8 tips on taking the kids to Las Vegas

Sin City Suckers at Mandalay Bay convenience store (photo by Sheila Scarborough)My first (short) visit to Las Vegas was to help run the Tourism track at BlogWorld and New Media Expo, but I tried to scope out a few family travel angles in Sin City while I was there.

Here are my thoughts about this surprising place:

1)  Even though the campaign to market Vegas as “family-friendly” was mostly a bust, it’s still not a horrible destination with kids, as long as you avoid the racier casino floor action.

I was constantly amazed by how many parents seemed to think it was OK to walk their children through smoky areas (with gyrating dancers around the blackjack tables) at 10:30 at night.

Where the hell do they think they ARE….Poughkeepsie?

2)  The climate is incredibly dry. Be obnoxious about making everyone drink extra water and pace themselves, or the whole clan will have raging dehydration headaches every day.  Bathe in lotion, while you’re at it.

3)  The city’s reputation as a cheap place to visit is only true up to a point. The struggling economy has resulted in some amazing hotel deals in Las Vegas, but they’ll get you elsewhere in the wallet.  Food at those famous gourmet Vegas restaurants will cost a pretty penny. ATM fees are some of the highest I’ve seen ($4.99 – are you kidding?) Cocktails are not cheap unless you game the system and work those Happy Hour deals. It cost me money to check in online and print my boarding pass for my outbound flight; whoa. There are free things for families to do, but as always, plan ahead.

4)  Public transportation is poor. Either prepare to walk a lot, or catch a lot of taxis. The monorail seems like it would be helpful, but it has a weird schedule of stops and doesn’t run the length of Strip. It’s OK sometimes, but not something I could depend on to run to the places I wanted to go (nor was it always easy to find the stops via the confusing signs in meandering casinos.)

Update 13 Dec 2010: a new Las Vegas express bus service just opened connecting the airport with more of the city. If you aren’t laden down with luggage, this could work.

5)  If you are a social media fan, this is your town. Most of the major hotel properties/resorts are very active on Facebook, Twitter and location-based services like Foursquare (often with check-in deals available to participants.)

6)  Across the board, at every resort and restaurant, the staff that I met were really nice and friendly. The tough economy has hurt them badly, plus the real estate crash in this part of Nevada is godawful. They want your business.  It’s not glitzy at all a few blocks away from the Strip; it’s tough. Tip generously when you can – I did to the casino bartender who generously pointed out which drinks would NOT cost me anything at a conference social event, before I dropped $14 on my favorite bourbon and Coke.

7)  I’d say, go hang out at the swimming pools – except in the midday sun, of course. There are a bunch of family-friendly pools in Las Vegas, and my travel blogging friend Mary Jo says her top pick is the pool complex at Mandalay Bay resort.

8 )  For a half-day trip, do try to make it out to the Hoover Dam. That is one impressive place.

Fellow traveler Gary Arndt had the best description of the town’s bizarre otherworldliness: he’d heard that “Vegas fakery is like a Beatles tribute band. You know they aren’t the Beatles, but you appreciate the attempt.”

This was a short trip and I was tied up with the BlogWorld conference, so didn’t get out much….what did I miss for kids?