What happens when you take your tree-hugging husband and your
fun-loving kids to Las Vegas, sending them off to do the town
while you attend an industry meeting?

The odds are on Vegas.

We hit Las Vegas after two days in the Grand Canyon. That meant
we went from one of nature’s greatest spectacles to its polar
opposite, a glittering temple of artifice. We had encountered an unexpected Vegas promoter on one of the trails we’d hiked in the Grand Canyon. The hiker had been enthusiastic about Vegas in
general and the hotel where we were staying in particular, the
Mandalay Resort & Casino, because of its 11-acre pool complex.

Nevertheless, I was worried and my fears were almost immediately
justified. My husband was a good sport about getting lost in the
hotel (this is a man who has climbed peaks in the Rockies, the Alps
and the Andes). “So, we’re not in the Hotel at Mandalay Bay?” he
said when I called him on his cell phone to find out where he was.
I explained the hotel-within-the hotel concept to him, and doughty
trail finder that he is, he quickly found his way to the aquarium in
the main lobby where we were waiting for him.

But those extra minutes had given our 11-year-old time to slip into one of the Mandalay Bay’s gift shops. Extricating her (“Mama!”she enthused, “You’ve got to see this top!”) took its toll on my husband. Although he is an easy upsell on rental cars, hotel rooms and cute shoes for his daughters, shopping without an explicit goal remains an utterly foreign concept to him.

Fingers crossed, I sent them off to see the pirate show at Treasure Island, while I headed off to the welcome cocktail party for TravelCom-Res Expo. I dimly recalled seeing the pirate show a decade or so ago, and some friends had recently seen it and loved it. I even sounded out a few PR people about it. But perhaps I should have paid more attention to the online description of a revamped show with  “renegade pirates” battling “sexy sirens.”

When the threesome returned, I could tell from my husband’s tightlipped expression that it had not been Captain Hook and Peter Pan. “Mama,” said my 11-year-old, her voice a mix of pre-adolescent disdain and pity for my lack of judgment, “they wore g-strings!” And my five-year-old, who doesn’t even like fireworks on the Fourth of July, was still recovering from her unexpected proximity to flames and explosions, which was why I had not sent them to the 54-foot-high volcano eruption at the Mirage.

I ruefully told my tale to an acquaintance, also a mother, in a meeting room the next day, who nodded in an understanding way. “You’ve got to be careful with Vegas,” she said. “It changes.”

Fortunately, multi-faceted Vegas came through. The next morning my intrepid trio took the Monorail to Excalibur and then on to New York, New York. The girls adored the Vegas interpretation of their hometown, especially the mini neighborhoods, which included Roxy Hardware, a fixture in our own neighborhood, the Upper West Side. The MGM Grand was even better. The Lion Habitat was a huge hit for all three, especially with its cuddly little cubs. My husband also liked the fact that it was free.

Then it was on to the family theme park at Circus Circus, where they rode the Ferris wheel (a little slow), bumper cars (much more fun) and the Road Runner (highly recommended). The roller coaster was too fearsome for all three of them. But my husband seemed downright regretful that height requirements kept the five-year-old — and hence the rest of them — from trying the Rim Runner water ride.

Then it was back to the Mandalay Bay’s 11-acre beach, with its wave pool and the float down the lazy river. There is just no beating that for kids (or at least until Vegas tops itself again with another beach extravaganza). That night we dined al fresco at the Mandalay Bay’s Border Grill. My husband may like to rough it in the wild, but he also is a bit of an epicurean. He thought his grilled, chile-marinated half chicken served with an ancho mushroom ragout was smashing. He’s been asking me to try to get the recipe ever since — a first. That was a big test for Las Vegas cuisine, and it passed with flying colors. In a classic example of Las Vegas service, our waitress gracefully brought our 11-year-old a second burrito when she found her a first to be a bit too spicy. Our waitress showed a level of professionalism and pride that I found to be the norm in Las Vegas — a trait that truly distinguishes the destination.

The coup de grace was seeing “Mamma Mia!” a family favorite, topped by a backstage tour and a chance to meet a few of the leads.The next day, my family slept in. The Mandalay Bay beds were extremely comfortable; in fact, my husband wants to order some of the bedding. I went for an early morning run along The Strip, listening to a playlist on my iPod that included “Viva Las Vegas” by Shawn Colvin, and, in tribute to the King, “Suspicious Minds.” Then it was time for the last breakfast meeting for Res Expo.

Waiters met us with mimosas and bloody Marys. “Only in Las
Vegas,” said a colleague, laughing. My girls are still talking about Las Vegas. The five-year-old has amended one of her ongoing riffs about where she’ll live when shegrows up. It used to be New York, London and Grandma Rice’s. Now it’s New York, London, Grandma Rice’s and Las Vegas. And Grandma Rice is ready to hit Las Vegas, too! To be honest, my husband is a bit less than enthusiastic about returning. But fortunately Vegas has something for him as well. Next time out we’ll send him rock climbing at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which is less than 20 minutes — but worlds away — from The Strip. We’ll meet him for dinner — and, of course, a trip to Circus Circus so that he can finally ride the Rim Runner.