Photo credit: Maverick Helicopters (unless otherwise noted)
Piercing the sky 1,149 feet above ground, the Stratosphere Tower is officially cited as the tallest structure in both Las Vegas and the entire state of Nevada.
It was a fact I kept in mind when I found myself elevated more than a thousand feet in the air and eye level with the colossal tower. Stories above the world-famous Las Vegas Strip, I soared past — and above — the Stratosphere and other Las Vegas Strip landmarks in an ECO-Star helicopter, the “limousine of the sky.”
The EC-130, deemed the safest and most comfortable tourism based helicopter, features wraparound windows for superior visibility and 23% more cabin space than a more common model of helicopter. The EC-130 seats eight (seven guests and a pilot), with front-facing leather seats and raised “theater-style” seating in the rear.
Maverick Helicopters, operating in Las Vegas for more than twenty years, boasts the top safety record of any tourism-based aviation company in the world. Their pilots have garnered over 150 awards for safety and customer service, and the Maverick Aviation Group has received the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) distinguished Diamond Award.
The sole company to be named twice to the Travel Channel's "10 Best Helicopter Thrills,” Maverick prides themselves as being the only “true” VIP-level helicopter excursion company in Las Vegas. I wanted an unrivaled bird’s eye view of Las Vegas, and Maverick — awarded to TripAdvisor’s Hall of Fame (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 classes) and holders of a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence (2016) — was my go-to choice.
Upon arrival to the Maverick Helicopters Las Vegas Boulevard terminal (located just near the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign), of-age guests are offered champagne while situated in the spacious and comfortable Maverick lounge.
Once you receive your designated flight group, you and your fellow passengers are escorted to the aircraft bay and briefed on safety procedures, including how and when to board and exit the craft, how to fasten your seatbelt and harness, and the policies riders are to respect while in the air. After your pilot opens the aircraft doors, riders take their assigned seats (the seating arrangement is determined by the pilot and based on the passengers’ weights). You’re given a headset with microphone (allowing the pilot and the passengers to communicate), with tour narration playing in the headphones.
I was seated next to our pilot, Matthew, who has flown for Maverick since 2015. The night was cold and windy, and despite a pre-apology from Matthew — “It’s windy, so our time in the air tonight might be a little bumpy” — the ride was smooth and elegant. Our time in the air lasted about thirteen minutes, taking us from the South end of the Strip (near Luxor and Mandalay Bay) to Vegas’ must-see landmarks, including a pass over historic Fremont Street.
I felt confident we were in good, capable hands. Having a front row seat for this unique vantage point of Las Vegas, one of the greatest cities in the world, was a thrilling time — one I won’t forget any time soon. City of Lights, the Entertainment Capital of the World; Vegas has almost as many names as it does forms of entertainment. A helicopter tour might not scream “Vegas” — the name conjures images of casinos, gambling, shows and buffets — but this isn’t just a form of entertainment, it’s an experience.
I’ve lived in Las Vegas almost my entire life, but I was seeing Las Vegas and all its identifiable, unmistakable and iconic landmarks for the first time all over again. Any experience that can give you that newness and that feeling, the feeling of being a tourist in your own backyard, is extraordinary.
It was almost like taking flight over London in Disneyland’s famed Peter Pan attraction — those casinos and resorts, so looming and impressive from down below, take on the appearance of plastic props when looked down upon from the sky above.
Maverick’s nighttime Las Vegas Strip tour is a breathtaking aerial adventure, and perfect for visitors and locals alike. After your flight, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase a picture of you with the aircraft as well as a DVD of your time in the sky. Maverick Helicopters is open 365 days a year, and also offers trips to the Grand Canyon, a Colorado River rafting adventure, and even NASCAR and Electric Daisy Carnival experiences. Day and night Las Vegas Strip tours are available, with a complimentary shuttle offering pick-up and drop-off at Las Vegas Strip hotels. The experience comes highly recommended.