Friday, January 8, 2010

The "Venetian" Gondola

The boats that inhabit the canals and lagoon of the only Las Vegas casino themed around Venice, were all built to order by Treadway Industries. Treadway had already been contracted to handle much of the architectural theming (making a normal building look Roman, Greek, Egyptian, etc). When they were asked to bid on the boatbuilding project, it was an easy extra for them.

The finished product was a result of much deliberation over the best design, because once they chose a design and built the moulds, the only changes possible would be to the accessories and non-fiberglass parts.
Yes, the gondolas are fiberglass, but not just any old "tupperware" boat material - the vacuum-bag construction method used was top of the line and state-of-the-art. Ultra high-quality foam core and fiberglass materials were used, and the guy who headed up the building project was reportedly known to have built racing sailboats that competed in the Americas Cup competition.
Suffice to say, the gondolas were built on a budget that you might expect at a major Las Vegas casino. The proprietor of said casino was new to the game and wanted to put his best foot forward - he spared no effort or expense and it shows, not only in the boats but in the resort as a whole.

Christmas decorations adorn a gondola moored along the canal.

I had the opportunity to tour the Treadway facility during the construction of some of these gondolas.
It was incredible, really amazing to see such high quality work being done on such a large scale. Around two dozen of these boats were produced there. By the time I walked through the facility, some had already begun cruising at the casino, but there were others - stored and waiting in a room. I walked into that room, and the best way to describe it, would be that it was like walking into the showroom of a luxury car dealership. There they were, all black and shiny - the glossy gel-coat was like no paint on the market, surfaces reflected like black chrome. The wood trim on each boat was stained a little different than the others, and the seating upholstery colors varied as well.

I realize that some who read this find non-Venice-built gondolas to be objectionable, but these gondolas are like no others on the planet (except their sister ships that operate in the casino's counterpart in the Orient).

Treadway no longer builds gondolas, the contract to build them for the casino in Las Vegas was a limited one, and the moulds and designs used to build them are the property of the casino, not Treadway. I know this because the reason I visited Treadway was to hire them to build boats for one of my operations - they were thrilled with the idea, the owner of the moulds was not.

It's easy to criticize the gondoliers who operate thes boats, but one must remember that they are simply doing a job in the manner that it was designed to be done. For whatever reason, the people who designed the casino waterways felt that a smaller boat which was motorized would serve their needs better than gondolas of traditional design and propulsion. I'm not here to cast judgement, just report the facts. The boats are roughly twenty-five feet long, and their remi are used as rudders more than rowing gear. The boats are pushed through the water using electric motors which are hard-mounted beneath the boats. On-board chargers are plugged in each night when a boat is wrapped for the night, and the ones operating in the outside lagoon also have protective canvas pieces for the seating areas.

The hull design looks like it's round, but just below the waterline the bottom is flat making the vessel more stable. These boats are wide, probably five feet or beamier at the widest point. When compared to the genuine article from Venice, their bow decks are bigger and don't have quite the A-shaped cathedral, but they do catch the eye nicely.
One thing that Treadway did which was an original element for a gondola, was the use of varnished wood as both trim and to frame the seating area. I believe that oak was used on all the boats, again, with different stains used to give a variety of tones within the fleet.

Whether you're a purist or a more progressive gondola fanatic, if you haven't seen this operation yet, you really ought to. I guarantee you'll experience a wide range of emotions, and you'll want to take pictures and video.
I just wish I'd brought my camera back when I visited Treadway.


Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

Actually there was some video (on youtube or tv?) where an ex-operator said some gondoliers at the Venetian quit the motors when there is less ridership and they try to row as much as the weird forcola setup allows.

The enlarged beam boats are much justified if one considers America's waist crisis 8-)

I think the fiberglass hull material was chosen for less boat maintenance or maybe the ever-recycled canal water in the hotel is treated with a sanitary chemical which attacks wood?

jackpot city said...

Nice Posting...

Nereo said...

Those boats are the best for the service they are assigned to. We could discuss for years if they can be called gondole whether not but that's another story.
Very good post though!

Italy said...

Great post. I had no idea there was so much to gondolas.