Courtesy of MGM Resorts International
Courtesy of High Roller at the LINQ Promenade
At 550 feet tall, Vegas's High Roller is the tallest observation wheel in the world—and a huge hit with kids.
Our writer, a Las Vegas expert, has looked at the city from nearly every angle: This time, it’s through the eyes of his three young daughters. His conclusion? When done right, traveling with children to Vegas doesn’t have to be a gamble.
On the morning of our fourth day in this desert metropolis, my seven-year-old daughter woke up in a haze. She and her sisters—ages 10 and 3.5, respectively—had spent the past days wandering casinos (while kids can't linger in designated gaming areas, an informal "keep moving" policy generally allows them to pass through casino floors), chilling in ice bars, ogling tigers, and drinking decadent milk shakes with slices of cake on top. Understandably, the sustained excitement was starting to catch up with my middle child: “Dad,” she asked, “can you feel hung over from too much fun?”
Her question made me laugh but also put my mind at ease. I live in California but have covered Vegas as a solo traveler for more than 15 years—writing and updating 11 guidebooks on the destination along the way—but was nervous to visit for the first time with kids. To help manage this anxiety, I’d planned our itinerary down to the hour, while being careful not to book too much into days that would play out in 100-degree heat. Clearly, I had done something right.
Yes, I had that careful itinerary and all the research that went into it, but Sin City still managed to surprise me with how kid-friendly it has become since I first started getting to know the place. On the heels of my family’s recent weeklong Las Vegas getaway, here are some of the family-focused things I discovered about my familiar friend.
There are more than 20 major resorts in and around the Las Vegas Valley, and essentially each of them has an outstanding pool. Some pools are only open to hotel guests, but most (including those we cite here) offer some sort of day-pass option. The majority come standard with umbrellas, cabanas, and seat-side food and beverage service; others have standout amenities to excite even the most mortified tweens and teens.
We stayed at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, which boasts one of the most kid-friendly pool complexes in town. There’s a lazy river. There’s a wave pool. There’s a beach with real sand. If you’ve got older kids, there are live music shows on select nights throughout the summer and fall. Heck, my kids would have been happy if we spent the entire week swimming and drinking virgin daiquiris right there.
Other pools have different draws. The pool at Golden Nugget Las Vegas Hotel & Casino has a waterslide that zips through a 200,000-gallon aquarium (aptly called “The Tank”) with sharks and other fish. About 30 minutes off the Strip, in the western suburb of Summerlin, the Sandbar Pool at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa has giant hot tubs that are popular with families.
The best resort pool for kids in all of Vegas, though, may be the Splash Zone at Circus Circus Hotel Resort; it features a water park with highlights like a 50-foot tower with three different slides, a water-feature playground with sprinklers and dump buckets, and a mobile food truck that serves poolside snacks. No, the Circus Circus pool is nothing fancy. But for families with young kids, it’s high on the wow factor, which really is all that matters here.
Individual Las Vegas resorts strive to stand apart from the pack by boasting at least one attraction you won’t find anywhere else in town.
During our stay at Mandalay Bay, we found two such spots: The Minus 5 Ice Experience and the Shark Reef Aquarium. The former, located in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place, is a bar made entirely of ice; earlier this year, the place started letting kids in before 6 p.m. and even serving them mocktails in cups made of ice. The aquarium is out by the hotel convention center; it’s certified by the American Zoological Association (AZA), and its tanks contain more than 2,000 different marine animals, with 15 species of sharks.
Later in our visit, my wife and I took our girls on gondola rides around the man-made “canals” that run through the Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian Las Vegas. Our gondoliers serenaded us with Italian arias, as they do in the real-deal Venice. The mellifluous sounds reverberated off the sky-painted ceiling and echoed like they might in church.
Our girls are cat lovers, so we made sure to see Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage Las Vegas, an AZA-certified zoo/aquarium that’s home to bottlenose dolphins, white tigers, white lions, and leopards.
