SUMMER SPOTLIGHT 2020 with Gayle Nicholson


So excited to have been today’s guest on SUMMER SPOTLIGHT 2020 with Gayle Nicholson, discussing the pandemic’s effects on Sin City…and the awesome way that Westgate Las Vegas welcomed everyone back.

 

Video link courtesy of Gayle Nicholson

Leave The City Behind at WESTGATE RIVER RANCH RESORT


A rustic outdoor adventure awaits you…with all the health-protection amenities of your favorite Westgate destinations…

Welcome to part three of my four-part series on post-COVID Westgate Resorts vacations in the greater Orlando area. Click here for an overview, then head to Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa, followed by Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier and Resort.

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After a glorious Friday on the coast, I headed towards Polk County, an hour’s drive south of Orlando in the central part of the state. Unspoiled by urban sprawl, the region is much the same as it was in the early seventies. That’s where you’ll find Westgate River Ranch Resort, a Western-style “dude ranch”, campgrounds and rodeo with its own mile-long private airstrip.

Situated on 1,700 acres of gorgeous terrain, Westgate River Ranch Resort is surrounded by wildlife and close to a half-million acres of government-protected wetlands. It was down here, and not out west, that the great American cowboy became the stuff of legend.

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Early Florida was home to cattle ranchers like those in the untamed west. You’ll still see cows, bulls, and calves roaming across portions of the state, many of them right here on the resort property. They’re joined by friendly creatures like buffalo and sandhill cranes, and not-so-friendly ones, like the Florida alligator.

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Now a part of the Westgate portfolio, River Ranch Resort has managed to create the impossible. Somehow frozen in time, it’s brimming with ADA-accessible features, modern conveniences, and top-level standards. That’s important in this post-pandemic era, where sanitation protocols and social-distancing measures help tourists to make smarter vacation choices.

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It’s also the primary reason that a city slicker from Las Vegas is rolling through the massive property (click here to download the resort map) in a golf cart driven by General Manager (and former rodeo star) Raymond Duncan.

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As we’re about to discuss the measures that Westgate River Ranch Resort has undertaken to protect guests and staff members from COVID-19 transmission, Mr. Duncan (“Just call me “Ray”, he requests) points to a group of people gathered along a picket fence. They’re petting a horse that’s wandered over to them from the field. “Those kids are going to remember this moment. It’s a feeling you can’t get from a video game. Their parents probably came here as kids, and I’ll bet they’ll bring their own kids someday, too.”

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A lifelong cowboy, Ray never imagined being in charge of an operation of this magnitude. Yet, his role here seems almost pre-determined. Years of riding in rodeos had led to injuries, so Duncan eventually found himself taking charge as an announcer. Commanding attention and respect seemed to come naturally for the country gentleman…he still grabs a microphone every Saturday night for the resort’s authentic rodeo. He also presides over their non-denominational church services on Sunday.

Clearly a man of many hats, Ray is a bit of a celebrity here. Longtime guests have no problem recognizing his face, even when obscured by a bandana that serves as his protective face mask. During our afternoon together, visitors would frequently stop Ray to say hello, catch up and express their pleasure at being able to return after the seemingly-endless shutdown.

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Like other Westgate locations that temporarily ceased operations in March, River Ranch Resort added new amenities, refreshed their current offerings, and positioned themselves to reopen in the best possible condition. They also instituted the Westgate CARES safety and health plan everywhere from accommodations and public areas to recreational activities and check-in procedures.

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Not long into our visit, a distinctive “whoosh” announced the return of an airboat tour at the full-service marina. “Do you want to take an airboat ride?”, he asked me. “In the meantime, I’ll make sure things are running smoothly back at the Lodge”. His concern was understandable, as this was only their second day back from hiatus. So I hopped onto a seat next to the captain and donned a face mask and sanitized ear muffs for an invigorating adventure on the Kissimmee River.

As a former resident of south Florida, I’ve been on airboat excursions before. But I’d forgotten just what a rush it is. Our skilled guide described the system of waterway locks and how they made it possible to navigate much of the state by boat. We soared through the marshes at high speeds, then slowed down to observe a herd of cattle and a mama gator with her little ones.

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Ray was waiting by the golf cart when our boat returned. We buzzed past a massive Swamp Buggy departing for its own adventure and headed towards the campgrounds. Recreational vehicles of all sizes were entering their designated area, eager to shake off three months of quarantine. RV Camping provides electrical hookups of varying amps, and each site has a picnic table and access to bathroom/shower facilities.

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Across the way, tents were being erected on the grass by do-it-yourself campers with their own equipment. If you’d like to experience tent camping but lack the necessary equipment, brand-new Platform Camping provides a six-person tent already set up on a raised platform beneath the trees. Platform Camping includes electric outlets, a picnic table, access to bathroom/showers, and community water spouts. Just bring your own sleeping bags and enjoy a weekend under the stars.

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You may have heard of Glamping (glamorous camping) on television, where celebrities fly from the city and “rough it” for a few nights. Whether or not you have your own private plane, you can try glamping for yourself. Westgate River Ranch Resort gives the trendy outdoor experience a bit of Floridian flavor. Luxury-style tents are packed with modern amenities while still providing an airy, sub-tropical feeling that no conventional resort could match.

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Enjoy a climate-controlled tent with microwave oven, mini-fridge, ceiling fan, real beds with luxury linens (no dreaded cots here), propane grill, and a private picnic table. Listen to the birds from your screened-in porch as you relax in a pair of rocking chairs. Teach your kids some old-fashioned board games (provided in each tent) and make S’mores (from pre-assembled kits) around the community fire pit when the sun goes down. Each night, your Glamping Concierge will light a campfire, and you’ll awaken each morning to personal coffee service delivered to your tent.

Ray told me that the glamping area has become a runaway success. People often plan their return visits to coincide with those of friends they’ve made on previous stays. Sometimes families will reserve multiple glamping tents at special group rates for reunions and parties. It’s an ongoing tradition, one of many that have developed here through the decades.

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If glamping is still too “outdoorsy” for you, there’s a wide variety of rooms, suites, cabins, and cottages to choose from. They range from their original Lodge Guest Rooms (modernized, of course) to two-bedroom Saddle Club Cabins with full kitchens, electric fireplaces, large screen televisions, and jet tubs. Saddle Club Rail Cars are especially cozy, providing many of the modern comforts of glamping at a budget-friendly price. Military, law enforcement, government employees, teachers, healthcare professionals, and essential workers receive special discounts.

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Our next stop was Takoda Village Luxe Teepee Hotel, a separate and private section within Westgate River Ranch. Featuring top-tier accommodations, Luxe Teepees take glamping to the next level. Each air-conditioned unit sits on an elevated deck and has its own fireplace, bathroom, and walk-in shower. Luxe Teepees sleep up to four and provide all the amenities of glamping, along with the use of a personal golf cart. Resort activities are part of the guest rate as well.

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Speaking of activities, there are almost too many to mention. It’s impossible to get bored with everything there is to see, do, and experience. Try your hand at archery, trap/skeet shooting, rock wall climbing, and horseshoes. Hop on a rental boat, tame a mechanical bull, or spend the afternoon on an actual horse.

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You can hit a few golf balls, practice your tennis swing, toss a fishing line, or perfect your backstroke in the resort’s pool. Try prying the little ones away from the petting farm, pony rides, bungee jumper, and zip lines. Finish off the afternoon with ice cream as a friendly goat sits by your feet and emus, peacocks and llamas stroll by.

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When the sun goes down, adults head to the River Ranch Saloon for live music, dancing, and a full bar (the Saloon is currently awaiting approval to reopen). Saturday nights are when the Westgate Rodeo comes alive. A custom-built 1,200 seat arena hosts the all-ages wild-west spectacle (face masks and social-distance seating are currently enforced). Trick riding, barrel races, and bucking bulls lead to a patriotic salute to the Armed Forces.

Under normal circumstances, the rodeo is following by a hayride and a raucous street party in front of the Saloon. Guests can polish their line-dancing skills, play games, and raise their voices in sing-alongs, all hosted by a professional deejay. Understandably, both the Street Party and hayride are currently on pause until the health crisis is under control.

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Group activities and events have become really popular on the Ranch. Weddings, corporate retreats, team-building exercises, and convention gatherings can all be accommodated. A new outdoor pavilion joins the resort’s collection of halls, meeting rooms, and conference centers. Click here for more info.

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Covering nearly all of Westgate River Ranch Resort in a few hours had gotten me ravenous. Fortunately, Ray suggested that we head to Westgate Smokehouse Grill for some authentic barbeque and fixings (click here for the menu). Along the way, we passed a small village selling anything you could need or want during your stay.

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There’s a General Store (groceries, take-out foods, deli, oven-hot pizza, firewood, and an ice-cream counter), Western Store (hats, boots, clothing), laundromat, kids’ center, and a fitness facility. Ray told me that Westgate River Ranch has its very own zip code, which is why the smalltown street includes a post office. Towering overhead is the ranch’s water tower, a functioning symbol of the private universe that’s been created here.

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It was already well past lunchtime, so the Smokehouse Grill team was cleaning and preparing for the evening’s dinner guests. Randy Shaffer, the resort’s Food and Beverage Director and a veteran of Sea World Orlando, joined us at the table. The three of us shared awesome food, stories, and laughter…just like when my father took me camping many years ago. Earlier in the day, Randy had proudly shown me his favorite toy – the restaurant’s outdoor smoker grill.

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Soon it was time to bid farewell to my new friends and return to modern-day Orlando. As I got on the highway, the innocent pleasures of the American dude ranch disappeared in the rear-view mirror. There they would remain, untainted by the madness of early 2020 and eager for the next group of COVID-weary souls to arrive.

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In the final chapter, join me at Westgate Vacation Villas, the birthplace of Westgate Resorts. What began as two small structures is now the epic granddaddy of them all, boasting a two-story waterpark and even a luxury movie theater.

Disclaimer – this is not a paid endorsement for Westgate Resorts. My opinions are my own. As the Vegas Unfiltered Blog slogan states, “Probably biased. Definitely honest”. 

