By Merilee Kern, ‘The Luxe List’ Executive Editor
When visiting Las Vegas there’s no better VIP experience than buzzing the famed strip by helicopter en route to a tour of the Grand Canyon—especially one paired with a champagne picnic in the colossal canyon, itself. And, no company does this better than Sundance Helicopters that for nearly 30 years has been making passengers feel high and mighty in Sin City.
Founded in 1985, Sundance Helicopters is the most experienced tour company in Las Vegas. Its litany of mission critical partnerships is a testament to the company’s sound business practices and aviation expertise. For one, Sundance has the longest standing relationship with the Hualapai Nation Native American Indian Tribe—a partnership that itself extends over 25 years—which has facilitated incredible access to their reservation within the Grand Canyon. Sundance Helicopters is also the partner of choice to assist the U.S. government in military support missions. Additionally, Sundance works with top production companies in the entertainment industry such as Disney, Warner Brothers, the E! television network, and Paramount. However, perhaps the company’s most important partnership is with Air Methods Corporation, making it the world's largest provider of helicopter tours. With nothing taken for granted, rest assured Sundance Helicopters is at the top of its tour game.
Paramount among the company’s luxe offerings is the VIP Deluxe Grand Canyon Champagne Picnic Tour. This elite experience begins with a complimentary limo pickup from any property on the strip. Tours start early, and there are booking time options available all day long. As would be expected, the sunrise and sunset tours are particularly popular, since the Grand Canyon—unforgettable and magnificent in any moment—is nothing short of awe-inspiring when the rising and setting sun gleams over the majestic terrain.
The limo drops guests off at the revamped Sundance Helicopters terminal—a 13,000 square foot facility complete with a VIP lounge where celebs and other A-listers and high rollers can enjoy added privacy and security as well as charging stations, a patio waiting area and a conference room. Visitors are greeted at the terminal by a walkway shaded with a 25-foot canopy leading into a bustling reception and registration area. A gift shop sells an assortment of apropos keepsakes, including stunning hand-made art and figurines from the Hualapai Nation.
Earth tones and comfortable leather seats set the scene in the adjacent VIP lounge while photographs on display, taken by artist Paul Michael, provide a show-stopping glimpse of the tour ahead, including incredible scenes from both the Grand Canyon and the Las Vegas Strip. A decidedly impressive view from the VIP room is the Sundance helicopters, themselves, which include five new state-of-the-art choppers soon to comprise the entire fleet.
Sundance offers 16 different Grand Canyon tours with its fleet of 25 helicopters. However, the face of that fleet is changing, with five new EC-130T2 helicopters and plans to replace the entire fleet with these sleek new models by 2018. The more technologically-advanced, environmentally-friendly EC-130 provides better performance and more comfort and luxury than its predecessor with features such as ample leg room and leather, energy absorbing, forward facing seats; a Bose sound system; larger, wraparound windows; and air conditioning—a blessing during the blazing summer months. Additionally, while the EC-130 helicopter overall is 23% larger than the older choppers, it is also the quietest aircraft in its class, adhering to or exceeding stringent noise standards.
Aesthetically, the EC-130 is a stunner with a sleek body that gleams with reflective chrome plating, embellished with genuine gold and silver detail. It’s sky bling at its best!
Once everyone is secured on board and headsets are in place on all passengers, the Sundance Helicopter tour is poised for take-off. Once airborne, the first point of interest on the tour is the Hoover Dam, even more impressive from this sky-high vantage point, and then Lake Mead. The headsets play strategically timed and themed music interspersed with an audio recording—available in nine languages—distilling facts and figures about the sights below. The friendly and knowledgeable pilot adds interesting first-person perspective and commentary as well. Passengers really hit pay dirt amid a breathtaking approach to the Grand Canyon, flying above and within the behemoth, beautifully striated stone formations. Like a magic carpet ride, the helicopter ever-so-smoothly descends 3,200 feet to fly passengers over the Colorado River and in between the walls of the Canyon as they're bathed in the golden light of the desert sun.
Bubbles and Boulders
There is no restaurant on the planet that can compare to a picnic on the floor of the Grand Canyon. While the company offers various picnic options, I basked in the champagne breakfast tour that was simple yet stylish, made all the more delicious by the spectacular surroundings. Various tour groups convene at a picnic site owned and leased to Sundance by the Hualapai Nation. The pilots make an extraordinary effort to respect the land, ensuring no litter is left behind. On the day of my tour the continental breakfast consisted of a blueberry muffin, Nature Valley granola bar, croissant, fresh grapes, orange juice, bottled ice water and champagne for the 21-plus crowd. Amid the splendor that surrounds, photo opps abound and the pilots are perfectly happy to oblige and take pictures of you and your companions in front of the helicopter, stone crests and any other available vista of choice. These are photographs certain to be cherished for a lifetime.
Amazingly, the tour continues to surpass expectations with an after-breakfast flight through the Valley of Fire, Nevada's oldest and largest state park. The final leg of the helicopter tour is a spin down The Strip itself, impressive and interesting at any time of day. Of course, for those with a burning desire to see The Strip at night, Sundance offers twilight tours as well.
A Fab Finish
With the VIP tour option you can take a complimentary souvenir pre-recorded tour DVD and personal souvenir photograph (taken in front of the helicopter before take-off) home with you. While you're certainly welcome to take your own pictures and videos, it's good to have the option of professional quality photographs and video footage.
The tour, which lasts about three and a half hours in total, culminates with complimentary limo service back to your hotel. The current per-person cost for this tour is around $538 and includes all taxes and fees. Considering the high level of service, the exciting ride and the unparalleled scenery sure to leave an indelible mark on your memory as a remarkable life experience, this tour is truly priceless.
"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.LuxeListReviews.com. Follow her on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***