Las Vegas has mostly shelved its attempt to rebrand itself as a family-friendly wonderland. But there's one exception: the dreaded holiday season, when visitor numbers crater and room vacancies soar.
In an attempt to lure tourists, Las Vegas casinos are staging increasingly elaborate holiday events.
The Bellagio has again transformed its conservatory into a faux winter wonderland featuring a 42-foot Christmas tree, a life-size candy house, a walk-through snow globe and topiary polar bears, all a few paces from the gambling floor.
The casino's famous dancing water fountains are leaping to Christmas classics, and tourists are taking photos with a 250-pound chocolate Grinch.
The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace are displaying Christmas cheer with "Elf Aquarists," divers in elf-style wet suits who feed the aquarium's tropical fish during daily shows.
Perhaps the most elaborate of all of the exhibits is "Winter in Venice" at the Venetian, which the casino advertises as a public gift in banners strung outside its ersatz Italian facade.
Keith Salwoski, spokesman for the Venetian and Palazzo hotel-casinos, said the winter extravaganza, now in its third year, has helped persuade families to consider a holiday vacation to Sin City.
"Every photo that is shared during the holidays, for instance, helps to change the perception of the destination for the Christmas traveler. Suddenly, spending Christmas in Vegas is on the radar of travelers," he said.
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, a few blocks over from the Venetian, has doubled the size of its rooftop skating rink this year. Chief marketing officer Lisa Marchese said the casino is going for a "ski lodge perched over the Las Vegas Strip" aesthetic. Skaters can huddle around fire pits and buy s'mores kits for $14.
While most Las Vegas spectacles are designed to dazzle and erase the memory of home — with all its constraining social mores — the Christmas installations aim to remind tourists of their childhood.
"I don't care where you grew up — I think everyone romanticizes the notion of skating in the winter," Marchese said.