Friday, May 06, 2011

Vegas Adventures by Robin Gorman Newman

Spring break flew by, and partly because we had a wonderful time on our six night family trip to Las Vegas.  For those who think of the city largely as a site for gambling, there is so much more to it, and it's a great place to take the kids. There truly is something for everyone, and you will never be bored.

The weather was glorious -- largely in the 80s by day with a breeze -- so really comfortable -- and ideal for walking or swimming.

(Venetian exterior, with canal view)

We stayed at The Venetian, an all suite hotel.  Our room was spacious with a King bed and pullout sofa for Seth, and a view of hotel pools, mountains in the distance, and some of the hotel/casino strip. The bed was comfortable (always a top consideration for me), and the bathroom was elegant and huge.  It was a good choice for us, and it's well-situated on the strip.

Our first night, we took a short, but fun indoor gondola ride (you can also opt for outdoors)....brought back fond memories of our trip last summer with Seth to Venice.  The interior of the Venetian is beautiful....the ceiling by the indoor canals is painted to make you feel as if you're outdoors, and we even saw two pigeons flying around.  It's a good shopping destination for both American and European goods (murano glass, for example), and the restaurant choices are plentiful.  Our favorite spot became Bouchon Bistro.  We ate both in their restaurant and often took out from their Bakery when we were in a hurry and wanted something quick, but delicious (their baguettes were great!).  It's a lovely hotel to stroll and have a gelato at one of the cafes in the square.

(Seth in the gondola)

The Venetian has more than one pool, and we became regulars.  The overall depth is less than 4', and that made it a very comfortable place to swim for both kids and adults, and there was a lifeguard on duty.  Tao, the swanky restaurant in the hotel, recently opened Tao Beach (not a family destination) at The Venetian, and we often sat near that location and enjoyed the pulsating music and people-watching. While I did not go there, they have a branch of Canyon Ranch at the hotel, so if you're in the mood for a spa experience, you will be in good hands (literally).  It could be a welcome break from the everyday glitz 'n energy of Vegas.

(A Venetian Pool...view from our window)

The first show we saw (and there are tons to pick from) was playing at The Venetian....Blue Man Group.  While they've been in NY for quite some time, we have yet to see them, so we decided to go in Vegas.  The show was outstanding and one of the entertainment highlights of our trip.  It was so much fun...hugely original, inventive and interactive...a must see for a family (or anyone) in Vegas.
(Seth with Blue Man Group wax figures at The Venetian)

The next day, we embarked on a tour of the Hoover Dam led by Pink Jeep Tours. They are a class organization, in operation for over 50 years, with many different award-winning tour offerings.  We chose the Hoover Dam Top to Bottom tour. From the Lake Mead Overlook, you're transported to the Colorado River by van on the Lower Portal Road, where construction crews traveled each day. You see the original gauging station used to measure water level and flow, and dynamite storage bunkers used during construction.

Then, a guided Colorado River float tour by raft offers you close-up views few people have ever seen of Hoover Dam, mighty power plants, and Black Canyon. Youl also learn historical facts and get an astounding view of the Hoover Dam Bypass project and construction of the nearly 2000-foot-long bridge spanning over 900 feet above the river.

We were picked up at our hotel, and the tour guides were excellent, highly knowledgeable, and accomodating. Water and snacks were provided, and the tour was well-orchestrated despite the crowds at the Dam.  It's a very popular destination and worth the visit.

Pink Jeep offers tours in Vegas and Sedona, Arizona.  Their tours are small and personalized, seating only 6-8 guests per vehicle on each tour. They are one of the few local tour companies to hold off-road permits, allowing you to travel to remote areas inaccessible to most.  They own the largest fleet of luxury off-road vehicles in Las Vegas: logo'ed and pink.

                                (from the bottom of Hoover Dam behind us)

A big part of our Vegas trip included strolling the strip, visiting other hotels, and taking in many of the attractions, both free and paid, at the hotels. 

