Worth The Wait: EDGE Steakhouse Returns to Westgate Las Vegas

The city’s top-rated steak restaurant is ready to sizzle once more…

If you’re a regular reader of this column, then chances are that you’ve visited Las Vegas more than once. Perhaps you have a favorite hotel and some must-do activities that accompany your list of new adventures. When you get to the point where staff members remember your name and preferences, then Sin City begins to feel a little bit like home.

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EDGE Steakhouse of Westgate Las Vegas understands how rare it is these days to feel like a valued guest. They treasure each and every visitor, going beyond expectations to earn your business…both today and in the future. That’s why dozens of devoted patrons turned out for the reopening of the city’s top-rated steakhouse on October 22nd. Thanks to COVID-19, that hiatus was an astounding seven months. 

You might recall my series on the culinary greats of Westgate. Or perhaps you read my salute to the iconic property’s 50th Anniversary, which appeared in Las Vegas Magazine. It’s clear that I have a deep affection for the resort and the hundreds of dedicated individuals who keep it operating like a fine, beloved timepiece. 

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“I’m not going to lie, Sammy” said Head Bartender Mike Thompson. “I’ve got goosebumps after all these months of being away. As professionals, we’ve got to nail it”. And nail it, he did. The handsome and charismatic mixologist, whom I profiled here, was in perfect form last Friday evening when I arrived for a pre-dinner cocktail. 

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As expected, loyal patrons had already lined up for 5pm dinner reservations before I arrived. Hostess Cheryl P. was welcoming guests with her usual warmth, and the familiar smells of seafood and dry-aged beef made it seem as though the doors had never closed.  

Seated at the bar for a solo meal, I had the pleasure of watching Mikey at work. Equally skilled at the fine arts of mixology and conversation (and one of the current faces of EDGE…see video above) Mikey was clearly pleased at the opportunity to greet his regulars. They came from as far away as New York City…and as close as Turnberry Towers…to share an hour or two on opening weekend with the famed bartender and self-professed “Court Jester”. 

Of course, any fine-dining establishment is only as good as its team in the kitchen. That’s where EDGE has the….er…edge, as Executive Chef Steve Young (read my profile here) is a true master of his craft. It’s easy to crow about the accomplishments of this youthful culinary genius, given his ability to elevate both EDGE and adjacent Fresco Italiano to the top of their respective TripAdvisor rankings. Perhaps that’s why the great-looking chef is frequently welcomed to local news programs to discuss his latest creations. 

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Since EDGE‘s reopening coincides with the fall season, Chef Young is excited to bring back Sunchoke Agnolotti ($16). This seasonal offering combines the root of sunflower plants, King trumpet mushrooms, black truffles and parmesan with a ravioli-style pasta. The dish was featured at New York’s James Beard House in 2017, and returns to EDGE every year at this time.

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Despite this being a steakhouse, my palate was yearning for seafood. So, I started with an appetizer of Spicy Shrimp (above, $17), along with one of their famed, buttery popovers. Lightly fried and drizzled with a delicious spicy-sweet chile reduction, Spicy Shrimp is a favorite that seemed to be at nearly every table.

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For my entrée, I went with Sea Scallops ($38), a beautifully delicious choice served with butternut squash puree, pine nuts, pomegranate and brussels sprouts. I paired it with a massive salt-baked Loaded Potato ($12) smothered in a smoky Nueske bacon, white cheddar, sour cream and chives.

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You might find it tough to pass on an EDGE dessert, but my hearty dinner portion left me more than satisfied. So, I ordered another of Mikey’s riff on a vodka sour and settled in for some light conversation. That’s easy to do in the elegant yet comfortable atmosphere that EDGE Steakhouse is famous for.

thumbnail_116758It’s not my forte to elaborate on the wealth of tastes at EDGE, as I’m not a food critic. But I can tell you that whatever you desire from a steakhouse, you’ll find it here with the best possible preparation, presentation and atmosphere. You can peruse the EDGE Steakhouse menu by clicking this link. The array of choices is sure to stimulate your senses and make your mouth water.

