Serenity Helicopters: the Ultimate Grand Canyon Experience


VIP service brings another dimension to Las Vegas dinner-and-a-show dates…

Sometimes the fates are determined to bring certain individuals into your life….not once, but many times. Such was the case two short months ago when I met a charismatic couple on a flight from Portland, Oregon to Las Vegas.

During my conversation with them, I stated that for a variety of reasons I’d never join them as residents of Sin City. Fast-forward to a few short weeks later. Now I’m buying a Vegas home…and ran into them again at the AFAN Black and White Party. It was clear that yet another encounter was ahead…one that would culminate in a return trip to the skies.

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The couple is pilot/company instructor Jim Gisclair and his wife Trina Larmony, Operations Manager at Serenity Helicopters. Just the mention of choppers pricks up my ears, as riding in a helicopter has been one of my longtime desires. I told Jim and Trina about my website and how I’d absolutely love to do an article on their service. After all, it would make a great companion piece to my one on Sin City Skydiving, which you can read here.

Serenity Helicopters

Jim and Trina are amazing people who are worthy of their own profile article. I could tell you about Jim’s experiences as an former UH-60 Blackhawk Pilot for the United States Army. I could go on endlessly about Trina’s tireless charitable work on behalf of children with special needs.

Perhaps they’ll end up in a future edition of SEXY POWER DUOS. Trina and Jim certainly are a stunning pair. But let’s focus on Serenity Helicopters for now…and what sets them apart from similar companies in the Valley.

Serenity Helicopters

Much like in Hawaii, the Vegas area is perfect scenery to view from the sky. Spectacular sunsets, brilliantly-colored lights on the Strip and close proximity to the Grand Canyon make helicopter tours a must-do for thousands of visitors.

There are many helicopter tour agencies operating in and around Las Vegas. They offer various levels of service to fit most budgets. Naturally, you get what you pay for….and sometimes that includes the safety record that comes with cost-conscious services.

Serenity Helicopters is the ultimate in Grand Canyon tours. First and foremost, they carry a one hundred percent perfect safety record. This company has been operating for more than 25 years, first as Air Maui before expanding to Sin City. Their small exclusive fleet is meticulously maintained.

Serenity Helicopters

At each day’s end, an entirely new crew takes charge of the aircraft. Our FAA-certified and factory-trained mechanics inspect and maintain our helicopters to ensure that every component and system meets the highest standards of safety and quality. Our standards are simple: “If it’s not perfect, it doesn’t fly.”

Jim explained to me that Serenity knows the ins and outs of each of their aircraft very well. He flies his route with confidence, much like you do when driving your own personal vehicle. And each of their pilots are the absolute best in their field, bar none.

Most of Serenity’s captains, like Jim, come from a military background…so you could say that they’re “battle tested and time tested”. They’re also skilled tour guides, giving you a bunch of intriguing insights during your journey…along with witty stories and plenty of laughs.

Serenity Helicopters

The aircraft interiors are relatively spacious, comfortable and super-clean. Windscreens provide panoramic 180-degree views of the scenery. Your flight will be smooth as glass with a minimum of noise and vibration. You’re provided with noise-reduction headsets to keep you in touch with your guide as you enjoy atmospheric music personally chosen by your pilot to enhance the visuals.

Serenity Helicopters offers a number of daytime and sunset tours, with or without meals. You can even request a personalized flight plan for custom charters. My pal Danny and I were lucky enough to be welcomed aboard for their best offering – the Sunset Grand Canyon Tour and Dinner. This VIP experience is a two-hour trip over Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, continuing into the Grand Canyon for a gourmet evening meal.

Serenity Helicopters

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For our excursion, we were picked up at a Strip hotel by one of Serenity’s luxurious vans. It was plush and spacious, offering leather seats, a high-end sound/video system, bottled drinks and internet tablets at every seat. The 20-minute drive to Serenity’s base of operations concluded with a brief video safety presentation before were escorted inside.

