3801 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 800/468-6876; www.tropicanalv.com; doubles from $100.
THE SCENE This dinosaur may be one of the Strip's least-noticed resorts, but to our surprise, we completely fell for the place. The Tropicana has five pools, two of which are linked by curves and caverns and topped by a 16-foot waterfall. There are swim-up blackjack tables with bars. The landscaping is great, too: a jungle of 200 palms. The downside: twigs and leaves in the water, especially in the not-hot hot tub.
JAMIE SAYS "That waterfall is the best!"
SWIMMABILITY 10. All the action's in the pool, from socializing to gambling.
PRICE OF A COKE $2.50
PRICE OF A RUM AND COKE $4.50
OTHER FAMILY FEATURES A thrice-daily show in the Tropics Lounge stars parrots and other colorful birds rollerblading, grocery shopping, and riding bikes.
Caesars Palace B
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;800/634-6001; www.caesarspalace.com; doubles from $129.
THE SCENE Lifeguards at the Luxor and MGM Grand told us that the pool at Caesars was their favorite. But once we saw it, we could only figure they liked the prospect of glimpsing topless women. (Until Mandalay Bay copied Caesars, this was the lone Strip hotel with a sectioned-off area for bare sunbathing.) The central pool, with a soaring temple-like rotunda and fountains shooting water skyward, is a sight to behold—and a pleasure to frolic in. And the pool'smarble floor is lovely. Still, that's all there is. During our visit, the water was uncomfortably cold, while the deck got so hot that walking barefoot was almost dangerous.
JAMIE SAYS "It's pretty, but not really that great."
SWIMMABILITY 6. Brrrrrrr!
PRICE OF A COKE $2
PRICE OF A RUM AND COKE $5
OTHER FAMILY FEATURES At the Forum Shops, there's a 15-minute motion-simulator ride, plus two on-the-hour laser shows with fiery explosions and moving statues.
3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 800/288-1000; www.luxor.com; doubles from $99.
THE SCENE Four pools with Egyptian motifs stretch across a concrete plain, with the hotel, a massive black glass pyramid, as a backdrop. One pool is edged by 20-foot pillars crowned with goat heads that spit water. The other three surround a waterfall that's been in disrepair for at least a year. The lifeguards seemed bitterly bored: one dozed, and another wore khaki shorts rather than a bathing suit. Fix the fountain and the lifeguards' attitudes, and the hotel could easily earn a B+ for variety and excellent use of its theme.
JAMIE SAYS "Is that bird poop on the broken waterfall?"
SWIMMABILITY 6. The pool with the pillars was fun.
PRICE OF A COKE $2.25
PRICE OF A RUM AND COKE $4.50
OTHER FAMILY FEATURES At the Pharaoh's Pavilion there's an IMAX theater, three motion-simulator rides, and a reproduction of King Tutankhamen's tomb with an audio tour. Blue Man Group performs at the Luxor Theater nightly.
Treasure Island C
3300 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 800/944-7444; www.treasureisland.com; doubles from $79, kids 12 and up $30.
THE SCENE Recently rechristened the "TI," the hotel has adopted a more adult bent—and as part of that process, the narrow pool lost its slide. Now it's just an average Vegas puddle, refreshing but not especially enthralling. One upshot for child safety: the lifeguards here are a bit bossy, a welcome change.
JAMIE SAYS "Aw, man, they took out the slide? That was the best part!"
SWIMMABILITY 5. Frenetic and crowded.
PRICE OF A COKE $2.25
PRICE OF A RUM AND COKE $4
OTHER FAMILY FEATURES The hotel was once a huge family draw thanks to the free, live-action pirate fight out front. Last October, that got replaced by a sexed-up version of questionable appropriateness for kids. Still, the scantily clad female swashbucklers aren't any more provocative than what kids see on The O.C.
3850 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 800/937-7777; www.excalibur.com; doubles from $45, children 12 and up $15.
THE SCENE This resort prides itself on being child-friendly, but the only interesting pool feature—a small waterfall—is accompanied by a DO NOT TOUCH sign. There are two mushroom-shaped pools surrounded by pine trees, with views of one of the hotel's castle towers. To us, the water was too cold.
JAMIE SAYS "Why can't we touch the waterfall?"
SWIMMABILITY 5. A take-it-or-leave-it place.
PRICE OF A PEPSI $2.75
PRICE OF A RUM AND PEPSI $4.50
OTHER FAMILY FEATURES The King Arthur theme is enticing, and the Tournament of Kings dinner show, with its horses and live jousting, is an expensive—$50 a person—yet effective way to occupy kids for the evening.
Circus Circus C
2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 800/444-2472; www.circuscircus.com; doubles from $39.
THE SCENE The Strip's most kid-centric hotel pre-dates the mega-resort era, so we cut it some slack for having a lame, postage stamp-sized pool stuck in the parking lot. Still, with 3,000 rooms, Circus Circus ranks as one of the nation's 10 largest hotels—a lot of guests to crowd into a hole in the ground.
JAMIE SAYS "That's it?"
SWIMMABILITY 4. Hard to spread your arms, let alone play.
PRICE OF A COKE $1.75
PRICE OF A RUM AND COKE $3.50
OTHER FAMILY FEATURES Circus Circus's five-acre Adventuredome, the country's largest enclosed theme park, is the best non-pool means of entertaining your kids in Vegas. Highlight: the Canyon Blaster, the only existing indoor double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster.
New York-New York D
3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 800/693-6763; www.nynyhotelcasino.com; doubles from $69, kids 12 and up $30.
THE SCENE Whoever decided to place this skimpy pool directly below the resort's roller coaster deserves to be fired. Imagine sitting poolside and listening to the thunderous racket of the cars, followed by the charming screams of riders as they plummet—every few minutes. The view, too, is miserable: the parking garage and a sign for Interstate 15. Occasionally the resort erects a volleyball net, which would be a nice touch if it didn't split the pool in two. Also, there was too much chlorine; it stung when we opened our eyes underwater.
JAMIE SAYS "Boring, but the hot tub was hot."
SWIMMABILITY 2. Not worth going blind for. Maybe they should put a little water in the chlorine.
PRICE OF A COKE $3.50
PRICE OF A RUM AND COKE $5.25
OTHER FAMILY FEATURES The roller coaster that ruins the pool—a loopy thriller—is one of the best rides in town. And the arcade has bumper cars and laser tag.
The Venetian D
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 888/283-6423; www.venetian.com; doubles from $199.
THE SCENE You would think that a resort based on a city of canals would offer a water feature second to none. You would be wrong. This $1.5 billion casino, which is one of the Strip's newest properties and is sensational in so many other ways—enormous suites, innovative gondola rides—has a pool area that's quite a letdown. To reach it you wander a maze of planters and walkways, only to find three ordinary rectangles in a big, shadeless stretch.
JAMIE SAYS "Do we have to actually go in the water to rate this one?"
SWIMMABILITY 5. At least it's not overcrowded.
PRICE OF A COKE $2.50
PRICE OF A RUM AND COKE $6
OTHER FAMILY FEATURES Kids love the gondolas (and serenading gondoliers). There's also a room-service menu with $4.25 PB&J's and $2.95 plates of fries. Just skip the pool.
STEVE FRIESS, a freelance writer, contributes regularly to Newsweek, USA Today, and the Boston Globe.