Innocent Fun

Some not-so-sinful Las Vegas activities

By: Anne Burke

It’s no big secret that clients go to Las Vegas to be naughty and not nice. But with Santa making his list and checking it twice, the holidays are no time to take chances. Fortunately, this citadel of fleshly temptation offers lots of G-rated fun for clients who are looking for more city and less sin in their Vegas holiday.

A good place for clients to start is at the House of Blues’ legendary Gospel Brunch at Mandalay Bay. These Sunday orgies of faith and Southern-style food have been popping up everywhere in recent years, but the unlikely juxtaposition of people shouting “Hallelujah!” not a few yards from the repetitive ka-ching of slot machines makes this brunch all the more fun in an only-in-Vegas way.

On a recent Sunday morning, a singer wearing a red gown that showed off her Aretha-like curves raised the microphone to her lips: “Do I have any witnesses in the house today?” She didn’t have to ask twice. With fingers greasy from shrimp and fried chicken, diners rose to their feet and raised palms to the ceiling or waved red cloth napkins.

The music starts about 45 minutes after the doors open, giving guests ample time to return to the buffet line for seconds. This is elastic-waistband food: hickory-smoked bacon, cheddar-cheese grits, Creole chicken jambalaya and, of course, the biscuits and gravy that lend the brunch its tagline: “Praise the lord and pass the biscuits.”

Though Jesus is clearly the man of the hour here, the show aims for inclusivity. A huge sign reading “Unity in Diversity” hangs over the stage. Regardless of clients’ faith, the House of Blues is a not-to-be-missed venue for the sake of its decor alone. The rough wood surfaces evoke an old blues shack and the walls are decorated with wildly colorful art that pays tribute to the African roots of America’s blues masters.

The stomach fed and the soul stirred, the next stop on this suitable-for-all-ages tour is the Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage. The Atlantic bottlenose dolphins who live and play in the four connected pools here are probably familiar to clients who have spent time in Las Vegas. But only recently did The Mirage make it possible for visitors to interact with these marine mammals alongside the professional trainers.

At $500 a person, the Mirage’s Trainer for a Day program will probably be best for clients looking for a special gift for a dolphin-loving friend or family member. The cost includes a full day of interaction with these smart and friendly animals, plus a catered lunch on a private, poolside patio and mementoes to take home.

Heather Harmon, a facilitator for the program, explained that the day begins with breakfast at 9:45 a.m., after which participants learn the hand signals that trainers use to communicate with dolphins. Then, the trainers-for-a-day don wetsuits and get in the pool, where much of the real work takes place. For a client who wants to brag about kissing a dolphin this is just the thing. Harmon said that participants are allowed to give the animals rub downs and smooches just like the pros.

The trainer-for-a-day fee also includes admission to Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden, adjacent to the dolphin facility. The dense foliage, trickling waterfalls and eerie drumbeats that play in the background provide a jungle ambience perfect for checking out the white tigers and lions that sprawl under huge shade trees and stare at tourists as if to ask, “What are you looking at?”

With more and more activities vying for clients’ attention on the Strip, it’s easy to forget that Las Vegas is surrounded by spectacular desert scenery and a lake often described as Nevada’s crown jewel.

Among outfitters selling sightseeing trips is Annie Bananie’s Wild West Tours, a boutique operation run by the Bronx-born Ann Safriet. At 66, Safriet appreciates the fact that many travelers like to feel special and pampered. Safriet telephones each passenger the evening prior to departure for a briefing on the following day’s agenda. The 6½-hour tour includes lunch at pretty Callville Bay Marina at Lake Mead and a quick tour of the awesome Valley of Fire. Transportation is a 13-passenger van with comfy seats and a raised roof. For bigger groups, Safriet charters a bus.

Safriet’s secret weapon is her ruggedly handsome bus driver and guide, Buddy “Sierra Sam” Thompson. Decked out head-to-toe in cowboy gear, this native Texan knows how to charm the ladies and gents with his corny humor and impressive knowledge of Southwest lore, geology and history.


Annie Bananie’s Wild West Tours: $99.50 per person. Commission: 15 percent.

House of Blues Gospel Brunch: Adults, $39;
11 and under, $20. Seatings: 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Mirage Dolphin Trainer for a Day: $500 per person includes lunch, 8 x 10 photo and choice of T-shirt, beach towel, hat or bag. Participants may bring an observer for an additional $150. Minimum age: 13.