Part III: Bellagio
Bellagio was the last stop on this unusually long trip to Las Vegas. It was interesting to stay at both Wynn and Bellagio on the same trip and compare my impressions of each. Until Wynn opened in April, Bellagio had been my property of choice since opening day in October, 1998. It still has much going for it.
I checked into a Bellagio Suite, 1,020 sq ft with one separate bedroom and 2.5 baths. The comparable suite at Wynn is the Parlor with 1,280 sq ft which, although larger, has one full bath and a powder room. I know large baths are �in�, but in my opinion, the second full bath is a welcome addition for two guests. Wynn�s bath has larger counter areas and more elbow room, but I cast my vote for Bellagio. MGM Mirage has renovated all of the deluxe rooms at Bellagio but hasn�t touched the suites yet. It will probably be done in 2006. Everything was in excellent condition, but eight years of wear and tear show on the upholstery and carpeting. The living room chairs and carpeting have been cleaned so many times, they�ve lost some original color. Regardless, it was a very comfortable place, but the TV�s looked old fashioned compared to Wynn�s wall-mounted flat screens. At least at Bellagio, one could select a specific channel on the bathroom televisions rather than clicking up or down 50 channels or so. Boy, how did a poor kid like me get so jaded?
Beds were equally comfortable at both Bellagio and Wynn, and both now have down (?) comforters rather than blankets between the triple-sheets. Wynn�s comforter is thicker, and I found it both heavier and too warm. I prefer Bellagio�s.
Bellagio�s separate, key-activated elevators to floors 29-36 are much quieter and faster than those at Wynn and have better regulated temperatures. I can�t understand how Steve missed the mark on elevators in both the Suite and Resort Towers. Unlike Bellagio, while waiting on my floor for the elevator at Wynn, I could hear the cables and cars rattling as they passed up and down. Finally, the detail/craftsmanship of the elevator cars (cabs?) at Bellagio surpasses Wynn. Nit-picky, I know, but where did that almost $3 Billion at Wynn go?
I already commented on the lack of Petrossian and Baccarat type bars at Wynn. There is no better place to people-watch, listen to the piano and have a drink and/or caviar than at Petrossian Bar. MGM hasn�t messed with its ambience�yet. I wish I could say the same for the Baccarat Bar. It has been remodeled into a rather stark, 1950�s-style modern which doesn�t appeal to me. However, I noticed it was always busy, and there was a good soft music trio playing. It doesn�t exude the same classic dignity as it did under Steve Wynn. Maybe I�m too old to change.
Nothing can beat Bellagio�s large lobby with the Chihuly ceiling. Lighted Christmas trees were put up at each corner of the center, carpeted lobby area, and it looked great. Wynn does not have the open spaces which is Bellagio�s strength. The Conservatory was being changed over to the Christmas (or is Holiday more pc?) display. The gawkers, including me, enjoyed watching the construction more than the finished product. The Conservatory floor is on elevators, with a full basement underneath, and it was interesting to see how the work was done. MGM has been very wise not to cut corners on the Conservatory. It brings thousands of people in weekly which certainly adds to the casino�s revenue.
Bellagio�s new �Club Prive� has opened next to the Baccarat Bar. At first glance, it looked out of place with its boxy appearance and dark wood, but after a few days, it grew on me. There is no question MGM is slowly getting rid of all Steve Wynn touches and trying to appeal to a younger clientele. The formal European, flowery look will soon be replaced by more contemporary lines. Some will be successful, some won�t. The new tailored canopies over the tables are more attractive than the frilly, flowery ones, but the silver and glass chandeliers look cheap to me. If you want to see the new theme of Bellagio, walk through the Spa Tower. The maroon, gray and black colors on walls and carpets will soon spread through the entire property. One can see the contrast in construction detail between Steve Wynn�s Bellagio and MGM by walking through the convention/meeting area from the original building into the expanded meeting space toward the Spa Tower. The crown moldings, coved ceilings and finish millwork are noticeably plainer and less expensive in MGM�s hands. That�s an observation, not necessarily a criticism. There is no better casino operator, in my opinion, than MGM Mirage. If Steve showed the returns from Bellagio that MGM has, he might still own it. However, from a guest�s perspective, Steve would win hands down.
