Joanna Booth tests her head for heights on the newest Vegas thrill rides
As we swoop up over the Las Vegas strip, the helicopter blades thrumming and our glamorous blonde pilot Michelle at the controls, I can hear the theme tune from Top Gun in my head.
This isn’t merely my imagination going into 1980s classic film overdrive – the song is being played into my earphones through the clear-as-a-bell Bose sound system in Sundance Helicopters’ new EC130T2 model. These are fittingly ‘Vegas’ – all shining gold and chrome; faster and quieter than the older models, and with more legroom and larger windows.
By next year, the entire fleet of 22 will be the new models. And since May, they’ve flown out of a shiny new terminal building at McCarran airport, complete with a VIP room so that celebrity guests – who have included Richard Branson – can wait for take-off without being mobbed.
Those Bose headphones play a selection of tailored tunes (the music from Indiana Jones as we swoop 3,200ft down into the Grand Canyon), and an informative commentary as we take our 45-minute ride. After touching down on the quiet Western rim of the canyon – Sundance has a relationship with the Hualapai tribe allowing them to land – we have a suitably sophisticated champagne breakfast, and take countless photos of the canyon and the blingtastic helicopter before zooming back.
Our Grand Canyon Picnic package was $503, and though these experiences aren’t cheap, no client will be disappointed. Sundance, which offers commission on its packages, is the only helicopter operator to offer all clients limousine pick-up from their hotel, so they’ll feel special from the start.
A helicopter isn’t the only way for visitors to get a bird’s-eye view of Vegas. For a more sedate thrill, recommend the High Roller, the world’s tallest observational wheel. At 168 metres it’s 33 metres higher than the London Eye, and has 28 cabins, each of which can hold a maximum of 40 people. There were only six when I rode it, so it felt really spacious.
The view is stupendous – you soar up over Paris’s mini Eiffel, the towers of New York New York, the golden glint of The Mirage and the swoop of The Wynn, and you can see the Bellagio’s fountains dancing below. Open from 11am to 2am, day rides are $19.95 and night rides $34.95.
It opened in April, and sits between the Flamingo and The Quad, anchoring The Linq, a new shopping and entertainment quarter that is home to a range of small, one-off outlets, from Sprinkles cupcakes, which even has a vending machine so you can buy a treat at any hour of the day or night, to Brooklyn Bowl, where you can knock down the pins while listening to a live band.
A more white-knuckle aerial attraction opened on May 25. The VooDoo ZipLine lets thrillseekers fly through the air between the Rio Hotel and Casino’s 51-storey Masquerade Tower and the 20-storey Ipanema Tower.
As I’m strapped into my seat high above the city there’s a voice in my head asking if this is such a great idea, and this time it’s not coming through headphones – it’s my own inner scaredy-cat.
She’s soon drowned out by a voice from outside – it’s my own again, but this time having a quick scream as we rush through the air at 30mph. A second or two into the ride I relax – it’s more exhilarating than scary – and just enjoy the sensation of flying through the air.
A top tip for clients; tell them to leave their shoes behind and ride barefoot. There’s something rather special about feeling the wind on your toes 500ft above the Vegas Strip. You ride two at a time, and prices start from $27.49.
Those who really want to be thrown around should head for the Adventuredome at Circus Circus, where El Loco opened in February. I did wonder if I had gone a little mad as I prepared for 72 seconds of high adrenaline action. Apparently, a 90ft ascent was followed by a greater-than-straight-down diving drop producing a negative 1.5 ‘vertical G’, and there were also doughnut and 240-degree rolls.
I closed my eyes for some of it, but it certainly felt as if all those claims were true. El Loco costs $10 to ride, but an all-day pass to the Adventuredome theme park costs from $29.95, so clients could make the most of it and try all the rides.
If clients are more comfortable when it’s someone else high in the air, then send them to one of the infamous Cirque du Soleil shows. There are eight to choose from, including a tie-in with magician Criss Angel at the Luxor, and shows set to the music of the Beatles at The Mirage and Michael Jackson at Mandalay Bay. I checked out Zarkana at Aria where acrobats perform mind-boggling feats on trapezes and high-wires.
From up in the air to something a little more up-and-coming. For years, the focus of the Vegas tourist experience has been the Strip, and while there’s still no doubt it’ll continue to play a major role, Downtown is having something of a resurgence.
