LAS VEGAS – Lora Johnson and her sister bypassed the slot machines and blackjack tables and didn't even stop to gawk at the cake vending machine on their way through The Cromwell Hotel & Casino.
They made a beeline for a carpeted corridor on the outer edge of the casino on their Saturday morning visit in early April. It was 10:45 a.m., and there were already more than a dozen people in swimsuits waiting to get into Drai's Beach Club at 11.
It was their first Las Vegas pool party, and they weren't going to miss a minute of the action and the performer that drew them there: rapper DaBaby.
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Johnson, 53, a day care provider from Northern California on her first vacation in four years, was annoyed by the club's strict security and $25 locker charge for a tote bag deemed too big for the pool, and worried she might be out of place among a sea of 20-somethings in thong swimsuits. Those concerns melted away as soon as the elevator dropped them off at the swank club where a DJ blared hip hop music over distant views of the dancing Bellagio fountains on the Las Vegas Strip.
Johnson ordered a Hennessey and Grand Marnier in a large souvenir cup and a soft drink for her sister and didn't flinch at the $71 tab. She and her sister scouted an open spot on the edge of the small pool (there is no other free seating) and dangled their feet in the water.
"This is epic to me. This is, like, the bomb," she said. "Everybody's here partying. They don't care about your size or nothing."
What is a Las Vegas dayclub?
For many tourists, hotel pool parties, known as dayclubs, are an essential part of a Las Vegas vacation.
More than a dozen hotels compete for the lucrative March-October weekend day-drinking and dancing business, trying to one up each other with the cushiest cabanas, over-the-top champagne showers, bottle service and headline entertainment. There are pool party crawls, where partygoers go from one to another, and a dayclub at the strip club Sapphire.
The Venetian Resort's Tao Beach Club reopened April 1 after a two-year, $50 million renovation that nearly doubled the space, including a new DJ booth, menu featuring sushi boats and room for up to 3,000 daytime revelers. ("Breaking Bad" stars Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston popped in, as did celebrity model Kendall Jenner.) The club plastered a JSX jet with its logo for opening weekend and flashed a "Tao Beach Club Taking Off'' shot on Instagram.
Three dayclubs debuted during the pandemic: Ayu Beach Club at Resorts World International; Elia Beach Club at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, the former Hard Rock Hotel and home to the original Las Vegas pool party Rehab; and Stadium Swim, a combination pool party/sports bar at Circa hotel downtown.
"Dayclubs in Vegas have been the biggest hospitality growth area for Vegas the past 10 years," said Jason Strauss, co-CEO of nightclub giant Tao Group Hospitality, which runs Marquee Dayclub at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Wet Republic Ultra Pool at MGM Grand and Liquid Pool Lounge at Aria. "There's a whole segment of guest that comes to Vegas that would much rather enjoy day life and sleep at night."
Summer 2022 pool party crowds are likely to be bonkers as travel surges back two years into the pandemic and travel restrictions are eased or eliminated. Strauss said he noticed a spike in attendance as soon as Las Vegas lifted its indoor mask mandate in February, and attendance is "way above" pre-pandemic levels.
Las Vegas tourism is surging overall, and airport passenger counts doubled through February.
Signs of the brewing boom were evident the first weekend of April, when USA TODAY reporters visited 10 pool parties while the Grammys were in town and the final two games of the NCAA's March Madness college men's basketball tournament filled sportsbooks.
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Snoop Dogg in the house: ‘We're gonna rock it till the wheels come off'
The security guards manning the entrance at Elia Beach Club at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas couldn't stop apologizing for a line that stretched longer than an airport security queue on a holiday weekend.
At 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday, more than two hours after the doors opened, several hundred people remained in a single snaking line that took more than an hour to get through. Shade was in short supply, so tourists and locals inching their way to the front shed swimsuit cover-ups, fanned themselves, bribed friends to go find cocktails and documented the scene on social media.
Security guards put the total at more than 2,000 people, near capacity, compared with a few hundred a day earlier. The big draw: rapper Snoop Dogg. It was one of the top three days at the pool party since it opened last June.
Inside, there were throngs of people in the pool and all around it – and an hourlong wait for drinks.
How much are drinks at Vegas pool parties?
Jazlyn Acosta and her friends bought two cocktails each (Patron and pineapple juice for her) when they finally reached the bar, so they didn't have to get back in line. The tab for the eight drinks in souvenir cups with straws: more than $400.
None of the Austin, Texas, women had been to Las Vegas, so they booked the trip to celebrate a 24th birthday in the group. They initially planned a chill day at their hotel pool but switched things up when a promoter offered free tickets to see Snoop Dogg at Elia. They maneuvered their way through the crowds to some rocks on the edge of the pool, as close to the small stage as they could get.
The rapper began his 30-minute set with "The Next Episode," singing to guests what could be the anthem for pool parties: "We're gonna rock it till the wheels come off."
"The energy's different," Acosta said of the pool party scene. "It made us keep partying throughout the day."
They followed up the pool party with cocktails in their room, then a ride on the High Roller Observation wheel and a trip to Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace.
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Pool parties are a big draw for bachelor and bachelorette parties, and they are returning to Las Vegas in droves as weddings postponed during the pandemic are back on the calendar.
