Family Las Vegas Adventure in 12 Hours or Less

Amidst all the hiking and nature we had to get our fix of being on the grid. Vegas was only 2 hours from our cabin, and no one except me had ever been.

So we decided to rip off the civilization Band-Aid and cram as much into a day trip as possible.

Hoover Dam

If you’ve got a car, I don’t see how you can’t take time to jog south of Vegas and see this engineering marvel. The tour through the inner workings of the dam is phenomenal, but a little on the pricey side. We skipped it this time, and chose to park ($10), walk across the dam, and participate in the novelty of standing in Arizona and Nevada at the same time.

Hoover Dam

A drought is tough to spot in the desert. After all, there’s not much water there anyway. But it smacks you right in the face at Lake Mead. A forty-foot tall strip of white collars the reservoir, marking where the water levels used to sit. Vegas will run out of water unless they do something. Like I said, there’s not much water around, so there’s no obvious backup plan.

The best view of Hoover Dam probably comes from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (Highway 93), and not the road built on Hoover Dam. There’s no good spot to get a proper look at the size of the dam so if you’re skipping the tour, I’d recommend driving or walking across Highway 93 .

Luxor Pool

After Hoover Dam, we boogied back to Vegas and met friends from Phoenix who drove up for a long weekend. They were settled in at the Luxor and we had a couple hours to kill before our Cirque Du Soleil show.

Even though the Luxor is one of the older Vegas hotels, it feels updated. My first thought on the way up to their room was, “Are these elevators diagonal?” Yep, they are a little rickety but they go on an angle up the pyramid. Kind of like a poor man’s version of Willy Wonka’s Glass Elevator.

The pool is sprawling and features some waterfalls. But it’s basically a glorified spring break shallow end where bros, hung over girls and middle-aged men with gold chains hang out. Great people watching, and okay for families, there were plenty of kids splashing around.

We had two short scares in this pool – the first when neither of us knew our daughter was in the hot tub with the other kids. Then, when our friend’s kid vanished from right behind us. She was there one second, gone the next. While we were freaking out and running around the pool, she was calmly checking out a waterfall and walking back to the three pool chairs we claimed. Crisis averted.

Cirque Du Soleil – Mystère

The centerpiece of our Vegas adventure was the original Cirque du Soleil show, Mystère. None of us had even seen one, but the show had rave reviews.

Cirque du Soleil Mystere

Basically a bunch of weird stuff happens, a baby does a few goofs, and they summon a giant psychedelic snail at the end. Along the way the performers do incredible feats of strength and flexibility. Some are over the top, some are super stripped down. In fact, my favorite act featured two men, nothing else on stage, and a display of strength, control, and continuous movement.

The onslaught of color, sound, light, and spectacle was like nothing else our kids had seen and they were enthralled. They break up the acrobatics with several comic bits should get a chuckle out of anyone, so I’d say this was a great first show to take our family to.

The only downside was the frat bros we sat behind (Surprise! There are lots of bros in Vegas) – they’d had a few prior and loved their own running commentary. A lot. But it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be ignored.

Walking the Strip

You can’t visit Vegas without walking the strip. If the Cirque show was an onslaught of light, motion, and sound, the strip is a full on apocalypse. There are things to look at everywhere. No space is wasted. From all the lights, to the massive casino installations, to the buskers working the curbs, to the Hispanic men and women snapping their cards for escort services – it’s sensory overload.

If you walk the strip, be ready to walk. It may look like you only have two blocks until the Bellagio. But Vegas blocks are a half-mile long. You’ll fight huge crowds. And screw what everyone says about it being a dry heat. It is hot. Bring water or dollars to buy bottles off the vendors.

The walkway right before the Bellagio was particularly insane. Hundreds of people crammed onto a narrow walk above the road. It was like leaving a major sporting event just after the game is over. If you’re claustrophobic, skip it.

That effort to get to the Bellagio to see the fountains was worth it, however. When the fountain starts, the crowd quiets and a tranquil display of water and music cuts through the clamor. By that time of night, everyone was exhausted. That perfect moment of mental relaxation was exactly what everyone needed.

The Way Back

Our friends went back to their room, and we left in the early hours of the morning. The best part about the desert has to be the night sky. You haven’t seen the stars until you’ve seen them in the desert. Constellations and individual stars disappear. The Milky Way looks like the inside of a brain, with nerves and synapses spidering across the sky.

Stars in the Night Sky

At night out here, the animals come out. Hundreds of rabbits, literally crawling all over the road. Big ones, baby ones: they were everywhere. In the frenzy, I don’t know how the road wasn’t littered with carcasses. At the last moment, they all seemed to dart away from the light and return to nature.