Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009 | 2:15 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the annual holiday display at the Bellagio.
It takes more like six days — and a lot of planning, more flowers than one can imagine and a certain “wow” factor.
The Bellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has been transformed into a winter wonderland, thanks to a team of organizers and 70 workers.
Their task is complicated and laborious but their goal is simple: Spread a little holiday cheer and transport visitors to a winter state of mind.
The resort’s 140 horticulturists transform the Bellagio Conservatory five times each year — from spring to summer to fall to winter to a Chinese New Year’s celebration.
The Bellagio’s fall display had all the hues and elements of a Northeastern fall: Reds and oranges, an old wooden mill and pumpkins from a grower in California, with the largest coming in at a whopping 1,200 pounds.
“It’s beautiful and it’s colorful, yet the granddaddy of them all is waiting to come in,” said Andres Garcia, the Bellagio’s director of horticulture, before the winter transformation took place.
Planning for the holiday display begins more than two months before any visible changes occur — first as a concept, then later as a rendering that is passed on to Conservatory Manager Tim Hunter, who helps to bring the vision to life.
“We reach out to some of our employees for ideas,” Garcia said. “We think ‘What are we going to do? What did we do last year? Can we do something different? What’s going to be new?’ Sure, we have to have a tree. But what else can we do?”
Garcia and Hunter said they look at what props they have from previous years and decide what can be refurbished by an on-site team. Members of Hunter’s team, along with a staff of engineers, work around the clock to create the winter wonderland.
“I lay out a game plan of steps to follow,” Hunter said. “Every prop is set for the day we are going to place it, when the flowers are coming in, what’s going to hang from the ceiling.”
This year’s display includes a family of polar bears, made up of 36,000 white carnations. A 15-foot rocking horse is back, with a twist: It actually rocks. A train with a wireless camera circles the conservatory, capturing images of passersby and projecting them on monitors. Other holiday elements include toy soldiers, Santa Claus and his eight reindeer, each made of 110 pounds of pecans.
The crowning jewel of the holiday display — a 42-foot-tall Christmas tree — is handpicked by Hunter in Mount Shasta, Calif. Hunter said everyone’s got a favorite area of the display.
“I’m most proud of the tree because I helped pick it out. I think it’s gorgeous,” he said. “But if you talk to engineering, they’ll say the rocking horse because they made it rock. If you talk to floral, they’re going to say the greeting card or the polar bears, so it all depends on who you talk to.”
The work isn’t done for the conservatory staff after the display goes up. Daily maintenance goes into the 10,000 live plants and 54,000 carnations, like swapping out flowers that have run their course to keep the display fresh. The 36,000 carnations in the family of polar bears are switched out once a week.
“This display is going to keep our floral department jumping,” Hunter said.
Hunter has worked at the conservatory since the Bellagio’s 1998 opening and has overseen the display for more than three years. He says he takes pride in each of the displays, so much so that Garcia has nicknamed him “El Maestro,” or "The Master."
“I put myself in the shows. If I’m not happy with something, I’ve got to change it. It’s got to look just right for everyone,” Hunter said. “That’s why I come in here and talk to the people — some have criticism about it and that’s fine. I take that in and think ‘How can I make it better?’”
Hunter and Garcia are looking for wows from guests more than anything else. They’re hoping families take advantage of the conservatory as one of the few free, family-oriented attractions in Las Vegas.
As stressful as putting the display together might be, Hunter and Garcia say putting it together reminds them of Christmas and family.
“Every part here brings something to me but it’s really the tree,” Garcia said of the display. “Having a tree is like going back to childhood: My mom getting ready with a cotton tree, fully bloomed back in El Salvador.
“I see the tree and I think of her.”
Inspired by the beautiful villages of Europe, the AAA Five Diamond Bellagio overlooks a Mediterranean-blue, 8 ½-acre lake, where fountains perform a magnificent aquatic ballet choreographed to music and lights.
Within Bellagio are award-winning dining experiences including two AAA Five Diamond restaurants, Julian Serrano's Picasso and Le Cirque from the renowned Maccioni family.
Bellagio is home to an impressive collection of luxury retailers including Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Tiffany & Co., Breguet, Prada, Fred Leighton, Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, Hermès and OMEGA.
A world-class art gallery, the exquisite Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, the stunning “O” by Cirque du Soleil, a luxurious spa and salon, dynamic nightlife at The Bank, Hyde Bellagio and Lily Bar & Lounge and an elegant casino all add to the extraordinary Bellagio experience.