Yep, like all good parents, I decided to bring my kids to Vegas this summer.
It was the first leg of our summer road trip — I mean, we had to go through it anyway, on our 8-day road trip to Montana — and I thought the kids would get a kick out of it. To make the decision even sketchier, Chris and I hadn’t been there in years, even though Las Vegas is as much a part of Southern California culture as the ocean. Most of our friends (and we ourselves) used to go to Vegas for the weekend regularly. It’s a 4-hour trip by car, and less than a 1-hour (very inexpensive) flight. The OC/Vegas airport terminal is filled Friday nights with Orange Countians ready to have a carefree weekend, as well as clusters of leggy, blond OC girls who go to Vegas to dance on the weekends and make more money than they do the rest of the week.
So it’s part of our culture. But Chris and I left the Vegas days behind us sometime around the time we were buying diapers and staying up until 2 a.m. to feed a baby, not doing Vegas, baby. We did a few short jaunts to Laughlin (shorter drive, less glitzy, but you get the basics), but then we just gave it up all together.
In the meantime, Vegas has changed considerably. In the 90s, it was making this strange transition to being more “family oriented.” I’m not sure what the business decision was there (perhaps just trying to get away from its “Sin City” reputation and draw in more families driving through?), but a few hotels took on the “Circus Circus” model and began putting in more arcades, family-fun activities (water parks, carnival games, roller coasters), and taking on kid-friendly themes. Excalibur sold princess hats and plastic knight toys and offered family-oriented jousting tournaments to watch; Mandalay Bay put in a huge shark exhibit; hotels put in water slides at their pools; New York – New York and others put in giant roller coasters; and all up and down The Strip, cartoonists and arcade games became part of the Vegas experience.
But then the decision slowly changed back, sometime in the 2000s. Maybe that business model just wasn’t working. Maybe Vegas was getting too “soft.” Maybe they were losing the crowds they’d normally drawn. I’m not sure what the reasoning was, but slowly the models began turning back, and the kid-friendly stuff started to evaporate while the focus returned to adult-friendly stuff. A slew of techno clubs opened up in the 2000s. The “Treasure Island” pirate show on the sidewalk converted to a “sexy sirens” show with girls in “pirate bikinis” (?). Cards of nude women once again littered the sidewalks every morning. Scantily-clad-women (and men) on billboards went back up. The shows got sexier. The drinks got cheaper. The clubs got cooler. And — although Excalibur and Circus-Circus still have a focus for the younger set — for the most part, Vegas returned to its adult-focus fantasy land.
So this might not have been the best time to take my kids to see it.
But I knew all this going in, so I tried to plan accordingly. I just wanted them to see it once — it really is a fantasy place, hard to believe until you see it with your own eyes, kind of a wild playground that really can’t be matched by any other place. I wanted them to see some of the themes of the hotels, and see that Elvis impersonators were real, and be in a place where lights become shows, and where visuals are over-the-top, and where things come alive as the night goes on. Of course, I forgot about the nudie cards on the sidewalk and the billboards of scantily-clad women, but I did successfully avoid the Treasure Island “sexy sirens” show and managed to steer them quickly through some of the hotels like Clydesdale horses with blinders on.
And we did see some cool stuff. We saw The Bellagio, with all its gorgeousness:
We walked through Paris, which was really beautiful:
We saw lots of lights:
We caught some dancing waters, set to Italian music:
We ate gelatos in Caesar’s Palace by a giant Roman statue, walked through the beautiful Forum Shops, and saw at least five Elvis impersonators. Overall, Vegas, at night, is as fantasy-driven and romanticized as ever.
Although Vegas in the morning — in the harsh light of day — always has that sort of depressing feel of desperation and regret hanging in the air. We packed up the car and spun out of the desert as quickly as we could the next morning.
Day 2 of our 2011 road trip was on our way toward Utah. …
When was your last trip to Vegas?