Searching for elegance at Bellagio and Wynn but finding it quietly tucked away…
Once upon a time, this writer spent two weeks experiencing the pleasures of three top-tier resorts – Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo. All are established, respected and great at what they do. Each of them is a 5-star property catering to similar demographics, yet they’re distinct in style and flavor.
Palazzo is the sister property to Venetian. Opened in December of 2007, it’s listed by Wikipedia as the second-largest building in the Western Hemisphere, yet its presence on the Strip is as understated as the clean lines and Earth tones that make up its superstructure.
Inside, two cavernous domes oversee your entrance from either the main lobby or through the waterfall atrium connecting Palazzo to Venetian‘s Grand Canal Shoppes and Restaurant Row. These days the two resorts operate more as a single entity than two separate hotels, but I’ll be focusing on the Palazzo side for this article.
Both Bellagio and Wynn sprang from the mind of legendary Steve Wynn, so of course they are essentially kindred hotels. Both have ornate decor, colorful seasonal displays, art collections, water-themed production shows created by the same man (Franco Dragone) and outdoor fountains synchronized to familiar musical standards.
For better or worse, Bellagio’s ownership and operations now rest in the hands of MGM Resorts International. That’s the money-grubbing corporation which introduced universally-reviled mandatory resort fees to the Strip, along with parking and valet charges. Their now-notorious profit-growth plan was designed to suck every last dollar out of the consumer’s pocket.
The results are even apparent in a luxury resort such as this, where you pay $12 a day to park while risking damage to your undercarriage. Some have even lost their tires and wheels (check out this mind-bending incident from April 2017), so clearly those extra fees aren’t going towards additional security, which is odd for a casino that has been robbed time and again.
Wynn/Encore initially resisted resort fees but caved when they became the new normal. I truly expected them to continue offering free parking and valet services, but that is no longer the case. One could argue that all Strip resorts should be on equal footing in respect to their parking arrangements, yet Wynn/Encore is far removed from the core of those affected.
“Let’s put an ATM next to the garage payment kiosks and see if anyone gets the message”….
There is little to no chance of drivers using Wynn/Encore garages to visit other properties, especially with neighbors like Treasure Island still offering free parking. Installing gates and kiosks reeked of yet another money grab…and an insult to valued guests. They’ve rolled back their policies a bit since charges were instituted, but still…
Fortunately for those of us who rent cars on our trips, the garages at Venetian and Palazzo are well-maintained and free of charge. In the case of Palazzo, conveniently-located escalators and elevators bring guests directly into the lobby, center of the casino or near the showroom. Even when not staying at Palazzo, I frequently dine at wonderful Grand Lux Cafe, in part due to the ease of access (the food, service and free Wi-Fi rock, too).
But, I digress. Let’s delve into the resorts themselves, and why I favor Palazzo over the other two. For me, it all comes down to atmosphere…how I’m treated as a guest and whether I felt comfortable and relaxed in my surroundings.
While Bellagio is the oldest of the three, its rooms remain in tip-top shape and have recently-refreshed decor. Furniture, bedding and fixtures are all lovely, thanks to excellent maintenance. Unfortunately during my three-day stay, the room rumbled throughout the daylight hours until 7 pm with the sound of jackhammers, thanks to renovations above me.
Bellagio Fountain-View King…
A complaint to the front desk resulted in a $100.00 food/beverage credit being added to my account. It was willingly offered after my complaint – not something I was soliciting, as I was trying to write and needed to know when the pounding would stop so I could work. Nevertheless, the incessant noise tainted my stay and rattled my teeth loose. It would have been nice if they’d alerted us about construction prior to check-in, but they didn’t.
Noise can also be an issue at Wynn/Encore, especially if you’re hoping for a restful night. With its beach clubs and nightclubs, a constant thump-thump-thump rises up the sides of both towers. It’s a frequent complaint on travel sites for those who are accustomed to the elegance that Wynn initially offered in its early days.
