APRIL SHOWERS BRING MAY FLOWERS
Las Vegas Travel Blog› entry 2 of 5 › view all entries
April 20th, 2008 – by: mellemel8
I LOVE THE HUGE LADY BUG!!!
The 10-foot-tall talking rooster is dead, wrapped in blue blankets and sprawled on the floor. HAHAHA that was back in 2004. Every year the "SPRING FLING SHOW" always adds the huge butterfly cage. They just always change the cage style. You always walk through the cage and see some of the most colorful butterflies ever. I love the huge lady bugs, snails and frogs. You can hear the frogs sounds as well. Melissa (melissa919) and i were enjoying the colors. I wish i had a DSLR to take close up and motion shots of the butterflies in the cage. I liked this "show" this year, only because there are more orange and yellow. MY FAVE COLORS!!!!
To replace him, hundreds of tropical butterflies are arriving in chilled FedEx envelopes.
It’s standard procedure at Nevada’s posh Bellagio hotel. Five times a year, the casino goes to extravagant lengths and expense (roughly $1 million a show) to transform the scenery inside its glass-roofed conservatory garden.
Over Christmas, the atrium was decked out with 500-pound ornaments hung from the rafters, giant polar bears made of white carnations, a frozen pond and foam that looked like snow cascading from the ceiling. To complete the theme, artificial pine scent was piped through the ventilation system.
The changing displays are a hit with locals and tourists (Southern Californians account for nearly 12 million visits to Las Vegas a year).
“Our challenge,” says Stephen Stefanou, a member of the atrium’s brain trust, “is to create a must-see destination for the jaded eyes of consumers who have seen everything.”
It’s a wild ride. “No one has any idea of the inner workings,” he says.
Built in 1998, the Bellagio Conservatory is roomy enough to hold almost three basketball courts. For each makeover, a crew of 100 people spends six days �" working in shifts around the clock �" tearing down one landscape and building another.
Cranes pop up from catacombs beneath the floor to move heavy objects. Gardeners lug in more than 10,000 plants. And spectators gawk as workers hammer, drill, glue and paint.
The cast of characters behind the latest overhaul includes an ex-ventriloquist, a baron who served time for tax fraud, a team of scuba divers and a former hostage of Salvadoran guerrillas.
There’s also Kraig Anderson, a bespectacled bug wrangler from Minnesota. His company, Spineless Wonders, is overseeing the conservatory’s offbeat butterfly habitat.
Modeled after the Temple of Love at Versailles, the habitat is stocked with orange Gatorade and bananas, the butterfly equivalent of a Vegas buffet. It also features elaborate security measures to thwart any escapes by the foreign-born insects.
The only way out is a trapdoor leading to two underground rooms. One of the chambers has a full-length mirror so caretakers can check their white lab coats for would-be fugitives.
The byzantine setup had to pass muster with a USDA inspector before the hotel could release the first butterflies, which come in boxes of 500, each insect tucked into a glassine envelope, wings folded and accompanied by an ice pack to slow its metabolism.
The average lifespan of the critters is two weeks, Anderson says, which means the Bellagio will have to incinerate thousands of butterfly corpses (the bugs are treated as biohazards) during its current spring show, which closes May 14. Estimated cost for the butterfly extravaganza: $60,000. That’s pocket change for the atrium, which seems unacquainted with the phrase “fiscal restraint.
To shop for Christmas trees last winter, staffers trekked up Mt. Shasta and bought $97,000 worth of pines. For the just-concluded Chinese New Year, they hired a Steven Spielberg acolyte to build a giant robotic chicken that squawked “Happy New Year” in Mandarin.
“We go to extremes,” says horticulture manager Andy Garcia, an ex-cotton farmer who says he came to Nevada from El Salvador after being kidnapped by rebel guerrillas.
Indeed, the only reason the giant lily pads in the current exhibit aren’t real is because atrium officials couldn’t figure out a way to transport them from Amazon jungles without killing them. But they did truck in a century-old bougainvillea tree from Florida.
Such attention to detail can inspire odd reactions.
Hungry guests could pose additional trouble this winter. Atrium planners are considering a 40-foot Christmas tree made of spun sugar.
Behind the creations
On a sun-splashed Wednesday, the conservatory is midway through its newest face-lift. Hovering over the scene in a propane-powered cherry picker is Mike Damron, who normally works as a scuba diver repairing the Bellagio’s massive outdoor fountains. Today, he is attaching a swarm of oversized nylon butterflies to the oxidized copper beams that crisscross the atrium’s two-inch-thick glass ceiling.
