Las Vegas with the family

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (July 2015)
Las Vegas, Nevada (July 2015)

In July 2015, the whole family – me, my husband and our two children (who were 11 and 7 at the time)- took a two & half week holiday to the USA. I planned and researched our itinerary for months in advance as I wanted this to be the trip that the kids would remember for a lifetime.   We started in L.A, then rented a car and drove to Vegas, then did the Grand Canyon, stopped over in Phoenix on the way to San Diego and finally ended up in Palm Springs.

This post is dedicated to our Vegas segment (I will post about the others later).

Let me start by saying: I love Vegas! Though I haven’t always felt that way. I’d been there with the hubby three times before this trip. The first visit in 1994 I was overwhelmed with the intensity of the place, the constant noise and lights of the machines, lack of exit signage (got lost several times in different casinos), and was happy to leave after a one night stay. But we did return, warmed to the place, so much so that we chose Red Rock Canyon as our destination to get married at, on our third visit. I’m not into the gambling, not for any moral reasons but simply because it bores me after 5 minutes and I can think of much better things to spend money on (shoes for instance). However, I love the bright neon lights on the Strip, the extravagance, the opulent themed buildings, the food and entertainment, all surrounded by colourful desert and mountainous scenery.

As this was our first time to Vegas with the children we weren’t too sure how this would go. We need not have worried – we all had a great time and one of us even conquered some fears (read on)!

Here are my tips:

Where to stay
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada (July 2015)

My number one tip before you choose where you stay – is to go mid-week.
This advice was given to me the first time we went in 1994 (before online hotel bookings were around) and still applies today. The room rates increase drastically on weekends. We always try to arrive Monday or Tuesday night and leave Thursday or Friday morning. Also, in my opinion you really only need 2-3 days – yes, there’s lots to see but after 3 full days I’ve certainly had enough, even with my love of the place.

I recommend staying anywhere on the main Strip and if you can, see if you can get an upgrade to a room with a view of the strip. Each time we go we stay somewhere different. So far we have stayed at Circus Circus (1994), Riviera (1996) and Stardust (2002).

On this occasion we tried the southern end of the Strip at MGM Grand. We have never been disappointed with our hotel choice and this time was no different. Our room was spectacular, with beautiful décor and a view of the strip and mountains.  The casino itself had everything you would expect, including a great breakfast buffet, casual dining Rainforest café (complete with bird noises and regular thunderstorm) and the resident Cirque du Soleil “Ka” show which was enjoyed by the whole family. (For more info read my TripAdvisor reviews page).  One warning though: the mini-bar has sensors.  We didn’t realise this until we checked out.  We had removed some items from the mini-bar to make room for our own drinks to keep them cool and so when we checked out the bill had lots of debits and credits.  We worked out eventually that we hadn’t been billed for items we didn’t consume, but it caused a bit of confusion nevertheless.

I have just booked a three night visit for May 2017 and will be staying at Treasure Island. Keep an eye out for future posts and I will let you know how that is!

Places to visit

There is plenty of choice! For a non-gambler like me, there are lots of different types of activities available day or night. There are all types of shows to choose from – some more family friendly than others – from concerts, to showgirl musicals, and magic shows. There is generally an exhibition on somewhere, some permanently reside in the hotels, like the CSI experience. And there are several options of Cirque du Soleil shows to choose from. We saw “Ka” because it was in our hotel – all of us were captivated throughout the whole show. If you are with children, M&Ms World (next to MGM Grand) and Hersheys Chocolate World (across the road at New York New York) are ok for a quick visit – amazing how much merchandise they have! I was too chicken to go on the Big Apple Roller Coaster at NYNY but my son (who had never been on a roller coaster before and has always been too scared to try) finally plucked up the courage to go with his dad. Later hubby commented that it was the scariest roller coaster he had ever been on – and he has been on a few in his lifetime! They both survived and still rave about it now…in fact our son has been converted and now loves roller coasters.

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada (July 2015)

Red Rock Canyon is worth a drive for some lovely scenery if you have a rental car, its not far and the drive around the national park only takes a couple of hours (allowing for viewing/photo stops).  Zombie Apocalypse store is great fun too – a really quirky experience. If you want to do a spot of shopping, the South Premium Outlets are good; for high-end premium brand clothing, shoes and accessories, the shopping at Crystals located near Aria Resort & The Cosmopolitan is amazing, even if just for window shopping, as the interior has some gorgeous water features and art installations. Also, I recommend the Forum at Caesars Palace, not only for some shopping but a great selection for eating, and of course beautiful Italian themed décor and sculptures (be sure to look up and check out the ceiling interior). In Vegas, you can also do helicopter rides to the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon. We haven’t done that yet and might try that next time without children – apparently its not cheap.  We are thinking of including a helicopter tour during our next visit to Vegas in May, along with a day trip to Death Valley. Keep an eye on future posts and will let you know if it’s worth it. 

Getting around

You can walk but the ‘blocks’ are deceivingly much larger than they look on a map. Plus in summer the heat is too intense to walk far – day or night. Cabs aren’t too expensive and worth it for short trips, rather than driving and looking for parking.  Apparently there’s also a bus that regularly goes up and down the Strip but we haven’t taken that option yet.

Food options
Carmines Italian Eatery at The Forum Caesars Palace, Las Vegas (July 2015)

Buffets, buffets and more buffets. The first time we went to Vegas back in 1994 the buffet breakfast was $2.95 and dinner $7.95. It’s a bit more now but still very cheap relatively and I have never been disappointed with the food wherever I have tried. There are great choices of other restaurants too. On this trip the kids loved the breakfast buffet at MGM Grand, breakfast at the Rainforest Café at MGM Grand and also dinner at the Hard Rock Café; we also had a fantastic meal at Carmine’s New York style Italian Eatery at The Forum at Caesars Palace – absolutely delicious food but I recommend this for larger groups as the dishes are ginormous and good for sharing between 3-4 people. The four of us had 3 dishes and ended up wasting a lot of food.

Negatives

Smoking is still allowed in the casinos, which you generally have to walk through to get to the lifts to your room. Sadly, there were quite lot of homeless people around too. And did I mention the heat? I suppose it is the middle of the desert – but be prepared!

Regrets

Not being around in the era to see Elvis or the brat pack perform there! Also, there are so many hotels to choose from and my choice is usually constrained by costs. One day I would really like to stay at The Venetian.