Here are some of my recommendations. I'll put a note in each item about what ages are appropriate. These are listed in alphabetical order.
(all ages, especially younger kids) Inside the shopping mall attached to Aladdin are some great stores, including the Discovery Channel Store, the Endangered Species Store and Gap Kids. In my opinion, the best store for kids is the Build-A-Bear Workshop. If you're not familia with the store, the basic premise is that you (drumroll please) Build your own teddy bear. You pick a body for anywhere from $10-$25. They have bears, bunnys, turtles, and lots more. Then you get it stuffed on a big machine and then you primp it and comb it and fluff it. Then you buy an outfit (average cost was about $10 for the outfits) and any accessories you want (shoes, eyeglasses, hats, etc.) and then you print out a birth certificate on the computers and it's all put into a cute box/cage and you're on your way. I saw a lot of kids about 6-10 years old having a GREAT time in the store. You can visit the company website at http://www.buildabear.com
(teens especially, but some younger kids might enjoy some of the elements) This is a hard one to classify for age. Some younger kids might have a good time here watching the fountains and strolling around. Others will be bored out of their skulls! Read what I have to say and judge for yourself as you know your kids best.
The Forum Shops is a huge mall attached to Caesars Palace. The shops are upscale (Versace, Gucci, etc.) for the most part, but there are some fun things to see and do inside as well. The whole place is done in typical Caesars Roman style. The ceiling is painted like the sky and the lighting takes it from sunrise to sunset every hour. There are HUGE fountains that are gorgeous inside as well as a huge aquarium at the far end.
There are two different fountain shows at the Forum Shops. One of them is near the entrance and features Roman gods who "come alive" every hour. The show is sort of stupid and is mostly an advertisement for the show, but I think it's enjoyable enough to see it once, but it's not one I make a point to visit every visit. Very little kids might find it a little big frightening, but I doubt most will have a problem with it. More likely, your teenagers will roll their eyes and ask when they can go to the Virgin Megastore to buy more Backstreet Boys CD's.
Inside the mall there are some great stores. The Virgin Megastore I mentioned, the Warner Brothers Store, FAO Schwartz (with a great Star Wars Section), Planet Hollywood, etc. There's a list of stores in the Forum Shops on the Web.
Be sure to stop at the Cheesecake Factory for a HUGE sandwich and a slice of some excellent cheesecake. If you get a table out on the patio, it's a good place for some people-watching. There's a pretty good espresso bar where you can get gellato near the fountains with the big Pegasus. It's a nice place in the middle of the shops to stop and take a break if you don't want a full lunch.
At the far end of the shops, by Virgin, is the second fountain show. This one is the advertisement for the Race for Atlantis Imax Motion Simulator. This show is spectacular with lasers and explosions. Be forewarned - it is VERY loud and VERY spectacular. I've seen many parents fleeing with crying children. Don't be up close if your children are scared by loud noises and bright lights. It's quite a show and younger teen-agers will love it.
After you're done with all that, if you still have money and energy, be sure to try the Race for Atlantis. It's a pretty good motion simulator and not too bad of a price tag. There are other motion simulator rides (they are the 3D ones) that are a rip off! They are terrible and in order to see the "movie" you want, you have to buy a package. The 3D effects are not very good and I always leave there with a headache and feeling sick to my stomach. Be sure to pass up those, but the Race for Atlantis is worth the visit.
(all ages) This is the original "kid friendly" hotel and it features a circus theme (surprise!). Upstairs, above the casino, there is a circus midway where circus performers put on shows every half-hour from 11am to midnight. Be sure to check the signs that are around for the show schedule if you're looking for something in particular.
Along with the circus performers, there are a number of games in the midway. Most are the "pop the balloon and win a stuffed animal" type of games, but there are some video games too.
Little kids will enjoy the games and circus performers. Don't miss Gregory Popovich and his trained cats! He's amazing! I can barely get my cat to use the litter box. I have no idea how he gets his to do tricks!
Also at Circus Circus is the Adventuredome. It's an amusement park enclosed in a giant pink dome. We rode the roller coaster here and had a pretty good time. I'm not sure if it will provide an entire day's worth of entertainment because it seemed kind of small to me. Maybe I've just been spoiled by Magic Mountain.
There's been a virtual reality ride for the older kids (and adult-kids too!) recently added to Circus Circus. It's in the Adventuredome and it's called the Fun House Express. It's an IMAX motion simulator like the Race for Atlantis (see below). It, along with a number of the "good" rides at the Adventuredome require riders to be at least 42 inches tall.
(all ages) As I said on the Hotels for Kids page, this hotel is done in King Arthur style. The hotel is a giant castle with Merlin sparkling over the building from his tower every night. Inside there are strolling minstrels and themed restaurants, stores and games. Like Circus Circus, the hotel has a midway area that has games downstairs.
