HOW TO DO VEGAS KID-FRIENDLY??
8 tips for Dads with Kids in Vegas
My first experience in Vegas was a shock to the system. I flew in around 5pm Vegas time from Florida with my wife a few days ahead of our trade convention. We wanted to get settled in and have a little fun before the trade show began. I had big hopes for Vegas and I had seen National Lampoons Vegas Vacation featuring Chevy Chase so I was ready.
I went ahead and decided to book a nice dinner at Joel Robuchon the night of our arrival. At 3 hours difference, I smartly booked a 9 o’clock slot because we normally eat around 6. It was Vegas’ only 3 Michelin star restaurant and I’m a sucker for nice restaurants. There’s something about low lighting, white tablecloths, and at least 2 lips per glute cheek that I find very stately, sophisticated…. overall just an immensely enjoyable experience.
Day of– we fly in. We hail an uber and check into the Bellagio. Beautiful architecture and an oversized entry with amazing art, stores, and eye grabbing décor. Our room was normal, nice, no weird smells, nothing gross by any means. Nice view of the pool area. I assume it’s the standard room. We wander thru the main floors taking in the sights and sounds while getting our bearings on how to navigate this huge and complex network of walkways with flashing lights and the right amount of happy yelps and frustrated groans… I was tempted to play a couple hands of blackjack….if only I could find a table that had minimums under $50 a hand. I mean it is Thursday….. I would learn that the tables would never be less than $50 a hand and I just don’t care enough about gambling all that much so I abstained from those tables.
It’s getting later and I’m exhausted. “I’m ready to sleep”, I tell my wife. But our reservation is in an hour we should get dressed and head over to the MGM where the restaurant is. “I don’t know why I’m so tired, its only 5 at home.” I’m going to paraphrase her response here.
“Oh wise and all-knowing amazing husband with a great body and even better mind you seem to have made an incredibly rare miscalculation. Don’t worry, I still find you smart– you just had a lot on your mind. But the time difference goes the other way. You didn’t book us for a dinner at 6pm our time. You booked it for midnight our time. I forgive you and love you regardless!”
We arrive. Its small. Very nice. Very French. We sit. We open our menus. I turn Ghost white. $500 a person was not what I was expecting. I instantly looked for a way to escape without being noticed. $1000 for food before taxes, tips, drinks….I’m not ready for that…who would be?? That seems a poor use of funds. Besides I had only budgeted $1000 for restaurants for the week. I was expecting $2.99 all you eat buffets! I saw no such thing…. I saw $100 brunch buffets. Chevy Chase lied to me.
We found a more modest $250 a plate option. It truly was an amazing culinary experience. While gut wrenching financially it really was world class…..i hesitate to even call it a meal because it really was more of an experience.
Eventually after a few remarks about the incredibly high price of almost everything…I was directed to Fremont part of Vegas where I was told I would find the $5 a hand tables and some cheap buffets. That’s a bit more my style.
We spent a week in Vegas. Enjoyed a trade show. Met up with friends. Tried all the Gordon Ramsey restaurants. Walked all around the strip and inside all the amazing hotels with there crazy designs and world class architecture, stores, art, and décor.
The one thing I was firmly resolved in by the end of my trip was that Vegas was NOT a place to take kids. Too many naked bodies, suggestive posters, blatant advertisements, drugs, foul language, and just plain crazy people wandering around.
Fast forward a couple years. We are on the 100% Dad tour. My wife lets me know family is flying in and the best location is going to be Vegas. We are going to Vegas with a 10, 8, and 5 year old. I was pretty firm in my approach that Vegas is not a place for kids. But I was willing to open my mind and figure out how to do Vegas in a way that minimizes exposure to kids and allows everyone to have a good time.
We stayed in 3 places. We had a stay at Thousand Trails RV resort off the strip for a week. Nothing special about the park. That area of Vegas is on the rough side. I learned Vegas is bigger than just the strip. They have other massive casinos, not on the strip. They were promoting the cheap buffets and seemed to be the local spots. We then moved over to Circus Circus RV park on the strip. They have the only RV park on the strip. Again, nothing amazing about the RV park besides the location. We were staying in early June during a heatwave so inside an RV on black asphalt with high around 110 we were not going to stay cool in an RV. RVs can only knock the temperature down about 20 degrees off the outside temp. We had a room next door at the Hilton Grand Vacations. Here is what I liked about it for families…it was clean, the air was not smoke-filled, the layout was simple, and there were no advertisements on the walls. In a very real sense that made it a nice place for a family to stay. Nice, clean, and free from obscenities. Because it was a nicer hotel without a casino or direct access to the fun the strip hold there were fewer crazies there. They had a nice pool and a little eatery and shopping mart, which is really all a family like ours needs.
Circus Circus was heavily favored by the kids. They thought it was amazing and loved the adventuredome and the midway carnival. It was built in the 1960s and shows that age in some places but they have remodeled some areas and are in the process of remodeling others. I am not a fan of smelling cigarette smoke and that was bugging me (as it did in any resort that was similar), however, the kids didn’t seem to notice, and the place was packed with families so clearly, I am in the minority. Certainly, even if you are not staying at circus circus that is a place to take your kids while in Vegas.