Photos and airboat video by Sam Novak, other videos via YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basking in the Sea Spray at Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier and Resort


Oceanside family fun with enhanced safety protocols awaits post-pandemic adventure-seekers …

Welcome to part two of my four-part visit to Westgate Resorts in Florida. In chapter one I visited Orlando’s Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa and explained why a Vegas blogger was doing travel research in the Sunshine State. Click here to check it out, otherwise, let’s head directly to the beach for the next stop on our tour.

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A pleasant drive about 45 minutes east of Orlando International Airport, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier is a historic landmark and attraction that will take you back in time. As you cruise towards the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll pass through gorgeous unspoiled terrain and lush inland waterways, ideal for boating, fishing and swimming. Remember that this is gator country, so observe posted signs and warnings.

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Next comes the stunning Port Canaveral. Dredged between 1951 and 1955, Port Canaveral is one of the busiest in the world for cruises. It’s also Port of Call for the famous Disney Cruise Line. Ships are currently docked there due to travel restrictions, so you may want to stop for some incredible photos.

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Before you know it, you’ll arrive at Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier. Slather on the sunscreen and step through the brightly-colored welcome sign for a day of carefree fun. Only a few steps away is a sparkling shore teeming with surfers, jocks and sunbathers. While the rest of the country is cautiously venturing from their homes, you can revel right now in all things “beach-y”, secure in the knowledge that the Westgate CARES enhanced health and safety program is in full swing.

Built in 1962, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier is steeped in Space Coast history. Originally named “Canaveral Pier”, it was THE place to view rocket launches during the space race. Even today, crowds gather on the 800-foot-long structure to view SpaceX and NASA take-offs from nearly Kennedy Space Center.

Although it has evolved through the decades (including a $4 million redesign by Westgate in 2014), Cocoa Beach Pier still evokes an era of innocent fun. That’s when surfers and families piled into their wood-paneled station wagons for a day at the water. Fans of Ron Jon Surf Shops know that the company began right here, too. And through the years, the popular tourist destination has been home to a dance club and a concert venue for acts like The Beach Boys and Ziggy Marley.

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Today, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier has five restaurants, four bars, and a variety of shops. Diners can enjoy expertly prepared seafood dishes and tropical cocktails as ocean waves pass directly beneath them. Fishing enthusiasts have long gathered here to cast their lines from its deck. For the time being, social distancing protocols have required the suspension of fishing (to monitor capacity and patron health), but it’s expected to return when the time is right.

Every Christmas season, the “SkyDiving Santas” drop from the sky and land next to the Pier. Their arrival signals an annual collection drive on behalf of Toys for Tots. It’s one of many family-friendly activities and live shows that take place year round. Charity events include the National Kidney Foundation Walk, NKF Paddle Out and Rich Salick Pro-Am Surf Festival.

There are dedicated spaces for meetings and events, fishing equipment rentals, outdoor showers, lifeguards and volleyball courts. You can even have the Westgate Resorts team help you to plan an entire wedding and reception. Check out the live webcam feed (above) to see what’s happening right at this moment.

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Whether you’re staying near the Pier or driving in for the day, you’re bound to need some supplies. Look for Trader Rick’s Marketplace, where surfer dudes go for sporting essentials like body boards, volleyballs and sunglasses. You can pick up some beach chairs and umbrellas, or rent a pair of bicycles ($25 per person daily fee includes helmets and locks) to cruise up and down the beach.

For the ladies, Tropical Threads Boutique features swim suits, sun dresses, jewelry, hats and locally-made accessories. The Pier Shop carries t-shirts, souvenirs and memorabilia for gift-giving, along with beach-themed decor for your home. My tiki mug should get quite a lot of use if pool parties return to Las Vegas this summer.

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If you’re heading directly to the sand, stop by Sea Dogs, a modern take on the traditional Coney Island snack shack. Nestled under an eye-catching yellow canopy, Sea Dogs’ menu fills the air with the fragrance of smoked turkey legs, Nathan’s hot dogs, and buttery popcorn. Sundaes, cold soft drinks, chocolate-dipped frozen bananas and frosty beers will take you back to the days of carnivals. The only things missing are midway games and amusement rides.

Since I was on an official visit for this article, my flipflops and board shorts were back at Westgate Lakes Resort. So it was straight to business courtesy of a tour from General Manager Andrew Spinner. Operating an outdoor tourist attraction during a pandemic would be a daunting task for anyone, but Mr. Spinner and his team had Westgate CARES health protocols in place long before it was required (an advantage of being part of a large organization). You can click HERE to see what measures are currently being observed at the Pier.

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To monitor access, a single entry point requires temperature scans (a two-second touchless process) by a security attendant before admission. Electronic overhead counters monitor how many individuals are visiting the Pier at any given time. Strolling up the ramp, I noticed several signs detailing ongoing COVID-19 protocols, along with dispensers of hand sanitizer within easy reach.

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The Boardwalk Bar is open daily and ready to welcome guests. Walk-up ordering has been temporarily restricted in lieu of table-side cocktail service. The Boardwalk Bar specializes in Crab and Seafood Dip, Chef’s Killer Wings, a popular Happy Hour and Build-Your-Own Mojitos. Click here for the full menu.

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As has become the new norm, disposable menus, plates and utensils protect diners from contact-transmission concerns. Tables have been spaced further apart to enhance social distancing. The approach was innocuous and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Visitors were able to forget the trauma of this spring while enjoying good food, cool drinks and the relaxing scent of salt spray….proving once again that now is a great time to vacation.

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As you continue further out over the water, you’ll encounter Pelican’s Bar and Grill. Also limited to outdoor dining at the time of my visit, this air-conditioned indoor-outdoor restaurant evokes the atmosphere of Key West. You’ll be sippiing margaritas in no time while perusing Pelican‘s lengthy list of seafood dishes, burgers, clam chowder and sweets.

At its very end, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier boasts Rikki Tiki Tavern, an inviting and relatively-new bar/dining area that can accommodate up to 100 guests. The walkaround bartop specializes in a long list of refreshing tropical cocktails. It was here that I hunkered down, under its cool thatched roof, to enjoy some freshly-made specialties from Pelican’s menu.

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As I dove hands-first into three great dishes, I could hear surfers below me cheering as the next great wave rolled in. If you’ve never tried surfing, Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier offers classes.  Alas, those board shorts were still back at the hotel, so I focused on dungeness crab legs and a Mai Tai instead.

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The day of my visit (May 26), some of the restaurants and shops were not yet open. Keith’s Oyster Bar at street level was one of them. Since then, they’ve all begun serving guests once more. You can visit this page to view updated hours, but there’s no reason to delay visiting Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier. It’s a refreshing, purifying experience…and after three months of quarantine, the perfect tonic for your ailing spirits.

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The next stop on my seaside adventure was nearby Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort. A gorgeous complimentary trolley shuttles passengers between Westgate’s pier and their resort. Before hopping aboard, you’ll want to take photos alongside the famous whaling-ship anchor. There’s quite a story behind it, as told by Westgate Vice President Brian Siegel:

In 1984 my brother and I found the anchor while we were on a three day lobster trip 16 miles SE of the Cocoa Beach Pier. After the season closed we went back to retrieve the anchor. We had a friend who owned a shrimp boat pick up the anchor and bring it back to Port Canaveral where we had a crane waiting. The anchor was made in the 1800’s and came off a whaling ship approx 200ft in length. The ship would sail up to two years until all the drums were full of whale oil. Most of these ships came from Gloucester Massachusetts “America’s Oldest Seaport”. The anchor is 10′ 5″ tall and weighs just over 6,000 lbs.

Brian Siegel – Cocoa Beach Native and Westgate Resorts VP

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Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort was opened in 1972 as the iconic Wakulla Suites. It’s said that astronauts used to spend their free time around its pool during the heyday of the space program. You can even find their names carved into bamboo stalks that grow beside the poolside tiki bar.

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The property underwent a top-to-bottom renovation in 2018. All 120 Luxury and Signature two-bedroom suites have modern stainless steel appliances, sleek new furnishings, complete kitchens and luxurious comfort. At 812 square feet, they’re far larger than the standard hotel room, allowing families to enjoy plenty of personal space.

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Each suite has two full bathrooms, one king bed, two twin beds and a queen-sized sleeper sofa to accommodate up to six people. Other on-property amenities include complimentary laundry, free parking, business center, fitness center, ATM, and a large heated pool. All guest accommodations are non-smoking. Click here for rates.

I’m going to take a little detour here to divulge some behind-the-scenes info, peppered with a little Vegas perspective. During my tour, General Manager Valerie Anderson said that she was able to bring many of her staff back during their shutdown to refresh the resort. Everything from painting and power washing to landscaping and minor updates were completed by staff members that would have been otherwise furloughed. The only outside company they used was to trim the tops of palm trees, a specialized task that requirs professionals. 

I admire management choices like this, especially after witnessing the deplorable conditions at a well-known Vegas resort on its own reopening day. A company’s commitment to guests and staffers is enhanced when everyone puts their best foot forward. Westgate’s meticulous conditions mean even more when the associates who made it happen get to share in that pride.

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As with all Westgate properties, Cocoa Beach Resort has done extensive enhancements to their operations and procedures. My visit happened to coincide with their first day back after the shutdown. Despite an impending sold-out weekend, everything was running smoothly. I watched as team members greeted arrivals at the new outdoor contactless check-in (for details visit here). Inside the lobby, plexiglass shields and face-masked attendants demonstrated their commitment to COVID-19 concerns.

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Accommodations receive an intensive sanitation process before guests arrive, and all common areas get the Westgate CARES treatment. Poolside lounge chairs and rattan seating at the Mukua Lanai Adult Relaxtion Zone have been spread further apart and receive regular cleanings. Aloha Tiki Bar & Cafe remains in operation (thanks for the Mai Tai, ladies!) but once again, servers take orders and bring food and drinks to you in disposable containers (no walk-up ordering at this time).