There are hundreds of restaurants throughout Las Vegas, and each resort would have you believing that theirs are the best. But only one steakhouse can hold the top spot in the city, and Westgate has the EDGE.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

EDGE Steakhouse is located at 3000 Paradise Road inside Westgate Las Vegas. Their current hours are Thursday through Saturday from 5pm through 10pm. The restaurant is operating under advance safety and sanitation protocols.  Enjoy a limited-time offer of one cocktail with each dinner entrée. Click here to make reservations through OpenTable

Photos: Sam Novak, Westgate Las Vegas. Videos provided by Westgate Las Vegas

Take to the Skies With 5 Star Helicopter Tours

Top-Rated aerial company offers affordable excursions over the strip and to grand canyon…


Of all the bucket-list things to do in and around Las Vegas, two of the most popular are helicopter rides and trips to the Grand Canyon. 5-Star Helicopter Tours offers both with reasonable prices, professional service and plenty of options.

Regular readers might remember my amazing sunset dinner within the Grand Canyon, courtesy of Serenity Helicopters. I also penned a piece for Las Vegas Magazine on Grand Canyon West and their amazing Skywalk, which you can access here. Nighttime aerial trips over the Strip are one of those popular activities that has eluded this writer…until this week. And I’m glad that I chose 5 Star Helicopters as my tour guide for this particular adventure.

A note from this tour provider: This is not a private flight. The aircraft seats six (6) passengers plus the Pilot. Social distancing is not practiced during your 15 minute flight. Face masks must be worn at all times.

5 Star Helicopters has two locations to serve its guests. Those heading for the Grand Canyon depart from their air terminal in Boulder City. Strip-view excursions take off from a heliport in North Las Vegas, just around the corner from West Wind Las Vegas Drive-In Theater, my favorite hangout since the pandemic.

The north location has the advantage of a longer flight time (approximately fifteen minutes) than those companies located at or near McCarran International Airport. You’ll approach the Strip from beyond downtown, taking in a sneak peak of Fremont Street before heading over Palms Casino and the Rio. I was surprised at the number of rooftop pools that Rio offers in its Sky Villas. It’s a vantage point that I’d never encountered in my endless passenger flights into and from the city.

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Our Pilot, Jimmy, gave us an excellent look at Allegiant Stadium. Then he looped around the Mandalay Bay/Delano resorts and gave us our first bird’s-eye view of the entire Strip. If you can recall Captain Kirk’s dramatic flight towards a dry-docked Starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, then perhaps you can appreciate the emotional scope of this moment. 

The aircraft used by 5 Star Helicopters offer excellent panoramic views to the left, right and forward. The cabins are climate-controlled, and all six passenger seats face forward. During the ride, you’ll be wearing sanitized headsets that drown out noise and allow you to clearly hear the narration provided by your pilot/guide.

Captain Jimmy pointed out landmarks like the Luxor beam, T-Mobile Arena, High Roller Observation Wheel and more. We took a path over the east side of the Strip, nestled between Wynn/Encore and the massive Westgate Resort before a close flyby of The Strat (aka Stratosphere) and its famed Skypod

Finally, we followed the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard into Downtown and Fremont Street Experience. This was my first opportunity to get a close-up aerial view of brand-new Circa Hotel Casino. The highly-anticipated Stadium Swim was brightly lit, and appeared ready to welcome guests when the resort opens its doors for the first time on October 28th. 

From there we headed back to the North Las Vegas base of operations, once again skirting West Wind Drive-in. The entire flight was smooth, comfortable and secure. You should be aware that 5 Star Helicopters boasts a stellar record for safety. You can read about their protocols, equipment and view a safety video by clicking here. 

