The Zeppelin Eureka soars over the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
For more than three years, I've been trying to get on that darn Goodyear blimp that I always spy while running down the 405 en route to the Carson Ikea. It hasn't happened. Apparently, it's invite only, and from what I can tell, you have to be either a celebrity or terminally ill to get on it. And so I sit, waiting to cross off "Ride an airship" from my bucket list, whose red lines chronicle some of the other unusual modes of transportation I've sampled over the years (alpine slides, glider planes, zip lines, etc.).
Why my fascination with Zeppelins, blimps, and their bloated brethren? They're different. They're downright odd. And they're a piece of the past, a vision of what might have been. Back in the airship's early days, the new mode of transportation was anticipated to become so popular that the art deco spire of the Empire State Building was originally intended as a mooring point for airships (a fact that was played out in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). There are only a handful of airships in operation around the globe, and only one in North America that allows commercial passengers: the Eureka, which makes its return trip to Los Angeles this week.
At 246 feet, Airship Ventures' Zeppelin is not only the world's largest, it's also 15 feet longer than a 747 and more than 50 feet longer than the world's largest blimp. (A blimp is a Zeppelin without all the internal framing holding up the balloon part and without the trademarked name.) Normally located in the Bay Area, where it provides phantasmagorical aerial views of Monterey, wine country, and beyond, Eureka visits SoCal a few times a year, where it provides a half-day trip of a nostalgia that never was, a time when great floating balloons were a means of travel. One of those times is now (Sept. 3-8).
If a certain historic air catastrophe is making you think twice about climbling aboard, fear not: The Eureka flies by means of helium, not hydrogen.
For more info:
Airship Ventures | 650-969-8100 | www.airshipventures.com | 1-hour trips $495 per person, plus tax | 2-hour trips $990 per person, plus tax | One-way transit between San Francisco and Long Beach $1,500, plus tax | Ask about special Labor Day pricing.