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The centerpiece of the resort is the new Wakulla Falls Water Park. Available only to resort guests, Wakulla Falls features a two-story waterslide, playful splash pad for the little ones and what may be the largest lazy river of any Florida resort. Naturally, all slides, rafts, vests and touch points are regularly sanitized, and the splash pad limits the number of visitors at any given time.

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If you’re heading to the beach (and why wouldn’t you?), Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort has its own private access point. Cross over an inviting picnic area and through rows of natural seagrass to enjoy a glorious day in the sun. The resort provides a free-of-charge Beach Concierge Service, where you can grab chairs, umbrellas, sunscreen, lip balm, volleyballs, towels and coolers of ice. You’ll definitely want to unwind until the sun goes down.

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In part three, I head to central Florida for Westgate River Ranch Resort, a rustic campground, luxury “glamping” experience and full-service destination. It features an authentic weekly rodeo, airboat rides, live animals and the kind of outdoor activities you’ve always dreamed about doing. And yes, it too has undergone “Westgate CARES” enhancements.

Disclaimer – this is not a paid endorsement for Westgate Resorts. My opinions are my own. As the Vegas Unfiltered Blog slogan states, “Probably biased. Definitely honest”. 

Photos by Sam Novak, Port Canaveral via Facebook, and Westgate Resorts

Videos courtesy of Westgate Resorts, edmondson69 via YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘All In Aviation’ Is Bigger, Better, and Ready for Take-off!


State-of-the-art aviation complex is a one-stop destination for first-time pilots, seasoned pros, and everyone in between…

Last fall I told you about a once-in-a-lifetime experience I had in the air. As unbelievable as it may seem, I was able to taxi, take off, swoop, soar, and land a plane…all during my very first time behind the controls. It’s an incredible activity that just about anyone can participate in at All In Aviation, a dazzling flight school/airplane facility at Henderson Executive Airport (HND).

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During my pre-flight tour that morning, All In Aviation‘s president Paul Sallach pointed out a large-scale facility that was under construction nearby. He told me that AIA would be moving there in the coming year, greatly expanding its size and adding several exclusive services. I returned last week to visit the newly-opened complex, and it’s even more dazzling than Sallach had described.

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The brand new aviation complex is located in the shadow of the massive Las Vegas Raiders headquarters. This purpose-built structure is also home to Lone Mountain Aviation, AIA‘s business partner. Together, the two highly-respected businesses provide comprehensive services, training, education, instruction, and certification for pilots of every level…along with complete maintenance and hangar storage for their aircraft…and yours.

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The partnership shares an airy, two-level lobby befitting an operation of this magnitude. Their reception desk is flanked by a Pilot Shop, the only retail space in the Valley dedicated to pilots, students, and flight enthusiasts. It carries authentic uniform apparel, handbooks, test preps, logbooks, headsets, mics, and other necessities. There are tongue-in-cheek novelty tees, polo shirts, and fun stuff for the kids, too.

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Exit the Pilot Shop and you’ll notice a fleet of “paper airplanes” guiding you down the corridor into the heart of All In Aviation. The excitement begins here with 9,000 square feet of office space designed to prepare clients for a journey into the skies. Within are five training rooms, a lounge, and a full-sized classroom. Educational areas are equipped with Apple TV connectivity and electronics to support the budding pilot.

The only Cirrus Aircraft training partner in Southern Nevada, All In Aviation is a full-service aviation company offering flight training, pilot certifications, and aircraft rental, sales, management & storage. Dedicated to growing and developing more pilots, All In Aviation is a trusted partner for aviation training, from a student’s very first flight through some of the most advanced pilot certifications.

As a Cirrus Platinum Training Center, All In Aviation’s fleet includes some of the safest and most sophisticated aircraft on the market. The best-selling aircraft in the world, Cirrus airplanes are equipped with glass panels, air conditioning, and whole airframe parachute systems. Open to anyone, private pilot training is conducted in the air and in a classroom setting, with most students certified after completing 60-70 hours of instructed flying.

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Above the classrooms, a second level boasts a spectacular conference hall. It features a custom-built table constructed atop an actual airplane wing. Impact-resistant glass windows provide an unobstructed view of the maintenance hangar directly below. This is the mechanical side of operations, courtesy of Lone Mountain Aviation president Kenny Scherando and his team. The maintenance hangar covers 22,000 square feet and includes the Lone Mountain Avionics shop, library for repair manuals, machine shop, and an extensive parts department.

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Lone Mountain Aviation is the largest general aviation FAA Part 145 Certified Repair Station in Nevada. We ensure our technicians are uniquely well suited to maintaining, repairing, and modifying the most technically advanced aircraft flown today. With sophisticated tooling and continuous factory authorized training, our technicians are incomparably well equipped to provide the superior quality of service to you and your modern aircraft.

Lone Mountain Avionics is a full-service avionics shop under the Lone Mountain Aviation Repair Station. Lone Mountain Avionics is an approved dealer for Avidyne, Garmin, L-3 Communications, Aspen, Sandel, DAC International Avionics (Heads-Up Technology), and PS Engineering.

According to Sallach, the new facility involved over 500 workers and sub-contractors. Four years elapsed between conception and reality. Permanent positions were created for avionics technicians, maintenance, and support staff. Highly-respected Carl May was brought on for the new position of Director of Flight Operations, and an eight aircraft (a 2016 Cirrus SR22) was added to the ever-expanding AIA fleet.

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Beyond the impressive headquarters are two massive rows of newly-constructed hangars. Nine of them are a 60-feet-wide “Executive Box Hangars”, able to accommodate mid-size private jets. Opposite of those are sixteen “T Hangars”, 49-feet wide and named after their shape. Staggered Tetris-style along the row, T Hangars store personal aircraft like the Cirrus one that I flew. All hangar rentals provide discounted refueling. Click HERE for details.

Sallach told me that all 25 hangars were leased before the project was finished and that they now have a waiting list. That’s no small feat, considering that construction (considered as an essential function) was completed after the pandemic arrived. The only thing that’s been postponed is their Grand Opening, and with luck, I’ll be on hand to share the celebration with them.

One positive effect of the shutdown has been the opportunity to learn new things. If you’ve considered taking flying lessons, All In Aviation is making it easier for you to decide. With the skies nearly empty and commercial air travel considered an uncomfortable prospect for many, now’s the perfect time to schedule a flight lesson. AIA is offering discount packages that range from short regional flights in small Cirrus craft to remote destinations in an SF50 Vision Jet.

Many people are waiting until it’s ‘safe’ again to get back on a commercial flight. With the pandemic sweeping the world, hindering travel and making the idea of commercial travel a bit scary, learning to fly can be a great solution. Becoming a pilot allows people to choose when and who they fly with, and can provide for a safer environment for you and your loved ones. – Paul Sallach, President                                                                                                                 All In Aviation

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“Learn To Fly” packages are as follows:

Bucket List Topper
Starting at $800
• Round trip flight lesson with a certified flight instructor in a Cirrus SR22
• Bring 2-3 guests (weight restricted)
• Fly to regional remote destinations such as Zion National Park or the Grand Canyon with views of Red Rock, Valley of Fire, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and more

Goin’ Back to Cali
Starting at $2,000
• Round trip flight lesson with a certified flight instructor in a Cirrus SR22
• Bring 2-3 guests (weight restricted)
• Fly to California’s Central Coast region of San Luis Obispo

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Starting at $2,000
• Round trip flight lesson with a certified flight instructor in a Cirrus SR22
• Bring 2-3 guests (weight restricted)
• Fly to the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Dealer’s Choice
Starting at $1,500 PER HOUR
• Round trip flight lesson with a certified flight instructor in a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet
• Bring 4-5 guests (weight restricted)
• Fly to any of our regional remote destinations that are also offered in the Cirrus SR22
• Stop for lunch at the destination

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All In Aviation is located at 1456 Jet Stream Drive in Henderson, Nevada. Call 702.ALL.IN22 for more information. Their second location is at North Las Vegas Airport (VGT), 2830 N Rancho Drive, near the West Wind Drive-In Theater

Photos: Sam Novak, All In Aviation, Lone Mountain Aviation, Gina Yager

 

 

 

 

 

 

WESTGATE LAKES RESORT – A COVID-safe Waterfront Paradise For The Quarantine-Weary


Chapter one of a four-part series on post-pandemic traveling…

This year will undoubtedly be remembered as the most stressful of our lives. Just when you think the coast is clear, a new form of chaos arrives. But enough is enough, and it’s time to step out into the sunlight.

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Summer is already upon us, still people have been wondering “Is it too soon to vacation?”. That’s a valid question, especially considering the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. But after what I’ve just experienced during a week of research, the answer is a resounding “Pack your bags, hop on a plane and go have some fun!”

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As I wrote here, post-COVID vacations are incredibly tempting. That’s especially true when you consider the massive efforts undertaken by airlines, restaurants, service workers, and tourist destinations to welcome you back. Things will probably never be cleaner, safer, less crowded, and more convenient than they are right now.

Then there’s the issue of $$$$. Sure, finances are dangerously tight for most households. But if you happen to have funds tucked away or received a stimulus check to help jump-start our ravaged economy, this may be the most affordable vacation opportunity you’ll EVER see. So grab the family, say farewell to two-plus months of isolation, and join me in Florida for this four-part series on Westgate Resorts.

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I began my research by climbing aboard a Southwest Airlines nonstop from McCarran International Airport to the Sunshine State. The popular airline’s longtime open-seating policy lends itself well to social distancing, as did a five-person-per-group boarding process (see their enhanced COVID-19 protocols here). The journey was relaxing and comfortable, with plenty of room to stretch out (over 120 empty seats on my nonstop flight).

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Once in Orlando, I’d observe the enhanced sanitation protocols that Sin City guests can expect when historic Westgate Las Vegas hotel-casino reopens very soon. Stops at their locations throughout east and central Florida would permit me to see the Westgate CARES program in action (click HERE for complete details) and its consistent application throughout vastly different styles of resort.

