The idea of hopping into a helicopter and leaving the frenetic
Strip for a champagne picnic at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is
quite enticing all by itself. Add in that you’re back to the
glitter and glamour of the casinos in just a few hours, and it’s
really hard to resist.
My four-hour (door-to-door) trip with Papillon Grand Canyon
Helicopters which is self-described as “the world’s largest and
most experienced helicopter sightseeing company” and has been doing
trips here since 1965 began just after breakfast. Still sipping on
a cup of coffee, I was picked up by a van at my hotel and delivered
to the nearby Executive Terminal of McCarran Airport, located just
off The Strip. For this adventure I would be flying solo, as my
spouse was busy with a poker tournament.
After the formality of signing papers and getting weighed in, I
made my final visit to the ladies room (there is no opportunity to
use a restroom again during the trip) and waited for my call to
board the rainbow-hued helicopter. Boarding order is determined by
weight distribution (the attendants were discreet during weigh-in),
and views are good whether seated in the front or back of the
Through ear protectors, our pilot described and pointed out the
sights on the 45-minute flight to the canyon. We passed over Lake
Mead and exclusive Lake Las Vegas, where diva Celine Dion has a
mega-home, and then flew over Hoover Dam.
Papillon’s tours are designed to spend maximum flight time over
scenic attractions and wilderness areas untouched by man and
inaccessible by foot. Thrills are also part of the formula. Several
times during my flight, the helicopter seemed to be flying close to
the ground and then continued out over a steep drop-off, providing
a vast eagle’s-eye view that made my stomach drop.
At the west end of the Grand Canyon, about 30 miles from the
main tourist area, our helicopter dropped below the rim and danced
around for a while before touching down on an interior canyon
clearing just above the Colorado River. Our pilot unloaded lunches
packed in individual English-style picnic baskets and escorted us
to a table under an authentic ramada, a Hualapai Indian cooking
shelter. Toasting our good fortune at enjoying a warm, sunny day in
such a spectacular location, we all sipped champagne and then
downed simple, but satisfying, lunches. I saved my cookie for
After eating, we explored the Native American Hualapai land a
bit and snapped some photos. A few more helicopters landed,
providing us the chance to gaze in wonder at what we had just done
ourselves. After a half-hour on the ground, we loaded back into the
helicopter for the journey back to town.
The pilot approached The Strip from downtown and slowly
maneuvered us west so we could view all the casinos. It made me a
bit queasy to see the Stratosphere’s high-flying thrill rides
located atop the tower 100 floors above the ground, some literally
hanging over the sides the most queasy I felt during the entire
After touching down, we all exited the helicopter with big
smiles. Back at my hotel, I shared my cookie with my husband while
I told him about my grand adventure.
Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters: “The Grand Celebration” tour
starts at $329. Other excursions include limo pick-up and
state-of-the-art quiet EC-130 Eco-Star helicopters, a full-day
rafting trip and a neon night tour. Papillon runs 25 to 60 flights
per day. It is advised to make reservations at least 48 hours in
advance, but last-minute seats are sometimes available.
Sales and marketing associate Christina M. Gannon credits
Papillon’s premiere position for being able to offer little extras
that make each trip special.
“At Papillon, experience is the difference, and great service is
the key,” she said. “All Papillon pilots are top flight, have
recorded thousands of hours of flying time and are trained to fly
all areas of the Canyon in an environmentally conscientious
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