Lions, Tigers, and Dolphins, Oh My!
Written: Jul 6, 2008
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Beautiful animals, a piece of Vegas history.
Cons:Some enclosures could be larger, expensive admission fee.
The Bottom Line: It's fun, furry, and family-friendly.
The mammoth casino-hotels of the Las Vegas Strip have so many mini-attractions it would take a half dozen visits to see them all. Some are cheesy tourist traps, others are legitimate attractions worth a few extra bucks to enjoy. Siegfried & Roys Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage is both. Despite the exorbitant entrance fee, I do recommend a visit to this sanctuary to anyone who love tigers, dolphins, or Vegas history.
Know Before You Go
For years, white tigers were as synonymous with Las Vegas as, say, sequin-clad show girls. Siegfried Fishbacher and Roy Horn performed stunts and magic with these animals at the Mirage for more than thirty years. Unfortunately, the infamous tiger Montecore took a hunk out of Roys face long before I was ever able to make it to Nevada for the famed show. Rumor has it that Roy has recovered nicely, but apparently tiger attacks are bad for business. These days The Secret Gardens zoo-like habitat is the only place to see white tigers on the strip, which is probably for the better as far as the tigers are concerned. Throw in a half-dozen dolphins and youve a tourist attraction which will steadily bring in visitors even at $15.00 a head.
We searched high and low but never managed to find a discount coupon for the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. On the bright side, valet parking at the Mirage is free but for the cost of a tip. The habitat is open from 10:00 a.m. to either 5:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. daily, depending on the time of year. Guests are admitted to the attraction in fairly small groups for an orientation, so those arriving early avoid not only scorching temperatures but also lengthy lines. We visited around 11:30 and had a twenty minute wait. By the time we left forty-five minutes later, the line had become much longer.
The attractions of the Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat are located almost entirely outside, so try to pick a nice day for your visit.
The Dolphin Habitat
Upon entering the dolphin habitat, we were invited to sit on the side of the pools but asked to keep our hands out of the water. We also learned that dolphin/guest/trainer interactions is generally spontaneous, as opposed to taking place in any sort of show format. There are two main pools, one with a set of bleachers surrounding it and another smaller one where a mother and baby dolphin are currently being housed. In total we saw about six dolphins. Some seemed to be eager for human contact in interaction, and one kept popping up right near me as if to say hi. Others are content to swim in lazy circles around the pool.
There is apparently some type of immersion experience offered which allows guests to pay extra for the privilege of donning wetsuits and joining the dolphins in the water for a little petting and splashing. We saw two different groups being put through their paces during our visit. As these experiences go, this one looked fairly run of the mill except for the opportunity to pet the adorable baby dolphin.
The Secret Garden
The way the exhibit is set up makes the Secret Garden seem almost like an afterthought, but I personally found the tigers far more intriguing than the dolphins. This lush mini-zoo features probably four or five white tigers, a white lion, a leopard, several llamas, and various other exotic creatures on display. The white tigers were fairly active during our visit, particularly one who seemed to be posing for photographs and another who clearly disliked the tiger in the environment across the aisle. Some of the habitats seemed a bit small for their occupants but they all did have plenty of water, shade, and places for the animals to perch.
Apparently there are now adorable baby white tiger cubs on display. We missed them by a month, boo! I would probably pay the $15.00 all over again to see baby tigers.
More Ways to Spend Money
Guests can grab a snack at the outdoor cafe overlooking the dolphin pools. There are, of course, innumerable places to dine inside the Mirage itself, including my personal favorite the Carnegie Deli.
The Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat also offers two gift stores, one oriented toward tigers and the other toward dolphins. Both sell T-shirts, plush, and the like. Visitors will also be confronted with numerous photo ops and can then have their images juxtaposed next to fierce tigers or leaping dolphins.
If you only have time for one animal attraction, I give the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay a slight edge in terms of bang for the buck. Still, since it is no longer possible to see Siegfried and Roy live, it seems appropriate to pay homage to their Vegas legacy by at least stopping in to see their beloved tigers. Overall, this is no Shedd Aquarium or Brookfield Zoo, but its hard not to enjoy an hour spent with playful dolphins and exhibit white tigers.
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Best Suited For: Families