Viva Las Vegas – still a mecca for families?

Las Vegas Welcome sign

Las Vegas Welcome sign

A few years back, the powers that be in Las Vegas decided to promote our town as a mecca, or utopia, for families. They started offering coupons to get tourists to bring their families to town, and started show-casing our area as “the” destination for families. This always struck me as a bit strange.

Las Vegas has a reputation as being a place for glitz, glamor and adult entertainment. Unless you live here, the obvious appeal for families isn’t really visible. Tourists aren’t privy to our insider events and locales. Our beautiful parks are largely ignored because of the extreme heat during the summer and the chill winter winds. Our zoo is ignored because of its size and off-beat location. The casinos draw the tourists and the big money – or at least they did before the recession. And their attractions cost – big time!

Some folks look at tourists with strollers rather strangely, wondering what they do with the kids when they are off partying or gambling, yet there are so many family attractions that remain, despite the turn of the wheel back to the original appeal of the table games and the slots.

Here are just a few family destination suggestions, both for locals and for those visiting for the first – or third! – time.

1. Ethel M’s Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Garden is a serious destination for tourists on buses – those coming from Hoover Dam or heading home to LA are frequent visitors. Here, they can go off-strip to visit a beautiful, unique garden featuring indigenous and other cacti and plants, and enjoy the aroma of chocolate wafting through the air as they sample a chocolate “coin” or the most excellent pecan brittle. But for many locals and those who are visiting locals, it’s still an unknown or hidden gem of a shopping destination with a twist, and children love it every bit as much as the adults. During the holidays the garden is decorated with over half a million lights! Amazing…

2. Even if you go into casinos, most feature at least something for the younger set. MGM has its Lion Habitat, where kids can watch the lions at play or at rest. It’s truly “up close and personal.” You can visit the aquarium and “Mermaids” at the Silverton Hotel & Casino and enjoy watching the feeding of the fish several times a day and interact with the merfolk – it’s great fun; Mandalay Bay has its “Shark Reef” which is quite the sight in this desert town, while you can visit the “Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat” at the Mirage. And then there’s “The Lion King” show…

3. For great free entertainment that’s pretty well patriotic in nature, there’s nowhere like Sam’s Town’s Mystic Falls water/laser/light show. Set to music with animatronic animals, it’s unique to our area and very well done! Kids really love it – and all the water – and adults do too! We’ve seen it several times. We especially love the show around the holidays.

4. M&M’s World on the Strip and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum are 2 more “must-see’s” around the Strip area. Warning: with young children, it’s better to go during the morning or afternoon if you are going to any Strip attractions

5. Our little Zoo may not be “world class,” but it’s definitely worth a visit. Admission is far less than many other attractions and we do have some pretty cool and original displays and critters! You can also arrange to visit a ghost town or other interesting areas throught this location.

6. The Flamingo has a fantastic garden and habitat that so few know about. It’s cool, refreshing and a beautiful setting to visit, especially during the mornings and early evenings. We were amazed with this attraction, especially since it’s totally unexpected. Best yet – free!

7. The Atomic Testing Museum is an original, sponsored by the Smithsonian – a bit scary for younger kids, but older teens and adults will appreciate the displays and theater. What I didn’t realize until I researched it is that there is even a website that you can go to online to monitor the radiation, barometric pressure, wind direction, air temperature and humidity! A new addition to my desktop weather!

8. The Adventuredome at Circus Circus. This is still a favorite destination of families, even after all these years. We find it a little “long in the tooth” but it’s a great way to spend a hot afternoon with the kids. They’ll still love it.

9. The Fremont Street Experience may not be for the youngest visitors, but older children and adults will enjoy the big screen show (Viva Vision) and the “Old Vegas” charm. Not to mention the Neon Museum (boneyard), of course. It gets a little wild during summer weekend evenings, but is fascinating during the daytime and early evenings. It definitely is an experience! It’s great to see some of our most iconic signs on display here, too.

10. Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur.  Where else can you visit what looks like a fairytale castle (other than Disney resorts) and really go totally medieval for the evening? In one word: amazing. Take advantage while the show is still in town!

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