Come summer, we instinctively gravitate toward water. Well, toward air-conditioning first, but then to water. Ocean, lake, river, pool, sprinkler, tub, miraculous ice cube …
Here in Las Vegas, water seems even more precious, if only because of its scarcity. We revel in the pleasurable perversity of its presence in the desert heat and glare.
Las Vegas has ingeniously contrived to make summer almost literally endless, stretching the season from mid-April to late October. That’s a seriously supersized Spring Break.
We’ve also learned to make water pay: Famous (and infamous) for maximizing and monetizing every available square foot of dry land, our casino moguls learned early in this decade how to squeeze every dollar from every last drop, converting pool water into liquidity.
Water is a natural resource, and like wind and fire, it’s an unpredictable element—it precipitates and evaporates, goes and flows when and where it wants.
Except for here, of course. We have found myriad ways to make water work, taking it way beyond nature and turning something most people wouldn’t give a second thought to into an attraction, a destination, an extravagance, a wonder of the world. Say “Las Vegas” to many people, and their first thought is of the Bellagio’s famed choreographed fountains.
On the Strip, humble H20 has attained the glamour and discipline of a showgirl or a Cirque du Soleil aerialist, performing for our enjoyment on a precise hourly or half-hourly schedule.
Water—in every form, from steam to ice—has become a primary form of entertainment. We have fountains and water features, waterfalls and waterwalls, shark reefs, aquariums and mermaid tanks, ice bars and ice sculptures, rainstorms in shopping malls, scented steam and snow flurries in spas. It’s an essential scenic element—and main reason for being—of the long-running Strip shows O and Le Rêve.
At the still-new CityCenter, what immediately impresses visitors—and stays with them—are the playful squirts and sprays of the central courtyard fountain at Aria, its colors somehow vivid even in daylight; also the white-noise oblivion and cool, humid, soothing breath of the sweeping, shushing waterwall.
The new wave of water wonders, of course, is the casino swimming pool. Early in the new decade, the nightlife concept was ingeniously extended to hotel pools, once reserved as an amenity for registered guests only. Now most of the luxe pools are open to the paying and playing public. And the newest pools are designed expressly for the lucrative pool-party daylife scene.
This season, seven new pools will join the aquatic venues on the Strip, and they’re taking the simple ol’ swimmin’ hole to ridiculously sublime extremes. Swimming seems an afterthought, an excuse for indulging in the extras, which include rentable cabanas with Wi-Fi, cable TV and Xbox games, mini-fridges and frozen-fruit platters, DJs and island dance floors, floating beer pong, bikini bull riding and inflatable Twister games, and what amounts to very expensive spiked Kool-Aid.
It’s not so surprising that water creates such familiarity, pleasure, happiness. Our mortal bodies are more than half water, after all. And the simple sight, sound and feel of it takes us back to those fountains of youth, the inflatable pool, Slip ’n Slide, the backyard sprinkler and the street-corner fire hydrant.
Even though many of Vegas’ water pleasures are blessedly free, some of us will still find ourselves priced out—or aged out—of the deep end of the Vegas pool-party scene. Those of us who are under 21, over 40—or just plain old unfabulous—can resign ourselves to living vicariously, staging our own versions of Le Rêve in a neighbor’s backyard pool.