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My itinerary ranged from two self-contained stay-and-play destinations to an oceanside pier and a rustic outdoor “dude ranch” complete with campgrounds, airboat rides and a weekly rodeo. There are twenty-four Westgate locations in all, including New York City, Park City UT, Mesa AZ, and historic Williamsburg VA.

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My first stop was Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa, an all-in-one complex just a short drive from Orlando International Airport. Located near major theme parks, Westgate Lakes has over 2,100 guest rooms and timeshare residences that appeals to the family crowd. The resort was just making final preparations to welcome back guests as I drove in, so I was able to take photos and get a lengthy tour while it was mostly vacant.

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Once you arrive at the entrance, you’ll be greeted by a new drive-up check-in procedure. This option allows guests to limit person-to-person contact, so they can receive room keys, a resort map, and related materials from the comfort and safety of their vehicle.

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The Pavillion’s main lobby still offers a traditional registration desk, but the area has been retrofitted with social-distancing markers, sanitizer dispensers, and plexiglass shields between desk agents and guests. All employees wear face masks, and visitors are encouraged to do the same (they may be mandatory at some indoor locations or for certain activities, depending on the current guidelines of your vacation period).

You may have heard that some businesses and attractions now scan the body temperature of arriving guests (a two-second touchless process) and ask COVID-related health questions before granting access. At Westgate Lakes, the only time this is done is before visitors enter the on-site restaurant or when they’re about to participate in resort activities like water sports, mini golf, etc…

Strolling through the Pavillion, you’ll find Sid’s Bistro (with Starbucks service), a timeshare presentation area, and a discount ticket desk for major theme parks. The second level of the building is home to the award-winning Serenity Spa (read my review here) and a hall for vacation ownership/timeshare presentations (also redesigned for social distancing).

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Next door is an expansive fitness facility and juice bar that rivals freestanding gyms. Neither had yet reopened during my stay, but preparations were being made to do so. Group fitness classes had also been suspended for the time being, but the fitness center is offering virtual versions via the resort’s TV channel that you can participate in from your guestroom.

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Head back outside and you’ll discover seven pools, outdoor bars, jogging trails, barbecue pits, water activities, and outdoor mini-golf. Adjacent Village Shops is home to the Marketplace, Deli, Cordovano Joe’s Pizza, a bowling alley, game room, and Drafts Sports Bar & Grill, all under by a cleverly-concealed parking structure topped by a modern convention center/ballroom with scenic views.

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Restaurants will “temp” you and ask COVID-related health questions before granting entry. You’ll also be asked to sanitize your hands at the door. Menus are printed on disposable paper, or you can pull them up on your smartphone by scanning the restaurant’s touch-free QR code. Plates and utensils are also disposable/recyclable, and packaged take-out foods are sealed with a security label to ensure sanitary delivery.

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Tucked inside of Drafts Sports Bar is “The Clubhouse”, a themed meeting room great for smaller professional gatherings and parties. The mens room has a humorous wall known to as “The Beer Recycler” (don’t think too hard). Outside, an entertainment promenade features atmospheric lighting, fire pits, live music and lounging areas where you can wind down at the end of the day.

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Since we’ve already addressed the fears of air travel in this post-COVID reality, let’s cover the issue of safety and cleanliness in guest accommodations. Having traveled regularly for the better part of two decades, I probably have an edge over the casual vacationer on the subject.

You see, I’ve been to cities around the world, sleeping in establishments ranging from rundown roadside motels to jaw-dropping penthouse suites. And even in the swankiest of places, there’s still that concern of “Just how thoroughly has this place been cleaned?”.

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After seeing Westgate Lakes’ crew in action, I can happily say that this was the VERY FIRST TIME that I felt assured of top-to-bottom cleanliness. I didn’t reluctantly press the light switches. The fear of germs was absent when handling remote controls and bathroom fixtures. There was no hesitation when I sat on the furniture or enjoyed my morning coffee at the breakfast bar.

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Why did this time feel different? Because I’d educated myself in advance, knew about the Westgate CARES approach, had observed their sanitation protocols, and recognized the efforts to protect my health. So I unpacked my luggage with peace of mind and enjoyed four nights of blissful relaxation.

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My reservation was for a one-bedroom villa in a newly-opened tower (there are over 25 buildings within the resort). Villas offer are much bigger than the average hotel room and provide ample space for the average-sized family to spread out. There’s a king bed, jacuzzi tub, modern bathroom with walk-in shower and a queen-size sleeper sofa. Accommodations range from a budget-friendly Studio Villa with kitchenette (sleeps four) to four-bedroom Presidential Villas that can accommodate up to twelve guests.

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Villas include their own laundry appliances and screened-in balconies or patios. Fully equipped kitchens have been supplied with cookware, utensils, coffeemaker, glassware, and plates. The entertainment center/sound system is equipped with a DVD player and extensive programming options. Property-wide wi-fi is standard for guests.

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Those who prefer to avoid contact with others can order groceries directly from the onsite Marketplace, request contact-free delivery, then prepare their own meals. All on-site restaurants and the deli deliver room service, too. But if you’re like me, you’ll want to head over to Drafts Sports Bar and Grill for some awesome pub grub (courtesy of Executive Chef Robert Walter), beer or cocktails.

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Westgate Lakes‘ multi-acre layout (resort map here) is quite conducive to social-distancing. Buildings are spread throughout the property and the entire resort is walled and gated, so you can feel safe whatever you’re doing (just keep in mind that the lakes contain natural wildlife and are not meant for swimming).

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There are basketball and tennis courts, sand volleyball, bicycle rentals, swimming classes, horseshoes, daily activity schedule, paddleboard, boat rentals, and fishing. Park-like spots invite you to sit down and enjoy the peaceful lake scenery and nature sounds.

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Since I’ll be visiting vastly different resorts in this series, I’ll be pointing out their specific operational changes now in place to ensure your safety. At Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa, adjustments are such that you’ll barely think about them. For instance, poolside foods and cocktails are still available, but orders are taken and delivered by mask-wearing staff members as you enjoy the sun.

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Loungers and dining furniture are frequently disinfected, especially between each guest, they’re spaced further apart, and capacity has been decreased, especially at indoor locations. For recreational activities, all equipment is sanitized between uses. That includes the putters at mini-golf, rented bicycles, playground equipment and bowling balls. An under-construction Treasure Cove Water Park will most likely have social-distancing protocols in place when it opens as well.

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The resort provides courtesy round-trip shuttle service (see schedule here) to nearby attractions. Universal Orlando reopened its gates on June 5th and Sea World has its sights set on June 11th. As for Disney Parks, a phased reopening is in the works, tentatively beginning July 11th. Click here for the latest updates directly from the “Mouse House”.

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With all of the entertaining things to do at Westgate Lakes, you may never want to leave the grounds. And in this post-pandemic world, it’s important to have those options. But however you decide to spend your Orlando vacation, now’s the time to make it happen.

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In the next part of this series, I’ll head to the ocean for a day at Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier and Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort

Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa is located at 9500 Turkey Lake Road Orlando, FL 32819. For reservations call 888-826-3409 or visit them online here

Disclaimer – this is not a paid endorsement for Westgate Resorts. My opinions are my own. As the Vegas Unfiltered Blog slogan states, “Probably biased. Definitely honest”. All photos were taken by myself.

 

 

 

 

 

Pet Food Bank Ready To Assist Families In Need


Hearts Alive Village has a stockpile of cat and dog foods to aid our ravaged community…

A while back I did this feature on Hearts Alive Village, a shelter and charitable foundation for cats and dogs. The wonderful sanctuary is an all-volunteer organization to assist animals with an extra focus on those with special needs.

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I was given a tour of the facility by Sheryl Greenblatt, who serves as Director of Commubnity Engagement. Sheryl allowed me to visit the longtime “residents” of Hearts Alive Village and showed me their retail side, which sells high-quality pet foods at great tax-exempt prices to help fund their services. She also introduced me to Kendall’s Kupboard, a food bank/pantry created to assist pet parents suffering from financial difficulties.

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This weekend, Sheryl reached out to let me know that the Kendall’s Kupboard is filled to the brim with donations, and she asked if I could help spread the word that resources are available for those in need:

We have a ton of food to help people who are facing financial difficulty during these crazy times and we need some help spreading the word. In the last two months we have served over 670 families, which equates to 1,415 dogs and 743 cats, We have seen the need for pet food increase 10x due to COVID-19. – Sheryl Greenblatt

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With the rampant unemployment that’s crippled our valley, it would be unthinkable for families to have to abandon their pets because of the inability to purchase food. That’s why awareness of Kendall’s Kupboard is so vital.

Despite many businesses reopening, the unemployment rate in Las Vegas is over 33% and our community is hurting. Many of our neighbors don’t know how they will make their bills in the coming months. Sadly, this means that some people will think they have to choose between caring for themselves and caring for their furry family members.

If you need some extra support right now, it’s not your fault and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Hearts Alive Village has expanded Kendall’s Kupboard to feed community pets impacted by these difficult financial circumstances.

Please, if you or someone you know needs help feeding your animals, we are here for you. Visit Kendall’s Kupboard for more information and to fill out an application. No fur baby should ever go to sleep with an empty belly. – Hearts Alive Village

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The reason that the food pantry is bursting at the seams is that it recently grew in scope and purpose. In April, Kendall’s Kupboard became the Pet Food Disaster Distribution Center for the State of Nevada, thanks to food donations from GreaterGood.org and a grant for space and equipment from the Dave and Cheryl Duffield Foundation.

All of this is great news for the people of our state, now more than ever:

This local distribution of pet food is part of a multi-million dollar nationwide donation effort that GreaterGood.org is executing to help the pet communities across the U.S. impacted most by the coronavirus outbreak. “The COVID-19 pandemic is creating an unprecedented animal sheltering crisis, while also affecting pet parents,” said Liz Baker, CEO for GreaterGood.org. “It is our duty to step in and offer assistance on a national level by creating a network of relief distribution centers with our local animal shelter partners while also supporting them.”

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Be assured that social distancing protocols and limited-contact distribution are already in place. You can feel safe knowing that your health is as important as that of your pets.

