Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

March 6, 2005

Changes at Bellagio - How Are They Doing?

Posted by Hunter

California here we come... right back where we started from... I�m on the runway heading back home from Philadelphia. Man, it was cold. I can�t wait to get home. Did you know that you can unlock the restroom on an Airbus A320 by adjusting a latch that is located behind the �Lavatory� sign on the bathroom door? At least on this United Airbus. The flight crew told me not to tell anybody... Whoops...

Bellagio was Steve Wynn�s ultimate design for a mega-luxury supercasino. It was built as Mirage++, clearly based on the same design principles but with higher quality everything and the benefit of lessons learned.

Up until he left the company in 2000, his fingerprints were all over the hotel. The in-house video and announcements were recorded by a woman that spoke with an Italian accent, replaced soon after he left with a native English speaker... I kinda liked �Bellaccio� as the pronunciation on the video tour! His meticulous attention to detail was unmistakable.

After Steve left, the hotel continued under the stewardship of his right hand man, Bobby Baldwin (at least until recently - Bill McBeath of The Mirage is the new president of Bellagio while Baldwin is his boss as the head of Mirage Resorts). Baldwin recognized a good operation and didn�t stir things up too much. Until December�s Spa Tower opening, the biggest changes were the addition of a nightclub (Light), replacing the Allegro Lounge with Caramel and swapping out the Sam�s/Nectar/FIX restaurant space to come up with something that worked.

Anyway, since Las Vegas� (currently) most high-profile casino has undergone some changes, we want to take a look and see if Bellagio is still Bellagio.

What�s Good

Dining: FIX and Sensi - If you compare Bellagio circa 2000 to today, we have two new restaurants on the scene. Forget that there have been intermediaries, those joints failed miserably. Finally, the hotel has winners with two new spots and since I�ve tried both, I feel qualified to comment. Each has tasty food and attentive service. Neither is inexpensive, so don�t look for these restaurants to fill that void at this hotel. Since most of the customers at Bellagio are less worried about the tab, I think both joints are a good fit. When dining at FIX, try the Bobby Baldwin Sliders, at Sensi, the corn soup and the lamb are both �don�t miss� items.

Guestroom Renovations - Turn the clock back to late 2003/early 2004. Management saw the upcoming Spa Tower looming and were worried that guests would feel that one set of rooms were preferable to the other, based on amenities and the age of the furnishings, etc... So the decision was made to renovate the Bellagio Tower rooms (also notice that Mirage Resorts guestrooms are almost all on a five year refurb schedule: 1998-2003 at Bellagio, 1992-1997 at TI and 1998-2003 at Mirage). The plan was to use the new designs for the Spa Tower rooms as the new standard in the Bellagio Tower. This meant a bit more marble in the entryways, mechanical curtains in all guestrooms (formerly restricted to suites), along with new furniture and color schemes. Along with these timely upgrades was a change we don�t love - room key cards instead of metal keys. We�ll discuss this below...

Good? Bad?

Casino Color and Design Choices - If you take a close look at the casino carpet and wall coverings, you�ll notice there are several test patterns being checked in the casino. It is most noticeable in the area near the restaurant Jasmine. The new patterns feature a lot less color and we�re just not sure if we like them. They are also featured heavily in the Spa Tower public areas. There is a chance they won�t be rolled out on the floor but they�ve been in place for months. I�ve heard rumors that Donna Baldwin, Bobby�s wife, is responsible for these changes. I don�t have evidence to back that up but that�s my guess based on a few stories I�ve heard.

Casino Floor With Massive Signage - Under the Wynn Doctrine, Bellagio�s slot machines generally didn�t have large attached signage with flashing lights, at least not many that were breaking from the customized style that IGT and Bally Gaming designed for the hotel. These days the slots are done up just like they are in any other casino and while there isn�t anything particularly �wrong� with that, it is certainly worth mentioning as this changes sight lines in the casino.

Porte Cochere Changes - So far I haven�t gotten the details confirmed by the hotel but I do know that the outside bell desk and main entrance are currently being refurbished. Rumor claims this includes a small waterfall and other improvements. We�ll share updated information as we have it. I can�t imagine this being too �bad� but we�ll see.

