Travels of a Journalist—71-Fountains of Bellagio draw many to Paradise
Posted on December 4th, 2011

By Shelton A. Gunaratne Professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead

 During a four-day visit to Las Vegas, Nevada, mid-November, 2011, we””‚my spouse and I””‚literally visited Paradise in its magnificent splendor to enjoy the sight and sound of the Fountains of Bellagio dancing to the tunes of the soothing songs of Frank Sinatra (“Luck be a lady”), Johnny Mathis (“We need a little Christmas”), Madonna (“Santa Baby”), Gene Kelly (“Singing in the rain”), Luciano Pavarotti (“Rondine al Nido”) and many others.

The Fountains of Bellagio””‚a vast, choreographed water feature with performances set to light and music””‚enchanted us. We agreed that it was one of the highlights of our visit.

The dancing waters lulled the romantically inclined among the spectators, gathered around the 1,000-ft.-long lake along the Las Vegas Strip, into spontaneous dancing. The awesome sight of serpentine streams of water blast 245 feet in the air vertically and diagonally mixed with an assortment of horizontal waves thrilled us all.

We were truly in Paradise (pop. 223,127), an unincorporated town, which includes most of the four-mile long Strip, where some the world’s renowned hotels are located. Paradise is a part of Las Vegas metropolitan area (pop. 1.9 million) but not of Las Vegas city (pop. 583,756).

The Bellagio opened in 1998 replacing the legendary Dunes hotel and casino. [On my first visit to Las Vegas 44 years ago, 3-4 Jan. 1967, I spent quite some time at the Dunes casino.] Famed for its elegance, the 3,933-room Bellagio resort is most notable for its nine-acre (3.6-ha) manmade lake between the building and the Strip. The fountain is formed as a pair of large concentric rings and a long, curved arc, with two smaller circles attached to the arc near each end. Hyper-shooters and extreme shooters fire jets rising to almost the height of Bellagio’s main tower of the Bellagio. Robotic water jets called Oarsman nozzles create a nearly infinite variety of patterns to synchronize with the sound of music. A fog generating device rises from beneath the water to blanket the entire lake with fog, while some 4,000 individually controllable underwater lights follow the water patterns’ precise movements, sparkling on the water or glowing through the fog.

The Fountains of Bellagio, designed by Water Entertainment Technologies (WET), run every day on the half hour, and every quarter hour during the evening. It’s free to all. Inside Bellagio, Dale Chihuly’s Fiori di Como, composed of more than 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers, covers 2,000 sq. ft. of the lobby ceiling. Bellagio is also home to Cirque du Soleil’s aquatic production “O.”

The Bellagio offers three other signature attractions: the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, the Conservatory, and the Bank Nightclub. We enjoyed the feel of the two giant pumpkins in the Conservatory and botanic gardens.

Along the Strip, north of the Bellagio, we found another magnificent exhibit called the Volcano at the entrance to The Mirage, a 3,044-room hotel and casino opened in 1989 to replace the Castaways, which had operated from 1963 in the premises once occupied by the famous Red Rooster Nite Club.

The Mirage’s artificial volcano “erupts” nightly from 7 to midnight on the hour, yet another free spectacle for walkers and gawkers on the Strip. A man-made mountain rising some 50 feet from a palm-fringed lagoon, the exhibit looks and sounds quite like a real volcano thanks to its technological upgrade in 2008.

After the opening of its sister property Bellagio, WET Design that created the Fountains of Bellagio, also improved the technology behind the volcano effect to make it more spectacular. The effects include massive fireballs, choreographed to a hypnotic music score by composer Zakir Hussain and former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. A new soundtrack complete with the sounds of actual volcanoes erupting gives the spectators an even more enhanced experience.

The Mirage, designed to fit its French Polynesia theme, has two other signature attractions: the Dolphin Habitat and the Siegfried and Hoyt’s Secret Garden. The hotel’s atrium has a 100-foot-tall glass dome that shelters a living rain forest of palms, banana plants and other tropical flora.

We found another free exhibit at the very end of the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace””‚the Roman-themed resort opened in 1966″”‚between the Bellagio and the Mirage. It is a free show with large, moving statues acting out a short play, running every hour on the hour. However, its faulty sound system associated with the intense reverb and the thunderous sound effects makes the conversation unintelligible to the spectators””‚a drama about two offspring vying to be the successor to their father’s throne.

Caesars has 3,349 rooms in five towers: Augustus, Centurion, Roman, Palace, and Forum. Its signature attractions are the Forum Shops, a high-end shopping mall comprising some160 shops and haute couture boutiques, as well as 11 gourmet restaurants. This is a top celebrity-sighting spot in Las Vegas.

Caesars also offers various other shows. We spent an evening at the Spiegelworld located in front of Caesars Palace to see the 90-minute show titled Absinthe, an over-the-top, circus-style comedy for adults interspersed with stunts. We had no clue about the nature of the show until we went to the venue because we got complimentary tickets from a vendor who tried to entice us into a business scam. We were too fascinated by the incredible stunts when Absinthe’s ringmaster The Gazillionaire warned the audience:

“If you’re offended by words like f*** or s*** you just might be at the wrong f***’in show.”

Just to the north of The Mirage is the 2,884-room Treasure Island Hotel and Casino, opened in 1983. These two hotels, which share a common tropical ambience, are connected by tram. Treasure Island presents a free entertainment spectacular called the “Sirens of TI” every day using the hotel’s Sirens’ Cove as the backdrop.

