Friday, April 6, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 2: What to Do

This is the second in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"

Part 1:  Intro and Helpful Hints
Part 2:  This page
Part 3:  Where to stay
Part 4:  Where to eat
Part 5:  Deals and Finagles 

Part 6:  Slot Clubs and positive-expectation promos 

This is primarily directed to families with children 10 and under, although many of the activities can be enjoyed by people of all ages simply looking for a break from the casinos.

What to Do with your Kids in Las Vegas

Let's start with the most important lesson of all:

Not Circus Circus

Want to know why people say Las Vegas is no fun with kids?  Because they take their kids to Circus Circus, or they visit Circus Circus without kids but see other kids there.   I should start by saying that while I'm not a fan, I suppose some people must be, since they go there, and at least some of them might return, since the place has been there for about 50 years.  Once upon a time, it was the place people went to in Vegas if they had kids.  Nowadays there are other options.  With the possible exception of the occasional Pepto Bismol enthusiast, Circus Circus always struck me as a place unfit for any person, let alone a child.  It's also very old, which means that the restrooms are small and don't really have room for the changing tables with which they are creatively retrofitted.

Also, for those who don't remember, Circus Circus doesn't have a circus.  It has a single minute-long circus act every fifteen minutes. That's great if you are pro-intermission, since it leaves fourteen minutes of waiting until the next one.  With the exception of the steakhouse, pretty much everything else at Circus Circus feels shabby, dated, and, frankly, a little gross.  The midway features the unwinnable games that you can also play at the state fair.  <rant> I never really understood why it's legal for kids to play games where they can spend $3 to have a 5% chance of winning a teddy bear worth maybe $3 at best, i.e. having an expected return of about 5% but they aren't allowed to spend $0.25 with an expected return of 49%.  </rant> The Adventuredome might be ok for teenagers, but I don't think I would have liked it if it had existed when I was a teenager.  I took my daughter there once and she wanted to leave after about 5 minutes.

Excalibur is basically the same thing, but with ostensibly merry minstrels instead of clowns.  If you are a first-time visitor, the castle-like facade is pretty cool, and the interior design is comparatively disappointing.  In other words, the Excalibur is best seen from the outside.

OK, I get it.  Now please just give me some information I can use.

I'll be honest: most of the things we do with our kids in Vegas we could do at home, but we rarely do. Some things we just don't really have to time to do except when we are on vacation.  I'll cover a few things unique to Vegas and several things you could do anywhere.   The one exception is the new Children's Museum (see next section), which I absolutely recommend to any family visiting with children aged 2 to 11 or so.

Most of these activities cost under $10 per person without discounts (in 2012), unless otherwise noted.  Prices are subject to change, and I may not update them accordingly.  I've provided links to websites wherever possible, so you can check for current prices.  If I'm aware of easily available discounts or coupons, I'll note them.  I'll talk more about coupons in a later post.


Every time we've been to Vegas with kids, we've spent a full morning at the Discovery Children's Museum.  The ground floor has areas where kids can pretend to have various jobs (auto mechanic, etc) and go "shopping" in a mock store.  The second floor has science exhibits.  Parents usually are ready to go before kids are.  If you are already a member of a similar museum, it may have reciprocal privileges and you may be able to get in free or at a discount if you bring your membership card.  Update: the Children's museum moved to a brand new facility in 2013 just west of Downtown and it is pretty awesome, bigger and better than any Children's museum our family has ever been to, except maybe the one in Houston.  All kinds of climbing maze structures, a whole room with water physics, plus the jobs, mock store, etc that you will see in most children's museums.  However, much to my son's chagrin, still no children's casino.
The Children's museum is not walking distance to pretty much anything a visitor would be interested in except an outlet mall.  Evidently you could take public transportation but I have never tried it; it almost certainly would be easier by car or taxi.

The small Natural History Museum is north of Downtown.  You can see all of the museum in about an hour or less.  It has a live baby shark tank and some other live animals also.

The Neon Museum, also north of Downtown, is great, although perhaps more interesting for adults interested in Vegas history than for kids.  They have an extensive collection of dismantled signs from closed hotels and other establishments.  You have to take a guided tour and you need to make a reservation through the website.  There were a few kids between 8 and 10 on our tour.  As of September 2014, prices for adults/students/kids under 6 are $18/$12/free.  Parents should use their own judgment and consider that there are sharp metal objects that might look like they would be fun to play on.

Activities on the Strip

There is the assortment of spectacles that are unique to Las Vegas.  Some of these are free; others are quite expensive.  I can't think of any of them that are inexpensive but not free.  We usually take our kids to one or two of the free spectacles, such as the Bellagio fountains and conservatory.  We rarely go to the paid spectacles.  For those I will punt to a better description in your Frommers' guide or at some of the other web guides such as the one on

Note: the pirate show at the Treasure Island is a pretty entertaining show for the money (free - although somewhat hokier since the gentleman pirates became lady pirates).  However, our young children have found the pyrotechnics and staged explosions to be frightening.  It might be better suited for kids above the age of, say, 7 or 8.  2014 update: This show apparently has been displaced by, you guessed it, an <airquote> upscale </airquote> shopping mall.

