Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 1: Tips, Tricks, and Transportation

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

Part 1:  This Page
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  Where to Stay
Part 4:  Where to Eat
Part 5:  Deals and finagles

Part 6:  Slot clubs and positive-value promos 

Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?


If you are anything like me, going to Vegas is not something you want to do.  It's something you need to do, like eating or using the restroom, only the urge comes about once every six months.

Now that you have kids (in my case, young kids, aged 4 and 7) if you say you want to take the family to Vegas, are you finding that everyone is telling you to go to Disneyland instead?

Ignore the haters.  You still can go to Vegas.  But it really helps to know a few things that can make the difference between a really crappy trip that made you wish you had held your nose and gone to Disneyland, and a great trip that makes you want to come back next year.

Here's a secret: kids love vegas.  Just like I did when I was a kid.  After all, it's a city full of video games.  The only catch is that they aren't allowed to play them.

Ok, maybe not all kids love Vegas, but ours definitely do, because they have a great time, and we do too.

The thing to remember is, going to Vegas with kids can be a fun experience, but it's not the same experience that you had when you were going with the guys or the girls.  However, you can still capture a little of that "magic" as long as you are also willing to set aside a good amount of time for the magic of child-rearing.

I'll start in this post about some useful tips about traveling to Vegas, and what to do with your kids when in Las Vegas.  Over several more posts, I'll continue the series, posting suggestions on where to stay, family-friendly restaurants, and ways to save money, honed over at least five trips with kids in tow.

Tips and Tricks for taking kids to Vegas

Wash your hands

Wash your and your kids' hands, as often as you possibly can. Like Disneyland, Vegas has lots of surfaces to touch where you can easily pick up germs, and you will be touching them all the time.  Be cognizant of it.  Door handles, elevator buttons, handrails on both stairs and escalators have the opportunity to be cesspools of germs.  Also, the risks of gambling extend beyond losing your money:  every chip, coin, dollar bill, slot machine arm, video poker button, touch screen, playing card, and ashtray has been touched by many other people, few or none of whom have just washed their hands.  Glasses are clean, but the waitress that serves them to you or your spouse while you are gambling has not washed her hands since picking up other people's glasses.  This creates a huge opportunity for the influenza viruses of the world.  Be vigilant!  I've picked up bugs on several trips and it really cramped my style.    On the plus side, unlike Disneyland, there are bathrooms everywhere in casinos.  Use them.  It's one place in the casino where you can bring kids.  Bring and use Purell, but don't trust it.

Be prepared for the heat and the dry

You can get used to the heat after a few days, but it's still plenty hot.  Bring a small wheeled cooler with you.  Stop at the store, fill it with ice and water or other beverages, and take it around town.  Also don't forget sunscreen and hats.  

Some other things I have found very helpful to deal with the dryness are:
  • Lip balm (I like Carmex, since the scent reminds me of a trip to Vegas I took in 1991) 
  • A humidifier to keep in the hotel room.  I tend to get congested when sleeping in very dry weather and sometimes even get nosebleeds.  A humidifier helps a lot.  If you are flying in, you can buy one at a Walgreens or Wal-Mart.

Keep snacks on hand

Any parent already knows this, but it couldn't hurt to restate it.  It's easy to forget how big everything is in Vegas.  You might need to walk for 20 minutes just to get to the coffee shop, gift shop, or your room for a snack.  With your rented car, stop at a supermarket to stock up before going to your hotel.

Find a babysitter

Let's be honest; you aren't going to Vegas only for the kids' benefit.  Some things you want to do in Vegas, you will need to do without them.  If you want to gamble, indulge in some fine dining, or go to a bar, club, or show, you need a babysitter.  We try to have two nights out without kids on every trip.  Granted, only you can decide if this is something that you are comfortable doing.

Where do you find a babysitter?  If you're reading this far, you probably don't have an available grandparent who would rather sit in a room with the kids than grind his or her monthly stipend through the slots.  We are in that situation also.

