Family Vacations to Las Vegas, Nevada

Manhattan Express Roller Coaster Las Vegas, Nevada
Manhattan Express Roller Coaster (courtesy, MGM Mirage)

Las Vegas Highlights

  • Drive the Strip at night to see the dazzling neon signs.
  • Catch the glitz and glimmer at the Fremont Street Experience.
  • Catch a great view and loads of thrills at the Stratosphere Tower.
  • See white tigers, white lions, and dolphins at the Mirage.
  • View scores of sharks at Mandalay Bay.
  • Take day trips to Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and Red Rock Canyon.

Las's glitzy, it's gaudy, it's gauche—and it's not the easiest place to travel with kids in tow. Anyone under 18 years old isn't allowed in a casino and there's the dilemma about what message you may be giving your kids about gambling. That said, Las Vegas is a prime place for conventions and business meetings, so if you find yourself headed there on a company expense account, then Vegas suddenly becomes a good buy since it doesn't cost that much more to take the kids along. A few days here, amidst the neon and synthetic extravaganzas, balanced with some down-to-earth day trips, can offer a fun-filled adventure for families.

First, take in the free street spectacles. A volcano erupts outside the Mirage, more than 1,000 fountains "dance" to music in front of the Bellagio, and at the Fremont Street Experience, stretching across four city blocks, millions of lights, and, reputedly, the largest video screen anywhere, dazzle onlookers. The Neonopolis mall at the Fremont Street Experience displays some of the Strip's legendary neon signs, and houses a 14-screen movie theater. Also, be sure to drive the Strip at night, when those pulsing, glowing, eye-popping signs radiate all the way to Outer Space. The view is dazzling from the top of the Stratosphere Tower; and don't skip the tower's gut-wrenching thrill rides. Get boosted in the air on Big Shot and experience negative G's on the way down; teeter over the tower's edge 866 feet up on XScream; and get whirled at 40 mph on Insanity.

The hotels are competing for your time (and money), so they lure visitors in with unique attractions each more elaborate than the next. The Mirage has Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden, home to white lions, white tigers, and a dolphin habitat. Or walk through a lion habitat at the MGM Grand, then see hundreds of pink flamingoes—real ones—at the Flamingo Hilton Las Vegas. Ogle scores of sharks—blacktip, whitetip, nurse, zebra, lemon, sand tiger—and others at Mandalay Bay's Shark Reef.

At Circus-Circus' Adventuredome, an indoor five-acre theme park, kids like the 4-D SpongeBob SquarePants ride, while thrill seekers get dropped multiple stories on Sling Shot and sped through the dome on the Canyon Blaster coaster. At New York-New York Hotel and Casino, you can zip along at speeds up to 67 mph on the Manhattan Express roller coaster.

Kids make their own magic at the Lied Discovery Children's Museum. At Desert Discovery, kids five and younger mine soft-sculpture boulders and experience the desert at night through videos. Tots play with a water pillow and a mirror pull-up bar at Baby Oasis.

Of course, leaving Las Vegas is as much part of the experience as the city-in-the-desert madness, and Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and Red Rock Canyon are three easy day trips. Lake Mead, the largest manmade body of water in the United States, was created by the construction of Hoover Dam. With more than 500 miles of shoreline, and several marinas, the lake offers plenty of boating and fishing. Meanwhile, iconic Hoover Dam is considered one of the world's great engineering achievements. At Red Rock Canyon, less than 20 miles from the Vegas Strip, cruise the 13-mile Loop Drive for splendid vistas of the burnished rocky landscape.

Tip: Cirque du Soleil performers combine acrobatics, music, and fantasy that appeals to kids-but don't take them to the troupe's strictly adult Zumanity. Lance Burton turns gloves into doves, makes burning candles appear, and performs other illusions at the Monte Carlo.

Recommended Side Trips: Laughlin, Death Valley National Park, Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »