Sin City is making its 2020 comeback—here’s what to expect over the next few months. After a two-month shutdown due to COVID-19, Las Vegas is back. Dealers are paying blackjacks. Restaurants are cranking out award-winning meals. Hotel rooms are as posh and comfy as ever. Even attractions like the High Roller observation wheel are spinning again. Sure, some of the iconic aspects of Sin City might look a little different for the foreseeable future, but most resorts have reopened and are welcoming guests back for vacations that provide an escape from the realities of the day. I’ve covered the city extensively as a travel journalist since 2005; here’s a rundown of what you’ll encounter if you go in the near future.
Brave new world of Vegas hotels
Spring was eerily quiet along the four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard known as the Las Vegas Strip. When the pandemic exploded in the United States in mid-March, authorities in Las Vegas shuttered all hotels in the interest of public health. It was the first time in the 54-year history of Caesars Palace the iconic casino shut its doors. Other casinos actually had to install locks (seriously). The properties remained closed for more than 70 days until a handful of them reopened June 4. Most of the rest were scheduled to open by no later than July 1.
The first thing you notice at Strip hotels (and downtown hotels, for that matter) is the thinner crowds; most properties are operating at half-capacity to allow for appropriate distancing between guests. You’ll also notice ample signage about the new reality: Signs remind visitors to stay at least six feet apart, wear face masks, and sanitize hands frequently.
Many Las Vegas Strip resorts are providing free hand sanitizer and free masks in various locations. MGM Resorts even invested in sinks with water and soap and towels. Some resorts—Bellagio and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas among them—are giving overnight guests free swag bags with resort-branded face masks, tiny bottles of hand sanitizer, and special tools that help guests open doors and push buttons without touching shared surfaces.
Other resorts will embrace additional precautions. Wynn Resorts properties are using thermal imaging cameras at every entrance to intercept people with fevers. The Venetian has put together a team of 25 Emergency Medical Technicians to be on hand in case guests require immediate attention.
Housekeeping protocols have been stepped-up, too. New practices include refreshing all linens and glassware between stays, cleaning in-room filters more frequently, and spending extra time wiping down high-touch surfaces such as telephones and TV remotes. At MGM Resorts properties, after housekeepers clean a room, they affix a sticker seal on the door so guests know no-one has accessed the room since.
Casinos and other on-property amenities
Las Vegas visitors will notice several other changes to their favorite Sin City homes away from home. While most hotels reopened with pool access, the raucous warm-weather pool parties popular around town are canceled until further notice. Nightclubs, fitness centers and some spas also will continue to be closed for the foreseeable future—part of an ongoing order from the Nevada governor designed to minimize risk, promote adequate social distancing, and protect public health.
Many hotels took advantage of the shutdown as an opportunity to roll out keyless entry programs that enable guests to check in to hotel rooms on a mobile app. Once guests go through the registration process, the guests’ personal devices become keys to unlock the room doors. What’s more, most resorts reopened with free parking—a longtime Vegas amenity that most resorts had eliminated over the last two years.
If you like to gamble, get ready for a totally foreign experience on Las Vegas casino floors. Sure, each casino still has a full complement of slots and table games. But most casinos are taking extra efforts to create distance between players—moves that may make the overall gambling experience way less fun. Take craps. A standard table holds 14 players—seven on each end. Under new social distancing rules put out by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, casinos can have no more than three players at either end, for a total of six. Blackjack, which usually seats six, will only allow three players at a time. Same with Pai Gow Poker. And roulette. A handful of casinos also have added plexiglass and acrylic barriers to certain table games to protect dealers from players and players from each other.
Casinos also have either taken out half of their slot machines or simply shut half the machines off. Some have even removed chairs from decommissioned slots, so visitors won’t even be tempted to sit down.
Restaurants and attractions
There are other major changes to Las Vegas restaurants and attractions—big news, considering how many visitors to Sin City spend time at fancy restaurants and one-of-a-kind diversions. On the restaurant front, all buffets currently are closed, and most may be shuttered forever. Walk-in restaurant guests are no longer allowed, and all dine-in customers must make reservations in advance. Guests cannot dine in groups larger than five, and all diners must be from the same household or living unit. (Yes, hostesses actually are asking if you know the others in your party.)
Dining rooms have been reset in such a way that no table is closer than six feet from another table—even if the tables are outside. Carson Kitchen, for instance, a popular restaurant downtown, has expanded its outdoor dining into a spacious back patio area, where guests can feel safe. Then, of course, there are the obvious tweaks: All servers now wear masks, and most utensil-and-napkin set-ups are wrapped in plastic so they can be certified as clean.
A handful of restaurants also are experimenting with menus and wine lists that visitors can view on their personal devices through QR codes. Put simply, even at some of the swankiest restaurants in town, you’ve got to be open to new protocols. The same is true for museums and other attractions—many of which reopened in early June with new protocols of their own. At the Mob Museum, for example, a big attraction in the heart of downtown, visitors are required to wear face masks, and each guest receives a free bottle of hand sanitizer with the price of admission. Guests also may opt for free rubber gloves or a stylus to use with some of the interactive exhibits. On the High Roller, currently the tallest observation wheel in the world (it’s 550 feet tall, ICYW), guests must make reservations for specific times, and officials were capping pods at a maximum of 10 guests, even though each can hold up to 40 at a time. Separate groups in each pod must stay six feet apart.
Most attractions have altered operations in one way or another. If you’re itching to do something specific, it’s a good idea to check the website or call ahead to see what’s changed.
Shows, sporting events, concerts, and festivals are among the Las Vegas happenings that were canceled at the start of the pandemic and remain closed. As of publication, there was no plan to reschedule or reopen any of these for live audiences any time soon. That means popular experiences such as Cirque du Soleil shows and the annual Life is Beautiful festival (which this author considers to be one of the nation’s best music festivals of the year) are effectively dark.
Around the city, bars and lounges also feel totally different—while many of these were green-lighted to open in early June, patrons are encouraged to adhere to six-foot distancing, which (when administered appropriately) creates awkward spaces in the room. The bottom line: Las Vegas likely won’t return to “normal” before at least the end of the year. A new television advertising campaign accepts this reality, noting, “The world has changed, and Vegas is changing with it.”
The ad was produced by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA), the organization charged with marketing Southern Nevada and the same group that put together the famous “What happens here, stays here” campaign. LVCVA leaders have said the idea behind the new ad is to reassure visitors that while Las Vegas might not look familiar, it’s still the same place. You’ll just have to come and see for yourself.