One of the most elaborate hotel spectacles in town, The Venetian falls squarely between an outright adult Disneyland experience and the luxury resort experience currently dominating the Vegas landscape. The big draw here is the rooms, all suites, and all successful examples of that same luxury resort mindset, though the commitment to theme in the Grand Canal Shoppes is certainly appealing.
The hotel’s exterior, which re-creates most of the top landmarks of Venice (the Campanile, a portion of St. Mark’s Square, part of the Doge’s Palace, a canal or two), ranks right up there with New York-New York as a must-see, and because you can wander freely through the “sights,” it even has a slight edge over New York-New York. As stern as we get about re-creations not being a substitute for the real thing, we have to admit that the attention to detail here is impressive indeed. Stone is aged, for that weathered look, statues and tiles are exact copies of their Italian counterparts, security guards wear Venetian police uniforms — all that’s missing is the smell from the canals, but we are happy to let that one slide.
Inside, it’s more of the same, particularly in the lobby area and the entrance to the extraordinary shops, as ceilings are covered with hand-painted re-creations of Venetian art. With plenty of marble, soaring ceilings, and impressive pillars and archways, it’s less kitschy than Caesars but more theme park than Bellagio. The lobby says classy hotel, if “classy hotel on steroids.” The lobby, casino, and shops can all be accessed from outside through individual entrances, which helps avoid that irritating circuitous maneuvering required by most other locations.
This is all the more appreciated because the casino seems to have a most confusing layout, with poor signage; perhaps it’s just our problem with spatial navigation, but we consistently got lost on the way to the guest elevators. A room makeover has pared down the previously over-the-top fussy decor, which is a good thing, but then again, apart from the size it’s not as dreamily romantic on the eye. Now the suites have the same sleek new look as The Palazzo, though the beds lack The Palazzo’s fluffy comforters. The marbled bathrooms rocketed virtually to the top of our list of favorites, in a tie for second place with those at Bellagio. (Mandalay Bay’s THEhotel are the best.)
Devices for the hearing-impaired (ranging from door-knock lights to vibrating alarm clocks and telecaption decoders) are available upon request.
Despite the niceties, there is a certain amount of price gouging at this hotel that unpleasantly reminds one of the real Venice. There is a charge for that in-room faxing and printing, and the minibar is automated so that if you so much as rearrange items inside, you are charged for it.
And all this is even before the Venezia Tower, with over 1,000 more rooms, with the same large and lush footprint and style as the originals. The tower has its own check-in and gestalt — somehow it comes off even more lush than the original hotel, which is pretty frilly to start. The gas lamp-lit lobby hallway slays us, as do the flatscreen TVs in the bathrooms. Rooms here cost about $35 more a night (in theory — in practice, anything goes with hotel pricing in Vegas), and we would spend it. The trend toward casino hotels adding additions that are away from a casino — “Nope, no slot machines here. We are just a luxury hotel. Really!” — is a disingenuous stance that is actually entirely genius. There are many who prefer their Vegas at arm’s length, whose finest compliment for a hotel is, “It doesn’t seem like it’s in Vegas.” These people are willing to spend extra to stay in a grown-up atmosphere, and certainly are more inclined to want a comfortable room — and nothing says “comfortable room” like “plasma TV in the bathroom.”
Many celebrity chefs and high-profile restaurants are in residence at The Venetian. Bouchon (by Thomas Keller, perhaps America’s top chef), Delmonico Steakhouse, Canaletto, Valentino, Mario Batali’s B&B Ristorante, and Pinot Brasserie are on site. Nightlife options include the Blue Man Group and a special production of the long-running Phantom. And, of course, there is an elegant but confusingly laid-out casino.
The Venetian has five pools and whirlpools, but its pool area is disappointingly sterile and bland. Pools are neoclassical (think rectangles with the corners lopped off), and the fourth-floor location probably means that more dense foliage is not going to be forthcoming. The Venezia Tower has a courtyard pool area that is amusing, but the water space is tiny.
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub is run by a branch of arguably the finest getaway spa in America. This is an unbelievably lavish facility, certainly the finest hotel spa in town. From the Bed Head and Bumble & Bumble products on sale in the shop to the nutritionists, physical therapists, and acupuncturists on the staff to the vibrating massage chairs that you rest in during pedicures — geez, what more could you want? Well, we want our own home gym to be as nice as the one here, with ample equipment, racks of big TVs, and a staff eager to help you with advice and bring you bottled water. The $35-a-day fee is high, but it does include a full day’s worth of classes, ranging from regular aerobics to yoga, Pilates, and dance. Did we mention the rock-climbing wall, which, because this is Vegas, costs extra?
The Grand Canal Shoppes rank with the Caesars Palace shops as an absolute must-see. Like Caesars, the area is a mock Italian village with a blue, cloud-studded, painted sky overhead. But down the middle runs a canal, complete with singing gondoliers. (The 10-min. ride costs about $15, which seems steep, but trust us, it’s a lotmore in the real Venice.) The entire thing finishes up at a small re-creation of St. Mark’s Square, which features glass blowers, traveling musicians, flower sellers, and the like. Expect to run into famous Venetians such as a flirty Casanova and a travel-weary Marco Polo. It’s ambitious and a big step up from animatronics figures. Oh, and the stores are also probably worth a look — a decent mixture of high-end fashion and more affordable shops.