Small Wonders: Here's what happened in Las Vegas

I am about to break one of the cardinal rules of modern mankind.

I am going to tell you what happened in Las Vegas.

This isn't easy for me. On the flight to Sin City, I told my girls they may see disturbing things that would seem evil and unnatural. But, no matter what they saw, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

And then I needed a spring break topic for my column this week. So here's “The Hangover, Part III: Caneday Family Vacation.”

Though my youthful days of nocturnal casino carousing are long gone, the siren song of the craps and blackjack tables still beckoned. That is, until I saw the room service menu prices, and that quickly faded.

$26 for a hamburger?

$18 for a pot of coffee?

$9 for a bottle of water?

But cost was no matter. We were going to make the most of our three days and two nights of G-rated debauchery. Within 20 minutes of check-in, we saw the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and a roller coaster coming out of the New York skyline; a pyramid, a giant golden lion, the Eiffel Tower; a castle, a rain forest and a Transformer willing to be photographed for a nominal fee.

Our first stop was a place all three of my ladies had been dreaming about for months: the M&M Store. No ordinary candy counter, this is a four-story monument to the lovable candy-coated chocolate morsels. Time stood still as we perused the selection of key rings, underwear, plush toys, multi-colored jumbo packs and a full-sized NASCAR race car emblazoned with the M&M logo.

I may never eat one again.

Getting around Vegas is easy, if you're a competitive walker or professional running back. Otherwise, with kids and limited time, taxis are the only (yet costly) way to go. The monorail is a nice idea, but borderline useless at $5 per person one-way, with stops a half mile from the attractions you want to see.

Besides, the most enlightening conversations you'll ever have are with cab drivers. Among them was a Vietnam vet conspiracy theorist (“Wanna know what I think about UFOs?”) and a too-friendly former school teacher with encyclopedic knowledge of the city (“Did you know that Vegas visitors consume 60,000 pounds of shrimp per day?”).

Oddly, besides the weather (“Was it cold where you came from?”), the most frequent topic for Vegas cabbies is how horrible traffic is in L.A. Who knew?

But taking cabs doesn't mean you're not going to have endless walks in order to see the many fascinating sights. In the marathon from the monorail station to Circus Circus, Thing 2 mused about her expectations for the most family friendly resort in town.

“I hope there are no creepy clowns and blood everywhere,” she said as we approached the time-worn big top.

“Me too,” I told her, suddenly scared.

No murderous clowns were found, but there were plenty of money-sucking games and rides operated by permanently employed carnies.

Whether on the Strip or through the many casinos, you're forced to walk in order to get to the family entertainment, and yet it never ceases to amaze me how oblivious tourists are to the other people around them. When masses of humanity converge, the ability to see one another miraculously disappears.

Simply walking through the casino with a 10- and 8-year old, fielding their many questions is entertainment in itself.

“Why do people gamble?”

“Why is that lady dancing in her bikini on top of those machines?”

“Should I double-down on 14 if the dealer shows a seven?”

It's never too early to teach kids the basics. I'm just preparing them for middle school.

“This place smells like smoke and desperation,” Thing 1 observed while playing penny slots at the Flamingo.

Wise beyond her years.

But we wanted to ensure our daughters would never get sucked into the abyss of the gambling culture. So, for aversion therapy, we took them downtown, the last stop in a gambler's long, hard life.

Despite the work done to Fremont Street, downtown really is no place for kids, save for one thing: the zip line. And it was worth the taxi ride, unseemly shops and recently released convicts thereabouts, just to see mom and daughter screaming overhead in a 30-second thrill ride.

We saw the water show at Bellagio 10 times while dining alfresco at a Paris bistro; we rode a gondola through the faux canals of Venice; we witnessed a volcano erupt outside our taxi window.

Frankly, the only thing I wish hadn't stayed in Vegas was our hard-earned cash.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of “Crooked Little Birdhouse” available on Amazon. Reach him at Read more at

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