… or, the time we gambled and made $1
Las Vegas was near the top of our agenda for our West Coast road trip for two reasons. Firstly, neither of us had ever visited before and we wanted to experience the craziness of the strip and opulent hotels. Secondly, we were absolutely set upon taking a helicopter trip into the Grand Canyon.
Typical California Dreamin’ style, we hopped into our convertible Mustang and drove from Hollywood to Las Vegas. Before leaving the UK, we’d downloaded US maps onto our satnav, so the route was very simple, lasting just under 4 hours. We stopped in an odd place called Primm Valley for a comfort break and a coffee, but you could easily drive straight through.
$75 per person. There are so many dining options in Las Vegas, but you will struggle to find a meal for a budget price. That just isn’t Vegas! As usual, we were careful with our money and aren’t big shoppers or gamblers. Expect meals, even breakfast, to cost in the region of $25 each. The portions are huge, so we only ate two meals a day and topped up with snacks from CVS.
Happily, my £100 per night hotel budget went quite far in Vegas. We stayed at the New York-New York for £90 per night. The room was huge, with views of the iconic rollercoaster which sweeps around the hotel (although miles from the nearest elevator…) The Big Apple theming was incredible – the best I’ve seen outside of a Disney park – and we love strolling around the “city streets”, eating pizza pie and listening to the amazing duelling pianos in an Irish Bar.
What to do
As soon as we’d checked into our room, we slapped on some factor 50 and headed for the strip, eager to soak up the atmosphere. We marvelled at Caesar’s Palace and the Venetian, watched the Bellagio Fountains (I do have a thing for musical dancing fountains) and did a spot of shopping.
A cocktail of the glamour of Dubai, the charm of Disney and with an unashamed luxury all of its own, Las Vegas is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. However, with the crowds of people walking up and down the street, the need for escalators and bridges simply to cross the road and the over-the-top opulence of the famous hotels, I found the experience a little overwhelming.
Eschewing the glitz of the strip for the comforts of the New York-New York, we grabbed some enormous pizza slices for dinner and decided to gamble for the very first time. With childlike giggles, we found a roulette slot machine and placed some cautious bets. After an exhilarating few minutes, and $1 richer, we dashed off to buy a giant cookie sandwich before our luck changed.
The main draw of Las Vegas for us was the promise of a helicopter trip to the Grand Canyon. There are many different types of aeroplane and helicopter trips, but we were set upon flying inside the canyon, being able to land and spending some time on the ground. These requirements meant we were looking at the more expensive trips offered, and in the end we booked the Grand Celebration Tour with Papillon Helicopters.
After a smooth transfer from the hotel to the Boulder City airport, we were checked in and given a short safety demonstration before boarding the helicopter. The helicopters take a party of six, plus the pilot, so there’s a good view out of the panoramic glass windows from every seat.
I’d never flown in a helicopter before and found the experience so exhilarating. We soared over the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, before swooping down into the Canyon. Up close, the scale and grandeur of the rust red walls, and the dramatic change from rocky ravine to smooth grassy plain, is simply staggering.
We touched down on a small bend in the canyon for plentiful photo opportunities and a champagne picnic. We were so busy explored the area, taking in the magnificent views and toasting our wonderful experience, that our 20 minutes on the ground passed very quickly. Hastily grabbing the food we had forgotten to eat, we hopped back into the helicopter and took off to the iconic sounds of Highway to the Danger Zone. Top Gun eat your heart out.
Our Grand Canyon helicopter tour was such a memorable experience and one of the highlights of the entire trip. It’s certainly a premium product, but it offers a unique experience which, for me, is far more valuable than the heady pleasures of Las Vegas.