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    Vegas is back! And those words are so exciting to type. We just got back from a 4-night stay at the Bellagio (Sunday – Thursday) and similar to visiting a loved one after an illness, you are excited to see them doing better, but you know that they are still not quite right.

    That sums up Vegas in mid-June, 2.5 weeks into the re-opening. Restaurants are open, but they have modified schedules and reduced menus. Gaming tables are active, but only with half the players sitting behind plexiglass. Pools are open but have a different vibe, as I didn’t see the $40 drinks piling up like other times I’ve been to the Bellagio. And apparently it’s hard to find an outfit that goes with disposable masks because most people stretched resort casual to the limit.

    It was also a different crowd, more a microcosm of the entire Vegas experience squished into, of all places, the Bellagio than the traditional clientele. And honestly, it was much more interesting than I expected.

    From my mid-thirties perspective, the guests at the Bellagio were younger that would normally trend at one of the more expensive hotels on the strip. But that’s what happens when the daily room rate was under $100 for most of the week, meaning even with the $42 resort fee (that was not waived), the Bellagio room was had for the same price as your neighborhood Courtyard by Marriott.

    As I talked to people at the Blackjack tables, I found that most everyone I met was driveable to Vegas, and many were surprised that I got on a plane from the midwest to get to Vegas. Phoenix, LA, California, and even Vegas hometowns were very much the norm in my, albeit small sample size, experience.

    It was strange getting back to the hotel room after a long day to an un-made up room and no towels. It’s an understandable policy change (at the Bellagio, you had to request service), but still continued the theme of small, noticeable changes in the experience.

    I appreciate the personal touch of Vegas and as fairly frequent traveler around the world, those small touches are one of the reasons I spend my personal travel time in Vegas. It wasn’t enough to keep me from going back, nor enough to change my view of the trip, but it was enough to constantly remind me that things are different.

    When looking out our 21st story Fountain view room, it was also strange to see a totally black Paris hotel staring back. The east side of the strip was eerily dark in a city that can be viewed from space with the naked eye because of all the lights. And the strip never filled up like it normally would on a toasty June evening.

    And while all those things were noticiable reminders, there were also some very real reasons this trip was just… different. With the number of closures, we didn’t partake in our favorite Vegas past-time, meandering through the casinos, from one end of the strip to the other.

    We often get in 20-25K steps walking from the center of the strip to the north side, hitting casinos and grabbing drinks as we go. This time, our top steps was 15K, mostly circling the North Premium Outlets looking for open stores that actually had sales.

    We made it to Caesars and Cosmo, but typically we visit 10-12 hotels, at least passing through. As more hotels continue opening as I type this (many more hotels, stores, restaurants, etc. are opening the weekend after we left), some of this strangeness may go away, but it will likely continue to be different until mid-July at the earliest.

    Without any shows being open, it was very limiting in what to do, especially without some of our other go-to activities. By the 3rd night, we had an early dinner and ended up going to to the room and watching TV before I left and hit the casino. We don’t go to shows every night typically, but they do play an important role in the Vegas ecosystem that was not filled in June.

    All in all, none of those things would keep me from going to Vegas. I know that it was going to be different and I kept my expectations reasonable. We had a good trip, especially after nearly 3 months of social isolation.

    But that brings me to my last point. One of the most magical parts of Vegas is the atmosphere and the vibe. I always feel like I go home with great stories of the people I meet and typically make new friends that I talk about even if I don’t keep in touch.

    It’s the one place I’ve consistently found that people are fun and willing to engage, whether striking up a conversation in the pool or talking for hours about adventures at the Blackjack table. I love talking about which restaurants you visited, what shows you loved or hated, and where you plan to go tonight. And typically I get to know the dealers and pitstaff and love hearing their stories and styles while playing.

    For many reasons, this didn’t really happen this trip. Everyone was a bit more guarded and the masks really limit any real conversation. The masks and plexiglass also sucked much of the life out of the conversations with the dealers and overall made any social interaction difficult.

    Even when people weren’t wearing masks, having a conversation 6-feet apart in the pool is not easy and it’s much harder to strike up a conversation not knowing how open people are in this global pandemic.

    All that said, I agree with all the safety precautions and understand that health and wellness is the number one priority. But that was the area that made Vegas seem more like my local sportstrack and casino and less like VEGAS.

    Overall, I still had a great trip. I ate awesome food, had a chance to relax and soak up plenty of sun, and enjoyed my time away from the real world. But we’re not quite back to real Vegas. I am happy to see Vegas recovering, but deep down, I know she’s not totally back to normal. But she’s well on her way.

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