Also downstairs is one of my favorite places to go on our trips. In the far corner of the Midway is a magic motion simulator ride that is one of my favorites anywhere. It's $3.00 per person, but there are a number of 2-for-1 coupons to be found in visitor magazines and at the front desk of the hotel. There are about 5-6 different movies that play during the day, usually in 4 hour blocks. My two favorite rides are the street luge and the dune buggy race. It's a rough ride and more for teens than younger kids, but mom and dad can have a good time here too!
Another fun thing to do at Excalibur is their show, Tournament of Kings. The show is held nightly at 6:00 and 8:30pm. It costs about $35 per person and includes dinner. Basically the audience is divided up into sections, you're given a dinner of chicken and things you are to eat with your hands and maidens come around to give you grog (well, soda anyway). Each section is assigned a knight you cheer for as a jousting show takes place. It's jousting, dragons, wizards, knights, maidens and a good time. I've talked to a couple of kids that have seen the show and they loved it. You get to eat with your fingers and be loud, exactly what kids love to, right?
One last thing I'll add about Excalibur. They have a nightly show out front where Merlin battles a fire-breathing dragon. It's a free show like the Mirage Volcano or Pirate Battle at Treasure Island. I can't say it's a must see or a must skip because I have not yet seen it. Unfortunately, it has been closed for one reason or another (weather, maintenance, etc.) on my last four trips. If anyone wants to add something about it, please e-mail.
(kids and teens) The Fremont Street Experience takes place downtown. Basically they have closed off about five blocks of Fremont Street to car traffic and have covered it with a giant canopy of lights. After sunset there is a giant light show that takes place every hour. This is one of my favorite things to do in Las Vegas and the price is right... It's FREE!
Along Fremont Street there are a variety of carts with things to buy (T-shirts, mugs, license plate frames, blown glass, pictures of your face superimposed on another body, etc.). Also,on occasion, there are performers and events along the street. We've seen concerts there as well as parades.
At Christmas they put up a huge tree. (Pictures are here) I saw the cutest little girl (about 7-8 years old) singing and dancing along with the Christmas Light show. However, on the same trip, I saw something less appealing. It was 1:30am and below freezing yet a group of people somehow decided it was a good idea to be walking around with 4 children under the age of 5.
Downtown is not the Strip. It has been cleaned up and there is a very visible presence of security/police. However, just a couple blocks off of Fremont Street the neighborhood isn't so nice. Also, there aren't any pirate ships or roller coasters downtown. There ARE casinos, free drinks and strip clubs. It is definitely not Disneyland.
I'd suggest taking your family downtown to see the 8-10pm shows, but then it's time to take the kids out of there. I've seen things get rowdy there as it gets closer to midnight and after midnight it gets a little bit scary for kids to be out there. If you're an adult alone, I wouldn't worry, but kids don't belong there after about 10pm.
Be sure to check out the website for information and descriptions of their shows and upcoming events.
(teens, some stuff for younger kids, but not much) I can't really recommend this for younger kids because it's mostly there for teens and younger adults who enjoy video games. I'm sure that there are things for younger kids to do there, but I can't recommend it for them. However, teens will love it.
Gameworks is open Monday - Thursday: 10AM - 1AM and Friday & Saturday: 10AM - 2AM. It is 47,000 square feet of video game and activity madness. They have every kind of game you can imagine from Jurassic Park to Ms. Pac Man to Pool tables to foosball. Even some games you can't imagine like Vertical Reality, where the chair your strapped in climbs up 24 different levels depending on how well you're doing, or Virtual Arena where your onscreen character mimics what your body is doing (running, kicking, punching). Wild stuff!
Las Vegas' Gameworks boasts Surge Rock. It is the world's tallest free-standing rock climbing indoor structure at 75 feet. Just watching people on it is fun, but climbing it must be great!
Another thing I like about Gameworks is the "game card" system. You buy a card that has $5, 10 or $20 worth of credit on it and play it down. Not like the old days when we had to have a pocketful of quarters or tokens to play Asteroids (another of the 'nostalgia' games you'll find at Gameworks). It is possible for parents to drop off their 17 or 18 year old with a $20 game card and come back to get them in an hour if they needed a break.
I recommend this stop for parents of older kids or teens.
(younger kids will love this, but some older teens might not enjoy a museum visit) Las Vegas is home to a GREAT children's museum. the Lied Discovery Children's Museum has been among the winners of the Las Vegas Review Journal "Best of Las Vegas" Reader's Poll 10 times and the award is well deserved. Most of the exhibits are geared towards the 6-12 year old, but there are many programs there that are designed to include younger and older children. The museum features over 22,000 square feet of exhibit space on two floors and more than 100 hands-on exhibits as well as an eight-story tall Science Tower. For more information, see the more detailed page on my site here.
