People without kids are always all, "Can't we just go somewhere WITHOUT kids for ONCE?!" and people with kids are all like, "Can't we just go somewhere where kids are actually allowed for ONCE?!" I say, split the ambiguous-as-hell difference in Vegas.
When my husband learned he'd be attending a work conference in Las Vegas and asked if our 2-year-old and I wanted to come along, my first thought was, "YES! Wait, is that even allowed?" I don't know if you can actually ban specific groups of people from whole parts of cities or not, but if you could, I guessed that the ol' LV strip — capital of Trying Super Hard To Be Sexy — would probably want to pick the one thing that was the most opposite of sexy, which is pretty much a toddler.
I wasn't alone in wondering. I Googled around and found that lots of people want to know if you can take a toddler to Vegas, and like me, they were also very sheepish about asking, keenly aware of whether they would be tarred (in warming chocolate) and feathered (by a sexy, but ridiculously affordable dominatrix) for even posing the question. Jokes about teaching a kid black jack and feeding them to the lions abound.
I get it: Toddlers lack impulse control, don't know when to stop and do everything in excess — doesn't sound annnything like the sort of people who go to Vegas. And yet, even Vegas is confused about whether it likes families. According to the scientifically reliable forums online and some Internet reviews, some people claim that it used to tout its kid-friendly appeal in advertising, but then stopped plugging that angle and now just sticks with the whole mistakes-lost-in-another-zip-code thing. Hey, maybe after a hard day's work we all just want a little naughty cleavage in our pirate show before we order a beautiful babe direct to us.
But to answer everybody's question, yes, you can totally take a toddler to Vegas. There's no baby smuggling checkpoint at the state line or anything. But the real question is: Should you take a toddler to Vegas? Or rather, why would you want to? I wanted to find out. (I was also very, very bored.)
So it turns out there are all kinds of reasons people with kids end up in touristy Vegas (to say nothing of the people with kids who actually live there) - destination weddings, college reunions, work conferences, or any other myriad things that happen in a life that would land you in Sin City for a few days. Anyone with a kid also knows not taking your kid places is not always an option, either. Or maybe you just like Vegas, and so do your kids. What is one to do then, anyway?
Here's what I found out: Vegas is basically a theme park for adults that throws a few decent bones to the young'uns. If you've been there, you know this, if you haven't, it's a glitz-a-thon of greed that isn't afraid to pad, plump or plaster in the name of enhancement, and I'm not even talking about the talent. It's like someone took all the biggest iconic random things it could think of while on acid and vomited them onto one big long strip. Blue people, castles, the psycho circus, the sphinx, a horse painted pink splashing through water, all with New York City, Paris and the pyramids slammed down right in the middle. The slots! The sluts! The steaks! The chapels! But, plus kids' stuff.
That's what's so unexpected about it: Not only is it not really all that wild, there are also kids of all ages all up in that piece. And you can see why: At least on the visual appeal front, Vegas is a feast for any eyes, be those glassy from alcohol or cataracts, or saucered from sugar. A lot of stuff in Vegas is just as bedazzling to a baby — fountains at Bellagio, waterfalls in the lobby, buffets and swimming pools and confections aplenty — as it is to a gambler, tourist, conference attendee, or fan of Drakkar.
"What happens here, stays here" is the PR. "What happens here is possibly debauched but more than likely just pretty normal and may include our young children" is the reality. So, heck yeah, America! We did it. We took your challenge! We ventured the five-hour drive from LA to Vegas, toddler in tow. A few highlights:
- An hour into the trip, I realized I had forgotten to pack the stroller (rookie move #1) and unless you stay somewhere you don't plan to leave, you probably need some basic restraining mechanism for your little monster. Too many stairwells and streets to dart into = nightmare.
- It wouldn't be Vegas without vomiting, and in a mere hour and a half into our trip, the kid threw up all over herself and her car seat — I, uh, let her eat some Gerbers Graduates Puffs Cereal Snacks in Blueberry (rookie move #2) while we were packing up to go, and before I realized it, she'd eaten half a container's worth. Hey, just like Vegas: What goes down also must go out.
- In lieu of a total car seat replacement, we found a Target, bought some upholstery cleaner, antibacterial wipes, a large towel, cleaned up and fashioned a car seat cover (already having a Leatherman on hand saved our asses) that would allow us to endure the least barf-a-riffic-smelling ride there and back. (Lady MacGyver would be proud.)
- We didn't stay at any of the more seemingly family oriented hotels, like Circus Circus or Excalibur, places with an indoor amusement park and a midway faire where you can apparently win some easy stuffed animals (rookie move #3?). These were places where we weren't sure how much trekking through a casino was involved, so we opted to camp out at Mandalay Bay's boutique, casino-less alternative, THEHotel, which was really nice, although, in my husband's parlance upon walking in the room, it was your classic "do-me palace." (I guess he would know?)
- Kudos, hotel designers: Our toddler looked STUNNING in the pretty, diffused, extremely adjustable light sprinkled throughout the room, which came with a fully stocked bar, loads o' mirrors, three TVs and a huge glass shower, also across from a full-length mirror. Somehow knowing this place was supposed to be locked and loaded for the good timez only made it more hilarious to bypass the adult film options blaring out of the TV for "Cat in the Hat" on PBS, and set out some goldfish crackers in a glass clearly meant for Grey Goose.
- We appreciated the $30 Love Box in the room, complete with condoms, lubes, mints and a single - one presumes, very effective - fresh wipe for the ladies. If only we could have used it. The room had a separate bedroom from the sitting area, which was awesome for putting the kid to bed early so we could chill, but sadly, after that happened, we were both too tired to do anything remotely adult-like.
- The attached Mandalay Bay Hotel proper has a pretty impressively cheesy Shark Reef attraction within walking distance, filled with fish and sharks and a fake shipwreck and fake treasure, which, in the midst of ladies in backless dresses and dudes in loud cologne is as good as Vacation Bible School.
- Without a stroller, the other toddler-approved options right on the strip, like the MGM Grand's lion habitat or the Mirage's Siegfried and Roy Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat, or just plain old venturing out aimlessly, were now out of the question. Instead, I drove us to the Lied's Children Museum in town well off the strip, where the kid played on a fake airplane for an hour. It was something.
- Later, we tried to go to a local city park, our saving grace in Los Angeles for quick kid fun, but it was hot as balls in Vegas, and Vegas has some hot balls — literally 100 degrees outside. Even in the shade, the swings were scorching. "Go home and take your baby with you," Vegas singed us with its salty demon breath.
- The next day, I thought about going to the lazy river pool at the hotel but we haven't actually taught our kid to swim yet (rookie move #4), so it was a toddler chase through the shopping center at Mandalay Bay for morning coffee and cartoons back in the room.
- Right as we were packing up to check out, our unsupervised toddler (rookie move #5) grabbed the ballpoint pen off the desk in the hotel room and proceeded to draw a huge, scribbly circle all over the seat of the very light tan leather chair in the room. First we were proud (drawing a circle is a big milestone for a toddler!) but then we kinda panicked, and suddenly we were busting out shaving cream and hairspray, trying to gently rub it off. It didn't work. We were so close to escaping the city without leaving behind any dark, shameful stains, but nope.
Then, my husband decided to solidify his better-person-than-me status and call the front desk to let them know about the incident, while we braced ourselves in anticipation of a ridiculous bill. But duh, bro, we were in Vegas, and the front desk merely laughed it off. I really think they need to reconsider their ad campaign, because nothing says toddler like a city built to clean anything off of anything.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. Choose your fightin' words carefully on Twitter at @iusedtobepoor.