Mickey, monorails and massive milkshakes: 9 things Disney fans will love about Las Vegas
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You don’t have to know me very well to know that I’m an unabashed Disney adult. I’ve been to Disney parks more times than I can count, and I’ve spent birthdays, anniversaries, babymoons and other important milestones with Mickey and his pals.
When my husband planned a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate my 40th birthday, I was excited but cautious.
To me, Vegas conjures up images of gambling, buffets and a major lack of sleep. I’d always wanted to see it at least once, but I envisioned passing through on my way to the Grand Canyon or — more likely — Disneyland.
We decided to go for it, so we spent the weekend of my 40th birthday strolling the glittering Las Vegas Strip.
Throughout the weekend, I found myself exclaiming over and over again, “This is just like Disneyland!”
I wasn’t just referring to logging tens of thousands of steps each day or the fact that everything was more expensive than I was used to at home. I was referring to the rides, costumed characters and snacks that reminded me of The Happiest Place on Earth.
If you, too, find yourself in this grown-up version of Neverland, here are nine sights and activities you won’t want to miss as a Disney fan.
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Visit a royal castle
Like Disneyland, Las Vegas gives you the chance to pass through the gates of a colorful, regal castle. The Excalibur Hotel & Casino‘s facade is designed to look like a medieval castle and is one of the most recognizable landmarks on the Las Vegas Strip.
Although most of the interior medieval-themed elements have been removed over the years, there is still an arcade called the Fun Dungeon, as well as a bar named after Sherwood Forest. The hotel’s Tournament of Kings dinner show also comes with a free side of jousting.
It’s not TPG’s favorite hotel on the strip, but it’s worth a visit if you need to get your castle fix.
Ride a roller coaster
When I found out there was a roller coaster in Las Vegas, it immediately went on my itinerary. The Big Apple Coaster is located at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino (separated from the Excalibur by a short walk via elevated walkway) and is accessible via an entrance inside the hotel.
The coaster loops and weaves around the hotel’s Manhattan-themed facade at speeds of up to 67 miles per hour, offering one-of-a-kind views of the Las Vegas Strip.
I read mixed reviews about the experience, but I found the ride to be smooth, striking just the right balance between thrilling and fun. I’d say it compares most closely to Disney California Adventure Park’s Incredicoaster or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Tickets can be purchased on-site or online, and you must be at least 54 inches tall to ride.
Check out a tiki bar
I was pleasantly surprised to find Trader Sam’s vibes in Las Vegas after asking another Disney-loving friend for Vegas dining recommendations. She suggested we visit The Golden Tiki, and her suggestion was spot on.
I should have known that a city with hotels themed to some of the world’s most famous cities would also have a well-themed bar.
The Golden Tiki had the same dark, mysterious vibes and playful decor as Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at Disneyland, but because it wasn’t bound by Disney’s mission to be family-friendly, I found it to be more brazen in its commitment to kitsch (I’ll just say, don’t visit the restroom area if you are easily offended by nudity).
Best of all, the bar had Dole Whip cocktails similar to those at Disney. I tried the Dole Whip blended with rum and it tasted just like the ones I’ve enjoyed at the parks.
Meet Mickey Mouse
I saw my fair share of showgirls posing for photos as my husband and I explored the famed hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, but I didn’t start digging through my purse for cash tips until I saw Mickey Mouse standing on the corner.
When he removed his Mickey head to smoke a cigarette, the magic spell was broken and I placed my money safely back in my purse.
After that first sighting, we spotted Goofy, Pluto, Minnie and other popular Disney characters. On one block, we saw three men dressed like Spider-Man on various sides of the intersection. While I found it amusing, I couldn’t help but wonder if seeing multiple heroes competing for attention — or, more importantly, a headless Mickey lighting a cigarette — would ruin the magic for kids.
Train with the Avengers
Leave it to me to visit Las Vegas and find an interactive Avengers attraction a la Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure at Disneyland’s Avengers Campus. Marvel Avengers Station is an immersive exhibit located inside the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino.
Guests can see memorabilia from “The Avengers” films and participate in an interactive mission that involves them lending the heroes a hand as they fight to defeat the bad guys.
We purchased our tickets on the website before we arrived and spent about an hour exploring the exhibit. We visited without kids, but it probably goes without saying that this would be a perfect activity for families that also gives you a break from the hot Las Vegas sun.
See Cinderella’s slipper
The large high-heeled slipper that sits high in the sky above Las Vegas Boulevard once sat atop the sign for the city’s Silver Slipper casino. The casino has long since been demolished, but the “Cinderella”-inspired footwear was given a second life by the city’s Neon Museum.
In addition to the Silver Slipper, Neon Museum visitors can peruse a “neon boneyard” with historic signage from Las Vegas hotels and casinos. Seeing these relics and imagining what Las Vegas was like in its early days was one of the highlights of my trip. If I get a chance to visit again, I’ll go at night so I can see the signs — and the slipper — in all their glittering glory.
Drink a massive milkshake
Once I started comparing Vegas to Disneyland, I couldn’t stop. When I saw that there was a Black Tap location inside The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, I more or less insisted that we stop in for one of the eatery’s indulgent, over-the-top milkshakes.
Black Tap also has a presence — and the same gravity-defying milkshakes — at Disneyland’s Downtown Disney District, so it was an obvious choice. I went with The CakeShake, a cake batter shake with a rainbow sprinkle-covered rim and an entire slice of funfetti cake on top. I even surprised myself with how much of it I was able to polish off.
Hop on the monorail
I prefer to explore new cities on foot, but after walking 5 miles in the 110-degree Vegas heat, I was more than happy to take a ride on an air-conditioned “highway in the sky.” I didn’t even realize Las Vegas had a monorail until I saw signage inside one of the casinos, but it was a convenient and inexpensive way to get from one end of the Strip to the other.
The Las Vegas Monorail runs from the MGM Grand Las Vegas to Sahara Las Vegas, with five stops in between. You can purchase one-ride tickets or multiday passes. While it won’t drop you off at Disneyland, the experience is reminiscent of the classic Disneyland mode of transportation.
Soar over the American West
Soarin’ Over California is a favorite Disneyland attraction, but you don’t have to visit the Southern California park to get the same immersive, multi-sensory flight experience.
FlyOver is one of Las Vegas’ newest attractions. The company that brought the experience to the Strip worked with Rick Rothschild, a former Walt Disney Imagineer who was on the team that developed the Soarin’ attraction at Disneyland.
Riders sit in front of a 52.5-foot spherical screen in suspended seats that lift off the ground and “take flight” when the show begins. Mists, breezes and scents enhance the experience.
FlyOver is located across from Park MGM Las Vegas and next door to the city’s Hard Rock Cafe. It is currently featuring “The Real Wild West” and “Iceland” shows; you can purchase tickets to see one or both during your visit.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Las Vegas as much as I did.
Sure, I had fun wandering through the casinos and gambling away some of my birthday money, but I’m glad I looked beyond the slot machines and Blackjack tables to find the theme park side of Vegas.
Featured photo courtesy of Maximilian Müller/Getty Images.
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