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We returned from 4th of July in Las Vegas with Grueninger Travel. Here's how it went

Wondering what it's like to travel right now?

July 13, 2020
By: Joe Hanauer

If you told me back in January that I’d be going to Las Vegas during a pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. My goal with this write-up is to give those traveling in the near future a confident answer to the question -- “what should expect on my upcoming trip?”

I can confidently say that after spending a few days in Las Vegas, I was thoroughly impressed with the measures and policies taken and enforced by Caesars Entertainment. This was my first time flying in nearly 4 months, and given the opportunity to travel before a vaccine exists, I’d do so again soon. The policies and procedures put in place by both the casino group and airline met my expectations, and there’s even a few new policies in place that I hope continue to exist post-pandemic. I recognize not everyone is ready to travel, and that everyone’s in a different situation. I encourage you to make the best decision for yourself and your family and hope I can bring clarity to what you can expect, based off our experience this past weekend. 

Wheels up!

Getting to Vegas

I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say that the airport leg of our travel was what made me the most uneasy before our trip. Each state follows a different set of protocols and guidelines, and each airline follows different standards. We made our way towards Indianapolis International Airport early Friday morning and had an incredibly easy time getting through security. I wasn’t expecting a massive crowd as we were flying at 8:30AM, but I was somewhat surprised to see that all the check-in counters, security personnel, and gate attendants were fully staffed and running smoothly. Most restaurants were closed, but there were a few open to pick up any last-second coffee or breakfast if needed.

We were through security in under 10 minutes, and contrary to common policy, Southwest called us up in groups of 10 to adhere to social distancing policies and allowed us to board. Since Southwest is only booking at 2/3 capacity, this made the boarding process extremely smooth. After taking off, the flight attendants handed out snacks and water mid-flight. It was a limited food and beverage experience, but nothing that a little planning and a pre-flight trip to Target for snacks couldn’t solve. Masks are required on the flight, and Southwest is leaving the middle seat open (Delta is as well). Additional hand sanitizer (up to 12 oz.) is allowed in carry-on luggage.

Aaron Tookes, our host from Atlanta who met us in Las Vegas, also said that he felt comfortable with the policies that Southwest was following at the Altanta airport as well, and said check-in was a smooth and easy process.

Additional Southwest policies can be found here(https://www.southwest.com/airline-cleanliness-social-distance/)

Personally, I have no problem wearing a mask in crowded spaces and when it’s appropriate. Southwest does require wearing a mask while flying, and honestly, besides having to adjust it a few times, I really didn’t notice it after the first 10-15 minutes. You are allowed to remove the mask if you’re eating or drinking.

Once we landed, we were off the plane and on our way to Paris hotel and casino. With limited plane capacity, this made de-boarding easy and simple. We were off the plane approximately 15 minutes after landing.

After picking up our checked luggage at the carousel, we were on our shuttle at McCarran and made it to Paris in a quicker-than-usual 10 minutes. 

All in all, even with the mask, it was one of the better flying experiences I’ve had in recent memory. Granted, flying at 2/3 capacity is a bit of a luxury that won’t last forever, but I have no negatives about the flying/airport experience. In my opinion, Southwest and the Indianapolis airport did a fine job enforcing and following their new safety standards.

Airport experience summary

-      Indianapolis International Airport and Southwest Airlines made security and boarding a breeze. I’ll miss how easy this was when more people start flying

-      Food and beverage service were limited in the airport and on the plane. Feel free to bring your own

-      Masks are required. I felt comfortable with the safety policies that Southwest had put in place

Arriving at Paris

After arriving at the casino, we were quickly met by our hosts Elena and Charlie who helped escort us across the gaming floor to the check-in area. All guests are required to complete a temperature check by walking in front of a thermal camera prior to check in. The process takes a maximum of 10 seconds and is non-intrusive. After both guests pass the temperature screening, one guest goes on to check-in and completes the check-in process at the desk and receives their room keys. Masks are required while on Caesars property.

Here's the line for temperature checks. The camera near the center is what reads your temperature

Because we were traveling with a group, we were able to use an exclusive line that was spaced out to allow for social distancing. It was an easy and smooth check-in process, and we were headed to our room shortly.