Serenity Helicopters

Serenity Helicopters

Serenity Helicopters

Our parties checked in with the gracious staff, then we relaxed in the lounge-like office before receiving final safety instructions. Soon we were heading through the hangar and onto the tarmac to board our flight. (A final visit to the restroom is highly suggested as there are no facilities from this point until your return.)

Liftoff was a breeze and in no time our group was sailing over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. The visuals were absolutely stunning and had me feeling like Christopher Reeve flying over the same spot in 1978’s SUPERMAN THE MOVIE.

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Serenity Helicopters

After passing Memorial Bridge and the lake we crossed into Arizona, over an extinct volcano and deep into the desert. It wasn’t long before our flight brought us right to the edge of the Grand Canyon…then into the heart of one of the world’s greatest wonders.

Gorgeous vistas, sun-drenched rocks, stunning colors and amazing unspoiled nature. What passed around and under us was almost too much to drink in. I found myself with tears in my eyes and my heart pounding. Yet in retrospect, the simultaneous peacefulness (dare I say “serenity”?) of the experience was remarkable.

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As the journey into the canyon continued, we flew past the Grand Canyon Skywalk and over the Colorado River before arriving at Serenity’s own private landing area. There we took in a flawless panoramic view of the valley. While we explored the terrain, pilots from both aircraft set up their tables for a piping hot gourmet meal…complete with china, table cloths and champagne.

Serenity Helicopters

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Serenity Helicopters

Serenity Helicopters

As our pilot topped off our glasses of bubbly, he described to me how Serenity devised a way to transport their dinners to such a far-off locale while keeping them hot, flavorful and satisfying. I won’t give away trade secrets, but layers of custom-shaped pizza stones inside the insulated totes might have been mentioned.

 

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Soon the sun was dipping towards the horizon, so our pilots gathered passengers for the return trip. I was able to catch this cool video (above) of our tour-mates lifting off. Then our own chopper headed for the horizon. The most awe-inspiring moments lie ahead. Words can’t describe them, so I won’t even bother to try.

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Serenity Helicopters

Serenity Helicopters

If you only watch a single clip, make it the one below. Be sure to click “HD” and expand it to full screen:

After a smooth and glorious landing, Jim and Trina allowed us to stay behind a little while as our copter was brought into the hangar for meticulous safety checks and maintenance. Then it was back to the van for our return trip to the Strip.

 

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Much like my skydiving adventure, the Grand Canyon helicopter tour was one of those unforgettable moments that you have to do at least once. And if you’re ready to do something this monumental, why not go with the best in the industry?

Serenity Helicopters not only sets the standard for aerial tours, but they surpass it each and every time.

Serenity Helicopters

Serenity Helicopters operates daily. The company is a TripAdvisor Hall of Fame recipient, having been awarded their Certificate of Excellence for eight consecutive years.

Check the Serenity Helicopters website for flight options, pricing and more. Insider tip: single fliers can get special pricing on unsold seats when available. Call for information on this offer at 702.589.7700. 

Photos and video: Sammasseur, Danny Angel, Jim Gisclair, Trina Larmony, Serenity Helicopters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moving To Vegas: Expectation vs. Reality


A guest author shares his year of living in Sin City…the great and not-so-great…

Tommy Gun came to the United States to perform in the Aussie Heat male revue. Having lived the Sin City life before returning to his native Australia, he now reflects on his experiences and if they met his preconceived notions of Las Vegas.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                       Tommy (far left) with the cast of Aussie Heat…

We all have expectations. Let’s be honest. We all carry preconceived ideas about new experiences and sometimes they turn out fantastic. Sometimes it just really sucks. G’day everyone, my name is Tommy. I’m from sunny Australia and I lived and worked in Las Vegas for one year. I did as much as I could and experienced everything with an open mind.

“A little bit of everything” I said to myself, because after all it is Vegas, and you have to go ALL IN. When my working VISA was finalized for the USA, I couldn’t have been more excited. My initial thoughts of Las Vegas were fast food everywhere, casinos, flashing lights, millionaires on every corner, HOT weather and nothing to do but drink and gamble.