Brandy Adams and several friends from Atlanta had a trip to Las Vegas booked for June 2020 but canceled it because of the pandemic. The group of eight finally made it in April and added pool parties to the already-packed agenda after spotting a Groupon for a pool party crawl.
Adams, 28, is getting married in Georgia in August and was the star of the party bus tour in her white bathing suit, sequined miniskirt and blingy captain's hat bedazzled with the word "bride," all Amazon finds.
The tour by LA Epic Pub Crawls started at 11:15 a.m. with two-for-one drinks at the Tipsy Robot bar, followed by a procession on foot through the Planet Hollywood casino, with guides leading the way with their smartphone flashlights, to the Marquee Dayclub at the Cosmopolitan resort across the street.
It was just after noon on a Sunday, so Marquee wasn't busy, enabling Adams and her group to briefly hang out on the plush purple daybeds in the pool, which cost anywhere from $500 to $3,500. They ordered drinks but passed on food. The carne asada nachos were $36.
On the party bus to the next stop, Adams danced on the stripper pole near the back, ending with a split in the aisle.
Her friend Bruce Wilson, 27, a student studying biology at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, twerked to Cardi B's "Up."
"When I hear Las Vegas, I think, of course, gambling, Sin City, things like that. But coming here to party, I'm like, am I part of the sin now?" he said, laughing. "I'm like the complete opposite as I am right now. I'm like cookie cutter, always … studying. This is out of the norm. Vegas takes the naughty girl out of me, I swear."
The bachelorette party started losing steam at Wet Republic Ultra Pool, where one pooped partygoer rested her head on the bar, eliciting concern from the bartender.
Adams said she enjoyed the bus ride more than the pool party stops with their pricey drinks and standing room only.
"It's not like how you would see it on Instagram or on TV," she said. "I didn't expect that you can't sit down unless you pay."
The party didn't stop when the crawl ended at Wet Republic. The group headed to Tao Beach Club at the Venetian.
Dress code be damned: Costumed characters at Encore Beach Club
Las Vegas party pools have dress codes with a lengthy list of do's and don'ts posted on their websites and at the entrance. Guests have to have a swimsuit on, even if they don't plan on going in the pool. (These aren't places for sunbathing or laps.)
Robert Winchell broke them all on his Saturday visit to Encore Beach Club at Encore resort, his first Las Vegas pool party.
The Denver resident showed up at the Wynn Resorts pool party in an unzipped, sleeveless Dalmatian costume paired with a neon pink Las Vegas trucker hat. His swimsuit was underneath.
Winchell competed in the Fool's Roll – a race in which teams must buy a car, drive it from Austin to Las Vegas, sell the car upon arrival and put all of the money from the sale on a single bet. All in costumes. Winchell's group bought a used firetruck on Facebook Marketplace and named their team "$68 on eBay for a Jennifer Lopez Fart in a Mason Jar."
At Encore, they hung out on a couch near the dance floor. The Dalmatian was surrounded by Playboy's Huge Hefner, "Anchorman" Ron Burgundy, Waldo and the QAnon Shaman. One friend, Winchell joked, was simply playing "a really hungover person."
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They were exhausted, running on three hours of sleep and powering through with a drink Winchell described as vodka with "a little bit" of orange juice.
"Vegas is amazing for three days," he said. "After that, you're either dead or you fly home."
How much is a cabana at a pool party in Vegas?
General admission guests fill dayclubs every weekend, but the moneymakers are cabanas, daybeds, bungalows and suites tourists and locals reserve at a hefty cost. They are billed as havens of exclusivity and, the more you pay, shade from the hot desert sun. The priciest come with their own pools and bathrooms. Reserve one, and there are no lines to get in, no waits at the bar.
Encore Beach Club sells patio couches that can sit six for $2,000 in mid-April and a bungalow for 12, with a private pool, restroom and TV, for $15,000. Guests must spend that much on booze and food, which is not hard to do when a bottle of vodka is $600 and a champagne shower is $1,000.
Stadium Swim wants $200 for a VIP lounge chair for one and $2,000 for an owner's suite for 20 during NFL Draft festivities in late April.
Want some Red Bull with your vodka at Wet Republic? That will be $66 for six.
Aliyah Milmeister and her husband, Randy, booked a poolside daybed at Wet Republic to celebrate her 25th birthday. Acraze was in the DJ booth on the early April Sunday.
They had to spend a minimum of $500 and by 3 p.m. had ordered two $95 pitchers of cocktails – a watermelon mule and a "pool bunny" with vodka, Red Bull and lemonade – a Caesar salad, fruit salad and a quesadilla.
Randy Milmeister said the daybed purchase was worth it after a successful year in real estate, and his wife was excited to see Acraze perform.
"I just discovered him last year at EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival), and then his mix that he did at EDC became like the No. 1 dance song," Aliyah said.
Randy marveled at the evolution of pool parties since their inception in the 2000s with local DJs.
"It was boring, but at some point, somebody came up with a great idea: Hey, people like to party at night. I bet they'd like to party during the day," he said. "I'm sure that guy was told 100 times you're a (expletive) moron, nobody's going to party in the (expletive) day. People go out at night. And now, there are these great, amazing world-class pool parties."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vegas pool parties: Dayclubs primed for 2022 season