Las Vegas used to be an adult playground but that has changed. When I was a kid on vacation with my family, a babysitter was usually hired to entertain us in the room while Mom and Dad went out to play. Today, "the City of Lights" is as comfortable hosting a family with children as they are two lovers looking for a quick wedding with an Elvis impersonator. Traveling with children can be daunting if you don't have plenty of activities to keep them busy. On a recent trip, I was amazed at the quality entertainment available for families, and much of it is completely free!
The original free attraction, built in 1989 right on the strip, is the visually stunning volcano eruption at the Mirage Hotel. Watch flames and smoke shoot out of this 54 ft. volcano nightly starting at 7:00 p.m., every 15 minutes until midnight. By the expressions on the kids' faces, they seemed to be pretty impressed!
While you are at the Mirage, step inside the lobby of the hotel to view the 20,000 gallon saltwater aquarium. I could stare at an aquarium for hours and this 53 ft. long tank holds some exquisite marine life such as sharks, angelfish, stingrays, eels and an assortment of exotic creatures from the deep blue sea. The lobby also hosts a magnificent atrium rain forest surrounded by tropical palms, orchids, Bird of Paradise, bromeliads and refreshing waterfalls. A trip to the Mirage is a great way to escape from the Las Vegas heat, for free.
Another older attraction, but still a continual favorite is the Live Circus show at Circus Circus. Kids can see a 10 minute circus act which includes clowns, trapeze artists, aerialists and jugglers every day starting at 11:00 a.m. until midnight.
My favorite free activity in Las Vegas is watching the dancing waters at the Bellagio Hotel. Kids and grownups gather daily at this spectacular show of lights, music and water fountains that shoot up to 240 feet high.
For those with a sweet tooth, you haven't been forgotten! Las Vegas has two chocolaty venues that are free to tour. M&M's World on the strip has every conceivable M&M souvenir including a guitar and even purses made from M&M's. Entrance is free of course, but I doubt you'll leave without buying something sweet!
In nearby Henderson, about 15 minutes from the strip, you can tour Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden. Families can watch the intricate process of chocolate making while nibbling free samples! After you've gotten your "fix," step into the unusual Cactus Botanical Garden where you can view 3 acres of 300 different species of plants. Don't worry, if you purchased some chocolate to take with you, they provide a little cooler pouch to keep it from melting in the harsh Vegas heat.
By all means, set aside an evening to see the Fremont Street Experience. A jaw-dropping visual experience, Fremont Street is set aside for pedestrians only and is home to the largest projection screen in the world : the size of five football fields! Strobe lights, robotic mirrors and millions of LED lamps are the magic behind a series of short, spectacular shows that the whole family will really enjoy.
So don't think twice about taking the kids, they will not be resigned to the hotel room with a nanny! They will have just as much fun as the adults, maybe even more.
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Las Vegas has both splash and serenity, and it is truly a city of contrasts. The downtown and the "strip" areas are best known for their glitzy casinos, but there is more than just gambling here....
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