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.

 

 

 

 

 

A Change Of Pace: When East Meets ‘Westgate’


Leaving Las Vegas to experience Florida resorts in the era of social distancing…

Being a combination blogger/freelance writer, one of my responsibilities is to peruse social media and news to stay current on the subjects I write about. Weary from the dearth of heavy-handed COVID-19 news and gossip, I’ve turned towards LinkedIn, a business and employment website that’s recently surged in popularity.

There I learned about Orlando-based Westgate Resorts’ vacation packages that offer fun, sun, relaxation, and adventure with a socially-distant spin. The company has over two dozen destinations (listed here), everywhere from Park City, UT to Branson, MO, and Myrtle Beach, SC. Westgate’s plan for addressing COVID-19 concerns intrigued me, especially since a long-planned visit to the area was coming up soon.

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The article, published by Red Tricycle (a family-oriented travel site), selected Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa in Orlando as an ideal place to ease back into vacationing, all while observing the parameters of our “new normal”. Encouraged by the possibilities, I reached out to the Westgate Resorts team and made arrangements to visit a few of their properties.

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Hopefully, you’ve seen my articles on measures being taken by Vegas resorts to make their reopenings a safer experience. I’ve also shared info on one of the first Vegas restaurants to welcome guests back into its dining room. Now that things are underway here, it’s time to shake off that desert sand and head back to my former digs in central Florida.

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The fact that I’ve already covered the Westgate CARES safety initiative in this article about what the future will look like for cleaner hotels, makes it a no-brainer to choose Westage Resorts for my first post-COVID excursion out of Sin City. If you’re even slightly pondering a trip this summer, it would be worth your while to read it, or at least check out the cheat sheet above.

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Also, you might fairly question the wisdom of taking a trans-continental journey so soon. But keep in mind that this flight has been on the books for quite some time. Also, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t support the efforts being taken by major airlines (I’ll be taking Southwest Airlines), restaurants, and resorts to implement sanitation and social-distancing protocols. Plus, my brain, like yours, is fried from being locked up for two months. So let’s have some well-deserved fun, shall we?

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Arriving in Orlando, I’ll be settling into a home base at Westgate Lakes Resort. Close to major attractions, this family vacation spot offers Serenity Spa, the world-class day retreat whose outstanding Vegas location I’ve reviewed here and here.

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From there, I’ll be taking a day trip to the myriad of restaurants, sights, and surf activities at Cocoa Beach Pier. Just down the street is Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort, a luxury hotel with spacious suites and a private waterpark dedicated to hotel guests.

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Later that week is Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo, located an hour south of Orlando in Polk County. There I’ll get a taste of fishing, horseback riding, zipline, and a petting zoo. I’ll also discover why “glamping” (glamorous camping) is the latest rage. The final stop on my itinerary is Westgate Vacation Villas in Kissimmee. This particular destination near Walt Disney World boasts Shipwreck Island, a full-fledged water park with slides, a lazy river, and even a large-scale “pirate ship”.

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When I return, VegasUnfilteredBlog will have in-depth coverage of my east coast adventures. In the meantime, be sure to visit the blog’s official Facebook page for the latest in Sin City events, and of course….updates on exciting reopening events in post-pandemic Las Vegas.

Photos: Westgate Resorts

 

 

Dave Mancuso and the Art of the Perfect Shave


A Master Barber guides us through a classy and classic experience for men…

You may have noticed that this writer has been on a journey of self-improvement…and I’ve taken you along on the adventure. Together we’ve experienced a men’s spa day at Westgate Serenity Spa. Then we shot over to Cosmopolitan for a visit to STITCHED Haberdashery, followed by a series of sessions at Therma Slim Med-Spa. It was only a matter of time before our next must-do experience would be an expert straight-razor shave.

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There’s no question that when you look your best, you feel great too. And it doesn’t matter what brought you to Las Vegas. Even if you’re here just to sight-see or to attend a special event, those photos and memories are going to last a lifetime. Why not indulge in something that will relax, pamper and improve your looks all at the same time? You’ll get all that and more when you schedule a Premium Shave Experience at The Art of Shaving,

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The Art of Shaving at The Shoppes at Mandalay Place is much more than the usual retail outlets you’ve seen. It’s one of about fifty locations that also features a full-service Barber Spa. The AOS Barber Spas offer precision haircuts, beard trims, scalp treatments, express facials and Premium Packages. But as the name would suggest, The Art of Shaving Barber Spa is home to the world’s best straight-razor shave.

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Dave Mancuso has been with The Art of Shaving since coming to Las Vegas eleven years ago. His first nine years were spent at The Palazzo before transferring to Mandalay Place. It’s at their Barber Spas that Mr. Mancuso can fully utilize the skills he’s developed through thirty-nine years as a Master Barber.

The expertise and elevated level of service from a licensed Master Barber gives this Youngstown, Ohio native a distinct edge over traditional barbers. Dave keeps his license and craft up to date by attending regular Continuing Education courses. The fact that Dave’s also a licensed Cosmetologist ensures that your face and skin will be in the best possible care.

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A visit to The Art of Shaving is often a rite of passage. Men bring their sons here for their first professional shave. It’s also a popular must-do for Vegas visitors when arriving in the city. Just like ladies look forward to the many Vegas spas, men often make it their tradition to receive a straight razor shave when they come to town. And of course, many locals make this part of their regular grooming regimen. “We love our locals” says Dave.

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Walk-in visits are usually available, but it’s easy to schedule an appointment. The meticulously-presented retail area leads to a welcoming counter where you’ll be escorted to the Barber Spa. That short walk from the entrance will take you back decades in time, when the Barber Shop was a masculine cultural experience. The spinning barber poles and classic leather chairs set a wonderful mood for what’s to follow.

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Dave guided me through the entire process beforehand, describing every step in their famous Premium Shave. First comes the cleansing process, followed by hot moist towels to soften the beard and open pores. They’re infused with fragrant essential oils…and incredibly relaxing.

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It was at this part of the process that I started to go into a zone of deep relation. “Many of our guests fall asleep ” Dave told me. “Don’t fight it. I’ll wake you up in forty-five minutes or so” he joked. Fair enough….so I’ll let Dave take it from here in his own words.

I start with a warm steam towel, apply Peppermint Face Wash and cleanse the face using the Art of Shaving Power Brush. Next Peppermint Face Exfoliant is applied, massaged into the skin and removed. Pre-shave oil is applied and then a warm lather on top of the oil.

The Royal Shave is performed using a straight razor with a disposable blade (which is required by law so there is never any cross-contamination). I shave with the grain in which the hair grows, re-lather and shave against the grain. Another warm towel is applied to open the pores.

Rosewater Eye Pads are placed on the eyes and a Rose Clay Mask is applied to soothe and moisturize the skin. The mask is removed and then I give a face and neck massage using AOS After-shave Balm. I mist the face with rosewater and finish with a cold towel to close the pores…and more often than not to wake the guest up.

 

After that refreshing towel brought me back to my senses, it was time absorb the experience…and enjoy the feel and appearance of my smooth, immaculate face. Dave then took me into the retail and demonstrated some of the products that have made The Art of Shaving such a gold standard for men’s grooming.

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The New York City-based company was formed in 1996 by husband and wife Eric Malka and Myriam Zaoui. The two combined their skills to create the ultimate shaving products from natural and aromatic ingredients like those found in the kitchen. They published a book about their research, discoveries and a valuable guide to the ultimate shave in 2002. The company was acquired by Proctor and Gamble in 2009, so now the stores also feature Gillette razors and blades.

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While their high-end product line has been expanded to include all manners of body wash, beard care, grooming and fragrances, the core of their business is what they call 4 Elements of a Perfect Shave. These basics start with their pre-shave oil, a highly concentrated shave cream, a natural-bristle shaving brush and an after-shave balm. I picked up the 4 Elements set and was eager to try them in my own shower.

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“You only need to use a very small amount of our items to get the best results” Dave cautioned me. “One jar of our shave cream, for instance, will last for over eight months. In the rare event that someone is unhappy, it’s more than likely because they’re using too much. Once they use less, they’ll fall in love”.

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I left The Art of Shaving feeling like a million dollars and ready to enjoy a Saturday night on the town. Dave’s departing words were echoed a few days later after I’d given my Art of Shaving products a whirl at home. I wrote to express my appreciation…and my pleasure with the 4 Elements Gift Set. “I love my face again!”, I told him.

Mancuso’s response was priceless: “That is almost always the reaction we hear once someone plays with our products themselves. It will even get better with continued use. ENJOY!!!”