Individuals can enroll to receive pet food through the program at www.HeartsAliveVillage.org. An appointment will be scheduled and “drive thru” distribution will protect staff, volunteers, and recipients. The website will also include information for those individuals and businesses that would like to support the program with a food or monetary donation.

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So if you, friends, family members, or neighbors can benefit from this effort to keep pets with their loved ones, be sure to reach out to Hearts Alive Village and make arrangements. The Vegas community is truly resilient, and this is another wonderful example of how we pull together in times of crisis.

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For more information, to make a donation, adopt a pet, or volunteer, please call 702-595-0644, visit HeartsAliveVillage.org. Follow on Instagram at @heartsaliveanimalrescue and Facebook at Hearts Alive Village Las Vegas.

Photos courtesy of Hearts Alive Village

 

 

 

‘Sin City’ Re-opens June 4th – Will You Step Through The Magic Curtain?


Hotel-casinos unveil post-COVID dates and plans…

Well, you’ve stuck with us through the rough times. Now will be you ready to return? That’s the question that all of us in Las Vegas are asking. Governor Steve Sisolak has given approval for casino hotels to return on June 4th, and the floodgate of information is open!

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We’re snapping off the padlocks and sweeping the red carpet to welcome Vegas lovers back to the Strip, Downtown and surrounding areas. The changes will be many, and ramping up will be gradual. For now, only three MGM Resorts properties will be opening on June 4th. But that’s okay, as this will be a litmus test to gauge customer demand and determine a timeline for moving forward.

Here’s the official MGM Resorts announcement in all it’s carefully-worded glory. It provides complete details on the “new normal” that you’re probably already sick of hearing about (sorry, not sorry).

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(Las Vegas – May 27, 2020) — MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) (“MGM Resorts”) announced its planned June 4 reopening of Bellagio, New York-New York, MGM Grand Las Vegas and The Signature, following the closure earlier this year of all of its U.S. properties amidst the coronavirus crisis.  At opening, amenities at all properties will be limited. As demand for the destination builds, additional venues within these resorts will open and other MGM Resorts properties on The Strip will reopen.

“Our hearts go out to everyone in the communities where we operate, and around the world, who has been personally impacted during this time of crisis,” said Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Resorts’ Acting CEO and President. “As we plan for these openings, the health and safety of our guests and employees is at the forefront of all we do. Getting many of our employees back to work and welcoming guests through our doors once again will allow us to do what we do best – entertain. The team is ready and we can’t wait.”

Health & Safety

MGM Resorts recently released its comprehensive “Seven-Point Safety Plan,” a multi-layered set of protocols and procedures designed in conjunction with medical and scientific experts to mitigate the spread of the virus, protect customers and employees and rapidly respond to potential new cases. The full plan can be reviewed at mgmresorts.com. We will continue to evaluate and evolve our safety protocols.  Key initiatives include:

  • Employee screening, temperature checks and COVID-19 specific training
  • COVID-19 testing offered for employees as they return to work in partnership with the local medical community
  • Employees will be required to wear masks; Guests are strongly encouraged to wear masks, and in some settings where physical distancing is more difficult and/or barriers do not exist, will be required to do so.  Examples of where masks will be required include salons, certain table games where physical barriers are not in place and elevators, if riding with guests outside of their travel group. Masks will be provided, free of charge
  • A physical distancing policy will be implemented, with floor guides serving as reminders
  • For areas where physical distancing presents challenges, plexiglass barriers will be installed, or other measures will be used to reduce risks
  • Standalone handwashing stations designed by MGM Resorts conveniently located on casino floors
  • Contactless Check-In through the MGM Resorts App will allow hotel guests to go through the check-in process on their personal devices, minimizing interactions
  • Guestroom Attendants will wear masks and gloves while cleaning each room and will change gloves between guestrooms
  • In addition to increased and enhanced routine cleaning of guestrooms and public spaces based on CDC guidance, electrostatic sprayers will be utilized in many large public spaces so that disinfectant is applied efficiently
  • Digital menus will be available to view on personal mobile devices via QR codes in the company’s food and beverage outlets
  • To minimize groups congregating while they wait, restaurant guests will receive text message notification when their tables are ready
  • MGM has compiled its own internal team and processes to respond if a guest or employee tests positive for COVID-19.  We ask that if a guest tests positive after visiting one of our properties, they alert us through a special email address (covid19@mgmresorts.com).  We will immediately report any positive test results to the local health department and assist with contact tracing to support the health department investigators.

For a full listing of amenities that will be available at each resort, please visit mgmresorts.com. Complimentary self-parking will be available for guests; valet parking will not be operational at this time.

A glimpse at what guests can expect:

Bellagio

Bellagio’s Conservatory will open with a beautiful new Japanese Spring Garden display called “Japan Journey: Magic of Kansai”. The resort’s iconic fountains will once again come to life. Food & Beverage amenities will include a variety of lounges such as Petrossian Bar, featuring its signature pianist as well as casual and fine-dining restaurants like Prime and Lago. The Mayfair Supper Club, which opened only a few months ago to rave reviews, will also reopen its doors. The lush pool will open with a selection of cabanas available. The Salon and Fitness Center also will be available.

New York-New York

In addition to a variety of bars and dining offerings including the lively Tom’s Urban, New York-New York guests can enjoy the highly popular Big Apple Roller Coaster and Big Apple Arcade, as well as Hershey’s Chocolate World. Just in time for celebrating summer, the pool will open with a selection of cabanas available. The property’s Fitness Center will be available to hotel guests. Many of the venues at the adjacent Park are slated to open, as well.

MGM Grand and The Signature

MGM Grand, known for its dynamic mix of offerings, will open a number of bars and lounges as well as casual and fine-dining venues including Craftsteak and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. A selection of cabanas will be available alongside a portion of the resort’s exciting pool environment. The Salon and Fitness Center will be available to hotel guests. The Signature at MGM Grand also will open with a variety of its amenities available.

Days and hours of operation at all venues will vary. For a full list of offerings, and to make reservations, please visit mgmresorts.com.

Caesars Entertainment is going a little more conservative than MGM, with only Flamingo and Caesars Palace slated to reopen at first:

We are ecstatic to announce that we will begin the re-opening of the Fabulous Flamingo on Thurs, June 4. We will offer lodging, dining options, access to GO Pool at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino and the Beach Club pool, as well as slot machines & table games in accordance with physical distancing guidelines.

We are pleased to announce that we will begin re-opening the Palace on Thursday, June 4. We are happy to offer lodging, dining options, access to the Garden of the Gods pools, as well as slot machines & table games in accordance with physical distancing guidelines.

Fees for paid self-parking will be suspended. For more information on the Company’s health and safety protocols, visit: Caesars.com/health.

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Westgate Las Vegas has set a date of June 18th for their return, but that will quite likely be moved up with everyone else doing June 4th. Click here for updated information via their own reservation site. I already unveiled the historic resort’s extensive care protocols in this piece and am currently in Florida to witness their procedures in action. I’ll tell you all about that in an upcoming series that was announced here.

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Nearby Sahara is accepting reservations for stays beginning June 4th. They’ve also released a formal COVID-19 operations plan, as seen here:

(May 21, 2020) – SAHARA Las Vegas today released a comprehensive outline of health and safety protocols under the resort’s SAHARA Cares program that will be implemented upon re-opening following the government-mandated closure of the property on March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The outline details enhancements to the resort’s rigorous sanitation protocols along with new social distance considerations. SAHARA Las Vegas collaborated with experts to establish hundreds of additional practices to minimize risk for guests and team members. A full overview of the SAHARA Cares program may be found at SAHARALasVegas.com/SAHARACares/.
“The health and safety of our guests and team members is our number one priority,” said Paul Hobson, SAHARA Las Vegas Senior Vice President and General Manager. “In addition to the enhanced cleaning practices, we have developed new service initiatives designed with the wellbeing of our guests in mind. We recognize the ongoing need to stay informed regarding the latest recommended protocols and resources to deter the spread of the virus. We are committed to ensuring both our guests and team members can feel safe when they come to our resort.”
SAHARA Las Vegas continues to follow the orders of Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. Resort leadership anticipate a phased approach to re-opening and look forward to welcoming back team members and guests as soon as it is recommended to do so.
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The Cosmopolitan is set to unlock its doors at 10am on June 4th. The swanky hotel casino recently earned an early slot on my “2020 Year-End Naughty List” when an eagle-eyed reader discovered that the swanky resort plans to raise their resort fees. Cosmo’s PR agency sent this release out just within the hour, loaded with answers to most of your questions:

(May 27, 2020) – The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas reopens its doors to the public on June 4 at 10 a.m. PST. Following Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s directive on May 26 permitting gaming properties to return to business on June 4, and upon receiving approval from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, The Cosmopolitan prepares to welcome guests back to the luxury casino-resort. As health and safety remain a top priority, The Cosmopolitan has implemented strict guidelines that meet or exceed the standards set by local, state and federal authorities.

“In the past ten years, we have had the privilege of creating environments that house lasting memories for many. And while our world has changed, our commitment to the wellbeing of our guests, CoStars [Cosmopolitan employees] and community remains. As we all acclimate to this new normal, we know the travel experience our guests have grown accustomed to will be altered. However, we are committed to delivering the exceptional service, energy and dedication that our CoStars provide and our guests seek. We look forward to welcoming our guests back to the resort soon.” – William P. McBeath, President & Chief Executive Officer of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Health & Safety Standards

Under the guidance of health and safety professionals, The Cosmopolitan created a comprehensive, internal plan, The Cosmopolitan Commitment, which builds upon existing health and safety procedures and addresses new operational and reporting processes. An extensive range of enhancements, including advanced cleaning and sanitization protocols, have been implemented resort-wide. Measures include dedicated CoStar training, social distancing guidelines, non-invasive temperature screenings, floorplan and furniture reconfiguration, signage installations, in-room sanitization amenity for guests and more.

