Piercing the sky 1,149 feet above ground, the Stratosphere Tower is officially cited as the tallest structure in both Las Vegas and the entire state of Nevada. It was a fact I kept in mind when I found myself elevated more than a thousand feet in the air and at eye level with the colossal tower. Stories above the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, I soar past — and above — the Stratosphere and other Las Vegas landmarks in an ECO-Star helicopter, the “limousine of the sky.”
The EC-130, deemed the safest and most comfortable tourism-based helicopter, features wraparound windows for superior visibility and 23% more cabin space than the more common versions. This particular model seats eight (seven guests and a pilot), with front-facing leather seats and raised “theater-style” seating in the rear so everyone has a part of the view.
It only seems fitting then, that Maverick Helicopters, operating in Las Vegas for more than twenty years, boasts the top safety record of any tourism-based aviation company in the world. Their pilots have garnered over 150 awards for safety and customer service, and they're the sole company to be named twice as the Travel Channel’s “10 Best Helicopter Thrills.” I wanted an unrivalled bird’s eye view of Las Vegas, and Maverick — awarded to TripAdvisor’s Hall of Fame (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 classes) and holders of a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence (2016) — was my go-to choice.
Upon arrival to the Maverick Helicopters Las Vegas Boulevard terminal (located just near the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign), myself and other of-age guests are offered champagne while waiting in the spacious and comfortable Maverick lounge. Not a bad start, I think.
I receive a plastic card with my designated flight group — the other six people waiting in the room — and am escorted to the aircraft bay alongside them. Here we're briefed on safety procedures, including how and when to board and exit the craft, how to fasten our seatbelt and harness, and the policies we are to respect while in the air.
Moments after the pilot opens the aircraft doors, the people around me take their assigned seats (per a seating arrangement determined by the pilot and based on the passengers’ weights) and I settle in next to the pilot himself; a man named Matthew. I put on my given headset with microphone (allowing the pilot and the passengers to communicate), strap on my harness, secure my seat belt, and take a breath.
As we rise vertically into the cool, night air, a pre-apology comes from Matthew — “It’s windy, so our time in the air tonight might be a little bumpy.” I can feel my own anticipation building along with others' as we lifted higher and higher, the nearby buildings of the Las Vegas Strip growing smaller and smaller. In that moment I knew this had to be the best way to really see Vegas.
Our time in the air lasts about thirteen minutes, taking us from the South end of the Strip (near Luxor and Mandalay Bay) to Vegas’ must-see landmarks, including a pass over historic Fremont Street. Everything from the towering Stratosphere to the sprawling opulence of the Wynn became dwarfed, though no less impressive; to quote that all-too-often referenced line from Titanic, I really felt like king of the world.
Most importantly, throughout the night I felt confident we were in good, capable hands. Having a front row seat for this unique vantage point of Las Vegas, one of the greatest cities in the world, was a thrilling time — one I won’t forget any time soon. City of Lights, the Entertainment Capital of the World; Vegas has almost as many names as it does forms of entertainment. A helicopter tour might not scream “Vegas” — the name conjures images of casinos, gambling, shows and buffets — but this isn’t just a form of entertainment, it’s an experience.
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