Perhaps the least successful of all the Las Vegas tourism board campaigns was the 1990s effort to promote the Strip as a family destination—an endeavor that happened at more or less the same time as the Disneyfication of Times Square. Let’s just say that it didn’t work, and that’s why the “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” slogan, referencing Sin City’s naughty roots, has had decade-long legs, and counting. The family idea failed, of course, because the casinos would rather give mom and dad seats at the blackjack tables (where kids aren’t allowed) than have them put away their wallets and go to the pool.
Still, Vegas really is one of the world’s best family playgrounds—a four-mile-long stretch filled with dancing fountains, fire-blowing volcanoes, wildlife and marine habitats, and now a giant Hershey Chocolate World to give M&M’s World across the street a run for its money. In fact, most of the restaurants here might as well cater to kids—theatrics are the name of the game.
This rainforest-themed dining room inside the MGM Grand erupts regularly with “thunderstorms,” and although the menu can be a little uninspiring (appetizers, salads, burgers, pasta, etc.), the environment—and the ridiculous Sparkling Volcano Dessert, which technically feeds two but could actually feed about 30 with its sparkler-lit slabs of brownies and ice cream—make it a strangely hilarious experience.
Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que (two locations)
Red-checked tablecloths, giant Mason-jar drinks, and a kid-friendly atmosphere make this small barbecue chain a winner for families. I use their (very good) food as a vehicle for their several varieties of (very delicious) barbecue sauce, and I won’t miss the house-cooked barbecue potato chips or the fried dill pickles.
The Strip’s largest buffet, set inside Caesar’s Palace, seems to go on for miles and miles. It’s best to start all the way at the back, and case the hundreds of offerings before loading up your plate; there are enough dishes that you’ll be dizzy. I personally love the red velvet pancakes at breakfast, or the homemade donuts, and dim sum available all day. The seafood bar is undoubtedly the best in all the casino hotels.
Sugar Factory Brasserie
Let’s be clear: Adults who love Sugar Factory probably choose it for its tooth-achingly sweet, 60-oz. shareable (we hope!) “goblets” filled with Mai Tais, raspberry-watermelon mojitos, and White Gummis (truly atrocious sugar-bomb cocktails filled with gummy worms). Still, all these drinks are available sans booze, and the comfort food (fried mac-and-cheese, burgers) will hopefully neutralize, or at least absorb, your sugar overload. You will not escape without buying candy, so just put aside your good intentions at the door.
Home of the famous frozen hot chocolate from the original location in New York, this outpost in Caesar’s Palace also serves a great Rueben, and an only-in-Vegas “Las Vegas Strip Steak Sandwich.” Of course, this being Vegas, if the kids are behaving themselves, you could spring for the Golden Opulence Sundae: a foot-tall creation in a crystal goblet with five scoops of vanilla ice cream covered in 23-karat edible gold leaf, and rare chocolates made from cocoa beans found only on the Venezuelan coast. It’ll only set you back $1,000.