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Weekend Escape: Las Vegas : The Strip says, 'Kids, got clean thrills for you, but you gotta bring your boring parents. Deal?'

November 20, 1994|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER; Gorman is a Times' Metro writer

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Years ago as a child, I was whisked through Glitter Gulch as a persona non grata ; my parents plunged through a casino in search of cheap shrimp cocktails, tugging me tightly in tow. If I stalled for even a moment, some goon in uniform curtly admonished my dad to keep me moving.

Las Vegas was no place for kids.

And now here we are, family of four, in a hotel room 30 stories above the Strip, feeling downright welcomed by the city's marketing ploy to tap Middle America: Bring the kids!

What a street scene: a fire-belching volcano, a pyramid with its high beam cutting a white shaft to heaven, an oversized lion protecting Dorothy and her Emerald City friends, and pirates beating the snot out of English seamen.

Having written about the Disneyfication of Las Vegas for The Times, I unwittingly piqued the curiosity of our two kids--Paul, 18, and Cassie, 13. Jeanne and I agreed a three-night family getaway--especially if we ignored the slots--could be fun. For the most part, the rooms and meals are good values here, discounted to draw gamblers to town who'll return their savings to the casinos anyway. But we'd be too smart for that.

We booked a two-queen-bed room at Treasure Island, the classy but less-endowed sister of the Mirage, for $79 a night. (A room at Disneyland would cost, what, twice that?)

After our five-hour drive, we rewarded ourselves after a speedy check-in by going poolside (although to our dismay we had to traipse in suits along the side of the casino games). Jeanne and I tested the pool bar and the kids tried out the 30-foot-high water slide. It was tame by teen-age standards but, on the other hand, the only hotel water slide on the Strip. (There's a great water slide park on the Strip, Wet 'n Wild, but we passed on it for this trip.)

The highlight of our Vegas escape came that first night: Cirque du Soleil's show Mystere, in a specially built showroom at Treasure Island. Mystere is the second-priciest show in town ($52.80 with tax, compared to Mirage techno magicians Siegfried & Roy at $78.35) but we think the most awe-inspiring: an inventive, poetic presentation of choreographed human strength--part ballet, part brawn.

The next day we dropped our teens at Grand Slam Canyon, the small amusement park under glass adjacent to Circus Circus. The time alone allowed Jeanne and me to browse through hotel shops and lay by the pool to unwind.

Grand Slam Canyon, which costs $15 per person for unlimited rides--won favorable reviews from Paul and Cassie. There are only a handful of rides, a couple of them quite wet. But the kids repeated the double-loop roller coaster several times, and had a riot in the laser-tag arena. Players in teams "shoot" each other in the dark with harmless, light-emitting beams that activate targets on opposing players' shoulders. More fun and less dangerous than throwing snowballs.

That evening we anchored at Treasure Island. The hotel's street-front pirate show--an engaging battle of epithets and cannon fire--really is a blast and is best seen twice. Get there 30 minutes early, find a spot on the bridge leading to the hotel to watch one side of the action, then flip-flop for the next show.

The balance of the night was spent inside Treasure Island's youth fun zone, a collection of video games and carnival midway activities called "Mutiny Bay." Cassie was popping balloons with darts while Paul was lost in the videos, destroying alien spiders. Neither dared climb the pirate ladder. I vented freeway-driving frustrations by playing whack-a-mole.

Day 3 was spent at the new MGM Grand theme park and midway. MGM thankfully realized the park wasn't worth the original admission price of $25 and dropped it to $18.95. Still too steep, it's now down to $13. If you just want to accompany the kids but eschew the rides, you can get in for free and just browse the shops while kids play.

The log ride with its final plummet offered a cooling drench, but a boat cruise through a movie "back lot" was cornball. And its version of a roller coaster lasted only a minute, compared to the two-minute ride at Grand Slam Canyon, according to timekeeper Paul. No reflection on our high-brow cultural upbringing, but Jeanne and I got our biggest hoots at a live Three Stooges show, where a spirited Larry, Moe and Curly were having enough fun to interact with the audience as they went through their classic shtick of slapstick abuse.

*

We retreated to MGM's midway games. Together we dropped about $50 on dollar games and please don't bother asking what we have to show for it (but can I interest you in a small stuffed purple dragon?). After we exhausted the MGM, we took pedestrian bridges for a midnight walk across the Strip to the Excalibur, a previous favorite haunt. Be warned: Even with my wife and two children there, sidewalk smut peddlers in front of the Excalibur thrust escort-service handouts in my face, and I had to explain to Cassie what the jerk meant by "room service."

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