Additional offerings that further support health and safety efforts:

·        A standout feature provided to guests can be found in the resort’s distinct room design. More than 70% of the 3,033 guest rooms at The Cosmopolitan feature open-air access from a private terrace. Guests who book a room with a terrace can easily step outside for fresh air at any time during their stay.

·        The Cosmopolitan’s chat bot and 24/7 digital concierge, Rose, provides contactless guest service and resort information through a guest’s personal cellular device. With a text to Rose, guests can get assistance ordering room service, requesting housekeeping services, making restaurant reservations, and have a direct connection to concierge, guest services, hotel room check-out and more.

·        Additionally, QR (Quick Response) codes will be utilized at various bars and restaurants as a touchless option for guests to view menus. QR codes will be introduced to additional areas throughout the resort in the coming weeks.

Further details for guests and visitors can be found on The Cosmopolitan’s Health & Sanitization webpage.

Resort Updates

The Cosmopolitan will reopen with a multi-phased approach. Hotel reservations and an initial set of venues and amenities will open with the resort followed by a slow reintroduction of additional outlets in the coming months. Reservation dates are now open for booking and a curated summer promotion is available on the Offers page of the resort’s website. Additionally, The Cosmopolitan will waive paid self-parking for all guests. Valet parking will continue to remain complimentary for hotel guests as previously offered.

The following venues and amenities will be available for guests beginning June 4. Additional information, including instruction for making a reservation and hours of operation, can be found on The Cosmopolitan’s website.

·        Restaurants: The majority of The Cosmopolitan’s Restaurant Collection will open with the resort. This includes: Beauty & Essex, Blue Ribbon, Block 16 Urban Food Hall (including District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew., Tekka Bar, Hattie B’s, Lardo and Pok Pok Wing), China Poblano, Eggslut, Estiatorio Milos, Jaleo, Holsteins, Milk Bar, Overlook Grill, Scarpetta, Starbucks, STK, The Henry, The Juice Standard, The Pizzeria and Zuma. 

·        Bars & Lounges: The Chandelier, Vesper Bar, CliQue Bar & Lounge and Race & Sports Book Bar will open with the resort.

·        Gaming: The casino floor, high limit rooms and the Race & Sports Book will be available for guests at the time of reopening.

 ·        Spa, Salon & Fitness: Sahra Spa, Salon & Hammam will open daily. The Boulevard and The Chelsea tower fitness centers as well as the outdoor tennis courts will also be open and accessible to hotel guests. 

·        Pools: The Boulevard Pool will open with the resort, with appropriately spaced lounge chairs, daybeds and cabanas, with dedicated cocktail service, available for guests.

·        Retail: A variety of retail shops will open with the resort.

Venues pertaining to entertainment, nightlife or spa remain closed for the time being. Updates and additional venue openings with hours of operation can be found on the Travel Updates page on The Cosmopolitan’s website.

Community Efforts

The Cosmopolitan is dedicated to serving the local community through a variety of initiatives, now more than ever in an effort to give-back to first responders and local charities in need.

·        Honoring First Responders: The Cosmopolitan honors first responders who have been at the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis with 25% off room bookings now through the end of the year. First responders can book their room reservation by calling 800-435-0005.

·        The Giving Module: The resort continues its efforts through the Giving Module program, which provides guests with the option to donate change from their slot play winnings to a local charity organization.  Beginning in June, charitable beneficiaries include HELP of Southern Nevada, Goodie Two Shoes, American Heart Association and Veterans Village. These are in addition to a local non-profit organization benefiting first responders, which will be announced in the coming weeks. In further support of the selected charities, The Cosmopolitan matches up to $10,000 of all donations each quarter. Organizations interested in benefiting from The Cosmopolitan’s Giving Module program should reach out directly to GivingModuleProduct@everi.com to be considered.

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My in-box continues to be flooded with similar announcements as I prepare to publish this piece, but you’re getting the gist of all of them. Clearly, major hotel casinos have been spending their down time reworking the system and waiting for an all-clear. Even the so-called “locals casinos” have sent out their plans. This one is from Boyd Gaming, parent company to The Orleans and several locations at Fremont Street:

Boyd Gaming Corporation today announced plans to resume operations at nine of its Nevada properties on Thursday, June 4, pending receipt of final regulatory approvals: The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Aliante, Cannery, Sam’s Town, Fremont, California and Jokers Wild.

“We are excited for the opportunity to resume operations in our home state of Nevada,” said Keith Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boyd Gaming. “By the first week of June, we look forward to having 19 of our 29 properties across the country back in operation, and we are optimistic that we will be able to reopen most of our remaining properties by the end of June. As we continue to return to business, we will remain diligent in protecting the health and safety of every person who comes through our doors, following strict safety protocols that meet the highest standards set by federal, state and local officials.”

Upon reopening, all of Boyd Gaming’s Nevada properties will operate with limited amenities and capacity restrictions in compliance with state and local requirements. Specific amenities and restrictions include:

Food Outlets: All properties will have select dining options open with varied hours. All buffets will remain closed at this time.

Casino Bars: All properties will have select casino bars open with varied hours.

Gaming:

· All properties will have slots and video poker available 24/7, following social distancing requirements.

· Table games will be available at Aliante, Cannery, the Cal, Fremont, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Sam’s Town and The Orleans with varied hours. Seating will be limited in accordance with social distancing requirements.

· The Orleans will offer poker with select hours. Seating at each table will be limited.

· Aliante, Gold Coast, Sam’s Town and Suncoast will offer Bingo with varied hours.

· Sports books will be open at Aliante, Cannery, Fremont, Gold Coast, Sam’s Town, Suncoast and The Orleans with varied hours.

Amenities:

· Fremont will offer valet services. Valet will be closed at all other properties.

· Pools at Aliante and The Orleans will open with varied hours.

· Bowling will be available at Gold Coast, Sam’s Town, Suncoast and The Orleans with varied hours.

· Gift shops will be open at properties that offer this amenity.

· All movie theaters, showrooms, fitness centers and spas will remain closed during the initial reopening phase.

Details on individual amenity, restaurant and gaming openings/closures along with hours of operations can be found on the website for each property.

Additionally, all Boyd Gaming properties will practice “Boyd Clean,” a set of comprehensive protocols aimed at protecting the health and safety of our team members and guests. These protocols include:

· Mandatory face coverings and temperature checks for all team members;

· Social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions across all customer and team member areas, including casino floors and restaurants;

· Enhanced cleaning and sanitation of all high-touch surfaces, including door handles, gaming machines, table games, handrails and elevator buttons;

· Increased placement of hand sanitizer dispensers throughout our properties;

· Required training for all team members on our safety protocols.

For additional information on the Boyd Clean initiative, visit http://www.boydgaming.com/boyd-clean.

Three of Boyd Gaming’s southern Nevada properties – Eastside Cannery, Eldorado and Main Street Station – remain closed during the initial reopening phase. While the Gold Coast will reopen its casino and some restaurants on June 4, the Gold Cost hotel will remain closed at the present time.

Plenty of other Downtown hotel-casinos like Plaza and Downtown Grand are set for a June 4th restart. The Fremont Street Experience removes the barricades one day earlier, June 3rd at 9am. Here’s their official announcement:

LAS VEGAS – Fremont Street Experience (FSE) announced today they will reopen the pedestrian mall and access to adjacent hotel casinos and retail stores when they reopen on June 3 at 9 a.m.

Leading up to the reopening of FSE’s casino partners, the world’s largest single video screen, Viva Vision, will display a 144-hour countdown that will conclude at the exact moment gaming operations restart at 12:01 a.m. on June 4.

Adhering to the guidelines put forth by the Global Association for the Attractions Industry (IAPPA), SlotZilla zipline will also reopen in downtown Las Vegas on June 4 at 4 p.m.

As downtown Las Vegas prepares to reopen, FSE will continue to employ robust cleaning procedures designed to mitigate the spread of the virus based on guidance of Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and public health officials. To ensure the safety of visitors and employees, FSE will disinfect the pedestrian mall, parking garage and SlotZilla towers twice a day with environmentally friendly and highly effective products that are immediately safe for human contact.

“The health and well-being of our guests, tenants, resort partners and employees remain a top priority to Fremont Street Experience,” said Patrick Hughes, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fremont Street Experience. “Although experiences will be altered to adjust to this new normal, we are committed to reinvigorating downtown Las Vegas and helping make a positive impact in the community. We look forward to welcoming guests back to Fremont Street Experience soon.”

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While many Strip hotels won’t be offering bar service at first, The Golden Tiki in nearby Chinatown will be ready June 5th to serve some of the best cocktails in the city. The Golden Tiki is an absolute must-do, so be sure to head over. Here’s their startup plan, naturally presented with whimsy and a dollop of “outrageous” courtesy of proprietor Branden Powers:

The Golden Tiki, Las Vegas’ world-renowned tiki bar experience, will reopen Friday June 5th from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Creator/Co-Owner Branden Powers announced today. They will open again Saturday, June 6th and Sunday, June 7th, close Mon-Tues and reopen again Wednesday, June 10th on a daily schedule all with the same hours, 5 p.m.- 2 a.m. (until further notice).

A limited number of patrons will be seated and served with heightened service–Reservations via the goldentiki.com website are very strongly suggested. Of course, the best safety and sanitation protocols will be followed at all times.

“Now that our capacity is smaller, we’re looking to use this opportunity to offer our fans a more exclusive-style Tiki experience,” said Powers. “We want to safely transport everyone to a faraway island where the only thing we have to fear is a cursed totem. Oh, and headhunters.”

Led by Head Bartender And Witchdoctor General Adam “Fauci” Rains, the Golden Tiki team will serve the full cocktail menu plus unannounced specials, as well a menu of tasty bites. This is not your grandfather’s pandemic party.

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Branden Powers is also the mastermind behind downtown’s Evel Pie, an all-smiles Fremont Street pizza joint that reopened on May 28th.

My friends at Las Vegas Magazine just published a comprehensive list of what’s set to re-open. It includes restaurants, attractions, gaming, and much more. You can also visit the website of any particular Vegas destination to find out what plans your favorites have in place.

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So at last, Sin City is back….sorta-kinda-maybe. If you’re ready and eager to “Vegas” again, then put on your party shoes and step through the Magic Curtain. Just remember to bring a face mask and an ample supply of hand sanitizer, okay?

Banner photo: Mike Hammer Comedy Magic 

They’re Back! Sizzling Rumors and Facts On Beefcake Revues


Lots of news coming our way as Sin City prepares for its rebirth. A large chunk of this week’s is focused on the big hunks of male stripper shows. Let’s dive right in!

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The biggest story is the unsubstantiated rumor that Caesars Entertainment is intent on moving CHIPPENDALES from their custom showroom at Rio Las Vegas to the now-vacant OMNIA NIghtclub. As you’ve no doubt heard, there will be plenty of large, flashy venues collecting dust in the months ahead. What better way to maximize all that square footage than with social distancing-style audience setups?

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My insider source tells me that powers at Caesars Palace are gung-ho on the idea and are in talks with Chippendales’ New York City office to make it happen. My Chipps contact here in the city is unaware of the supposed negotiations but was excited at the prospect. An on-Strip performance space would be ideal for the gold-standard dance-and-grind, especially now that Caesars has announced the removal of parking fees from all of their hotel-casinos.

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Another advantage of being on Las Vegas Boulevard is that Chippendales could do a literal face-off (chest-off?) with their biggest competitor – Magic Mike Live. The poorly reviewed (at least by me) revue has finally confirmed their new home at Sahara. I have the statement below from SAHARA Las Vegas and MAGIC MIKE LIVE:

Both SAHARA Las Vegas and MAGIC MIKE LIVE! are committed to bringing the show to the property as planned. As phased reopening guidelines for the state are implemented by Governor Steve Sisolak, SAHARA Las Vegas and MAGIC MIKE LIVE! will adjust the show’s opening timeline in its new venue accordingly. We look forward to announcing more details and welcoming back our guests and audiences in the near future.

Despite my prediction that MML was dead in the water after COVID-19, the lastest is that the build-out of their custom venue will resume/continue. Look for a new opening date in perhaps early 2021. Let’s hope the show undergoes that long-needed retooling, too. Keep the guys, but ditch that insufferable female host.

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Aussie Heat is another possible “Phoenix” rising from the ashes. The independent (and superior) challenger to Thunder From Down Under had barely gotten acquainted with their new spot at MOSAIC On The Strip when the shutdown hit. Now they’ve posted a target return date of July 2nd (details here).

Host Adam Barr has confirmed the goal-date but told me that the virus situation will dictate if this plays out. No word yet on how the blatantly hands-on experience would address social-distancing guidelines, but the boys have nearly two months to figure that one out.

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The shutdown has spurred creativity and online performances have taken hold. Chippendales was one first to the scene with Chippendales@Home, a virtual interactive party. Cast members of the show give you and your friends a personal pay-per-view performance using web-conference platforms like ZOOM.

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This Memorial Day weekend saw the debut of Men of Vegas Live, a weekly virtual male striptease. Overseen by Russ White and Garrett Pattiani, Men of Vegas Live features performers from the male members of Spearmint Rhino. Yes, the gentlemen’s club has gotten into men!

For the latest updates and news, be sure to visit/follow Vegas Unfiltered Blog’s official Facebook page

 

From Mormon to Male Revue: One Man’s Evolution, Vegas-style


Chippendales performer Ryan Worley’s solitary road to redemption…

Sin City’s adult production shows have been around for decades. In other cities, sexy performers might be viewed with a certain disdain, but here they are regarded with a unique reverence.

The showgirls of Jubilee! and Folies Bergere will always be iconic. The men of Aussie Heat are genuine bonafide trained dancers of impressive skill. The ladies of SEXXY and FANTASY work hard for the money. And then there are the Chippendales…a macho, muscular troupe whose name is synonymous with classy male entertainment.

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       Ryan and fellow Chipp James Davis don purple to support LGBTQ youth…

In a recent article I called the men of ChippendalesShirtless Angels of Charity“. They do indeed spend plenty of time contributing wonderful work for the Las Vegas community. But first and foremost, they’re a hunky bunch of guys who grind out sets in the gym before bumping and grinding onstage.

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Twenty-seven year old Ryan Worley never imagined that one day he’d be taking off his clothes for a paying audience. Raised within the strict guidelines and culture of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Worley was as far from Chippendales stock as one could imagine.

Yet we don’t always know what’s around the corner or lies over the horizon. And Ryan’s life so far has been anything but predictable.

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                         Ryan (far left) in a family photo with his siblings…

I was born in California on August 6th, 1990 and am the second oldest of four kids. We were raised in the Mormon religion and devoted to the church. After high school I was dating a girl who was not a Mormon…and being with her made me not want to serve my two-year mission.

Not volunteering for missionary work is very frowned upon within the culture. People will go as far as to shunning you for it…and that was the case for me.

Instead, I went to college at Brigham Young University in Idaho. This is a Mormon school and they have three campuses (Provo, Utah is the largest and most popular). I completed three semesters there and eventually transferred to Utah Valley University.

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While attending Utah Valley University, Ryan lived with a friend whose father was a Mormon Bishop. It was clear that, despite avoiding missionary service and not being very active any longer, his exposure to the Latter Day Saints Movement was deeply entrenched in every aspect of his life.

At the age of twenty, Worley was attracted to a fellow employee at the pizza parlor where he moonlighted. This young lady was active in the Mormon church and got Ryan to attend again. After dating for two years the couple got married…but their romance was short-lived.

Someone once told me when we first married that the number one cause of divorce is unmet expectations…a sentence which resonated inside me. That’s when I got into fitness. The gym became my sanctuary and a place where I could let go.

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Throwing himself into the lifestyle of intense fitness was very therapeutic. While building his body, Ryan acquired a new level of self-esteem which was critical in this period. The change to his physique was astounding. Still, it wasn’t enough to mend the difficulties with his bride.

I told her that I wanted a divorce and she didn’t put up much of a fight. We sold our house and she went back to southern California…I moved north to the Salt Lake City area.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

Ryan dove head-first into the fitness industry, serving as a Fitness Nutrition Specialist for a company called Complete Nutrition. While adjusting to a newly-single life in his small apartment, he was helping others get their own lives back on track. Knowing how to design customized meal plans for clients was invaluable when Worley planned to enter his first bodybuilding competition.

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Spending hours at home on his stationary bike, Ryan discovered the documentary The Perfect Physique on Netflix (readers may recall that I covered the red-carpet premiere of this film at Palms Casino during the 2015 Mr. Olympia).

Ever since I got into fitness I’d wanted to do modeling and end up on a cover of a magazine. TJ Hoban, who is a well-known fitness model, was talking in the film about the difficulties he’d faced, like when he had a serious onstage accident during a Chippendales performance back in the 90’s.

I’d heard about Chippendales before but didn’t know exactly what it was or what it entailed. What I did know was that if my idol TJ Hoban was part of it, then it must be something great.

I went online and immediately filled out an application, submitted a few pictures and told a little about myself…but I never actually expected to hear back from them.

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                                        Actor/model/fitness star TJ Hoban…

Even though his own performance experience was limited to a small Mormon singing/dancing group, Ryan was bursting with excitement…and hope. After applying, he joked with his Complete Nutrition employer that if Chippendales hired him he’d need to give notice.

Two weeks later, an email arrived from the show’s General Manager for an invitation-only audition:

I needed to rent a car for the drive from Utah to Vegas because my own was so crappy. Nobody knew about the audition. When I arrived early in the day, it was straight to the gym to pump up and look my best.

I was one of about fifteen guys there…and they all looked incredible. Kristen Makhathini (the show’s General Manager at the time) led the audition and had us take our shirts off for head shots.

We got on stage and began learning choreography. This was all very new to me. After about ten minutes, they split us into groups and mine was first. We ran through the routine a couple of times, then Kristen said “Alright guys, we are going to start cutting people so if you hear your name we don’t need you anymore and thank you for coming out”. The next sentence made my stomach drop: “Everyone in the first group except for Ryan can go home. Thank you”.

These other guys had flown in from all over the world and it was over for them in less than twenty minutes! My heart was beating out of my chest! They narrowed us down to four of us and said we’d know in a week. There were two spots, one for touring and another for the Vegas show. The tour manager came up to me and asked if I was able to get a passport. “I think I want to steal you for the tour” she said.

My mind went crazy…why did she just say “steal”? Did that mean I got the Vegas spot? That evening I watched the show for the first time, drove back to Utah overnight and never told anyone about it.

When the call came that he’d be a part of the Vegas production, it was time to shock his boss with the news of what he’d done…and to give that resignation notice they’d kidded about.

Along with this sudden change in his life’s course was the realization that he’d be stirring up controversy with his conservative friends and family.

Hot Guys of Vegas Eye of the Beholder

When I asked him what kind of reactions he received after telling people about Chippendales, Ryan sighed and took a moment to collect his thoughts. He was reluctant to slam the culture he’d been a part of for so long, but felt that he’d somehow broken free of someone else’s control and was ready to speak out about it.

My family has had a rough time with my new career but I knew they probably would. They don’t fully understand it or know what it is.

I’m no longer a member of the Mormon church but my friends and loved ones are and I want to respect that. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but the truth is that they teach you to be close-minded. I remember how my siblings and I were treated after our parents divorced. We sat in the back of the church, alone, like outcasts among our own people.

Mormons have their own stance on issues and you have to accept them as yours. When I grew up, I found myself asking “Are these values mine because I’m naturally a good person or were they were taught to me by the church?. Even now I’m not sure, but my mom did bring me up to be a respectful man.

Worley went on to discuss things about the Mormon culture that still concern him. Matters like their unequal treatment of minorities and the LGBTQ community. He feels that’s why a lot of Americans are now leaving the church…and why it currently targets impressionable third-world countries.

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But now that he’s found a new “family” with his Chippendales brothers and their socially-positive work, Ryan Worley is ready to move forward and continue making things better for himself…and others.