One of the larger changes that I will note, is how Caesars handles “sealed” rooms. A sealed room recognizes that it’s undergone proper cleaning and safety protocols imposed by Caesars, and the seal ensures the room hasn’t been entered between when it was cleaned, and when you enter it.

Sealed and cleaned

It’s definitely a little odd, but once you’re in your room, everything feels pretty standard. Standard housekeeping service is limited to 7-Star players, but you are able to request clean towels, trash removal, clean linens as needed. The only major difference I noticed was that someone wasn’t making the bed on a daily basis. This may sound like a negative, but after a few days I was happy to trade-off taking an extra two minutes to make my own bed, to know that myself and Julia were the only two people in our room given the current circumstances.

Arriving at Paris summary

-      Temperature checks are required for all guests

-      Paris was properly staffed to ensure a quick and easy check-in

-      The “sealed” rooms are a little different, but a fine trade-off for peace of mind that you and your guest(s) are the only people in your room

Casino and gaming floor capacity

I’ll jump in front of this one – yes, you do have to wear a mask while on the gaming floor, and no, I didn’t find it too bothersome. In terms of capacity, there wasn’t ever any point where I felt like Paris was over crowded. It’s worth noting that mornings and late at night were the times when capacity was at its lowest. I never saw any instances where there was a line, or patrons weren’t able to get on a machine or table. The audience size was probably 75% of a normal 4th of July crowd. For the non-weekend days we were there, I’d estimate it was probably 50% of what I’d expect for a normal Paris crowd.

Slot machines and video poker

Around the casino, seats were removed in between slot machines to encourage social distancing. For the video poker machines at the bar, every other machine was turned off to encourage appropriate spacing. All in all, I thought Paris did a fine job following and adhering to the policies and standards set by Caesars Entertainment.

Cleaning crews left signs to note which video poker machines had been sanitized
Table games

At Paris, seats were removed from the poker and blackjack tables to limit a maximum of 3 players at poker and blackjack tables. Craps tables were limited in total capacity as well. I didn’t play any table games while I was there, but from the people I spoke with who did, I didn’t hear any complaints.

Wearing a mask, additional personnel on the floor, cleaning stations

I’ve been thinking a lot about it and after spending 4 days in a casino, I think the best way to explain what it’s like wearing a mask for an extended time is that it’s similar to wearing a seat belt. You notice it when you put it on and take it off, but you don’t really notice it when you’re using it for its intended use. Far and away, I noticed I was wearing a mask the least while I was playing. I spent an hour or so playing video-poker at a bar in Paris and didn’t notice I still had it on until I saw myself in the mirror back in our hotel room. The mask policy is strongly enforced by the additional security personnel in Paris. Some may view this as intrusive, but I walked away from the experience glad that they were setting and following clear expectations.

We can confirm the slots machine are fully operable while wearing a mask

At Paris, additional security staff helped enforce the mask policy, and many were passing out free masks to anyone who needed one. They were happy to pass out as many as you needed, and we grabbed a few for the road as well. Hand sanitizer stations were at all the entry points of the gaming floor, and additional disinfectant towels were available to wipe down machines as needed. Caesars undergoes additional health and safety protocols as well that can be found here https://www.caesars.com/caesars-entertainment-updates

Paris gaming floor on a Sunday evening

Given the enforced mask policy, additional support for cleaning supplies on the gaming floor, and other safety precautions taken by the team at Paris, our time at the hotel and casino felt like one of the more secure indoor-areas I’ve been as of recent. I think it’s easy to look at the extra measure taken by the casinos as a negative, but for Gary, Julia and I, the proactiveness of the team at Paris really made us feel secure with our choice to go.

As a thought experiment, consider high-traffic places that aren’t enforcing a mask policy, or where additional cleaning supplies aren’t available. Sure, it may be a little more convenient, but is the cost worth it? After returning to Indiana and going to our grocery store, I had a different perspective and found it a little odd and uncomfortable that masks aren’t enforced in public, indoor and high traffic areas. I recognize this is a temporary shift in perspective, and not everyone will share my opinion, but for now, we’re living in the new normal.