Paid Screening Services

Some people use pre-screened online services such as, which charge a monthly or annual fee for membership.  They may have a free trial that you conceivably could sign up for and then cancel, if you only need it one time.


We have had good luck finding care providers on CraigsList.  Most other parents we have told this to look at us like we are crazy, but it has worked well for us multiple times.  We found one great sitter and we now use her every time we return to Vegas.  Obviously, anyone with a computer can post an ad on CraigsList, so due diligence is paramount.  When considering a new sitter, my wife always interviews them on the telephone, physically speaking and listening, before we meet them.  This is not the time to interact via email or text message.  We ask about experience, training, rates, etc.  This is as much an exercise to see if they sound like they are misrepresenting themselves as it is to get the facts.  We ask for references and call them.  We also ask the sitter for valid identification when we meet them.

Many of the sitters who advertise on CraigsList are licensed in-home day care providers.  In our experience, most such providers have their own children with them.  Since Las Vegas has many employees that work nights, many of these day care providers offer care at night.  Some parents might feel more comfortable dropping their kids off at a fixed location that is obviously the caregiver's home with other children there.  Our kids have experience with babysitting so they usually don't have a problem with a sitter coming to the hotel room, but an in-home day care environment might be more comfortable for some kids, with new toys and possibly other kids to play with.

Kids' Clubs

As an alternative, some casinos have kids' clubs.  Las Vegas Advisor - a great resource for all things Vegas - publishes a comprehensive list and has more resources to keep theirs updated than I do.  If you drop your kids off at one of them, you need to stay onsite, but most such casinos have lots to do in addition to gambling.  The Orleans, for example, has a movie theater and several live entertainment venues.  We dropped our kids there last year while we went to see Norm Macdonald in the showroom.  When we went to pick them up, they didn't want to leave.  Several Station casinos also have kids' clubs.

Traveling with other families

This is wise if you can coordinate it.  (We usually can't.)  Then you can tag team: let the other parents take all the kids bowling or to an evening at the pool so you can have a night out, and then you take a turn with the kids the next night.  Or have Guys' and Gals' nights.


Cell phones don't usually work in casinos.  Text messaging tends to be more reliable, but not always.  Be sure to give yourself extra time to send and receive messages, and step outside periodically if you are waiting for someone to call.  Maybe they did and you didn't get the message.

Drive or rent a car

You're with the kids, you need a car. I recommend a minivan if they are not much more expensive.  I drive one with pride.   If you don't, a vacation is the perfect time to try one.  After all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  At a minimum, get a car with four doors.

You'll need to get to your hotel and to the places you are going.  Many of the places I suggest are dispersed around town, so taking cabs would cost hundreds of dollars over the duration of your trip.

On the plus side: valet parking is free pretty much everywhere in Vegas (tip suggested), as is self parking.

If you have a night out without the kids, that may be a time to consider taking a cab for the evening.

Also, renting cars in Vegas is usually cheap.  I've had good luck renting from Dollar and Thrifty (same company).  I like them because their prices are usually low and they call a midsized car a midsized, whereas other companies (Hertz, Advantage, Avis) call a compact a midsized.  If you use Thrifty, you can get the "wild car" and get at least a compact and usually a larger car.  I've often been given a minivan or one of the larger crossover-type vehicles, something between a station wagon and an SUV usually, that don't fit into any of the traditional categories, which is just fine for my purposes.

In my experience, it doesn't usually pay to use points for a free rental car.  This is because, compared to most other trip expenses, a disproportionate of your rental car expense is the various taxes that cannot necessarily be avoided by using points.  The amount that the rental car company collects - which is what points can defray - is usually pretty low, and is sometimes less than half of the amount of money you spend.

