Sure, Vegas has earned its reputation as a bustling city with busy casinos, trendy nightclubs and racy shows. But beyond the Strip’s glitzy facade is a wealth of PG-rated activities such as thrill rides, wildlife encounters and natural wonders for the kids to enjoy. And Vegas’s all-you-can-eat buffets make dining affordable and desirable even for the family’s most finicky eaters. Meanwhile, many shows appeal to all ages (especially teens). So bring along the kids -- you may just find that what happens in Vegas stays in fond family vacation memories for years to come.
Thrill-seekers -- whether teenaged or toddler -- will find something to get the adrenaline pumping at the indoor theme park at Circus Circus Hotel & Casino. Older kids can play laser tag, defy gravity on the Inverter or careen into the air on the Sling Shot. Those in the 3-foot set will enjoy the 4-D SpongeBob and Dora film experiences, Miner Mike junior roller coaster and classic Circus Carousel.
Insider’s Tip: Maximize your ride time with an all-day pass when the park has extended hours. Older kids can enjoy some Vegas-style late-night shenanigans with unlimited rides until midnight.
The Bellagio is known for its great style and opulence, and that’s clearly on display in the extravagant displays of nature at the hotel’s botanical gardens. Best of all it’s free. Carve out some downtime from the busy Vegas scene and bring crayons and a sketchbook to let little minds wander while taking in the gazebos, ponds and endless flowers.
Insider’s Tip: While the kids are exploring the wonderland, parents may get some gardening tips to bring home the beauty when Mr. & Mrs. Green Thumb stop by daily between 10:30-11:30 a.m. to offer gardening tips.
Kids 10 and up can preview upcoming shows on Nickelodeon, MTV and more at this television research center located along the MGM Grand Studio Walk. No need to feel bad about being a couch potato on vacation because this is research -- playing the role of studio exec, viewers critique pilot TV shows, commercials and sometimes products. Just check in at the research center for available screening times and bring your critical thinking skills.
Insider’s Tip: Though you may score some bargains in the clearance section, a spin through the souvenir shop can quickly make this free activity less of a bargain.
Infuse science, culture and art into vacation while exploring the museum’s 100 hands-on exhibits and visiting installments. Each day’s schedule contains up to 10 activities, with art sessions (ever made playdough out of oatmeal?) and creativity workshops. The first floor is designed for little thinkers, while the second level challenges growing minds and proves that big ideas like nanotechnology need not be contained in science labs. Stop by Einstein’s Corner for daily chemistry shows, keeping an eye out for roving volunteers and summer interns who just may have a mini-science experiment up their sleeves. Stay tuned for even more greatness in fall 2012 when the museum relocates to downtown’s Symphony Park. Insider’s Tip: Dodge the crowds and visit on Tuesday or Wednesday (just not Monday, because the museum is closed then).
Rent a car for the day to see the sprawling desert and towering red rocks 20 miles west of downtown Vegas. Just over 1/2 mile, the Children’s Discovery Loop Trail challenges mini-hikers with small rocky sandstone scrambles, rolling hills, rocky shelters (be on the lookout for rock art) and even a stream crossing. Spring is a great time in the park when seasonal waterfalls flow into the canyon and the tortoises come out of brumation, their version of hibernation. But if you’re visiting in the summer, head out early and take advantage of shady areas and misting stations at the visitor’s center, or simply cruise the 13-mile scenic park loop in your air-conditioned car.
Insider’s Tip: Before you visit, print the Junior Ranger program. Bring the completed booklet to the visitor’s center for a badge and certificate.
Are you 54 inches or taller? Then you’re ready to conquer Vegas’s king of coasters. Simulating a jet fighter’s barrel, this hair-raising ride reaches heights of 203 feet, drops of 144 feet and speeds of 67 mph. Individual tickets are $14, but for $25 you can get a scream pass for unlimited rides for the day and $2 off the souvenir photo, if you care to bring home proof of your terror.
Insider’s Tip: Soften the blow of not meeting the height requirement with a trip to the hotel’s candy emporium IT’SUGAR where you can ogle the world’s largest gummy bears (weighing in at 5 pounds) and pick up some sweets.
Sharks lurk at Mandalay Bay, and not just at the roulette table. The hotel’s aquarium has 14 exhibits devoted to the sea’s greatest predators, with 100 sharks, golden crocodiles and piranha. Kids can imagine life on the bottom of the sea while strolling through the clear walk-through tunnels carved into the 1.3 million-gallon shipwreck exhibit. The touch tank, filled with stingrays and other friendly creatures, lets kids explore the gentler side of the sea.
Insider’s Tip: New interactive displays teach kids about the animals, sustainability programs and how to preserve the wildlife on display.
Best known for their flashy shows, Siegfried and Roy leave the magic to the majestic creatures at the Mirage. The Secret Garden houses white tigers, lions, leopards and panthers in an animal habitat designed to mimic their natural environments. Bottlenose dolphins play in 2.5 million gallons of water across 4 connected pools and an artificial coral reef system in the dolphin habitat. For the inside scoop and a picture of your family with one of the dolphins, consider the VIP tour that can be booked ahead of time or when you arrive for last-minute takers.
Insider’s Tip: Get there first thing in the morning or right before close when the lions and tigers are most active as these big cats have been known to snooze the day away.
You only need to travel 3 miles from the Strip for hiking, science and nature exhibits, and animal encounters at this natural preserve. The playground is an inspiring free-form zone that recreates a desert canyon with piped-in sound effects and huge replicas of wildlife, including a partially buried wooly mammoth skeleton. Older kids can hike the trails and learn about found natural treasures like rocks, shells and fossils at the Nature Exchange. Leave behind your crocs or flip-flops and opt for sturdy tennis shoes or hiking boots. With over 180 acres to explore, your feet will thank you.
Insider’s Tip: Stay for lunch. The Springs Café is a breath of fresh air with affordable, sustainable food brought to you by the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas to please foodies (think Thai chicken salad or crispy fish tacos), vegans and the toughest pint-sized dinners (ants on a log or mac and cheese pizza).