Ozon3 – Local Service Battles Airborne Contaminants The Natural Way

 


In the era of COVID-19, a burgeoning Vegas company promises “You won’t have to be afraid of what you can’t see. We have eliminated it”.

All of us are hearing about “the new normal”…a post-pandemic reality where our behaviors, sensibilities, and concerns will have to be re-established. More than anything else, we’re concerned about sanitary procedures and the transmission of contaminants, both airborne and on objects and surfaces.

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My forward-thinking friend, businessman Mel Cole, founded a new company just as the pandemic was sweeping our country, and his timing couldn’t have been better. Ozon3 eliminates your worries by completely destroying the threat, whether it’s from smoking (cigarettes, cigars, marijuana), pet odors, mold, allergens, volatile organic compounds, all viruses (including seasonal flu), and even the dreaded COVID-19.

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You may have read my articles here and here about the various measures being taken by Sin City resorts to help keep our guests COVID-free. Their protocols include the use of UV light, low-pressure fogging systems, and the application of disinfectants. Ozon3 is a different approach, one that guarantees 100 percent coverage of every area, even into the air ducts. And there’s no residue or damaging effects to surfaces or objects.

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As you’ve probably surmised, ozone is the magic ingredient at Ozon3. You may remember from science class that ozone’s chemical formula is ’03’, which represents “trioxygen”. The distinctive odor of ozone is present whenever lightning strikes, and its rapid degradation allows it to become pure oxygen very quickly.

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When introduced into an area, ozone gas causes rapid oxidation of contaminants, which makes it incredibly useful in a variety of industries:

  • Disinfecting air and laundry in hospitals, office, and hotels
  • Disinfecting water instead of with chlorine
  • Deodorizing air and objects, such as after a fire
  • Killing bacteria on food or on contact surfaces
  • Controlling legionella (Legionnaire’s disease)
  • Sanitizing swimming pools and spas
  • Scrubbing yeast and mold spores from the air
  • Chemically attacking contaminants and eradicating water-borne parasites

Mel told me that the process is very simple and completely effective. Once pets and people are removed, his certified professional team enters, outfitted in protective gear. Then they use trusted, highly-rated equipment that converts oxygen into concentrated ozone. Within an hour, the area is “surgically sterile” and can be reoccupied soon after.

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Since its launch this spring, Ozon3 has been used extensively in lounges, bars, medical and retail offices, apartment complexes, and private homes. Some of their most satisfied customers are those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and want to have the virus completely eradicated from their living spaces. If that doesn’t give you peace of mind about your own home’s cleanliness, I doubt that anything will.

Airborne diseases are caused by pathogenic microbes small enough to be discharged from an infected person via coughing, sneezing, laughing, and close personal contact or aerosolization of the microbe. The discharged microbes remain suspended in the air on dust particles, respiratory and water droplets.

Our Ozon3 treatments are powerful enough to deodorize and sterilize your space from any odors, mold, bacteria, viruses, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). With today’s pathogens, it is highly recommended to eliminate threatening pathogens in large rooms, offices, hotels, restaurants, labs, pet zones, basements, garages, hospitals, schools, water and fire damaged areas, and more!

Ozon3 is offering a special price for readers of Vegas Unfiltered. Mention this article to get a rate of $165 per 1,000 square feet of space.

You should know that I am not receiving any financial compensation for this endorsement. I respect this business and its founder, therefore I recommend it as a service to my readers. 

Ozon3 is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 7pm. Call 702.906.0320 for more information or to schedule an appointment. You can also visit their official Facebook page or website

Photos: Sam Novak, Ozon3

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Steve Sisolak

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

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.

Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier

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

 

 

MGM Resorts Releases Re-opening Plans


Sin City’s biggest player announces steps to welcome back guests…

Can you smell that in the air? It’s still pretty faint, but very distinct. It’s the fragrance of hope, something that Las Vegas desperately needs. The aromas of bleach, peroxide, and other disinfectants are coming to your hotel-casino, and you’d better get used to them if you want to stay and play.