We did a lot of exploring while in Vegas. Since the Hilton and Circus Circus are toward the end of the strip we opted to get tram passes so we didn’t have to order 2 Ubers every time we wanted to go somewhere. Especially because finding the uber pickup spot was always a less than fun adventure. We would walk from the Hilton to the Sahara Resort to pick up the Monorail and take it where we wanted to go. That gave us minimal time outside in the heatwave and a decent way to travel up and down the strip with a big group. We walked all the big nice hotels. Constantly engaging the kids in the different sites, architecture, art, and aesthetics. If we were walking by something that we felt was less than appropriate for our kids we would simply point out something else cool nearby for them to focus on. That seemed to be the good thing. We were always able to distract them because there is always something bright, big, or cool to look at. Aside from the occasional yelling crazy person, we were able to distract our way around the strip for the most part. The Bellagio fountains were really cool for kids to see. The garden immediately inside the Bellagio they liked, the worlds largest chocolate fountain was a hit, the canals inside The Venetian were impressive, the Olympic Gods inside Caesars Palace tied in well with their recent learning of Greek Mythology, The painted ceiling that looked like outside were amazing in kids and grown-up eyes, and being inside the Wynn where Paul Blart 2 was filmed was their favorite moment.
The kids liked walking the Fashion square mall and looking around. We went and visited the Pawn Stars Pawnshop. There was a fun children’s Museum. Really there are endless options off the strip of stores, museums, water parks, playgrounds, and sites. The Hoover Dam is a must. It’s a bit of a drive but worth it. Red Rock Canyon we heard great things about. We opted out of going because of the heat and the fact that we had seen many red rock canyons over the past few months so the drive time plus heat wave was not worth it for us.
A lot of the shows were starting to come back. Unfortunately, cirque de solei was still closed. In our podcast with Mac from Circus Circus it was advised to see with kids specifically the mystique show because it is the iconic Vegas show. The midway in Circus Circus has a circus show every hour that is family-friendly. We wanted to see the Jabbawockeez, but they were closed too. We were able to see David Copperfield and that experience blew the kid’s minds. We saw Penn and Teller in 2019 without the kids they would also be a good family show. Both acts had a little bit of cursing but other than that were clean programing. We heard the Gregory Popovich’s Comedy Pet Theater was good for families as well, but we were unable to see that show either. Covid absolutely held us back in some of our options but at the same time, it was helpful because there were fewer people, some of the vulgar acts and shows were still closed so the ads were not up, and overall Vegas seemed a bit tamer compared to our previous visit.
To wrap up—can you do Vegas with Kids? Yes, you can. I would stand by the reasoning that there is no real need to. There are so many places to vacation with kids I wouldn’t make Vegas one of my top destinations. For a more prudish and protective Dad like me, there are some things I like to try and shelter my kids from. Sex Shows, Sex workers, nudity, drugs, and crazy people yelling weird things on the sidewalk being among the list of things I try and shield my kids from. Although to be fair most of the big cities we have visited have had those crazy people on the sidewalks.
Here would be my tips for a Dad with Kids in Vegas.
1.) Vegas has a lot of people in it. Lots of Families. Get away from the strip and there are many many options for clean family fun.
2.) Stay off the strip after Dark. That’s when the crazies come out in full force and the booze and drugs seem to be kicking in on everyone else. We did catch the fountains at dusk. They are amazing. The lights around the city are really cool at night. Do your best to get off the strip by dark.
3.) Preplan the shows you want to see. Get tickets lined up ahead of time with showtimes that fit a kid’s schedule. We choose the Copperfield 4m Saturday show because we didn’t think the kids (specifically the 5 yr old) would make it through the 7 pm show without falling asleep or getting cranky.
4.) Have family there with you. Numbers help. More eyes on your kids. Plus Mom and Dad can get away on their own while the family watches the kiddos sleep at night!
5.) Distract. Point out all the amazing things to see. Especially when you are coming up on something you don’t want them to see. Point out something else and talk about how amazing it is. There is never a shortage of other things to focus on.
6.) Pick your hotel with kids in mind. There are clean quiet simple boring options available. Pools are always a huge plus. I like big pools but I like pools I can watch my kids without losing them all the time so I can relax a bit. Some hotels will have the party pools. Some have the water parks. Some are simple nice hotel pools. Pick what will fit your family best.
7.) For Big families that plan on wandering I would get monorail passes. Uber and Lyft was a struggle to find pickup spots on the strip until we really got our bearings. Monorail requires some solid walking but getting from one side to the other was faster and easier than rideshare. Especially for big families.
8.) We talked with our kids about the city before going. It is the city of sin. It is a city that can have a lot of fun. It’s a city with amazing sites, art, and buildings. It’s also a city where lives get destroyed. Gambling has ruined a lot of families. We talked about how some people will dress in almost no clothing. We talked about how some people will be using drugs because it is legal there. And how we will come across drunk people. We talked about our family values and how we felt about those things. We also talked about practicality. Stay close to mom and dad. When we call your name do not argue with us. Come right over. Stay away from people that are acting weird. Walk past those people without engaging with them. Feel free to ask any questions if you have them.
We did Vegas. We had a good time. The magic shows are always amazing there. The kids were impressed by the city. I don’t think we will be back anytime soon! But it’s not ruled out entirely. Big thanks to Circus Circus for putting us in touch with Mac for the podcast. He was a local Dad with a solid amount of information. While we didn’t stay inside the Circus Circus hotel we did check out the Adventuredome and Midway areas and both received high praises from all 3 of our kids.
PS. More like a fun fact. In our April 2019 trip we did meet a couple while eating at a Mexican restaurant inside New York New York. We were sitting at the bar and they had recently sold their business and traveled with their kids. It ended up being the very conversation that convinced me it was in fact time to sell our businesses and pursue 100% Dad and Tour with the family. We had the thoughts before, but I was on the fence. I wish I could have remembered their names, but I remember the rest of the conversation very well and I can distinctly say the bar at Gonzalez Y Gonzalez plays an important role as facilitator to one of the biggest decisions in our lives.