Boy, was I in for a surprise! Luckily for me, I worked as a dancer for the Aussie Heat show (then known as Aussie Hunks) inside Planet Hollywood Casino. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet many incredible people and experience the ‘real’ Las Vegas.

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       The luxury apartment complex I shared with other members of the cast…

The Food – 

Expectations:

My first thought was I would find it hard to eat healthy. I was concerned there would be junk food everywhere I looked, and eating out would mainly consist of burgers, chips, burritos and everything that is delicious yet naughty. I didn’t think I would find much cultural variety of food to be honest.

Reality:

Wow! What can I say? I’ve never been so wrong. Vegas had a little bit of something for everybody. If you dig deep enough and talk to the right people, you can find food gems!
I was able to eat healthy and also indulge in the naughty foods too.

I’m a “cheap and cheerful” kind of guy. I like good deals, delicious food and generous servings. Nothing too fancy, just a ‘good feed’ is what I love. So for me it was the 24/7 diners that really take the cake. I’m going to mention two of my personal favorites.

Ellis Island – Village Pub Casino Cafe
Just a five-minute walk off the strip, you will find a small casino that frequents the locals. It’s charming yet excessively noisy. The cafe has some of the best food deals you can get. I ordered the ‘NY steak and eggs’ special at least 4 times a week. It only cost $5.99 at the time (11 pm-11 am) and is an ‘off the menu’ deal that only locals know about. Thank me later!

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                          Ellis Island NY Steak and Eggs special is only $5.99

Silver Sevens Casino – Sterling Spoon Cafe
It’s not the most popular casino, but the cafe sure gives you a great deal on the prime rib. Service was okay. Atmosphere? Not that amazing. Do I care? Absolutely not! Like I said, guys, I just enjoy good, satisfying grub, and you can’t go past Silver Sevens with a happy appetite. Try the prime rib meal for only $9.99. It’s great value with good portions. Not the best rib you will ever eat, nor will it be the worst. It’s just a great bargain.

I’ll quickly mention a few other absolute winners you can find:

Holstein’s Shakes and Buns – for the best thick shake in Vegas (and I’ve tried many). Creamy, cold and smooth silky texture just melts in your mouth.

Samba Latte – If you’re a coffee lover like myself and enjoy a good latte, then there is no competition to this world famous cafe located just outside the Monte Carlo Casino. Expensive but worth it. (Editor’s note – Samba Latte is currently closed due to ongoing renovations at Monte Carlo/Park MGM)

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

The stylish interior of ‘Samba Latte’ adds to the hipster vibe of this successful cafe.

Quality of Life

Expectations:

The Millionaires’ Playground is what Vegas is portrayed to be in films. Flashing lights, glamorous girls, limousines, pool parties and lavish lifestyles. I expected to see a well-structured city with a stable economy and plenty of employment for everyone. Since it’s the world’s playground with millions of dollars flowing in and out every year, I thought the everyday locals would have a relatively comfortable income.

Reality:

I was shocked to see how the majority of Las Vegas people were living. Let me share with you a few stories of my experiences. Before our show moved to Planet Hollywood, we were based in the D Hotel Casino on Downtown’s Fremont St. On this particular day, we all had a few hours of free time before the show started so we decided to go work out at the gym.

Upon arrival we discovered the gym was closed for some unknown reason. A bunch of Aussie blokes being our optimistic selves, made the decision to venture by foot into North Las Vegas suburbs to find a playground in which we could do pull ups, calisthenics, etc.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Walking through the suburbia streets, I have never felt so unsafe. We must have stuck out like sore thumbs because we got stares everywhere we went. The neighborhood looked like a scene from Boyz n the Hood. Broken windows boarded up, cracked roofs, rubbish in the front yard, old beaten-down cars, neglected lawns and doors barely hanging on by the hinges.

We found a park and exercised for about 30 minutes before a bunch of ‘gang-banging’-looking kids appeared from the shadows near the basketball court. It looked as though we might have intruded on their ‘turf’. It was at that point we all decided it was a good time to leave, and I’m glad we did because it certainly wasn’t a place we felt welcome.

