*The Venetian and The Palazzo Las Vegas are bringing a winter wonderland to Las Vegas with the launch of a first-ever Winter in Venice holiday celebration featuring 49 days of holiday festivities.  The first true celebration of the winter season on the Las Vegas Strip started on Monday, November 21, 2011 and will run until Sunday, January 8, 2012 throughout both resorts.

Grammy-nominated and platinum recording artist and season six “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks helped kick-off the inaugural celebration of Winter in Venice at The Venetian and The Palazzo Las Vegas on Opening Night, November 21, with a complimentary performance on the Las Vegas Strip’s only outdoor ice skating rink.

The star of the upcoming feature film “Sparkle” entertained the massive crowd with a song selection that included her hits “Tattoo” and “No Air” and the holiday classics “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.”

Surrounded by candy cane stilt walkers, snow angels, jesters and toy soldiers, the front plaza and the outdoor gondolas of The Venetian were transformed into a winter palace while guests sipped on holiday-inspired drinks including the peppermint Gondolier Blanco and the amaretto-infused Godfather.

The debut of the “Nightly Holiday Spectacular” drew gasps and applause from the overflowing audience as the entire front of the building lit up in flashing lights, lasers and larger-than-life snowflakes.  As their attention was drawn to the Rialto Bridge, three tenors and a hip hop violin duo performed holiday hits and classics before a majestic angel lit the 65-foot LED holiday tree in an awe-inspiring moment.

Sparks looked stunning in Simon G Jewelry, a body-hugging Fluxus dress that showed off her svelte body and nude Christian Louboutins, which she purchased at The Shoppes at The Palazzo.  She raved about The Venetian and The Palazzo, saying she loved her beautiful suite and the delicious food at LAVO, also adding, “I love spa services and being able to indulge and turn off my phone.  I had an amazing, amazing time at Canyon Ranch.”

When asked about her holiday health tips, Sparks laughed, “I am the worst person to ask.  I eat the food, I sleep on the couch, I watch football, have a good time with my family and worry about it later.  Just enjoy the holidays.”

After posing for photos with lucky meet and greet winners, Sparks officially welcomed the holiday season and the opening of the skating rink with a ribbon cutting ceremony with John Caparella, president and chief operating officer of The Venetian, The Palazzo and Sands Expo.

Jordin Sparks with friends at Winter in Venice at the Venetian Las Vegas

Guests were treated to a spectacular performance from professional skaters before lacing up their own skates to take a spin on the ice.  “Winter in Venice is going to be an annual event and this is just the beginning,” remarked Caparella.  “We’re going to build on it and make it better next year.”

Your ultimate holiday experience kicks off with an enchanting ice skating rink above The Venetian’s picturesque outdoor Grand Canal — welcoming skaters to make figure-eights or glide hand-in-hand with loved ones.  Surrounded by snowflakes, strung overhead holiday lights and an awe-inspiring 65-foot LED holiday tree sitting atop the Doge’s Palace fountain, guests are entertained by strolling candy cane stilt walkers, puppets, jugglers and magicians.

Throughout the unforgettable 49-day celebration, guests will enjoy the finest holiday touches including warm apple cider upon arrival and a heartfelt “Welcome to Winter in Venice” greeting.  Strolling carolers and gondoliers singing holiday classics will set the mood as festive music plays throughout the resorts with joyful winter décor inside and out.  There are several packages that will conjure up warm feelings about the holidays and add to your wonderful winter memories.

Doge’s Palace and Outdoor Ice Skating Rink:  The Venetian’s front exterior will be adorned in winter schemes reminiscent of the fabled city of Venice.  More than 2,000 festooned lights will hang over the majestic ice skating rink as nearly 30 larger-than-life snowflakes, ranging from 48 to 72-inches in diameter, surround the façade of The Venetian. Made of recyclable polymer, the synthetic ice rink requires no refrigeration or electricity, making for environmentally friendly holiday revelries complementing The Venetian and The Palazzo’s green initiatives.

“Nightly Holiday Spectacular”:  Each evening, The Venetian’s Doge’s Palace will host the Strip’s most stunning holiday and light show with the Winter in Venice “Nightly Holiday Spectacular.”  Guests will stand in awe as a spectacle unlike anything they’ve seen unveils before them.  As the music crescendos, a stunning angel gracefully appears from the Rialto Bridge and lights the 65-foot holiday tree across the way in a magical moment, making the “Nightly Holiday Spectacular” a must-see nightly attraction.

Food & Beverage:  A seasonal Winter in Venice cocktail menu, including holiday-inspired spiced cocktails such as Piazza Prosecco, Negroni Festivo, Campanile Cider, Gondolier Blanco, The Godfather, Rialto Eggnog, Gluhwein and Café Italiano, will be available throughout the resort lounges, including La Scena, Salute Dueling Pianos Lounge, Oculus, Fusion Mixology Bar and Laguna Champagne Bar.

