Writing the above headline makes me think of the line from “Sweet Home Alabama” when Reese Witherspoon’s character says to an old high school friend, “You have a baby … in a bar!” Yes, we visited a casino with our 7-year-old son. We decided to drive south of Memphis to the Mississippi gaming community to discover if kid-friendly Tunica really does exist. We were only in Tunica County for a night, but it was long enough to have a little family fun at Gold Strike at MGM Resort.
To close out June, I was invited to preview the Cirque-style show, “Taganai,” at Tunica’s Gold Strike Casino. The family friendly show seemed like a good entertainment option for our son, so we decided to make a night of it. Tunica, Miss., is less than an hour drive from our home in the Memphis area, so close enough to almost feel like we were driving to Downtown Memphis to catch a show and have dinner, but far enough away that staying overnight made a lot of sense.
First, a little familiarization with Tunica. Tunica County sits on the Mississippi River just south of Memphis. It’s probably less than a 30-minute drive from Downtown Memphis. If visiting the Bluff City and you have an interest in casinos, heading down for a couple of hours makes a lot of sense. When I attended the University of Memphis in the mid-1990s, the casino scene south of the state line was still a pretty new thing. A lot of my fraternity brothers drove down for a couple of hours of fun on the weekends. I never went until late in my senior year, and even then probably only “bet” $5. I’ve always been tight with my money, so casinos aren’t really my thing.
I’ve returned many times through the years, always having fun playing $20 or $30 while watching my friends win or lose a lot more. I have great memories of watching the 2002 World Cup during the middle of the night at one of the casino bars during a friend’s bachelor party.
Fast forward to present day and I can honestly say I’ve never thought about visiting Tunica as a family. Our visit wasn’t really long enough to gauge how much fun a long weekend with a family could be. Tunica does have one or two golf courses, an outlet mall, riverboat cruises and a Mississippi River museum. I know my son would enjoy the riverboat cruise. The mall? Not so much.
So our visit to Tunica began late on a Saturday afternoon. As soon as we checked into our room in the Gold Strike tower (rumor is this is the tallest building in the state of Mississippi) we headed straight down to the indoor pool. Surprisingly, the pool wasn’t too crowded. And that was good because it’s not large.
We ended up staying in the pool too long, so we didn’t have enough time for dinner before the start of our 7 p.m. show of “Taganai.”
The show doesn’t last much longer; in fact, it ends July 13, 2014. The Millennium Theater located on the second floor of the north end of Gold Strike Casino is the home of the 90-minute show. (If you’re interested in learning more about “Taganai,” click here to read the full review I wrote about it for Memphis.about.com.)
What I realized while watching the show is how many families were in attendance. I’m not sure how many had traveled in from farther away than Memphis or if many were staying overnight in the hotel. But we definitely weren’t alone in having a child in a casino. I’m not sure how often Gold Strike Tunica puts on family friendly shows in its Millennium Theater, but I’m sure it’s part of the regular programming to lure in families.
After the show we enjoyed a late meal in the casino’s Buffet Americana. I’m not a fan of buffets but there were a lot of good items, particularly seafood.
After dinner it was back down to the pool where we stayed until its 11 p.m. closing. We also visited the pool again Sunday morning before checking out. If not for the pool, I’m not sure how much fun we would have had in Tunica as a family. But after a hectic month of June that saw me spend more nights in hotel beds than at home, it was a relaxing overnight stay. I do know Colby had a blast at the show and getting to swim with other kids in the pool three separate times.
Handling the casino.
Yes, I said “handling” the casino. Our son was really confused about what everyone was doing in the casino. He did experience it somewhat because we had to walk through to get to the theater and the restaurants. We explained to him a bit about adults playing games that cost money, but it just confused him.
It was also disappointing that in 2014 we had to walk through a casino floor with a lot of smoking. Gold Strike does have a second-floor casino that is smoke free, and that’s great. But we had to walk through the smoke to get up there. I’m not sure how the smoking policies are in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and the many other gaming communities. But my two cents: get rid of it. And that’s the marathon runner in me talking, not the dad.
Our hotel room was oh so comfortable. I could have spent three or four nights there. We were pretty high up — I’m thinking the 17th or 18th floor — and had pretty cool views out the window of the Mississippi River.
I hate to admit it now, but I stayed up until well past 1 a.m. getting work done. And it was a comfortable place to write.
Our son enjoyed watching the river below. It was just enough to contain him long enough while he waited on me to go down to the pool.
Our room was spacious and pretty spotless. Honestly, it was one of the nicest hotel rooms I’ve stayed in this year.
What I learned on this overnight stay is that Tunica is possible with children. Just make sure the hotel has a pool or a show to keep everyone entertained.