It’s hard to believe, but today marks the third consecutive day that I can publish good news. On Sunday I told you about Westgate CARES, a nationwide protocol in which the Orlando-based resort company shared their research and programs freely with the hospitality industry. Then yesterday came news of the reopening of Esther’s Kitchen, spearheading a wave of similar announcements.

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Vegas Unfiltered Blog reader “Dolores” had a question about Sunday’s piece, for which I had no answer. But today I offer a converse response regarding MGM Resorts‘ measures to address sanitation and operational procedure changes. Here it is as presented courtesy of Jenn Smulo of Kirvin Doak, the Vegas-based public relations firm that represents MGM Resorts, Westgate Las Vegas, Cirque du Soleil, and several charities in the valley.

(May 12, 2020) – MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) today released a report outlining the comprehensive health and safety protocols the company is implementing prior to re-opening its domestic properties and resorts which were temporarily closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report details MGM Resorts’ “Seven-Point Safety Plan” – a multi-layered set of protocols and procedures designed in conjunction with medical and scientific experts to deter the spread of the virus, protect customers and employees and rapidly respond to potential new cases. The full report can be found HERE.

“Preparing for the moment we can re-open our doors, MGM Resorts focused on developing a plan that puts health and safety at the center of everything we do. Our ‘Seven-Point Safety Plan’ is the result of months of consultations with public health experts and outlines our comprehensive approach to welcoming guests back safely,” said MGM Resorts Acting CEO and President Bill Hornbuckle. “Our properties will not look the way they used to for a while, and that’s not only okay, it’s critically important. We will continue providing the hospitality experiences we are known for, but we must do so safely. We will continue working with experts and following guidance from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and government officials and regulators as we evolve these protocols based on the latest information.”

EXPERT GUIDANCE

MGM Resorts Lead Health and Safety Advisor: Dr. Shannon Magari, Vice President of Health Sciences for Colden Corporation 

MGM Resorts is working with Dr. Shannon Magari, ScD, MPH, MS as its lead health and safety advisor for this process. Dr. Magari is the Vice President of Health Sciences for Colden Corporation, an occupational health, safety and environmental firm. Dr. Magari obtained her Master of Science from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College and received her doctoral training and served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health – specializing in Occupational Epidemiology. 

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OVERVIEW: MGM RESORTS’ SEVEN-POINT SAFETY PLAN

The full report, including detailed protocols, procedures and operational enhancements can be found HERE.

These protocols and procedures focus on balancing the customer service guests have come to expect from MGM Resorts with the urgent need to apply knowledge about COVID-19 and adapt environments accordingly. This plan is being implemented at MGM Resorts’ properties throughout the United States, with additions and changes being made based on local jurisdictions.

MGM Resorts’ Seven-Point Safety Plan is as follows:

  1. Screening, Temperature Checks and Employee TrainingMGM Resorts has implemented employee-screening measures to assess signs and symptoms of infection and whether the employee resides or cares for someone who has recently been diagnosed with the virus. Employees are currently and will continue to go through temperature checks before entering properties.

Guests will be asked to abide by a similar self-screening protocol prior to arriving and during their stay. Guests who have reason to believe they may have been exposed to the virus are strongly urged to follow CDC guidelines for self-quarantine and not travel. We will look forward to welcoming those guests once the self-quarantine period is complete.

