After more than 20 years, this engaging animal habitat remains one of the best antidotes to Las Vegas stress. Spend an hour watching dolphins and tigers and you won’t care how much money you lost on the slots. The bulk of your time will most likely be spent in the well-regarded dolphin habitat, a 2.5-million-gallon home for bottlenose dolphins that were either rescued or born here. This is more than just a SeaWorld–style, sit in bleachers and watch the animals cavort kind of place (although they have that, too). Here you can get up close to the pools and sometimes interact with them (splashing is involved), which is a treat, especially for kids. Pay extra and you can get VIP, behind-the-scenes tours; spend an entire day as a trainer, complete with time in the pool; and even “paint” with them as you hold a canvas and the dolphin holds a special brush in its mouth. The latter is an unmitigated thrill that allows you to connect with these amazing animals, or at least pretend you are.
The Secret Garden part is a small zoo originally designed as an on-site home for the animals used in Siegfried & Roy’s magic show, which ended in 2003 after a disagreement between Roy and a tiger. The animals that remain are mostly of the big cat variety, including some of the illusionists’ famed white tigers. It’s fine, but don’t expect a lot of excitement. On hot Vegas days they mostly (and wisely) just lay in the shade or shallow pools, so don’t expect them to be hunting elk or playing with big balls of yarn.
While it’s easy to have a pang of environmentally conscious guilt over animals in captivity, the entire facility is well run and scrupulously maintained, the trainers are obviously passionate, and the animals seem to thrive here. Several of the dolphins are more than 30 years old, which is more than double their life expectancy in the wild.
- Rick Garman