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The Art of Shaving/Barber Spa of Mandalay Bay is open daily from 9 am to 9 pm. It is located at Shoppes at Mandalay Place, 3930 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Call 702-632-9356 to make an appointment with Dave Mancuso. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring Your Summer Sexiness to THE PLAYGROUND


New adults-only day club advances the Westgate evolution and invites you to be a kid again…

Earlier this year I introduced you to Eddie Perales, the famed master mixologist who bubbles with as much excitement as his creations. Known to the world as a Guinness record-holder and creator of outlandish displays of liquid madness, Perales promised me that he would have more in store for the summer season at Westgate. After my most recent visit, I can say that he was true to his word…and then some.

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While other Vegas resort pools are just getting started, Westgate has been in the game since March. The sleek, sunny deck was opened two months ago with a heated pool, bright luxurious loungers, dazzling cabanas, attractive model-servers and a fresh, inviting color scheme.

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Over on the south end of the sprawling deck, The Playground day club has been launched. This area’s designed for revelers twenty-one and over. Says Eddie “Our pool deck is a hidden gem. Families can share in the fun and excitement every day, but for the grown-ups, it’s The Playground“.

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The Playground invites partiers to toss their inhibitions out the window and act like a kid again. The 21-and-over space has daily DJ’s starting at 1pm. There are games like cornhole, chess and jenga and plenty of space to stretch out in VIP Cabanas. Drink specials, discounts for WOW Reward Card members and themed days should have fun-lovers coming back all summer.

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“Our ultimate goal here was to create something for everybody. The pool was like a blank canvas to me. It’s an great space and part of an iconic resort. I mean…just look at that view! We’re doing things in a different way here at Westgate” he added “and how we’re doing it is the key”.

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Eddie’s unique background in the world of beverage service gives him a distinctive edge that few in the city can boast about. “I’ve worked on the supplier side as well as being a mixologist, so I understand all aspects of this business. I’ve been able to identify liquor partners that other resorts blindly miss. We highlight them to make unique drinks that you won’t be able to find elsewhere”.

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For instance, Eddie is big on Santoyo Grand Leyenda Organic Tequila. The premium tequila is derived from agave grown on Mexican lands that must be virgin for at least four years. Tequila Tuesdays feature the product and WOW Reward Card members get happy hour prices all day. “You may remember that I was once a Tequila Ambassador. I know my tequilas, and this one is terrific”.

Another hot-ticket new partnership is with the legendary Dole Whip. That frozen pineapple soft-serve from Oahu’s Dole Plantation was once an exclusive to guests of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Now, along with The Golden Tiki and Cowabunga Bay Water Park, Westgate is one of the few places in the continental U.S. to offer the refreshing treat.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

As you’ve probably guessed, Perales created a special cocktail using Dole Whip and Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum. Topped with a slice of fresh pineapple and an orchid, the Dole Whip Cocktail ($13) comes with both a spoon and a sipping straw.

The Playground‘s Signature Cocktail Menu has thirteen varieties, each running thirteen dollars. Eddie points out that any of them can be ordered as a pitcher for $27, which equals four servings for roughly the price of two. “Our prices are way cheaper than what you’ll find on the Strip”.

Perales has a signature style of combining fresh fruits, bright colors and unusual combinations for the brightest, funnest cocktails imaginable. One look above will show you what I mean…a bright array of tempting and luscious indulgences that will have you feeling happier with each sun-drenched sip.

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Perales and I met early one morning at The Playground before the crowd started kicking up. After sampling all thirteen concoctions with names like Strawberry Blonde (Ketel One, lemonade, Mike’s Hard Strawberry Lemonade), Bigger in Texas (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, lime, Baritt’s Ginger Beer), Passion Fruit Smash and Bananarama, I had to choose one to relax and chat over.

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               Eddie whipped me up a special size of Fireball Mojito…in a bucket!

Eddie watched closely as I stood up…and reached for the Fireball Mojito (Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, lime, mint and club soda). “Really?” he exclaimed. “It’s my favorite, too. People said that you can’t do something like that. So of course I had to try it”. And yes, it was a fabulous contrast of flavors that had me back for an industrial-sized serving the next day.

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Along with The Playground‘s new specialties, there are also familiar frozen drinks, beer, wine, and what Eddie calls “The least expensive bottle service in Las Vegas. It starts off at $65 for Hug L’originale Sparkling Wine (a European import that’s being called the hottest brand for summer 2018). Nobody else offers bottle service at that kind of price”.

Next to The Playground, Cabana Pool Bar and Grill offers a wide variety of snacks and meals. Choose from pizzas, beef and turkey burgers, sandwiches, wraps and healthier fare like California Rolls and Chef Bruno Morabito‘s famous Mojito Fruit Bowl from Sid’s Cafe. Of course, all of these items and more can be brought directly to your chair or cabana by the poolside servers. Check out the online menu here.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Also ready for roll-out are cabana-side cocktail carts. “I was inspired by the table-side guacamole carts at Mexican restaurants. Why not do that for cocktails? We can fill them with colorful fresh fruits and make drinks right at your own space”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Sounds like a great idea to me…why bother to leave your lounger when you can be pampered like a celebrity? And the sight will surely attract new friends to your space. Eddie’s presentation certainly was a hit with these Vegas newbies who came over to hang out with me.

And speaking of pampering, adjacent Serenity Spa has joined The Playground to formulate a collection of Summer Spa Cocktail Body Treatments. Based on your favorite Playground Signature Cocktail, these pedicures and body scrubs include a serving of the actual cocktail, too.

Fox-5 KVVU-TV recently ran this segment on the Playground/Serenity Spa mash-up:

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And here’s a terrific video of Eddie and the team in full “party mode” –

With the summer pool season just gearing up, now’s the perfect time to discover The Playground. You can party like a rock star without breaking the bank. And you might make a few sexy new friends before pool season is over. I know I will…wink wink.

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The Playground launches daily at 1 pm during the summer season at Westgate Las Vegas Casino Resort, 3000 Paradise Road.

Photos: Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

Spa Days Are For Guys, Too


Yours truly indulges in a manly head-to-toe experience at Westgate’s Serenity Spa…

There’s an outmoded perception that spa treatments are something that only women are likely to enjoy. But those in the know realize that occasionally pampering our overworked bodies allows them to recuperate, regenerate and regroup for what lies ahead.

Men are most likely to use the fitness center and steam room/massage at a resort’s spa…but why stop there? Your skin, hands and feet take as much abuse as your muscles. They’ll also benefit from a bit of professional attention. And who knows…perhaps you’ll get other kinds of welcome attention in return.

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As a guest of Westgate Resort, I was invited for a courtesy MVP for the Day package at Serenity Spa. The three-hour session included an aromatherapy elixir massage, Versailles rejuvenating facial and a spa pedicure. The retail cost for this package varies by weekday/weekend rates, but if you’re a regular visitor to my official Facebook Page you’ve seen the Groupon specials I post there (why not head over and click “Like”?).

If you’re new to the atmosphere and procedures of a spa, then read on. Being a former licensed massage therapist myself (hence the pen name “Sammasseur”), I know my way around these places and can help you to feel comfortable and prepared.

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You’ll want to make your appointment(s) in advance, much like visiting a medical office. The staff at any legitimate spa is a collection of highly-trained and licensed professionals. They need to keep to their schedules just like your doctor does. You can always call to check availability during moments of spontaneity, but it’s best to plan ahead. If you happen to arrive late, it’s standard procedure for your service to finish at the originally-scheduled time.

To acquaint yourself with a spa’s services, check their online menu to see what’s available. Then decide what fits your needs and budget. Services can be chosen a la carte or in a variety of specially-priced packages. It’s worth noting that most spas in Vegas have adjoining fitness centers, pools and steam room/sauna/hot tub areas. Your fees normally entitle you to use of these amenities, allowing you to make a full day of it if you so desire.

As spas exist to promote relaxation and balance, it’s best to ease into your visit. Ideally, you’ll want to arrive a half hour or more before your first scheduled service. Once you’ve checked in, an attendant will take you to your gender-appropriate area for a tour. They’ll provide you with a locker, sandals, robe and some bottled water.

Cell phones are strictly prohibited, so you’ll want to shut off your ringtone and store the phone with your other valuables and clothing. On your initial visit you’ll be asked to fill out an intake form with questions about health and special needs. You can look over a description of proper spa etiquette by visiting here.

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Before your appointment you may wish to shower, steam or slide into the hot tub to set that “Ahhhhhh” mindset into motion. Many spas are clothing-optional, but it’s best to bring a swim suit. You’ll want to make a trip to the restroom, too. Once prepared, head for the “relaxation room” until your attendant summons you for your services.

Relaxation rooms are generally equipped with plush chaise lounges, fruit-infused water, light snacks and fresh fruits. There may be magazines, a fireplace, candles and a TV with captions (no sound). Conversation should be quiet and kept to a minimum to foster the atmosphere of peacefulness.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

My three-part package began with the massage. Eric, my usual therapist, is the talented young man whom I mentioned in a past article. Whereas previous sessions had been performed with Himalayan salt stones and deep-tissue therapy, today’s was structured around aromatherapy.

I was presented with a choice of fragrances based on natural elements like fire and water. Each selection is designed to promote a certain type of therapy or wellness. I went for “metal” which offers detoxifying benefits….perfect for recovering from Vegas indulgences.

A first massage can be a little disconcerting for the uninitiated. You can ease that concern by watching internet videos of how pro massages are performed. Let the therapist know of any sore, sensitive or ticklish areas….or just places that you don’t like being touched (bottoms of feet are a common one).

You’ll be placed under a blanket on a warm table with only the treated areas being exposed as necessary. There’s no need to worry about modesty, but once again keep in mind that you’re in the company of a state-licensed professional. Trust the skills of your therapist and allow your body to relax freely. Take deep, regular breaths and provide feedback if something doesn’t feel comfortable (pressure, speed of massage strokes, etc.).

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At the midway point you’ll be asked to turn over. Some clients like to take a sip of water during this pause, which is another good time to confirm that all is going well. After you change from a prone position to supine (on your back), a soft cloth may be draped over your eyes to keep out the light. BTW, it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to fall asleep if you achieve a point of deep relaxation.

After the massage you’ll be escorted back to your respective spa area. You might wish to use the bathroom once again, and be sure to have more water….an essential ingredient in all bodywork applications. Then it’s back to the relaxation room to await your next service.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Step two for me was a facial. Once again, there are a variety to choose from based on your needs and skin type. There’s even a Gentleman’s Facial geared towards shave-weary faces. My slightly-aging (ahem) skin was eager to receive a rejuvenating treatment branded as Queen of Versailles. The line of products used for it are inspired by Jackie Siegel, wife of Westgate Resorts owner David Siegel.

Aside from short demonstrations at department-store counters and fitness expos, this writer had never received a full-service facial. They’re performed in a room that combines the tranquility of a massage studio with the clinical precision of a dentist’s office. My licensed esthetician, Kellee, invited me to get comfortable on a multi-position table before discussing my current skin concerns.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

After covering my eyes to block out light, she closely examined my pores and skin texture under intense light and a magnifier. Then she discussed options for blemishes and trouble spots that might require special attention. Next was a multi-step process that included steam, applications of various creams/cleaners, massage…and some high-tech equipment.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

Most of the facial was a relaxing and pleasant experience….some not. You see, trained estheticians perform “extractions” of blocked pores. This process can be little on the painful side…but so are most trips to the dentist. Fortunately it was followed with soothing gels and more massage to reduce redness and impart a healthy-looking glow. Improving your looks isn’t always wine and roses…but the end result was fantastic.

Speaking of wine, MVP Spa Package includes a glass of your choice. It was offered during my final hour, this time in the spa’s nail salon. Tori Lyn invited me to settle into a comfortable recliner with controllable heat and massage. Placing my feet in a glass bowl of swirling, heated water (and enhanced with LED lighting effects), I stretched out and allowed Tori Lyn to work her magic.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

Getting a professional pedicure was another first for this guy. As you might imagine, the procedure involved trimming and shaping of the nails, neatening of cuticles and more massage.

Serenity Spa Guy's Day

The part I most benefited from was buffing and removal of calluses and dead skin from the toes and heels. That might sound uncomfortable, but soaking in moving jets of water beforehand made the experience quite pleasant. Moisturizers and soothing oils were applied to my feet and nails as a final touch.

After three hours of continuous pampering, I rose from my recliner feeling like a new man. As stated previously, you’re free to stick around and enjoy other areas of the spa. You might even want to get a contemporary new cut and style from the hair salon (Westgate’s iBlowDry Salon is open daily from 9am to 8pm). For myself, this was the perfect time to head back to the suite for a nap.

