In Episode 6 of MASTers of Travel, John Werner, President and COO of MAST, virtually sits down with MAST Member and Agency Owner Karen Kimmey of Ok Travel Agency, Chicago, Illinois. John and Karen discuss her most recent trip to Las Vegas, and how Sin City is handling regulations of social distancing and limited capacity. Ok Travel is a full service travel agency specializing in all types of travel. They have been open since 1989, and are passionate about making their client’s travel dreams come true. Karen has traveled to Las Vegas dozens of times, and wants people to know that even with the restrictions, your favorite locations might be a little different, however getting out there and traveling is the important part.
Key Points On Las Vegas As Mentioned In The Podcast
#1 – Midway Airport has limited food options
“There was nowhere to eat or grab a bite to eat. It was very limited in the airport. There were only a couple places that were open, the food court in the main part of the airport was closed. “
#2 – The process of renting a car takes a little longer
“When we got to the car, and we waited to get our car. He then informed us it’s another 20 minutes wait, because they needed to sanitize the car.”
#3 – Many restaurants are closed or have limited hours
“It was a little limited of where to eat, because everything was closed.”
#4 – Hotels are limiting staff/guest interactions
“If I needed clean towels or wanted the sheets changed for some reason, they would deliver it to your room, but they weren’t really allowed to go in your room.”
#5 – Social distancing is enforced in the casinos
“They had every other slot machine on turned on. It was either shut off, or it had yellow tape over it to show you that the machine was not working.”
Full Podcast Transcript
Welcome everyone to MASTers of Travel, travel advisor series. My name is John Werner, I’m the President and Chief Operating Officer of the MAST Travel Network. We’re a network of about 1000 travel advisors with experience across the world and all kinds of destinations and all types of travel experiences. Today I have with me Karen Kimmy, who is one of our travel advisors who returned from Las Vegas recently. Las Vegas had recently opened up to visitors and vacationers back in July, different opening dates with different resorts. And things have been doing pretty going pretty well there. The Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority have reported that the numbers of people visiting Las Vegas has been increasing every week, and they’re noticing more traffic at the airport. And so Karen is going to tell us a little bit about her trip. So, welcome Karen.
Thank you, John, for the invite.
I believe you flew out of Midway (Chicago) Airport on Southwest Airlines. Right? Tell us what you observed when you arrived at Midway airport, and what was that experience like?
Correct. The arrival at Midway was sort of depressing for me, because I’m so used to the hustle and bustle of the airport. To see it’s so quiet, I was a little taken back. I had actually taken my mom on this trip and mom is 91. And she usually gets a wheelchair assistance. My experience through the airport was with the wheelchair assistance. Even though I had TSA precheck, I decided to go through with her I wanted to see how it was. One of the other agents went through the TSA precheck to see how that one.
So, it was kind of quiet. When you got to your gate did it look like the flight was going to be fairly full?
It was really surprising because the gate we went out on, if you’re familiar with Midway airport, there’s like four gates, all in one area at the very end of the concourse. And that was the gate our plane was at. It was actually pretty crowded over there. You didn’t realize what was going on because there were four flights departing. Our flights actually held 170. But it was only booked to 100, we had 70 open seats. That was both ways. Because I went to find out the load because I was curious.
I guess that stays true to Southwest’s commitment to blocked middle seats right now. And I’m not sure exactly how long they plan to continue that, I believe it’s at least to the end of the year. Yeah. On the flight itself, what was the service like? I know airlines aren’t serving drinks, but you can get water and stuff, but you can’t get alcoholic drink? What were they doing for service?
On the outbound flight they walked around with glasses of iced water already prepared for you. And a bag of their little chips. They came through the flight I think, one other time and offered water again. Vegas is almost a four-hour flight, so, a pretty long flight. On the way back we were offered cans of water. So, the same thing. They’re not using the drink coupons. Those could still hold whenever it opens up again. So, I’m always telling my clients to hold on to them. But it was sort of bare.
I know. That’s what I hear. And of course, just like every airline face masks are required on the fly?
Correct. There were no issues at all. Everybody had their face mask. And the flight attendant never actually had to tell anybody to put it back on. They made the announcement at the beginning. “Please keep your face masks on”. And everybody abided by it. We didn’t have a problem.
Nice to hear that flying and having no issues on the flight. People understand the drill they know what’s expected and they’re willing, they want to travel so they’re willing to do what is necessary. So that’s good. So then when you landed in Las Vegas, I’m sure the airport there was a little busier. But did it also seem kind of quiet?