Holiday-themed prix fixe menus and specials will be offered by select world-class restaurants throughout the holiday including Aquaknox, B&B, Bouchon, Canaletto, Canyon Ranch Café, Delmonico, FIRST Food & Bar, Grand Lux Cafe, Pinot Brasserie, Postrio, Table 10, LAVO Italian Restaurant and Valentino.

Specialty Winter in Venice dining offerings can be ordered in-suite including crispy parmesan polenta cake with sautéed porcini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms and cavatappi with short rib ragu with sweet peas.  Guests can also enjoy Sweet Surrender’s limited-time eggnog cupcakes and Café Presse’s seasonal Winter in Venice hot chocolates.

Winter Wedding Packages:  Those looking for a truly memorable way to propose or say “I do” to their true love can do so with an array of Winter in Venice wedding experiences.  Amidst an enchanting holiday atmosphere, Winter in Venice offers a White Gondola Wedding experience along the beautiful Grand Canal or the Winter Wonderland Wedding, including an ice skating session for two, holiday photo album, snowflake photo ornament, hot chocolate, mulled cider and holiday cookies for the reception.

Canyon Ranch SpaClub:  Canyon Ranch SpaClub will offer a soothing and relaxing holiday escape with unique winter services and healthy and delicious holiday beverages and desserts befitting the season.  Guests can enjoy a Winter Solstice Massage with Silent Night bath and nourishing skin oils, a deep-moisturizing Winter Solstice Cocoon full-body wrap and a radiating Holiday Radiance Facial.

The Waterfall, Atrium & Gardens at The Palazzo:  The Waterfall, Atrium & Gardens at The Palazzo will also feature hand-designed snowflakes suspended midair in the three-floor-high atrium.  Ice branches and 20-foot frosted birch, pine and glittering trees will complement the picturesque waterfall and crystal ice ponds as majestic hand-crafted white and pearl peacock statues overlook guests.  The winter gardens will also feature red beaded ornaments, pinecones and fresh poinsettias.

Prestige at The Palazzo Family and Couple Getaways:  For guests seeking a secluded and quiet holiday getaway, Prestige at The Palazzo is offering the ultimate holiday vacation during Winter in Venice perfect for traveling families or two lovebirds.

Beginning at $249 per night, guests can enjoy a luxurious suite on The Palazzo’s exclusive Prestige floor, seasonal holiday lounge offerings, an Elf Tuck-in with traditional milk and cookie delivery for children, one specialized Winter in Venice bath drawn by a bath butler, two complimentary 30-minute ice skating sessions (including ice skate rental) and two seasonal Winter in Venice hot chocolates at The Venetian’s Café Presse among other festive amenities.

Families can enjoy the non-gaming lounge with nightly showings of favorite holiday classics in Prestige’s media room and holiday story readings and photo opportunities with Santa Clause.  This is all in addition to Prestige’s noted amenities, including personal concierge service, private champagne check in, deluxe continental breakfasts and afternoon cocktail receptions.

Resort Packages and “Staycations”:  Beginning at $149 a night, locals and visitors alike can keep cozy and celebrate with loved ones with exclusive suite packages.  These merry packages feature festive amenities including a two night suite stay, two complimentary 30-minute ice skating sessions (including ice skate rental), two seasonal Winter in Venice hot chocolates at The Venetian’s Café Presse, $40 off seasonal winter facial, cocoon or massage at Canyon Ranch SpaClub and additional resort-wide promotions.

For those seeking a swirl on the ice and a ride down the Grand Canal, ice skating and gondola packages are available for purchase at The Venetian’s outdoor gondola for $49 per person.  Package includes one gondola ride, one ice skate rental and 30-minute ice-skating session, a souvenir Winter in Venice photo and complimentary Winter in Venice hot chocolate at The Venetian’s Café Presse.

To bring the holidays home, The Venetian and The Palazzo are offering in-suite Christmas Eve and Hanukah packages to guests.  Complete with a four-foot decorated Christmas tree, poinsettias and seasonal décor, guests can bring the joyfulness of Winter in Venice into their suite for $200.  Additional add-ons include personal shoppers and gift wrapping.  Guests can also purchase an in-suite Hanukah Package complete with a menorah and kosher gift basket with delectable bites for $175.  Packages can be reserved through the resort concierge.

“The holidays are such a magical time for everyone and Winter in Venice offers the perfect place to truly enjoy this special time of year,” observed Caparella.  “We are inviting everyone, from families and couples to business travelers, locals and Las Vegas first-timers, to enjoy the Strip’s first-ever true winter celebration.  Join us in creating a new holiday tradition for years to come,” he concluded.

During Winter in Venice, Grazie members can continue to earn valued Status Points with all suite charges by linking a Grazie account to suite reservation.  For more information on Winter in Venice or these exclusive suite packages, please visit venetian.com or palazzo.com(Photo credit: Imagesofvegas.com/ IS Photography)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.