As mentioned above, there are a variety of services, prices levels, excursions and add-0ns to choose from. These include dinner packages, private flights and other thrilling adventures like zip lines and exotic track driving. Being that I reside in Las Vegas, I chose to drive to the heliport, which saves you money. Tourists can opt for a luxurious passenger service to and from their hotel. 

Like most airborne activities, you’ll be expected to weigh in before departure, sign a waiver and watch a pre-flight safety instruction video. After doing so, you can sip a flute of bubbly or a bottle of water, included with your ticket, before heading outside.

Be aware that you’re allowed to take your own photos and videos during the trip, but flash must be disabled and all devices must be set in “airplane” mode. A professional photographer is present to take photos on the ground prior to your adventure, and they will be waiting for you when you return. They’re housed in a gorgeously-emblazoned 3D book. 

5 Star Helicopters offers unique ways to make your special event unforgettable. You can get married in the air, on the floor of the Grand Canyon and even at the Valley of Fire. A low-cost option allows you to tie the knot over the Las Vegas Strip after sunset, and the fleet is available for charters and groups. Whatever you dream, 5 Star Helicopters can make it a reality. 

To see the latest specials available through the official 5 Star Helicopters website, click here. The excursion described above is currently priced at $89.99 per person as of this writing (10/22/20), available via this link at Viator.com.

‘Fresco Italiano’ Races To The Top


Westgate’s superlative Italian restaurant takes highest ranking on TripAdvisor…

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The journey to success is never easy, especially in an era where anyone can be an online critic. It just takes a few troublesome reviews to jeopardize years of hard work. So there’s something to be said for a dining establishment that continues to rank higher and higher on a respected travel website…until it finally takes the top spot. That’s what Fresco Italiano has achieved…number 1 out of 290 Las Vegas Italian restaurants, according to TripAdvisor.

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I first reviewed this “journey for your senses” in the summer of 2017. Won over by its flavorful dishes, home-style atmosphere, exemplary service, and Tuscan-style decor, I found myself returning again and again. I’ve also done so many articles on the Westgate staff and operations that they’ve made me feel like one of the family.

So naturally, I’m biased when it comes to revisiting my favorite Italian destination. But don’t be deterred, because the slogan for Vegas Unfiltered is “Probably Biased -Definitely Honest”. Still, you don’t have to be a world-famous blogger (LOL) to feel right at home. Everyone is family at Fresco.

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In the years since my first visit, there have been frequent additions to the menu, ensuring that each visit to Fresco Italiano is a unique experience. Things really took off when Chef Steve Young of Edge Steakhouse took on dual responsibilities as their Executive Chef, which including revamping their offerings.

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The talented culinary expert, whom I profiled here, managed to keep Edge Steakhouse at the highest TripAdvisor ranking while elevating its sister establishment to the same level. Fresco Italiano was also awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. Combine those accolades with the talents of General Manager Dora Pane and an expert wait staff (including the stellar Michael Nealy Baker), and you’ve got an unforgettable evening in store.

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 GM Dora Pane

Now that Westgate Las Vegas has both the top steakhouse and top Italian restaurant in the city, you owe it to yourself to check them out. EDGE Steakhouse is awaiting a date to reopen since the pandemic has greatly decreased traffic, but Fresco Italiano is serving up brand new creations directly from Chef Young’s kitchen.

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Chef Steve Young

Here are a few dishes, some new and some familiar, that my companions and I enjoyed from the current menu:

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Bruschetta ($12.00) – heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto, vincotto, charred bread
Caprese ($14.00) – burrata, heirloom tomatoes, basil oil, extra virgin olive oil
Chopped Salad ($13.00) – romaine, iceberg, arugula, radicchio, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, salami, crispy prosciutto, Italian dressing, parmesan (half-portion pictured above)
Tuscan White Bean & Kale Zuppa ($9.00) – white cannellini beans, Tuscan kale, Italian sausage
White Sangria and house-baked bread

 

 

