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Trips Worth Taking: Las Vegas

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Visitors continue flocking to Las Vegas just because it is Las Vegas and has a mystique all its own.

By WARREN RESEN, International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association

Despite a recent promise to myself to forego the dubious pleasure of flying commercial airlines and the indignities to which air travelers are subjected these days, there I was seated in sardine class of an over-booked plane awaiting takeoff on my way to a conference in Las Vegas. However this trip turned out to be quite a different experience from my last visit when I was booked into more economical hotel accommodations.

Las Vegas had changed since my last visit many years ago but the glitz, glitter and neon lights that give this city its unique appearance and appeal were still there as were the street hawkers and shills, but in greater numbers than I remembered. The crowds at the airport and in the streets of Las Vegas gave lie to the headlines about financial problems in this country and the rest of the world. Hotels on “The Strip,” with their unique exteriors beckon visitors, promising a memorable once-in-a-life time experience. But once inside many of the hotels, be they top end or moderately priced properties, the slots, poker and craps tables and roulette wheels are in your face.

Gaming is pervasive. It’s unavoidable. But isn’t that why most people supposedly come to Vegas? The shows and restaurants offer a bewildering choice of options for visitors but are certainly not the bargains they were in days past. People who just want to gamble can stay close to home and visit their local Native American casino. But visitors continue flocking to Las Vegas just because it is Las Vegas and has a mystique all its own.

Headquarters for my conference was the Palazzo Hotel, side-by-side and attached like a Siamese twin by a series of connecting passageways with the Venetian Hotel. These two hotels have the same owner but are quite different in design. They share common amenities but offer guests differing atmospheres and a unique Las Vegas Experience.

While most properties on the strip bombard guests with their gaming operations as soon as they enter the lobby, the Palazzo and Venetian have a more subtle approach. Yes, both hotels have major casinos but they are not visible at check-in.

The Venetian and Palazzo hotels bill themselves as resort/casino destinations catering to conventions and conferences, and they live up to their promise. Though offering in excess of 2.3 million sq. ft. of meeting facilities, they are an oasis of calm in the heart of the glitz. You can spend days inside and never have to leave the properties except to see shows at other hotels and view the nighttime Las Vegas neon glitter.

These fraternal twins of Las Vegas are unlike anything else on the strip. The Palazzo’s sweeping grand entryway is set back from busy Las Vegas Blvd. effectively putting space between it and the crowded street outside. The Venetian’s entrance is reached after crossing the canals of Venice.

Covering 153 acres, they are built on the site where once the famous Sands Hotel held the Las Vegas spotlight. They offer more than 7,000 rooms between them. Even the smallest elegantly furnished suite is nearly twice the size of the average Las Vegas hotel room. They were fully booked the days I was there.

Inside is a veritable self-contained city with more than 30 top-of-the-line restaurants plus lounges and coffee shops located throughout the first three stories of the hotels.

Three on-premises theatres present Broadway quality entertainment. Their world famous Canyon Ranch SpaClub at 134,000 square feet features every conceivable luxury expected of a high end spa including an unexpected 40 foot rock climbing wall.

Shopping, even just window shopping, the world’s most exclusive luxury shops is a delight. The flagship Barneys New York department store at 85,000 square feet seems to go on forever. Everything is accessible to guests of both hotels who never have to venture outside.

Some of the older, formerly state of the art properties in Las Vegas are showing their age. The grandeur of the Venetian and Palazzo Hotels rival that of many of the grand hotels in Europe with their architecture, soaring marbled entrances, extensive art collections and attentive staffs.

The Venetian’s canals, authentic gondolas and recreations of some of the most famous sights of the almost mythical of Venice, Italy, are truly a sight to behold. Its magnificent lobby rivals that of any of the famous hotels of Europe. The adjoining Palazzo nicely counter balances the grandeur of its partner with an elegantly tasteful soaring lobby, waterfalls and seasonal greenery. They easily surpass the older Las Vegas properties in the size of the suites and their amenities.

Convention facilities are located between the hotels and are easily gained access through connecting passages. Because of the layout, guests are not inconvenienced by the proceedings going on in any of the meeting rooms and exhibit halls.

Restaurants and shops are everywhere adding excitement and convenience to any guest’s casual stroll. This is not a staid, boring hotel environment.  The Palazzo and Venetian are rated in the list of the top 25 hotels in the Continental U.S. Staying here, dining in one or more of the highly rated restaurants featuring top chefs from around the world, seeing spectacular entertainment and enjoying its world-renowned spa is something you will remember for a long time. These hotels are a destination by themselves inside the destination city of Las Vegas.

Rates are variable so check the hotels and booking agencies for special deals. Vans run frequently from the nearby airport to all Las Vegas properties with fares in the $6 - $7 range per person.

Go to the individual web pages for Las Vegas, Venetian, and Palazzo Hotels. There’s a wealth of information available. Enjoy your trip and GOOD LUCK!

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