Norm Q&A: 15 years of Bellagio’s Dancing Fountains

The debut of Bellagio’s Dancing Fountains turned into an opening-night perfect storm.

Windy conditions didn’t deter Bellagio creator Steve Wynn from pressing ahead with the spectacular water show for a gala crowd of V.I.P’s.

“He said, ‘I want to run the show at 100 percent,” recalled Thomas Pinney, front feature manager.

“We tried to tell him,” said Pinney. “He was adamant.”

Waves of drenching mist soaked the invited guests, who watched from the sidewalk on the Strip.

Bellagio marks its 15th anniversary on Tuesday, with ice cream and cake for the hotel’s 8,200 employees.

The high water mark for the lake attraction came in June.

TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site, announced in June that the fountains won the inaugural Travelers’ Choice award for top landmark in the United States.

The fountains bested a field of 1,263 of the top landmarks, parks, museums and amusement and water parks.

Morton credits the box office success of the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise for the fountains’ global popularity.

“When they peel away from the fountain at the end, it’s one of the best movie scenes of all time,” Morton told me in June during a tour of fountains’ command center, dubbed “the bat cave.”

The Q and A:

AWASH WITH EMOTIONS

“The fountains bring out all kinds of emotions,” said Pinney. “People start crying when they hear ‘Con Te Partiro.’ ”

Objects retrieved from the lake include ladies lingerie, wedding and engagement rings and “funerary stuff like small urns with crematorial tags.”

For some, the fountains represent a serene refuge for reflection. For others, a place to turn the page on tougher times.

The recovered loot includes military coins signifying in-theater service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most curious find? A toe tag, said Pinney.

MOST MEMORABLE EVENTS HELD ON THE LAKE

Britney Spears’ live shot of “I’m a Slave 4 U” that opened the Billboard Awards in November 2001.

The tour stop of the Victoria’s Secret Angels was highlighted by having the fountains turn pink by using gel on the lens of 4,000 underwater lights in November, 2004.

Sir Richard Branson’s June 2010 jet skiing stunt that included a stop at a platform on the lake to conduct Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”

MOST POPULAR SONG REQUEST

“Con Te Partiro” (“Time to Say Goodbye”) by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. The signature song since Day One, it generally plays twice a day, which adds up to an estimated 11,000 times.

THE MOST POPULAR GUESTS REQUEST?

“To have dinner at Picasso on the patio, with the fountain show menu, selecting your songs, with food being prepared by our celebrity chef, the most talented chef we have, Julian Serrano. It is the most remarkable, spectacular restaurant, I think, in the country.” — Bellagio president Randy Morton.

COLLECTING COLD CASH

The lake is regularly vacuumed with a barge resembling a Zamboni that cleans the ice at hockey arenas.

Tons of coinage from numerous countries have been collected, mostly “thousands of pounds of pennies.” All of it goes to charities.

One well-known national charity declined the coins at one point because it would have required cleaning them, which can be time consuming and costly.

How much money is suctioned out of the popular tourist attraction?

“A lot,” said Pinney. “Enough to make the charities very happy.”

EPIC WATER HAZARD

The favorite project of Curtis Briggs, front feature assistant manager, involved a golf promotion.

“I like building stuff. I did a Callaway golf shoot (about two years ago.) I had to build two stages, essentially a driving range. One at the end and one on the north end – the full distance of our lake – so they (golf pros) could show how far they could hit. They actually hit the targets.”

TICKLED PINK

Favorite memory?

“Oh, God, do we dare say?” said Pinney. He decided to keep it to himself.

Turning the lake pink for the Victoria’s Secret promotion “was a challenge,” Pinney said.

“Two days with all of our crew working 10 hours a day. Probably 4,000 underwater lights have to have a gel put on them. It was a fabulous show.”

THE DANCING FOUNTAINS BY THE NUMBERS

Size of lake: 8.5 acres, with water levels ranging from four feet to about 15 feet.

Number of dancing fountains: 1,200

Number of water-emitting devices: 1,214. They span 1,000 feet.

Highest point of the water explosions from the 16 extreme shooters: 460 feet.

Team members in the fountains family: About 30, including engineers, pool specialists and maintenance divers.

Number of performances: almost 193,000 as of this week.

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