Las Vegas: G-Rated Fun in the City of Sin!

Buyi Zama as Rafiki in the opening number "The Circle of Life" from "The Lion King" in Las Vegas. ©2009, Disney

The Las Vegas Strip has really evolved since I first visited the city more than 20 years ago. Gone are the $2.99 all-you-can-eat steak buffets and the shoddy gaming parlors of yesteryear. In their places now stand destination resorts complete with 5-star restaurants and posh shopping options. However, even with its glamorous facade, the heart of Vegas is still the "Triple B's": booze, blackjack, and babes (and/or boys). After all, isn’t that why they say "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas"?

The Las Vegas strip

I put the "Triple B's" concept to the test during my recent weekend in Vegas. Sure, I was tempted to be a cliché and go hog wild, but with my 16- and 19-year-old nieces in tow, I had to find "family-friendly" ways to enjoy the Strip. Can Vegas be fun for both adults and for those who can’t legally drink? Read on to find out!

The kimchi burger

Day One
After an uninspiring breakfast of stale muffins and cold cereal on our flight to Vegas, our trio was ready for a hearty lunch. Luckily, we were staying at The Cosmopolitan, the newly developed mega-resort smack dab in the middle of the Strip, so we had plenty of food options just an elevator ride away. We meandered downstairs and walked into Holstein’s Shakes and Buns because its bright neon-hued heifer logo and cartoon-like wall decor seemed to promise a family-friendly and yummy time. Holstein’s certainly delivered on both—the youngsters were enthralled by the funky organic burgers (the kimchi burger is a must), the innovative desserts inspired by childhood favorites (the chocolate trifle served push-pop style made us all giggle with glee), and I was excited about their "bamboozled" milkshakes (traditional milkshakes infused with alcohol—a little extra something for the adults). We all left happy and full—what a great start to the weekend.

The Spa treatment room

With our stomachs satiated, it was time to relax. While the little ones took a nap, I hopped across the street to The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental for my Jet Lag Revival Experience. Created especially for guests to refresh and relax after a long flight, this spa package includes unlimited yoga classes in the Mandarin’s super-posh studio that overlooks the Strip, a 60-minute Oriental Essence massage, soothing tea service, plus access to the special treatment "enhancement" room filled with saunas, heated-stone lounge chairs, and an ice fountain. Memories of my horrible six-hour flight in the middle seat soon melted away as my masseuse worked out the tension in my neck and back. If heaven is a place on Earth, it must be located on the 14th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. I later found out that all of the services in the Jet Lag package are complimentary to guests who stay five nights or more—I guess I know where I’ll be staying the next time I’m in town!

Cirque du Soleil presents O at the Bellagio Hotel

Now that all were well-rested, it was time for the highlight of the night: Cirque du Soleil’s "O" at the Bellagio Hotel. If there’s one show that’s a must-see in Vegas, "O" is it. The flying acrobats, the contortionists, and the glowing synchronized swimmers who glided in and out of a pool that alternated magically between deep and shallow—all I can say is "O" My Gosh—what a delightful and all-age friendly treat for the eyes! My advice: Even though tickets are pricey ($177 for primo seating, although discounts can be found online), don’t go cheap on this show—to get the full effect of the awe-inspiring visuals, "O" should be viewed from a few rows up from the center of the theatre.

Philly cheesesteak sliders

With our hearts racing after "O", we definitely didn’t want to sleep—and anyway, late evening is when the Strip really comes alive. But where to go with two under-21 peeps in tow? We walked around for a bit and stumbled upon the Las Vegas outpost of Munchbar. Playful yet modern, this was the perfect place to satisfy our trio’s late night "munchies" attack. While I sipped my fruity Pear Ginger Fizz (Domaine de Canton Champagne, pear purée, lemon juice), our table shared the Philly Cheesesteak Sliders and the Pizzadilla (pepperoni pizza quesadilla) appetizers. The menu items were super-tasty and also incredibly affordable (average price of a dish: $15—very reasonable for Vegas).