Actually, going back to Midway airport, when we left because of the Chicago rule. I’m assuming. There was nowhere to eat or grab a bite to eat. It was very limited in the airport. There were only a couple places that were open, the food court in the main part of the airport was closed. When I arrived in Vegas, I was sort of surprised to see so many places to eat at the airport inside. That was surprising, and it was actually more crowded than Midway airport.
Right, okay. Let me ask you this, which hotel were you staying at?
I actually passed in points. I didn’t want the whole Vegas experience for this trip because of COVID. I wanted a pool where there wasn’t 150 people in it. I wanted a little bit quieter. So, we stayed at the Hilton Grand Villas on the strip. I had actually rented a car. I highly recommend that. But again, I was there on Labor Day weekend, so, that’s almost a month and a half ago. I’m sure things have changed since I’ve been there. But I was so happy that I rented a car, because it was very limited of where you could eat. The experience was pretty interesting. In Vegas, you take that shuttle and it goes to the town location, where they’re all in one spot. So that was all fine. The shuttle is the normal, nothing changed about that. When we got to the car, and we waited to get our car. He then informed us it’s another 20 minutes wait, because they needed to sanitize the car.
I thought that was interesting. And then they just tell you when your car is ready, right after it was sanitized. I believe I rented maybe from Budget. And when we got in the car, you could see the seats were wet, the seat belt was still damp. Everything was still wet from the sanitizing.
Yeah, it must have been a car that they had to turn around fast and that somebody turned in?
I don’t think so there were tons of cars. They just told us, it’s the sanitization process.
Okay. Alright. It must have been okay driving around normally. Anytime you get near the strip, the traffic is always so bad but probably not too bad right now.
It was it was empty. The way I explained it to everybody is you could never go left down the strip. Either there were people walking or their cars, but you always had to go right if you wanted to go left. You could probably do a whole line dance, Macarena kind of thing, before a car came.
Yeah, you’re right. To be able to make a left turn is really impossible, under normal times. But right. What was your first impression when you arrived at the hotel?
They did not have valet; they did have bellboys. When I went to check-in, she explained to me they don’t valet, they do have parking, parking will be free, and we could park anywhere we wanted. I had explained that I had my elderly mother (and asked) is it easier for her to walk from the front entrance or from the parking lot? They were so kind and unbelievable. She says I’m going to get you security and we’ll get her a wheelchair. I was like, she doesn’t need it. She’s got her walker and no, they sent security with the wheelchair. They were so kind they said if you want to go down to the pool tomorrow call us and we’ll take your mom down to the pool. They were very kind, very accommodating. They had the glass barriers at checked in. That was all pretty standard. It was interesting because it was more like a condo kind of concept. They gave us free movies to rent, because there really is not a lot open, when I was there. They would give us DVDs to watch for free. Their gift shop, little sundry store, that was only open I believe it was Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. And it was very odd hours. If you wanted to get anything, you had to get it while it was open.
So, you really had to plan.
You did. I was talking to some of the people at the pool, their biggest issue is they have a car. It was a little limited of where to eat, because everything was closed. I had asked at the Hilton, “your bar at the pool that serves food and all that, is that normally closed during the week”? I was questioning it because of COVID. He said it is because of COVID because they usually had bar service, they had waiter service at the pool, but because of COVID they just canceled it all.
Okay. So, were you able to walk to some other hotels? Because I’m not as familiar with that property. But there were other places you could walk to from there?
You could from that one. There’s a couple Hilton grand villa. That was the one I picked that was down the north end of the Strip. It’s almost closer to Circus Circus, Sun Tower, that way.
You could walk across the street. It was the old SLS now and went back to being called The Sahara.
You can walk to a couple of things. But you really didn’t want to walk in that neighborhood anyway.
All right. Another question I have, as far as all the other safety protocols at the hotel, you did say how they managed to have the barriers up and the shields. In the room itself, did you get the impression that the room was extra, extra clean?
Yes, I was actually very impressed. Because it was more like a condo kind of atmosphere. There was sanitation strips on the remote controls and everywhere. They gave you a little goodie bag in the room, a wipe and hand sanitizer. We noticed, we got in very late, So, we noticed the refrigerator wasn’t really working. We had called down and we had to give them permission to actually come in our room, to fix the refrigerator. There was no towel service, unless we requested it. If I needed clean towels or wanted the sheets changed for some reason, they would deliver it to your room, but they weren’t really allowed to go in your room.
Okay. That seems to be kind of general practice that a lot of hotels.
Did you have a chance to visit any other properties? Did you kind of go hopping around a little bit?
