A French accent in the Nevada desert; Resorts: Replicas of Paris landmarks grace the Strip. Two other resorts are opening a little ways from the crowds and noise.; Destination : Las Vegas

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If it's October, this must be Paris.

Paris Las Vegas is the latest megaresort to hit town. But two others are popping up away from the Strip. One is the newly opened (though still under construction) Resort at Summerlin, 15 minutes away, while Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas is coming, in December, in nearby Henderson.

Here's the latest on all three.

Paris Las Vegas

In the 10 years since the Mirage rejuvenated the Strip, reporters have had to make the neck-snapping trek from the Arthurian precincts of medieval England, to festive Rio, Steve Wynn's version of Treasure Island, the pyramids of Luxor, MGM's massive reproduction of Dorothy's Oz, the splendor of Monte Carlo, a compacted New York-New York, and the watery worlds of Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and the Venetian. There were several other stops in between, but who's counting?

Last month, Park Place Entertainment added another stop on the tour when it opened Paris Las Vegas. The $760 million mega- resort managed to squeeze reasonably authentic replicas of the original City of Light's most familiar landmarks into a 24-acre property sandwiched between Bally's and the once-and-future site of the Aladdin.

To counter the fine art and gardens of Bellagio, singing gondoliers of the Venetian and themed restaurants and water park of Mandalay Bay, the Paris Las Vegas offers an elevator ride up a 50-story-high, half-scale Eiffel Tower, a stroll through the Arc de Triomphe, facades of L'Opera and the Louvre, and a winding, faux-cobblestone boulevard. The designers didn't attempt to rechannel the Seine -- as Wynn might have done -- but they did find room for a bridge (the Pont Alexander III) and European-style water closets.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the Parisians' supposed rudeness toward foreigners is missing here, and only dogs of the seeing-eye variety are allowed in the restaurants. Indeed, all Paris Las Vegas employees -- from valet parking attendants and bellhops, to phone operators and maids -- have been coached in the friendly delivery of several rudimentary French phrases. Sometimes the effect is comical, especially when you hear "bon jour," "bon soir" and "merci" repeated in a cacophony of accents.

This might upset Francophiles, but it certainly won't upset the legions of American tourists for whom this Paris might provide their only chance to taste a properly made croissant or discover the difference between pommes frites and french fries.

Anyone who's already visited New York-New York pretty much will know what to expect at Paris Las Vegas.

The high-ceilinged casino hums under a faux summer sky, while the mirrored reception area and Rue de la Paix shops all are given distinctive French touches. A leg of the Eiffel Tower extends into the gaming arena, mimes entertain the sightseers, a singing bicyclist delivers bread to the restaurants and the buffet offers tastes from all regions of the republic.

Richard Melman's Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises -- and chef-partners Jean Joho and Gabino Sotelino -- are in charge of two of the hotel's top-end restaurants. Joho's is the signature Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Sotelino's a copy of the chain's Mon Ami Gabi in Lincoln Park.

Joho's beautifully conceived establishment is on the 11-story-high mezzanine of the tower, and, as such, provides a spectacular view of the nightly Fountains of Bellagio show, across the street. Reservations are essential, as local residents are just as desirous of the culinary experience as Paris Las Vegas guests.

Mon Ami Gabi is the only restaurant on the Strip that fronts a hotel, and the first with outdoor seating (misting machines and awnings will be used to cut the summer heat).

Standard guest accommodations in the 2,900-room hotel aren't significantly larger or more luxurious than other Strip properties. The sleeping space and bathrooms are nice enough, but nothing frequent Las Vegas visitors haven't seen already.

But, then, no one wants guests to stay in their rooms very long, anyway.

Paris Las Vegas is next door to Bally's at Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. Standard room rates range from $129 to $359, with suites from $350 to $5,000. 888-BONJOUR (www.paris-lv. com).

The Resort at Summerlin

Sometimes, even the most passionate defenders of the Las Vegas experience need a break from all the glitz, noise and traffic.

As big as they are, the mega-resorts -- specifically, Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and the Mirage -- have no problem supplying their customers with personalized luxury, fine dining and wonderful entertainment. What they can't provide, however, is sanctuary from the fanny-pack masses.

Until the plush Four Seasons opened last spring, the only remedy for gridlock and slot-machine drone was the Desert Inn.