The day we went for a photo shoot at a studio located near the Stratosphere Casino, I was stupid enough not to pack lunch with me. So during our lunch break I was forced to walk to the casino for a meal. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The houses around and just off the famous Las Vegas Strip were absolute dumps!

Not only was suburbia a shocking sight for us to see, but the poverty extends right next to the tourist hub. Every now and then I would walk past a house that was literally falling apart, yet the car in the driveway would be a brand new Ford F-350 (or something similar) with shiny new rims and tinted windows. If that isn’t a clear signal that a drug dealer lives there, then I don’t know what is.

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This apartment complex located right behind the LINQ Casino was on my walk to work every day. We all called it the “Kitchen Tiles Complex” because of the terrible exterior design.

Things To Do – 

Expectations:

To be honest, I didn’t think there would be much to do In Las Vegas besides drink, gamble and watch the odd Cirque show. My expectations didn’t really extend past there. I set the bar low, and I was genuinely worried I would be bored quickly because I’m not a drinker nor a gambler.

Reality:

I can happily say that I was never once bored during my whole year working in Las Vegas. That’s not an exaggeration…I literally always had things to do. Maybe It was in part due to me being in a show and surrounded by people in the entertainment
industry.

I personally think Vegas has a plethora of activities and entertaining things to do regardless. In my one year as a resident, Vegas surprised and invigorated me enough that I still miss the city to this day. We all know casinos have all kinds of entertainment, ranging from theater shows and shopping to themed bars. But there is a lot to be said about other parts of Vegas besides the obvious.

Brooklyn Bowl –

As a group of dancers, one of our favorite pastimes would be seeing live music at the Brooklyn Bowl. This modern venue which hosts live music, bowling, beer and food is the ultimate night out for those who want a little bit of everything. What I enjoyed most about this venue is the variety of music they had. On a Wednesday you might
see a soul band, Thursday a punk rock band, then on Friday a hip-hop artist. I found myself checking their website every week to see who was playing.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Lake Mead –

Sometime it’s nice to get out of the city for a little bit, and with the beautiful crystal clear Lake Mead only a thirty-minute drive from Las Vegas you can’t go wrong. Wake-boarding was my activity of choice, and when the average summer temperature can reach
104 F, there nothing better than the feeling of fresh cool water on your skin.

Sometimes the pool parties just won’t cut it, especially when you’re not in the mood to deal with drunk obnoxious people and overpriced drinks. There are also a host of other water activities to choose from and the scenic backdrop of the desert mountains just tops off the real American-style landscape you expect to see as a foreigner.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

A picture I took at Drai’s Beach Club, and a still from a video of my fiancé wake boarding at Lake Mead. Which do you prefer? Personally, I will take Lake Mead any day

ATV Tours –

As you can see, I’m a lover of extreme activities and outdoors adventures. So it’s no surprise I’m also advocating these super-fun ATV tours in the Las Vegas desert. Seriously, what better way to see the incredible Nevada landscape AND experience an adrenaline-rushing activity?

The more I Googled “things to do in Vegas” the more I found! I couldn’t have been happier with the variety of entertainment options for all kinds of people. So much for “only drinking and gambling”. It turns out Las Vegas has so much more to offer. If all you do is sit at slot machines when you’re in town, then you’re doing it wrong! You need to start living life!

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                    My fiancé and I on an ATV tour in the Vegas Desert.

The Grand Canyon –

I feel compelled to finish off my outdoor activity rant by advocating the incredible and vast Grand Canyon in Arizona. Yes, it’s nowhere near Las Vegas, and it’s not even in Nevada, but it’s something you HAVE to see! Words can’t describe how amazing this mile-deep geological wonder is.

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If you decide to go, see it either when the sun rises or the sun sets. It’s simply a magical experience when the light captures all the crevasses and ridges of the canyon as the sun moves across the horizon.

The drive to the Skywalk is only roughly two hours. The entrance to the National Park where you can test yourself with a day trek is only a four-hour drive. If you don’t like to drive, there are many helicopter companies that offer tours over the Canyon at affordable prices.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                      Taking in the beauty of Grand Canyon national park.

