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LAS VEGAS: SIX SPOTS YOUR CHILDREN WOULD ENJOY
Places that you can take you kids without worry
Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Entertainment Capital of the World.
Famous for scantily-clad ladies dancing around with big feathers on their heads and people throwing their money away at slots and tables.
Once controlled by mobsters (and now largely controlled by Steve Wynn), and a former home to Dean, Sammy, Ol'Blue Eyes, and a rather flamboyant-dressing piano player, it even had a king with big sideburns and wearing a brightly studded jumpsuit performing there many times. So much so that it was practically a second home for him.
When one thinks of Vegas and its world-famous Strip, arguably the coolest street in America, children definitely does not come to mind.
Indeed, the campaign to market that desert town as a family destination in the 1990's failed miserably. I suppose it would be inevitable considering all the mega-casinos, the strip clubs, and those shows featuring women going topless.
Did I mention the casinos?
However, having been there a number of times and enjoying it immensely, to where I consider the place a Disneyland for grown-ups, there are a number of places that parents can take their youngsters without worrying about some drunk stumbling out of the Golden Nugget or the Riviera Hotel having lost all their cash at the blackjack tables. Or running into someone having a strong resemblance to Elizabeth Berkley in the movie Showgirls wearing next to nothing.
I've had the pleasure of having gone to these places firsthand, so it's fairly safe to say that I can recommend these spots as being safe for mom, dad, and the kids to enjoy:
Ethel M. Chocolate Factory, Henderson, NV (about 8 miles SE of the Las Vegas Strip)
If you and/or your family are into chocolate (and who isn't), this is the place that you and yours need to go.
While not exactly like Willy Wonka's factory, this is by far the next best thing.
Not only does this place give away free samples, not only do they sell candies and other delicious chocolaty goodies, but it also has an educational aspect, as there is a timeline as you walk through the place describing the history of chocolate in society and how in its pure form, it's actually good for the heart.
Certainly something that parental units would like - what mom and dad would turn down an opportunity for their kids to learn something while on a vacation outing?
And to top it off, it has a nice light display on the walk to the building that really shows itself at night.
Gameworks (central part of the Las Vegas Strip)
For those teens and tweens who are into arcades, this is a near-heaven. And it's right in the heart of the Strip.
Featuring all of the latest games, a 10-to-16 or 17-year-old can spend an entire day here and not get bored. Plus parents wouldn't have to worry about where they were.
Even for relatively old farts like me, this place has games like pool and supershot, where you try to make as many baskets as you can in a minute. When I was there, that's where I spent all of my time. Didn't do as well as I hoped, but I had a blast all the same.
Shark Reef, Mandalay Bay Hotel (southern end of the Las Vegas Strip)
Are your kids into sharks and other marine life? Then this place is for them!
With admission at roughly $17 to $20 (a bit less for the youngsters; call or Google Mandalay Bay for exact prices), this Shark Reef is the ultimate marine experience, one where you and your children can see hundreds of kinds of sharks and other fish in their natural habitat.
Among the highlights are getting to pet the manta rays at their little pool that they keep there, learning about the different marine life all over the world, and going under a tube and watching sharks swim over you. All led by knowledgeable guides who are experts in their field.
Like Ethel M., this is an excellent opportunity for kids to learn something and get a kick out of. I certainly did and also learned quite a bit.
And it's been over twenty years since I could call myself a kid.
Adventuredome, Circus Circus (north part of the Las Vegas Strip)
Imagine this: A real, honest-to-God amusement park in Sin City under a huge pink dome.
That describes this spot located at one of the few hotels in Vegas that caters to families more than the vast majority of the others.
Kids will no doubt go nuts for the place, particularly the elementary-aged set. What with a roller coaster going all over the place, plus other numerous rides and games, how could a youngster resist?
When I stayed at Circus Circus a couple of years ago, I was impressed by it. The one thing that came to mind was "I'd bring my kids here if I had any."
I believe that sums it up.
Bonnie Springs Old Nevada Ranch (20 miles west of the Strip)
Picture a place where it's like the Old West; where you'll see actual enactments of Wyatt Earp-like shootouts, take mini-train tours, and even feed and pet animals at their zoo, and you have described this spot.
As for getting there; yes it's a bit of a drive, but the scenery is absolutely spectacular, as you pass the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. That place will take your breath away; it gives a whole new meaning to the term "scenic route".
I, for one, had a great time when I went there. I got to feed some goats and other animals that took me back to when I was a young boy living with my grandparents in the country, and had a blast at the shooting arcades.
If your kids are into animals and westerns, this spot will be something that they will profusely thank you for taking them to.
The Fountains at the Bellagio Hotel (center part of the Strip)
I saved this place for last because if there was one thing that's an absolute must-see in Las Vegas, it is this show in front of the Bellagio, perhaps the Strip's most ritzy hotel resort.
With performances every fifteen to thirty minutes, depending on the day and time of day, these fountain displays are, to put in bluntly, awe-inspiring; sometimes going thirty and forty feet into the air, making all sorts of patterns - trust me when I say that this is something that everyone will say "wow" and ooh and ahh over.
And the best thing about this show? Its's absolutely free!
Let me put it to you like this: If you and your family don't see this show, your trip to Las Vegas is not complete.
While these are certainly places that I wholeheartedly recommend as you and yours partake in this desert vacation spot, they are not the only attractions that young people can enjoy. Far from it.
For starters, there are roller coasters at the New York New York and Sahara Hotels on the Strip, as well as one on top of the Stratosphere Hotel for those who have no fear of heights, being that it's the tallest building in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River.
Not to mention the fact that there are swimming pools at every hotel resort, on and off the Strip, including two man-made beaches at Mandalay Bay. Quite the Godsend for kids when it's 110 degrees outside on a daily basis in the summertime.
And for those parents who just can't leave Vegas without at least some casino time, there are top-notch babysitting services where they will come into your room and watch the young-uns while you get your gambling and partying on. All having been checked out, of course.
I suppose the message I'm attempting to convey is that parents should not automatically rule out Las Vegas as a place that they can enjoy with their children.
When it comes down to it, it's all about knowing where to go.
And if one plays their cards right - no pun intended - kids can enjoy this desert mecca as much as the high rollers and celebrities do.