LAS VEGAS - In the pantheon of five-star Las Vegas hotels, the Venetian often gets lost amid the shooting water walls.
Luxury-seekers talk up the Bellagio, Wynn, the Four Seasons atop Mandalay Bay. But the Venetian? That place with the gondola rides, and the mall that shows up in every other episode of MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen?
Overlook this Venice-themed fantasyland, though, and you'll miss one of the best hotels in Sin City.
Emphasis on the "hotel." In the high-stakes race to have the latest over-the-top amenity, many Vegas casino resorts forget that they're also supposed to be places to stay. The Venetian remembers. You'll find what might be the biggest standard rooms on the Strip here.
If you've ever stayed in Spain, you'll recognize the layouts. The Venetian's rooms are two-level affairs with a sunken living room below the sleeping area. You can squeeze a family of four or two couples into many Vegas hotel rooms; at the Venetian they'll fit comfortably.
The bathrooms are equally mammoth, with big sunken tubs and a TV on the side mirror (Vegas' James Bond gadget of the moment).
The only minor disappointment on a recent stay was the carpet - it was stain-free but dusted with a few stray crumbs from previous guests that housekeeping missed. True five-star hotels are spotless. But the Venetian offers plenty of reasons for forgiveness.
"It's almost like you get two rooms with the little stairs to the lounging area," vacationer Christine Arcel said. "I loved it from the moment I walked into the registration area."
And the Venetian still boasts arguably the most impressive lobby in Las Vegas, a wow-worthy entranceway of gleaming, marble-tiled walkways, towering pillars and ornately painted ceilings. Some guidebooks go so far as to declare the Venetian's lobby one of the 10 things you have to see in Vegas.
Thankfully, the staff makes sure you only spend as much time as you want standing there gawking. Check-in goes much quicker here than the Vegas casino-hotel norm, and without the take-a-number impersonality of other Strip hotel giants.
"It's a real hotel even though it's a big Vegas casino," visitor Tom Penner said. "I even know a few of the bartenders by name."
The Venetian's main lobby bar is one of more happening mingling spots in town. I've had people who are anything but Vegas glitzy - people who stay at the Motel 6 when in Sin City - ask for meetings at the Venetian bar. It's just a cool place to hang out, and always filled with eye candy.
The Venetian melds that cool with convenience. It's in the center of the Strip, a quick walk from Mirage and Treasure Island. And some of the most satisfying high-end restaurants in Vegas' showy culinary world are an elevator ride from your room.
Celebrity chef Thomas Keller's almost-understated Bouchon is the class of the Venetian, with really good food served by people who obviously love it. Walk into attached mall and you can also check out Wolfgang Puck's Postrio.
Many of Vegas' Puck restaurants (he seems to have one in every casino) are overrated; Postrio may actually be underrated. You can get great salads and fresh pastas here and end up spending less than $35 a person, wine included. In Sin City gastronomy, that's a bargain.
The Venetian does entertainment a little differently too. Blue Man Group, painted from head to toe and loads of fun to watch, performs here in a 1,760-seat theater. Phantom of the Opera runs at the Venetian, as does Gordie Brown, the rare comedian who gets big billing in Vegas for nightly shows.
A stay at the Venetian is no budget-stretcher. The resort's Web site says room start at $179, but that's on a very slow night; they routinely go for well over $200. But if you're already game to splurge on Vegas luxury, don't dismiss the land of the faux canals.
April 17, 2007