Meatballs ($14.00) – slow-braised pork, beef, veal meatballs, stracciatella, grana padano, tomato sauce
Mozzarella Fritta ($12.00) – breaded whole milk mozzarella, tomato sauce

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Guazzetto di Cozze ($14.00) – salt springs mussels, artisan nduja, fennel, calabrian chiles, garlic butter
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Frutti di Mare ($29.00) – strozzapreti pasta, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, spicy tomato sauce
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Salsicce Italiane & Rapini ($20.00) – fennel sausage, orecchiette pasta, roasted peppers, ricotta salata

 

 

Pollo Arrosto ($29.00) – lemon & rosemary roasted half chicken, wild mushroom marsala, asparagus, cipollini onions, creamy polenta

Costata di Manzo ($45.00) – 18oz grilled bone-in rib eye, fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions, garlic butter, wild mushrooms

Salmone in Padella ($30.00) – artichoke hearts, fregola sarda, capers, basil, lemon butter

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Scaloppine di Vitello ($31.00) – sauteed veal loin, piccata style, capers, lemon, parsley, spaghetti

 

Pollo Arrosto ($29.00) – lemon & rosemary roasted half chicken, wild mushroom marsala, asparagus, cipollini onions, creamy polenta

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Tiramisu ($8.00) – mascarpone crema, marsala wine & espresso

Bomboloni ($8.00) – lemon & ricotta doughnuts, raspberry, crème anglaise, and Nutella dipping sauces
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As you can see, Italian meals are much more than past and pizza, although they’re represented here as well. There’s also an extensive wine list and additional meat and seafood entrees. A 3-course Chef Selection makes it simple, offering soup or salad, choic of main course and dessert for $40. Add a wine pairing for $7 more.
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I think you’ll agree that once you visit Fresco Italiano, you’ll look forward to returning frequently…and bringing new guests along each time. Superior to anything you’ll find on the Strip…at prices that belie its quality…Fresco Italiano serves Italian cuisine better than anyplace else in Las Vegas.
Fresco Italiano is located along Restaurant Row at Westgate Las Vegas, 3000 Paradise Road. Open daily from 5pm to 10pm. Call 702.732.5276 for information, click here to reserve through OpenTable.

WESTGATE VACATION VILLAS – The ‘Big Daddy’ of Orlando Resorts


In the concluding chapter of my exciting post-COVID research excursion, I tour the magnificent birthplace of Westgate Resorts…

If you’ve stayed with me this far, we’ve spent the past few weeks on a journey from Las Vegas to Orlando, with day-long jaunts to Cocoa Beach and a rustic dude ranch. Now we’re in Kissimmee, the land of theme parks and never-ending sunshine. That’s where we cap off our vacation (ahem….”research”) with a visit to Westgate Vacation Villas Resort.

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A massive one-stop destination, Westgate Vacation Villas Resort is the “Big Daddy” of Westgate’s portfolio. This is where it all began, with two unassuming structures erected next to a small lake. Founder David A. Siegel had decided to try his hand at a fledgling concept called “timeshares” when the Orlando region was poised to boom. Mr. Siegel had joked that if the vacation-ownership concept flopped, he could bulldoze the “A-B buildings” into the water and call it a day. But the curious lined up in droves and the rest is history.

The original 16-unit complex has grown into a full-service destination boasting hundreds of guest suites throughout a gorgeous collection of towers and modern villas. At its core is Westgate Town Center, a resort-with-a-resort that’s also the heart of this massive operation.

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With all of the activities in and around greater Orlando, you might think that a self-contained resort would be overkill, especially with Disney Parks, Universal Orlando, Sea World, and numerous water parks nearby. Well, think again. At the moment, many attractions are shuttered. Those that are currently open operate under restrictions that might dampen your concept of fun.

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That doesn’t mean you should forgo a longed-desired trip to the Sunshine State. On the contrary! Now is a terrific time to travel, especially for the reasons I’ve cited here. Just know that these are unpredictable times. Depending on the location and activity, you may be subject to face mask and temperature-scans. You’ll want to research the current requirements and protocols of your destination before leaving home.

