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What It's Like to Visit Vegas in the Coronavirus Era

Sin City has brought back some restrictions, but new attractions are opening and tourists are back

The well-known famous Las Vegas sign

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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. The usual 24-7 tide of tourists and traffic jams was replaced by a smattering of pedestrians and families on bicycles, and LED marquees offered best wishes to the community rather than flashing ads for blockbuster shows and other Sin City excitement.

Tourists started returning several months into the pandemic, and by this summer, Vegas had fully reopened, reverting to pre-COVID-19 guidelines, without capacity limits and social distancing requirements. A surge of the highly contagious delta variant led Nevada to reinstate its indoor mask mandate for everyone, vaccinated or not, but it hasn’t stopped the tourists from coming — in droves.

Big crowds are back

October marked the strongest visitation month since the pandemic began, with 3,390,200 visitors, up 15.5 percent from September — and down just 7.6 percent from 2019 — according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The LVCVA also reported that hotel occupancy reached 81.6 percent for October, with room rates approaching $174, up 11.5 percent from September. And the Gaming Control Board reported this month that the September casino winnings report showed gambling at pre-pandemic levels, with casinos throughout Nevada taking in more than $1.158 billion in house winnings, a 41 percent increase from September.

While it’s too soon to tell if the new Omicron variant will affect winter travel, on a recent day the casinos were already crowded with masked gamblers at 6 a.m. and lines for coffee were extraordinarily long at the Venetian and Palazzo resorts.

As the holidays approach, the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas has debuted a brand-new, 42-foot Christmas tree alongside its 20-foot menorah.

And many resorts are beginning to offer exclusive (and expensive) New Year’s packages. One, the “Upscale Funk” experience, includes a three-night stay at a Bellagio Resort or Aria, VIP entry into the Hakkasan Nightclub, a $250 food and beverage credit, and two tickets to see Bruno Mars in the Park Theater at Park MGM (starting at $4,696).

Here’s a snapshot of what else to expect in Las Vegas this winter.

Hotels and Casinos

Safety protocols: MGM Grand Resorts became the first hotel-casino company in Las Vegas to mandate vaccines for all new hires and salaried employees. Others, like Golden Entertainment’s The Strat Hotel, Casino & Skypod, require vaccination or weekly testing for its employees.

Though most COVID restrictions have been lifted, hotels and casinos continue to follow state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking guidance. Most are also still following the strict sanitation and hygiene measures implemented at the start of the pandemic and offering touchless check-in.

Several properties, including MGM Resorts, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas casino and Boyd Gaming Corp.’s Main Street Station, continue to offer COVID-19 tests to tourists — at MGM properties, they’re offered in-room — while many properties also have on-site vaccination clinics for employees.

Despite the pandemic, new resort-casino development has continued. Circa, the city’s first adults-only luxury casino-resort, opened last October with 777 rooms in vintage style and the world’s largest sports booking stadium. The stylish Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opened off the Strip in March, in place of the old Hard Rock Hotel.

The $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas opened this summer with 3,500 rooms, a 24,000-square-foot Asian-themed food hall, nine “pool experiences” and more.

Before You Go

Coming soon: The Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas is undergoing a multimillion–dollar, two-year property-wide transformation — including a refreshed design for the resorts’ rooms, suites, meeting spaces, sky lobby, signature restaurants, pool and more — to be completed in 2022. Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace is also undergoing a multimillion-dollar refresh to be completed by the end of the year.

Local resort company Station Casinos will break 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.

Also in early 2022, Majestic Resorts will break ground on a 720-suite, five-star non-gaming, non-smoking luxury property directly across from the new Las Vegas Convention Center and just two blocks from the famed Las Vegas Strip. It’s scheduled for completion in 2024. 

Restaurants and Bars

Safety protocols: Restaurants and bars are pretty much business as usual, although patrons are generally asked to wear masks while walking to and from tables. Many restaurants continue to offer touchless services and digital menus developed during the pandemic. MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas Strip properties rolled out Sin City’s first poolside mobile ordering system for cocktails and food this summer (delivery to lounge chair or daybed included).

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 this month.

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. Los Angeles–based chef Ray Garcia’s ¡Viva! and chef Nicole Brisson’s Brezza both opened at Resorts World. Virgin Hotels’ arrival came with new restaurants, including the famed Nobu, Todd English’s Olives and the Mexican Casa Calavera.

Coming soon: Las Vegas residencies for DJs will include a stint by NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal (a.k.a. DJ Diesel) at XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club through 2022. In January, Wynn Las Vegas will hold a hiring event for its day-life and nightlife venues, including XS and Encore Beach.

Downtown Las Vegas’ Carson Avenue restaurant row will welcome an outpost of the San Diego–born chain Broken Yolk Cafe, serving breakfast and lunch, before the end of the year.

And next 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.


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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 this 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. Both the performers and audience members must wear face coverings, though patrons may lower their masks to sip drinks.

For indoor events with 4,000 or more attendees, such as conventions and sporting events, proof of vaccination has been approved as an exception to the indoor mask requirement — the choice is up to the organizer.

A growing number of venue operators, including Live Nation and AEG Presents, are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. The Smith Center for Performing Arts — which reopened in September with rescheduled performances, mobile ticketing and touchless bar service — and the Brooklyn Bowl are also on that list. 

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.

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 Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, a light-and-sound show featuring the artist’s work. Kids love the new Museum of Selfies at the LINQ Promenade, where you can take wacky pics in silly settings.

And you can now check out Las Vegas’ first flight ride attraction, FlyOver, a multi-sensory 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.

And also opened last year — sans fans in the stands for its inaugural season — was the sleek, nearly $2 billion, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium, home to the city’s new NFL team, the Raiders. Ticket holders must show proof of vaccination through a mobile app. Fully vaccinated fans will not have to wear masks, but partially vaccinated attendees and unvaccinated children must remain masked.

Coming soon: In January, as Usher’s residency comes to a close, Adele will begin her exclusive “Weekends with Adele” residency at the Colosseum of Las Vegas at Caesars Palace Hotel. She will be followed by Rod Stewart, Keith Urban and Sting.

Transportation

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.

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. 

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