What's in the Cards at the Palazzo?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

RESEARCH QUESTION: Oops, he's done it again. When multizillionaire Sheldon Adelson recently opened the Palazzo, his $1.9 billion resort on the Las Vegas Strip, he simultaneously created one of the world's largest indoor structures. Including the adjoining Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center, the complex comprises nearly 19 million square feet. We wondered: How does the Palazzo measure up?

METHODOLOGY: Although we usually wait a few months to let a new property work out any kinks, we tested the 3,000-plus-room Palazzo the evening before its official January opening. Vegas churns out hotels like Hershey's spits out Kisses, so we weren't surprised to find the place ready for us. We paid $199 double for our suite, a rate that's still available if you hit it right. We spent two days gambling and snooping around the joint.

RESULTS: We've always considered the Venetian a campy ode to Italia and a confusing, if lovable, mess. The casino is a crowded labyrinth, rooms are hard to reach, restaurants are difficult to find. Even its big-budget show, "Phantom," is tucked under an escalator.

Not so the Palazzo. The property ratchets down the kitsch. Sure, there's that odd milky-white statue of giant women in the lobby, but for the most part it's more understated, almost blah. The decor includes lovely glass domes, enough marble to seemingly stretch from L.A. to New York and a waterfall in the mall, home to Sin City's first Barneys New York.

The casino, which provides easy access to all things Palazzo (including a straight path from the front desk to the room elevators), is a disappointment. Unlike the spiffy makeover at the Planet Hollywood resort down the street, the Palazzo's money pit is drab and uninviting. It's basically a big bland room with more than 120 game tables and 1,400 slot machines where you can throw your cash away. The plus side: It's easy to get your bearings, so you can make a quick getaway.

Restaurants include the usual big-name, big-check suspects. Table 10 by Emeril Lagasse, for instance, "reflects the close relationships Emeril has cultivated with farmers, fishermen and ranchers" -- which means you can find a little of everything. Chefs Mario Batali and Charlie Trotter also have taken up residence, and Jay-Z's 40/40 Club is a sports-bar-cum-party-palace. If you're looking for cheaper grub, we suggest the restaurants lining the fake canal leading to the Venetian.

The pool wasn't yet complete during our visit, but if you want a mini-ocean, go elsewhere. The "pool deck" will feature pools, spas and statuary, though there are myriad other ways to get wet at the complex's Canyon Ranch Spa Club.

Or save your money and don't leave the rooms, which are lavish and ridiculously large. Our suite, a soothing melange of beiges and dark browns, featured a sunken living area with a sectional sleeper sofa, two 42-inch flat-screen TVs, three phones and a soaking tub the size of a koi pond. But we're easy: Our favorite attraction was the remote-controlled Roman shades that opened to a full view of the mountains to the east.

CONCLUSION: We're fans of the Palazzo, though, come to think of it, we really hate the casino. But the suites make up for it, and at $199, they're a great deal by Vegas standards. Given the choice, we'd opt for the Palazzo's polish over the Venetian's tackiness. And when "Jersey Boys" begins its open-ended run in the spring, there'll be another good reason to check in and check the place out.

-- John Deiner

The Palazzo is at 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. Info: 866-263-3001, http://www.palazzolasvegas.com.

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