Viva Las Vegas – Family-Style

Shark reefs, exploding volcanoes, exotic plants and animals. You might be envisioning somewhere in South America or maybe Hawaii – but you can see all of these sites and more in Las Vegas!

Sure, Vegas is known as a playground for grown-ups. But over the years, the Strip has added different entertainment options to bring in families, too. And the good news is that many of these area attractions are either free or a much lower cost than you’d expect. Get a sampling below – plus more info at and

Shark Reef Aquarium

  • Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
  • Cost: $16.95/adults, $10.95/ ages 5-12, free/4 and under

It only feels likes you’re venturing among sharks as you wander this spot at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Part of includes a walk-through tunnel where predators – all 100 of them – swim above you. While dive-certified adults can make arrangements to swim in the reef, you don’t have to get wet to enjoy this place. Fourteen exhibits include a peek at a golden crocodile, a komodo dragon and a jungle that even includes piranhas. Marine educators are on hand to answer questions, especially around the touch tank area.

Fountains of Bellagio

  • Hours: Every half-hour 3-8 p.m. Monday-Friday; every 15 minutes 8 p.m.-midnight (noon-8 p.m. Saturdays)
  • Cost: Free

Many of the casinos have outdoor attractions to draw visitors. And if you’ve been trekking indoors, heading out for a show is good way to break up the day. At the Bellagio, a hotel located in the middle of the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard), the frequent water shows include dancing streams of water that are lit in various colors and choreographed to music. Sightseers line up right outside the hotel to get a good view.

The Mirage Volcano

  • Hours: Every hour, 6-11 p.m., nightly
  • Cost: Free

Why not mix in some fire, too? Nearby the Bellagio, the Mirage hotel‘s volcano show has been entertaining visitors since 1989. After much-needed renovations, it reopened in 2008 with added lighting, sound and water effects. Today, the show includes massive fireballs that shoot 15 feet into the air. Don’t worry: No one will get burned – but if you have a chance to see the show from the hotel’s entrance, you’ll definitely feel the heat!

Ethel M Chocolates Factory Tour

  • Hours: 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday
  • Cost: Free

The Ethel M chocolate factory isn’t on the Strip, but the short drive to nearby Henderson is worth it. The self-guided tours let you see chocolate making start to finish – and, at the end, you’ll be offered a few samples. Once you’ve had your fill, walk through the cactus garden, which includes three acres of sites to explore and 300 different kinds of plants.

The Adventuredome at Circus Circus

  • Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-midnight most weekends
  • Cost: $26.95 or $16.95 for an all-day pass (depends on height)

The Adventuredome packs in a circus-like atmosphere – along with plenty of amusement park rides. Smaller kids will love rides themed around Dora and SpongeBob; dizzying roller coasters will keep teens happy, too. You can pay for an all-day pass or individual rides.

The Fremont Experience

  • Hours: Open daily
  • Cost: Free

The Fremont Experience is an outdoor, covered walkway – only the covering is actually checkered with over 12 million lights to display various evening shows. Children will enjoy the performers that often line the street and the shows broadcast on the ceiling throughout the night. Check at their site for a list of daily happenings.

Navigating Vegas

The casinos tend to keep more kid-oriented activities on the outskirts. When you enter a casino, keep that in mind – and guide your children along the outside and away from the serious gamblers, who usually venture toward the middle (where the blackjack tables are located).

As far as lodging, staying on the Strip might sound fun, but unless your kids are hearty sleepers, you might look a little farther. For example, there’s a chain of 11 Station Casinos located throughout the Vegas area where you can find deals on one of 4,000 rooms.

For discounts on dining, check out the Tix 4 Tonight red booths that dot the Strip. They offer half-price tickets at some of the nicer restaurants, but you do need to use them the day you buy.

If you can already hear Elvis crooning "Viva, Las Vegas," it’s time to start planning your visit!


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