With our stomachs full, we headed back to the Cosmo and called it a night, with our heads dancing with visions of what tomorrow’s adventures would bring!

Indoor rainstorm fountain

Day Two
Thanks to the ultra-heavy curtains in our room that let in nary a sliver of light, we all slept until noon. After finally pulling ourselves out of the mega-plush comforters, we headed across the street to the Miracle Mile Shops within Planet Hollywood to get lunch and do some shopping. Boasting hip national chains like H&M, Guess, Ben Sherman (the only one in Las Vegas) and Bebe, as well as a multitude of dining and show options, the Miracle Mile is a great way to get the Vegas shopping experience without forking over your firstborn to the Gucci, Fendi, and Prada-type stores that populate the mega-resorts. After grabbing some good old-fashioned BBQ ribs and burgers at country-themed PBR Rock Bar and Grille, we headed to the Gap to buy swimsuits (so we could test out the Cosmopolitan’s rooftop deck pools) and watched the uber-cool indoor thunderstorm show that happens hourly at the mall’s fountain.

Moors and Bay

Since the weather was unseasonably chilly, we never got to use our newly bought swimsuits. Instead, we kept our jackets on and walked all the way over to the Mandalay Bay, the southernmost resort on the Strip. Mandalay took a bit longer to reach than expected (partially because we were distracted by taking pictures every five minutes along the way), so we hit the hotel right in time for dinner. I had a hankering for some steak and seafood, so we moseyed on over to the brand-spanking-new Rí Rá Irish Pub and Bistro. I was tempted to get a Guinness because it’s so cliché, but I really don’t like beer, so our table ordered Ballygowan (Irish bottled water). We started with a few curried crab claws that proved to be a pain to crack open (Jonah crabs’ shells are thicker than armor and sharper than steel). I chose the much safer and less-strenuous Moors and Bay (a six-ounce smoked bacon-wrapped filet, Guinness-glazed prawns, Irish potato cake) for my entrée. This was a fantastic option—the filet was nice and juicy, the prawns were enormous, and the Irish potato cake was full of flavor (and in my opinion, much better than traditional mashed potatoes).

After dinner, we walked around the corner to see a show: The Lion King. The only thing I liked about Disney’s Lion King movie was the "Hakuna Matata" song, so I had my doubts about the Broadway-in-Las Vegas version. But the kids were insistent that we see this show, so of course, I forked over the money for the tickets—I just can’t say no to those puppy-dog eyes. The show was much better than I expected. The costumes were amazing—the carved lion-head pieces Mufasa and Scar wore were fantastic—and the music really came alive when sung and performed live. The only downside: at almost three hours long, it started to drag a bit post-intermission.

The giant fortune cookie

After the show, we were craving a late-night snack, so we made our way north to the painfully trendy Tao at the Venetian. Yes, this is the place with the giant Buddha statue (a tourist attraction in itself), but my main purpose for visiting was the much-buzzed-about giant fortune cookie filled with chocolate and vanilla crème, complete with actual fortunes. The excitement in my nieces’ eyes over the fun-tastic fortune cookie made our visit worthwhile.

With our fortunes read and our pictures taken with the Buddha, we headed back to home base to pack up for our departure the next morning.

The Wicked Spoon

Day 3
Before we said goodbye to Las Vegas, we had one last stop: the Wicked Spoon buffet on the second floor of the Cosmo. No visit to Sin City is complete without a trip to a buffet, and of course, we saved the most iconic for last. Dining under the dazzling multicolored crystal chandeliers, we filled up on an array of different fruits (included in the mix: mini Asian pears), breakfast sweets (the innovative Guinness pancake was a real highlight), and savory meats (a visit to the meat-carving station is a must).

So what’s the takeaway from this weekend? Besides gaining a few extra pounds, I saw firsthand that it’s absolutely possible to have a fantastic time in Las Vegas, even with kids in tow. Las Vegas has come a long way, baby—and that’s ok with me!