Until recently seen as a little too edgy, significant investment and a strong community spirit has transformed the area into a creative and nightlife hub for locals, and a great alternative for tourists to the mega-sized venues on the Strip. To discover more about the city’s origins, send clients to the Neon Boneyard.
Taking a guided tour of this collection of old signs from casinos, hotels, bars, pool halls and even the launderette Liberace used to send his shirts to isn’t just a chance to see the glamorously crumbling billboards – it’s a journey through the history of the city.
Standing in front of the Moulin Rouge sign, we learn from guide Lisa that this was the work of Betty Willis in 1955, one of the only female signwriters, and that this was the first casino in Vegas allowing blacks and whites to gamble together.
Staring at the vast red Stardust sign dating back to 1958, we hear how guests would watch the atomic bombs being tested in the desert from the roof of this last mob-owned casino. Daytime tours here start from $18, and night-time from $25. The venue can also be used for weddings, with up to 250 guests.
Combined tickets are available pairing the Neon Boneyard with another fantastic Downtown attraction, The Mob Museum. This three-floor exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the history of the mafia in the US, looking at it from a both country-wide and Vegas-specific angle.
Telling the story from the side of both mobsters and those who tried to bring them to justice, there are many interactive highlights, from the chance to stand in a line-up and try your shooting skills bringing down criminals to video of courtroom scenes from high profile trials and the real St Valentine’s Day Massacre wall, transported to Vegas from Chicago.
Guided or self-guided tours are on offer, or Attraction World pairs The Mob Museum with lunch and a machine gun experience at The Range 702 (from £109), for those who want to try their hand at some real shooting. Those with less violent appetites can refuel at the nearby and newly-opened Wild at The Ogden, where dishes are as healthy as they are delicious.
Fremont Street Experience is a five-block pedestrian mall with the world’s largest video screen suspended above it, and its own zipline. By night, there are sound and light shows plus free concerts and acts on three stages. Nearby Fremont East has a more eclectic mix of small bars, clubs and restaurants, with many retro-style neon signs.
Alongside these more well-established Downtown attractions, a flourishing arts scene is growing. Both the Arts Factory and Arts Square are warehouse conversions on First Street, and they and the surrounding grid of streets are home to small arts and crafts galleries, vintage boutiques, antique shops with mid-century modern pieces and hipster bars.
There’s even the Cockroach Theatre, a tiny spot offering a very different show experience from the mega-size venues on the Strip. A contemporary art gallery, The Modern, is on the cards, with land secured and a design completed, and fundraising in full swing. And if you can’t speculate to accumulate in Las Vegas, then where can you?
Eat well: New dining
Rose Rabbit Lie
Part restaurant, part vintage burlesque show, Rose Rabbit Lie is The Cosmopolitan’s newest dining experience, and it’s not one to miss. Guests step through the doors into an Alice-in-Wonderland-like labyrinth of retro-styled rooms where they can perch on a leather banquette and be fed delicious sharing plates as performers punctuate the meal with bite-sized shows.
There’s everything from tap-dancers and comics to seriously saucy ladies, including two cavorting in an oversized champagne glass. This is the classy side of Vegas erotica, and the expertly crafted dishes and creatively mixed cocktails make it a tasteful evening from beginning to end.
For a younger crowd, The Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool, a beautifully intimate outdoor venue four storeys above the Strip, is now hosting big names including Ellie Goulding and Lorde.
The Cromwell opened at the end of May – a sleek boutique (188 rooms, which is boutique – for Vegas) and on June 3 its new Italian restaurant from celebrity chef Giada de Laurentis began welcoming guests.
The airy dining room overlooks the Bellagio fountains, and the food has the wow factor too, with a vast and creative selection of antipasti, backed up by freshly made pastas and meaty mains.
A host of friendly staff provide impeccable service, but there’s no stuffiness, just a real sense of fun – a photo booth outside lets guests pose for a few shots they can print or send to social media sites for free.
Stylish but relaxed, this upscale Japanese izakaya opened in the Monte Carlo in April. Sharing plates offer fantastic diversity, from delicate seafood including scallop sashimi with pink peppercorns and oysters shot with ponzu to succulent duck breast and earthy steamed buns.
Sake aficionados are well catered for on the drinks menu, with a large choice available by the glass or bottle.
This is a community-moderated forum.
All post are the individual views of the respective commenter and are not the expressed views of Travel Weekly.
By posting your comments you agree to accept our Terms & Conditions.