Madeline is about to turn two, which is the magical age at which kids transition from fly-for-free lap infants to requires-a-ticket-and-some-sort-of-kid-specific-restraint-and-did-I-mention-a-ticket seat toddlers. Which meant we needed to squeeze in one last vacation. And since Seattle weather kind of sucks, we wanted to go somewhere where the weather was nice. And since flying with a lap infant also kind of sucks, we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t too far away. Hence Vegas.
You might think Vegas an unorthodox place to take a two-year-old. Now that I’ve finally been here, I’m inclined to agree with you. Nonetheless, with a few caveats, Vegas is an awesome place to bring a lap infant.
1. You have to like to walk
Really, you have to like to walk. I forgot to own a pedometer, but based on the amount of grime that has accumulated on my shoes and a fairly elaborate spreadsheet, I estimate that we’ve been walking somewhere between 3 and 5 miles a day. Generally speaking, we are not stroller people, we are “let Madeline walk when she wants to, and carry her the rest of the time” people. This works fine when you walk about a mile a day. This does not work fine when you walk five miles, and our first day here ended with severe backaches.
Naturally, we didn’t even bring a stroller, so on the second day I hoofed it another 1.5 miles to the nearest Target and bought their cheapest $20 stroller, which was pink. (Then I took a bus back and got yelled at for trying to bring a coffee on the bus, where do you think you are, Seattle, and got chatted up by a junkie who assured me that if he had kids he never would have started using.) Being a $20 stroller, it is a complete piece of junk, and so of course Madeline has grown completely attached to it, has named it (“Pink”, imaginatively), and will probably cry when I throw it into the dumpster behind the hotel at check out, as is my plan.
Anyway, just about everywhere on the Strip is at least a 30-minute walk from anywhere else on the Strip. There’s kind of no way around this. Say you want to support your Wazzou Cougs, who are playing basketball in the Pac-12 Tournament, which — in order to show that gambling on college sports is in no way acceptable — is being held at the MGM Grand. Aha, you think, to make things convenient I’ll just stay at the MGM Grand myself. What you failed to account for is that the MGM Grand is itself a 30-minute walk from the MGM Grand, past a Rainforest Cafe, several Joël Robuchon Ateliers, and about a gazillion slot machines with Gen-X enticing themes like “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II” and “On Our Own (Theme from Ghostbusters II)”.
Additionally, in most non-Strip parts of the world, if you can see something it is generally close by. However in Las Vegas all of the hotels are built at grotesquely unintuitive scale, so that if you can see (say) the Bellagio then it’s likely (but not certain) that you could probably walk there in less than an hour, although your walk — despite both starting and ending at street level — will involve a bewildering variety of elevation changes, most of which involve escalators that you will get yelled at by security for bringing a stroller on, requiring you to ride a bewildering variety of foul-smelling elevators with a bewildering variety of obese people riding a bewildering variety of rented mobility scooters.
2. You have to like to eat
Lap infants are not allowed to gamble, are not allowed near gambling, not even if you just want to sit in the Rockin’ Sensory Immersion Surround Sound Gaming Chair of the KISS slot machine one more time so that you can “UNLOCK THE STARCHILD”. Lap infants are not allowed to see PEEPSHOW, featuring Coco of E!’s “Ice Loves Coco”. Lap infants are not allowed into the bar at Cabo Wabo, Coyote Ugly, or the Tabú Ultra Lounge.
They are, however, allowed into buffets, which all have a “kids 3 and under eat free” policy, which makes them good places for your lap infant to practice eating with utensils, since even if she drops every spoonful of creme brulee on the floor or her lap you can just grab a few more ramekins and try again, and even if she pukes up an entire cheese omelet you can just get another one.
Suffice it to say that we ate a lot of buffets in Las Vegas, here is how I would rank them:
1. The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace
2. The Wicked Spoon Buffet at the Cosmopolitan
3. just about every other buffet in Las Vegas
4. Le Buffet aux Paris Las Vegas
Supposedly there are also non-buffet places to eat in Vegas, many of them named after chefs who have appeared on television programs and/or have French-sounding names. I wouldn’t know anything about those.
