Like much of the rest of the world, you may be under the impression that Las Vegas has evolved from an adults-only fantasyland into a vacation destination suitable for the entire family. The only explanation for this myth is that Las Vegas was referred to as "Disneyland for adults" by so many and for so long that the town became momentarily confused and decided it actually was Disneyland. Some of the gargantuan hotels then spent small fortunes on redecorating in an attempt to lure families, with vast quantities of junk food and a lot of hype. They now vehemently deny that any such notion ever crossed their collective minds, and, no, they don't know how that roller coaster got into the parking lot.
To put things simply, Las Vegas makes money -- lots and lots of money -- by promoting gambling, drinking, and sex. These are all fine pursuits if you happen to be an adult, but if you haven't reached the magical age of 21, you really don't count in this town. In any case, the casinos and even the Strip itself are simply too stimulating, noisy, and smoky for young kids.
Nevertheless, you may have a perfectly legitimate reason for bringing your children to Las Vegas (like Grandma was busy, or you were just stopping off on your way from somewhere else), so here are some places to take the children both on and off the Strip.
What To Do
Hike to the Calico Tanks at Red Rock Canyon. Less than 3 miles round-trip, this hike climbs up a narrow, rocky canyon to the Calico Tanks, a natural water repository situated high on a ridge overlooking the Las Vegas Valley. Children love the adventure and easy boulder hopping. Adults and kids alike love the view from the top.
Witness a simulated atomic bomb explosion at the Atomic Testing Museum. Located less than 5 minutes from the Strip, this new museum traces the history of the atomic bomb and the tests conducted at the atomic test facility northwest of Las Vegas. The museumÂ?s many exhibits, films, and simulations are in a re-creation of a bunker used to shield test witnesses from the heat and shock wave of bomb detonations. Boys in particular will find the museum way cool.
Watch statues at Caesars Palace. The "statues" come astoundingly alive at two locations in Caesars Palace in the Forum Shops, accompanied by music, lasers, and fog, enthralling everyone around them. The Fountain Festival, the original statue show, stars Bacchus, the god of wine, and might actually get your children interested in Greco-Roman mythology. The newer show, more loosely drawn from classical literature, is full of explosions, thunder, and lightning. Both are huge favorites with children of all ages.
Check out the Night Lights at Fremont Street. Fremont Street, the site of U2Â?s video for "Still HavenÂ?t Found What IÂ?m Looking For," is now closed to cars, and a projection canopy of 12.5 million LEDs electrifies the evening sky with brilliant changing colors. A 540,000-watt sound system accompanies the light-and-laser show. Between shows, which run five times a night, there are live music and entertainers performing along this 5-block-long promenade lined with shops and cafes. The Neon Museum provides additional glow with the original lamp from the Aladdin and other classic Vegas signs.
See the pirate battle at Treasure Island. Five times nightly cannons boom as a ship of lusty sirens does battle with a ragtag troop of pirates. The sirens, scantily clad, were substituted for the British Navy in an effort to make the pirate battle more adult. Though still pretty adolescent, the presentation features hard-driving music, some good choreography, and an arsenal of special effects. Swords are drawn, swashbucklers swash and buckle, plus thereÂ?s fire and a sinking ship. All in all, itÂ?s a very satisfying experience (watch it from the simulated docks outside Treasure Island), and, for fun after the crowds have cleared, you can watch the sunken ship rise from the watery depths to do battle again.
Ride the Monorail. Take a ride from the MGM Grand to the Sahara on the Las Vegas Strip Monorail. The ride takes 14 minutes each way and affords behind-the-scenes glimpses of famous strip hotels before racing past the Wynn Las Vegas golf course and the Las Vegas Convention Center, to the end of the line at the Sahara.
Count the moray eels at Shark Reef, Mandalay Bay. Supposedly, there are over 20 of the slinky, spotted sea creatures living in the vast coral reef here, but we managed to count only 8. ItÂ?s also fun to give them names, because each has a distinctive look. Ella Eel, Elvis Eel, Irwin . . . you get the idea.
Race each other in NASCAR Replicas. At All-American Sports Park, families can race each other on one of three tracks in scaled-down NASCAR replicas. The Challenge trackÂ?s two-seaters allow a parent or older child to drive with a passenger; at the Sprint track, the small vehicles make it possible for younger kids to drive themselves.
See the dinosaurs dance at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. Equipped with motion sensors, the re-creations of T. Rex and his dino buddies come alive, roaring and moving when you enter their display room. Live sharks swim in a nearby tank, and thereÂ?s a cool collection of stuffed animals in displays designed to replicate their natural environment.
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