If you’re next stop after the spa is something more formal, be assured that full showering and grooming facilities are at your disposal. They usually include razors, styling products, antiperspirants and dental hygiene accessories. Ask your attendant for anything that might be lacking. They’re sure to have it…even a plastic bag your your damp swimsuit.

It’s standard procedure in American spas for the proper gratuity to be added to your charges (20% is the current norm). This will be disbursed in appropriate amounts to those who provided your services. I tend to give a little extra cash to the locker attendants, but the choice to leave additional for anyone is yours.

After a “guy’s day” at the spa, you’ll be prepared for whatever the setting sun has in store. With a full package of treatments to make you look and feel your best, there’s no limit to what you’ll be able to achieve in Sin City.

Westgate Serenity Spa’s business hours are from 6am to 8pm daily. Special discounted package rates are available. For more information or to book a service, call 702.732.5648. Groupon is currently offering limited-time deals for up to 50% off. 

Photos: Sammasseur, Westgate Las Vegas, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Quora

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 In Review – Ranking The Resorts


There’s something for everyone when choosing a hotel. But not all of them deserve your business…

Best Luxury ResortPalazzo

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The Venetian‘s more contemporary sister property has what it takes to satisfy your luxury needs without overt attempts at “hipness” (Cosmopolitan) or coasting on a previously-established reputation (Bellagio).

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The Palazzo offers easy access from Las Vegas Boulevard, free parking, spacious rooms, flawless service, gorgeous common areas, lush pools and an airy, high-ceiling casino. Visitors can indulge in top-notch lounges (check out my write-up of the new Rosina Cocktail Lounge), restaurants, shops, the famous Canyon Ranch Spa and the Best Overall Show in Vegas (BAZ: A Musical Mash-up). You can learn more by visiting my full write-up here.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Palazzo is easily my choice for best five-star accommodations in Las Vegas.

Most Improved ResortWestgate Las Vegas

My relationship with Westgate (aka the former Las Vegas Hilton) began three years ago….and was rocky to say the least. An unflattering article I had penned for VegasChatter.com got a very professional response from a member of the team in charge of transforming the aging off-Strip giant into a newly-born destination.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

“Give us another chance. We’ve got great things happening here”. That was the message, in essence, of the Westgate Las Vegas representative. And he wasn’t just tossing some pretty words and glitter in my direction. Promises were kept…and I’ve been back many many times since.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

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The current state of Westgate is one of gloriously-restored elegance. Brass has been polished, gorgeous chandeliers have been restored, the marble flooring is immaculate and guest rooms are all modern and sleek.

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The property has recruited some of the finest chefs in the city to operate an admirable line-up of new restaurants (see my monthly series of profiles to learn more about the people behind the dishes). Then there’s the glorious new Serenity Spa, an extension of Westgate’s acclaimed facility in Park City, Utah (you can see my detailed experiences at Serenity Spa here).

Serenity Spa Westgate

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Every Westgate staffer from valet to reservations to the hostess at Sid’s Cafe will offer their name and ask you for yours. There’s a vibe throughout the casino that’s palpable and contagious. You’ll feel that your patronage and presence are appreciated…and you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

Chef Bruno Morabito Westgate

You can expect lots of new entertainment offerings to take up residence at Westgate this year (Barry Manilow is coming back!) and you can continue to enjoy free parking as a hotel/casino guest.

By the way…don’t be put off by the off-Strip location. A convenient monorail station at the FRONT of the hotel (not far in the rear like everywhere else) can get you from your room to center Strip in a matter of minutes.

Re-think your ideas of how a 2018 visit to Las Vegas should be. Give Westgate a try…and prepare to be wowed.

Steepest DeclineRio Las Vegas

Best Worst Vegas 2017

A short decade ago, the Rio was one of my favorite places to stay and play. There was a vibrance throughout the resort that made it worth the visit. These days, it’s just a sad red-and-blue stepchild of the Caesars family, mostly forgotten and seemingly just hanging on.

The restaurants are nothing to brag about, Masquerade Village is still a giant echo chamber, Kiss by Monster Mini Golf turned out to be a dud and the once-legendary Carnival World Buffet now operates on limited hours. At least there’s still the wonderful Chippendales and new WOW – World of Wonder to keep me stopping by for a few hours.