Family-Friendly Shows

There are a few magic/comedy shows that run in afternoons intended for visiting families:  Mac King and Nathan Burton.  I've never seen either one, but I've heard they are entertaining and I plan to see them in the future.  Discounted tickets for Mac King are available in some of the coupon books available for purchase (more on this in a later post in the series) and possibly in some of the free tourist magazines.  There are coupons for free tickets at various web sites such as this one for Nathan Burton but they apparently only offer 10 free tickets per show, so every time I've tried to redeem them I've been offered the $10 ticket instead.

We also once went to see Popovich's Comedy Pet Theater when our kids were about 2 and 5.  The show was pretty good, small-animal and juggling type acts similar to what you would see in a circus.  However, the seating is regular chairs on a floor, so our kids could not see from their seats at all.  We asked for a refund and were accommodated.  I suggest if you go with very young children, try to sit in the front row, or as close as possible.

I believe the show was about $25 per person through, although that is just a guess, since it was 2 years ago.  When I checked today goldstar was not offering tickets for that show.  

One of these days we may also take the kids to see Tony and Tina's Wedding, which is expensive (discounted tickets start at $45 per person, but include dinner).  This is open to ages 5 and up.  I've heard that the actors never break character, even when in the restroooms.


If you have never seen it, the Hoover Dam is worth the trip.  It's about an hour drive to the southeast in Boulder City, and it is truly spectacular.  The tour is quite impressive, especially for engineering/construction/archtecture buffs.  This is probably more for the parents than the kids, but kids are welcome.  Try to get your tickets online (adults $11, children 4-16 $9, parking $7 per car, at the time of this writing in 2012) because the lines can be long.

Red Rock Canyon has some nice hiking trails if you need a break from the smoke and the neon.  It's at the west edge of the valley, about 10 miles from the Strip.  Day pass is $7 per car.


There are movie theaters all over town, including most of the off-strip casinos, such as Orleans, the various Station Casinos, the Palms, and others.  The past several summers, a few of the Regal Cinema locations offered free children's movies on certain weekday mornings, and they may continue this in the future.  I don't think any of the free movies were in casino locations.


Las Vegas seems to be obsessed with bowling for some reason.  Many of the large off-strip casinos have huge bowling alleys open 24 hours a day, including all of the Coast (Boyd) casinos, Station casinos, and the South Point.  I've seen discounts on weekdays or at odd but potentially kid-friendly hours such as in the early morning.  It's a good idea to call to see if lanes are available because sometimes they have league bowling.  Also, some of the alleys have automatic bumpers but some don't, so you can ask about that too.

Miniature Golf

The only outdoor miniature golf course in Las Vegas is the Putt Park, in the southwest corner of town.  It's only a few years old, and the only miniature golf course I've seen in the western U.S. built within the last 30 years.  There are a few other indoor miniature golf courses, including King Putt, the Kiss golf course (who knew?), and one open only to adults (Swingers Club at the Plaza hotel downtown Update: The Swingers Club (as in people who like swing jazz and golf, not the lifestyle choice) closed late in 2012, about 6 months after it opened and before I ever got to try it.  Too bad, as I thought it was built specifically with me in mind.


If you are underwhelmed by or crowded out of your hotel's pool, try one of Las Vegas' great public pools. It's something the city doesn't skimp on.  They are similar to what you would find on a cruise ship, with water slides and various splash features.  When we have visited, on summer weekdays, they were less crowded and nicer than most hotel pools, especially in late morning and early afternoon.  Admission is cheap, usually under $2 per person.  You can bring your own food and drinks in a cooler (probably not alcohol though) or buy at the snack bar.     The only downsides are that hours and opening days are limited, so be sure to check before going.  Also: you will need your own towels, and they don't provide very many chairs.  You can probably bring your own if that is feasible.

We have been to both of these:
There are several other similar pools run by Parks and Recreation Departments of both Las Vegas and Henderson as well.  You are looking for the activity pools, with waterslides/etc, so ask about that if you call them.

Zoo and Outdoor Activities

We haven't been to either of these, mainly because we have been going to Vegas in the middle of the summer.  Last summer we were about to go to go to the Springs Preserve on a particular day but it was just too hot, so we stayed at the pool.
  • Zoo.  Featuring animals.  Kids love them.  Parents beware of the gift shop.
  • Springs Preserve, apparently a combination botanical garden and museum.  Since I've never been there, I can't say for sure what it is, but I've read good things about it.  I plan to go this summer.

That should keep you busy for about a week.

Next in the series: Where to stay?  The answer may surprise you.  Or maybe it won't, if you already see where I've been going with this.

1 comment:

  1. I think you were a little unfair on your opinion of Circus Circus, you left out that it has the best option for all day indoor fun for kids with the Adventuredome. The cost is minimal considering you can come and go all day. Outdated?? maybe the others have all the glitz WOW factor but when it comes to a kid, they are looking for something to do not just look and go WOW. When it comes time for family vacation planning it is the KIDS that voted to go to Circus Circus over Disneyland ! Everyone has their own opinions and mine is Circus Circus is one of the top places to stay for children and adults who are children at heart.


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