After slow start, the $1.4B Venetian builds momentum

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Travel Weekly senior editor Amy Baratta recently stayed at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. Her report follows:

LAS VEGAS -- There's an old saying that Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither, apparently, was Venice -- or, at least Las Vegas' version of the ancient Italian city.

The Venetian in Las Vegas features live street performances such as this clown who greeted visitors in the hotel reception area. Seven months after its shaky debut last May, the $1.4 billion Venetian Resort Hotel Casino is on track to become one of this city's premier attractions.

From the outside, which includes replicas of such Venetian landmarks as the Campanile Tower and the Rialto bridge, the property does indeed resemble a small city, hustling and bustling with thousands of sightseers and guests.

Inside, the pace is just as frenetic, but it is eclipsed by the grandeur of the resort's reception area. Marble floors and frescoed ceilings command the attention of guests entering the hotel's doors for the first time.

The opulent decor flows right into the property's 120,000-square-foot casino, housed inside the replicated facade of the Doge's Palace, where guests can try their luck at any of the 2,500 slot machines or 122 table games.

From the casino, sightseers can wander down a sort of restaurant row, where about half of the property's dozen eateries are located.

I can recommend Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico Steakhouse, where I lunched, and Stephan Pyle's Star Canyon, where I had a fantastic dinner.

Although the meals were not inexpensive, the food and the service at both establishments were top-notch. Reservations, especially for dinner, are recommended for most of the restaurants.

To walk off my evening meal, I headed up an escalator to the Grand Canal Shoppes retail complex. Overhead, the ceiling had been painted to resemble a seemingly endless pale blue sky punctuated by fluffy white clouds. The store facades, meanwhile, were constructed to look like the narrow buildings that crowd Venetian streets.

The complex is composed of approximately 65 upscale retailers, among them Mikimoto and Movado; approximately half a dozen restaurants, and a 1,200-foot reproduction of the Grand Canal, where visitors can take a gondola ride for $10 each. Reservations are required for the ride, which comes complete with singing gondoliers.

Of course, a souvenir photograph is taken before each gondola heads out; by the time the last romantic note has been sung and the gondola has returned with its cargo, the photos have been put into cardboard frames and are on sale for $10 apiece.

The Grand Canal Shoppes also features a replica of St. Mark's Square, where, as in many areas of the resort, street performers entertain passersby with their antics.

This fall, the retail complex began hosting a weekly "Sunday with the Arts" program that showcases arts and theater groups. The free performances begin at 2 p.m.

After wandering around the area's cobbled walkways, I made my way back to my room, which was a suite. No, I was not a VIP guest; all of the Venetian's 3,036 guest rooms are suites.

The room was standard size -- meaning it offered somewhere around 700 square feet of space -- but its features were not standard.

Each suite offers a minibar, a practically unheard of amenity in this city, as well as three telephones with data ports and a private fax machine that also functions as a copier and computer printer.

The in-room safe also is unique, featuring a light and enough space to accommodate a laptop.

Each suite also has a sunken living room, two televisions and a 130-square-foot bathroom accented with Italian marble. Perhaps the best features of the room were the two reading lights above the bed.

For clients -- especially business travelers who find themselves in hotel rooms more often than not -- it is these features that stand out.

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