By Kara Williams, on December 22, 2013

Vegas with tweens and teens

Would I plan a lengthy family vacation dedicated solely to Las Vegas? Probably not. However, on my family’s recent road trip from Colorado to California, Las Vegas was a good stopping point along the way. We decided to turn our road-trip “layover” into a mini-getaway, spending nearly 48 hours in “Sin City.”

Turns out, we easily could have spent several nights in Las Vegas, exploring the many family-friendly sights and activities beyond the Strip and just outside city limits. But, given the finite amount of time we had in the area – we had to get to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving – we focused on packing in as many live shows and thrill rides on the Strip that we could, based on my 11- and 13-year-olds’ interests, which include seeking adrenaline rushes and watching theatre performances.

Entertaining shows for all ages in Vegas

Vegas may be known for its burlesque acts and showgirls (the card-snapping marketers on the streets remind visitors of that nightly), but there are also shows appropriate for children, too. We saw kids as young as four years old at Jeff Civillico’s Comedy in Action juggling act at The Quad Resort & Casino. Jeff Civillico is a talented juggler, and he’s funny, too – with his wedgie jokes garnering lots of laughs from the pint-sized crowd (naturally). The show is highly interactive, with Jeff pulling audience members up on the stage to help out, and the 4 p.m. showtime is kid-friendly, as well. Jeff passes on a really great message to the kids in the audience: follow your passion, practice hard, and success will come.


Blue Man Group on pipes. (Courtesy photo by Denise Truscello)

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with the Blue Man Group performance at Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. That is, I knew the show involved “bald” men covered “head to toe” in blue paint, as well as percussion, music, lights, technology, lasers, and humor. But what I didn’t know was that the “blue men” don’t talk through the entire performance! They are incredibly emotive with their eyes, facial expressions, and physical gestures. The funniest moments come when guests are brought up on stage. I really don’t want to give away any of the specific scenes, because half the fun of attending a Blue Man Group show is wondering what comes next. Admittedly, some of the vignettes are more entertaining than others; but the ones we really liked were really, really good. And the finale is spectacular. If you go, just be prepared for some fun with this multi-media show that is equal parts weird and entertaining.

Viewfinder Tip: Watch the free, upbeat “light parade” of Blue Man Group props, robots, and vehicles as it weaves and shakes its way through the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, nightly at about 6:15 p.m.

My husband and I have seen four Cirque du Soleil shows in Las Vegas, and we knew our gymnast-daughter would appreciate the incredible acrobatics found in the circus-like shows. Cirque du Soleil combs the world over to bring together an international cast of amazing gymnasts, tightrope walkers, trapeze artists, and other phenomenal performers in each of its different shows (a total of eight are now playing on the Strip). Sure enough, my entire family was blown away by the artistry and feats of strength we saw on stage at Zarkana, currently showing at ARIA Resort & Casino at CityCenter. To be honest, we weren’t exactly sure what the storyline was for this performance, and we were doubly confused by the “Cirque-speak” used by the main character, a circus ringmaster. He didn’t sing in English, Spanish, or French, but an entirely made up language! Though we couldn’t follow all of the allegorical meaning behind the zany and fantastical characters, it didn’t really matter; we were just super impressed by the acrobatic talent, the hilarious clowns, the striking sets, and the overall magical aura that casts a spell on a Cirque du Soleil theatre.

The Big Apple Coaster winds its way around New York-New York


Exciting thrill rides in Vegas

My entire family likes stomach-lurching adventures, from roller coasters to rides that send you upside down and backwards. So we sought the most exciting rides on the Strip, including the Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York Hotel & Casino. This one is nifty because you load the cars inside the casino, but then the track exits the building to twist and turn outside, as well. It’s a long ride that includes at least one upside-down loop-de-loop and reaches speeds of 67 miles an hour. Reach the roller coaster by first passing through a huge arcade filled with video games; you might decide beforehand whether you’ll be spending some coin on these games or telling your kids to bring their own money to spend here.

We saved the rides at the Adventuredome at Circus Circus for a rainy day. We figured the indoor attraction would be packed with like-minded families looking for something to do inside during inclement weather, but surprisingly we never had to wait in line for the most extreme rides. (Perhaps most folks were playing carnival games or on the tamer attractions.) The most thrilling: spinning Chaos and Disk’o rides; the Canyon Blaster coaster; and the nausea-inducing Inverter, where we were held upside down for a few seconds. I couldn’t stomach that one twice, but my kids and husband did. New this winter at Adventuredome: El Loco, a coaster that promises negative G-force drops. Yikes!


The X-Scream dangles riders 900 feet above Las Vegas

Hands down, our favorite, most adrenaline-inducing rides were at the top of the tower at the Stratosphere Hotel, more than 900 feet above the Las Vegas Strip. Admittedly, there were times when I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get on the rides that are suspended high above the hard cement below. As we took the speedy elevator ride to the top, and my ears started to pop, I had my doubts. I could tell via my 11-year-old son’s eyes, he was getting nervous, too. But I’m delighted to say that all four of us conquered the terrifying, teeter-totter-like X-Scream, where we were dangled over the edge of the tower; the spinning chairs of Insanity, where we were perched face down way above the city streets (pictured top of page); and the Big Shot, where were were catapulted up to 1,021 feet above the ground, and dropped to the platform at 921 feet. Next time we visit Vegas, my teen daughter says she wants to do the free-fall SkyJump from the 108th floor. More power to her; that’s one thrill I don’t think I’d be able to stomach.

Candy store at the Miracle Mile Shops (Photo courtesy Sugar Factory)

Still more to do in Las Vegas with tweens and teens

To celebrate our successes on the thrill-ride front, we indulged in yummy milkshakes at Sugar Factory, at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. That is, the kids sampled frothy drinks called Chocolate Cookie Jar and Make a Wish (served with sprinkles and a birthday candle), while my husband and I had drinks as big as our heads in the form of alcoholic sweet concoctions from the Sugar Factory’s Goblet Bar. The 60-ounce drinks, served in fishbowl-like goblets include such flavors as as the Lollipop Passion Goblet and White Gummi Goblet. They’re huge, definitely meant to share, and they take a while to drink. So, while we imbibed, the kids went into the adjacent retail shop to browse the shelves filled to the brim with all sorts of candy treats.

Our travel plans included taking the kids to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a Richard Petty Driving Experience NASCAR ride-along. I lapped a racetrack with a trained driver at the Daytona International Speedway years ago, and figured my teen and tween would love speeding around the track at 160 mph. (The new junior ride-alongs allow for children as short as 48 inches to participate.) Alas, our attempt to visit the Speedway during the one open spot in our busy schedule was thwarted due to incessant rain. It’s on our list if we ever make the drive out to California with a pit stop in Vegas again!

What are your favorite things to do in Las Vegas – with or without kids?