The Mirage, for example, has a volcano that erupts at night with huge flames, and it was quite a sight.  Also at the Mirage is the lovely Siegfried and Roy Dolphin Encounter and Secret Garden.  The 2.5 million gallon dolphin habitat houses 4 connecting pools, a coral reef and sandy bottom to present the dolphins with their natural habitat (you can see them up close). The Secret Garden provides a natural habitat to a variety of wildcats, from the infamous white tigers known to be used in the Siegfried and Roy magic shows, to endangered white lions. The Dolphin encounter and the Secret Garden were both developed primarily as a tool for research and education, but also to provide homes for many endangered species such as the white tiger. The admission cost is :$15.00 for adults and $10.00 for children, Age 4-12.

The Bellagio has a gorgeous fountain and light show in the evening, and the beautiful Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, complete with butterflies. (Totally worth the trip.)

The Flamingo features a Wildlife Habitat, with flamingos and more (no charge to see them) and a cage of Cockatiels (a favorite of our family).  (Don't go out of your way for this.)

The Paris can't be missed in the evening, with it's Eiffel Tower prominently lit on the strip.  If you have time, you can even take a ride up to the observation deck in a glass elevator for an awesome view of the Las Vegas Valley.

New York, New York features a Roller Coaster, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and replica of the Brooklyn Bridge.  One afternoon, they sponsored a Nathan's hot dog eating contest. Felt like I was at Coney Island.

Aside from the strip, there is the Fremont Street Experience downtown.  A decadent throwback to what Times Square in NYC used to be, this is the more sexy side of Vegas with the scantily clad women, impersonators, street vendors, wall to wall cheap casinos and other kitschy establishments selling trinkets, etc.  But, they host free nighly music and light and sound shows presented by Viva Vision that attracts flocks, and it's something to see. The night we were there, the song was American Pie by Don McLean, and the show was projected overhead on the ceiling of the enclosed Fremont area. 

                                (Freemont Street Experience)

The MGM features The Lion Habitat, free for viewing, and open from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m, and is home to CSI : The Experience.  My son loved this.  In this interactive exhibit, you get to choose and solve a crime as you play the role of a crime scene investigator, based on the hit TV show CSI Crime Scene Investigation.  You pick from three murders and visit 15 lab stations, sift through 15 suspects and 3 killers, assemble clues and evidence, as you're guided by videos featuring cast members, along with real-life forensic scientists.  You match DNA, examine bullet casings, and more.  Then receive an official CSI Diploma.  General admission: $30/person; $75 for a Family Pack (4 people).

There's no shortage of shopping in Vegas whether from souvenirs to the highest end designer stores. My favorites (not to mention The Venetian) included: The Forum Shops at Caesar's in a beautiful venue, replete with Roman fountains and Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, a nice mix of shops for both the average and upscale consumer.

Another day, we ventured yet again from the strip to join Scoot City Tours on a visit to Red Rock Canyon, which was absolutely one of the highlights of our trip.  It was nothing short of an amazing, life-altering experience (for me).  Each three wheeled motorized vehicle was a two seater, so Seth opted to ride with Marc, and I drove myself.  I was the only tourist, at the time, going solo, and I was quite anxious at first.  I had never driven anything close to this before, and I wasn't confident I could grasp it so quickly and actually enjoy the ride.


The warm and competent team from Scoot City did a great job calming my nerves and assuring me I'd ultimately have a good, safe time.  And, boy were they right, except that I had an AWESOME time!  They pick you up at your hotel (and provide bottled water) and drive you to the vehicles where you get a quick lesson, and we drove as a fleet (which was something to see) to the canyon and once there, made various scenic stops.  The only bad thing about driving alone was that I couldn't take photos or video along the way, but on the way back, Seth opted to join me, so he took charge of the cameras and did a good job. Not only was the canyon beautiful, but the ride was so much fun that I hated to see it end.  No helmets or special license are required to drive the vehicle. I can't wait to go on a tour with them again.  They are expanding to Sedona, AZ, and that's now high on my family vacation to do list.   Be sure to book ahead...they do sell out. Founded by super nice guy John R. Yeager, III, President/Owner, Scoot City Tours is something you will never forget.  This is a MUST DO!