We drove around the Strip during the day, which actually brought tears to my eyes because it’s so empty and so quiet. I believe Planet Hollywood is opening up this week or something. But while we were there, Tropicana was supposed to be opening and they flashed on their board that they’re going to postpone the opening. Some of the hotels even shut off their marquees lights. We had gone further into town to go eat at local restaurants. Driving back in, to see the Strip, where you could see the Strip all lit, you could see these blacks of darkness. Because the Aria closed half of their buildings. The RIU suites, including the marquee outside, the lights are off.
Oh, yeah. It’s got to be a little strange.
Yeah. A little weird, a little strange.
We wound up going to Treasure Island so, we could see what was going on in the casinos. I picked Treasure Island because it was an easy access for my mom because it’s smaller casino to begin with. They had valet, one man, but they had valet. We were pretty surprised. There wasn’t a lot of car waiting to get in. We had gone into the casino and I hate to say it, but it was so empty. You could have went bowling and not hit anyone. They had every other slot machine on turned on. It was either shut off, or it had yellow tape over it to show you that the machine was not working.
The tables were pretty much empty. There were quite a few people playing the big wheel. As far as Blackjack and Craps, it was pretty much empty. Not very many people. The Bar is a lounge that was in the Treasure Island. When we arrived, there was nobody in there. They had about three cocktail waitresses waiting. When I finally left the hotel. There was like two large groups of probably about 10 people each separated. But it was nice to see people at the lounge laughing, that was the one thing I sort of missed is the laughing and the excitement of the bells and whistles. Their 24-hour coffee Shop was closed. Just because it was closed. It wasn’t because of the time of day I was there. They just closed, but they can tell you where to go eat. There is hand sanitizer all over; at my hotel where I stayed, at the Treasure Island. You probably can’t walk 25, 50 feet at the most before you see another hand sanitizer. I felt very safe. I didn’t feel compromised at all. I mean, I wouldn’t have taken my elderly mother. It was her idea to do this.
Yeah. Yeah, you took your mother so yeah.
Yeah, so she was the one that said, “let’s do it”. We can’t keep living in fear lets go. We’re very happy we went. And actually, on the way home, she made the comment and said, “I’m glad we went”. I mean, she told her friends, “don’t be afraid of this”. Don’t be afraid. Let’s do it. I wish there were more and more people. I think as the hotels open up, just like that movie, “they will come”, people will go. But we need something to go for.
They obviously count on a lot of international visitors and they’re missing those visitors right now. It’s really only open to domestic travel at this point. I think maybe sometime after the first of the year it’ll be much more readily open for international visitors. It’ll get definitely busier. Back at the casino, if you were at any of the tables do they still come around and offer a cocktail?
Yes, they did. I was surprised to see that.
Were any of the buffets open that they’re famous for?
Nope, I did not see any.
Wow. I know like at Caesar’s Palace, that buffet there is quite popular and very busy all the time.
Right, but again, like I said, after I had gotten back one of my other agents went three weeks after me and just within that three-week period, she saw more stuff open. So, more of the food courts and stuff were starting to open up.
And that makes sense. Since you had a car did you go off Strip to other attractions around the city or just any other areas?
The time previous, I had just gone to go see the neon museum. So, I didn’t do anything this trip it was more or less a little lay low kind of trip. I love shopping in Vegas, so, we were planning on going shopping after dinner one night, however, everything closed at seven o’clock this afternoon. All of the malls, so it didn’t matter.
Well, that’ll probably change too. So many famous shopping centers along the strip and some great stores to visit and browse and buy things. At the restaurant, you did go to, were they operating at a limited capacity, 25-30%, 50%, something like that?
The first night we went to In and Out Burger. And that’s just like going on McDonald’s here, same concept. You can eat inside in the restaurants, the fast food (restaurants) you can eat inside every other table. And they count you going in. One night, we drove into a residential area, because we wanted Mexican food. The ones we usually go to were close on the Strip. So, we decided to go out that way. It was just like going to a regular restaurant here in Chicago, you had a sit in your car, and when your table was ready, same kind of concept. And probably 50% capacity. The last night we decided to go to the restaurant, this time on the Strip called the Peppermill. It’s actually an old restaurant has been there for years. It’s almost like a Fridays kind of concept, but it does have a bar. And the same thing; reservations were not needed. If you were going to go to any higher end restaurants, because a lot of those were open, reservations were required. This one you just gave your name waited outside until you were called. That one, it’s famous because they don’t really have tables, they have booths. Have you ever been to the Peppermill?
Yeah, the food is excellent. It’s one of these old-fashioned restaurants and it was packed. I mean, we actually had a wait. There were those barriers between the booths. Instead of making it every other booth they actually like cocooned you. You had these barriers around.
Is that one of your favorite restaurants in Vegas?
No, I actually haven’t been there in so many years. When we saw it was open, we were like let’s give them a shot.
What’s your favorite restaurant on the Strip?
Oh, I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’d have to think about that.
You’ve been to Vegas so many times, you probably have many favorite restaurants and go someplace different every time.
Yeah, you know each hotel has something that’s my go to place.
Yeah, so many places to go. Any of the nightclubs open? You know, they are so famous there.
Unfortunately, no, they were there. No, unfortunately.
I know they’re so famous for the nightclubs and of course they’re big pool parties. And you said you didn’t want to be at one of the big pool areas. And that’s why you chose the hotel you were at.
Our pool was open. We had two pools at this resort I stayed at. They closed one of them down. There probably was 20 people in our pool, if that. if you were in the water or actually touching the water, let’s say you’re sitting on the side with your foot in the water, you do not have to have your mask on. However, laying outside the pool, sitting in your chairs, there were three of us that went by ourselves. And three little lounge chairs and security did come over and say, “I’m sorry that you have put your mask on. Only when you’re eating and drinking, you can have it off”. My mother looked at the young man and said, “Honey, I’m 91 years old, I can’t breathe outside with this mask on”. He said, “Okay, fine. I don’t have to enforce it. I just have to tell you”. Well, I said, you know what? We’re all by ourselves. There’s not a soul around me. And I’m outside. I didn’t have a problem not wearing a mask when I’m by myself. But I found that interesting, they don’t enforce it.
So, it didn’t make sense. Because if you are in the pool, and I’m talking to people I met in the pool, I’m probably closer than six feet away, and I’m not wearing a mask when I’m in the pool. Didn’t make sense.
Yeah, it is different from place to place. And even out there it might have been different from hotel to hotel.
Exactly. It could have just been the rules of the Hilton.
Yeah, yeah, I can see that. But the hotel staff, everybody that you came in contact with, car rental counter, and restaurants, they all wore masks?
Everybody, every employee is wearing a mask. From bellboy to, the cocktail waitress, the lifeguards at the pool, everybody.
When is your next trip? When are you going to go back to Vegas to see how much it has changed since Labor Day weekend?
Only because of myself personally, I probably won’t go back until next year. Now it’s the end of the season and the holidays. I just don’t have the time. But I can’t wait to go back. I miss my old Vegas. I don’t even gamble. And I’m miss my old Vegas.
Yes. I suppose that you didn’t see a show either?
There was nothing going on. Nothing. This was a trip that was actually my mother’s, Mother’s Day present. I cancelled it for Mother’s Day and moved it to June or July and then moved it again to Labor Day. That’s when she said, “let’s just go”. I was waiting to see if some of the shows would open. That was one of the reasons I kept pushing it back. We do enjoy going to see the nightlife. But I stopped waiting.
Well in a few more months more restaurants will be open and the shows. And maybe it’ll feel like Vegas usually feels.
I missed it.
Well, that’s so great that you did have a chance to go and that you felt perfectly fine and comfortable there. And your mother was comfortable and sounds like things went very smoothly. And really no worries.
Really no worries. Checking out at the hotel is no interaction. They just email you your receipt. And same thing with returning the car. No issues there. They’ll just email your receipt. Everybody has to get back to life as normal.
I felt very comfortable. Very comfortable.
That’s wonderful. Do you have any other final thoughts on the experience or recommendation, suggestions you have for others?
No, the only thing I could say is don’t be afraid to go. If I can take a 91-year-old lady with a health condition and see felt wonderful. Don’t be afraid to go. It’s just at this precise time it’s not the Vegas we’re used to. You have to go on your trip with that in your mind. As long as you’re aware that you’re not going to have the craziness of Vegas, then go experience it. In a way it’s sort of nice to go right on that Strip.
And it can’t be all that bad if you don’t have all the crowded restaurants and shopping and everything. It’s kind of nice to also go when it’s not so crowded.
Right, right. And I’m planning Disney for January. I’m going to give it a shot.
You have several trips coming up because you said you’ll be in Cancun in a short period of time and then going to Disney in January. So that’s wonderful. Well, Karen, thank you so much for sharing your trip to Vegas with us and we’re really happy to hear that things went so well
Thanks for the invite. I really appreciated it.
Well, thank you very much.