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I’m not sure that I totally buy into the “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” slogan that washed away any remnants of Vegas pitching themselves as a family friendly city, but it is clear that Vegas is not the family destination that it tried to be in the 90’s. I went as a kid in the 90’s and had a blast at the big pink Circus Circus Adventure Dome (shown below), at the MGM Grand Adventures theme park that used to be behind the Wizard of Oz themed MGM Grand, watching the “Buccaneer Bay” pirate show, and playing in the very large arcade at Treasure Island.
Well the Treasure Island pirate show has been turned into at a PG-13 “Sirens of TI” show, other than the still green exterior, the MGM has left the Emerald City theme, the MGM theme park has been gone for more than a decade, and the Treasure Island arcade is now largely the Kahunaville Restaurant, but the truth is that kids can still have a bunch of fun in Vegas.
Why Bring Kids to Vegas
Before I get into how kids can have fun in Vegas, I think you first have to look at whether you even want your kids with you in Las Vegas. While there are some family-friendly activities, clearly the city is currently designed around adult-oriented wants and desires like gambling, drinking, fine dining, shows, exclusive pools, and luxury accommodations. In Vegas people like to dress skimpy, drink to excess, stay up late, and party. If that is what you want to do while in Vegas, or you just don’t want your kids exposed to that, then perhaps leaving them behind might be a good decision.
I went to Vegas as a kid (and yes, that stuff still happened during the “family friendly years”), and I did notice some of the seedier sides of the city, but I think that just helped make me more aware. It didn’t cause me to drop out of school, run away from home, and become a prostitute. However, coming to Vegas as a kid probably did contribute to my love of the city, and my eventual wedding in Las Vegas… in a suite, not a drive-thru chapel, performed by a preacher, not Elvis (not that there is anything wrong with those options!).
I have been to Vegas pregnant, without my kiddo, and with my kiddo. Heck, we even had our maternity photos taken there by the awesome Chelsea Nicole, who also did my “trash the dress” photos after our wedding. Basically, Vegas is in our blood.
I brought my daughter when she was 2.5 years old for a couple reasons. The main ones were I didn’t want to leave her behind, and I knew we could still have fun even with her there. This was possible because my parents were also overlapping on some of the trip with us. Had they not been also going, it would have been very difficult to have a good Vegas trip with a 2.5 year old since it would have dramatically limited what we could do, where we could eat, etc. I don’t plan to take her back to Vegas until she can at least act like and pass off as a 5 year old (ah, we are starting the “pretending to be older” early….). I want her to be 5 so she can attend the Cirque shows (note that Mystere has no minimum age) and eat in the nicer restaurants (though I am seeing the minimum age requirement on fewer and fewer websites).
Activities for Kids in Vegas
Once you have decided you do want to bring your kiddos, then you need to identify some kid-friendly things for them to do. The good news is there are plenty of things for families. Some are on the strip, and some are off the strip. Here is a sampling of some of fun things we have done, or plan to do in the future.
Enjoy the hotel’s free attractions:
It isn’t that hard to impress a younger child, so show them things like the fish tanks or the colored floor at the Mirage, the fountains at the Bellagio, the singing performances at the Venetian, or the castle at the Excalibur, and it will be amazing!
Visit attractions like the dolphins or Shark Reef:
When I visited last summer, you could get a special on three of the attractions at MGM hotels like the dolphins at the Mirage, Roller Coaster at New York York (54″ minimum height requirement) or Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay for $54.
We visited the dolphins, white tigers, and Shark Reef with our daughter. We had a great time at all of them – though note that it can be pricey. I guess tiger food ain’t cheap. I would estimate each attraction lasts no longer than an hour or so for most, so they aren’t all day affairs. If you really wanted to open your wallet, you could be a trainer for the day with the dolphins, but you would need to be at least 13 years old for that activity.
One thing we loved about the Shark Reef was that it was indoors and air conditioned – which is almost essential in the summer desert heat!
Vegas doesn’t have as many pools focused on kid-friendly things like slides as they used to, but some of the pools can still be pretty great for kids. The next time we bring C to Vegas I really want to stay at Mandalay Bay as they have a Beach and Wave Pool I think she would really enjoy. They also have a lazy river.
The 6.5 acre pool complex at MGM Grand is also pretty cool with a lazy river and several different pools to choose from. Do note that the lazy river will also have drunk folks drinking from colorful yard glasses hooking themselves together on tubes floating by as well… The Flamingo Beach Club Pool at the Flamingo actually lists itself as being “family friendly” and still has some water slides available for kids.
The Cirque show Mystere allows children of all ages to attend, but most of the other shows in town do have a minimum age requirement of 5. However, once your children hit that 5 year mark they may have a blast seeing some of the various Cirque shows around town such as Ka or O. I’m partial to those shows, but there are many other shows in Vegas that children would also love like the Tournament of Kings at Excalibur, Blue Man Group at Monte Carlo (5+), or the Mac King Comedy Magic Show at Harrah’s (5+).
You may or may not want to actually stay at Circus Circus, but they do offer some good entertainment for families and children. They still operate the Adventure Dome that I visited in the 90’s, and all day passes run about $28 (though there may certainly be discounts and coupons available). There is even a deal for the Blue Man Group + Adventure Dome pass. The Adventure Dome has rides ranging from the indoor double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster speeding at 55 mph to the rides designed for the “junior” crowd. I remember having a ton of fun as a kid at the Adventure Dome!
Inside Circus Circus they also still offer the world’s largest permanent circus at the center stage of the Carnival Midway daily. The show starts at 11AM and is free!
Get Off the Strip:
I also recommend getting off the strip with your kids to see things nearby like Red Rock Canyon, the Hoover Dam, the Discovery Children’s Museum (which I hear is really good), or indoor sky diving (minimum weight of 40 lbs). As a kid, we would combine Vegas trips with visits to relatively nearby locations like Grand Canyon and Zion National Park….though those are not day trips.
Our daughter loves Vegas…maybe we will regret that when she is older, or maybe she will bring us along when she is 21+. Either way, I think Vegas can be enjoyed as an “adults only” location, or with your family. With the new partnership between Hyatt and MGM, you can bet our Vegas trips won’t be stopping anytime soon!
Have you taken your kids to Vegas? If so, what did you do with them there? I’m also curious to know who else has memories of going to Vegas as a kid!