If you’ve previously visited Las Vegas, you undoubtedly know what the town is all about…namely, lots of glitz, gambling, and other adult-oriented activities. Las Vegas has long been known for its somewhat wild reputation. Women prance around the stage with skimpy costumes, alcohol flows freely, and family pursuits seem hard to find.
Yet, in the 1990s, with already a variety of things to do in Las Vegas, the city worked hard to become a family destination. Hotels built elaborate theme parks and stage shows offered kid-friendly fare. Television and print campaigns touted this Nevada city as the ideal place for a family vacation. For all intents and purposes, the campaign failed.
Just a few years ago, when the Las Vegas tourism bureau adopted the phrase “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas,” it was evident that the years spent pursuing families were over. The city recognized that it was still pretty much a destination where visitors came to gamble and otherwise carouse, and that many mature visitors were annoyed with the presence of children in restaurants and at shows and other venues around The Strip.
Businesses also found that families weren’t spending the kind of money they hoped they would spend. Instead, they took advantage of cheap accommodations, $2.00 buffet dinners, and hogged all the lounge chairs at the pool. This wasn’t what the tourism gurus had in mind when they began the campaign to attract families to Las Vegas.
That said, if a family really has their heart set on heading to Las Vegas for a holiday, there’s still plenty for families to do as a unit. It just takes a little creativity.
Choosing a Hotel
Picking the right hotel for your stay in Las Vegas can make or break your vacation. Some hotels will automatically be eliminated. For example, the Bellagio won’t allow anyone under 18 on the premises unless they are a guest and accompanied by an adult, and the Tropicana used to have a slogan that read “Rollers, Not Strollers” so you probably won’t want to stay there either.
There are, however, some themed hotels that are more suited to adults who are traveling with children.
- Circus Circus is probably the number one hotel choice for families. The fifth largest hotel in the world, Circus Circus boasts the Adventuredome Theme Park, a 5-acre indoor park that kids love. Add to that the hotel’s non-stop circus shows, a Midway, and a host of other shows that kids can enjoy, and you have the perfect Las Vegas family hotel.
- Caesars Palace lets kids under 17 stay free, which is not the case with the vast majority of the other hotels. But the real reason for families to stay here is the 4.5 acre Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis with its four fabulous pools.
- Stratosphere – Older kids will be especially fond of this towering hotel, which boasts an incredible rooftop thrill ride area. (You need to be truly insane to ride “Insanity.”) This hotel is the tallest free standing tower in the U.S. at 1,149 feet.
Other hotels offer the occasional family-friendly rate, so it’s best to do some in-depth research before you make your final choice. It’s a good idea to stay on “The Strip,” because that’s where all the action happens. The old downtown hotels are more affordable but some are quite dated and many aren’t very kid-friendly.
Obviously, if you’ve come to Las Vegas with your kids, you’re not planning on spending your days and nights in the casinos. That means you’ll need to find something else to do. For some, spending the days at the posh pools that are found at many of the city’s hotels is fun enough. Others are hoping for more.
- Hoover Dam – The number one “side trip” from Las Vegas is a jaunt to the amazing Hoover Dam. Nearly everyone visits the dam at least once while in Las Vegas. It’s just 30 miles southeast of the city and if you don’t have a rental car, you’ll find plenty of tours that make their way to this modern marvel. The dam tour is both informative and light-hearted, which makes it perfect for kids. Don’t forget your camera because you can take as many “dam” pictures as you please!
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area – 110-mile long Lake Mead, with a surface area of 274 square miles, is a mecca for families who enjoy spending time on the water. You can swim, boat, water ski, or fish on this pretty lake or hike the area around the water. Just 30 miles south of Las Vegas, it’s easy to reach and doesn’t require a long car ride.
- Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area – For those who love nature, this area – 20 miles from the Las Vegas Strip – has a beautiful 13-mile scenic drive, lots of hiking trails, picnic areas, and bike paths. Guided walks and kids’ programs are available.
- Valley of Fire State Park – Located just 55 miles northwest of the city, this is Nevada’s oldest state park. The red sandstone rock formations – like The Seven Sisters – are cool and sure to be a hit with kids. In addition, you can view amazing ancient Indian petroglyphs in the canyon at the park.
- The Grand Canyon – If you’re willing to drive about 4 hours to reach it, the Grand Canyon can be included as an addendum to your Las Vegas trip. One of the most visited natural attractions in America, few words can describe this awesome sight. Appropriate for all ages!
Some Las Vegas Don’ts
When you arrive in Las Vegas with your kids, remember that you’re there for a “family” vacation. Even though this is not the most family-friendly town in the world, you can make the most of your time together.
- Don’t leave the kids with one parent while the other goes off to the casino. A family holiday means that everyone stays and plays together. Resist temptation!
- Don’t try to bring your kids into areas that really aren’t meant for them and abide by the rules of hotels who don’t allow children to enter. Don’t argue with staff when they ask you to leave and take your kids with you.