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In Las Vegas, travelers are back for immersive art, pool parties and catch-up weddings

Visitors gather for the grand opening of the Resorts World Las Vegas hotel and casino in June. The complex is the first resort-casino to be built on the Las Vegas Strip in a decade. (Bridget Bennett/AFP via Getty Images)

A pandemic turned Las Vegas suddenly quiet in spring 2020, but the hush didn’t last for long. The hospitality and gambling industries, the city’s primary economic engines, are proffering new resorts, pool parties and other attractions to help bring the fun back to Vegas. And despite Nevada’s increase in covid infections and a new mask mandate, travelers are ready.

“The energy is palpable,” said Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “There’s so much pent-up demand in terms of coming to Las Vegas.”

Visitor numbers have risen steadily in 2021, according to the authority, reaching 82.4 percent of pre-pandemic numbers in June.

That same month, World of Concrete became the first major Las Vegas trade show to make a comeback, complete with teams of masons competing for the title of “world’s best bricklayer.” And after countless pandemic-canceled ceremonies, wedding bells are ringing again: Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, has recorded marriages at higher-than-2019 levels every month this year since February.

I went to Las Vegas to test whether I was really ready for life on the other side of the pandemic

After vows are exchanged, newlyweds have fresh attractions to explore. A few minutes from the Strip is Area 15, a self-consciously trippy hub of immersive art and commerce that opened in September 2020. Visitors’ first encounter with the destination is an outdoor gallery, Art Island, whose highlights include a fire-breathing steel dragon, El Scorcho, and the Pulse Portal, an iridescent arch that changes the way it looks as you move around it.

In February at Area 15, arts production company Meow Wolf unveiled its mind-bending faux grocery store, Omega Mart, an installation that includes work by more than 325 artists and collaborators. Guests interact with performers, explore weird products and use multimedia exhibits to solve a mystery. The hidden Datamosh Bar within Omega Mart serves real cocktails, if you manage to find it. (Hint: Look for the pharmacy.)

The distillery Lost Spirits is opening an Area 15 location this month with whimsical, two-hour tasting tours, beginning Sunday, that include holograms and jungle- and submarine-themed settings. Starting in October, 12-course tasting menus will be served in the submarine, a Jules Verne-inspired affair with views of fishes and carved figures of marine life.

More traditional Vegas glitter prevails at opulent supper club Delilah, which opened in July at Wynn Las Vegas. The lavish 1950s-inspired decor includes brass palm trees, a Zebrawood-inlaid dance floor and 24-karat gold chandeliers in Delilah’s Little Bubble Bar. Throwback menu items such as Dover sole and baked Alaska have a similar nostalgic flair.

New accommodations have also arrived since the pandemic began, including the 88-acre Resorts World Las Vegas, whose three on-site hotels, totaling 3,500 rooms and suites, opened June 24. It is the first resort-casino built on the Las Vegas Strip in a decade, and it has a gambling area bigger than a standard city block.

A local’s guide to Las Vegas

An on-site, 5,000-person theater will open with Celine Dion’s new Vegas show on Nov. 5, and Miley Cyrus headlined the July 4 grand opening with a show at Ayu Dayclub, a pool and party complex. The club is inspired by “Southeast Asia’s idyllic islands” and has cabanas and tropical foliage.

In a Las Vegas summer that has brought record-high temperatures, a pool is an attractive place to be. Inspired by another island — Greece’s Mykonos, this time — the two-story Élia Beach Club, which opened June 11, has lounge areas with thatched roofs ringing a pool colored a dreamy Mediterranean blue.

Élia is part of the 1,500-room Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, which opened in March in the renovated former Hard Rock Hotel. The new hotel complex trades rock-and-roll flourishes for decor evoking the Mojave Desert, but there’s still plenty of lighthearted camp to go around. Notably, the Shag Room bar, an homage to Studio 54, has a photo booth with a speakeasy-style entrance and, yes, a springy layer of purple shag carpet.

Sports fans may find their own version of pool-party paradise at Stadium Swim, a six-pool complex with a gargantuan, high-definition screen where the game is always on. The pools are a centerpiece of the 777-room, 21-and-over Circa Resort & Casino, which opened in October 2020, and has the world’s largest sportsbook.

The Las Vegas Raiders will play a second season in their new $1.9 billion home, Allegiant Stadium, this time with fans in the stands. The team will welcome the mask-wearing public when the preseason kicks off this month. Vegas purveyors are anticipating a busy year for tailgating; MGM Resorts’ new — and nearby — Bud Light Beer Garden will begin festivities four hours before kickoff.

Want to wager on the outcome? This is Las Vegas. MGM’s brand ambassadors will be working the crowd with tips on where to place your bets.

Smith is a writer based in Vermont. Her website is Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @jenrosesmithvt.

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