When Las Vegas’ nonessential businesses closed their doors in March 2020 to help curb the spread of COVID-19, it was the first time the world-famous, neon-lit Strip had shut down since President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963. March saw 3,334,700 visitors, just a 10 percent dip from pre-pandemic March 2019, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The LVCVA also reported that hotel occupancy reached 80.6 percent in March — up from 59.3 percent in January. There are now few COVID-19 related restrictions in place. And the recent NFL draft, hosted in Vegas, was a huge, splashy affair here, with viewing parties all over town.
“Leisure travel has fully recovered, and the meetings and convention industry is about three-fourths recovered,” says Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications for the LVCVA. Tourism officials are now eager to get international visitor numbers back up to pre-pandemic levels.
Here’s a snapshot of what else to expect in Las Vegas this year.
Hotels and Casinos
Safety protocols: Now under the ownership of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the iconic Palms Las Vegas finally welcomed back guests with a celebratory fireworks show on April 27. Circa, the city’s first adults-only luxury casino-resort, opened in 2020 with 777 vintage-style rooms, the world’s largest sports booking stadium, and the Legacy Club, serving rooftop cocktails. (There are now two other adults-only casinos: The Cromwell and El Cortez Hotel & Casino.) The stylish Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opened off the Strip in March, in place of the old Hard Rock Hotel.
What's new: In March, celebrity chef Todd English opened the boutique, non-gaming The English Hotel in downtown Las Vegas’ arts district. The four-story, 74-room hotel — including The Pepper Club, the chef’s Japanese/Mediterranean Asian fusion restaurant — is part of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio Hotels.
Before You Go
- Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest COVID-19-related travel guidance.
- Consult Vegas Smart, the LVCVA's compilation of safety protocols around the city.
- Always double-check opening hours of restaurants, bars and attractions, which may have changed during the outbreak.
Coming soon: Don’t cry for the Hard Rock Hotel just yet. Hard Rock International, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, plans to buy the Mirage Hotel & Casino from MGM Resorts and replace it with a massive guitar-shaped hotel at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. A local change.org petition aims to save the historic volcano out front.
Local resort company Station Casinos broke ground on the 83,000-square-foot Durango resort in the southwest Las Vegas Valley in early 2022. The project will include 200 guest rooms and suites, four restaurants, 20,000 square feet of meeting space and 40 electric vehicle charging stations.
Restaurants and Bars
Safety protocols: Restaurants and bars are pretty much business as usual, and mask rules for employees vary. Many places continue to offer touchless services and digital menus developed during the pandemic.
Mobile ordering is also now available at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Boulevard and The Chelsea pools. Guests access a full menu, order and pay through QR codes at their designated lounge chair, daybed or cabana.
At the Venetian and Palazzo, guests enjoying room service may opt for “contactless” delivery: The server knocks on your door, takes a step back and allows you to accept the items from the delivery cart without entering your suite. Many of the properties’ on-site restaurants offer takeout service for those who prefer to dine in their guest suite.
What’s new: Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas welcomed Trenton Garvey, winner of the Fox hit culinary competition Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns, as its new head chef, while celeb chef Bobby Flay expanded his fast-casual brand, Bobby’s Burgers, to Harrah’s Las Vegas. The Noodle Den, from chef Guoming “Sam” Xin, opened at Sahara Las Vegas, and Vanderpump à Paris, from Lisa Vanderpump (host of E!’s Overserved With Lisa Vanderpump), recently opened at Paris Las Vegas (at the splashy opening, she said visitors “will immediately feel transported to the sexiest bar in France”). A second Nobu, from famed chef Nobu Matsushiso, also has opened at Paris Las Vegas (it joins the Nobu Restaurant & Lounge at Caesars Palace).
Chef Costas Spiliadis moved his Greek restaurant, Estiatorio Milos, from the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to the Venetian, and the exclusive and luxurious Delilah supper club opened at Wynn Las Vegas. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, meanwhile, welcomed Spiegelworld’s Italian American Superfrico Restaurant, featuring a labyrinth of themed bars, lounges and dining rooms. You’ll also find neighborhood-market inspired Boss Cafe by Buddy Valastro (of TLC’s Cake Boss) at The LINQ.
Los Angeles-based chef Ray Garcia’s ¡Viva! and New York-based chef Shaun Hergatt’s Caviar Bar opened at Resorts World, along with many others — notably, Wally’s, a gourmet cheese, wine and spirits retail store with a wine bar. Virgin Hotels’ arrival came with new restaurants, including the famed Nobu, Todd English’s Olives and the Mexican Casa Calavera.
