Flying High -- In Comfort

Package combines a helicopter ride/tour of Grand Canyon with a luxury room at the Hyatt Regency

By: Kathy Espin

For those who prefer to experience the great outdoors through the windows of a limousine, a stay at the Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas Resort combined with a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon could be the perfect getaway.

The Hyatt Regency, a Mobil Four-Star Resort, sits on a 320-acre, man-made lake, just west of Lake Mead, about 17 miles from McCarran International Airport. Across the lake from the hotel is an exclusive residential area, where mansions appear to spring up from the rugged hillside that rises from the shore. Jack Nicklaus owns a home there and Celine Dion just moved in. Soon-to-open nearby are a Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a retail village.

The décor in the Hyatt Regency and its 496 rooms are Moroccan a refreshing change from the Italian/tropical options in the city. A pair of huge resort pools connect to a white-sand beach at the lake’s edge.

From there, visitors are whisked away in an electric-powered water taxi (motorboats are prohibited), across the lake, to the helicopter pad for a VIP champagne tour of the Grand Canyon, on Sundance Helicopters. Guests are given a quick safety lesson, then strapped into the six-seat Eurocopter Astar, which soon lifts off and skims over the desert floor, moving toward Lake Mead.

The 45-minute flight takes in the entire length of Lake Mead and includes a fly-by over Hoover Dam.

Over headphones provided for each passenger, the pilot/guide points out a dormant volcano, defunct gold mines, wildlife including big horn sheep and antelope and other sights.

The helicopter flight is smooth and the pilot warns the passengers before each banking turn. The experience is much less stomach-churning than an IMAX movie of the same trip.

Soon, the pilot points out the wall of mountains that form the western edge of the canyon. While Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” plays over the headsets, the helicopter climbs to clear the ridge then drops back down for a breathtaking, in-your-face panorama of the Grand Canyon. After a quick fly-over, including some up-close time with the canyon walls, the pilot makes the 3,200-foot descent into the canyon.

The landing site is on the banks of the Colorado River. The short, but steep, trail from the landing pad to the boat dock on the water is the only time passengers’ shoes touch solid ground, during the entire trip. The rock steps that lead to the dock are rugged and have no handrails. The trail is just harsh enough to give the average rhinestone cowboy that back-to-nature glow. From the dock, a pontoon boat takes passengers on a river tour, complete with champagne and picnic lunches served in individual wicker boxes. (The champagne is non alcoholic in keeping with the laws and customs of the landlords, the Hualapai Indians.)

The helicopter pilot serves as waiter and valet, while the boat captain points out interesting formations in the canyon walls, looming more than a mile straight up.

After the 30-minute boat ride, it’s back to the dock for the return flight to Lake Las Vegas. On the way, the pilot points out the “Bowl of Fire” red sandstone formations, which served as out-of-this-world scenery for “Star Trek” movies and television shows. The pilot’s patter is alternated with music from the Grand Canyon Suite and spaghetti-western themes.

The flight ends where it began at the helipad, on the edge of Lake Las Vegas. After 2½ hours of a mesmerizing ride, the water taxi drops passengers at the Hyatt Regency’s private dock.

The deluxe helicopter tour costs $379 or more per person and standard room rates at the Hyatt can run as high as $559 per night.

But where else can you enjoy the thrill of a desert adventure without breaking a sweat?

800-554-9288 or, for Sundance Helicopter Tours, 800- 653-1881.