           (Marc, Seth and I pose with the red vehicle we each drove.)

The Las Vegas strip is long, and when it's super hot and crowded, it's not the easiest to navigate.  While there are cabs around, another convenient and affordable option is the Las Vegas Monorail.  It has various stops at hotel casinos on the strip, and you can get to your destination quickly.  Children under 5 are free, and there is easy elevator and train access for strollers. 

We saw three shows in total, and Treasure Island is the home of “Mystere”. Mystere is the original Cirque du Soleil performance of Las Vegas and has run continuously in Treasure Island since 1993, when the casino opened. There are literally hundreds of performances every night in Vegas, but one of the most highly praised shows is the Vegas specialty - the Cirque du Soleil. Mystere is the original Cirque du Soleil performance of Las Vegas and has run continuously in Treasure Island since 1993, when the casino opened. This was our first time seeing Cirque du Soleil, and we will be back.  It's an amazing spectacle, and if you've seen Mystere, there are other Cirque du Soleil shows to choose from in Vegas.

                                                          (Cirque du Soleil Mystere)

If you're looking for a fun, funky food destination, Serendipity 3 at Casesar's Palace is the place to go.  Situated prominently on the strip, their menu features decandent ice cream treats and other frozen delights that can't be beat.  This colorful restaurant offers a one-of-a-kind dining experience, featuring entrees as well. Since 1954, the original eatery in New York has been the rendezvous place for celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Tom Cruise and his daughter Suri, Yoko Ono, Cher and even Oprah. With another Serendipity’s now located in Las Vegas, the list continues to grow with famous faces such as the Kardashian sisters and Holly Madison! They serve up anything but ordinary. Weekend brunch, lunch, dinner and then some – this all-in-one dining and drinking destination is known for its unique dishes including the colossal dinosaur-sized BBQ Ribs, Monster Meatballs and Spaghetti, Triple Decker Grilled Cheese Sandwich and hundreds of other items made fresh in their open kitchen daily.

Seth adored their hot fudge sundae (check it out below)!  And, he ordered the hugest hot dog I've ever seen (part of that came back to the hotel in a doggy bag!)
                                  (Hot fudge sundae on left)

The third show we saw was by master illusionist Dirk Arthur who performs at O'Sheas Theater.

More affordable than many of the shows in Vegas, Dirk Arthur Wild Magic blends comedy, dance, magic and a rare opportunity to see the largest collection of awe-inspiring large, exotic cats in Las Vegas. Audiences can experience the uncaged animals from as close as 10 feet away and no farther than 40 feet away. The show is 60 minutes, and the assortment of cats varies on a daily basis, making each show a surprise as to which cats will appear. Among them are snow white tigers, orange- and white-striped Bengal tigers, spotted leopards, black panthers and even a rare liger. Arthur’s show also features an educational video segment detailing his conservation and breeding program, which includes how the cats are raised and cared for by the illusionist himself. (It was quite admirable.)

Throughout his career, Arthur has performed extensively up and down the famed Las Vegas Strip and around the world, as well as appeared numerous times on television, including NBC’s “World Greatest Magic,” CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” and on his own primetime HDTV special “Big Cat Magic,” seen on the Animal Planet network.

Produced by Chip Lightman Entertainment, Dirk Arthur Wild Magic performs nightly at 7 p.m. in the intimate O’Sheas Theater; the show is dark on Sunday. General admission tickets are $22.95 and VIP tickets are also available for $33.95 for reserved stage-side seating. Tickets are exclusive of tax and fees and are on sale now and can be purchased at both Flamingo and O’Sheas box offices, by calling (702) 733-3333 or (800) 221-7299 or by visiting or

Las Vegas was so much more fun than I ever envisioned, and you and your family will have a blast!

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