Las Vegas has gone through many personality changes in its history: Mormon stronghold, mobster stronghold, family megaresort destination, and gambling mecca. By the time we moved there in 2005, Vegas had firmly re-embraced its Sin City image with its infamous “What happens here, stays here” marketing campaign. Short haul flights into the city were always filled with general merriment – passengers getting a head start on boozing and chatting up strangers. (Flights out of the city, on the other hand, were sad, somber affairs with people nursing hangovers and regrets.) With a 5-, 3-, and 1-year-old in tow, I always looked a little out of place on those flights. People would glance askance at me, haven’t you heard that Vegas isn't for families anymore? I’d shrug back, you'd be surprised. Vegas has a little something for everyone.
Indeed, there is plenty of fun to be had with kids in Las Vegas. We never tire of seeing the Bellagio fountains, followed by a stroll through the Conservatory/Botanical Gardens and a quick stop at Jean Philippe’s chocolate fountain. Sometimes we catch a Cirque show. And we slowly rotate through the kid-friendly attractions at other hotels: Adventuredome at Circus Circus, Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage….
But even now with just a couple week visit each summer, our favorite activity is going to see the outdoor movies at The District at Green Valley Ranch. Free movies and popcorn every Friday evening! What more do you need?
Quite a bit, as it turns out.
I’m a little anal about getting good seats. So when I first found out about the outdoor movies, I decided to get there an hour and half early to secure a prime position on the lawn. My husband could join us late when he got out of work. In theory, it sounded easy enough. The kids were well-trained in the crossing-the-parking-lot-with-Mommy drill: I carried the baby in my arms while the other two hung onto my pants pockets on either side. I just needed to bring a couple blankets to mark our spot while we ran into Whole Goods to grab some sandwiches.
But it doesn’t take an hour and a half to eat a sandwich, even with chips and a drink. And 90 to 120 minutes of movie is a long time to lie flat on the ground or propped on your elbow(s). So the next time, I brought a couple blankets, a couple pillows, and a soccer ball to kick around while we waited. I put the blankets and a pillow in a backpack, carried the baby and the soccer ball in my arms, and had each walking child carry their own pillow in their free hands that were not clutching my pants pockets.
But the little ones were getting drowsy before the end of the movie and evenings can be cool, even in Las Vegas. And the three kids were fighting over the single soccer ball. So the next time, I brought double the blankets to lie upon and to lie under, 5 pillows (one for each person), a soccer ball and some extra toys. I separated the blankets, two pillows and toys into two backpacks and slung one on each shoulder. I carried the baby and soccer ball in my arms, and had my oldest child carry two pillows, my middle child carry one pillow, while they grasped my pants pockets as we crossed the lot.
For a while, I was good with that. But then one day, while browsing in REI, I spotted the Ice Cream Ball. It’s a portable ice cream maker that is shaped like a ball. How much fun would it be to make ice cream while we waited for the movie to start?!?! We could sit in a circle and roll the ball back and forth between us while singing songs. We could vote on the flavor each week. Think of the family bonding! I bought it on the spot.
So I distributed 4 blankets, 5 pillows, extra toys, soccer ball, ice cream ball, and some plastic spoons and bowls into a bunch of backpacks. Then I carefully measured out half and half, sugar, and vanilla, and packed them into a cooler with some rock salt, ice, a can of whipped cream and sprinkles. I slung a backpack on each shoulder and carried the cooler in one hand. My older two children each hauled their own backpacks. The baby was forced to practice walking, supported by me on one side and my 5-year-old on the other. My 3-year-old clung to the cooler’s handle, adding deadweight to an already heavy load.
But we arrived safely and still early. After we finished our Whole Foods sandwiches, I prepared the ice cream ball, sat us in a circle, and started the fun. We rolled the ball back and forth and back and forth between us. After two minutes, the kids got bored and ran off to fight over the soccer ball, and I was stuck shaking the ball by myself for the next 20 minutes. We never even got to the songs!
But when the ice cream was ready, everyone came running back. I spooned out the ice cream. My 5-year-old squirted the whipped cream. My 3-year-old shook out the sprinkles. My 1-year-old licked everyone's spoons. We voted for strawberry ice cream for next time. And that is family bonding for you.
Vanilla Ice Cream Ball
1 pint of half and half
1/2 cup of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
1 can whipped cream (optional)
1 jar of sprinkles and other toppings (optional)
You will also need:
1 ice cream ball or other ice cream maker
1 bag of ice
1 cup or more of rock salt
1. Fill the ice end of the ice cream maker with as much ice as possible and add 1/2 cup of rock salt. Close and tighten the lid with your hand only. Do not use the plastic wrench to tighten the lid.
2. Add the half and half, sugar and vanilla into the metal canister end of the ice cream maker. Be sure to leave at least one inch of space at the top. Close and tighten the lid with your hand only.
3. Continually roll and shake the ball. After 10 minutes, open the ice cream end of the ball with the plastic wrench. Scrape the sides of the canister with a plastic or wooden spoon and mix the cream. Reclose and tighten the lid with your hand only.
4. Open the ice end of the ball with the plastic wrench and empty out the excess water. Add more ice and 1/3 a cup of rock salt. Reclose and tighten the lid with your hand only.
5. Roll and shake the ball for another 5-10 minutes. Repeat steps 3 and 4 if necessary until the ice cream has frozen to desired consistency.