Free masks and hand sanitizer stations were at multiple points of the casino

Personally, I’d much rather follow a few more safety standards and start living my life closer to what it was before, rather than wait for who knows how long before everything is back to the way it was before. I recognize I won’t share this opinion with everyone and I hope everyone reading this feels empowered to make the best decision for their personal situation. If you’re ready to travel and feel comfortable assuming there is some risk with traveling right now, I hope I can set a clean and clear expectation with what you should expect from the experience. If you’re not ready to travel for whatever personal or health-related decisions and would rather wait, that’s more than okay as well, and we’re happy to welcome you back when you’re ready to go again.

Gaming and casino summary

-      Additional security staff is doubling down as health and safety crew

-      Certain machines were turned off, or seats were removed to allow for proper social distancing

-      Paris enforced the health and safety protocols set by Caesars Entertainment, and exceeded my expectations

Bars, restaurants, and the pool

I’m glad to report that our dining experiences were all exceptional and the places we visited were properly staffed. When sitting in a bar area (i.e. the center bar at Paris), you are required to wear a mask if not actively drinking. Across my entire weekend, this is when I noticed the mask most often. It's definitely a little bothersome to try to hold a long conversation with a mask on, but didn’t stop us from going to a few happy hours.

If you’re sitting at a restaurant (they define this as a place that serves food, so the center bar at Paris doesn’t qualify), you are allowed to take your mask off when seated, and only required to put it back on when leaving the table. If you’re looking to sit down for an extended time period, enjoy a few drinks and conversation, I’d suggest finding a restaurant.

I cannot stress this enough – with seating at 50% capacity, it’s more important than ever that you set up reservations beforehand. You might get lucky and catch a table somewhere, but based off my experience, I saw a quite a few guests waiting for tables. Regardless of your Caesars Rewards tier, I’d still suggest setting up reservations beforehand. OpenTable.com makes this incredibly easy to do. It’s free to use and takes less than a minute to set up reservation. For a great place to visit during the summer or fall, I can’t recommend the Budweiser Beer Park enough. We spent more time there than we’d care to admit over our five day stay. It has open air seating, plenty of misters and fans, and felt refreshing even during a few hot days in Vegas. For anyone else looking for other outside seating, I’d recommend checking out Hexx for a great meal.

The pool is also following capacity restrictions, and I’d suggest going early and checking what capacity looks like, and if needed put your name on a wait list to get in. There was a waiting list on the Friday and Saturday we were there, though we did notice that higher-tiered (7-star) players were prioritized. Their wait wasn’t long, maybe a maximum of 30 minutes. I suspect that being a busy 4th of July weekend, compounded with the fact it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit played a role in the wait as well.

Bars, restaurants, and the pool

-      Masks are required to be worn while not actively drinking, or smoking at a bar (place that doesn’t normally serve food)

-      Masks are not required after sitting down at a restaurant

-      Take five minutes and set up reservations before your trip. You’ll thank yourself later

-      Get to the pool early to reserve the spots you need

Off the strip

For those who want to take a break from the strip, I have a few recommendations to share. On Sunday morning, Julia and I rented a car from the Enterprise around the corner at Bally’s and drove out to Red Rock Canyons. It took around 30 minutes to drive there and there’s an incredible 13-mile scenic drive. We hiked on one of the trails for a few hours and stopped off for lunch near the minor-league baseball stadium before heading back.

On Monday morning we took off early and played 18-holes at Cascata in Boulder City. It’s a stunning Rees Jones desert course nestled in the hills at 2,000 ft elevation. Anyone going in the future may find one of the dozen balls I kindly donated to the easily accessible out of bounds area just off the fairway.

On Tuesday morning, we helped see our guests off and headed home. Las Vegas McCarran at 3PM was busier than Indianapolis at 8AM (expected), but we still made it through security in under ten minutes. The boarding gate area was at a healthier capacity, but not too crowded. We flew Southwest home again, and were on our way from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne soon enough.

Heading into 4th of July weekend in Las Vegas, I was anxious to see what measures were being put in place, and which were actually followed. I’m very happy to report that Caesars met and exceeded our personal expectations, and I’m looking forward to our trip coming up in September!

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