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ThemePark History

Family Friendly Las Vegas

Last Updated on June 11, 2023 by Themepark Freak

In the 1990s and early 2000’s, Las Vegas made a push to bill itself as more family friendly. Two amusement parks and many family friendly attractions were created to lure parents to the Nevada Desert instead of other destinations such as Disney.

As I grew up going to Vegas, first as a little girl then as a teen and finally an adult, I was able to witness the coming and going of different attractions over the years. Come and reminisce about the family friendly past of Vegas.

Trips to Las Vegas in the 1980s

During the 1980s, my aunt and uncle lived in Las Vegas due to being stationed at Nellis Airforce Base. Every February we’d (my mother, grandmother and I) head down from the Pacific Northwest to help celebrate my cousin’s birthday.

Even though I couldn’t play, I always thought coming off the airplane to the lights and sounds of the slot machines was kind of magical. You could close your eyes and know exactly where you were in the world from the beeps, bleeps, and clinking of money hitting metal. I also remember being at the K-Mart (where there were slot machines) and my mother putting my toes on the line separating kids from the machines. Then she’d offer to double my change. It wouldn’t be until my teens when I allowed her to double my money on Black Jack that I’d ever see any money back.

The highlight of every Vegas trip would be the afternoon that our parents took us kids to Circus Circus. We’d get to play some arcade games AND we’d get to see circus shows.

This was the only “family friendly” thing that the strip offered at the time.

Trips to Las Vegas in the 1990s

As soon as 1990 hit, Las Vegas decided to try to compete with actual family friendly destinations around the United States.

In the late 80s we stopped going down to Vegas since my aunt and uncle were sent off elsewhere by the Air Force. However, in 1990 I started to ride horses and one of the activities I participated in was rodeo. This peaked my family’s interest and we started going to Vegas every December for the National Finals.

In my pre-teens, my parents elected to stay at Circus Circus since I could just go to the Midway myself. I’d save up my money the entire year and have a strategy to try to earn as many tickets as I could on the arcade machines. In my mid-teens we stayed across the street at the Riveria Hotel and Casino. I was allowed to go over and play at Circus Circus. Especially when they added the Adventure Dome.

All through my teens, Vegas would add more and more things that I could do which made the yearly visits much more enjoyable.

The Las Vegas Amusement Parks

While Las Vegas in itself is often referred to as the “adult theme park”, in 1993 both Circus Circus and the MGM would open theme parks on their property to try to become a family friendly destination.

Circus Circus Adventure Dome

The Circus Circus Adventure Dome is a 2 acre (8100 square meter) amusement park located under a giant pink dome. The hotel first announced the addition to the Circus Circus offerings in August 1992 and construction began immediately in September.

It would only take a year to finish the construction and the Adventure Dome opened in August 1993. The opening day attractions consisted of:

  • Canyon Blaster (roller coaster)
  • Rim Runner (water flume ride)
  • Twist and Shout (rafting ride)
  • Lazer Blast (laser tag arena)

In spring 1994, Circus Circus would shut down the Adventure Dome for around 45 days to install more rides. When the dome re-opened, the following attractions were added:

  • Canyon Cars (bumper cars)
  • Sand Pirates (swinging ship)
  • Thunderbirds (carosel)
  • BC Bus (bus that goes up and down)
  • Drifters (ferris wheel)
  • Road Runner (mini Himalaya)
  • Miner Mike (children’s coaster)

While updating the adventure dome, Circus Circus removed the Twist and Shout raft ride.

Over the years, more attractions would be added or removed from the dome. However, even with today’s whopping $60.00 wrist band price, the Adventure Dome has somehow managed to survive.

MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park

In December 1993 the MGM Grand opened it’s own theme park on the Las Vegas Strip. By creating the park, MGM hoped that families would choose its hotel as a family friendly option.

Unlike the Adventure Dome, MGM’s park was on 33 acres (133,000 square meters) and you could follow the yellow brick road (MGM was Wizard of Oz themed at the time) to the entrance of the park. The park sported 3 themed areas with rides, live entertainment and games.

The park opened with the following rides:

  • Backlot River Tour (boat ride)
  • Deep Earth Exploration (3-D dark ride)
  • Grand Canyon Rapids (raft ride)
  • Haunted Mine (dark ride)
  • Lightening Bolt (roller coaster)
  • Over the Edge (flume ride)
  • Parisian Taxis (bumper cars)

Then there were 4 theaters on the property:

  • King Looey Theater
  • Magic Screen Theater
  • Pirates Cove
  • You’re in the Movies

Even though MGM owned and ran the park, unlike Disney-MGM (later Hollywood Studios) in Orlando, none of the rides featured any MGM movies. So the Backlot River Tour, for example, features scenes of generic movie genres instead of any specific movies.

Unfortunately, this park wasn’t a success. It had an expensive entry price for non hotel guests and just wasn’t the attraction it thought it could be. Other attractions on the Vegas strip were more attractive to the wallets of families so it wasn’t a “must do”. At some point the park was halved in size and attractions shut down. The park would eventually shut its doors in 2002.

Notable Family Friendly Attractions in Vegas

In addition to the two theme parks, other hotels attempted their own versions of family friendly attractions. Some are defunct, some still exist.

Mirage Volcano Show

Upon opening, the Mirage Hotel and Casino featured a volcano out in the front. When night falls on the desert, the volcano would erupt. When it was first introduced, the volcano was all water and lights. However, in 2005 it was upgraded to add some fire.

On December 19, 2022 Hard Rock International took over control of the Mirage. While it plans to leave the volcano alone through 2023, eventually the Mirage (and volcano) will be turned into a giant guitar.

Tournament of Kings Dinner Show

The dinner show, Tournament of Kings, opened with the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in 1990. The dinner show seats guests around a dirt arena under the banner of different knights. During the show guests are encouraged to cheer their knight on through the course of several games (including jousting).

The Tournament of Kings is still a family friendly show that takes place twice a day at the Excalibur.

Treasure Island Pirate Show

The Las Vegas hotel and casino Treasure Island opened in October 1993 with a live action pirate show that took place every night.

The Battle of Buccaneer Bay was a 15 minute show that depicted a pirate ship landing at a Caribbean village. There was a full scale British Navy sailing ship, explosions, pyrotechnics and the sinking of the British ship. The captain went down with his ship at the end of every show.

The Battle of Buccaneer Bay now lives in our hearts, memories and Youtube. It was replaced by the Sirens of Ti in October 2023. The new show is much more aimed at adults with singing, dancing and bare chested pirates.

Other Attractions

On the family friendly list of attractions that cropped up during the 90s are:

  • The Stratosphere Elevator
  • Luxor’s “in search of the obelisk” (defunct)
  • Luxor’s Theater of Time (defunct)
  • New York New York’s roller coaster
  • Wet n Wild waterpark on the Strip (defunct)
  • Discovery Children’s Museum
  • Star Trek: The Experience (defunct)
  • Caesar’s Magical Empire Dinner and Magic Show (defunct)
  • Fall of Atlantis Fountain in Caesar’s Palace
  • Race for Atlantis (defunct)

The 2000s and Beyond in Las Vegas

Unfortunately, the 2000s would see a shift that would start bringing Vegas back to the adults. The awesome Pirate show would become sexier and less kid friendly, family friendly attractions would shut down and families would start going back to their regular kid friendly destinations.

As someone who has to go to Vegas on a fairly regular occasion, this is a shame. While drinking and gambling can be fun, I’d like to let my inner child out to play. Luckily, there’s still some hidden gems. You just need to know where to look.

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