Vegas is a food city, and there are plenty of dining options geared toward kids.
My girls are still talking about our lunch at Black Tap inside the Venetian. Sure, the fried pickles, onion rings, and indulgent burgers were divine. But the main attraction was the milk shakes—mine came with two churros and a whole Choco Taco sticking out of whipped cream on the top; the one my youngest daughter ordered was rimmed with sprinkles and garnished with an entire slice of cake.
We had another memorable dining experience at Maxie’s, a diner toward the back of the LINQ Promenade between the Flamingo and the LINQ Hotel. Here, the girls ordered stacks of pancakes topped with cotton candy or Fruity Pebbles; the eatery also serves benedicts in hunks of white bread.
No trip to Las Vegas is complete without at least one gut-stuffing buffet stop, and local friends with kids swear by Le Village Buffet inside Paris Las Vegas because it’s the only one to take reservations (and because it doles out crepes). Another favorite: Bacchanal Buffet inside Caesars Palace. This is one of the few all-you-can-eat restaurants that serves freshly squeezed specialty breakfast juices, such as watermelon, carrot, and celery.
For decades, Las Vegans pined for professional sports teams with top-notch facilities. In a matter of years, they’ve gotten their wish—and then some.
We sampled some of this action firsthand. Sin City’s two-year-old WNBA team, the Las Vegas Aces, play at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Within moments of walking through the door, a team employee outfitted our girls with Aces T-shirts—every single person who attended got one. This simple act got them hooked—they didn’t know any of the players’ names but screamed and cheered until their voices got raspy anyway.
Elsewhere around town, other teams have generated quite a buzz. The Las Vegas Aviators, a minor-league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, opened a new ballpark out in Summerlin in April. The park has a pool beyond the outfield fence (you need a special ticket for that) and designated areas for kids to run and play. (Until last year, the team, formerly known as the Las Vegas 51s, played at an old park closer to downtown named Cashman Field.)
Finally, you can’t set foot in Vegas these days without hearing about the Golden Knights, the now three-year-old professional hockey team that plays in the T-Mobile Arena (between New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Park MGM) and made the Stanley Cup Final in its first year. And with the Oakland Raiders transforming into the Las Vegas Raiders in time for the 2020 NFL season, a brand-new football stadium south of Mandalay Bay is poised to offer yet another family-friendly sporting experience in town.
There are even more stand-alone attractions in and around Las Vegas that are sure to leave kids (and—who are we kidding?—parents) shaking off “fun hangovers.”
Number one on the list: High Roller, which sits at the back of the LINQ Promenade off the Strip and, at 550 feet tall, currently holds the record for the tallest observation wheel in the world. My two younger daughters sang some favorite songs and held their own dance party in the sky as our pod crested the top of the wheel and delivered panoramic views of the Vegas Valley. One entire revolution took about 30 minutes; a computer monitor provided us with a constant elevation reading along the way.
Later in the trip, we checked out the Discovery Children’s Museum in Downtown. I’ve been to dozens of children’s museums in the 10 years I’ve written about family travel, and this might be the best of the bunch. Its centerpiece is a seven-story climbing structure that enables kids to explore different exhibits and floors. (Technically, very flexible parents can use the structure, too.) A recently added maker space (offering open play or special classes on topics like 3-D printing) also kept my girls occupied for hours.
Elsewhere in the Downtown area, kids love the tree house in the center of the Downtown Container Park shopping mall for its three-story tunnel slide; there’s also a nearby set of giant blue blocks with which kids (and grown-ups) can play.
Last but not least, the Springs Preserve is an expansive facility on the north side of town that essentially offers three museums in one: the Nevada State Museum, a museum about the origin of Las Vegas, and a recreated Las Vegas streetscape from 1905. It also features a sustainability gallery, playground, botanical garden, and 180 acres of trails. You could spend the whole day there and still have more to see. Which just means you’ll have to bring the kids back again to more fully explore it—and to do the rest of kid-friendly Vegas right.
more from afar