the pyramid itself is like entering a small city (in a more literal sense than might be anticipated). One is greeted with a confusing array of sights within the huge atrium, said to be the largest in the world. To the left are Elias and Jody, talking camels who chatter endlessly, and to the right is a bartender hawking outsized "Jewel of the Nile" drinks (you keep the glass, shaped like a truncated obelisk). Ahead is a simulated rock escarpment pierced by stairways and escalators. Up and to the right is a low geodesic dome. To the left is a smaller pyramid, but the design is of the pre-Columbian variety found in Central America. There is also a tall obelisk and, farther back, the Manhattan skyline, complete with an imitation Chrysler Building. The "Nile" river flows clockwise along the four walls of the Pyramid.

Before examining in greater detail the "treasures" found within this "Next Wonder of the World," remember that this is a hotel and casino. Rooms start at $59.95 per night (weekday rate) and are located on the periphery of the pyramid, in successively foreshortened tiers as they rise up to the apex. Each balcony juts over the one below it, conforming to the walls of the pyramid, the view from which can be dizzying at the upper floors. The highest balcony is on the 27th floor and can be accessed by using "inclinator 1" (guards will normally ask to see a room key before letting a passenger board the inclinator). Viewing the atrium from this floor gives an appreciation of its enormous size. People appear as dots surrounding the miniature obelisk and the airspace is huge. It is mind-boggling to think that this Luxor Hotel is in fact smaller than the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt.

The rooms themselves are comfortable. They are provided with Egyptian-style wardrobes decorated with hieroglyphics, containing a closet, drawers, and a Panasonic television. The headboards sport the cartouche of Cleopatra and there is a replica fresco hanging on the wall. The bathrooms are large in proportion to the rooms. Most people seem to be curious about the shape of the rooms, as if they might be small pyramids. They are rectangular and the window wall slopes inward. We had a nice view of the Excalibur, another Circus Circus effort, but the windows were dirty and efforts to clean them seem largely unsuccessful.

The upper floors are accessed via the so-called inclinators. A conventional vertical elevator would provide a short ride unless it was located in the center of the atrium, so at each of the four corners of the Luxor there is a slanted shaft which carries the elevator car up and down at a 39 angle. Riding them is a bit unusual as the motion is sideways rather than straight up. For an easy ride, lean against either the right or left wall of the inclinator. Each corner inclinator stops at a certain set of floors; you must know which one to use to access a given floor. If it sounds confusing, it is. The handicapped should be warned that it will by very difficult to get around in this hotel. Reaching the attraction level without using stairs or escalators is very nearly impossible.

The casino itself doesn't seem especially large, but this may be due to the circular layout around the central obelisk. Thematic slots such as the "Pharaoh's Treasure," "Golden Cobra," and "Valley of the Kings" are supplemented with "Fourth of July," "Fabulous 50's," and "California Dreamin'." As will be seen, the designers of the Luxor apparently felt they could take the Egyptian theme only so far. The casino is quiet compared to most, the ringing bells of paying slots are oddly subdued, perhaps to render the pyramid more authentically tomb-like.

The shops are appropriately "Egyptian:" Sobek's Sundries ("for all your Nile needs" including, for the sweet tooth, Gummy Mummies), the Scarab Shop, the Source Museum Shop (featuring authentic artifacts), and the Park Avenue Shop all sell everything from tacky pyramid-topped sport bottles ($10) to an equally tacky (though on a grander scale) polyester and fiberglass "sculpture of King Tutankhamun" ($65,000).

Restaurants include the Isis ("fine dining" -- jacket required), the Sacred Sea Room (sporting murals and tomb relief reproductions of Egyptians fishing), and the Pyramid Cafe. More incongruously, there is the Nile Deli with "kosher-style deli food found on the banks of the Nile" where the "mosaic ceramic tile floor and leaded glass 'skylight' add to the downtown theme." There is also the Manhattan Buffet with its "metropolitan" theme. The Millennium cafe (under that geodesic dome) offers "cosmic quesadillas" and "psychedelic burgers." Then there is the Papyrus restaurant. "Primitive huts, lush palms, and tropical artifacts make this a virtual paradise," complete with bamboo, tiki figures, and Polynesian food. The attached Tut's Hut is a "full service-bar in a Polynesian setting, serving exotic island libations." If this seems a senseless motif in the midst of the land of the pharaohs, one might escape by taking a short walk next door to the middle-age themed Excalibur where you will find knights, damsels, and Wild Bill's Saloon and Steakhouse.

