What it’s like to visit Las Vegas right now
Good deal on hotels, incredible fine dining experiences, and musical performances are all in the cards.
On a recent Saturday morning in Las Vegas, customers waited as long as a half-hour to get their coffee fix at the Starbucks at the Mandalay Bay resort. By midday there were lines to get into the Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores at the Crystals mall. A queue of about 50 people waited to ride the gondolas at the Venetian resort.
Visitors to Las Vegas these days can expect to see a city that’s largely open for pleasure, although not that busy for conventioneers traveling midweek. Crowds regularly swarm the city on weekends when leisure travelers pack the casinos, restaurants, and showrooms, and hotel prices almost exceed those before the pandemic.
It’s best to book as much as 90 days early to get the best room rate. That’ll also make it easier to get a spot in one of the Strip’s more popular eateries, such as Lago at the Bellagio, Carbone at the Aria Resort, or Mizumi, the Japanese seafood house with a view of the waterfall at the Wynn Las Vegas.
Yet convention attendance last year was only one-third of its 2019 levels, and turnout for recent events such as the Consumer Electronics Show in January has been weak.
That’s lead to some downright steals from Sunday to Thursday. On those days, rooms at the US$4.3 billion Resorts World, which opened on the north end of the Strip last year, were recently going for US$89 a night. Older properties such as the MGM Grand can be had for US$61.
Those quiet midweek windows are among the few lingering effects of the pandemic that travelers will notice.
The plastic dividers that separated patrons at card tables and slot machines for months after the casinos first reopened in 2020 have been removed. Hand sanitizers are still omnipresent, but rules requiring that masks be worn indoors were lifted just before Super Bowl weekend.
One week later, over the long Presidents Day weekend, masks were by far the exception to the rule in hotels and casinos all over the gambling mecca. The five-star Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas told guests upon arrival that a face covering was optional, though many of its staff appeared to be wearing them.
Despite the looser rules, Nevada has seen a significant decline in cases since the omicron peak in mid-January. In terms of vaccines, the state ranks slightly below the national average, with about 151 doses doled out for every 100 residents, according to the Bloomberg Covid Vaccine Tracker.
All that means it’s now as easy to live large in Sin City as it used to be. But you’ll still need an updated guide on what to see and do.
The dining scene
The hottest trend in town is supper clubs, an old school Vegas tradition that’s seen a resurgence in recent years.
Examples include the Mayfair at the Bellagio, which serves $88 Waygu prime rib, slow roasted for seven hours to make it tender and juicy, along with a high-energy group of dancers and singers who move through the room.
Delilah, a supper club at the Wynn, serves uni and black truffle shooters and fish and chips made with potato-encrusted Dover sole.
While you’re eating, there’s live music, DJs and jazz on Sunday nights, all in an over-the-top art deco setting. Recent surprise performances have included Drake, Dave Chapelle, John Fogerty, 50 Cent, Doja Cat, and Tiffany Hadish.
Ross Mollison, whose company, Spiegelworld, now runs three shows in Vegas featuring acrobats, ribald jokes, and the like, last year opened Superfrico, a restaurant at the Cosmopolitan featuring what he calls an “Italian American Psychedelic” menu.
That means appetizers such as polenta with Fresno chile jam and calamari with tangerine honey and grilled scallions. Diners can then segue to the theater next door to see Opium, a space-themed, adults-only show that includes jugglers, a sword swallower, and acrobats in neon costumes. Its bar serves “spocktails” like a peach-infused French 75 that’s garnished with Pop Rocks.
“People, especially in Vegas, I think they want to keep moving,” Mollison says. “You’ve got this great energy in the restaurant, and they’re feeding into each other.”
Culture makes a comeback
Shows are reopening, but there are still caveats that require careful planning. Some productions operate at reduced hours, meaning dark nights early in the week or fewer nightly performances – mostly because of the lack of convention traffic.
While Adele postponed her residency at Caesars Palace’s Colosseum in January after reporting that half of her crew had Covid, plenty of other headliners are scheduled.
Lady Gaga is playing at the Park MGM beginning in April, and Billie Eilish is at T-Mobile Arena on April 1. Those shows currently require proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, but not masks.
Rules vary by event, however. Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak, playing together at the Dolby Live theater through May 29, are not requiring vaccinations or tests. Neither is Katy Perry, who’s at Resorts World starting in March.
Here are more options, depending on your comfort levels right now.
If you’re still Covid-wary
Vegas may be best known for its indoor pursuits, but it also makes a great home base for outdoor explorations.
Nature lovers should take the scenic drive at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, about 25 miles west of the Strip, where they can choose from a number of hiking trails, viewing petroglyphs carved in the rock walls or seasonal waterfalls at Ice Box Canyon.
A quirkier experience is the Neon Museum, an outdoor space less than a mile north of downtown that’s a “neon boneyard” of signs from hotels and casinos throughout the city’s history. The $20 attraction opens at 2 p.m., but it’s best seen at night.
If you need a gentle reentry: Many of the pools at resorts, which are often closed in the winter, will begin reopening in mid-March. Some, including those at the Venetian and Park MGM, let you sit in lounges right in the water.
Resorts World features five pools, from a kid-friendly family one to a VIP deck with a stunning view of the skyline to the south. Avoid any major DJ-led parties and you should be able to find some privacy.
Las Vegas also has no shortage of restaurants with outdoor tables that allow you take in the action of those walking and driving on the Strip. At the Venetian resort, Lavo is known for its one-pound beef, sausage, and veal meatball.
Simon Painter, a producer with Cirque du Soleil, prefers to kick back and eat oysters at Mon Ami Gabi, the French bistro at the Paris Las Vegas, where he can enjoy the Bellagio fountains from across the street. “It’s just a lovely place to sit,” he says. “It’s the first place I ever went in Las Vegas.”
If you want to pretend the pandemic never happened
Sports is a big thing in Vegas nowadays. The city now has pro hockey and football teams, playing in the new T-Mobile Arena and Allegiant Stadium. A number of high-profile events this spring, such as the PAC-12 college basketball tournament in March and the NFL Draft in April, are sure to turn out crowds.
It’s all created a lot of energy, particularly at nearby properties such as Park MGM and Mandalay Bay, which host outdoor “tailgate” parties on the streets leading to the stadiums before big games with food trucks and beer gardens. The US$1 billion Circa, a 777-room resort that opened downtown in 2020, features a rooftop pool deck with a 143-foot TV screen. Think of a giant pool party for sports fans.
If sports don’t happen to be your thing, try Cirque du Soleil. The Canadian circus troupe is unveiling its first new Vegas show in three years at the New York-New York casino in May, Mad Apple.
It will be a salute to Manhattan with dancers spinning on a taxicab and musicians performing the works of Billy Joel, George Gershwin, and Run-D.M.C.—though the show is also reported to take cues from the nightlife heyday of Studio 54.
Little has changed in terms of navigating the Strip, besides the masks being required on public transit, as in other U.S. cities.
But one thing is good to note: If you’re driving, most of the casinos now charge for parking, with some making exceptions for guests and customer loyalty club members. Rare exceptions include the Venetian and Resorts World, where parking is still free.