Wynn Tower King, Strip View…
These days, Wynn/Encore has shifted from sophistication to the trendy club scene. It lures in a rowdy crowd that carries on loudly throughout common areas, casinos and elevators, in stark contrast to their expensive, classy surroundings. The effect is very off-putting and a disappointing about-face.
It wasn’t that long ago that trouble-making celebs like Paris Hilton and bad-behavior rappers like Lil Wayne were barred from Wynn/Encore. Now their kind seem to be openly courted. The type that this element attracts make Wynn/Encore the most money…yet are openly mocked by Steve as he collects a hefty share of their trust funds…and their snickers from his supposed sexual-predator history.
Take care not to collide with a stroller while reading Wynn’s “No Stroller” signs…
Along with “club kids”, the corridors and casinos at Wynn are inexplicably jammed to the max with real children, too. Despite a “No Stroller” policy posted at each and every entrance, there is nothing done to enforce this rule. The dreaded sound of screeching children at all hours of the day and night does nothing to convey the atmosphere of a luxury hotel…unless your idea of opulence is a cuticle trim at the Wal-mart nail spa.
An unattended child parties down at Wynn’s “Parasol Up” casino bar…
Earlier a few years back, the outspoken Mr. Wynn took heat for saying “nobody likes being around poor people”. One would assume, then, that he avoids visiting Bellagio these days. My biggest gripe about that Strip-center showpiece is the massive crowd that continuously flows through the lobby and into the Conservatory and Botanical Garden.
Bellagio is one of the most expensive and well-regarded hotels in the city…yet the masses choking its heart tend make the lobby resemble a redneck State Fair. Thousands of flip-flops, cargo shorts, pajama bottoms, tank tops and yard-long drinks shuffle beneath a $10,000,000.00 Dale Chihuly ceiling every day, having no idea what it is or why it’s unique.
These everyday gawkers are in stark contrast to the multi-million-dollar surroundings, carrying their bad behavior, lack of manners, beer coolers and overflowing strollers with them. Call me snobby (I prefer the term “outspoken”, which is why this site is a one-man operation) but if I’m staying at a palatial resort, I want to be around a classier group of people.
Palazzo Luxury King Suite (standard), Golf Course View…
Every Palazzo room is a spacious suite with sunken living quarters and desk…
That’s why I enjoyed my stay at Palazzo so much. Venetian‘s sister property has the right level of vibe, elegance and excitement to check off every box on my wish list. It has somehow managed to achieve the proper balance between fun and classy…and draws in a pleasant and appreciative crowd…minus the throngs that lug ice chests and beer koozies with them.
Palazzo‘s porte cochere is absolutely gorgeous, but you wouldn’t really discover it unless you were a guest. Indoor attractions like the massive waterfall and spectacular atrium fountain don’t draw in nearly as many sidewalk gawkers as Bellagio‘s conservatory, either.
Palazzo hasn’t always been devoid of nightclubs, but that clearly isn’t their focus. Lavo continues to operate, but now as a restaurant and lounge. Their nightlife offerings were shuttered after a few years, allowing the focus to shift back to long-running Tao at Venetian.
A short-lived stint of The Act Nightclub on the upper floor of the shopping atrium was deemed too outrageous by the operators of Palazzo, who found nudity and shocking activity to be against the otherwise-conservative nature of the resort. The Sands Corp. forced its closure. The space will be getting a new life this fall when SPIEGELWORLD opens their new ATOMIC SALOON SHOW in September.
The rowdy Bourbon Room at Venetian was replaced by The Dorsey, an elegant affair featuring unique cocktails by famed Sam Ross in an atmosphere that evokes the sitting room and library of a stately mansion. Somehow the shelves of books and fireplace manage to feel hip without being stuffy, again reflective of that delicate balance that Palazzo and Venetian carry out so well.
