What’s a Family To Do in Las Vegas, Nevada?

Yahoo!  You have a conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Viva Las Vegas!  Next question, should you extend your trip and turn it into a family vacation?  As a traveling/working Dad, I often have the family meet me at a conference to turn it into a mini (or maxi) vacation, and find it’s a good way to save a little on the travel budget.  But is Las Vegas a family friendly destination?  I found myself in this exact same situation for a recent conference in Las Vegas, and, as a family travel writer, I kept attuned as to whether I would bring my kids.  To be brutally honest, I would NOT recommend Las Vegas as a family vacation destination.  Continue reading to find out why, and what to do in the city if you do decide to take your family.

Las Vegas, Nevada - Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino

Las Vegas, they don’t call it Sin City for nothing.  Everywhere you turn there’s some sort of temptation beckoning you like Pinocchio to Pleasure Island.  Of course there’s the obvious casinos with slot machines blinking and dinging like a video game arcade, but there’s also scantily clad women everywhere – if not in real life, then prominently displayed in billboards and advertising.

Las Vegas, Nevada

As a father of two girls, it’s not the image of women I want my daughters to aspire to – an object of display and lust.  Even walking along the world-famous Las Vegas Strip in the middle of the afternoon, men wearing t-shirts with “women to your room in 20 minutes” were handing out cards with phone numbers to call.  I found it sad and depressing to think of the desperation of these women delivered to your room.

Las Vegas, Nevada - Jubilee Showgirls

OK, with that being said, say you do find yourself in Las Vegas with your family – there are definitely some diversions to entertain those under 21.  Similar to the world-famous Disney resort in Orlando or Anaheim, there is a monorail to shuttle you from one end of the strip to the other.  The Las Vegas Monorail is not free mind-you (unless you’re under 5 years old), and a single ride will cost you $5.  However, unlimited hop-on/hop-off passes are available in one to seven day increments.

Las Vegas Monorail

Riding the monorail allows you to hop from point to point, and there are some family attractions along the strip – provided you don’t mind winding your way through a casino to get to them.  New York-New York Hotel and Casino has its own roller coaster, The Manhattan Express, that whisks you around the outside of the hotel in a NYC Taxicab through loops and barrel rolls at speeds close to 70 mph.  Note, a single ride on the coaster costs $14/person (or $25 for an all day ride pass) for the bone-jarring experience.

New York-New York Hotel and Casino - Las Vegas, Nevada

Circus Circus Hotel and Casino has an entire indoor amusement park with approximately 20 rides and attractions.  Adventuredome bills itself as America’s largest indoor theme park, but after our neck cracking, whip-lash inducing ride on New York-New York’s coaster, we had no desire to visit Adventuredome.  My advice, if you’re at a conference in Las Vegas with your family, get a hotel with a great pool (keep in mind some pools are for adults 21 and over only).  The MGM Grand pool has a lazy river, Mandalay Bay (if you can afford it) has a beach club with sandy bottom wave pool, and the Golden Nugget’s (off strip) pool surrounds a salt-water aquarium including a water slide that goes directly through a shark-filled tank.  Let the kids hang out in the pool, and then get away from the Las Vegas strip as fast as you can.  If your kids want to swim, you don’t have to go too far to get away from the casinos.  Wet ‘n’ Wild Las Vegas opened a brand new water park in June 2013 that’s about 10 miles off the Las Vegas Strip.

Wet ’n’ Wild Las Vegas

Even closer to the Las Vegas Strip is Symphony Park, home of the Discovery Children’s Museum and the Smith Center for Performing Arts.  The Discovery Children’s Museum is a new museum that opened this year, 2013 and has a number of hands-on interactive exhibits including a 3-story tower “The Summit” filled with science experiments, climbing structures, and a view from the roof.  The Smith Center opened in March, 2012, and has many programs for children including “Camp Broadway” aimed at providing performance opportunities to kids ages 6-17.

The Smith Center - Las Vegas, Nevada

Speaking of shows, there are a number of family friendly shows back on the Las Vegas Strip that offer earlier performances (around 7:00pm).  Cirque du Soleil productions of Michael Jackson ONE or The Beatles LOVE would both be appropriate for younger children.  Donny and Marie Osmond have been producing a family friendly variety show for nearly 40 years, and often appear at one of the Las Vegas Casinos.  The humor, music, theatrics, and drumming of Blue Man Group would definitely appeal to everyone in the family as well.  Keep in mind that all of these shows are not cheap (similar to Broadway ticket pricing), are located inside hotel casinos, and you will need to walk through the gaming floor for the theater entrance.

Cirque du Soleil - The Beatles LOVE

Finally, with all the lights, attractions, and glitz, it’s easy to forget that Las Vegas is set in the natural world.  Only a 20 minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  A 13 mile scenic drive that combines spectacular landscapes and natural history.  Visiting Red Rock Canyon gives you the sense of place, and a glimpse at real life in the Mojave Desert.  Native plants and animals such as the desert tortoise, big horn sheep, and wild burros can be found alongside agave and cacti.  Handprints from Native Americans dating back 100’s of years help children understand how people lived in the environment long before there were high-rise hotel casinos.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area - near Las Vegas, Nevada

Finally, in regards to natural wonders, Las Vegas makes a great home base and starting point for trips to some of America’s great national parks.  Just a few hours from Vegas, in three different directions, travelers will find three natural destinations like no place else on Earth.  The quiet desert beauty of Southern California’s Death Valley National Park, the majestic vistas of Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, and the massive red rock walls of Southern Utah’s Zion National Park show, in living color, the magnificence of the American West.  Families can visit these national parks one at a time before or after Las Vegas, or do them all at once for a vacation with memories that will last a lifetime.

So what do you think?  Have you been to Las Vegas?  Do you enjoy it as a family vacation destination?  Please share your thoughts and comments below.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.