  1. Mandatory Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)All MGM Resorts employees will be provided and required to wear an approved mask when on our properties. We will also strongly encourage guests to wear masks in public areas and offer masks to any guests who need one, free of charge. Gloves will continue to be worn by employees who require them to do their jobs, such as food handlers and employees who clean public areas. Additional categories of employees required to wear PPE will be identified by medical experts.
    • Drink service: We will ask guests to minimize the amount of time masks are removed when drinking on the casino floor.
    • Eating: We will ask guests to refrain from eating on the casino floor to minimize the amount of time masks are removed.
  1. Physical Distancing: Six-foot physical distancing policy will be in place, wherever feasible, with floor guides serving as reminders throughout MGM Resorts properties. From time-to-time, six-foot distancing will be challenging – and in those cases, reasonable mitigating protocols will be implemented, such as plexiglass barriers or eye protection for employees. Plexiglass barriers will be installed in areas throughout casinos and lobbies, where appropriate, for the safety of guests and employees. Signage will be installed throughout properties to guide employees and guests on how to safely practice physical distancing.
  1. Handwashing and Enhanced Sanitization: Prior to property closures in March, MGM Resorts implemented increased and enhanced routine cleaning, based on CDC guidelines, with a focus on high-touch surfaces in common areas. We will continue using proven cleaning products in accordance with EPA guidelines for coronaviruses, bacteria and other infectious pathogens. Electrostatic sprayers will be used in many large areas to allow us to apply disinfectant more efficiently.

In addition, custom-built handwashing stations with soap and water, along with hand-sanitizing stations, will be readily available in high-traffic areas and with a visible presence. Signage will be installed to guide and remind employees and guests of the importance of proper handwashing protocols.

  1. Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Controls and Air Quality: MGM Resorts has always placed a high priority on air quality for our guests and has reviewed the operation of HVAC systems to identify additional opportunities to enhance their effectiveness. Rigorous measures in accordance with established guidelines to help mitigate the risk of virus transmission have been taken throughout our properties.

As scientific information becomes available about the virus, and as additional guidance from state and local authorities and our medical experts evolve, we will continue to review and adjust the operation of our HVAC systems, fully recognizing the important role they have in keeping employees and guests healthy and safe.

  1. Incident Response Protocols: MGM Resorts has protocols in place aimed at reducing the chance infection will spread. In the unfortunate event a guest or employee tests positive for the virus, we will activate incident response protocols to ensure the infected individual has access to medical treatment, exposed areas are thoroughly sanitized and, when possible, notify those who may have come in close, prolonged contact with the infected individual. MGM Resorts has medical and security personnel on staff to respond quickly in the event of an incident.
  1. Digital Innovations: MGM Resorts is reimagining several aspects of the guest experience through technology to transition current processes into contactless options for guests that eliminates or reduces the need for waiting in line.
    • Contactless Check-In: Guests will have the ability to complete the check-in process entirely themselves through the MGM Resorts mobile app. This includes the ability to process payment, verify identification and obtain a digital room key, all through a mobile device. If preferred, physical keys will be available through self-serve key encoders. Employees will be available for guests who prefer check-in without using their mobile device, while still maintaining a line-reduced environment.
    • Food & Beverage: Digital menus will be available to view on personal mobile devices via QR code. Virtual queues will be in place for guests when immediate seating is unavailable. Guests will receive a text message notification when their table is ready.

 

Do you know of any positive actions being taken by Vegas-centric corporations related to the pandemic shutdown? Feel free to tell us about it in the “COMMENTS” section or drop me an email – Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog. Be safe. Be smart. Be strong – Sam Novak

Photos: MGM Resorts

MGM Resorts, Westgate Announce Measures To Protect The Community


or “When Big Corporations Do Positive Things”

I’m not going to pretend that it’s been easy to continue this blog since the pandemic struck. Things are pretty bleak out there, and a never-ending flow of bad news tends to take its toll. Combine that with the fact that my freelance work has dried up….in other words “no income or unemployment”…and a positive outlook has been tough to maintain. But like so many in this position, I soldier forward with the hope that better days are ahead.

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As I was about to post my most recent piece (Station Casino closures and Miracle Mile Shops landlord demands), it was a pleasure to find upbeat news in my in-box. So I hit “publish” on that dour article and sailed straight into this one. I hope you can appreciate a little good news as much as I did.

First up is a surprise from MGM Resorts in the form of a letter to its associates:

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In contrast to the devastating termination letter that was sent out to thousands of Station Casino associates, this one offers a shred of long-term hope. MGM Resorts promises to provide health care coverage to furloughed employees through the end of August. In addition, the company is issuing grants to cover their living expenses by way of an $13 million Employee Emergency Grant Fund.

