Somewhere between Italy and California (albeit shaded significantly toward the west coast,) we were together, at last and ironically, in the recreated Piazza San Marco of The Venetian Las Vegas Resort.
It wasn’t easy to look away from the scenic panorama while floating from Venice, Italy’s Grand Canal into the middle of the lagoon. I was peering off the side of one of the bus-like vaporetto boats at the palazzos, churches, bridges, gondolas and the campanile-spired skyline of Venezia.
But when I did manage a peek at my watch, I felt deflated because I noticed it was two o’clock in the afternoon.
“He would have been landing right now,” I said to myself.
Amidst all that beauty I had pain and disappointment in my heart.
I had been set to welcome my 25-year-old son Harrison at Marco Polo Airport for his first visit to Venice, Italy. Instead of being on a bus-like vaporetto boat I had arranged, via the exquisite IC Bellagio Italian custom tour company, to pick him up via a classic water taxi. We would then glide with a guide through the late afternoon on the canals of the world’s most unique, aquatic, artistic treasure.
Instead, it was just me on the vaporetto – my coach turned into a crowded pumpkin. And when I caught a glimpse of Saint Mark’s Square from the bus-like boat, I was reminded of why I was alone.
It was a dramatic midnight in Saint Mark’s Square the previous evening. I sat in view of the ornate basilica as the chairs around me began to vanish. They were being put away for the evening by waiters now that the café-front orchestras which ring the piazza had finished their encores and the cucinas were closed.
At the same time a gate…and a window…were closing for Harrison. While I experienced the solitary serenity of Piazza San Marco, he was in the maelstrom of LAX: Los Angeles International Airport. I’d been sitting in the splendor on the cell phone with him for an hour as he described the rapidly deteriorating situation at his end for longer than that.
“Dad I am not sure yet, but I have to tell you some people up at the counter do not look happy,” Harrison told me.
It had been a summer of turbulence for the airline industry…and not in the skies. Ground operations sometimes grinded to a halt as post-pandemic passenger demand outweighed the numbers of routes, seats, employees and pilots at airlines and airports. To speak in terms of Venice, airlines were experiencing a high-water mark and so flights sometimes ended up “underwater.” And passengers were left without a paddle.
The loudspeaker announcement I heard in the background was muffled, but the loud reaction of the waiting passengers was not.
“Let me go see, Dad,” Harrison said, taking me virtually to the counter with him. I was a fly on the wall when I overheard the gate agent indicate that his trip to Venice was squashed. Any subsequent rebooking could take at least a day which would mean no Venice. And it would also cause Harrison to miss the elaborate and culturally educational Oceania Cruise we were scheduled to take from Trieste near Venice.
And as was stated in the movie Goodfellas: “There wasn’t nothing nobody could do about it.”
Inside I mourned the loss of his opportunity to see and experience these exquisite Adriatic antiquities. Harrison had learned so much by traveling with me and photographing the world through both his camera lens and his mind’s eye.
But young people with a life ahead of them, and not yet knowing what they are missing, tend to be resilient. So, Harrison quickly switched gears.
“What about my checked baggage?” he asked.
A few hours later, when his luggage emerged, he was in an UBER back to Brentwood.
We’ll Always Have Venice
Lesson learned: book in more breathing room, if possible and affordable, when taking to the skies.
In the gamble of timing and travel, Harrison had rolled craps…a thought which gave me an idea: Las Vegas to the rescue!
The Venetian Resort Las Vegas is very easy to reach from anywhere in the world, especially America. You don’t need to be Marco Polo to find Nevada’s McCarran (now Harry Reid) International Airport. And Harrison could even get to the Vegas version of Venice by car or bus. Though it wasn’t by water taxi of vaporetto, he could get an authentic gondola ride in the canal that cuts through the casino (both inside and outside) the hotel. (By the way, The Venetian’s clear-not-cloudy canal water is a contrast to the murky muck of Murano and the many islands that comprise Venice, Italy.
Casino di Venezia, on the Grand Canal in Venice, having opened for gaming in 1683, is actually the world’s oldest. The Venetian Las Vegas Resort’s physical footprint, with its all-suites Venetian and Palazzo Towers, is one of the largest hotels in the world. It may actually surpass, in size, the whole of the actual Venice.
The resort has faithfully included the flavors of Venice in various ways beyond the canal rides in the elaborate, long boats poled and steered by costumed, singing gondoliers. Out front on Las Vegas Boulevard the façade resembled Doge’s Palace and there is a replica of the iconic campanile, St. Mark Square’s slender spire. Guests and visitors can actually walk over a reproduction of the white Rialto Bridge.
Venice has some of the world’s most significant art museums, including the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Gallerie dell’ Accademia. The Venetian, in addition to tasteful, opulent, artistic Italian theming, offers art galleries among its Grand Canal Shoppes. (Venice was created for and by merchants, after all.) As you would in Venice, you can wander The Venetian Las Vegas’ architecture and art viewing Renaissance frescoes, the hand-painted ceiling of the Grand Colonnade, digital displays and a huge LOVE sculpture.
As I strolled, I sang with one of the striped-shirt string players performing near a fountain.
“Eh cumpari, ci vo sonari?…tipti tipti tam.”
Trust me, true songbird Sarah Brightman’s “Starlight Symphony” will be much more moving than my warbling when her destination residency hits the stage in October 2022. The Venetian has her only U.S. performances while other entertainment luminaries have music lovers hurrying for seats.
I stood still, though, when the two-story “Acqua di Cristallo” water sculpture came into view in The Palazzo Lobby.
The all-senses elegance and excitement of The Venetian deserved a toast. The bellini was invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice; The Venetian tower offers The Bellini Bar – a much grander setting to sip one right in the heart of the casino floor. Just as in Venice you’re also never out of eyeshot of a gelato stand.
You’re never out of reach of water in Venice – sometimes even high water. But the highest water at The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas is something you won’t find in Venice: swimming pools!
The Palazzo and Venetian towers’ renovated rooftop pool decks are expansive, open year-round and heated with plenty of privacy options including cabanas and the Aquatic Club. Or you can get very social at the Tao day club. Or have a quieter drink at the pool restaurant named Spritz – the Aperol, Campari or Select prosecco-sipper which is the customary drink of Venice.
Together Finally in St. Mark’s Square
During the disappointing unraveling of plans, I was in St. Mark’s Square on the phone with Harrison who was at LAX.
Somewhere between Italy and California (albeit shaded significantly toward the west coast,) my son Harrison and I were together at last in the recreated Piazza San Marco of The Venetian Las Vegas Resort. We toasted the notion with prosecco, since most of it comes from the Venice region. Our glasses clinked to the irony of now sitting together, instead of on the phone, in the recreated St. Mark’s Square, which is smaller than the one in Venice, but cozier, and still feels as if it is outside due to the faux sky above.
BRERA Osteria’s “outdoor seating” has an aperitivo menu and offers an amazing value of only $28 for a lunch chef’s tasting menu. (Osteria, after all, translates to a simple, inexpensive restaurant.) “Pranza” diners make authentic choices in each of the Italian courses: antipasto, secondi, and dolce. (My choice? Carpaccio, gnocchi, and pana cotta, per favore.)
So, after all, for Harrison and I, The Venetian saved Venice.