We booked a family trip to Las Vegas over Halloween weekend for a meet-up of Mr. T’s college buddies.  And I immediately started to worry.  It was my first visit, and as a non-drinker and non-gambler who gets migraines from cigarette smoke and hates crowds and clubbing, I didn’t consider Las Vegas a dream destination.  Throw in an energetic 18-month-old and a 5-hour flight, and the trip had “potential disaster” written all over it.

The guidebook I checked out from the library did nothing to ease my fears.  It contained a special section entitled “Vegas with Kids,” which basically said:  ”Once upon a time, Las Vegas tried to market itself as a family destination.  That was a ridiculous failure.  People come here for sin, and kids are out of place, and you will ruin the adults’ party by even bringing children into their presence.  Everyone will hate you. Don’t do it.”

Luckily, shortly before the trip another attendee at a local Mom blogger event happened to mention that she just returned from a week in Vegas with her 2-year-old.  Score!  She shared a bunch of useful advice, and reassured me that she and her child both enjoyed their trip.  Her advice is written up here.  I would second all of it, and add the following:

1.  Understand that you won’t experience the full Vegas scene. This advice may sound silly — one would hope parents don’t include their toddler on a night of boozing and craps.  But nightlife is such a vital part of The Strip that I found it difficult to return to the hotel room for baby’s bedtime just when everyone else was gearing up for the night.  Generally I love a little quiet time to myself, even on a trip, but in Vegas it felt like I was missing out.  Of course, it didn’t help that Mr. T was one of the people heading out with his friends….  Also not a help: the 3-hour time difference.  Our girl fell asleep through dinner every night (her usual bedtime back home), then got a second wind to party all night with exhausted Mommy back at the hotel.

2.  Don’t apologize for your presence. Sure, we got a few glares from young partiers there for the “what happens in Vegas” scene.  But the staff at hotels, stores, and restaurants, without exception, went out of their way to be helpful and welcoming.  (If you were a customer service employee, would you rather deal with the yet another drunken partier or a cute, mostly happy little kid?)  And, of course, even the partiers weren’t uniformly anti-kid.  Among other things, the hedonistic Vegas image leaves out the fact that nearly 25% of Vegas gamblers are elderly — grannies love the little ones!

3.  Don’t overthink activities. Before the trip, I did hours of research into child-friendly attractions.  Turns out we didn’t visit a single one.  Toddlers are entertained by almost anything new and different — a fountain! a crowd of people! a costume! a big clock! — and Las Vegas delivers easily on the “new and different” front.  The Bellagio’s fountains and The Venetian’s canals were big hits, but so was our hotel’s pool and long empty hallways.

4.  Buffets are your friend. Mr T and I love a good buffet (honestly, I can even live with a not-so-good buffet), so their child-friendly atmosphere was just added incentive to visit daily.  Does your toddler eat only watermelon, roasted lamb, and peas?  No problem, they’ve got that!  (In fact, I’m pretty sure that was one of Vera’s actual meals.)  For us, the few downsides — long lines at peak mealtimes, casino bathrooms that lacked changing tables, and the walk through smokey casinos to reach the buffet — were more than outweighed by the value and mind-boggling variety of this Vegas culinary mainstay.

5.  Stockpile water and snacks. Ideally at a grocery store, but Strip drugstores work in a pinch.  There are takeaway options within most hotel complexes, but they are expensive and inconvenient.  We had particular trouble keeping hydrated, between the dessert setting, the awful tap water at our hotel, and the bother of toting heavy liquids from the Walgreens down the block.  Wish we had just taken the car to the grocery store on Day One and stocked up properly.

6.  Consider renting a car. We went back and forth on the car issue, and I’m glad that we decided in favor.  The hotels are huge and far apart, and just about everywhere has free valet parking.  We explored more than we would have if limited by transportation options.  Plus, we could install our carseat from home (brought as checked luggage on the plane) and not worry again till it was time to leave.

Overall, I found Las Vegas to be like a cruise, in the sense that it’s known for a certain stereotypical vacation but in fact offers so much variety that each visitor can create a customized experience.  Sinful or toddler-friendly, luxury or budget, high elegance or retro kitsch — Vegas really does have it all.  Both parents and baby enjoyed the trip, and we would absolutely do it again.