(mostly for teens, but some younger kids might enjoy it) Like I said in my hotel section, I'm not sure that younger kids will like the Luxor unless they're interested in pyramids, pharaohs and mummies. This is a Circus Circus (now Mandalay Resorts) property so kids are welcome and expected, but it's not as family oriented as Circus Circus or Excalibur.
There is a King Tut museum here that I found only so-so. I live very close to an amazing museum that deals with all thing Egyptian so I'm a little hard to impress in this area though.
Upstairs there is a big fun area. There are restaurants and shops, but also things for kids to do. The best is probably the IMAX Theater. I've seen a couple of movies here and it's a good place to see them. The best movies are the 3D ones though. The theater provides you with the most amazing 3D glasses. Not only are they the latest in 3D viewing technology, but they also have speakers in them, positioned near the ears, to provide a 3D sound experience too. We saw "Into the Deep" at this theater and loved it.
There is also one of the ever present motion simulator rides here. It's sort of a futuristic Indiana Jones type experience. I enjoyed it, but it isn't one I go back and do again and again.
There is also a great Sega Arcade at Luxor. Dan and I really love the Virtual Reality car racing game that they have here. It's not Gameworks, but you could spend the better part of an afternoon and well over a hundred dollars on rides and games here.
(all ages) This is a great attraction for people who love aquariums and sealife. This exhibit is more than 100,000 square feet of sharks, fish, reptiles and other creatures. There are many different species of sharks, snakes, crocodiles, and even some beautiful sea turtles. The admission price includes an audio wand that allows you to dial in a number and hear an audio program that tells you all about the specific exhibit you are looking at.
About 2/3rds of the way through the Shark Reef, there is a touch pool where you can touch manta rays and baby sharks. It was the hilight of my visit there. I am a big fan of sharks and enjoyed being up close to one. The docents inside the Shark Reef are very friendly and helpful and asked a number of questions that I had.
Despite the fact that I live very close to some world class aquariums, I enjoyed the Shark Reef very much. I think that it's a must see for families with sealife enthusiasts in the group. You can visit their website here or you can click here to see my photos and video of the Shark Reef exhibit.
(all ages) This is another freebie that is well known and a must-do for first time visitors. There is a beautiful waterfall in front of the Mirage Hotel. Every fifteen minutes after dark, there is a deep rumbling noise and fire shoots out of the "volcano" in the lagoon and "lava" flows down the falls. It's not high-tech, but it's a fun experience and I always see people having fun there.
Be warned - some smaller kids might be afraid as it is sort of loud if you're up close. Also, when the fireball shoots out, and especially when the fire comes out into the water, it can get very warm. If your child is afraid of fire, watch from a distance. Across the street, by Casino Royale, is another good viewing location if you want to be far enough away that you don't feel the flames.
Also at Mirage is a tiger habitat. It's free to the public, but you might have a better time at Sigfried and Roy's Secret Garden (see below). Near the pool, on the Caesars side of the Mirage is a tiger habitat. It's a big glass window where you can watch tigers sleeping. Seriously, I've seen them up and around a few times, but most of my visits have found sleeping tigers or an empty cage. It's a beautiful room for them to lounge in, actually, better than my room! It's a good place to stop if you're in the hotel or passing through.
(all ages) The Lion Habitat at MGM opened on July 1st, 1999. This 5,000 square foot, $9million project sounds fantastic if you can believe the press releases and early word from visitors. It's open 11am - 11pm and is FREE! (my favorite admission price). From 11am - 5pm every day (except Tuesday) you can get your picture taken with a lion (?!) for $20. Wow, wouldn't that make a great Christmas Card?
(teens) New York, New York is a theme hotel with an incredible attention to detail. I really like this casino, but many people do not because it can be crowded and noisy. Family attractions are the Manhattan Express roller coaster and the Coney Island Emporium arcade.
The roller coaster is a good one. I think it fizzles out at the end, but the first drop is excellent and it has some good drops and rolls in it. If you have quicktime, you can download a video of the ride here.
The Coney Island Emporium Arcade is a really fun one. They have some of the latest and greatest in 3D and Virtual Reality games. It's not Gameworks, but it's pretty good nonetheless. Dan did a 3D flight simulator thing where you could do barrel rolls, and spin upside down, etc. It made him a little sick and he didn't think he'd do it again, but the kid who rode it after him looked like he was having a good time. I'd recommend doing it BEFORE going to Nathan's for a hotdog.
(all ages) The Rio is off the strip, but worth a trip to see the Masquerade Village's Parade in the Sky. Every day but Wednesday, the Rio puts on an amazing parade suspended from the ceiling above the casino floor. Beginning at 2pm and every even hour after that until midnight (2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm, 10pm and midnight), the wall opens up and floats come out, suspended from tracks on the ceiling. The show themes change and are - Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnivale in Venice, Carnivale in Rio, Village Street Party and the newest addition, the Disco Swing Party.