On the ground, strolling across the mosaic-tiled floor in his habitual state of talking on two cellphones at once, is Stefanou, whose Texas company creates most of the conservatory’s jumbo props. One minute he’s ordering samples for a future project, the next he’s discussing selling his Dallas home because its feng shui has moved.
Like many here, Stefanou has an eccentric past. In college, he was a pre-med major but soon discovered “I excelled in fraternity; our parties rocked.”
He dropped out, got a job painting mannequins and later began designing department-store window scenes. That evolved into a company that created monstrous holiday decorations for Trump Tower and Rockefeller Center.
Along the way, the snowy-haired 56-year-old became a devotee of New Age guru Werner Erhard �" and launched a sideline business selling crystals “the size of automobiles.”
His metaphysical bent seeps into some of the atrium decor, such as the 3,000-pound, glow-in-the-dark crystal obelisk parked by the side entrance. It was sculpted by Baron Andreas von Zadora-Gerlof, a gem artist whose clients include sheiks and aristocrats (and who pleaded guilty a few years ago to evading $650,000 in taxes).
The other half of the conservatory’s creative team is Audra Danzak, 39, a freckled florist who worked her way up the Bellagio food chain and now calls all the shots at the atrium. (She also supervises the hotel’s outdoor gardens and 30,000-square-foot greenhouse, which helps feed the atrium’s ravenous appetite for flowers.
Animated and effervescent, Danzak starts brainstorming shows months in advance. For the current exhibition, “I got a vision as I watched a music video,” she recalls. Mind spinning, Danzak imagined the field of poppies in the video mushrooming to “Alice in Wonderland” proportions.
Later, Stefanou helped translate that image into a garden of 16-foot-high translucent flowers, huge ladybugs crafted from red carnations and a refrigerator-sized snail.
“If we can get an adult to feel like a child for a moment, then it’s successful,” he says.
Not every idea works. The large, fake butterflies floating near the ceiling look more like streamers than insects. Viewed from the ground, they’re too densely packed to register as anything but a blur of colors.
But overall, Danzak and Stefanou have hatched an impressive catalog of gadgets, from fiber-optic fireflies to steam-spewing topiary trains.
Vegas’ changing image
In an unassuming beige building a few miles from the Las Vegas Strip, headless bodies sit next to a colossal Liberty Bell. Nearby are counterfeit trees, a 45-foot pagoda and a mirror-ball horse that could qualify for a second career dangling from the ceiling in a disco.
This is one of three prop warehouses for the Bellagio conservatory. It’s also a rarity in Las Vegas. Normally, when a hotel uses enormous props, such as those created for corporate shindigs, it discards them afterward, says David Gonzalez, a spokesman for MGM Mirage, the Bellagio’s parent company.
The atrium’s whimsical creations are an exception, mainly because they reportedly can cost six figures. After each show, the props are dismantled, swaddled in bubble-wrap or blankets, trucked to storage and labeled with barcodes for future retrieval.
Although the hotel doesn’t track how many people visit the conservatory, it’s clearly a draw and other hotels are taking notice. In 2003, rival Caesars Palace put up a six-story fake Christmas tree strung with 14 miles of lights. (The faux Rocky Mountain Pine, which weighs 11,500 pounds, is also kept at a warehouse during the off-season.)
Such investments were virtually unheard of in decades past.
Today, the Strip has recast its image with scads of glitzy shops, restaurants and shows to lure holiday travelers. More than half of MGM Mirage’s revenue now comes from non-gambling sources, says company spokeswoman Sandy Zanella, who worked as a ventriloquist before switching to PR.
Following the example of the Bellagio and Caesars, other casinos are now shopping for gargantuan holiday scenery, says Glenn Tilley of the Becker Group, which built Caesars’ mega-pine.
Later this year, don’t be surprised to see elaborate water shows, light displays and huge animated Kris Kringles at other hotels, Tilley says.
Even the creator of Bellagio’s chocolate fountain is kicking things up a notch. Last week, he unveiled a 6-foot-high, 200-pound chocolate Easter Bunny.
Meanwhile, everyone is waiting to see what tricks casino visionary Steve Wynn has up his sleeve. Wynn, who masterminded tourist spectacles at the Bellagio and Mirage before selling those properties to MGM, is opening a new hotel in April.
“We know our former boss will try to do something different,” says horticulture manager Garcia. “But we are ready for him. Bring it on.”
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