Take the Kids to Vegas, Baby

Listening to people in the Las Vegas tourism industry talk, you get the impression that it's one of those things that they would rather not talk about. Sure, it happens in Las Vegas, but they wish talk of it would stay in Vegas. What do they want to keep hush-hush? Many couples bring their kids to Sin City.  Circus Circus features free circus acts regularly throughout the day

It wasn't too long ago that Vegas built a marketing campaign around being family-friendly. And while the city itself hasn't changed that much, the message has returned to "You can bring the kids, but..."

"While it is a destination that offers attractions and amenities for visitors of all ages, it is a city still best enjoyed by adults," a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) replied when asked about things for kids to do.

It wasn't that she didn't want to see a story about bringing kids to Vegas appear in print, it's just that she wants it to be known that there is so much more to write about. A second spokeswoman later added, "There are, in fact, plenty of things to appeal to people of all ages, including families traveling with children." The spokesman at the Wynn, however, put it flatly: "A story about kids isn't something we're going to get involved with. We don't really have anything that's kid-centric."

The LVCVA makes it clear that only 9 percent of visitors in 2005 were under the age of 21, and that was down from 10 percent the year before. What they don't make as clear is that more 38 million people visited Las Vegas in 2005, which means that nearly 3.5 million of those were under the age of 21. They had to do something while they were there, right?

The popular erupting volcano at the Mirage

A survey of the strip reveals not only kid-friendly restaurants but a healthy number of kid-friendly hotels with pools, exhibits and amusement park rides. A website, www.lasvegaskids.com, has even been set up to help parents thinking about bringing their kids. As the LVCVA somewhat grudgingly pointed out, there are many free attractions for families to enjoy, such as the fountain show at the Bellagio, The Mirage's erupting volcano and the singing gondoliers at the Venetian.

And for families willing to open up their wallets, there are plenty of attractions for the non-gaming set.

Shark Reef at MandalayBay (www.mandalaybay.com, 702-632-4555) is one of the highlights. A 90,560-square-foot aquarium that attracts about a million visitors each year, it promotes itself as the only predator-based aquarium in North America. With more than 2,000 animals swimming around—many of them dangerous ones like sharks, crocodiles, swordfish and piranhas—in 14 major exhibits with more than 1.5 million gallons of water, the excitement level here is considerably higher than it is at most aquariums.

Lion Habitat at MGM Grand attracts 12,000 visitors a day

From Shark Reef, it's only a short walk to the beach. MandalayBay has an 11-acre water complex with three swimming pools and a manufactured beach with 1,700 tons of sand, 1.6 million gallons of water and a machine that produces waves of varying heights.

This, along with the fountain show at the Bellagio, the dolphins at the Mirage and the gondola rides at the Venetian, demonstrate the fact that, in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas has evolved into a monument to water.

Down the Strip from the Mandalay Bay is Circus Circus (www.circuscircus.com, 702-794-3939), home of the Adventuredome, an amusement park set on five acres with 23 rides and attractions inside its 200-foot-high pink glass dome. Since opening in 1993, Adventuredome has attracted nearly 40 million visitors (last year it ranked 11th in attendance among theme parks in North America, and 19th in the world), many of whom ride the Canyon Blaster, the world's only indoor double-loop, double-corkscrew rollercoaster.

Acrobats performing at Circus Circus

And for the slightly less adventurous, there is a small bowling alley, miniature golf, family rides and dozens of arcade games.

At the MGM Grand (www.mgmgrand.com), the Lion Habitat ("a 5,000 square foot showcase of lofty simulated jungle complete with waterfalls") is celebrating its eighth year, attracting some 12,000 visitors a day.

For kids with a sweet tooth, next to each other on

Las Vegas Blvd
are the Everything Coca-Cola store and M&Ms World Las Vegas.

The Coke store (www.coca-colastore.com, 702-270-5952) used to be part of a larger complex, the World of Coca-Cola, which closed in 2000 and included exhibits chronicling the history of the soft drink company. Now, it's pretty much a store whose highlight is being able to order a sampling of Coke products from around the world that are generally not available in the United States. Tasting them, you might think that's not such a bad thing, or at least realize that different people have different tastes.

M&Ms World (www.mymms.com/merchandise/las_vegas.asp, 702–736–7611), while not exactly high-tech, is a lot more participatory. Besides being able to buy every variety of M&M available, there is a ride, a film and exhibits showing the history of the candies and how they are made.

So, while Vegas is no longer going out of its way to attract families with kids, they do recognize that they are going to show up.

As Erika Pope of the LVCVA says: "Only a small percentage of visitors report gaming as their main draw. Rather, they tell us that vacation and pleasure are their chief reasons. It follows that, therefore, the fact that Las Vegas has so many diversions that appeal to people across the age and preferences spectrum. It is the sum of these activities that makes Las Vegas appealing."