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The notification is optimistic yet filled with realistic limitations and apparently a great deal of transparency. Given the notorious and massive profit-driven layoffs this company has instituted in the past few years (including four hotel presidents) and more on the way, it’s nice to know that MGM Resorts is finally having a heart for their employees. What a shocker.

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                                                                                                                               Photo: CNBC

While MGM Resorts is usually at the front of the line when it comes to games of “Follow The Vegas Leader”, it was Wynn/Encore that apparently set this precedent. As Baily Schulz of Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on March 17th:

Wynn Resorts Ltd. has guaranteed all Wynn and Encore employees payroll coverage for the next 30 days. The company’s two Las Vegas properties are set to start a two-week shutdown at 6 p.m. Tuesday, and its Massachusetts property was ordered to close by Sunday afternoon.

Wynn had previously stated that all full-time Las Vegas employees would continue to be paid during the shutdown. But a letter sent to employees Tuesday from CEO Matt Maddox shows that coverage has been expanded to include all current employees. The letter, obtained by the Review-Journal, was addressed to employees at Wynn Las Vegas, Encore Boston Harbor and Wynn Design and Development.

Tipped employees will receive an average tip compliance rate, or “distributed tips/tokes since the beginning of the year,” according to the memo.

“I need you to focus and work on a singular task: stay home and keep your family healthy and safe,” Maddox said in the letter. “In the coming days, our Company will be paying all Wynn and Encore employees to do the work of staying home and eliminating all non-essential external social contact for you and your family. I know it will not be easy to do, which is why we will pay you to do so.”

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Las Vegas Sands (Venetian/Palazzo) put forth similar measures and they’ve continued to pay associates, at least for now. From USATODAY.COM on 4/23/20:

Casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson is extending COVID-19 shutdown pay for Las Vegas Sands employees until at least May 17, according to a letter obtained by the Reno Gazette Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.

“This pandemic is unlike anything I have seen in my business career,” Adelson wrote in the April 23 letter. “That said, we will get through it. … Until that time arrives, this company is firmly focused on the health and safety of our Team Members and supporting each of our host communities in Macao, Singapore and Las Vegas.”

While it remains unclear when the Strip will be able to re-open, Las Vegas Sands, which owns The Venetian, will continue to pay 9,300 employees through the shutdown.

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We are always incredibly grateful for healthcare workers, but especially during this time. Our resort is lit blue to honor all of the essential workers currently out there working hard to serve their communities. – Westgate Las Vegas

Westgate Resorts, which owns and operates two Las Vegas properties, has been another contributor to the “good news” department. Unlike the big three, Westgate is a very “human” company that puts their faces, personalities, strengths, and flaws out there for everyone to see. When they have problems, they strive harder. When things succeed, they share their triumphs with all who contributed.

         A personal message from President/General Manager Cami Christensen

My history with Westgate reaches back several years. Things started awkwardly when they were still a new name in town. A less-than-ideal stay turned into an open dialog of “We didn’t live up to your expectations. Can you give us a second chance?”. Since then, the historic casino/hotel on Paradise Road has become my home away from home. And their team feels very much like a family…all because they reached out and committed to striving harder.

When the pandemic situation was just starting to take hold, Westgate proactively began ramping up their sanitation procedures. They then took the bold step of shutting down some of their locations on the east coast, even before it was mandated.

Since our highest priority has always been the health and safety of our owners, guests and team members, we moved quickly to do everything possible to help flatten the curve. Before COVID-19 even reached any of the destinations where we operate, we implemented a detailed action plan to boost community safety, based on the recommendations and directives from the CDC, as well as federal, state and local health agencies.

We immediately enhanced our sanitization protocols at all our resorts, including daily deep cleaning of all public areas and back of house team member touch points. We greatly increased the number of hand-sanitizing stations at touch points for our guests and team members. We even made the difficult decision to proactively close resorts through the end of May out of an abundance of caution.