In July, however, golfers and business travelers were given the opportunity to sample something new for Las Vegas. the Resort at Summerlin -- a 15-minute drive from the heart of the Strip -- offers an experience similar to that provided by resorts in Arizona, Florida and Hawaii.

"Our entertainment is golf and the spa ... and, in the evening, you have the casino," says Brian Johnson, general manager of the property's Regent Grand Spa hotel. "Or, you can drive 15 minutes and be on the Strip, with 30 million other tourists."

Located in the affluent, master-planned community of Summerlin -- just a wedge shot from beautiful Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area -- the Swiss Casinos of America enterprise boasts two Regent International Hotels (Regent Grand Palms is scheduled to open next month); a 40,000-square-foot Aquae Sulis luxury health spa; several fine restaurants and bars, including an imported Irish pub and already-popular buffet; a tasteful 50,000-square-foot casino; and guaranteed tee times on the Tournament Players Club course and access to nine other area links. There will be 541 rooms and suites when both hotels are finished.

Indeed, the atmosphere surrounding the as-yet-uncompleted project is very much that of a country club, rather than a megaresort. Couches and fireplaces are as omnipresent here as keno boards are in other hotels.

Standard guest rooms measure a generous 560 square feet and feature bathrooms with whirlpool tub, dual-sink vanity, glass-enclosed shower with overhead spray and marble floor. They also offer a patio or balcony, refrigerator, wet bar and one of the most comfortable mattresses in the hospitality industry.

Although the facility is far from complete, more amenities -- from the practice putting green, to the spa and Japanese restaurant -- open every week. In the meantime, the resort has substantially cut its rates, while offering a complete golf package.

The Resort at Summerlin is at 221 Rampart Blvd., about a half-hour drive from the airport and a 15- to 20-minute drive from the Strip (free shuttles provided to both). While construction continues, room rates are reduced; normally, rooms will start at about $250 (spa facilities and other amenities included). 877-869-8777 (or check www. resortatsummerlin.com).

Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas

Scheduled to open in mid-December, the Hyatt Regency is about a 30-minute drive southeast of the Strip on a 21-acre property straddling manmade Lake Las Vegas. Like the Resort at Summerlin, the Hyatt will cater to golfers and other visitors who might want a respite from the craziness in town.

Unlike Summerlin, however, the 496-room, Moroccan-inspired Hyatt will attempt to attract conferences, meetings and other events, while also providing a luxurious, uncrowded environment for its other guests.

Lake Las Vegas is within a stone's throw of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. It is surrounded by a 7,261-yard Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and a gated residential community. Although the property is remote -- even compared with Summerlin -- the Hyatt will have its own casual and gourmet restaurants, convenience stores, casino and spa and recreation facilities suited to adults and children.

The Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas, which will open in December, is about 17 miles southeast of the Strip, off the Lake Mead exit on Boulder Highway, in Henderson (shuttles to Strip and airport for a fee). 800-55-HYATT (www. hyatt.com).

'Soft opening' can be hard on visitors

One of the most unwelcome new trends in Las Vegas is the arrival of the "soft opening" concept.

Essentially, it means that a property has missed its announced debut and will open in stages. This allows the operators to generate cash flow (especially in the casino), work its employees into shape and take advantage of busy weekends and conventions, when the town is overbooked.

It also gives them a ready excuse when service isn't up to snuff.

The Stratosphere, Star Trek Experience, Venetian, Mandalay Bay and Resort at Summerlin all found themselves making excuses for delays, or opening with shops, restaurants, spas and other facilities far from complete. Some of the hotels were honest enough not to book their rooms at normal rates.

When inquiring about reservations, it pays to ask what stage of development or construction a resort might be in at the moment. Even the most venerable of establishments go through rehab work or expansion from time to time, and being downwind of a construction site can be a real downer for a sun worshiper.

At the same time, make sure that the entertainer or show you desperately want to see isn't on vacation at the time you're planning a visit. Always expect higher rates on weekends, holidays or when a large convention is in town; it's possible at other times to negotiate a better-than-normal rate, or upgrade to a suite.

More information: Contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Tourist Authority, 800-332-5333. The Web site is www. lasvegas24hours.com.

-- Gary Dretzka

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