The room service menu features such items as "Slow Roasted Prime Rib of Beef Tutankhamun," "Eggs Benedict la Cheops," "Eternal Life Corned Beef Hash," and everyone's favorite, "The Ramses II Special Huevos Rancheros:" two eggs, basted, on tortilla with chorizo, refried beans, avocado, and salsa. Just like old Pharaoh used to eat back in the 19th Dynasty.

The hotel offers a number of "attractions." The "Nile River Tour" is somewhat appropriate (except possibly for the black-lit hieroglyphics) but overpriced at $3.00. Barges accompanied by "knowledgeable archaeologists," hotel employees attempting to be witty in the manner of Disneyland's jungle boat captains, escort guests on a tour of the "river" which flows past a reproduction of the temple of Ramesses II, frescoes depicting Seth, the Temple of Amun, and other sights of ancient Egypt. The excitement culminates as the barge approaches a waterfall that threatens to soak the passengers, an event which is prevented when the "archaeologist" pretends to press a fresco of a scarab, stemming the flow of the cataract. Send the kids on this one if you must, otherwise the three bucks might be better invested by inserting them into any slot machine.

The three main attractions are collectively titled "Secrets of the Luxor Pyramid." Episode 1 is called "In Search of the Obelisk" ($5.00; a pass for all three attractions is $12.00). This is housed in the Mesoamerican stepped pyramid in the style of the Aztecs, Toltecs, and Maya. Though totally inappropriate for Egypt, according to the fragile story-line there is an underground pyramid located beneath the Luxor Hotel which of course is in North America. The Luxor designers thus once again forgo the Egyptian motif. The ride begins as an unconvincing "elevator" transports guests underground to "Level 10." At one point, the elevator cable breaks but its occupants are "rescued" at the last second. There is no perception of movement during this portion of the ride. Guests are then escorted onto a "monolev," a high-speed underground levitator attesting to the advanced civilization of some vanished race. What follows is a simulator-type ride which is rather effective in convincing you that you are on a sled being towed by a flying contraption piloted by a manic actor. The ride is a wild one, with banks and jolts through a computer-simulated world beneath the ground. It's best to just enjoy the experience, and not try to follow any traces of a story-line you might be fortunate enough to detect.

Episode 2, "Luxor Live" ($4.00), is an absurd concoction of television talk show and a 3-D movie which have no apparent connection with anything. After a series of interminable and unnecessary waits (these mark the three main attractions, a puzzling aspect that keeps potential gamblers away from the casinos), you are escorted into a fake television studio. A fake program director then tries to whip up audience enthusiasm in a manner which is only slightly less embarrassing than the extent of his success. Perhaps audiences feel comfortable in a familiar television setting. An idiotic "talk show" having something to do with a total solar eclipse in Giza (an excuse for putting on the 3-D glasses) is projected on a screen made to look like a stage. The only memorable portion of this episode is the incredible but brief 3-D film which unfortunately doesn't justify enduring this second episode.

The final installment of the trilogy is the "Theater of Time" ($4.00). The visitor is escorted up winding ramps and into a theater featuring a seven-story screen that is considerably narrower than it is tall. The seats are provided with vibrators reminiscent of the twenty-five cent "magic fingers" featured on the beds of cheap motels. A safety bar inexplicably lowers towards the lap before the show. A confusing film with excellent special effects is then shown, portending the destruction of civilization, a destiny which ostensibly can be prevented by the power positive thinking.

If you must experience one of these three attractions, choose the first for its ride value. Skip the other two. The most worthwhile as well as the most Egyptian-themed attraction at Luxor is the "King Tut's Tomb and Museum" ($3.00) located on the lower floor. This is a replica of Tutankhamun's tomb and treasures "just as Howard Carter found it in November 1922." A cassette tape player guides guests past the rooms which, though at times feel like giant dioramas in a Cyclopean class project, are accurate and educational enough for those unlikely to visit the real Egypt.

All in all, the Luxor is a comfortable hotel, but a bit over-priced compared with other casinos, and finding your way around the confusing maze of levels and elevator schemes can be extremely difficult and time-consuming. Simply locating the front desk can be a trial, even with the inadequate map that the hotel provides.

© Copyright 1994 by Larry Orcutt.



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