The People

Expectations:

Having not known much about Las Vegas, I expected to see mostly white people…overweight and very loud. Why? Because in my experiences with Americans in Australia, that’s usually what I saw. It was more of a subconscious expectation and not something that I premeditated.

Reality:

Much can be said about people anywhere in the world. There is good and bad everywhere you look. I would like to talk about one aspect of the Las Vegas people that genuinely surprised me. The variety was astonishing.

There were people from all walks of life. I discovered that Las Vegas not only had white people, but also a huge Latino population, African Americans, Asians, Europeans and even Islanders. I may seem naive to you, but I did not expect this magnitude of cultural variety. Las Vegas seems to to bring people from all over the world, and I think if you live here long enough you are blessed to see, meet and talk to many people with all different views on life.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Being part of the Aussie Heat show’s cast, I had to opportunity to mingle with the audience after the show and get photos etc. The thing I enjoyed most about this was meeting the people from all over America. I was learning about people from North Carolina to Oregon. From all different backgrounds, religions and cultures, I learned that America is such a diverse place.

I believe many people in Australia fall into the trap of generalizing the people in California as ‘all of America’ because that’s usually all we see from Hollywood films. The truth is, the people from Texas to New York couldn’t be any more different!

Casinos

Expectations:

Having seen films such as The Hangover, Ocean’s Eleven and What Happens in Vegas, once again I had the Hollywood perspective of casinos. I expected lavish lights, cocktail waitresses, fancy interiors and the lure of the ‘High Roller’ lifestyle.

Reality:

I have mixed emotions here. There are some things I love, and some things I hate about the main attraction to Las Vegas tourists. Yes, the films were pretty, accurate in my opinion. The casinos really are an adult’s playground with a little bit of something for everyone, but there are definite drawbacks.

I simply couldn’t get enough of the Cirque du Soleil shows. Simply amazing…jaw dropping. I clapped until my hands hurt. If I had enough expendable income I would have seen every Cirque show, but alas I could only see two – Zumanity and . Tickets are expensive, but when you witness the amazing performances and life-threatening stunts, you understand why.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

              Backstage with the cast of KÂ. I’m at the back, trust me!

Most casinos boast successful shows, millions in revenue from gambling and shopping, amazing decor and nightclubs packed to the brim. You would think these places make a killing, and they do! However with all the millions of dollars in revenue, there are certain casinos that charge for parking! Say what?

At this point do you really need to suck every single cent out of your loyal (sometimes gambling-addicted) customers? I think it’s sad. And I would think if parking was free (like it is in most places), your customers would appreciate it and return more often (resulting in better profit over the long term).

With that aside, I LOVE the attention to detail in the aesthetics of both the interior and exterior of the buildings, with special mention to Venetian, Caesars Palace, Bellagio and New York NY. They represent the intended themes perfectly. Having personally traveled to Venice, Rome, Lake Bellagio in Italy and New York City, I can safely say that the decor did each location justice. I didn’t feel as though they were a cheap rip-off, but more of a homage to the intended locations.

 

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                             The fabulous New York NY casino exterior… 

However, once inside, my spirit became a little dampened by the people occupying it. I feel as though Las Vegas, while fun for adults, should not be a place to bring your children on holiday if you are gambling. Let’s be honest here, most parents coming here are spending lots of time on the casino floor.

Imagine taking your beloved dog to the beach, but instead of letting him swim and run around playfully in the waves, you keep him on a leash and sit on the walkway chair texting on your phone. Bringing your kids to Vegas is just as bad.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

     The ‘Pitbull’ concert I attended at Planet Hollywood – he did an amazing job!

I’m glad I chose to work for one year in Las Vegas, It’s been one of the best choices I have ever made. All in all, Vegas really surprised me and taught me lessons I would never have learned otherwise.

If you haven’t been to Las Vegas yet, you simply must go at least once. It’s a city full of surprises.

Tommy Gun has returned to his native Australia and now operates his own entertainment company – Gold Coast Male Strippers. You can visit his website for more information, pictures and videos. 

Photos: Tommy Gun