It looked so much nicer in my head. The way I pictured it, we were going to spend a few days of bond-bolstering family togetherness at a Las Vegas resort that would cater to our every fickle whim. By day we would lounge poolside; by night we’d venture out to ooh and ahh over the city’s convenient cultural lessons: the Venetian’s canals, Luxor’s Sphinx, Caesar’s Trevi Fountain.
In my imagination — over-enterprising as it may be — we were going to find freedom in the clean light of the warm desert sun.
Instead, we got drenched in debauchery.
On reflection, yes. It was witless to seek a virtuous vacay in Sin City, the nation’s unapologetic adult playground. In the 1990s, Vegas’s tourism office made a marketing push to lure families there. But the campaign went bust and the tourism office did an about-face, adopting the decidedly grown-up (notice I didn’t say “mature”) motto, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
They no longer woo kids. In fact, the Bellagio hotel doesn’t even allow children inside unless they’re registered guests, and the new Encore and Wynn hotels have “no strollers” signs on their doors.
But we were heading back from a trip to the Grand Canyon and the Vegas Strip seemed a natural stop — another mystifying spectacle, not unlike the canyon itself in its dazzling scope and strangeness. Besides, where else can you see Egypt, Paris, and Manhattan in a single road trip?
Getting to those theme hotels is tricky, though. You walk a lot in Vegas, even to catch a cab or hop on the monorail. And strollers are a burden on the city’s endless maze of escalators.
You can’t get anywhere on the Strip, either, without plodding through casino after casino, and despite the colorful, dinging, video-game-like appeal of the ubiquitous slot machines, kids aren’t allowed to play. If they even stop walking long enough to watch Dad play a game, a security guard nudges them toward the door.
Having grown up in our new smoke-free world, my kids were irritated by the cigarette smell in the hotels — and surprised to see people knocking back cocktails before noon.
“Jeez,” my 10-year-old snorted, “do people just come here to smoke, drink, and gamble?!”
No, of course not. There’s also the hope of some really tawdry sex. Which he found out about during an early evening foray down the city’s sidewalks. Gentlemen greet you wearing bright yellow shirts that read “Girls Direct to You in 20 Minutes” and handing out trading cards with photos of naked ladies on them. They don’t hand them to kids, but a fierce, dry wind blew the cards all over the street. It was literally raining porn, and every time we waited at a crosswalk, my son got a good gander at the gals staring smuttily up at us from underfoot.
Thankfully, the sex business is an equal opportunity offender. The billboards outside our hotel window featured a crush of Chippendale-style beefcakes flashing bedroom eyes and weight-room pecs, and another ad that inspired this question: “Mom, what is a gay escort?”
Kids adapt so quickly, though. We hadn’t been there 24 hours before my oldest was encouraging me to climb out of the kiddie pool and enter a dance contest in which I would vie for hoots and cat-calls from fellow sun-worshippers by shaking my bikini-clad moneymaker to a blaring bump-and-grind ditty.
“Pleeeeeeease, mom?” he begged. “I can seriously imagine you winning!”
But I declined. These things, I’ve come to learn, tend to look better in your head.