Miniature stages throughout the gaming floor used to light up regularly for songs and dances by “Bever-tainers”. Now those performance spaces sit empty and ignored (a current cocktail server told me that “most of them are broken and just don’t work anymore”). The stage and overhead tracks for once-popular Rio Show In The Sky also remain, dusty and forgotten.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

An unpleasant odor permeates certain areas of this hotel, uncomfortable reminders of the Legionnaire’s Disease incident that affected numerous visitors last year. Guest rooms and common areas are maintained with indifference. The conditions of the fitness facilities and spa areas have badly deteriorated as well.

There are better places to choose than Rio Las Vegas…and the ever-rising mandatory resort fee (currently $34.01 per day, up from $18.99 plus tax in 2016) does nothing to make me want to book there again. After a lackluster stay in mid-December resulted in my complaining via email and phone to the manager, I cancelled my next visit (which was scheduled for the very next week).

Staffers at Rio seem to be going through the motions of their chores across the board, much like the team at Sahara did in the years leading up to its closure. Which brings us to…

In The Throes of DeathSLS (the former Sahara)

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Driving towards the north Strip property once know as Sahara, you’d be hard-pressed to know exactly what the name is. The sign reads SLS at the bottom and a giant twinkling W at the top. Why, exactly? Because this is a property with an identity crisis…and no good reason for existing in its current state.

SLS Las Vegas answers a question that nobody in their right mind would ask: “What would happen if you whitewashed (literally and figuratively) a heavily themed historic property, filled it with Vegas-lite duplicates of Los Angeles dining/nightclub favorites, then tried to lure the L.A. millenials over the state line?”.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

The answer is “not much”. There’s no reason for the hip L.A. crowd to come to Vegas for inferior copies of what they already have. Nevertheless, the combined arrogance of Sam Nazarian and SBE led to betting heavily…and losing…on a proposition that was never going to work.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Best Worst Vegas 2017

All seven Fred Segal stores were shuttered, along with LIFE Nightclub and an excellent buffet that lasted all of three months. SLS promised to reopen the buffet in early 2015. I’m still waiting.

If only SBE has taken a cue from Westgate and honored the Sahara‘s legacy with a little updating instead of throwing it out the back door, they’d probably be sharing a different place on this list.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Someday, logical will prevail and SLS (which sold off a portion of the resort to the W hotel chain…that tower now operates as a separate entity) will be reborn once more as “The New Sahara”. Until that time, you can consider SLS to be as good as….

DeadLucky Dragon

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Here’s another resort with no good reason for existing. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing worthwhile to offer guests, the Lucky Dragon announced the closure of its casino and restaurants just yesterday.

This has got to be some kind of record. After only 13 months and one day of operations, a brand-new casino resort has shut down everything but the tiny little hotel. Employees have been sent packing only four days into the new year…a sad start for them and a bad omen for any hope of Resorts World actually making an impact on the north end of the Strip.

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It was clear after a highly-touted early opening that just a few months into the year, Lucky Dragon was anything but lucky. Restaurants Pearl Ocean and Dragon Alley were reworked along with the high-limit areas of the gaming floor. The excitement of a brand-new hotel casino had completely fizzled, and by the time I visited in late mid October, at least one restaurant was shuttered and the entire complex was virtually empty.

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As the financials are reworked and optimistic press releases tout a full reopening of Lucky Dragon, expect the northern face of the famous Las Vegas Strip to continue fighting some really persistent blemishes. And one big blue tumor.

Best Worst Vegas 2017

Abandoned Fontainebleau Resort                         

 

Photos: Greg C., Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Serenity At Westgate’s New Spa


Park City’s award-winning facility brings mountain-retreat comforts to Vegas…

There’s something uniquely American about the community of Park City, Utah. No matter the season, the mountain top ski-centric Park City offers crystal clean air, gorgeous vistas and a warm, eclectic culture.

Westgate Las Vegas (my favorite middle-tier resort) benefited from Park City’s dining offerings when it opened its own branch of Edge Steakhouse. That exceptional restaurant is always my response when friends/readers ask “Where should I go for that one special meal?”.

It was only a matter of time before the local Westgate Resort welcomed another Park City treasure to their Sin City line-up…and their spa is a great one at that. Serenity Spa of Park City has won dual awards from Best of State – Utah for the past five years, including 2017: “Best Spa in Park City” and “Best Destination Spa”.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

Bringing the reputation and quality of a popular mountain retreat to the Mojave Valley results in a natural pairing, even without the snow and ski lifts. The expansive and easily-accessible Serenity Las Vegas should be a popular go-to for anxious, tired visitors…especially in these troubled times.

