By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Media Services
Cheap hotels, every kind of food you can imagine. Plenty of sizzle, spectacle, first-rate theatrical productions, giant red rocks for climbing and water playgrounds.
Welcome to Las Vegas (www.visitvegas.com), where room prices average just over $130 a night (a lot lower in summer. Rooms, as a rule, are cheaper Sunday through Thursday, if there isn’t a big convention in town). There’s just one problem: “We don’t market to families,” said Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesman Erika Pope. In fact, Las Vegas may be the only city in America not rolling out the red carpet for families this summer.
But that’s not keeping families away. Why is it we always pine to be a member of the club that doesn’t want us? Despite the decidedly adult “What-happens-in-Vegas-Stays-in-Vegas” ad campaign, 10 percent of the more than 39 million visitors last year reported that someone under 21 was in their group, according to Las Vegas tourism officials. That’s nearly 4 million underage visitors in Sin City!
I admit I’m not a huge Vegas fan, but I’ve been here often because my family lives here and it seems every trip, I see more visiting parents and kids. It’s obvious what draws vacationing families here — besides the chance for parents to gamble or golf. Where else can you take a ride on a gondola, see the Eiffel Tower and Cirque du Soleil — all in one place? Let’s not forget shopping till you drop and sampling all kinds of food — even in the middle of the night. (Kids and parents especially enjoy the Rain Forest Cafe and California Pizza Kitchen. (Check out www.vegas.com). Head out to Loews Lake Las Vegas (www.loewshotels.com) on Saturdays this summer and kids can learn to make sushi with a master sushi chef.
Along the strip, I see parents and kids gawking at the ersatz New York skyline and sphinx-shaped hotel or splashing in the giant hotel pool complexes. Check out the newest water attraction, the 53,000-square-foot Wet Republic, scheduled to open this month at the MGM Grand (www.mgmgrand.com).
INSIDER TIPS: If you are walking from resort to resort, wear comfortable shoes. The distances can be deceiving. Don’t dawdle in the casinos. It’s OK to walk through, but if you stop, security officers will ask you — very politely, of course — to leave. Should you want to gamble, you can, of course, arrange for childcare or a babysitter. Ask at your hotel or check out New Horizon Kids Quest (www.kidsquest.com), located at several hotels, they offer hourly, supervised daycare.
Consider staying off the strip with the kids. It will certainly be more relaxing. There’s Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa (https://www.redrocklasvegas.com/rr07/index.php), opened just two years ago, this resort sits on 70 acres near the Red Rock Mountains, 10 miles west of the strip. The guest rooms are some of the largest in Vegas hotels and there’s a four-acre pool area, a 16-screen movie theater and a 72-lane bowling alley. The teens will like the summer concert series.
In suburban Henderson, a short drive from the Strip and the airport, there’s the Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino (https://www.greenvalleyranchresort.com/gvr07/index.php) where we stayed last summer. Besides the big pool, my kids loved The District, a hip restaurant-shopping area connected by pedestrian walkway.
Head 17 miles south to MonteLago Village Resort at Lake Las Vegas (www.montelagovillage.com), which boasts a manmade lake and an ambiance designed to make you feel like you are in a Mediterranean village — sort of anyway. Take a gondola ride, kayak, or play golf. There are free movies by the lake every Thursday night in the summer and a Saturday night concert series. The Ritz-Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com) offers “nights without neon” with everything from moonlight spa treatments, dive-in movies, bike rides and “Stars and S’More’s,” a tour of the stars with telescopes, followed by s’mores. (Ask about the Youth Spa.) You can also opt for a Loews Resort or a roomy condo.
Wherever you stay, there is a lot to do besides stroll up and down the Strip and splash in the pool. “Kidding Around Las Vegas” by Kathy Espin (www.huntingtonpress.com) and “The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas” by Bob Sehlinger are good resources.
Older kids may want to check out the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino (www.stratospherehotel.com). This property offers thrill rides that lift you 100 stories off the ground! Younger kids might enjoy the Adventuredome at Circus Circus (www.circuscircus.com). Circus acts and Midway games abound here in the country’s largest indoor theme park. If you have any budding astronauts, take them to “Star Trek: The Experience” at the Las Vegas Hilton (www.lvhilton.com).
You can also take the kids to:
— See a magician (Lance Burton is particularly kid friendly (www.lanceburton.com), or the amazing acrobats at Cirque du Soleil (take your pick of five different productions, www.cirquedusoleil.com).
— Go hiking at Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park (www.desertusa.com). The kids will be impressed by the color of the rocks and their ages. Some are more than 1 million years old. Just go very early in the morning or late in the afternoon and bring plenty of water!
— Tour Hoover Dam (www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam).
— Learn about the importance of water in the desert at Las Vegas Springs Preserve (www.springspreserve.org). The displays are interactive.
— Meet Atlantic bottlenose dolphins at The Dolphin Habitat and white lions and other exotic creatures at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden at The Mirage (www.mirage.com).
— Gain a new perspective on lions at The Lion Habitat at the MGM Grand. (www.mgmgrand.com) and sharks at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef (www.mandalaybay.com), where you travel through a replica of an ancient temple surrounded by sharks.
— Cheer on Las Vegas’ minor league baseball team, the Area 51s (www.lv51.com/).
— Teach the youngest in your family about the desert (and get them out of the sun) at the “Desert Discovery” exhibit at the first-rate Lied Discovery Children’s Museum (www.ldcm.org). On a more serious note, a new exhibit opening this June will explore the plight of refugee children around the world.
That’s assuming you can get the kids out of the pool. Got plenty of sunscreen?
© 2008 EILEEN OGINTZ, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.