Over the last decade or so, Las Vegas has been diligently returning to its sinful roots by mostly marketing itself to young adults with messages that whisper sex, gambling and booze. But believe it or not, there was a time in our not-so-distant past when many of the even the hottest establishments on the strip were spending small fortunes to try and brand themselves as family-friendly destinations—complete with amusement park rides, cheap food and a whole lot of hype that is in drastic contrast to what’s being said about Vegas (by Vegas) today. And even though the vast majority of these of these efforts have completely ceased, if not entirely denied, there’s still an abundance of ways to keep the kids (and the big kids alike) both occupied and happy in Sin City—and possibly even completely submerged in a fantastic adolescent-friendly fantasy land; depending on if you know where to go, of course.
First you need to decide where to stay; and when traveling with children in Vegas, it’s best to stay somewhere that offers some in-house entertainment and Circus Circus Hotel and Casino, on the north-end of the Strip, has it in spades. Not only are their room rates some of the cheapest you’ll find on The Las Vegas strip, but their Carnival Midway is always bustling with well over 200 video and carnival-style games, face painting, and some of the best free circus entertainment you can find, anywhere including trapeze artists, contortionists, animals, jugglers and more. Circus Circus also has Adventuredome—America’s largest indoor theme park, boasting five and a half acre glass encasement of thrill rides and other such attractions.
Excalibur Hotel and Casino is another budget friendly establishment that caters to families with its medieval fantasy façade, complete with drawbridge and turrets, a Fun Dungeon with arcade games and rides, waterslide pools, and one of the most popular dinner shows in town: The Tournament of Kings, where you can eat with your fingers to the sounds of invading armies, fireworks and joyous table-poundings of the audience rooting for their favorite jousting knight.
There’s no shortage of truly amazing night sights to see for free in Las Vegas, and here are a few of the most family-friendly: Every evening the Fountains at Bellagio wow passerbyes with a fantastically dramatic water and music show that repeats throughout the evening. The volcano at The Mirage Hotel and Casino also impresses crowds of onlookers, once an hour after dusk, with explosions of fiery “lava” and a tiki soundtrack that is sure to drop a young jaw or two. And for a quick trip off the Strip, head downtown and witness the Fremont Street Experience, which is sure have you and the kids dancing in the streets under a $70 million light canopy and 540,000-watt sound system.
Where to eat is another important choice to consider. The Hard Rock Café, located next to the MGM Grand, is crammed full of kid friendly eats and one of the world’s largest collections of look-but-don’t-touch rock ’n’ roll music memorabilia. This three-story, 42,000 square-foot destination restaurant also offer the world’s largest Rock Shop, an interactive “Rock Wall,” and interactive “Microsoft Surface” tables. There’s even a built-in stage that is frequently occupied by artists from all over the world, and concert seating for up to 1000 patrons. Also keep in mind that young children (up to ages three or four) eat for free in many of the best breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets, while some others offer a discounted price for children under 12—call ahead and check prices.
For a family-friendly dining experience that’s a bit more formal, check out Maggiano’s Little Italy on the second level of the Fashion Show Mall. Maggiano’s offers lavish banquet rooms and a bountiful Southern Italian menu that is sure to satisfy even the most finicky of palettes. And here’s a tip most people don’t know about: After you are seated, ask your server for the "family style" menu. It’s different from the regular menu, with different prices, and it's all "family style;" meaning they’ll keep bringing you more and more of what you order until you ask them to stop.
All in all, traveling to Las Vegas with kids can be a blast, and it can be done on a variety of budgets. But before you embark on a family vacation to this desert oasis, do a little pre-planning as far as activities, and major meals. Make sure to make reservations in advance. Most importantly, make sure that everyone understands the importance of sticking together out in public. Exercise good judgment when taking the youngsters out at after dark. Las Vegas doesn’t quite market itself as a safe, kid-friendly destination so much anymore. But for those in the know, this great American city has a lot to offer the entire family.