David Siegel
Founder, CEO & President

Now Westgate is extending its reach beyond resort guests and employees…to their counterparts in the hospitality industry. Westgate CARES is a new program spurred by the pandemic crisis. The initiative consists of protocols created to protect guests and associates from COVID-19…and of course, any other contaminants of concern.

In an open letter, Chief Operating Officer Mark Waltrip laid out the program, which will enable their resorts to operate smoothly and safely.

On behalf of the entire Westgate Family of Resorts & Team Members, we want you to know that when you are ready to celebrate life again, we are fully prepared to provide you a safe and enjoyable experience. From the very beginning of this crisis, we organized a dedicated team of professionals to rapidly develop and implement comprehensive procedures to protect our resort guests and Team Members.

These include advanced cleaning procedures, strict personal hygiene protocols and a long list of operating procedures necessary to mitigate the risk of this virus as much as possible. Every decision we made was based on one simple premise: do whatever it takes to protect our Team Members, guests and our local community, regardless of the impact to our business. – Mark Waltrip, COO

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The Westgate CARES initiative goes into a great amount of detail, broken down into categories. Common spaces, guest rooms, restrooms, pool/spa areas, offices, shuttle buses, and administrative areas are all addressed. Methods of disinfection are elaborated on, including the use of safe ultra-low-volume disinfectant foggers and sanitizing solutions.

Changes to common operations such as check-in/check-out, housekeeping, vendor screening, repairs/maintenance, laundry, bell service/bag storage, child play areas, and food/beverage service are all spelled out within individual documents. Every procedure is posted in its entirety and can be examined/downloaded by clicking here.

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All major resorts have been ramping up their safety protocols in recent weeks, so why am I focusing on Westgate? Simply because the company has freely shared its investment and research with every colleague, counterpart and competitor in the hospitality industry. It’s a move that’s indicative of their many programs that honor patrons and the public in general.

While Westgate is fortunate to have the resources to navigate this challenge, we also recognize that our local communities are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain. There are thousands of small businesses in our community who may not have the know-how and resources to put together a plan that helps them successfully and safely operate their business as the country emerges from this pandemic.

Therefore, in the spirit of helping our communities, we are sharing in its entirety, all of our plans, procedures, and protocols that outline exactly how we intend to keep our Team Members, guests and communities safe, including the procedures for our resorts, hotels, restaurants, spas, fitness centers, water parks, call centers, and offices.

These documents…represent hundreds of man-hours of research and intellectual capital from some of the hospitality industry’s most skilled leaders, and we hope that local businesses find them a helpful resource. – Mark Waltrip, COO

It’s also worth noting that the primary Vegas location on Paradise Road is one of twenty-nine destinations in the Westgate family, yet their only one with a casino. When the resort reopens on June 18th, it will follow Westgate CARES protocols in addition to stringent casino-specific guidelines as mandated by Nevada Gaming Control Board. You can learn more about those requirements by heading here.

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In last week’s column, I described devastating corporate decisions during this crisis that will define their role in Sin City’s future. MGM‘s choice to extend employee benefits won’t undo the heartache they’ve unleashed in recent years, but it’s a start.

As for Westgate, offering their COVID-19 program for free exemplifies the company’s history of goodwill. You’re free to spend your discretionary income wherever you choose, but I know who’ll be getting my money going forward.

As a valued guest in the Westgate Resorts family, I want to thank you for your patience, understanding and loyalty during this difficult time. We look forward to the day that all our communities can return to good health, and we can welcome you back home to a refreshed Westgate Resorts that’s even better than before. – David Siegel, Founder, CEO & President

Do you know of any positive actions being taken by Vegas-centric corporations related to the pandemic shutdown? Feel free to tell us about it in the “COMMENTS” section or drop me an email – Sam@VegasUnfiltered.blog. Be safe. Be smart. Be strong – Sam Novak