For $9.95, anyone over 42" tall can buy a ticket and ride on one of the floats. If you stay at the Rio, you get two tickets comped to you. I am terribly afraid of heights and chickened out, but Dan rode in the midnight, Christmas Eve ride which happened to be the Disco Swing Party. It is really fun and he had a blast. Everyone in the cast counted down to midnight and just as the doors (wall?) opened, they all cheered "Merry Christmas!" before starting the show.
The show is very high energy and the music is loud. If you are upstairs, the floats pass by at eye level. Performers on the ride stop dancing periodically to throw strings of beads to the spectators. It's really fun, even if you decide not to ride.
If you'd like to see pictures of Dan on the float, click on our Rio Pictures Page. Or, for more information about what it was like to participate, check out Dan's section of the trip report for Christmas Eve. (look towards the very bottom of the page)
(Kids over 54" tall) This is a great thrill ride. It's the only electromagnetic powered coaster on the Strip. The whole ride takes less than a minute, but it begins with a bang. The electromagnetic coasters do not have the chain lift up the hill that is characteristic of older coasters. Instead, you are slingshot out of the loading station and over the first hill. It's a quick adrenaline rush and very much worth the time to visit.
If your kid is a NASCAR fan, be sure to grab some lunch at the NASCAR cafe. I don't think it's as impressive as RaceRock on Fremont Street, but there is a nice collection of things to look at and a NASCAR themed menu. You can find more information on their website at http://www.nascarcafelasvegas.com/ You can also see a video of Speed The Ride by going to my video page.
(all ages) It is no secret that I'm a big fan of the Mystic Falls atrium at Sam's Town. I love just sitting on the benches and watching people wander by. It's a little bit of outside, in an air conditioned environment. :-) Every day at 2:00pm, 6:00pm, 8:00pm and 10:00pm the waterfall area comes alive with a water and laser fountain show.
I have been reluctant to recommend Sam's Town for visitors because of it's location out on Boulder Highway. But with the new remodel and the addition of the Century 18 movie theaters, I think it's worth a trip. In addition to the atrium and movie theaters, you can also visit their 24-hour bowling alley. If you're there on a Friday or Saturday night, they apparently have something called Extreme Bowling. Check their website for more information - http://www.samstownlv.com
(all ages) The Secret Garden is located beyond the pool area after you exit the hotel. The admission seems steep at $10 each person, but I think it's a decent price for Las Vegas. The admission gets you a tour of the dolphin habitat where you can learn a little bit about dolphins in captivity and in the wild. We found this fascinating as Dan did his PR internship at Marineland in Southern California and knew some of the same people as the people employed there. The Mirage makes a very big deal of letting you know that these animals were not captured in the wild, but were transferred from other marine parks or born in captivity. The dolphins have it pretty good as they get to play all day without having to perform for food or any of the things I object to in marine mammal parks.
After the tour of the habitat, you're taken to the gates of the Secret Garden. You're each handed a wand, which looks like a really long cellular phone. Inside are cages where they rotate the animals from the Sigfried and Roy magic show. You can see Gilda the elephant up close, along with all the beautiful cats. If you love the big cats, you'll love getting up close to the ones here. Each cage has a sign with some numbers on them. You "dial" those numbers into the phone/wand thing and you can hear Sigfried and Roy talk about the animal and their project. When you consider the cost of the magic show (about $80 now I think), $10 to see the animals is a bargain!
After you leave the Secret Garden, you're welcome to stay as long as you'd like. You can go back out to the dolphin habitat and watch them from the sides of the pool. There's a gift shop (of course) as well as a snack bar. If you go early, you'll be more likely to see the animals being active, before it gets warm. A good plan is to go midmorning and then have lunch at the snack bar where you can watch the dolphins play just 15 feet away. Sometimes the dolphins come up to say hi.. Sometimes they're cranky. Most of the time they interact with the crowd. It's very fun!
(all ages) One of the best views in Las Vegas can be found from the top of the Stratosphere Tower. No first time trip is complete without a trip over 100 floors up the elevator to an amazing view and some rides. It is my opinion that the roller coaster is a waste of money (it's a kiddy roller coaster, just 1100 feet above the ground), but the Big Shot is a must do for thrill ride lovers in your family. Adrenaline junkie teens will love this ride. Just watching it makes me break out in a sweat.
Downstairs in the mall area is a new Strat-o-Fair midway area with a smaller, kids version of the Big Shot - appropriately called the Little Shot - as well as games, a ferris wheel and other attractions. I haven't visited it yet, but it's certainly worth a visit if you're already there for the view. You can find more information on the Stratosphere Website here.