In spite of its reputation as Sin City, a Las Vegas family vacation can be fun for all generations. Because it is a fairly major air hub, other vacations can often be extended with a few days in Las Vegas. With parents and grandparents along to switch off babysitting, the adults can take in a show or two and visit the casinos without worrying about child care.
Two Possible Drawbacks
From a grandparent's point of view, Las Vegas has two drawbacks. The first is the distance. It can be quite a trek from one attraction to the other. Given the monolithic size of the casinos and the clear desert air, distances are deceiving. Don’t overestimate the amount of ground you'll be able to travel on foot. You can take advantage of the monorail that runs up and down the Strip and the double-decker Deuce bus service to downtown, but getting from your hotel room to a stop can still be quite a hike.
The second drawback is the heat during the summer, which may be the only time that school-age grandchildren are available for travel. Drink lots of water, and use sunscreen liberally, especially if you are going to one of Vegas' beautiful hotel pools.
Free Family Attractions
Other than hanging out at the pool, there are some attractions that are completely free. These include:
- Volcano eruption at the Mirage
- Dancing waters at the Bellagio
- The Fremont Street Experience, a music and light show in the downtown area
- Talking statues at the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace
- Aquarium and rain forest at the Mirage
- Circus acts at Circus Circus
- Hand-blown glass flowers covering the ceiling at the Bellagio
Some Recent Changes
The much-loved pirate show at Treasure Island has morphed into the Sirens of Treasure Island, aimed at adults rather than children. The white tiger exhibit at the Mirage, which used to be free, has been moved into Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, which is not free.
Not Free But Possibly Worth It
These child-friendly activities aren't free but can be worth the cost of a ticket, depending upon the ages and tastes of your grandchildren. Ticket prices change often:
- Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage ($19.95 down)
- The roller coaster at New York New York ($14.00)
- Adventuredome theme park at Circus Circus ($27.95 down)
- Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay ($18.00 down)
- Las Vegas Spring Preserve ($18.95 down)
- Lied Discovery Children's Museum ($8.50 down)
In addition to these attractions, which have fixed ticket prices, children will enjoy visiting one of the many arcades in Las Vegas. Some magic shows are kid-friendly.
Las Vegas Side Trips
Vegas is also a great hub for side trips. Tour the Hoover Dam or the Wild West town of Oatman. The petroglyphs at Grapevine Canyon make for an interesting stop, and driving historic Route 66 is also a option.
The Grand Canyon and the canyon parks of Utah are worthy of more than a day trip. Consider adding a stay at one of these iconic destinations. Zion and Bryce National Parks offer fantastic and colorful rock formations. In the summer, Utah canyons are also fiercely hot. The higher altitude of the Grand Canyon makes it a cooler choice, as long as you don't descend into the canyon. It's especially worthwhile if you take the trouble to get to the more remote and less-visited North Rim.
Other Nevada Options for Family Vacations
Laughlin and Reno-Tahoe offer Vegas-type amenities on a smaller scale that may be suitable for some families.
Laughlin is located in the bottom point of Nevada. It offers about ten casino hotels along the Colorado River. A water taxi transports guests from one attraction to another for the bargain price of $4 a trip. Many hotels have beach areas alongside the Colorado, which is amazingly icy. Ducks and raccoons can be sighted along the river, and carp swim lazily around the boat docks. The town offers bowling, a movie theater, golf, a classic car museum and jet ski rental. Diners can choose from chain restaurants, a few independents and the casino dining options. The casinos offer some shows. Laughlin is nothing like Las Vegas in size and variety, but there is plenty to do to fill up a few leisurely days, and it may actually be a better choice than Vegas for less-active grandparents and younger children.
The Reno/Tahoe area is noted for its natural beauty and outdoor activities. There's an uncommon profusion of special events in the area, and the Reno/Tahoe area is building a reputation as a center for the arts. For those seeking the Las Vegas vibe, there are around a dozen casinos in the Reno/Sparks area and another ten or so in Lake Tahoe. The casinos offer a nice variety of rooms, shows, restaurants and amenities. For a combination of natural adventure, culture and nightlife, the Reno/Tahoe area is an excellent choice.