The pool scene at Palazzo is also lively without wallowing in vulgarity, especially at the adults-only Aquatic Club. That day club offered throwback-style, super-cool server costumes and a slick intimate party atmosphere with retro sass. The service is impeccable and Wolfgang Puck makes a pretty mean turkey burger! The format is reportedly being tweaked for the 2019 season, so we’ll put that venue on hold for now.
Just like Cirque du Soleil’s “O” and “Le Reve” reflect Steve Wynn’s fondness for water acrobatics, BAZ – Star Crossed Love represented the style and sensibilities of Palazzo. Hip, classy, bold and unique, the movie-musical mash-up BAZ dazzled the eye and put a song (or thirty) in your heart.
Its attention to details wass rich without smashing you over the head…just like the hotel it called home. Too bad the final performance was July 29th 2018, but hey, it had a great run!
BAZ: Star Crossed Love wass sass, class and flash…
Head clearance is another pleasing element of Palazzo. Both Wynn and Bellagio have very low ceilings throughout their casinos, which accentuate an already crowded atmosphere. The vertical height of Palazzo‘s casino is easily double that of the other properties, offering more natural lighting, fresher air and a spaciousness that compliments the nicely-spread slot machines and table games.
As for the check-in areas, the less said about Bellagio‘s, the better. While the gardens behind the reservation desk are gorgeous, the lines are chaotic and smack dab in the middle of that human tide of fanny packs. No matter what time of day or night that you arrive, you’ll feel like a silver orb inside a pinball game.
Wynn‘s check-in area for the original tower (there’s a separate entrance and desk for Encore) underwent its own embarrassing problems. A brand-new arrival area, immediately to the right of the front entrance, lasted about a month before an onslaught of guest complaints (cramped quarters and a sloggy queuing system) shut it down.
Guests weren’t the only ones confused by the constantly moving reservation desk…
The backlash prompted a reopening of the original reservation desk and dismantling of the new one during my stay. For a resort that prides itself on impeccable attention to detail, this must have stung! Then again, the Strip-facing entrance to the Encore tower was dismantled mere months after its debut….to be replaced by Encore Beach Club.
No such problems exist in the elegant and cathedral-like Palazzo reservation counter, which is as glorious as it is spacious. Despite the enormity of the property and its 3,000+ rooms, the check-in center is a model of efficiency…and once again, class. The same could be said of the staff that I encounter whenever walking through Palazzo. Everyone I speak to is friendly, helpful, and comes across as genuine.
Perhaps that’s why I am writing this article. It’s easy to fall under the spell of gorgeous surroundings, and Bellagio, Wynn and Palazzo are indeed palatial resorts. But once you’ve “been there, done that” with back-to-back stays at each of the Big Three, you begin to notice the differences. You realize that one of those places stood out in ways you never noticed before.
My takeaway is that the deterioration of decorum has rendered the notion of luxury resorts to be rather pointless in most cases. Despite their beginnings as palaces for the more affluent traveler, Bellagio has now devolved into a pseudo Mall of the Americas and Wynn/Encore version 2019 is essentially douche-bag central.
Thank goodness Palazzo remains everything a five-star resort should be. And it continues to undergo improvements to lighting, decor, casino layout and flow, lounge and dining offerings and more. No amount of glitz and glamour from Wynn’s current or former properties can replace the high-end experience of staying at the big P. It rises above the others by staying true to its purpose…and makes Palazzo my favorite luxury hotel on the Strip.
Photos by Sammasseur, Palazzo via Facebook, TripAdvisor, Expedia
Featured image courtesy Scott and Ryan Lyons
A side note:
There’s a widely-held misconception that critics and bloggers give favorable reviews when the object of their analysis has been comped. That notion is so common that even a former editor suggested that my scathing review of Magic Mike Live stemmed from not being invited to the media premiere (it’s a nauseating stink-fest no matter the circumstances).
As purveyors of our craft, it’s our responsibility to offer truthful opinions. That being said, when we’re invited guests, we’re likely to receive over-the-top service and perks galore. But as professionals, we can sift through the glitter and judge objectively.