Exploring Atlantis Casino Resort

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Writer Kim Pryor attended the grand opening of the newly expanded Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno, Nev., which went off July 28 despite a fire and some water damage in the old tower. She took a tour of the expanded property just before it reopened. Her report follows.

Reno, Nev. -- The last time I had driven past the Atlantis Casino Resort here, South Virginia Street was an ordinary strip of asphalt. But now the stretch of road warranted a second glance.

The expanded casino at the Atlantis features a waterfall and wave pool. The Atlantis' new glass-enclosed Sky Terrace arched over the street, and two 100-foot-high Grecian columns with 35-foot-high torches towered above. As I watched, real flames blazed inside the torches: a Vegas-like display.

But even Las Vegas can't boast anything similar to the Atlantis' newest addition. Light spills over the silk bird-of-paradise flowers that add splashes of color to the interior of the terrace. The glass walls are an exception in an industry where a cave-like atmosphere is the rule.

Relaxing with coffee and pastries or seafood from the oyster bar, travelers can watch traffic glide under the terrace or admire the distant downtown neon lights. Slot players nabbing one of the terrace machines almost float above the road.

"Today, travelers take it for granted that service will be great," said John Farahi, the property's chief executive officer and general manager. "They're looking for an experience. You've got to keep pushing the envelope; you've got to do something unique."

And the Sky Terrace certainly fits that bill. It's just one component of the resort's just-completed $75 million expansion, a project that has turned the Atlantis into one of the largest casino hotels in northern Nevada.

The expansion includes a 27-story hotel tower with 400 new rooms, two 4,000-square-foot Grand Penthouse Suites, four 2,000-square-foot Grand Paradise Suites and 46 additional Jacuzzi suites, expanded services at the health club and the high-end MonteVigna Italian restaurant.

I recently spent a night at the 1,000-room Atlantis to observe the expansion first-hand. After the friendly front desk agent checked me in, I made my way to the glass elevator. As I ascended from the atrium, I gazed out over the cluster of shops toward downtown Reno.

"You see a lot of glass and openness here," said Farahi. "We believe the days that the casinos had to be dark, with red and orange neon light, are gone."

From a window, I gazed out over a sea of shops, trees and houses to an unobstructed view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains. I could see why Farahi and his staff rave about the property's location, on the south side of Reno, away from the downtown high-rise casinos.

The hotel's ideal location includes its proximity to Lake Tahoe. A 45-minute drive lets guests experience hiking, mountain biking, snow skiing and boating. Twenty-eight golf courses also are located a short drive away from the Atlantis.

From a business perspective, the property's location across from the Reno Sparks Convention Center couldn't be better. It was this location that motivated the expansion of Atlantis' meeting facilities to include an extra 20,000 square feet of space.

Aware of the importance of convention business, Farahi gave his blessings to an increased hotel room tax that will go toward expansion of the convention center. At 12%, it's still almost a percentage point below the national average in a town with already lower-than-average-priced hotel room rates.

On my way to dinner, I detoured through the casino. Thatched roof huts hovered over the table games. Waterfalls tumbled down wherever I looked. Another nice touch: the tall ceilings, creating a more open feel and funneling the cigarette smoke upward.

"We hear from our guests continually that this is one of the freshest casinos they have been to," said Farahi. I arrived at the property's Seafood Steakhouse, an undersea world swimming with painted whales, faux coral walls and brightly colored fish that dart back and forth in a giant tank.

One of the friendliest maitre d's I've ever met, Frank Perez, seated my dinner companion and me. Soon after, the food began to arrive -- coconut prawns presented with a flaming pineapple crown, onion soup in an onion bowl, scampi a la Atlantis, Alaskan halibut and chocolate truffle cake.

After dinner, I returned to my room, where I spent the next half hour in hot-water heaven, unwinding in the Jacuzzi.

The next day at lunchtime, I sampled the fare at Toucan Charlie's, which locals voted to have the "Best of Reno" buffet. I feasted on shrimp and cocktail sauce, hot spinach salad, Mongolian barbecue, fruit and one of the largest selections of desserts I've seen. With all the variety, I couldn't believe the buffet was on the verge of an expansion.

The new menu will include more stations -- Southwestern, rotisserie, pasta and Asian -- and additional seating. Farahi takes pride in Atlantis' attention to food service and claims it's one of many reasons the property earns a fair share of repeat business.

Said Farahi, "The bottom line: If guests leave here and have such an experience that they say, 'I can't wait until I come back,' then we have accomplished our goal."

For 1999, rates at the Atlantis range from $39.95 for a midweek luxury tower room to $159 for a paradise suite. Rates are subject to change and are based on availability. Golf packages range from $89 to $229.

The Atlantis has purchased an Internet reservation system and the property hopes to have it on line in six to eight weeks.

Atlantis Casino Resort

Phone: (800) 723-6500

Web: www.atlantiscasinoresort.com

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