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TRAVEL INSIDER

All Bets Are Off for Debut Dates of Las Vegas Hotels

Lodging * A number of resorts have missed their heavily hyped openings by weeks, even months. Vacationer, beware.

July 25, 1999|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

When is a hotel opening not a hotel opening?

This is a question to ask all over Las Vegas, but let's start with Carey Shows, a resident of Claremont and a Nevada visitor in early June. She decided to stay at the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, $1.5-billion home to restaurants, shops and gondola rides on the Strip. Since it was open and advertising, she says, "I didn't even think twice about asking if it was finished."

But the Venetian had missed three announced opening dates before its "soft opening" May 3. Only about 400 of the building's 3,036 rooms were ready that first night, and fewer than half of the complex's 14 restaurants.

By the end of May, the hotel had 2,900 rooms in service. Yet as a June 4 arrival, Shows found that many amenities were unavailable. The restaurants and shops that did meet deadlines were besieged with long lines, she recalls, and she fired off a complaint letter, which she says went unanswered.

A Venetian spokesman regretted the unforeseen delays and noted several developments since then: Most of the 70 Grand Canal Shoppes were open by the Fourth of July. The hotel's Canyon Ranch SpaClub fitness center opened about June 20. But as of last week, the last handful of top-floor guest rooms were still not completed.

This may be an extreme example of deadline trouble, but it's not an isolated one. As hotel-casinos get bigger and demands grow for revenue to offset their enormous expenses, the not-so-grand, not-so-certain opening is rapidly becoming a Vegas tradition.

Another notable case of Las Vegas deadline slippage is the Resort at Summerlin, a 54-acre spread with 541 rooms divided between two hotels. It was first scheduled to open in April. Then promoters knocked the opening date back to June 29.

Then, on June 22, hotel officials announced that "due to unforeseen delays in construction," they wouldn't make the June date and would aim instead for a "soft opening" of the 286-room Regent Grand Spa and casino, along with a buffet and upscale restaurant, on July 12. (The Regent Grand Palms, the second hotel at the resort, would follow in September, and the shops and eateries would open gradually through the summer.)

In the end, the Regent Grand Spa didn't open until July 15, when a spokesman said about 250 rooms went into service.

Several Las Vegas hotel officials said they've tried hard to keep customers apprised of what will and won't be open, and have reduced rates during the opening transition. But construction deadlines have always been slippery beasts, advertisements often convey only minimal information and travelers like Shows, who said she was paying more than $200 nightly, can feel shortchanged.

The cruise industry, Vegas-like in its feverish expansion in recent years, has run into the same problem. Several lines, including Disney, Princess and Carnival, have promoted maiden cruises, taken bookings worth millions of dollars, then found that their European shipyards were unable to deliver the vessels on time.

The aftermath is typically a flurry of apologies, make-good offers and vows that this won't happen again. But with so much money invested in such projects (whether they float on the sea or sprout from the desert), top executives are under immense pressure to start bringing in money ASAP.

Back to the Strip. In early March, the 60-acre, $950-million Mandalay Bay's official opening party featured performances by Bob Dylan and the Blues Brothers at the House of Blues. Most of the hotel's 3,300 rooms and restaurants were ready, but not all. The Rumjungle Caribbean-themed restaurant and bar followed about two weeks later. Safety concerns prompted a ban on surfing and bodyboarding in the wave pool (but that pool may be opened to bodyboarding in coming days, a spokesman said). Within the Four Seasons Hotel that is part of the Mandalay complex, only about 50 of 424 rooms were ready for opening night. The Mandalay resort's Trattoria del Lupo restaurant opened April 10, its Border Grill June 19.

To be sure, not every new hotel-casino works the same way. When Steve Wynn's heavily hyped, $1.6-billion Bellagio opened last October, despite some opening-week operational snafus, guests had a fully open hotel to play in: 36 stories, 3,000 rooms, 16 restaurants and an art gallery.

Still, these tales of late and gradual openings are worth bearing in mind as the next spate of hotel openings approaches.

* "Coming Sept. 1," say the travel industry ads for the Paris Las Vegas casino and hotel. It is to feature 2,916 rooms, eight restaurants and 25 shops. "Everything will be open Sept. 1st," said a reservations clerk earlier this month.

* Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas Resort in Henderson, Nev., aims to open before year's end. Officials are boldly predicting mid-December completion for its 496 rooms, three restaurants, spa, fitness center and casino. "We are guaranteeing an on-time opening," says spokeswoman Lauren Yacker.

* Next, in "late spring 2000" comes the $1.3-billion rebirth of the Aladdin Resort & Casino on the Strip, with 2,567 hotel rooms, more than 130 shops and 21 restaurants.

If you can't wait until a month after opening to arrive at any of these hotels-to-be, ask specific questions: How many guest rooms will be in service for the opening? What about restaurants? Shops? Pools? (You can pretty much count on the casino being completed before guests arrive.)

If you still find yourself holding a reservation at an unfinished hotel, don't be shy about asking for a discount or other compensation. The Resort at Summerlin offered a choice to guests they couldn't accommodate: Reservations would be handed over to the comparably priced Four Seasons on the Strip, or the resort would cover the rescheduling cost (typically an airline charge of about $75). In addition, the resort offered a free night's future lodging.

Venetian Visited

* One family's weekend at the new Venetian hotel. L5

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