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The impressive footprint of Serenity is located on the hotel’s third level, where a massive pool deck is also home to one of the best workout facilities of any Vegas hotel. In fact, the size of the gym area has nearly doubled since my last visit and it was already superior to most.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

The spa and fitness center share an entrance with iBlowDry hair salon. The welcoming lobby has a reception counter and waiting area along with various products displayed for sale. Notable is the new Queen of Versailles skin care and treatment line, launched in recognition of Jackie Siegel (Mrs. Florida Pageant winner and wife of Westgate Resorts owner David Siegel).

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

As is customary with stateside spas, there are separate areas for male and female guests with the treatment rooms in between. You’ll be provided with a robe, sandals and a digital locker prior to your treatment, along with a brief tour of the wet areas (saunas, steam rooms, soaking tubs) and relaxation spots. Juices, bottled water, cucumber slices and towel are offered, so be sure to indulge.

Following the tradition of most health spas, certain areas are clothing-optional, so cameras and phones are prohibited (their usage would also detract from the soothing atmosphere). Therefore, expect to leave your electronics and belongings in a secured locker at all times. You’ll note that this prevented me from taking pictures of those areas as well.

Services at the spa are grouped into four major categories: nail services (like a “lush manicure” or gel pedicure), facials (including a 50-minute “Gentleman’s”), body treatments for exfoliation and detoxification…and of course, a variety of individual and couples’ massages.

Serenity Spa Westgate

An entire list of services and prices can be seen by clicking here. For those who are new to the world of spas, a breakdown of procedures and etiquette is included at the bottom of the chart.

Keep in mind that these are luxury services performed by expertly-trained licensed professionals in a custom-designed environment. Therefore, the associated fees reflect that…but are well worth it for the pampering and lasting effects you’ll enjoy.

Serenity Spa Westgate

As an invited guest, I was scheduled for a 75-minute Himalayan Salt Stone Massage ($195). This therapeutic session combines precise relaxation strokes with the melting comforts of heated, hand-carved Himalayan salt stones. My therapist, Eric, was incredibly skilled with them, easing the tensions in my workout-stiff muscles and bringing my mind and body to an amazing level of calm.

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In case you’ve wondered, my pen name “Sammasseur” comes from the fact that I was a licensed massage therapist for many years. I performed hundreds of hours of massage at numerous resorts, hotels, a chiropractic office and in my own studio. So I feel pretty qualified in recognizing a skilled body-worker…and Eric was top-notch.

After your scheduled treatment, you will have access to all of the spa facilities for the remainder of the day. This fella chose to drink in the steam room vapors while reclining with chilled eucalyptus towels on my forehead and neck. Then it was back to the relaxation room for some fruit-infused water.

Serenity Spa Westgate

If you need to prepare for your next adventure or an evening out, fully-stocked showers are available, along with toiletries to shave, shine your choppers and style your hair. Or you can venture out to the pool deck for some fun, sun and refreshments….

Serenity Spa Westgate

On certain evenings, Westgate is one of several hosts to a relatively new activity –  Silent Savasana yoga classes. These large-scale sunset events provide participants with LED-lit headphones that bring creator/instructor Dray Gardner‘s voice intimately close as the sun’s rays diminish. Simultaneously, a custom-designed music playlist yields an enhanced feeling of focus, discipline and strength of mind.

Serenity Spa Westgate

Serenity Spa Westgate

I was invited to attend Silent Savasana but had another adventure planned for that evening. However, I did stop by briefly beforehand and witnessed dozens upon dozens of dedicated Silent Savasana fans pouring onto the pool deck.

Serenity Spa Westgate

If you’re intrigued, the next one at Westgate is scheduled for November 4th at 7pm. There is no entry fee and all ages are welcome.

Serenity Spa Westgate

With all of the tensions that the world throws at us on a regular basis, it’s wonderfully therapeutic to splurge and allow yourself to be pampered on vacation…or during a stay-cation. Serenity Spa at Westgate is a great new destination for your serene experience.

Serenity Spa’s business hours are from 6am to 8pm daily. Special discounted package rates are available each Monday, Thursday and Sunday which include gratuity and a glass of wine. For more information or to book a service, call 702.732.5648.

Photos: Sammasseur, Westgate Las Vegas, Silent Savasana, TripAdvisor