A big trend in the city: speakeasies. They’re bars with a cool, secret-cellar vibe and craft cocktails, and they include The Barbershop at the Cosmopolitan, Here Kitty Kitty Vice Den at Resorts World Las Vegas, and 1923 Prohibition Bar at Mandalay Bay.
Coming soon: Spring will bring Toca Madera to the Shops at Crystals near the Aria; it will become the flagship location for the high-end modern-Mexican restaurant that’s now in West Hollywood and Scottsdale, Arizona. Celebrity couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic bring RPM Italian to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, while heartthrobs the Jonas Brothers take a page from their grandmother’s cookbook with Nellie’s Southern Kitchen at MGM Grand. Flight Club, a swank venue for dart playing, drinking and dining, is planned for the Shoppes at the Palazzo (its opening date has yet to be announced).
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Entertainment and activities
Safety protocols: The curtain was finally lifted for Las Vegas entertainment in October 2020, but capacity limits kept many theaters dark until last summer. Some long-running productions, including Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas and the Australian vocal quartet Human Nature at the Venetian Las Vegas, announced they would not be back.
Cirque du Soleil has now reopened all of its shows, including Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay and the Beatles Love at Mirage, though Zumanity will not return. A new Cirque du Soleil show, Mad Apple — an homage to New York City — opens at New York-New York Hotel & Casino May 12.
Mask and vaccine requirements vary by location and venue, but they’re rare. Employee policies may differ, and guest requirements may change on an event-by-event basis, so if you’re concerned, be sure to check before you go.
Also, a COVID outbreak can affect individual events. The Justin Bieber performance at T-Mobile Arena that was scheduled for February, for instance, was postponed until June 28 after the singer tested positive for COVID.
What’s new: Resorts World Las Vegas and Concerts West/AEG Presents debuted the new, 5,000-capacity Resorts World Theatre with the launch of Carrie Underwood’s residency. She will be followed by other world-renowned headliners, including Katy Perry, Celine Dion and Luke Bryan. John Legend has just launched his Las Vegas residency, “Love in Las Vegas,” at Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
Area15, “an experiential retail and entertainment complex,” which opened last year, is a lively spot full of mind-bending exhibits and food offerings. It’s now hosting Illuminarium, an immersive playground and after-dark experience. Kids love the new Museum of Selfies at the LINQ Promenade, where you can take wacky pics in silly settings.
Soar above Iceland, in the middle of the desert, on Las Vegas’ first flight ride attraction, FlyOver, a multisensory journey on the Strip, across from T-Mobile Arena.
Circus Circus, meanwhile, has debuted an update to its iconic midway, adding 30 new games, including the latest and most in-demand crane machines and virtual reality experiences. Free hourly circus acts are back, too.
Then there’s KAMU Ultra Karaoke at the Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes — one of the more glamorous karaoke venues you’re likely to find and the only one on the Strip, with 40 private suites for singing (and partying). And although it opened back in 2020 — sans fans in the stands for its inaugural season — the sleek, nearly $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium is a popular draw for fans of the city’s new NFL team, the Raiders (and home to next year’s Super Bowl).
Coming soon: On Memorial Day weekend, magician Michael Carbonaro kicks off his show “Penn & Teller Present: Michael Carbonaro: Lies on Stage” at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino (through July); Weird Al Yankovic performs at the Venetian June 8-11; and the Eagles, on their “Hotel California” tour, will be at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 28. Aerosmith will be in town from June 17 through Dec. 11 for the band’s “Deuces are Wild” residency at Park MGM, and Morrissey will be at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace July 1-9.
The $1.8 million, 17,500-seat MSG Sphere performance venue, just east of the Venetian, is scheduled to open in 2023.
Masks are no longer required on all public transportation and in transportation hubs, due to a federal court order, but they are recommended for those exposed to COVID-19 or showing symptoms, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Las Vegas Monorail is open, as is the double-decker Deuce bus, which runs along the Strip and downtown. Then there’s the Vegas Loop, an ambitious project from Elon Musk’s the Boring Co. It will begin as a fleet of autonomous Teslas that will transport visitors through an underground tunnel to either end of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center. (Test rides are now underway.) Eventually, the Loop is slated to expand to a people mover circulating among several Strip properties and downtown Vegas.
Aleza Freeman is a longtime Las Vegas travel and tourism writer. Her work has appeared in Haute Living, the Los Angeles Times, Nevada Magazine, Vegas.com, Las Vegas Magazine and others.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on September 25, 2020. It's been updated to reflect new openings and safety procedures in Las Vegas.