Vegas in the Time of Covid

Part of our 10 year anniversary trip included a couple of days in Vegas mid-May, during the same week the CDC advised that those who had received the vaccine would no longer have to wear masks indoors. While there were a few places we visited still enforcing masks for all, in most places there were about 35% of people still wearing masks. So while technically Vegas didn’t feel 100% like “old Vegas”…it felt pretty darn close to pre-pandemic times.

Here were some of our highlights and our top time-saving tip once you arrive at the airport:

Taxi > Uber/Lyft: We arrived at McCarran International Airport around 10PM on a Wednesday night. It’s pretty easy to find your way to the Ride Sharing or Taxi pick-up area–but once we got to the Ride Sharing area it was overflowing with people waiting and both Lyft and Uber had zero drivers available. There was no one directing traffic so to speak, so it was chaotic. We decided to see if a taxi would be faster and–lo and behold–someone was running this area, it was super organized and the line moved really fast. We maybe spent $15 more for our ride to the Strip with the taxi, but who knows how long we would have sat there waiting for an Uber. (Pro tip: bring cash for the taxi to avoid the credit/debit card convenience fee.) 

Read the fine print: When you’re booking (especially during off-peak times) you might be like me and find yourself blown away by how inexpensive the hotel rates seem. In most cases, that’s because there are resort fees (typically between $35-$45 per night) that get tacked on once you click to book the room, so make sure you’re taking those into consideration. You can’t “opt out” of these fees and only a few hotels in Vegas don’t charge them.

Park MGM: We were only here briefly on our first night but were impressed with this (now smoke-free) hotel on the Strip. For less than $100 for a mid-week night, we had a room with a view of the Strip and a standard room set-up was pretty comfortable! My FAVORITE thing about the Park though is Eataly–a huge Italian marketplace with more than dozen eateries offering things like mozzarella bars and melt-in-your-mouth freshly made Italian pastries. And pasta. So much pasta. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, Eataly is worth a trip.

MGM Grand: Felt a little bit like Disney World but we enjoyed our stay here as well. I love a completely random fact, and the one I learned about the MGM Grand is that it’s the third-largest hotel in the world. Tons of food options, four pools, a lazy river, Topgolf and entertainment all on-site. The one thing I noticed about these two hotels that I was kind of surprised about was–unlike a Disney or Universal–they aren’t fully utilizing their apps or mobile food-ordering like I thought they would be.

The Cosmpolitan: While we didn’t stay here, we walked through and I wished we had! Their “food court” options make the MGM Grand’s look like something from a 90’s mall. I knew as soon as I started researching that we had to go to Eggslut for breakfast, which is located inside The Cosmpolitan. Arrive early, the line starts getting long FAST! But I promise you won’t be disappointed–this was one of the better quick breakfasts we’ve had in a long time. (I ordered “The Slut”-their signature dish consisting of a soft coddled egg with potato puree made served in a glass jar. Topped with grey salt, chives and fresh slices of baguette for dipping. I’m drooling just typing this. 

Breathe Oxygen Bar: If you’re feeling jet-lagged or like you hit Vegas a little too hard one night, 30 minutes hooked up to the oxygen here will make you feel like you’ve gotten 8 hours of sleep a night for the past week. The girl helping us also went around with these little massage devices that use TENS and EMS therapy–we loved it so much we took a mini home! 

While this trip was fast and Vegas was more or less a stop-over, it made me look at Vegas in a new light. I think I would 100% come back strictly to eat my way through this town and try out as many pools as possible. 😉

Real Talk about our Gatlinburg Glamping Experience

100% honesty…..we don’t love Gatlinburg, TN. :/

It’s been several years since we’ve been here, but a few mid-week days back during both peak leaf season and TN kids being off for fall break reminded us why we hadn’t been raring to return any time soon. It’s just not our personal vibe. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have been dubbed the “Myrtle Beach of the Mountains”–it’s ultra-touristy, congested and very close to the Sugarlands entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The busiest gateway to the most-visited National Park in the country.

I’m not talking by a little bit. This is 12.5 million versus 5.9 million at the Grand Canyon in 2019.