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It’s also highly recommended that you build flexibility into your itinerary, just in case some of the attractions on your list happen to be shuttered when you arrive. In our new normal, things can change without notice. That won’t be much of a concern if you stay at  Westgate Vacation Villas.

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So, what’s there to do here? How about 14 temperature-controlled pools, hot tubs, and wading pools as a starter? Many of them offer bars, like Banana Cabana, which serves hot foods and pizza, too. If you want to stay cool, relax at the Disney Movie Theater or splash around Shipwreck Island Water Park (more on that one below).

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At Swan Lake, you can rent giant paddleboats, or stay onshore and grab a putter for Jurassic Golf. There are soccer and baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts, and picnic areas with barbeque grills and outdoor kitchens. Grab some bicycles, challenge your high score at Mission Control Game Room, or learn how to play horseshoes and shuffleboard. Click here for a constantly-updated list of what’s open and available.

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Director of Activities Dexter Candelaria was supervising the resort’s meticulous Fitness Center when I arrived. An ambitious young man brimming with enthusiasm, he was excited to tell me all about the fun events that he and his team have created. Candelaria stressed that every activity meets Westgate CARES health and sanitation guidelines while reminding us that “fun” and “safety” don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The resort regularly publishes a list of games and virtual activities created especially for their guests, all with post-COVID safety concerns in mind. Choose from socially-distanced yoga classes, magic and cooking lessons, “Name That Tune”, poolside bingo, ping pong challenges, tie-dye creation, spin classes, and prepacked craft kits to enjoy in your suite or villa.

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Despite the resort’s sprawling footprint, Westgate Vacation Villas specializes in personalized, attentive service. Many associates have been here a very long time, rising through the ranks as they’ve mastered the art of customer satisfaction. This was evident at the drive-up check-in station, where two skilled team members demonstrated the new process, which limits personal contact and allows you to register without ever leaving the vehicle.

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Arriving by shuttle or taxi? No problem. Head inside Town Center‘s lobby, where you’ll find a traditional registration area, retrofitted to accommodate social distancing practices. There’s a welcome center, Sid’s Bistro, Tickets2You theme park service, and timeshare guest services.

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The back wall of Town Center‘s main building is a window to Shipwreck Island Water Park. A two-story masterpiece available only to resort guests and timeshare owners, Shipwreck Island features water slides, a lazy river, jetted palm trees, and of course, a pirate ship at its center. Surrounding the fun are Jolley Roger’s Galley, Crow’s Nest Bar, and Sea Dog’s Bar, with more on the way soon.

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The recently-opened Villa Italiano Chophouse is a Floridian take on Fresco Italiano, one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas. It even has the familiar Vespa scooters out front. An elevated dining experience with an extensive wine list and cocktail selections, Villa Italiano Chophouse serves steaks, salads, pasta, pizza….and my weakness, Chicken Parmesan. Visit their full menu by clicking here.

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As our tour was winding down, my guides and I stopped for lunch at Draft’s Sports Bar and Grill. Another favorite that I’ve dined at in both Westgate Park City and Westgate Lakes Resort, this one’s the true original. Pub fare, taphouse-worthy beer selections, and those infamous Draft’s shakes are just a few things you’ll crave again and again.

Outside of Town Center Pavilion, preparations were underway to relaunch the on-site hydroponics garden. Vegetables and herbs grown there will be used in the kitchens of resort restaurants. Inside, Hershey’s Ice Cream Shop brings back the world-famous flavors of my home state (Pennsylvania).

Next to Draft’s is Joe’s Marketplace and Deli, where you can pick up hot foods, snacks, and groceries to prepare you own meals back at the villa. They’ve also got a Corodvano Joe’s Pizza counter, which delivers directly to you. Then there’s a full-menu room service, which includes alcoholic beverages. Cheers!

