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Vegas casinos draw tourists with holiday exhibits

Vegas Christmas
LAS VEGAS (AP) - Las Vegas has mostly shelved its attempt to rebrand itself as a family-friendly wonderland. But there's one exception: the dreaded holiday season, when visitor numbers crater and room vacancies soar.

In an attempt to lure tourists, Las Vegas casinos are staging increasingly elaborate holiday events.

The Bellagio has again transformed its conservatory into a faux winter wonderland featuring a 42-foot-tall Christmas tree, a life-sized candy house, a walk-through snow globe and topiary polar bears, all a few paces from the gambling floor.

The casino's famous dancing water fountains are leaping to Christmas classics, and tourists are taking photos with a 250-pound chocolate Grinch.

The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace is showing its Christmas cheer with "Elf Aquarists," divers in elf-style wet suits who feed the aquarium's tropical fish during daily shows.

Perhaps the most elaborate of all the exhibits is "Winter in Venice" at the Venetian, which the casino advertises as a public gift in banners strung outside its ersatz Italian facade.

December is traditionally the slowest month in Las Vegas. Last year, tourist volume fell from a high of 3.53 million visitors in March to a low of 3 million visitors in December, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. November and January didn't look much better.

Keith Salwoski, spokesman for the Venetian and Palazzo hotel-casinos, said the winter extravaganza, now in its third year, has helped convince families to seriously consider a holiday vacation to Sin City.

"Every photo that is shared during the holidays, for instance, helps to change the perception of the destination for the Christmas traveler. Suddenly, spending Christmas in Vegas is on the radar of travelers," he said.

Beautifully costumed actors stroll around the casino halls, greeting children and posing for silly photos with adults. Outside, a 65-foot Christmas tree made of lights shines like a beacon, tempting pedestrians to come inside.

Helen and Bob Harrison spent a recent afternoon gazing at a cluster of white birds and poinsettias arranged in front of an indoor waterfall near a bank of slot machines at the Venetian. The Wichita, Kan., couple was celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary, and had decided to spend the week visiting all of the Strip's Christmas exhibits.

"I used to work in a flower shop, and I just love this. The design that goes into it - we don't have anything like that in our city," Helen Harrison said. "It's nice to not have to go to Europe to see all this stuff; it saves on travel."

The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, a few blocks over, has doubled the size of its rooftop skating rink this year. Chief marketing officer Lisa Marchese said the casino is going for a "ski lodge perched over the Las Vegas Strip" aesthetic. Skaters can huddle around fire pits and buy s'mores kits for $14 (It's still the Strip, after all).

The rink at the Cosmopolitan is just one of several designed to entice desert visitors to casino properties. Caesars Palace, the Venetian and the Gold Spike are among those offering skaters an opportunity to lace up their boots for ice, real or artificial.

While most Las Vegas spectacles are designed to dazzle and erase the memory of home - with all its constraining social mores - the Christmas installations aim to remind tourists of their childhood.

"It's nostalgic," Marchese said. "I don't care where you grew up, I think everyone romanticizes the notion of skating in the winter."

___

Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
mercymfa December 23 2013 at 10:07 PM

Sodom and Gomorrah, when God, when?

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vreason December 23 2013 at 9:54 PM

I quit going to Vegas after Harry Reid was re-elected. I won't be going as long as he's in office! They don't need my tourist money.

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geddy37 December 23 2013 at 5:14 PM

Despite these attacks, many of the Vegas Christmas attractions are really worth seeing. The Bellagio conservatory is seasonal, and changes throughout the year. I'll thank the authors of this hateful bit of fluff to wad it up and stick it where the sun doesn't shine. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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terribhappy.terri December 23 2013 at 3:03 PM

Vegas was designed as an ADULT playland. It was not made for kids. Kids are extremely annoying especially for travelers that want to "get away" and do ADULT things. You want to do stuff with the kids??? I thought the age limit was 21 as alcohol is served in every casino in town. Take the critters to Disneyland, a Disney cruise, Knots Berry Farm or a host of places built for kids. NOT TO VEGAS!!! I was playing a high stakes Black Jack table at the Mirage and had a 3 year old climbing on the side of my chair. WTH???? Parents let them roam wild. It's not the place or atmosphere for children.... Get it???? Why would you expose your kids to Porn Peddlers on the street??? Get real and get a sitter!!!

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1 reply
topangak9 terribhappy.terri December 23 2013 at 4:37 PM

Couldn't agree more. AND I like the old days when you dressed nice for a night out in Vegas, not shorts and sandals.

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meinsetx December 23 2013 at 2:48 PM

I just returned from Las Vegas and the "Christmas in Venice" show at the Venetian is one you must see. Taped the entire thing (about 20 minutes long) and I hope to have it on YouTube soon (see it on my page at ChrisK529). This is the best time to go to Las Vegas as it is not as crowded as it is at other times (although it still has the crowds) and room rates are dirt cheap. I paid $53 a night at the MGM Grand for a Grand King room that this past August cost more than twice that. Of course in my book, ANY time is a good time to go to Las Vegas.

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jkschifano December 23 2013 at 4:54 PM

Don't buy and Christmas gifts, avoid all the Holiday shopping madness and go to Las Vegas and spend all your money! What a great way to spend Christmas!

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1 reply
geddy37 jkschifano December 23 2013 at 5:15 PM

Buy Christmas gifts and enjoy Las Vegas when it's relaxed and uncrowded. The weather is marvelous, the hotels and casinos are happy to see you, and the prices are right. What a great way to spend Christmas!

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robncyn2 December 23 2013 at 3:30 PM

We go to Vegas every December (for the past 10 yrs) for the National Finals Rodeo and stay at the Venetian. We've noticed, contrary to this article, that in the past few years there are fewer and fewer Christmas and holiday decorations. Winter in Venice at the Venetian, while beautiful, is not Christmas or holiday type decorations. Additionally, the Bellagio Conservatory every year has been smaller and smaller (this year the reindeer were not out of the nuts and plants they normally were). We love the decorations the casino's put up but would prefer more holiday decorations.

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1 reply
Cate robncyn2 December 24 2013 at 2:54 AM

I live here and go out of town and I notice that when I arrived back how little there were this year. It just isn't a Christmas town unless you live here and avoid the Strip and go to friend's & family.

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dbear4u2 December 23 2013 at 7:43 PM

What says Christmas and family better than dad and the boys taking a trip down the strip together picking up an escort for an hour or 2 of religious experiences, oh god, oh god, oh god......... that will be a $100 donation to the carnal temple. Merry Christmas!!

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1 reply
Cate dbear4u2 December 24 2013 at 2:52 AM

Actually most the dads & boys went to the Bowl Game and then to the basketball tourney. You guys would be surprised how many people were here this week.

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okc1 December 23 2013 at 3:16 PM

What Terrib said

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Johnny Jay December 23 2013 at 3:00 PM

Living in Las Vegas for the past 36 1/2 yrs. I have seen a huge change in the way casino's have decorated for the holidays. For almost 30 yrs. I worked in many of those casinos. Many of them don't exist today. These new style mega resorts spent millions to lure tourist into their resort to view their beautiful holiday decorations. Once inside the resort many visitors stay to shop, eat and mainly gamble their hard earned money away. Leaving vast amounts of money in these resorts. The old additive is "build it & they will come & spend" and they do. It's all about the amount of money casinos can get from you.

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