Las Vegas has been called a lot of things — City of Lights, Sin City and Glitter Gulch to name a few, but rarely is it called a family destination. Since I had to attend a trade show in Vegas, I thought it would be a good chance to take my partner and son for a weekend getaway. So off we went to find family friendly attractions on the Strip.
An hour-long hop by plane or a five-hour drive, Vegas is easily accessible for Angelenos. With low occupancy rates due to the economy, there are plenty of bargains at great hotels. We found a terrific off-the-beaten path hotel, the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa (www.jwlasvegasresort.com) in Summerlin. It has a fabulous pool with a water fall and all the important luxury amenities, like an in-room whirlpool bathtub, ginormous screen TVs, a lavish spa, a high-tech fitness room, lots of restaurants and even an adjacent casino.
After arriving late Friday night, we had a marvelous dinner at the hotel’s top-rated Asian fusion restaurant Shizen (http://www.jwlasvegasresort.com/Restaurants-Summerlin-Nevada/Shizen-59.html). We laid our sleeping son in a vacant booth behind us and sat at the teppan grill, joined by a group of Italian tourists. It was a delightfully social and entertaining experience. We marveled at our chef, who expertly diced, tossed and grilled a scrumptious feast of filet mignon, lobster, shrimp and vegetables, prepared in front of us Teppanyaki style, with an impressive display of knife skill and a dash of vaudeville.
Our Own Private Vegas – The JW Marriott Resort & Spa
In Vegas terms, JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa is a small hotel, with 548 rooms, 79 suites, and 50 acres of lush gardens, making it popular for smaller convention groups and of course wedding parties. Though the resort was at 50 percent occupancy, we felt like we owned the hotel. We got our pick of equipment in the fitness center, and we had the pool and Jacuzzi almost to ourselves. We learned that one reason the grounds and pool are so pristine is JW Marriott opted out of the wild and debauched pool parties for which many Vegas resorts are famous. As one manager explained it, “The placed used to get trashed.” We were happy for the solitude. My son was in paradise as we lounged under the canopy of our cabana, snacked on fresh fruit and watched Pirates of the Caribbean on a wide-screen TV, as if we were on our own private island.
Hot Spots — Children’s Park and Tommy Bahama at Town Square
If it had not been so oppressively hot the weekend we visited, we would have spent more time outdoors. We found a wonderful Children’s Park at Town Square (http://mytownsquarelasvegas.com) with a hedge maze, playhouses and an adorable little theatre, but despite the fizzing overhead sprinklers attempting to cool us off, we lasted about 20 minutes in the heat.
We headed into the AC of Tommy Bahama (http://www.tommybahama.com) , a unique restaurant and retail space for dining and shopping , all in the theme of the tropics.
Though the restaurant has 13 locations, from the food and atmosphere I would have never guessed it was a chain. The manager told us he prefers to occasionally run out of an item than over produce it, so the foods are fresh daily, and many of their specialties, such as the desserts, are completely house made. Since Tommy Bahama is famous for their collection of 184 rums, we tried one of their special concoctions, a Coconut Margarita topped with toasted almonds, which was refreshing and delicious.
In keeping with the island motif, there are lots of coconut, mango and macadamia nut items on the menu. We started with the sweet and tangy Coconut Crusted Crab Cakes with sweet chili sauce and Asian slaw; and for entrees we went surf and turf with Blackened Fish Tacos, topped with chipotle aioli and lime sour cream, and Smokehouse Angus Burger with roasted garlic aioli, both which were satisfying and tasty. Our son particularly enjoyed a side of Crispy Plantain Chips with bar-b-q ketchup and fresh bread rolls with a signature whipped butter flavored with nutmeg, ginger, honey and cinnamon.
Our next excursion was truly an adventure, at Adventuredome (www.adventuredome.com), an indoor amusement park touting 25 rides and attractions under the big top of Circus Circus. The hotel itself clearly had seen better days. The entrance was dark, dank and dirty. Hoping it would get better inside, we wound our way through the crowded indoor mall leading to the park. Our son was excited, since we told him there would be rides, but upon arriving at the loud, chaotic, ragged and rickety park I was ready to leave. This place made me really appreciate the micro-management of Disneyland.
The rides were so crowded together and on top of each other, that my partner joked the park could be the set for a disaster movie, with one ride spinning out of control and setting off a domino effect of collapsing rides as the ceiling implodes. It was just the vision I didn’t need as I clamped down the safety bar across our laps on the Sand Pirate, a swinging ship that swoops within a few inches of the world’s only double-loop double corkscrew roller coaster.
The best thing about the place was it was air conditioned. Also the lines for rides were relativity short. Most of the rides had a 48-inch height requirement, so our 42-inch thrill seeker stuck to the park’s Kiddie Korner. The 4D Dora & Diego Adventure and slo-mo Drifters balloon Ferris wheel didn’t hold his attention, but he loved the herky-jerky Miner Mike mini roller coaster, which he rode at least a dozen times until he finally got the front car where he could ring the bell.
Rock a Beer Baby
Dinner was at Yard House at Red Rock Resort (http://www.yardhouse.com/NV/las_vegas/). While the restaurant is known for its 100 to 250 imported beers on tap, it’s also kid friendly, and plenty of families dine there. Our son grooved to 80s-90s pop-rock-n-roll on the stereo and was fascinated by the array of TVs playing sports from every angle. They also have super long booths that seat 10 which served as a great cot for our tired tot.
Our server Alfredo knew his brews and probably could have rattled off every offering, but we made it easy with a Six-Pack Traditional sampler. Each of the six mini glasses of beer was described on a print-out brought with the tray. My favorite was the Full Sail Amber, though the Big Sky Moose Drool won in the creative name category.
The menu had great variety and the food was good for a beer joint. We ordered Fried Calamari and Lobster, Crab & Artichoke Dip appetizers, and we got the rack of St. Louis Style BBQ Ribs with creamed corn and spicy beans to share. It was all good, salty and satisfying comfort food, and the perfect complement to beer.
My favorite dish of the evening was the Trio Sampler of lemon soufflé, peach apple cobbler and chocolate soufflé, perfect for sweets-lovers like me who have a hard time choosing between desserts.
What Could Have Happened in Vegas
Back at the hotel, Spider-Man 2 was on cable, but our little guy was so tired we didn’t have to argue that it was too scary for him to watch; he was out like a light in five minutes. My partner went down to the casino to play slots and a few hands of blackjack. I ordered room service for our breakfast the next morning, when my partner and son would fly back to LA and I would go to my trade show for work.
Our whirlwind weekend had proved a family could indeed have fun in Vegas, but there is a reason the city is called the Adult Playground. You can bring the kids along, but as you pass up the great shopping that would bore your kids to death, and you walk through the resorts and cruise past the casinos – which you cannot avoid, we tried – and you see the boisterous grown-up parties drinking, laughing and staying up late, you may want to think about leaving the kids home next time. You can always make it up to them with a trip to Disneyland, which they will probably like a lot better.