It's almost New Year's Eve and while Nate and I are hunkered down at home with a new baby, a ton of our friends are in Vegas with their families. My grandpa moved to the city a couple years back, so we've spent a good deal of time there lately and we always like to share a tip or two with visitors.
One spot we often urge people to check out is the Top of the World rotating restaurant at The Stratosphere. This Zagat-rated fine dining hot spot doesn't exactly scream “kid friendly,” but we've managed to successfully bring our whole crew along for the experience – and learned a few tricks in the process.
Here's how you can get away with kids in the stratosphere. I've had a thing for dining at the tippy-tops of cities ever since I was a kid and my mom took me to the Space Needle's elegant SkyCity restaurant. We didn't have a lot of money, but since my stepdad moonlighted as a sous-chef we'd occasionally get an “in” to the latest opening. I remember feeling special under the weight of a cloth napkin in my lap as I ran my eyes over the plethora of silverware on either side of my plate, basking in scents and sights while the hustle of life paused for an enchanted hour. I've since enjoyed meals at numerous high-flying spots such as Cliff House in San Francisco, Pacific's Edge in Carmel, Mister A's in San Diego and Gong in London.
Since fine dining is a personal delight of mine that carried into adulthood, I make sure my own children get to indulge in the experience once or twice a year. Nate and I enjoy our regular trips to Red Lobster and In N Out, but diversity is the biggest teacher in life and I believe my kids can learn a lot by practicing self-restraint and appreciation at higher-end spots on occasion.
Timing is everything. This video and these photos were taken a few months back when our kids were a little younger, but the principle applies to any age child. They almost all tend to hit that mid-afternoon grumpy slump, so it's best to let them squeeze in a nap and eat during off-hours when the restaurant isn't as busy. Shoot for 11am or 2-3pm. If at all possible, do lunch instead of dinner since most restaurants have a more casual atmosphere during the daytime. We usually book mid-week reservations to avoid the weekend crowd, calling ahead to make sure they don't have any big business lunches planned at the same time. It's a good idea to call regardless, giving them a heads-up that you'll be arriving with children.
Stroller strategy. One thing that initially came as a surprise for me at more upscale restaurants was that many of them don't allow you to take your stroller to your table. Space is often in short supply, and it can ruin the aesthetic for other customers. In the case of Top of the World it isn't logistically feasible since the tables are staggered on different levels with stairs in between. Be ready to park it with the hostess and bring your purse or diaper bag to the table.
Keep it short and sweet. Top of the World is known for its views. The food is decent and the service is okay, but nothing to get crazy-excited about. Order something that travels well, like a sandwich or salad. This way, if the kids DO melt down midway through the meal, it's easy to box it and get on up to the top of the tower. Yes – you can still enjoy the views even if the dining experience doesn't quite go as planned since a ride up to the Stratosphere Tower Observation Deck is included with your meal. This is why we recommend Top of the World to fellow family travelers: it's a win-win regardless of how the meal goes, and if you play your cards right you can actually enjoy a meal and the view for less than it would cost just to visit the deck (which is typically $20 for adults and $12 for children).
Bribe them with dessert. Another reason we go light on lunch? The Top of the World restaurant has delicious dessert plates passing by as the entire room rotates to offer panoramic views of all of Las Vegas. If the kids have behaved well throughout the meal, they know they're going to get a sweet surprise at the end.
Pack a little snack. Our family doesn't experience too many restaurant meltdowns nowadays. As they say: practice makes perfect – and we get a LOT of practice when we travel for work! That being said, it's always appropriate to pay up and step out if your kids start misbehaving. Be prepared for hungry tummies, just in case. Head to the Stratosphere knowing that while a quick bathroom chat with the little ones can be a great attitude reset, your agenda might include fresh air and boxed food and snacktime at the top of the tower instead of a perfectly-planned rotating rendezvous.
If you're in Vegas this season, you should also check out the Ethel M Chocolate factory and cactus garden in Henderson. Super-kid-friendly, and definitely worth the short trip over!
Do you ever take your kids to more upscale restaurants?