Las Vegas Sun

October 24, 2014

Strip jousting begins

When the hordes attacked King Arthur's stronghold in Caerleon-upon-Usk in the sixth century, it's a good bet they were not provided with sufficient space to park their catapults and battering rams.

Excalibur's visitors will have 7,000 parking spaces. But even that may not be enough.

The world's largest resort hotel will be officially unveiled at 10 a.m. Tuesday to an expected crush of gamblers, well-wishers and the curious when the drawbridge opens to Circus Circus Enterprises' $290 million castle.

As Arthur and his knights of the round table were prepared for the invading forces, officials at the 4,032-room resort are bracing themselves.

The hotel bears the name of the legendary sword young Arthur pulled from a massive stone to prove his birthright as the king of England.

"Frankly, we don't know what we will do if the parking is not enough," said Vince Manfredi, assistant director of marketing for the resort.

The main entrance off Tropicana Avenue west of the Strip is augmented by two additional parking areas on the south side of Reno Road, also west of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Five three-car trams will shuttle visitors from the lots to the resort. Valet parking service, however, won't begin until noon because of the huge crowds expected for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and opening.

"Have a royal day," the Excalibur's telephone operators tell callers, foreshadowing the image the resort is trying to project.

Excalibur officials, striving to recreate the splendor of the mythical court of Arthur and Guinevere, advertise a "king size" casino, two pools, 17 restaurants -- including Lance-A-Lotta-Pasta and Sir Galahad Prime Rib -- and the 9,000-square-foot King Arthur's Arena complete with jousting. Photos are welcome.

The Excalibur is anchored by four 28-story towers and covers 70 acres.

Its 500,000 square feet of public entertainment space includes a Renaissance-era village, 12 food outlets and a casino the size of four football fields, with 2,630 slot machines. Shows will feature a medieval flair, with live jousting.

The Great Hall, a 900-seat amphitheatre, will provide two dinner shows nightly. Diners will feast without utensils on medieval fare.

The Excalibur has enough wallcovering to paper an area 10 acres in size, enough carpeting to blanket 11 football fields.

The much-ballyhooed resort has its imperfections.

One is a historical flaw called the 'Renaissance level." King Arthur, who historians believe lived in 576 A.D. after flaying his nephew Modrid at the battle of Camian, lived more than 800 years before Europe's cultural renaissance.

And then there's the traffic. Gridlock has often gripped the Tropicana-Strip intersection. The sheer size of the Excalibur and the predicted rush of first-day visitors is expected to add to congestion.

A $14 million interchange project at Interstate 15 and Tropicana Avenue is expected to ease some traffic problems in the area. Construction is expected to begin this fall.

Meantime, mounted knights will patrol the parking lots on horseback. The steeds will be rotated hourly to keep stress to a minimum.

On Monday night the Excalibur staff hosted a preview showing for the media and celebrities.

Members of the Las Vegas business and political communities and the social elite milled about the $290 million property in the pre-opening event. Minstrels, jugglers and harpists entertained guests, a 10-foot dragon cavorted through the crowd and a man in a suit of armor walked stiffly amid the guests.

"Isn't this the most sensational thing you've ever seen," actor Ernest Borgnine enthused as he watched a knight on an animated white horse prance across a lobby area of the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in a pre-opening VIP party. "Just look at this. What can you possibly say."

Glenn Schaeffer, chief financial officer for the company, was pleased with the crowd's reaction.

"People think we have a hit," Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer said the Excalibur was getting 4,000 reservation calls a day.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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