Las Vegas is predominantly an adult tourist destination. Casinos are very particular about who’s occupying their beds, and the least preferred customers of all are families with children. Children can’t gamble, they annoy adults who come to Las Vegas to avoid kids, and they reduce or make impossible the time their parents spend in the casino.
However, if you don’t object to being persona non grata, Las Vegas is a great place for a family vacation. Food and lodging are a good value for the dollar, and there are an extraordinary number of things that the entire family can enjoy together. If you take your kids to Las Vegas and forget gambling, Las Vegas compares favorably with every family tourist destination in the United States. The rub, of course, is that gambling in Las Vegas is pretty hard to ignore.
Persons under age 21 are not allowed to gamble, nor are they allowed to hang around while you gamble. If you are gambling, your children have to be somewhere else. On the Strip and Downtown, the choices are limited. After a short time, you will discover that the current options for your children’s recreation and amusement are as follows.
1. You can simply allow your children to hang out. Given this alternative, the kids will swim a little, watch some TV, eat as much as their (or your) funds allow, throw water balloons out of any hotel window that has not been hermetically sealed, and cruise up and down the Strip (or Fremont Street) on foot, ducking in and out of souvenir stores and casino lobbies.
2. If your children are a mature age 10 or older, you can turn them loose at the Adventuredome at Circus Circus. The kids, however, will probably cut bait and go cruising after about an hour or two.
3. You can hire a babysitter to come to your hotel room and tend to your children. This works out pretty much like option 1, without the water balloons and the cruising.
4. You can abandon the casino (or whatever else you had in mind) and “do things” with your kids. Swimming and eating (as always) will figure prominently into the plan, as will excursions to places that have engaged the children’s curiosity. You can bet that your kids will want to go to the Adventuredome at Circus Circus. The white tigers, dolphins, and exploding volcano at the Mirage; The Forum Shops; and the Stratosphere Tower are big hits with kids.
New York–New York features a roller coaster. If you have two children and do a fraction of all this stuff in one day, you will spend $80–$250 for the four of you, not counting meals and transportation.
If you have a car, however, there are lots of great, inexpensive places to go—enough to keep you busy for days. We recommend Red Rock Canyon and Hoover Dam, for sure. On the way to Hoover Dam, you can stop for a tour of the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory.
A great day excursion (during the spring and fall) is a guided raft trip through the Black Canyon on the Colorado River. This can easily be combined with a visit to Hoover Dam. Trips to the Valley of Fire State Park (driving, biking, hiking), and a visit to the Grand Canyon are also recommended during the spring and fall.
Around Las Vegas there are a number of real museums and museums–tourist attractions. The Discovery Children’s Museum (adjacent to the Smith Center Downtown) is worthwhile, affordable, and a big favorite with kids ages 14 and younger. While you are in the neighborhood, try the Natural History Museum almost directly across the street. The zip line adventure at Fremont Street is also going to be a hit with the kids.
5. You can pay someone else to take your kids on excursions. Some in-room sitters (bonded and from reputable agencies) will take your kids around if you foot the bill. For recommendations, check with the concierge or front desk of your hotel. An organization called Nannies & Housekeepers U.S.A. (Tel: 702-451-0021; nahusa.com) offers 24/7 in-room babysitting and puts their sitters through a lengthy and rigorous screening; they are the exclusive babysitting agency for many Las Vegas hotels, including Wynn Las Vegas, Wynn Encore, and MGM Grand. If your kids are over age 12, you can send them on one of the guided tours advertised by the various local visitor magazines.
Hotels that Solicit Family Business
As Excalibur gets out of the family trade, Circus Circus stands alone as the only casino that welcomes children. Circus Circus actively seeks the family market with carnival game midways. A great setup for the casinos, the midways turn a nice profit while innocuously introducing the youngsters to games of chance. In addition, Circus Circus operates the Adventuredome theme park and offers free circus acts each evening, starring top-notch talent, including aerialists (flying trapeze artists).
Parents traveling with children are grudgingly accepted at all of the larger hotels, though certain hotels are better equipped to deal with children than others. If your children are water puppies, Mandalay Bay, Venetian, M Resort, Planet Hollywood, Flamingo, Monte Carlo, MGM Grand, Mirage, Aria, Rio, Tropicana, Caesars Palace, Wynn Las Vegas, Wynn Encore, Bellagio, Red Rock Resort, Green Valley Ranch, and TI have the best pools in town. Westgate Las Vegas, SLS, and Hard Rock Hotel, among others, also have excellent swimming facilities.
If your kids are older and into sports, the MGM Grand, Caesars Palace, Westgate Las Vegas, and Bally’s offer the most variety.
For child care and special programs, The Orleans, Red Rock Resort, Boulder Station, Palms, Texas Station, Sunset Station, and Santa Fe Station provide child-care facilities.
Our favorite hotel for a family vacation is Green Valley Ranch Resort, a Station casino and resort about 15 minutes southeast of the Strip. Its location is convenient to Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, the Black Canyon of the Colorado, and Red Rock Canyon, for starters. It has great swimming areas, good restaurants, and lovely guest rooms. And when you want to sneak into the casino or have an adults-only meal, the concierge will arrange child care for you. Best of all, Green Valley Ranch is isolated. There’s no place nearby where your kids can get into trouble (right!).