With a nickname like “Sin City” and a tourism slogan of “What happens here, stays here,” there’s little confusion about Las Vegas’ standing as an adult-oriented playground. But it’s also a major flight hub for the western United States and a popular conference and event destination, so families may find themselves in Las Vegas for at least a couple of days at some point in their children’s lives.
We’re happy to report that a Las Vegas family vacation offers lots of options for kid-friendly fun. Just don’t overstay your welcome: A few days is plenty to take in the sights and even venture out for a day trip before the buzz feels more like a buzzkill to young and old alike.
An ideal Las Vegas day involves an active morning and early afternoon, segues into late afternoons by the pool and ends with an evening of pre-planned food and entertainment. It’s a good way to explore the main sights at a leisurely pace. While nearly all our recommendations below are clustered along the Las Vegas strip, the city’s resort casinos are sprawling, so the walk from place to place takes longer than it appears on a map. Group nearby activities together on the same day, as we’ve outlined below.
Las Vegas has become quite the food destination in recent years. For those interested in checking out the finest establishments, and especially those fronted by celebrity chefs, dinner reservations must be secured in advance (sometimes months ahead of a trip). At the less famous restaurants, it’s usually possible to get a reservation a day or two before. Many restaurants allow guests to put a name in and then wander around that particular hotel for 20 or 30 minutes before a table becomes available.
Fortunately, there are also many small convenience stores and kiosks to grab snacks, and plenty of casual options for breakfast and lunch.
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There is no avoiding the more adult-oriented side of Las Vegas. Without question, kids will notice scantily clad people and sexual images, even in and around the most luxurious properties. Babies and toddlers will be oblivious, but for those with school-age children and above, decide how to address this ahead of time. We found that a discussion in advance was helpful in setting expectations. My middle school boys were far more shocked by the smokiness of the casinos.
Children can walk through casinos (indeed, it’s all but required to get in and out of most properties), but they cannot linger and observe the card tables or slot machines. They’re also not allowed into the sports betting and high-stakes rooms.
Also be advised that the party atmosphere increases as the night wears on. Think about how late into the evening you want to be wandering around with kids. We tried to be back in our room or at a show before 9 pm every night, and it served us well.
There are several factors to consider when choosing a Las Vegas hotel. If your priority is a central location, where all the major attractions are within a 15-minute walk, the Bellagio works well. Given that this is a trip with kids, a property without a casino onsite might be more desirable. If so, the Waldorf Astoria is a fabulous option.
Choosing a resort with a great pool complex is also a must. Not only does it allow you to take advantage of Las Vegas’ reliably sunny, warm weather, but it is a welcome respite from all the action. This is especially true if you plan to be in the city for more than a day or two, as it is likely you’ll devote at least a half day or more to hanging out poolside. Mandalay Bay, complete with real sand and a huge wave pool, gets high marks. The Four Seasons is a great “best of both worlds” in that it does not have a casino and its guests may use both the hotel’s exclusive pool as well as Mandalay Bay’s next door.
Kick off your first day in Las Vegas with a reliable winning bet for the kids: Head to the north end of the Strip for a couple of hours at AdventureDome, an indoor theme park in the Circus Circus hotel. It opens at 10 am, and mornings are typically quiet with little wait for the rides. Just check height and age requirements before buying your pass (it’s good for a full day of fun). Older teens who want something more daring can check out the Skypod at the nearby STRAT Hotel, with an observation deck, thrill rides and adventure activities all above the 100th floor
After this exciting start, there are a few options. Shoppers might prefer browsing at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Or if you crave time outdoors, ride a gondola at The Venetian before retreating to the hotel pool for a few hours.
At night, head to dinner at Wazuzu in the Encore, with its crystal dragon that runs the length of the restaurant. We loved the smaller portion sizes that let our whole family mix and match and sample lots of different Asian fare. Catch the Lake of Dreams show at the adjacent Wynn, a multimedia experience that runs every 30 minutes after dusk. And cap off your first day in Las Vegas with a ride on the High Roller Observation Wheel, less than a 10-minute walk from the Wynn.
Start the second day at the opposite end of the Strip from yesterday, the south end. Begin with a visit to the shark reef aquarium at Mandalay Bay. Like AdventureDome, it opens at 10 am, giving families with early risers a great morning activity option. From there, it’s a quick walk to the fun shops near MGM and New York New York. Families love creating custom candy at M&M World, browsing for souvenirs at the Coca-Cola and Hershey stores, and riding the Big Apple roller coaster.
After another late afternoon by the hotel pool, head to Paris for dinner! We loved our meal at Mon Ami Gabi Bistro at the base of the Eiffel Tower (a half-scale replica of the real thing). We were lucky enough to snag a table on the patio, where we got to watch several showings of the Bellagio fountains across the street throughout our meal. They’re set to different music each time, and the lighting changes as darkness falls. The Bellagio also has several restaurants with fountain views; be sure to make reservations in advance at those spots. After dinner, head to the observation deck at the top of the Eiffel Tower for more incredible views of Paris.
On the third day in Las Vegas, consider getting out of the city with one of several options for a day trip. Either rent a car for a day, or hire a driver to take you around.
Engineering enthusiasts will marvel at the design and history of the Hoover Dam. It’s only about 45 minutes outside the city. Be sure to make time to tour the Visitor’s Center and the power plant to get a true appreciation for the impact this structure has had on the water supply throughout the western United States.
Nature lovers will appreciate the unique landscape found at Red Rock Canyon. It’s hard to believe it is only 15 miles from Las Vegas. Drive the 13-mile scenic road and stop to hike along the way. Or up the energy and wow factor with a 4×4 jeep tour, e-bike rental or helicopter ride.
A little more off the beaten path is Valley of Fire State Park. It’s about an hour from Las Vegas, but full of beautiful desert vistas, hiking trails, incredible rock formations and petroglyphs.
The best way to end a fabulous trip to Las Vegas is with a spectacular show. What kid wouldn’t be dazzled by the acrobatic performance that every Cirque du Soleil show highlights. Their performance company has shows all over Las Vegas, but my family adored the Beatles-themed show, called Love, in The Mirage. There are countless magic shows, musical acts and other entertainment at the numerous theaters and arenas around the city. Las Vegas is also home to several professional sports teams and frequently hosts major events and tournaments.
As the old crooners sang, “Viva Las Vegas.” Memories of a great family vacation to Las Vegas will last for a long time.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Nicole Wiltrout.
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