We spent another evening at the Phantom Theater of the Venetian, a luxury resort with 4,059 suites and rooms opened in 1999 to replace the old Sands Hotel. Located just to the north of Harrah’s, where we stayed on this trip, the Venetian presents a remarkable facsimile of Venice’s architectural glory. The ultra-plush Palazzo, in effect the northern extension of the Venetian, was opened in 2007 with 3,068 suites.  [In 1967, I stayed at the Riviera, the Strip’s first high-rise opened in 1960, located further north.]  This group of hotels constitutes the western flank of the Strip facing The Mirage.

We were curious about the $40 million theater designed to look like a 19th century Parisian opera house. Overall, we enjoyed the 95-minute musical “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular“ featuring every song from the original Andrew Lloyd Webber The Phantom of the Opera.  The special effects and the costumes were just fantastic. The tickets cost us $25 each from a discount dealer. We concur with the reviewer who observed:

“Sets change seamlessly before your eyes. There are no blackouts, no costume changes, and almost no down time. It feels as if you are watching a movie, except it’s being performed live, right before your eyes.” 

Walking further south of Harrah’s, we passed the 2,640-room Imperial Palace (opened in 1979), whose signature attraction is The Auto Collection. A tram interconnects the Imperial Palace with MGM Grand in the south with stopovers at the Flamingo, and Paris Las Vegas.

 Opened in 1946, the 3,626-room Flamingo is one of the oldest hotels in Las Vegas. We spent some time at its garden courtyard enjoying the Wildlife Habitat, its signature attraction, which included flamingoes and other birds.

Paris Las Vegas is a 2,915-room hotel opened in 1999 with Paris as its theme. The hotel includes a half scale, 541-foot (165 m) tall replica of the Eiffel Tower, a sign in the shape of the Montgolfier balloon, a two-thirds size Arc de Triomphe, a replica of La Fontaine des Mers and a 1,200-seat theatre called Le ThƒÆ’†’©ƒÆ’†’¢tre des Arts. The front of the hotel suggests the Paris Opera House and the Louvre.

Flanking Paris is Baily’s to the north and Planet Hollywood to the south.

MGM Grand was the largest in the world when it opened in 1993. With 6,582 rooms, it has used Hollywood as its theme. Its signature attractions are its Lion Habitat, CBS Television City, Tabu, and Studio 54. Its neighbor to the south is Tropicana.

One morning, we took a bus ride from Harrah’s to Mandalay Bay in the south to explore the resorts and casinos on the eastern flank of the Strip up to the City Center.

The 3,309-room Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino was opened in 1999. It has three signature attractions: the Shark Reef Aquarium, which displays numerous different species of sharks, rays, fish, reptiles, and marine invertebrates; the House of Blues, a chain of 13 live music concert halls and restaurants in major markets throughout the United States; and Mandalay Beach.     

A free tram interconnects MGM-owned Mandalay Bay with Luxor and Excalibur to the north, also MGM-owned.  

Named and themed after Luxor (ancient Thebes in Egypt), the 4,407-room Luxor opened in 1993. Its signature attractions include the two-level LAX Nightclub for celebrities, the ultra-elite Noir Bar, and several additional nightlife destinations: CatHouse, Aurora, Liquidity, Flight, High Bar and Play Bar.

Themed after Camelot (the legendary King Arthur’s court), the 3,981-room Excalibur opened in 1990. Excalibur is home to two permanent shows: the all-male revue Thunder From Down Under and the medieval themed dinner show Tournament of Kings.

Finally, in the City Center, we did a quick tour of the plush hotels built after 2008: the 1,495-room Vdara, the 392-room Mandarin Oriental, the 4,004-room Aria, and the 2,995-room Cosmopolitan.

All these hotels were in Paradise. Being human, we could not cover all the hotels along the Strip.

We conclude that Las Vegas represents the epitome of opulence, conspicuous consumption, and degenerate living. It’s the playground of the super-upper-and-aspiring classes. We watched the drama of man versus man, man versus self, and man versus nature each time we passed through a casino””‚greedy habitual gamblers losing money to machines programed not to lose. Evil-minded Mara failed to tempt us to the charming slot machines. However, we confess that we sinned because we gave way to our gastronomic instincts.

If you have the urge to splurge, do visit the Sin City. Be aware that hotels have excess capacity. Look for inexpensive airfare-hotel deals. If you go, do as we did: avoid the one-armed bandits.



FIGURE 1:  Major Hotels and Casinos on the Las Vegas Strip
East of the Strip: A=Bellagio; B=Caesar’s Palace; C =The Mirage; D=Treasure Island
West of the Strip: E=The Palazzo; F=The Venetian; G=Harrah’s; H=Imperial Palace; I=The Flamingo; J=Paris Las Vegas; K=MGM Grand
East of the Strip: L=Mandalay Bay; M=Luxor: N=Excalibur; O=Mandarin Oriental; P=Aria; Q=Cosmopolitan



PICTURE 2: The author in the promenade of the Bellagio overlooking the lake that turns into the Fountains of Bellagio. In the background is Paris Las Vegas. (15 Nov. 2011)




PICTURE 1:  The Fountains of Bellagio at night. [Download the photo from  

(Source: Wikimedia Commons. Picture taken by user izx in January 2006.)

2 Responses to “Travels of a Journalist—71-Fountains of Bellagio draw many to Paradise”

  1. Raj Says:

    Oh! not again.

  2. Ariya Says:

    Glad you saw this, Emeritus Proffessor, but you are not an emritus prof of Sri Lanka, but of US, so nothing strange, for it is your country. Have a nice day in the US!

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