“You’re taking your family vacation where?!” That was the usual response when I told people I was taking my wife and three kids to the happiest place on Earth (for dads).
“Well, Disneyland is sick with measles. But Las Vegas has plenty to do for kids! It’s a warm paradise with rides for a fraction of the cost of Atlantis or a cruise. And it doesn’t waste two days of torturous travel to get there.” That was the pitch I fed the family. Then I had to back it up.
I did a lot of research and I figured I’d share my findings for the next parent desperately scouring the web to be a vacation hero. It’s also a good excuse to show my photos. This is different from the sponsored travel sites I sifted through. This is a real list from a dad out to prove he wasn’t a degenerate dragging his family along while he gambled. Like my father used to do me.
To be fair, my Dad isn’t a degenerate. In my adolescence, there was no internet and the Vegas idea of fun was smoke-filled slot rooms not the Rainforest Cafe. My Dad, my Uncle and our Grandparents flew us to the desert year after year proclaiming that the seedy capital of sin had transitioned into a family friendly oasis. They would make their annual promise to do more family things together. Then my cousins and I would spend “vacations” burning through rolls of quarters in arcades, playing Keno in coffee shops and collecting free porn from all the trade magazines. Now that sin city and I have matured (slightly), I was determined to break the cycle of Vegas vs family abuse.
I succeeded. All my skeptic whiners had a blast and were exhausted so that I could sneak off to gamble after bedtime. Here’s how I did it. And you can too.
*Many of these you can buy a pass to bundle and get a better deal. Like when you split a pair of twos. Okay, maybe my Blackjack advice is not as proven.
- A pool – This is essential. It’s the best way to entertain, tire-them out, spend warm hours and not your bank. Except for all our poolside cocktails, virgin and real. Our vacation was still in winter when many hotel pools are closed. For February we lucked out with warmish weather. It’s very important to research which pools are open and heated. Your vacation pleasure may depend on the hotel pool you pick. click here for a list.
- Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden, Dolphin Habitat – This was awesome. Dolphins are adorable and do tricks. Siegfried was roaming around the tiger grounds checking on things. My wife was going to do the yoga class in the underwater dolphin observatory had time permitted.
- The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay- My youngest fought kicking and screaming into this one cause he thought it would be scary. He left saying it was the greatest and so was Dad. Of course that might have been the Johnny Rocket’s milkshake talking which is conveniently located just outside.
- 4. New York, New York roller coaster and arcade – Unlike the tiny casino arcades I grew up with, this one I do endorse. Midway games as well as a plethora of video games. And the roller coaster with two loops and fierce drops, proved excessive drinking is not the only way to get nauseous on the Strip. I also recommend the real New York pizza in the food court.
- 5. Walk the Strip/Volcano- There’s plenty to gawk at on the Strip. The Mandalay Volcano erupts spectacularly at night, street dancers, minions, and dogs in costumes all line the strip for your entertainment and your tips.
- Cirque du soleil – Shows are not the cheapest, but we all agreed it was a highlight. You have to take in a show. There’s many Cirques, Blue Man, or even Lion King are perfect for the whole fam and they will not forget it.
- M&M store – Sure, in the land of excess of course there’s the humongous candy stores. The Hershey’s/Jolly Rancher store is right across the street but the M&M store is more than just candy. One of the 5 floors has a movie theater with a free 3-D 15 minute movie.
- 8. Magic show – Kids love magic and Vegas has plenty of acts. I love Penn and Teller but I had to find a non-cursing kid-friendly act which will narrow your choices by half. Since we were saving so much money by not going to the Bahamas we decided to splurge and see the new show by David Copperfield, the world’s greatest magician. Wow. Dinosaurs, talking Aliens and plenty to blow the minds of all ages. Though I highly recommend Copperfield, there are many acts I hear were just as amaze-balls.
- 9. Room service- I don’t know why, but this is always fun whether you dine with them or not. Our oldest child is old enough to leave her in charge of her brothers while we enjoyed one nice meal in our hotel. Even if yours are too young to ditch alone, they love room service and watching a movie to cap a fun-filled day.
- Your ad here- Give me your suggestion. If you’re a dad, I’ll post for free. If you’re a sponsor, fly me back out to try it. And I want the full Vegas treatment including chips to gamble.
- Caesar’s Forum shops – I thought we’d just pass through and see the animatronic gods that are featured. That’s a common Vegas amateur mistake. Like the Casinos, they design the malls so it’s nearly impossible to escape. The Lotus Casino scene in Percy Jackson movie nails it and a good prep movie for the kids. The Fountain of the Gods is not worth the hour of trying to find the exit. I felt bad and offered to buy my kids something at a store. Other than candy there are little for kids in Vegas malls and certainly nothing cheap. Diamond-studded thongs and overpriced autographed paraphernalia there is plenty. Toy stores, not so much.
- The Body Exhibit – My wife was intrigued by this one. But for the children, seeing one actual skin covered skeleton was enough. Then I had to run through the rest of the costly attraction to catch up to them in the gift shop.
- Venetian Gondola ride – Sometimes Vegas replicas are fantastic. The recreated Michelangelo Sistine Chapel ceiling at the entrance is impressive to everyone except my children. A slow-moving gondola ride through the dark mall we just walked through is not impressive to anyone but honeymooners.
- Candy/toy buyer beware – The big, colorful, impossible to resist candy dispensers in the M&M and Hershey’s stores dispense extremely fast. The excess of candy we left those stores with caused fights between my sugar hoarding fiends every ten minutes. They were worse than me every time we passed through the casino. And the magic stores in the malls are very happy to demonstrate how easy-to-learn that $50 trick for purchase is. It was never learned after purchase. That’s $50 I could have lost gambling! Kids…so wasteful.
- Stay out till 3am gambling – Out of the 3 nights I went to play the tables, only one night did I get stuck battling Gamblor longer than I intended. But when you’re winning it’s hard to know when it’s time to go to bed nor how you’ll feel the next morning when screaming kids are jumping on you. Funniest thing, when I told my kids after the first night that I didn’t win at the tables, my son comforted me, “That’s okay, Daddy. At least you tried. If you don’t try you can’t win.” Now that’s the spirit that built this wonderful town!
Other family attractions I didn’t try because we didn’t have time!
- Circus/Circus – I remember from my childhood they have midway games, circus performers, and it was very dingey and smoky. I hear now they have an amusement park with rides but that it is still dingey and smokey.
- Paris/Eiffel Tower – great restaurants and view of Bellagio fountains. I figure it’s the closest my family will get to a Europe trip other than the International House of Pancakes, but we couldn’t fit it in.
- Stratosphere – two rides and obviously the view have made this a destination but I’ve never been.
- Golden Nugget – has heated indoor pool surrounding a shark/fish tank and huge water slide with poolside gambling tables. Non-guests can swim for $25. Still, it’s hard to find time to get downtown away from the party on the Strip.
- Bunny Ranch – Oh, it’s not a petting zoo with rabbits? Oops. Nevermind.
Tune in again for my next edition: Things to do in NYC when you’re Dad.