Las Vegas may not be the obvious destination for a family vacation but when Margot Black, her husband and 5-year-old son decided to head to Sin City, they found that with some forward planning, a handful of coupons and sturdy walking shoes, it could be a G-rated, family-friendly trip.
Guess what? It’s okay to take your kids to Las Vegas. Who knew? The trick is to plan your trip in advance, find the best deals and make sure that you book into a hotel that isn’t bursting at the seams with scantily clad showgirls, cigar-chomping high-rollers and raucous frat boys.
Of four nights we booked The Orleans Hotel & Casino, which is located just off the Strip, for three of them. We picked The Orleans because it offered incredible value and was super family friendly. More importantly to us, they offered a professional baby-sitting service – not just a girl in clear high heels called Candy looking for a little extra income – a lovely big pool and a fantastic indoor activity center.
Unusually for this arid desert city, it rained a lot during our five-day visit but we didn’t let it put us off enjoying all there was on offer. Happily, their indoor play center, Kids Tyme, proved to be a happy distraction to our 5-year-old, and we were impressed: there was plenty of adult supervision, it was clean and the various activities included interactive play stations, a coin-free arcade room and a multilevel jungle gym with chutes and ladders.
The hotel also has a 70-lane bowling alley, which we loved, plus an 18-screen movie theater, Irish pub, comedy club, cabaret and all the usual casino fixings including a poker room, slot salon and plenty of video keno machines (we told our son he was playing Bingo).
But here’s the thing to remember; this is Las Vegas. And while you might want to protect your offspring from the more colorful sights, the reality is that you will see boobs on flyers, as well as showgirls, drag queens and performers in sequins and feather boas walking around. My son certainly noticed all the “tushies” but if you can handle the sights, this can be an exciting and affordable vacation.
In fact, Vegas must be the most couponed city in the world. Look in every booklet, leaflet, brochure, flyer and online for money-off or two-for-one deals. It’ll be worth your while and you’ll probably save a couple of hundred dollars.
One our first day, we visited Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage Hotel, an enchanting and wondrous world that is home to white lions, white tigers, panthers, leopards, and a family of Bottlenose Dolphins. Jett loved getting so close to these gentle creatures. The hotel also features a magnificent indoor coral reef and 20,000-gallon saltwater tank that sits behind the front desk. It’s filled with around 450 fish including angelfish, puffer fish, tangs and other exotic sea creatures. All wonderful eye candy for a youngster.
We did a lot of walking – that’s just the way Vegas is set up – and I’d say if you have small children, bring a stroller, even if they barely use one anymore. Heck, I could have sat in a stroller myself. We would park the car at a lot in the middle of where we wanted to be, and then walk from there – although the day would often end with my son, Jett, being piggy-backed home. So we used Monorail passes, which is probably the fastest way to travel the Strip. There are monorail locations in seven hotels, running from The Sahara Hotel to the MGM Grand Hotel, and children under 5-years-old ride free. Our son thought it was just another theme park ride that “needed more neon.”
But the biggest, and most memorable, ride was yet to come. The next day we splurged on a helicopter trip to the majestic west rim of the Grand Canyon. Yes, it was expensive but as we flew over buses full of tourists sitting on the freeway, we realized it was worth the expense. We booked with Papillon Airways, and while their website is confusing (review what you are purchasing and also double-check your departure times), it was a truly memorable day out. Our four-hour trip consisted of two 35-minute helicopter rides to the Grand Canyon and back. It goes without saying that you get to see one of our most incredible natural landmarks from the most amazing vantage point. As well of the buses we also flew over more beautiful sights including the volcanic Black Mountains, Grapevine Mesa and the Grand Wash Cliffs. The scale of the canyon is breath-taking but Jett was most impressed with his headset; he loved hearing the captain talk and fly the copter. Once we landed in the canyon we had a hurried box lunch but it the trip was sensational and I’d recommend it to anyone. A real family travel highlight.
Back in Las Vegas, we opted to make the most of the hotel’s delicious buffet. I ate too much but when in Rome, eat as much as you can (or something like that!). We also enjoyed dining at the hotel’s Prime Rib Loft restaurant – and as you’d expect the prime rib was stupendous and a hit with my meat-loving husband, as well as their Courtyard Cafe.
The next day we booked into Exotics Racing, which was only a short 20-minutes drive from our hotel. This was boy’s heaven all wrapped up in the shape of red Ferrari. Or Ferraris, I should say, as there were many. First the whole family did two laps in a Porsche Cayenne, and I felt like a super sexy soccer mom. Then my husband drove two race car laps in a brand new 550 hp Porsche 991 Turbo, and he wished he had booked more laps. He felt he’d just got the hang of the car and the track, and it was time to go. I did two laps of a Drifting Ride Along in a Corvette Z06 with a trained driver and was truly terrified within 15 seconds. I can cross Monaco Grand Prix racer off my bucket list.
During the evenings and afternoons we also managed to squeeze in a couple of shows including a 4 pm matinee of the super family-friendly and funny Nathan Burton’s Comedy Magic (after which Jett then unsuccessfully tried to make his homework disappear) at the Flamingo, and Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere at Treasure Island, which was just spectacular and a massive hit with the whole family. I think you owe it to yourself to see a different Cirque show every time you’re in Vegas, our son sat at the edge of his seat during the entire show.
In between the rain showers and all the helicopters, shows and the fast cars, we also enjoyed a dip in the pool. My one regret is that we didn’t book another full day at The Orleans to enjoy a family cabana and a cocktail poolside. Instead, we headed to downtown Las Vegas for a night at The Golden Nugget because we’d heard their Shark Tank pool was a must-see for children, and one of the best in the world. Unfortunately the weather was against us but on a less rainy day you can swim in a pool next to a giant shark tank – one of those uniquely Vegas experiences. It’s a good excuse to return to this fast-moving colorful crazy noisy city, which turned out to be a surprising family hit. Rooms at The Orleans start at $34.99 per night, and at the Golden Nugget from $62, per night
You can book cheap family rooms, the food is tasty and affordable, and if you clip your coupons and search online for the best deals, you can win big – and let’s face it, not everyone who visits Vegas can say that!
By Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com