The Fontana Bar has been taken over for the month by the Five Diamond World Poker Classic. It�s a loss to have prime lakefront property used as a poker room, but I�m sure it�s more profitable, and I wonder if Fontana will soon close permanently. Bellagio needs the poker space, and with Bobby Baldwin�s poker background, he�ll do whatever it takes to keep the tournaments going strong.
Bellagio�s slot floor is being modernized, and the $5 area around the high limit slot room has been reconfigured and updated. Bellagio still can�t match Wynn�s slot floor which started with a clean sheet of paper.
Casino staff has experienced quite a bit of turnover since Wynn opened. There are many former Bellagio employees at Wynn who are just outstanding. Although the newer Bellagio casino employees were helpful and attentive, something was lacking. No one trains and motivates people like Steve Wynn.
This was even more noticeable in the restaurants. Picasso is the only restaurant which didn�t lose staff to Wynn, and it�s still a great room. We didn�t have dinner there, but we did stop for a drink at the small, six stool bar. It�s a terrific place to get away from the casino atmosphere for a glass of wine or cocktail.
We didn�t make restaurant reservations in advance, and on both Sunday and Monday nights, we could not get into Prime, even with the assistance of VIP Services. That shows what an un-vip I am. The room was booked both nights through the last seating. Like SW at Wynn, Prime has to be the biggest grossing restaurant in the place. The first night, we went to Shintaro and ate at a regular dining room table and ordered off the menu. This restaurant is under-appreciated. It�s always good, and the service was very good. Monday night, we went to Circo. This is the more casual sister restaurant to Le Cirque. We used to enjoy it for lunch because of the windows on three sides and the colorful atmosphere. It now is open only for dinner. It was disappointing. The food and service were both mediocre, and the prices have gotten unrealistically expensive. It is just another commercial restaurant without a �soul.� Many of Le Cirque and Circo�s better staff is now at Wynn.
Michael Mina (formerly Aqua), in the Conservatory area is another room which has lost its way. The chef, bartenders and many of the wait staff moved to Tableau at Wynn. When we stopped for a drink at Michael Mina on my last trip, the bartenders were indifferent and rather bored acting. When I asked one where he worked before, he said he had been a casino service bartender. That explains the difference between Wynn and MGM Mirage. The service bar staff may be very competent, but they don�t know how to interact with customers.
Sensi, the new restaurant in the Spa Tower, has a lot going for it. The show kitchens and casual atmosphere are inviting, and the food is very creative and good. The servers were very good, but the bartenders showed the same indifference as at Circo and Michael Mina. Didn�t any of them ever watch �Cheers�?
My stay was timed to take advantage of MGM Mirage�s Holiday Gift Shoppe. Points earned throughout the year at most MGM Mirage properties can be used to order gifts. Bellagio�s Tower Ballroom had many of the gifts on display, and staff from the fulfillment house as well as from Bellagio were helpful and ready to process the orders. The entire catalog is on the Players Club website. When I asked about a wallet which I had seen online, I was told that not all MGM properties carried the same gifts. That surprised me. Does someone who goes to New York New York get lesser quality selections, or at least different, than at Bellagio or The Mirage? It took a call to someone to approve my wallet. That was strange. As described earlier, Wynn�s Red Card gift program for the slot tournament attendees was much better. Gifts appeared to be more generous considering the fact that only points from the one weekend were included, and orders could be placed online from home. MGM�s goal is encourage players to come back after Thanksgiving, typically the slowest time of the year. I would like Wynn to add this program on an ongoing basis in 2006.
Finally, Bellagio would remain the gold standard in Las Vegas if Steve Wynn still owned it. The construction detail and features can�t be matched. It�s still a very nice property, but as a guest, I�m much more at home now at Wynn.