Las Vegas for families

Las Vegas for families – travel destination

Lois Anne Naylor

Parents pushing strollers, joined by grade-schoolers clutching Mommy’s and Daddy’s hands, gather round a domed ceiling in the MGM Grand hotel to watch clips from The Wizard of Oz. Thunder booms. The sunny Kansas sky turns black, and a cyclone whisks away Dorothy and Toto on the ride of their lives. No Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. But with all these kids, can you believe it’s Las Vegas?

Gambling, top-notch entertainment, and cheap food and lodging have long lured adults to Las Vegas. These days, child-friendly special effects spectacles, such as an erupting volcano, a full-scale pirate attack on a British ship, a fire-breathing dragon, and adventures in Oz, contribute to Vegas’ reputation as a family vacation haven.

Although Vegas has been called a Disneyland for adults, don’t bet on it for a Disney-style vacation. Las Vegas still revolves around gambling. You must weave your way among slot machines, roulette wheels, and blackjack players to register for your room, and everywhere you go in hotels leads you through casinos. That means your children will be exposed to gambling, whether you like it or not. And the kerplunk of kids dropping quarters into video machines and midway games sounds amazingly like adults feeding the slots.

But most parents agree with Pam Cummings of Wisconsin. “I’m not bothered by the gambling,” says Pam, who has children ages 8, 11, and 14. “The kids already know about it. Our farm is near an Indian casino.” Pam’s kids find plenty to enjoy in Vegas.

Like many parents in today’s more family-oriented Las Vegas, Patti and Oscar, of Shreveport, Louisiana, view the legendary gambling mecca through the eyes of their child. Five-year-old Artrice watched in awe at Caesar’s Palace as lightning streaked across the ceiling above the Forum’s fountain. Suddenly, the statues, garbed in togas and ancient Roman armor, came to life; she clapped her hands delightedly at the spectacular laser light show that followed. The famed white tigers at the Mirage fascinated her, and she loved it when a clown at Circus Circus Hotel/Casino transformed her features into a clown’s jolly visage.

Family circus. Family fun in Vegas began under the pink-and-white-striped big top of Circus Circus in 1968. Trapeze artists, jugglers, and acrobats entertain one level above the casino, one act at a time. There’s a half-hour wait between each performance so folks can spend lots of money to prove who’s the best water-gun shooter, duel in Sega’s Jurassic Park video ride, or eat cotton candy in one of Vegas’ largest and most popular arcades. Rooms run $30-$85; 800/444-CIRCUS.

Circus Circus connects to Grand Slam Canyon, where the bright pink tracks of a double-loop, double-cork-screw roller coaster skim the top of the domed theme park.

Middle Ages fun for the young. Circus Circus isolated the family market until Excalibur, Las Vegas’ second largest hotel, opened in 1990. A drawbridge over a moat leads to the entrance of the huge white medieval castle, crowned by colorful turrets. At night, a 51-foot fire-breathing dragon emerges from under the bridge to tangle with Merlin the Magician. Kids feel the heat as flames escape when the beast roars.

Families jam Excalibur’s generous arcade, and lines form for the twin motion simulator rides. Jugglers, contortionists, and storytellers perform. At King Arthur’s Tournament, people eat with their fingers while jousters compete. Rooms, $49-$129; 800/937-7777; in Nevada, 702/597-7700.

Flashy family hotels. A trio of properties opened in 1993 and instantly became tourist destinations–the Luxor, MGM Grand, and Treasure Island.

A 10-story-high Sphinx guards the 30-story pyramid-shaped Luxor. Hieroglyphics highlight its Egyptian motif. The Nile River that encircles the casino level was intended to ferry guests to the elevators. But when people grumbled about the 90-minute wait, the Luxor decided to let guests walk to the elevators and promote the ride as the Nile River Adventure. The 15-minute guided barge tour drifts past the Valley of the Queens, King Ramses II’s temple, and other Egyptian-style art. Hidden within the depths of the Luxor is a full-scale replica of King Tut’s Tomb. Visitors wind their way through an antechamber before coming face to face with a duplicate of the young ruler’s golden sarcophagus.

Sega VirtuaLand contains prototype interactive machines as well as popular video games. Luxor also has a motion-simulator ride and a 3-D show. Rooms cost $59-$500; 800/288-1000.

Substitute a lion for the sphinx, and a more typically shaped building for the pyramid, and you’ve got the world’s largest hotel, the MGM Grand. The golden lion’s glowing green eyes prepare you for the Emerald City and Wizard of Oz characters inside. With more than 5,000 rooms, MGM Grand always has waiting lines to check in and out.

MGM Grand’s arcade, more than 1 1/2 times larger than the Luxor’s, features carnival-type competitions and interactive video games. The nearby King Looey Youth Center keeps children entertained for $5 an hour, while the theme park offers a dozen rides and shows. Pick up child-size ruby-red beaded tennis shoes for $55. Rooms run $69-$750; 800/929-1111.

A gigantic skull and crossbones welcomes you to Treasure Island. Las Vegas’ most talked about alfresco entertainment amazes people packing the front boardwalk. As a British frigate sails around the side of the hotel on Buccaneer Bay, it spies pirates. Cannon shots blast over the heads of onlookers, trapped on a bridge between the dueling vessels. An explosion rips apart the Britannia. Sailors leap into the water–except the captain, who goes down with his ship. Stick around and watch him come up with his brig for the next attack.

The pirate theme continues into Treasure Island’s popular game arcade. Like the other hotels mentioned, Treasure Island features a giant swimming pool. The hotel’s unique evening show, Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere, boasts acrobats, dancers, bungee jumpers, and trapeze artists. Rooms cost $59-$189; 800/944-7444.

An illusion of paradise. Inside the Mirage, palm trees, birds of paradise, and orchids landscape the atrium. Outside, dolphins frolic in a series of pools. Each night, illusionists Siegfried and Roy defy logic and confound their audiences by making a menagerie of wild animals magically appear and disappear. Roy hops into a cannon and out pops a white tiger. An elephant commands attention, then vanishes. The lovely assistant gets scrunched ever tighter into a tiny cubicle. When she’s rescued, she’s accompanied by a white tiger. Now you don’t see a lion, now you do. Tickets, including tax and two drinks, $78.35; no child discount.

Every 15 minutes after dark, the placid waterfall in front of the Mirage metamorphoses into a red-hot river of flowing lava. A ring of fire encircles the top of the falls as a volcano erupts. Rooms cost $69-$279; 800/627-6667.

Las Vegas CVA, 3150 Paradise Rd., Dept. BHG, Las Vegas, NV 89109-9096; 702/892-0711.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Meredith Corporation

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group