As our 2020 travel plans got canceled not once but three times, we decided to stay close to home and wanted to try out our very first “glamping tent” experience. Even a couple months in advance everything was already booked up. (Because fall in the Smokies is truly stunning.) While the safari tent we stayed at was cute and Camp LeConte Luxury Outdoor Resort itself had friendly staff and was very well-maintained, we wouldn’t come back to stay in a tent here again. Being very close to downtown and to the main road, the noise was insanely loud (think 18 wheelers and motorcycles passing right by until 1AM, even on a Monday night). Also when I compared the cost against a couple of the other glamping tent locations (that were all booked), you seemed to get more for your money elsewhere (namely, private bathrooms and mini-fridges/microwaves/coffee makers whereas LeConte was bare bones.)

If you’re headed to the area specifically for a glamping experience, check out:

The Ridge Outdoor Resort – north of Pigeon Forge, this spot has glamping tents that run $109-$159 per night. What looks like the penthouse of tents–these include a private bathroom (pretty nice as an adult but fairly important with small kids), microwave, small fridge, plates/silverware and even a TV. 

photo from Ridge Outdoor Resort

Under Canvas Great Smoky Mountains – 10 miles from Gatlinburg at $199-$229 per night. There are tents that can even fit up to four adults and two kids. Complete with West Elm furnishings, a private bathroom with shower and camp activities including live music during certain times of the year.

Photo from Under Canvas Gatlinburg

If you’re wanting to check out the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and avoid the craziness of Gatlinburg, look into Townsend, TN. We’ve been trying to get a spot at Little Arrow Outdoor Resort for the better part of a year–they have glamping tents ranging between $125-$154 per night that include a private bathroom/shower, mini-fridge, coffee maker, etc. They also have cabins, tiny homes, Airstream rentals and RV/tent spots.

One day we’ll get there. 😉

Photo from Little Arrow Outdoor Resort

Camping In Our Backyard – Western North Carolina Recommendations

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We get asked often about camping recommendations in North and South Carolina. But to be honest–until this year we knew more about camping in most other states except the one we call home and the one we live closest to. If you’ve been following us for a while, you might remember that we camped all of two (short) times before we decided to go full-time in the RV. (Completely normal for how we roll!)
This summer, as things started to slowly open back up, we began getting back out there for more weekend trips close to home. Sharing a couple that we’ve stayed at recently that we would definitely go back to:

 

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Emberglow Outdoor Resort

Emberglow is located in Mill Spring, NC–about 20 minutes from Lake Lure/Chimney Rock. There is enough to keep you occupied here (especially with kids) that you wouldn’t even have to leave if you didn’t feel like it. Their amenities include with a big pool, community fire pit, Gaga ball, an inflatable bounce pad, dog park and nature trails.

They also have just about any option you could want for camping if you aren’t bringing your own tent or RV–you can rent a vintage trailer, yurt, tiny home, glamping pod or even treehouses. The entire place is new and they’re still building/adding onto it, so we’ll be interested to see how this place grows and evolves over the coming seasons.

RV sites were around $60 per night and tent sites $40 per night.

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Emberglow Outdoor Resort

 

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Moonshine Creek Campground

If we had to pick a favorite place we’ve camped this year that we instantly said we would want to be regulars at, it would be Moonshine Creekin Sylva, NC. We always feel that campgrounds take on the personalities of their owners, and you can immediately see and feel the love and care that has gone into building this place over many years. It’s designed to encourage community, and that’s not a vibe every campground has.

Our campsite backed right up to the creek where the kids could go in and play. It was our constant background music. There wasn’t a mosquito in site (in June!)–we were told it’s because they have no standing water. It’s just a few minutes from the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, 30 minutes to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and countless outdoors activities.

But we could spend an entire weekend inside the campground and be perfectly content.

We highly recommend a creekside site–these start at $60 per night. This place also has some of the most amazing tent camping sites and an area called The Sanctuary (no kids or pets allowed), which starts at $40 per night. There are also various cabins available to rent as well.

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15 Minutes from Moonshine Creek – Blue Ridge Parkway