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Accommodations at Westgate Vacation Villas range from Deluxe Studio Villas to sprawling Four Bedroom Presidential Villas. The economical Studio Villa is larger than a standard hotel room, with more than 500 square feet of living space. Each features a kitchenette with a coffeemaker, refrigerator, microwave, and toaster. The studio can sleep up to four, and bathrooms include a jetted tub and walk-in shower. All full-sized villas include a washer/dryer combo, handy if you’re staying for an extended period.

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The resort has a marina, business center, 10,000 square foot conference center, laundry facilities, three playgrounds, and six meeting rooms. There is no charge for parking, all rooms are non-smoking, and pets are welcome for an additional fee. Activities and common areas are ADA-compliant for guests with special needs. Those wishing to rent scooters can reserve them in advance by clicking here.

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Each year, Westgate Vacation Villas hosts a salute to the American military. Hundreds of free vacations are gifted to real-life heroes and their families. Then during American Military Month, a multi-day celebration takes place on the resort grounds. This year’s gathering was put on hold for obvious reasons, but here’s a portion of the press release from 2019’s event:

“For three action-packed days, Westgate Resorts served and honored the incredible men, women and families who sacrifice to protect and strengthen our country,” said David Siegel, Founder & CEO of Westgate Resorts and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. “We are proud to be able to provide a complimentary vacation full of special festivities each year to those who have faithfully served and protected our freedoms.”

Highlights of 2019 Military Weekend included a Military Resource Fair featuring 25 military organizations, Red, White & Blue 5K Run, a stirring performance of the play Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret by Scott Mann, a special appearance by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and an incredible outdoor concert featuring Gary Sinise & The Lt. Dan Band with Lee Greenwood followed by a spectacular fireworks display. Guests also enjoyed free admission to the state-of-the-art Shipwreck Island Water Park. In addition, the Westgate Resorts Foundation contributed $50,000 to military nonprofit organizations.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a timeshare owner to enjoy Westgate Resorts. They’re combination destinations that welcome traditional hotel guests, too. But if you find yourself wanting to learn the details of vacation ownership, presentations and resort previews are always available.

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After returning to Sin City, I attended the grand re-opening of Westgate Las Vegas. It was a spectacular and emotional affair that brought together hundreds of associates and a very dedicated management team. I also spent the past two weekends staying there, as it’s become my staycation go-to. As with all Westgate properties, everyone goes above and beyond to make sure you feel at home.

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So we’ve circled back to the spot where my fondness for Westgate began. Several years later, this company continues to strive harder, do better, and make you feel like family. We’ve also reached the end of my Westgate Orlando Resorts series. Four very different experiences in four glorious days, all operating under strict sanitation protocols to provide a fabulous and safe post-COVID vacation experience.

By the way…with travel prices still at all-time lows (and no job opportunities for this writer in the current economic climate, sorry to say), I’ve decided to revisit Westgate Orlando in a few weeks. Get the margaritas ready, guys…I’m coming back!

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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: Sam Novak (some villa interiors courtesy of Westgate)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUMMER SPOTLIGHT 2020 with Gayle Nicholson


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

 

Video link courtesy of Gayle Nicholson

Leave The City Behind at WESTGATE RIVER RANCH RESORT


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Siegel – Cocoa Beach Native and Westgate Resorts VP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Videos courtesy of Westgate Resorts, edmondson69 via YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


Hotel-casinos unveil post-COVID dates and plans…

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

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

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

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

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

Health & Safety

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

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

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

A glimpse at what guests can expect:

Bellagio

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

New York-New York

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

MGM Grand and The Signature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health & Safety Standards

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

Additional offerings that further support health and safety efforts:

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

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

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

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

Resort Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaming:

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

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

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

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

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

Amenities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

· Increased placement of hand sanitizer dispensers throughout our properties;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banner photo: Mike Hammer Comedy Magic 

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?

Westgate Lakes Orlando

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