Story by Stu Dawrs
Illustration by Kim Kinard
Looking down from the air on the great wonders of human ingenuity—the pyramid and the Sphinx, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty—Lily is awed into silence. This is rare for a 4-year-old we lovingly call the Family Filibuster.
Then comes the torrent. “Lost Wages is the biggest island ever! Is it really in the middle of dessert? Will there be clowns at Circus McGurkus?” Her brother Oscar is also wild-eyed, though at 2 he’s a man of fewer words. In the face of Lily’s flood, he can manage to float only a single, breathless “Why?”
Which is more or less what I’m thinking (additional expletives deleted). Visiting their grandparents—one set in Hilo, the other in North Carolina—our kids have thousands of travel miles under their elastic waistbands. But this is the first time that we’re heading for a hotel stay, which for them qualifies as the Biggest Adventure Ever. The idea was to break up the long haul between a family visit in North Carolina and our home in Honolulu—to relax for a few days at the halfway mark. Let me rephrase that: to spend a few days at Circus Circus on the Vegas Strip. Kids like circuses, right?
My pre-landing trepidation goes beyond the behavior of our banshee children. I was last here in the mid-1990s, during that brief window when Vegas was marketing itself as a family destination. I was anything but family-friendly then; I have only vague recollections of what happened in Vegas— which to this day gives me a queasy feeling somewhat akin to hearing “You don’t remember me, do you?” at your high school reunion.
But that was a dozen years ago. In the interim I’ve somehow managed to procreate, and Las Vegas has abandoned its family façade for the adultplayground theme. Witness the Sirens of TI, whose song lures unwary Strip-farers to the artificial pond in front of the Treasure Island Hotel. What was once a Disney-esque pirate show called Battle of Buccaneer Bay has become something that’s as much T&A as TI. (Although to its credit, the show did inspire one of Oscar’s first bona fide sentences: “I don’t like pirates.”) But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to envying those who can travel to Sin City sans keiki, if only to sit poolside at MGM’s adultsonly Wet Republic, where the only floaties you see have been previously implanted.
Don’t get me wrong: There are still plenty of family attractions—the Aquarium at the Silverton, Lied Discovery Children’s Museum, M&M’s World. Most are geared toward teens and ’tweens, though we managed six memorable hours in Circus Circus’ five-and-a-half-acre, glass-encased Adventuredome amusement park. Still, it gets old trying to explain to young ones why they aren’t allowed into the giant rooms filled with bells and lights —I’m not against no-kids-on-thecasino- floor laws, but how do you avoid them? (The casinos, not the laws.)
After two days I was feeling like we’d let our kids down— perhaps a layover in LA and a trip to Disneyland might have been more … appropriate? We didn’t have enough cash to do the cool things, didn’t plan enough to hit the cheap things and so spent our time tooling around looking at flashing lights.
But this is the great thing about traveling with children: They find their fun anywhere. Without admitting too much liability, I’ll just say that hotel beds are amusement parks of their own, and the novelty of rolling up and down the nighttime Strip in a rented minivan provided as much excitement as anything at the Adventuredome. This was all brought home one night a few weeks after our trip, while wrangling Lily to sleep. “When I grow up,” she said, her eyes fluttering shut, “I want to live on a really noisy street at the end of the world. Like Las Vegas.”