3. You have to like to spend money
Vegas is not cheap. Sure, you could stay at Terrible’s, where I think they actually pay you to sleep and eat, and where the $9.99 Sunday Champagne Buffet Brunch is deservedly legendary. But it is a long, long walk from the strip, past a variety of foul-smelling homeless people, and past the same three HOT ASS ESCORTS advertisement dispensers over and over and over again. (Also, the hipsters at Yelp are kind of down on the place.)
However, if you want to stay and eat at one of the casinos named after birds, or dead people, or capitals of France, it’s going to cost you. If you want to eat at one of the buffets where “angry” describes the mac and cheese and not the service, it’s going to cost you. If you want your frozen sex-on-the-moon grape-raspberry dacquiri in the 32-ounce souvenir neck-lanyard yard-tube container, it’s going to cost you. And then you look back and realize that all the money you saved not buying the baby a plane ticket you spent on a dessert named after Emeril Lagasse and on getting your picture taken with a weirdo dressed like SpongeBob SquarePants dressed like a showgirl.
4. You have to like kid-friendly activities
Surprisingly, there are a few kid-friendly activities in Vegas. Lap infants are kind of at that sweet spot where they like to look at flashing lights and captive flamingos and garish costumes, but where they are too young to ask awkward questions like “Daddy, what’s a ‘hot ass escort’?” and “Daddy, isn’t it cruel to clip flamingos’ wings and put them on display for a bunch of drunken gamblers?” and “Daddy, what does ‘Cabo Wabo’ mean?” at which point you have to have the talk about the unlistenable “Van Hagar” years.
The Circus Circus (“What kind of circus?” “A circus circus!”) has an “AdventureDome” that contains three rides suitable for lap infants (who ride free as long as their parent buys a $5 ticket), one of which is a terrifying school-bus-themed ride which helps prepare lap infants for their mind-numbing trips through the public education system.
The Mandalay Bay (“What kind of bay?” “A Mandalay bay!”) has a “Shark Reef” that is not actually a reef (due to acquarium acidification, I suppose) but does have a handful of sharks and a manta ray petting zoo that’s surprisingly fun to frighten lap infants with.
The Excalibur (“What kind of caliber?”) has a “Tournament of Kings”, which involves horses and swords and broasted chicken and pyrotechnics and a mediocre A/V system that makes it impossible to understand whether Merlin the Wizard is telling you that you’re supposed to tip your servers or that you’re not supposed to tip your servers.
The Bellagio has a pretty incredible fountain show where they play Lee Greenwood and shoot water around in patriotic patterns, and the Mirage has a pretty incredible volcano show, which is fun to explain to your lap infant as a manifestation of the gods’ anger, which can only be assuaged by throwing a lap infant into the volcano.
If your lap infant has reached the age of obsession with choo choo trains, then you can spend the day riding the Las Vegas Monorail (after a bewildering trek through one of the casinos using a bewildering variety of elevators to reach one of the stations), where she can happily yell out “choo choo train!” over and over again all the while watching a bunch of drunk bros putting their lamest moves on a group of amateurishly-tattooed girls from Canada (“whoa, you’re from Canada, that’s so awesome, eh!”).
There is also a supposedly-family-friendly “Tribute to Red Skelton” show, which Madeline refused to see for political reasons.
All that said, bringing a lap infant also means you can’t eat at one of the Joël Robuchon Ateliers or see the “Steve-O and Tom Green Stand-Up Comedy Extravaganza” or slap Kathy Griffin, not unless you’re willing to pawn your father’s watch in order to afford the services of a Vegas Babysitter, who is sort of like a nanny except infinitely more expensive. (And you would have already had to pawn your father’s watch in order to put a deposit down on your Joël Robuchon meal anyway.)
In conclusion, Vegas is sort of like Disneyland for lap infants, except
(a) Vegas is cheaper
(b) Vegas is more fun
(c) the Mickey Mouse impersonators in Vegas have crappier costumes
(d) Vegas is marginally less evil