I’ve been a Chippendale for almost a year now and love everything it has to offer. I get to do charity work in the community and appear on numerous TV shows. It feels like my years of struggle are over. This is my big break…I go to work and people cheer for me!

I reached out to TJ Hoban and Kandice King (directer of The Perfect Physique), told them my story and how much that documentary changed my life. They seemed very happy to have helped make my life a little better.

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After interviewing Ryan for this piece, I attended a performance of Chippendales at the Rio. Sitting in front of me, right up against the stage, was a group of his buddies. They’d come to Vegas to see for themselves what their longtime friend was now a part of. And they cheered just as wildly as everyone else in the audience.

Watching Ryan’s friends gather around him in the lounge after the show was a thrill to witness and experience. This young man had finally gained confidence and acceptance from his peers. And he’d done it on his own terms.

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“I’ve always felt like I was meant for big things and want to influence people in a positive way. Maybe my story can do the same for others”.

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You can read more about Ryan and his current projects in my column “Hot Guys of Vegas – Eye of the Beholder“.

UPDATE 5/14/20 –

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Since the original publication of this article. Ryan Worley has fulfilled a number of goals and dreams. On 4/20/19 he competed in the Jay Cutler Desert Classic. The event was held at Tropicana Hotel Casino, where Ryan placed third in the Men’s Classic Physique True Novice category and second in Class C. He also became the 2020 cover man of the famous Chippendales calendar, a lifetime goal for fitness-centric men around the world.

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Since then, the perpetually-driven young man has taken on a number of enterprises that focus on the physical and psychological needs of children and adults. Keeping busy during the temporary shuttering of Vegas entertainment has made it possible for him to remain positive and forward-thinking. He also became the father of two gorgeous  kittens.

Chippendales performs nightly at Rio Las Vegas. Click here for showtimes and tickets via our friend at VegasFool.com.

Photos: Sammasseur, Ryan Worley, The Perfect Physique, Noel Dahl, Las Vegas Magazine, Chippendales via Facebook

 

 

 

Sin City Shutdown – Is A New Era Ahead?


Las Vegas is poised to flip the power switches back ‘on’. Will it rise from the ashes and learn from its mistakes?

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On March 17th, 2020, Governor Steve Sisolak shut down the City of Las Vegas, along with the rest of the state, for a minimum of thirty days. In order to slow the rampant spread of COVID-19 aka “Corona Virus”, all non-essential businesses were ordered to shutter. This included bars, hotels, casinos, indoor-dining restaurants, gyms, spas, salons, movie theaters, shows, most stores, parks, recreational attractions and much more.

                                Caesars Palace Forum Shops and Bellagio….both empty…

Thousands upon thousands of people are currently out of work (myself included). Very few are receiving compensation from their employers during this dark period, leaving homes and families at risk for multiple hardships. Can a town that’s already endured major drops in tourism due to 9/11, 2008’s economic collapse and the 10/1/17 massacre rebound from yet another cataclysm?

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                  The party is over on Fremont Street…at least for the time being…

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             An insider source requesting anonymity sent these astonishing photos…

Will the stuffed suits in powerful boardrooms learn from their own mistakes…ones that were already dragging our tourist industry downward? What can be done to lure people back…and will we see a return to the perception of Las Vegas as a value destination? One can only hope.

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                  A darkened Wynn/Encore offers hope to the remaining few passers-by…

The days leading up to the Governor’s declaration were filled with unbearable tension. Grocery store shelves were plundered as major Strip productions shuttered one by one. Next came the closing of buffets and restaurants, then entire hotels and casinos.  Working parents suddenly had to figure out what to do with their children when all schools closed down this week.

                                 Town Square near McCarran Airport is a ghost town…

As in other cities around the world, mundane activities like getting a haircut or meeting friends for lunch are no longer part of our lives. Everything has changed in just a matter of days. Once it became clear that this was our new normal, a friend and I entered “survival mode”. I was just laid off from two regular writing gigs (supposedly temporarily, but who knows?) and he needed a place to live, so now I have someone to share expenses with…and lean on at the same time.

Having resided for 14 years in hurricane-prone South Florida, this writer was used to disaster preparation as a routine activity. Stock the pantry, refill prescriptions, get extra pet food and litter, withdraw cash from the ATM, gas up the vehicles and charge everything that uses a battery. Then comes more drastic steps like buying plywood to board up the windows, checking/replacing fire extinguishers and having weapons on hand in case violence ensues.

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All of this may sound drastic or even dramatic, but let’s face it…if people trample each other for a TV on Black Friday, what would they do when food and supplies run out? The answer isn’t an easy one.

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Despite the seriousness of the situation, many have been working hard to maintain hope…and a sense of humor. Facebook has been a great outlet for people to offer assistance, share their talents and keep each others’ spirits high. Cirque du Soleil performer Alberto Del Campo (read about him HERE) is hosting free online pole fitness classes.

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           Sing along with Mak and the Cheese – You Can’t Spell ‘Virus’ Without ‘Us’

Talented spouses MaKenzie Fly (Sex Tips) and Colin Cahill (Atomic Saloon Show) have created “Mak and The Cheese” a Facebook page featuring witty songs and skits inspired by the “virus hiatus.” And yours truly hosted a “Sexy Apocalypse Party” at Palms Place, where shirts were optional (this is Sin City, after all).

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As we locals ride out the long month ahead in our own unique ways, it’s clear that we’ll come out on the other side as very changed people. Thousands will undoubtedly remain unemployed. Homes will be lost and crime rates will rise. Many businesses will most certainly close for good.

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                    The Bronx Wanderers toast their final performance…for now…

Entertainment offerings may no longer be the flashy, expensive productions (like Cirque du Soleil’s R.U.N) that have recently racked up millions in losses. Virgin Hotel (the former Hard Rock) and Allegiant Stadium completion dates will be pushed back. And you can forget about Resorts World and Fontainebleu/The Drew opening any time soon….yet again.

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The Governor’s announcement was like licking the stamp on a death notice that was waiting to be mailed. Las Vegas has been struggling for quite some time, mostly due to poor decisions that have turned an inexpensive, beloved retreat into a tourist-gouging cesspool of greed. The bigger the city has grown, the less forward-thinking it has become. What we as citizens saw and heard tonight will forever be embedded in our minds. But can we say the same about the big-company execs who are directing the city’s future?

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After the news conference, my new roomie and I gathered our wits and headed to the Strip to absorb the shocking reality of it all. What we witnessed were empty sidewalks, abandoned massive resorts, and shuttered storefronts. The world-famous Bellagio Fountains were dark, as was the Mirage volcano and the boardwalk along Treasure Island. Gone were the endless lines of taxis waiting to pick up tourists.

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Overhead, pedestrian walkways were void of people, and the outdoor escalators at each major intersection went silently up and down with nary a soul to ride them. Amusingly, they all seemed to be working for a change, now that there was nobody to use them. If you were looking for the company of others, all you had to do was head for the nearest dispensary, where people encircled the buildings, hoping to get their stash before mandatory shutdowns went into effect.

                  Lines at marijuana dispensaries stretched around the block…

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         “Visit Las Vegas” is airing nationwide TV promising a bigger, better Vegas…

Now that we’ve witnessed that fall of Las Vegas, where do we go from here? As I said, it will most likely be a very different place…but will it be better? Maybe the “new normal” will yield smaller-scale ideas, where charming lounge-style acts push multi-million-dollar headliner residencies out of the way.

                         Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport 3/18/20, 10am

Perhaps we’ll see a resurgence in gaming, bolstered by better odds than visitors can get at their local casinos. And if we’re lucky, quality service by smiling human beings will shove out main offender MGM Resort‘s move toward automation and self-service. If I’m paying $50 for a buffet, is it too much to ask for an actual person to refill my iced tea?

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                                                    Found on my Facebook feed…

What Las Vegas REALLY needs is to learn a hard, definitive lesson from this punch to the stomach. Hotels must send parking charges out into the desert, never to return. People are sick of looking at their restaurant/bar tab and finding a laundry list of bogus service charges and taxes added onto their already-expensive bill. And when a hotel advertisement says “Stay here for $___”, that better be the actual rate. We’re done with $45 resort fees. Stop it…right now!

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There are only so many times that a city built on tourism can bounce back from major disasters. Las Vegas has survived at least three of them in the past two decades. If the corporations that run this city don’t push the “restart” button and bring back what made this city successful for decades, then maybe it doesn’t deserve to recover at all. Right now, the only thing we all share is hope for a better tomorrow.


UPDATE 5/19/20 – It appears that SOMEBODY has been listening to all of us who have urged the major resort chains to make changes. MGM Resorts and Cosmopolitan have announced that they’re dropping parking fees. As VitalVegas.com reported, Caesars had no choice but to do the same. Unfortunately, nothing has been done about resort fees. In fact, Cosmopolitan will be raising theirs from $39 per day to $45.

 

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Venetian/Palazzo is slated to unlock their doors on June 1st. The giant resort has launched a program called “Share the LOVE” and they’re showing their appreciation with an offer geared towards essential workers. MGM and Westgate have publicized their sanitation protocols, which I’ve elaborated on here and here.

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Sadly, there have been major layoffs during the interim, and some casinos have decided to label themselves as “Permanently Closed”, allowing for the termination of thousands of employees without recourse or compensation. Among them are The Palms, Fiesta Henderson, Texas Station and Rampart casinos (read more here).

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So….it’s a mixed bag at this point. One victory. one stalemate…and plenty of casualties. But everything remains in flux, with major announcements arriving in my email nearly daily. As hotels ramp up their reopening plans, it is in your best interest as a customer to investigate the best deals, best prices and best overall plan before you decide to return to Sin City. Good luck and have fun…..we’re (kind of) back!

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Click HERE to read this article’s companion piece: “Is Sin City Determined to Drive You Away?”

Photos: Sam Novak, Bobby Watson, Kevin Janison, Marianne LeMoine Phoenix, Greg C., Bill Chenowith, Vin A., Andrew Hill. Special thanks to Richard Lindblom.

Banner photo: ABC News