What�s Bad?

Brain Drain (Is Everyone Heading Back to Wynn?) - It�s no mystery that Wynn Las Vegas has �poached� many key employees from Mirage Resorts. Let�s get serious. There are only so many capable managers and line workers and they want to work for Steve - that�s where the true loyalty is. Also, based on my conversations with employees at MGM MIRAGE properties, some are a bit dismayed at the changes that have occurred and are looking for a new start. There is no denying that some top MGM MIRAGE folks, many that work at Bellagio, are heading for Wynn Las Vegas when employee training starts this month.

What Happened to the Keys? - When Wynn built The Mirage, he decided to use magnetic metal keys instead of the plastic key cards that are used in most large hotels. When Bellagio opened, it too used the metal magnetic keys. It is a nice touch that differentiates the hotel and makes an impression on the guest. Well, with the new Spa Tower and the Bellagio Tower remodel, the guestrooms now use traditional plastic key cards while the suites still use the metal keys. I think that�s a shame and I�m not sure why management decided to make the change.

The bottom line is that Bellagio is still very much the hotel that Steve built. While some changes have been made, the spirit of service remains. It�s a nearly 4,000 room hotel that is run like a boutique and quality remains high. Clearly they are concerned about their high end business and employees being poached by Wynn Las Vegas but that�s only natural. Not everyone will jump ship and both hotels will thrive. The competition from Wynn will push Bellagio to keep quality high.

Thoughts? Share your comments below.

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Read archived comments (8 so far)
March 7, 2005 2:27 PM Posted by Prachin

wow that was very interesting and informative. i did not previously know that steve wynn built the miarge and bellagio.

too bad about the lady with the italian accent. her voice will be missed.

March 10, 2005 8:01 AM Posted by Bellagiofan

One of the most egregious changes, and a harbinger of things to come, was when they decided to change the entrance to the buffet at Bellagio. Someone told me that it was because guests were having trouble finding the place -- this despite the tremendously long lines that were constantly in place. They chose to install large individual cut-outs of the letters in "buffet", chose a blue plastic face for each cut-out and then erected them over the entrance -- creating a sour note in the symphony of the design throughout the casino. To add insult to injury, they then installed interior lit panels around the entrance and faced them with what appears to be heavy plastic.

In addition, the slots are ridden with sticky buttons, the naugahyde on the chairs and slot armrests are dirty, cut and holed by cigarette burns.

March 10, 2005 11:26 PM Posted by Hunter

Bellagiofan -

You're totally correct. The buffet entrance change is a design nightmare.

Clearly, MGM MIRAGE puts design second after marketability concerns.

It's too bad.

March 16, 2005 8:11 AM Posted by Mike

A Vegas blog! Neat!

One correction: The suites use keycards too. The card readers in the elevators are wildly unreliable. We'd routinely run into people riding up & down the elevators trying to get their keys to work so they could actually get off on their floor.

Tried both FIX and Sensi this trip, and liked both. My glutton wife decided she had to have an off-menu special of a whole Peking Duck for lunch(!) at Sensi. She refused to take the waiter's advice that half a duck might be sufficient, and sure enough we got a whole duck complete with head.

March 16, 2005 10:18 AM Posted by Hunter

Thanks for the clarification.

I am not sure if this is true in both towers or just the new Spa Tower. Did you stay in the Spa Tower?

March 16, 2005 4:28 PM Posted by Mike

We stayed in the original tower. I think metal keys disappeared sometime before last fall.

I didn't notice the slot signage, but it seemed to me the slot volume has gone up a bit.


June 19, 2005 1:20 PM Posted by Dan

I'm so glad to know Steve Wynn knows how to pronounce the name of his former resort. I grow tired of hearing the announcer refer to the property as bel-LA-zhi-o. The "zh" sound, though it is prominent in French, does not exist in Italian (I speak them both fluently). The correct pronunciation of the town in Italy the resort is based on is Bel-LA-jo.

February 18, 2006 8:42 PM Posted by bellagioguru

The Bellagio and the Mirage both switched from the metal keys to the card keys because the company for the metal keys (marlock) went out of business.