Las Vegas Family Vacations: Spills, Chills and Thrills

las vegas family vacations

Las Vegas may be the land of lost adults – but children, too, can lose themselves in all the playtime the city offers for families. Vegas was known for a brief period in the early 1990s as a family town. At that time the roller coasters went up along the Strip with a lineup of storybook themed properties. The MGM Grand even sported a backyard theme park with a serious selection of thrill rides.

But gaming revenues, always the true oil of Sin City, suffered in the onslaught of these collective broods and Las Vegas morphed back into its true persona as a city of adult-style pleasures. Still, a good 8 percent of the 35 million visitors coming to Las Vegas each year keep their kids in tow and seek activities that promise true entertainment for the whole family. For this crowd, the city still offers a range of choices – whether playful pools, hotel attractions or jaunts into the desert. Here are some tips for your Las Vegas family vacation.

Water Wonderlands
The main attraction of your Las Vegas family vacation will be your resort's pool Not all pools are equal when it comes to family fun in Las Vegas. Topless pool scenes are all the rage, although these tend to be protected behind high walls while the kids splash nearby. The top pool for families would be Mandalay Bay. This was the big buzz-making centerpiece of the resort when it opened in 1999 and it's still causing reverberations among the pool pundits of the Las Vegas Valley who tout the "back 11" at this resort as the place to be if you have hyperactive children or a desire to party like one in the heat of the day. Guests tread the seven-foot depths waiting to catch the big one – waves as high as 12 feet have been sighted, although two feet is the norm. OK, you won't find surfboards here (check with the hotel for boogie boarding hours) but the body surfing is sublime, and safe, as lifeguards keep it all in check. Toddlers get to build their own castles in the Las Vegas sand – 2,700 tons of it – even if it is imported from California. Families that play together can also float together along the lazy river water ride.

Dolphinaholics can adopt a Bottlenose for a day and join an unusual program that allows participants to shadow trainers and work in the Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage. The $550 admission each for a maximum of four people per day includes lunch and a photo.
More fish fun can be found at the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay where visitors descend into the depths of the seas from upper swampland levels containing Golden Crocodiles and Komodo Dragons. Each deepening tier brings a new breed of wonders (Piranhas, Morays, ever seen an African Cichlid?) until the journey ends at the bottom of the sea where lie 11 species of circling sharks as visitors pass through the tank in a Plexiglas covered walkway. Lots of jellies mesmerize the crowds while a "petting" tank of horseshoe crabs and mini-sting rays steals the show for little ones. Admission runs $16.95 for adults, $10.95 for children.

Families can swim with the fishes – actually some 300 kinds aquatic wildlife and six types of sharks and rays at the Shark Tank Pool at the Golden Nugget. The 200,000-gallon shark aquarium is built into the pool so as families swim and look at the sharks, the sharks swim and look at the families. A three-story tubular slide runs right through the tank so kids can fly past their favorite sand shark and never miss a thrill.

Wild Rides
Thrill rides in Las Vegas are as common as Elvis suits in Sin City. Kids have their choice of scary to downright crazy with the extreme machines atop the Stratosphere crowning the thrill charts. These include the Insanity, the X-scream, the Big Shot, and the latest ripper: the Skyjump that has people hurling off the tower from the 108th floor. These are priced at $99 a leap, while the other rides start at $12, plus tower admissions.

The Adventure Dome at Circus Circus might be the next stop on your Las Vegas family vacation. Find two-dozen rides and attractions here as harrowing as the corkscrew Canyon Blaster and as mellow as the Circus Carousel in a compact and somewhat orderly environment. The Dome is the place for families who might want to leave the kids in a semi-contained environment while the adults take a trip to the tables (and the regular circus acts that happen at and over those green felt tables).

Other casino hotels, such as New York-New York, the Sahara Hotel & Casino and Primm Valley Casinos (at the California border), offer their own versions of gut-wrenching coasters along with game arcades and other rides.

Kids over 40 pounds in weight can challenge gravity at Flyaway Indoor Skydiving. Families can suit up together and ride the air blast in flight suits in this creatively repurposed wind tunnel for $31.95 per person, packages available.

Desert Detours
Meanwhile, outside the city, wowing natural attractions await. Families can go hiking and boulder scrambling in the desert at Red Rock Canyon National Preservation Area, about 20 minutes west of the city down Charleston Boulevard. Hoover Dam remains a fascinating, if not awe-inspiring piece of history to experience 45 minutes from the city. Take the tour from the Visitors Center or take the views from the bottom of the Colorado River though Black Canyon River Adventures.

Discount Dining
Finally, feeding the family can get costly any time you are on vacation. But the array of all you can eat venues in Las Vegas keep the costs down and the kids fed. Check give-away magazines at visitor desks for 2-4-1 buffer coupons as well as attraction discounts.
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