LAS VEGAS -- It's not often you can use the word "dry" to describe a Las Vegas landmark, but tourists hoping to cruise along the Venetian hotel-casino's indoor canals are finding them tapped out.
The waterways were emptied for repainting earlier this month for the first time since the casino opened in 1999. When they reopen in mid-October, the water will once again appear to sparkle below the hotel's trompe-l'oeil sky.
On Thursday, piped-in Italian music echoed off cement mixers and construction tools strewn around the bottom of the canals that meander through the hotel's shopping mall.
Tourists leaned over ornate stone and iron railings, frowning at the gray concrete. Normally, the canals course with 280,000 gallons of water. It would take a garden hose 65 days to fill them.
British honeymooners Will and Ann Marie Husbands had booked the hotel in part because of its waterways. They were debating whether they could brave the 90-degree-plus heat to take their planned gondola ride in the canal in front of the hotel, which was still flowing but provides a much shorter ride, and is more obviously in Las Vegas, not Italy.
"It's one of the things that it's most famous for, isn't it?" Will said, still smarting a little from the disappointment.
A steady stream of tourists stopped by a ticket kiosk to ask about the waterways.
One couple said they had come to Las Vegas exclusively to ride a gondola in air-conditioned splendor.
The man behind the counter, whose job is to sell people on shows and activities outside the hotel, has been responding to inquiries with feigned shock, telling tourists that he still sees water flowing through the hotel.
The gag didn't go over too well with a Frenchman who spoke limited English.
The night shift kiosk clerk has been keeping a tally of people who ask about the canals. One night's list had 90 check marks.
More than 500,000 visitors ride the gondolas each year, paying either $18.95 for a 10-minute group ride, or $75.80 for a romantic couple's ride.
Tourists who aren't staying at the hotel seem to have a better attitude about the surprise. Before heading to the Venetian's luxury shops, Patricia Giles of northern England joked to her traveling companion that the canals had sprung a leak.
Workers who labor in the canals at night are hiding hoses, tools and big orange buckets under blue tarps beneath ersatz cobblestone bridges during the day.
The costumed gondoliers whose baritone serenading provides a soundtrack to shopping and eating are gone for the month, either moved outside or temporarily laid off. The white "wedding gondola" decked out with an officiant is also out of commission.
Las Vegas Sands, which owns the Venetian, is aware of the tourist grumblings. After all, it's Sin City, where adults are supposed to be able to regress to a boozy infancy, with every need and desire accommodated.
For property management, the repainting connects with another quintessential Las Vegas theme: the promise of perpetual renewal.
"There's a very specific sparkling blue color that we're trying to achieve," spokesman Keith Salwoski said. "It dulls over time. This is our opportunity to start fresh and have the canal be as bright as the day it opened."
The argument was lost on California resident John Rob as he discovered the dry waterways.
"Oh man," he said, hitting his wife's arm. "I wanted to go on a ride."