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Las Vegas with Kids
Although Las Vegas has worked hard to shed its sin city, high-roller image and package itself as a family-friendly destination, one question remains -- is this really a good place to bring your kids? The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is yes. A profusion of mega-resorts, most of them built during the last decade, provide visual stimulation and countless opportunities for recreation. There are dining possibilities to satisfy every palate and the sun shines brightly over 300 days of the year. Best of all, you can have a ball without playing a single game of poker, roulette, bingo, craps or playing the slot machines. Since the options in Las Vegas can seem mind-boggling, a few suggestions are in order, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Where to stay. The Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino takes its South Seas theme and makes it fun for kids and parents alike. Palm trees, colorful birds and, yes, blinking lights vie for your attention indoors while outside, the gold-leaf-lined windows of the main building sparkle in the ever-present sunshine. Kids will make a bee-line for the resort’s beach (yep, that’s real white sand between your toes) and its wave pool, a gigantic swimming hole that sends a large wave cascading out every 90 seconds. Our young son woke up every morning, looked down at this pool from our 17 th-floor perch and shrieked “ WAVE ! POOL !!” Message sent. A lazy river ride, replete with floats available for rent, encircles the beach and has a decent current to boot. Yet another large pool is better suited to those who’d rather swim ‘n sip.
Once you’ve dried out (if your kids will ever let you), head over to the poolside Beach Bar & Grill for their excellent burgers, sandwiches and salads. Raffles Café, adjacent to the casino floor, offers a varied menu and huge portions for day into night dining (definitely consider sharing a meal here) while the Bay Side Buffet is tailor-made for those who can never make up their mind (your kids). Sun-fried kids should be escorted to Shark Reef, an aquarium that boasts some rather dangerous and exotic prey. Trust me, they’ll love it. Mandalay Place offers 40+ stores for your shopping pleasure while the Spa at Mandalay Bay is a great place for mom and dad to unwind. Oh yeah, there are at least a dozen more restaurants, most of them pricey, and a House of Blues for good Southern fare to go with the tunes. Not to be overlooked is your room at the Mandalay Bay , a 500 square foot sprawl with a floor-to-ceiling window and the bathroom you wish you had at home. Face it, though, you’re here for the beach and the fact that your kids will love you for bringing them to this wonderful world of water.
Another buffet? There’s nothing like variety to keep the kids occupied – come to think of it, this works pretty well with adults, too. Make meal time in Las Vegas a cinch by seeking out one of the many excellent buffets available up and down the Strip. The Roundtable Buffet at the Excalibur Hotel is inexpensive, rarely mobbed and offers up the kind of food that you know isn’t good for you but still tastes so darn good. The food is decidedly more sophisticated at Le Village Buffet at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel, with food stations representing various regions throughout France (check out Provence and Alsace ) and a dessert buffet that shouldn’t be missed. Francophiles will pay dearly for this meal but it’s one splurge that’s definitely worthwhile. The buffets at the MGM Grand Hotel and the Mirage Hotel are also tasty treats for the entire family. A couple of sweet treats that should be on your agenda are breakfast pastry from Patisserie Lenotre at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and an ice cream cone from Ben & Jerry’s at the Treasure Island Hotel.
Take the “A” train. Finally, a way to shorten the unbelievably long city blocks along the Las Vegas Strip. The Las Vegas Monorail, a four-mile-long overhead train that travels at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, makes it possible to navigate the Strip from end to end in as little as fourteen minutes. Launched in the summer of 2004, the monorail’s sleek new cars give you a close-up view of the Strip’s many mammoth hotels while keeping you out of the desert heat. Kids of all ages will enjoy the Jetsons-like experience.
Hey, Mom, let’s go to the Strip! While you may never want to leave the comfort and ease of your full-service resort, there’s a whole lot of fun waiting for the kids once you hit the Las Vegas Strip. Bigger is better is on display at the Mirage Hotel volcano, which pops its top every fifteen minutes after dark. The dancing fountains at the Bellagio Hotel shoot over a thousand jets of water into the nighttime sky to the beat of Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti and a host of others. Back inside, the Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand is home to several African lions and their cubs – time your visit for their 6:45 pm or 9 pm feeding. The Mirage keeps pace with its White Tiger Habitat courtesy of Siegfried & Roy while it’s pink Chilean flamingos, lots of ‘em, who lead the menagerie at the Flamingo Hotel’s Wildlife Habitat. Trade in animals for adventure on the New York -New York Hotel’s Manhattan Express, a loop-the-loop roller coaster that provides upside down views of the Las Vegas skyline. Kids will ask for more, and get it, at the Adventuredome Theme Park at the Circus Circus Hotel, featuring 21 rides and attractions in what is billed as America ’s largest indoor theme park. Trekkies will want to beam themselves over to the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and its Star Trek: The Experience attraction, which puts you aboard the USS Enterprise for a thrill-packed ride throughout the galaxy. A more relaxed elevator ride will take you to the top of the half-scale Eiffel Tower at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel for a bird’s eye view of the Strip both day and night. If all this activity leaves you in need of a sugar fix, head over to the M&Ms Academy at the Showcase Mall for an eye-popping peek into the life of everyone’s favorite colored candy.
Skip the Strip. If everyone has overdosed on bling-bling three days into your Las Vegas trip, pay a visit to the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum. This interactive museum on the edge of town revels in its desert setting and offers plenty to do for kids of all ages. Desert Discovery is geared toward children ages five and under and lets little learners climb “ Boulder Mountain ,” work at “Cactus Construction” and explore the “Desert in the Dark.” Older sibs will enjoy shopping at the Discovery Store, making music, building sand dunes, rerouting rivers, playing junior scientist and otherwise engaging the universe. The Las Vegas Natural History Museum (yes, Toto, there is natural history in Las Vegas ) is just up the road and showcases animated dinosaurs alongside its exploration of the desert’s plant and animal life.
Slow down. While there are plenty of activities to keep the family busy in Las Vegas , you may find that the desert sun and heat combined with blinking lights and ka-chinging machines render the heartiest souls fatigued by 3 pm . If that’s the case, insist on taking a break. An afternoon nap will do wonders for the family’s mood come dinnertime. If the kids won’t nod off, stay indoors anyway and read books, watch TV (chances are a kid-friendly movie will be available on pay-per-view) or play games. Reduce your schedule for the remainder of your visit to avoid mid-day meltdowns, especially among younger children.
Don’t forget the babysitter. Um, make that the grandparents, a favorite aunt or a best friend. Face it, how will mom and dad ever take in a glittering Las Vegas show if the kids are in tow? Being able to leave the kids with a trusted family member or friend means that no member of the family will miss out on Las Vegas ’ nocturnal delights. Consider swapping babysitting duties on alternate nights so that all the adults get out for a good time. The more, the merrier is certainly true in Las Vegas , so don’t hesitate to share the experience with an ample crew. That way Mom and Dad will be able to hit the gaming tables, be that the roulette wheel, slot machines, poker or crap tables.
Elaine Sosa Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA . When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and six-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.