Las Vegas

Family Vacation: House Boat on Lake Mead

My extended family is close.  Still, I wasn’t sure how awesome our announced family vacation in Vegas would be (because ‘Vegas close’ is a different close).  I quickly learned however that my definition of close was about to be redefined, as this particular family trip would be on a houseboat.  That’s right, 3 sisters, 3 husbands, 5 nieces and nephews, 1 girlfriend, and one child-in-womb on 1 boat.  It was going to be a ‘white on rice’ close.

My aunt had discovered Lake Mead, just to the South of Las Vegas, and decided that it would make a great vacation spot.  Unlike many natural Nevada spots, Lake Mead has a lot in common with the Vegas Strip.

  • First of all, it shouldn’t be there.  Lake Mead was formed as part of the Hoover Dam project.  If nature had formed this 112 mile body of water, the setting probably wouldn’t be a desert.
  • There are ample places to tan, as there is very little shade anywhere because it is in the middle of the desert.
  • It’s open year round for camping hiking, boating, fishing and kayaking (with an average temperature of 80 degrees May through September).
  • You can drink whatever you bring on board (although it is always best to drink responsibly, and the Lake Mead equivalent to falling on the sidewalk is drowning)

So, yes, before we arrived, we knew Lake Mead could be fun.  We still weren’t, however, sold on the 12 1/2 person pack-the-houseboat plan.

You can see how low the water level was by the different colors on the rocks.

Our vacation began as we parked at the Lake early on Saturday morning, and loaded on the tons of pre-bought food and drinks.  While the boat was prepped, my Dad and I made sure there were plenty of rafts for floating around the lake (and bought a little bit more liquore…just in case).

No special license is necessary to operate a houseboat on Lake Mead, but there was a lengthy, mandatory training session for the soon to be Captain before we could head out.  Luckily for us, my Uncle Jim was in the coastguard, so his training session was significantly shorter.

It took about 30 minutes to troll through the no wake zone and finally get out into the lake, but it was immediately apparent that space wouldn’t be as much of a problem as we had worried.  With an upper deck and (I don’t know the nautical word for it) back porch, in addition to the inner cabin, we had all spread out and settled in without infringing on each other’s space before we hit the open water.  For anyone else considering a houseboat vacation, this would be my First tip: You will be outside most of the time.  Space isn’t too much of a problem because, if push comes to shove, you can literally take a flying leap…into the water.

As expected, Lake Mead was gorgeous. The water is a teal blue that was crystal clear as we cruised around.  Jade and I just sat back and soaked up the scenery, with a margarita of course, as the boat was guided along an already charted path.  Tip number two: Have someone who is a boating or map enthusiast on-board and let them take charge of the route.  If you’re considering a houseboat vacation, someone in your party loves the idea of boats.  They’re important to have around because, as cool as I think maps can be, I like swimming…so my mind wasn’t always on figuring out where we were headed, catch my ‘a’drift?  My uncle and my cousin, both boating and mapping enthusiasts, had already plotted out the spots that they wanted to see, and took control of our direction.

After a few hours, we anchored down and had lunch.  Tip Three: Pay special attention on how to tie the boat off.  We knew exactly what we were doing, but with the muddy shore, it took over half an hour to secure our boat.

Eating sandwiches on the top deck felt amazing with the sun blazing down. Afterwards, we were all really hot- so we took turns jumping off the slide into the water! Yes- our houseboat had a slide.  Even though the water is kind of chilly, it felt really refreshing after being in the sun all day.

This was our template for our vacation our on Lake Mead; drive, swim, eat, drink, swim, drink, sleep.  Since the lake is so big, it seemed like we had the entire place to ourselves, only seeing a few other people the entire time!

At night, things got a bit more cramped, with all of us sleeping inside.  The nieces and nephews + girlfriend slept on pull out couches in the main room, while the parents sequestered themselves in the bedrooms.  All in all, it felt more like camping than staying in a floating house.  Tip: Houseboats are small, sound travels.  If you get up early, be considerate of the others.

Renting a houseboat turned out to be a great family vacation.  The entire trip was arranged by my Mom and her sisters, and Jade and I were pretty much just along for the ride.  While a lot of planning went into putting the trip together, everyone involved was passionate about making it happen, which I consider to be by far the most important part of planning any type of unique travel.

Final Tip: If you are thinking about taking a houseboat vacation, consider your own interest and desire to boat.  For a successful trip, you’ll need to plan ahead; food, drinks, maps, designated Captain.  Make sure this is something that you are passionate about because, if not, a houseboat vacation could quickly become a working vacation.  However, if you know someone that is taking care of all the planning, you should probably join up.

If you are interested in taking a trip out on Lake Mead, here are a few tips to help you plan your voyage:

  • Most places only rent them for 3 days/ 2 nights.
  • Summer months are more expensive.
  • No special licence needed to operate, but you will need to be strong enough to anchor the boat at night and use a sledgehammer.
  • Several Houseboat companies are Pet Friendly!
  • Our boat had a slide and a hot tub, so check out additional amenities when comparing boats.