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Las Vegas: Playground for Adults and Children : New hotels and amusement parks will add to an already crowded list of family activities.

April 11, 1993|EILEEN OGINTZ

LAS VEGAS — Before he could persuade his wife to bring their two children here for vacation, Dr. David Lawhorn, who had visited many times on his own, had to do a hard sell.

"She was real skeptical," acknowledged the Little Rock, Ark., physician whose wife, Stephanie, also a doctor, had never visited Las Vegas. Their trip, he reported, was a resounding success--in no small part because of the Hilton Hotel's Youth Hotel, a child-care program available to guests that also offers overnight stays. Six-year-old Susan Lawhorn enjoyed herself immensely. (Her baby brother, however, was too young to participate.)

"Most people think of Las Vegas as all adult entertainment," said David Lawhorn. "But there's a lot more than gambling here--a lot more for families than people think. Definitely we'll bring the kids again."

"All of a sudden Las Vegas has discovered kids," said Mya Collins, who publishes the monthly Las Vegas Kidz Magazine and has written the book "Things to Do With KIDZ in Las Vegas," which has some 600 listings. (Available for $12 from Las Vegas Kidz, 4082 Aduana Court, Las Vegas, Nev. 89103.)

And be sure to check out "Las Vegas and Beyond" (Ulysses Press, $9.95), in which author David Stratton tells you what there is to do on the Strip and off, even venturing into the nearby National Parks.

"There's more for us to do than we have time for," added Lawhorn. "You can have family time and adult time here, and everyone will enjoy their vacation."

That's exactly the message Las Vegas tourism officials and hoteliers are working hard to convey to baby-boomer families such as the Lawhorns. The rapidly growing gambling capital is gearing up for the opening in the coming months of three major hotel and entertainment complexes, all designed with considerable family appeal. They are the Egyptian-themed, pyramid-shaped Luxor Hotel; the pirate-themed Treasure Island, complete with a live pirate battle every hour, and, early next year, the MGM Grand. With 5,009 rooms, it will be the largest hotel and casino ever built, complete with a seven-story replica of the Emerald City, a yellow brick road and an adjacent 33-acre theme park. Each hotel will boast a huge video game arcade.

"Research shows that the trend is for people to take more frequent trips and to take their children with them," said Tom Bruny, spokesman for the MGM Grand. "We definitely want to appeal to those people." He noted that like the Hilton, the MGM Grand will have its own youth center.

Not to be left behind, Circus Circus, which pioneered the family market, in August will unveil its own theme park: the five-acre Grand Slam Canyon. Fully enclosed under a glass dome, it will offer everything from flume rides to animated dinosaurs to interactive laser tag.

"A few years down the road, Las Vegas will have more to offer than Orlando," boasted Tom Tomlinson, spokesman for the new Luxor Hotel. It's certainly cheaper (as long as you don't lose a bundle at the tables), with some rooms priced at under $20 a night and breakfast buffets advertised for 99 cents.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reports that 1.5 million visitors each year are kids, presumably with parents in tow. "Even those who come to gamble are here with their families," observed Laura Dorman, spokeswoman for the medieval-themed Excalibur Hotel.

At the same time, an increasing number of those settling here--the population is increasing by 2,300 a month, state officials report--are young families. A fourth of those living here now are under 18, the U.S. Census shows: In the past two years, more than 30 new schools have opened.

My family comes to Las Vegas to visit relatives, in fact, and my kids, I confess, like it a lot more than I do--from the glittering lights on the Strip (especially the volcano erupting every 15 minutes in front of the Mirage Hotel) to the Wet N' Wild water park to the seemingly never-ending array of video games available in every hotel (be forewarned--it can get expensive) to Circus Circus, where they invariably win a stuffed animal playing carnival games.

They love the miniature golf and bumper cars at the Scandia Family Fun Center, the guaranteed-to-please kids tour of the Ethel M Chocolate Factory (enjoy free samples in the cactus garden outside while you admire more than 350 kinds of plants) and the first-rate Lied Discovery Children's Museum.

We all love Valley of Fire, a 56,000-acre preserve 50 miles into the desert full of distinctive wind-and-water-sculpted sandstone formations. The kids can climb through the spooky caves and try to spot desert animals--from lizards to snakes to desert tortoises.

About 30 miles from Las Vegas is the city's most famous "educational" attraction--Hoover Dam. Built between 1931 and 1935, it remains the nation's tallest concrete arch dam (726 feet high). The dam also created Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States and a popular recreation area.

Your hotel can offer details for leisurely float trips on the Colorado River as well as daylong scenic plane tours of the Grand Canyon, fewer than 300 miles from Las Vegas.

Cheaper still is lounging by the pool. My kids usually like that best of all.

Taking the Kids invites reader questions and comments about family travel. Address them to: Taking the Kids, 2859 Central St., Box 119, Evanston, Ill. 60201.

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