What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unless, you take a bunch of pictures and post them on your site. Las Vegas was an abnormal trip for us, as in, it wasn’t a cruise. Admittedly, the family wasn’t too excited about the trip (it wasn’t a cruise) and we weren’t sure what we would do for a week in the middle of the desert in a town built on drinking and gambling, none of which we’re into. When discussing our travel plans with friends, most responded with ‘really?’ or questioned taking the whole family to Vegas. Maybe it was our low expectations, or maybe it was Vegas, but this was one of our favorite family trips, ever.

McCarran International Airport is super close to Vegas, you don’t need to rent a car, but with everything we wanted to do, we did. We were all surprised to see so slot machines in the airport,  by the end of the trip we were surprised when we didn’t see one. Before long, the sounds of slot machines blend into the background, much like chirping birds and that owl that goes ‘who-who-who’ all the time back home.

When it comes to vacations, I’m a planner. I also spoke with my good friend Matthew about the place to stay, and he recommended MGM Grand because of their amazing pool and floating river complex (6.5 acres!). We ended up staying at the Signature at MGM Grand, and we’re glad we did.

Aiden at MGM

They are attached to the MGM, with convenient parking, great rooms, are close the pool, and had a much quieter, relaxed atmosphere. Travel note: sign up for their ‘club’ and you get instant discounts on hotels and Cirque du Soleil shows. We got two interconnected rooms with a very smart design. The two room doors were left open, and we closed the secondary door that led to the hallway. I guess pictures are worth a thousand words, because that’s harder to describe than it should be.

MGM had tons of food, events, and the Ka show (great show, btw). It’s towards the southern side of the strip, but it is tied in with the monorail. By the way, the strip is crazy long. It doesn’t look that long, but each hotel is massive, so it does take a while to get around. Highly recommend it, specifically the Signature at MGM Grand.

The strip is a lot of fun. We walked it several times, usually on the way to dinner. Towards the end of the trip we got the monorail pass for a few days, that enabled us to explore the northern side of the strip without getting too exhausted. Bring walking shoes and your camera. Definitely check out the hotels, they each have their own theme. Luxor’s pyramid shape and light beaming into the night, Aria’s modern luxury, Bellagio’s classic elegance and fountains, the waterways of the Venetian, New York-New York’s skyline, Circus Circus’ Circus, it’s all truly amazing. Of note, we felt very safe walking through Vegas, it did get a little sketchy between SLS and the Stratosphere.

110 degree hike? No problem. We went to Vegas (the desert) in August (the middle of summer) because it worked best for us (cheaper) as a family. I had the pleasure of taking my two oldest to Valley of Fire State Park. At 110 degrees, my wife wasn’t sure how she and Aiden (8 at the time) would hold up on a long hike at that temperature. One thing that we quickly learned, is in Vegas, your sweat works! It’s not humid at all, so when you are hot, your body sweats, cools you down, and it evaporates off you. During all our walks and hikes outside, I rarely felt sweaty. I was warm, and sometimes hot – but it didn’t feel like 110, more like 90 in Cincinn-humid-ati, without the humid. Wear your suntan lotion. At 110 degrees, even without humidity, you can literally feel the sun burn you. The Valley of Fire State Park was beautiful – one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on. We saw live animals, amazing vistas, and had a great time. In hindsight, I was sad not to share it with Jill and Aiden, but we took a bunch of pictures.

The next day we did something super cool that still seems like a dream. We were picked up in front of hotel in a limo and brought to the airport. We watched a safety video, then got into a helicopter and flew over Lake Mead, saw the Hoover Dam, and then flew into the Grand Canyon. We landed at the bottom, had a nice lunch, walked around for a bit, and then flew back to Vegas. Sounds amazing? It was! The only downfall, it happened so fast. The whole thing took less than 4 hours (pick up to drop off at hotel). I’m glad I took pictures. Well, that and the rest of the family apparently gets a little sick on helicopter rides…

We drove out to Hoover Dam and had a surprisingly good time. Everything about it screams epic – the size, the history, truly a marvel. It was amazing to see it from the helicopter (it looked so small) and then to touch it in person a few days later. Morgan wants to be a Civil Engineer, so she was in enthralled with it all. Get there early in the day as the passes to the lower tour sometimes sell out. Of note, I didn’t see the AllSpark.

Hoover Dam from Helicopter
Hoover Dam from Helicopter


Jill’s favorite stop was the Bellagio Buffet. I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they eat a buffet. For example, Aiden and I fill up our plates with all the things that look amazing, go back, and eat. We’re stuffed, but still make room for dessert. Then we try to support the new weight of our bodies as we wait for everyone else to finish eating. Nick, Morgan, and especially Jill are the tortoise to our hare. I stopped counting Jill’s consumption at a dozen plates and two hours… on the plus side Aiden and I got hungry again so had another dessert.

We took a little trip out to Summerlin (amazing place, once owned by Howard Hughes, seriously look it up!) and went to Red Rock Canyon – another great place to hike. This time we took the whole family and everyone had a great time. It was unique in that it’s one big circle around the canyon where you can park and hike off into the mountains. We stopped off a few times and hiked around a bit. We saw a thunderstorm roll through Vegas – it was surreal. When we drove back to Vegas a few hours later there was no sign it had even rained.

In between all these adventures we did manage to see two Cirque du Soleil shows, Michael Jackson’s ONE, which was incredible as well as Ka, also great. We’ve now about 6 of their shows and each one (except for Toruk – that’s dumb) were great. I knew Jill was the one for me when we saw the traveling show of Quidam, she was called up on stage and was so funny and carefree, she was truly amazing… in fact, a lady stopped her after the show and asked her how long she had to practice with them. I vouched for Jill that it was all improv. Ahh memories. We stuck with the Cirque shows, but branch out to whatever intrigues you. There are a lot of amazing performers out there. Seriously, don’t see Toruk.

Will we go back? Absolutely. In fact, Nick already went back with his friends for his last spring break. Like most things in life, Vegas is what you make of it. There are many sides to Vegas, and I encourage anyone to step outside the casino and see what the area has to offer.