Along with the regular warm and fuzzy feelings of family and tradition, Thanksgiving evokes the best feeling of all: time off. No work, no school, no Girl Scout meetings. However, for many folks in the LGBTQ+ community, holidays can be difficult to navigate with unsupportive relatives and inappropriate questioning. So, many queer folks opt to celebrate with chosen family at “Friendsgiving” events.
Luckily, I am personally surrounded by an incredible support system filled with love and good intentions. Yet — I am running away for the holidays, and I am taking my partner and daughter with me! We opted to ditch the classic traditions and take our little family on the road for the first installment of “LGBTQ+ Family Vacation.” The premise of this reoccurring column feature is simple: find out which cities are feasible for LGBTQ+ families to travel to. New cities can be stressful to take any children to, but compounded with the constant dormant fear of queer safety in new spaces, weekend getaways can feel a little daunting with a little one in tow. So we’re here to do the research for you! First stop? Viva Las Gaygas!
“The Las Vegas LGBTQ+ community enjoys support from every level. Major hospitality corporations score 100 on the HRC CEI,” Ross White from the Las Vegas LGBTQ Center said in an interview. “Most of our federal elected officials are supportive. Our convention and visitors bureau provides marketing outreach to LGBTQ tourists. We are the host city to many LGBTQ conventions and festivals.”
From the greater Los Angeles area, there are a few options for getting to Las Vegas: flying, coach buses and driving. Each option has its perks. Flying, of course, is the quickest and arguably easiest mode of travel. From LAX to Las Vegas Airport takes just over five hours to get there. Tickets on average range from $50 to $80, which seems not so bad… until you factor in buying tickets for three (or more if your family is bigger!). So that price tag adds up pretty quickly for a long weekend. Flying is out.
Coach busses are always a fun option (if you are a young 20-something-year-old). Tickets cost $20-30 per person one way – so double it if you want to go home at the end of the trip. Travel time is anywhere from five to seven hours, depending on what time of day you leave.
Driving yourself is only marginally faster, but the biggest perk is the price tag. The cost of gas to drive to Las Vegas for us will be roughly $50 one way, but that’s to get all three of us there, rather than the price of one ticket on a plane or bus. So driving it is! Driving your family for six hours into the desert may seem daunting, especially depending on the age of your little one(s). But we plan to go later in the evening to A) beat traffic and B) help time pass faster for our snoozing 8-year-old.
Once in Las Vegas, the name of the game is getting to/from and around the Strip. Just over three miles, not everyone wants to walk a 5k repeatedly all weekend. Have you ever tried to force cardio on an unwilling kid? It doesn’t go well. Rideshare apps are definitely an option for those staying in hotels just off the strip. They are convenient and plentiful, but can add up quickly for a frugal family! Plus, then you have to decide whether to lug a carseat around Las Vegas for the day or risk your child’s safety in the rideshare.
The transportation option we are most excited about is the Las Vegas Monorail. A new experience for all three of us, it almost seems like too good of a deal. It runs along the backside of the entire strip, with seven different stops. Traveling at up to 50 miles per hour, it is certainly faster than walking. Prices range from $5 per ticket, to $13 for a day pass (a steal for those with a busy itinerary). For more information, visit the LasVegas Monorail website.
Somehow, the budget for food while on vacation never seems to be big enough. The longer you are one vacation and the more mouths you have to feed are all very important factors to consider. The first decision we made when looking into this trip was finding a hotel with a kitchenette. That way we are able to make some of the simpler meals, like breakfast or sandwiches, and save our money for the fancy buffets! Another good idea when looking into hotels is see if they offer complementary breakfast. Why pay for Egg McMuffins three days in a row? You will feel sluggish and wasteful.
Another important question to address when traveling during the holidays (especially one largely centered around food): where to eat Thanksgiving Day? Surprisingly, a lot of restaurants are hosting delicious-looking Thanksgiving Dinners for their guests. Considering how flashy and fabulous much of Las Vegas is, we can only imagine how Sin City dresses up Turkey Day.
For those looking for a casual and/or non-traditional meal (after all, you are already celebrating Thanksgiving in a non-traditional location), Guy Fieri’s El Burro Borracho is serving a unique Thanksgiving menu, including mole verde braised turkey and pumpkin empenadas.
Or, theres the more familiar fare at STK, a frequenter of Las Vegas Pride located at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The classic steakhouse is offering roasted organic turkey breast, confit thighs, cranberry, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and foie gras apple stuffing. For the most important course, dessert, save room for pumpkin pie with spiced chantilly, candied pepitas and salted caramel. Prices are $65 per adult, $32 for children 12 and under, and $15 for dessert). YUM! Still worried about bringing the rugrats? Have no fear:
“All families are welcome to celebrate Thanksgiving at STK’s various locations. In addition to excellent food, both holiday specials and classics, STK provides a unique vibe dining experience,” Blaire Ritter, a STK representative, said in an interview. “The Las Vegas location will also be offering a kid’s menu so that all our guests (big and small) can enjoy their holiday favorites.”
Fun fact for readers who have no intention of going to Las Vegas for this delicious food: STK has a Los Angeles location too! For more information, visit the STK website.
As we all know — the real reason to vacation in Las Vegas is all the fun things to do! Bringing the whole family may seem to limit your options, but trust me, there is more than enough wholesome fun for everyone. For example, MGM Grand seems to has mastered fun for the family, from the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, to Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage, to (my favorite) the Adventuredome at Circus Circus. And the bet part of all? There are casinos just a few steps away if you get the chance to sneak off for a moment! I suspect my partner and I will spend a lot of time taking tuns sneaking off for some Bingo while the other one rides rollercoasters with out daughter. What great teamwork.
Perhaps you are looking for slightly more enriching fun for your kids? That’s where the Smith Center comes in! My family are all big fans of the arts and museums. Naturally, we want to check out the local theatre. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is running November 26 – December 1, a perfect way to further the holiday season. This is one of my personal favorite holiday movies (any iteration!), so it will be very exciting to see it come to life, while sharing the magic of live production with my daughter.
“The Smith Center welcomes all families, we consider ourselves Las Vegas’ living room where guests can enjoy the very best of Broadway, Dance and Theater,” Smith Center representative Taylor Pickle said in an interview. “Aside from our premiere programming we also have a robust education department that provides dozens upon dozens of student matinees, free of charge, to students throughout the school year. It’s wonderful to see all these young faces enter through the doors of The Smith Center and experience the arts.”
A trip to Las Vegas is also the perfect time to discover the Las Vegas Discovery Children’s Museum, conveniently located right around the corner from the Smith Center! Considered the top-rated interactive museum, it is a 3-story museum with nine different exhibits – a must-go destination for families visiting Las Vegas. Most recently, the Museum will be gearing up for the holidays with a “Nutcracker” ballet exhibit (November 29 – December 6) and winter activities, including creating their own snow globe from December 7 – 13.
Thanksgiving is quickly nearing, and with plans like this, we couldn’t be more excited. To the queer families like mine that are nervous to take extended trips with their young children: just do it. You won’t regret it.
“Las Vegas is an international destination for tourism and business conferences,” White said. “We welcome over 45 million visitors from all over the world every year. The community in Southern Nevada is considered a safe and inclusive travel destination for everyone.”
Are you ready to be one of millions enjoying all that Las Vegas can offer queer families? Check back in early December for a review of our LGBTQ+ Family Vacation!
This column is the first in a reoccurring series about LGBTQ+ family travel. For more information, please email [email protected]