Also, take it from someone who is all about using coupons:  be careful when using coupons or promotions when renting cars.  Often times the price you can get online is the same or lower.  If you have, say, a 25% off coupon from somewhere, it usually applies to a rate that is much higher than the one posted on the web site.  Free upgrade coupons can more often be bundled with online discounts, although you can sometimes get the same upgrade just by asking.  Usually the coupon will get you one class higher, up to a "Premium" which is a large car (Grand Marquis) but not a luxury brand (Lincoln or Cadillac).

Whichever rental company you choose, be sure to sign up for an account (Dollar Express, Thrifty Blue Chip, Budget Fast Break, Hertz One Club, etc.) so you can take care of all the paperwork before you get to the airport.  Then you can just pick up the keys, sign, and go.

Otherwise, you will need to wait in line, which can take an hour or more if it is busy.  Renting cars is one place where I recommend not using Priceline or Hotwire.  You will need to wait in the long line if you use Priceline or Hotwire.  It's not worth it to save a few dollars a day, and they often are not much cheaper once you add in all of the surcharges.

Keep in mind that taxes can amount to half or more of the total cost of the car rental.

Also, most common credit cards (American Express, Visa signature, etc) include liability damage waiver coverage, and your own car insurance if you have any will probably cover you for the rental car.  So to minimize expenditure, decline insurance, bring your own GPS and car seats, and agree to return the tank full (and fill up).

As an example, see my sample rental from Thrifty to the right.
(1) My Blue Chip number. This is a big time saver, since I've already given them my preferences, credit card, and drivers' license information so I can walk to the Blue Chip line (short), or sometimes right to the car.  My reservation will be there waiting for me, so I sign and go.  In most circumstances, if I don't pick it up, I don't get charged.  (sometimes a special price is offered for a pre-payment, in which case you get charged whether or not you pick up the car.  I almost never prepay for cars, because prices often decline the longer I wait, and I'd like the flexibility to change toa  cheaper reservation.  Make sure you understand the terms of your reservation.)

(2) Where and when I am renting the car.  Usually, the clock starts when you pick up the car (not the time on the reservation) and stops when you return it.

(3) Car class.  I chose the "wild car" meaning I could get anything except a small economy car.  I haven't rented a car in Vegas in a while, but I think they are often flexible in letting you select your own car.  I usually end up with a minivan, or a crossover station-wagon type vehicle.

(4) Total "base rate", which is the money that goes to the rental company.  This is the price of the rental.

(5) These are the many taxes that non-Las Vegas voters are saddled with.  They amount to about $50 on this three day rental.

(6) Total - what you will pay.

Keep in mind that prices change all the time - it might be different if I picked the cars up an hour later, or if I waited 20 minutes to make the reservation.  However, the taxes are usually either a fixed flat fee or a fixed percentage.

Manage expectations

Traveling with children is complicated, and being in Las Vegas can be more overwhelming than you might expect.
  • Getting around Las Vegas using any means of transportation takes a lot of time.  You will often find yourself stuck in traffic, waiting for the valet, waiting for a cab, walking much farther than you expected to, getting lost in a casino, etc.  Be patient and give yourself plenty of time.
  • Same goes with waiting for calls/text messages.  As noted above, cell phones often don't work well in casinos.
  • Plan to do one thing a day, maybe two if your kids are over age 4.  If you have extra time after doing that one thing, congratulate yourselves and celebrate by doing something easy that doesn't require a lot of shlepping around, such as hanging out at the pool or eating ice cream.
  • Don't expect to spend a lot of time gambling or doing other non-kid activities.  However:
  • Set a reasonable amount of specific time aside to do those grown-up things you came to Vegas for.  After a few days with the kids, you deserve it.
  • If you are going with a group of people, don't feel like you need to do everything together all of the time.  I suggest meeting them for one meal a day and keeping to yourselves the rest of the time.  More on this in a future post.

Those are my tips, and I'll add new ones as I think of them or as people suggest them to me.  Feel free to add yours in the comments.  Thanks in advance.


Part 1:  This Page
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  Where to Stay
Part 4:  Where to Eat
Part 5:  Deals and finagles

Part 6:  Slot clubs and positive-value promos 

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