Venetian Resort adds a big dash of suite-ness to Strip's menu

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LAS VEGAS -- Another billion-dollar baby has been born on the Strip here, and this one, too, has an Italian accent.

Just seven months after Mirage Resorts opened the 3,005-room, $1.8 billion Bellagio resort -- its tribute to northern Italy's Lake District -- the $1.4 billion Venetian Resort Hotel Casino opened its doors to the public May 3.

Constructed on the site of the former Sands Hotel, the property "was built to be the most luxurious hotel in the world," according to Sheldon Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Inc., the resort's developer. While that claim may seem grandiose, the fact is that the Strip's first all-suite property offers top-notch hotel and convention facilities, several gourmet restaurants, tony shops and even a Canyon Ranch spa.

Like the Bellagio, the Venetian celebrates the romance of Italy by packing within the complex versions of Venetian landmarks, including the Doge's Palace, Campanile Tower, Rialto Bridge, Ca D'Oro, Bridge of Sighs, Contarini Palace and St. Mark's Square.

Also like the Bellagio, the Venetian uses water as one of its attractions. To that end, the property's exterior facade includes gondolas bobbing in the Grand Canal that runs in front of the Doge's Palace casino entrance.

Inside the resort, the canal meanders through the Grand Canal Shoppes retail area, where guests -- for $5 per person -- can hop on a passing gondola, listen to the gondolier's serenade and take in the authentic-looking storefronts under a ceiling painstakingly painted to recreate the sky. That is where the Venetian's obvious similarities to Bellagio end.

Sure, the Venetian offers more than 3,000 guest accommodations -- 3,036 to be exact -- but they are all suites. The 2,718 standard king or double queen suites all average 700 square feet in size, while the 318 Renaissance, Doge and Penthouse suites range in size from 1,300 square feet to 5,500 square feet.

The rooms all offer minibars -- an in-room amenity that is more scarce in this city than a million-dollar jackpot -- a fax machine that doubles as a copier and computer printer, and lighted safes large enough to accommodate a laptop computer. "I stole that [idea] from the Peninsula [hotel] in Los Angeles," Adelson said.

Adelson also admitted that he was an admirer of the Forum Shops at Caesar's, upon which the Venetian's Grand Canal Shoppes area, boasting nearly 80 stores such as Movado and Mikimoto, is loosely modeled. "We have taken a page out of their book," he said.

That type of thinking illustrates another element necessary in creating a truly luxurious property -- not only incorporating numerous bells and whistles into the design but also finding out exactly what clients want and need. In designing the Venetian, Adelson said he drew on his personal experiences at hotels around the world as well as on his experience as the owner of GWV, a Needham, Mass.-based travel company, and input from those in the meetings and conventions market "to find out what people like and dislike hotel-wise."

For example, Adelson said, every second level of the 35-floor Venetian hotel tower contains a pantry "with [food and beverage] carts like those found in airplanes so that we can guarantee anyone a continental breakfast in 10 minutes." The carts, he added, can be stocked up ahead of time with all the rudimentary elements of a continental breakfast so that all the waiter has to do is take them off the vehicle.

In addition, the property's 500,000 square feet of meeting space, which is located in the new Venetian Congress Center, is nowhere near the 120,000-square-feet casino, because those in the meetings market that Adelson talked to indicated it was inconvenient to constantly have to navigate the crowds that inevitably collect in a property's gaming area. Instead, the congress center, which includes the 85,000-square-feet Venetian Ballroom, is directly linked to the Sands Expo and Convention Center, which offers 1.7 million square feet of exhibition space.

Only time will tell if the Venetian lives up to Adelson's praise and its numerous roles as a luxury resort, meetings and conventions magnet, and must-see tourist attraction. Adelson has no doubts: "The Venetian will combine the romance of Venice, the luxury of Beverly Hills and the excitement of Las Vegas."

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