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Family Life

Las Vegas For Families?

Yes, the Strip overflows with live entertainment, roller coasters, exotic animal displays, diverse museums and over-the-top swimming pools. It all adds up to a great trip, and we'll show you where to take the whole family for fun in the Las Vegas sun.


One of the most enduring myths about Las Vegas is that, after having little success remaking itself in the mid-1990s as a family-friendly destination, the town returned to its Sin City roots with such gusto that parents would almost be considered guilty of abuse for bringing their offspring along.


It's true that some of the more grandiose efforts didn't work out as planned. (Most notably, the theme park that was built behind the MGM Grand and closed in 2000.) And yes, recent marketing efforts have emphasized the destination's naughtier side. (Think:"What happens here, stays here.")


And yet, the Strip overflows with live entertainment, roller coasters, exotic animal displays, diverse museums and fantastic swimming pools. These are definitely family-oriented activities.


"You have to pick and choose, because Las Vegas is built on drinking, gambling and sex," says Kathy Espin, author of the guidebook "Kidding Around Las Vegas," and those are not family-friendly activities.


But there's plenty from which to pick and choose. Las Vegas is doing more in the way of family events, such as large weddings and family reunions, which naturally involve children.


Furthermore, Las Vegas is, after all, the world capital of two forms of entertainment that most kids adore: magic and circuses.

For example, there is the folksy illusionist Lance Burton at the Monte Carlo, where he's performed regularly since 1994. Among others are Steve Wyrick at the Miracle Mile Shops inside Planet Hollywood and the famed David Copperfield, who appears about 15 weeks a year, performing an astounding 116 shows at the MGM Grand.


Daytime magic shows can be a particularly good value, especially "America's Got Talent" finalist Nathan Burton's offering at the Flamingo and the uproarious Mac King Comedy Magic Show at Harrah's. As for circuses, the Canadian acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil's six productions are a visible force on the Strip.

While one, the risque Zumanity, is strictly for adults only, four others - Mystere, O, KA, and Love - are superb choices for all ages. The newest show, Criss Angel's show, Believe, fuses the Mindfreak star's brand of magic with Cirque's penchant for eye-popping costumes and intriguing choreography. This show requires children under 12 to be accompanied by an adult.


In the same vein as the highly visual Believe, there's the modernist percussion spectacle of Blue Man Group at the Venetian. The colorful, playful, musical performers are artistically physical with painted skin, and their amusing act delights children.


Las Vegas' lineup of Broadway shows in recent years has also shown that there is life beyond the casino.


Consider the special-effects-laden version of "Phantom of the Opera" at the Venetian and the Four Seasons-scored "Jersey Boys," based on the group led by Franki Valli. And the latest, "The Lion King," recently opened at the Mandalay Bay. It is a permanent staging of the Broadway hit based on the top-grossing Disney animated movie, which appeals to even the youngest of children and families.


"It just goes to show you," said Mandalay Bay vice president Scott Voeller, "that in many ways, Vegas has become a destination that offers so much more than it has before. Is some of that family-friendly? Yes."

Las Vegas is also known for its free public entertainment, nearly all of which is kid-friendly.

Nothing could be more enthralling to a youngster than the soaring beauty of the Bellagio Fountains' water sprays dancing to music, or the excitement of the hourly digital light show sprawled overhead on the four-block-long Fremont Street Experience canopy located downtown, or the story told each hour with light, fire and animatronics driven statues inside the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Inside the carnival-themed Circus Circus, aerialists, jugglers, clowns and trapeze artists perform a free 10-minute show every 30 minutes.

Most of the attractions featuring animal exhibits and acts are free, too.

At MGM Grand, progeny of the original MGM Studios' roaring cats loll around in a glass tank that visitors can walk beneath at the Lion Habitat. The Flamingo's Wildlife Habitat offers an array of pink flamingos and other exotic birds. And inside the Hawaiian Marketplace, Joe Krathwohl, known as "The Birdman of Las Vegas," gets his feathered friends to do some hilarious things twice a day, Fridays through Sundays.

One of Las Vegas' most celebrated animal attractions is the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. The only Nevada facility accredited by American Zoo and Aquarium Association, it features displays of 1,200 marine species in a 1.3 million-gallon tank. It includes, of course, various sharks, but also a rare Komodo dragon, one of the world's heaviest living lizards. And now that Siegfried & Roy have retired, the public's only chance to glimpse their famed white tigers, lions and dolphins is by visiting the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage.

The Strip is also known for its many amusement rides, such as the five-acre Adventuredome at Circus-Circus, America's largest indoor amusement park. For the more adventurous, there's New York-New York's loopy roller coaster, and a few miles north of there are the three death-defying rides atop the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower, including those that spin and cantilever off the tower's edge, overhanging the Las Vegas Strip.

If you want to expose the kids to some education and culture, you may be surprised at how easy it can be in Las Vegas.

On the Strip, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art has mounted impressive shows featuring the artistry of Faberge, Monet, Alexander Calder and other renowned artists. The Titanic exhibit is now open at the Luxor. Visitors can see over 300 authentic artifacts recovered from 12,500 feet beneath the sea from the ill-fated ocean liner. The exhibit shares it new home with the amazing Bodies, an exhibit of "plastinated" human remains that is fascinating and educational.

A short distance away from the Strip, the Las Vegas Springs Preserve is a 180-acre nature retreat built around the now-dry spring that birthed the city and is now a vast museum and hiking region with interactive displays that teach about conservation, the environment and the desert climate. In addition, it promotes alternative energy sources.

Not far from there, the Lied Discovery Children's Museum is also worth a stop for its more than 100 permanent exhibits that focus mostly on science. Kids love it.


Finally, if all else fails, the Strip is nothing if not a succession of gleaming, themed swimming pools in which to cool your heels amid some of the nation's warmest weather. Alas, only hotel guests can enjoy the pools at each resort, so choose wisely.


The two that tend to get the best ratings from kids are the Flamingo's, which has slides and powerful waterfalls, and Mandalay Bay's, which features an 11-acre spread that includes a wave pool and lazy river. They have several smaller, quieter pools, too, somewhat better suited to Mom and Dad who need to have some Las Vegas fun and relaxation, too!