My husband and I took our second trip to Las Vegas when our son was seven months old. We left him and his three-year old sister behind with Grandma, but unlike our first trip before we had kids, an all-nighter seemed like a cruel punishment rather than a goal, and I carried a breast pump in my purse and pumped in stalls of various casino bathrooms.
The point? Sin City changes after you’ve had kids, even more so if you decide you want to turn the adult playground into a family-friendly destination and take them with you. You already know how to live it up in between group outings and after bedtime, but here are four things Vegas has to offer that kids will love too.
A Night (or day) at the Museums
Thanks to the slushy boozy drinks in giant cups sold on almost every corner of the strip, my previous trips to Vegas probably killed more brain cells than enhanced my IQ in any way. Once you discover there are actually a few museums in the area (seriously, who knew?), you may be able to at least break even.
At the Discovery Children’s Museum, visit one of the regular exhibits, including The Summit, a three-story exhibit, sliding and climbing structure; Eco City, which teaches financial (the irony is not lost on me) and environmental responsibility; the hands-on exploration of colour, texture and shape at Young at Art, or Patents Pending, where kids can design, create and test their inventions, one of which is hopefully a self-sustaining tiny house you can all live in if the slots aren’t kind to you.
Less than five miles north of the strip, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum (associated with the Smithsonian Institution), features an interactive Young Scientist Center where kids can dig for fossils and hop inside a submarine to learn about marine biology. There’s also a 35-foot, roaring T-Rex for dinosaur lovers in Prehistoric Life Gallery, as well as Dinosaur Mummy CSI (Cretaceous Science Investigation), the Marine Life Gallery and many other exhibits to explore.
Though it’s not a traditional museum to explore (there are three display locomotives and non-operational equipment) the Nevada State Railroad Museum at Boulder City is a great addition to a trip to see the Hoover Dam. Train enthusiasts can take 35-minute excursions on weekends along the Boulder Branch Line that was used for the construction of the dam.
We Bought (or won) a Zoo
Lions and tigers and dolphins, oh my (I cringed writing that as much as you probably did reading it, I’m sorry). Lame Wizard of Oz references aside, Sigfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage actually has all three of those things – bottlenose dolphins, white tigers, white lions, as well as leopards. There is probably a sign asking you not to feed the animals gin or poker chips, but if your littles want to get closer, you can splurge on VIP tours or a Trainer for a Day experience. And if you’re missing your morning practice, you can even do Yoga with Dolphins (I have so many questions about their Sun Salutation alone).
If dolphin yoga is too tame for you, head down to Mandalay Bay to check out the 1.3 million gallon, 2000-creature Shark Reef Aquarium. The 14-exhibit facility has over 15 species of sharks, rare golden crocodiles, piranhas and sea turtles. Two walk-through tunnels give visitors an underwater view. The Touch Pool practically lets you play with Jaws himself (paraphrased), touching sharks, rays and horseshoe crabs.
There should probably be some kind of warning posted to not drink three margaritas before your family hits up a Vegas amusement park, because even though it seems obvious, Vegas is not always the place for common sense. It IS however, apparently the place for roller coasters. Adventuredome at Circus Circus has two of them, in addition to bumper cars, a large swinging pirate ship and a sling shot, amongst other rides for young and old thrill-seekers alike. There are also two Batman-themed laser challenges, an Xtreme Zone with rock climbing and bungee jumping, mini-golf, midway games, miniature bowling, and because nothing says fun family vacation like hiding in a corner and crying in terror, free clown shows.
If coasters are your family’s thing, the Big Apple Coaster at New York New York is a must, with a 180-degree “heartline” twist-and-dive. You can even get a commemorative souvenir photo of that one time you threw up a buffet’s worth of shrimp and crab legs at 67 mph.
Your brood can also enjoy an amazing view of Vegas for like, seconds, on the Stratosphere Big Shot. For less than you’ll pay for two cocktails in a casino lounge, you can be catapulted into the air at 45 mph and then dropped back down hundreds of feet again. One of the riders in the website’s header photo isn’t wearing any shoes, so she either lost them in a bad round of Blackjack or the ride is really that crazy and exhilarating.
At the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard, you can visit the shops at Town Square if you have any money left and don’t owe any extremities or vital organs to a bookie. More importantly, the kids can play for free at the Towne Square Children’s Park. Playhouses, a rock wall, a fort, slides and a Pop Jet fountain will provide hours of fun for kids and adults alike, who can wager how long it takes the young ones to find their way out of the park’s hedge maze. A complimentary shuttle to the square has several pick up and drop off points at locations along the strip.
Accessible by the double-decker strip Deuce bus, The Treehouse at Container Park in downtown Las Vegas is an interactive playground where kids can run, climb and explore the unique space that has a 33-foot slide.
A few final tips: don’t follow through on your previously empty threats and gamble your kids at Roulette if they’re driving you crazy, and finally, remember that what happens in Vegas only stays in Vegas when you don’t have witnesses around to leverage what they know to negotiate extra screen time or allowance raises.