Top-Rated aerial company offers affordable excursions over the strip and to grand canyon…
Of all the bucket-list things to do in and around Las Vegas, two of the most popular are helicopter rides and trips to the Grand Canyon. 5-Star Helicopter Tours offers both with reasonable prices, professional service and plenty of options.
Regular readers might remember my amazing sunset dinner within the Grand Canyon, courtesy of Serenity Helicopters. I also penned a piece for Las Vegas Magazine on Grand Canyon West and their amazing Skywalk, which you can access here. Nighttime aerial trips over the Strip are one of those popular activities that has eluded this writer…until this week. And I’m glad that I chose 5 Star Helicopters as my tour guide for this particular adventure.
A note from this tour provider: This is not a private flight. The aircraft seats six (6) passengers plus the Pilot. Social distancing is not practiced during your 15 minute flight. Face masks must be worn at all times.
5 Star Helicopters has two locations to serve its guests. Those heading for the Grand Canyon depart from their air terminal in Boulder City. Strip-view excursions take off from a heliport in North Las Vegas, just around the corner from West Wind Las Vegas Drive-In Theater, my favorite hangout since the pandemic.
The north location has the advantage of a longer flight time (approximately fifteen minutes) than those companies located at or near McCarran International Airport. You’ll approach the Strip from beyond downtown, taking in a sneak peak of Fremont Street before heading over Palms Casino and the Rio. I was surprised at the number of rooftop pools that Rio offers in its Sky Villas. It’s a vantage point that I’d never encountered in my endless passenger flights into and from the city.
Our Pilot, Jimmy, gave us an excellent look at Allegiant Stadium. Then he looped around the Mandalay Bay/Delano resorts and gave us our first bird’s-eye view of the entire Strip. If you can recall Captain Kirk’s dramatic flight towards a dry-docked Starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, then perhaps you can appreciate the emotional scope of this moment.
The aircraft used by 5 Star Helicopters offer excellent panoramic views to the left, right and forward. The cabins are climate-controlled, and all six passenger seats face forward. During the ride, you’ll be wearing sanitized headsets that drown out noise and allow you to clearly hear the narration provided by your pilot/guide.
Captain Jimmy pointed out landmarks like the Luxor beam, T-Mobile Arena, High Roller Observation Wheel and more. We took a path over the east side of the Strip, nestled between Wynn/Encore and the massive Westgate Resort before a close flyby of The Strat (aka Stratosphere) and its famed Skypod.
Finally, we followed the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard into Downtown and Fremont Street Experience. This was my first opportunity to get a close-up aerial view of brand-new Circa Hotel Casino. The highly-anticipated Stadium Swim was brightly lit, and appeared ready to welcome guests when the resort opens its doors for the first time on October 28th.
From there we headed back to the North Las Vegas base of operations, once again skirting West Wind Drive-in. The entire flight was smooth, comfortable and secure. You should be aware that 5 Star Helicopters boasts a stellar record for safety. You can read about their protocols, equipment and view a safety video by clicking here.
As mentioned above, there are a variety of services, prices levels, excursions and add-0ns to choose from. These include dinner packages, private flights and other thrilling adventures like zip lines and exotic track driving. Being that I reside in Las Vegas, I chose to drive to the heliport, which saves you money. Tourists can opt for a luxurious passenger service to and from their hotel.
Like most airborne activities, you’ll be expected to weigh in before departure, sign a waiver and watch a pre-flight safety instruction video. After doing so, you can sip a flute of bubbly or a bottle of water, included with your ticket, before heading outside.
Be aware that you’re allowed to take your own photos and videos during the trip, but flash must be disabled and all devices must be set in “airplane” mode. A professional photographer is present to take photos on the ground prior to your adventure, and they will be waiting for you when you return. They’re housed in a gorgeously-emblazoned 3D book.
To see the latest specials available through the official 5 Star Helicopters website, click here. The excursion described above is currently priced at $89.99 per person as of this writing (10/22/20), available via this link at Viator.com.
The Sin City you knew and loved has gone a little bit “Mad Max” and a whole lotta “Resident Evil: Extinction”…
Wynn Las Vegas is putting new security measures in place on weekends, requiring customers to be screened for metal objects and putting more uniformed officers in place.
The moves follow a fight on Labor Day Weekend that prompted an aggressive lawsuit by Wynn, and problems at other properties on the Las Vegas Strip that included shootings recently. Metro Police say they have noticed an uptick in violence at or near Las Vegas Strip properties since August, which has already led to more than 1,100 arrests.
Back in October 2018, I penned a piece announcing my transition from “Vegas visitor” to “Sin City local”. In that article, I promised to continue writing from the perspective of a tourist, while peppering in the additional tips I’d absorb as a resident along the way.
Since then, a lot has changed. You’re about to read what may be the final entry in this blog. Only time will tell. Keep in mind that the name of this site is “Vegas Unfiltered”. You might not like what you’re about to read, but quite often, the truth is ugly. And that’s the state of Las Vegas right now. Very ugly.
It’s often said that art imitates life….and vice versa. So when I looked towards the entertainment world for a representation of Las Vegas circa “summer 2020”, I found myself inside the dystopian setting of “Resident Evil: Extinction“. You’re probably familiar with that particular film, and if you aren’t, the description might seem uncomfortably familiar.
Based on popular video games and third in a series of movie adaptations, “Resident Evil: Extinction” depicts a post-pandemic Las Vegas in which our iconic hotels and casinos are overrun with hoards of the infected. The Strip is a wasteland, and those who survived the global pandemic become victims of bloody violence.
Factor in “Mad Max”-style high speed police chases along with the new phenomenon of ¨scooter gangs¨ in place of outlaw bikers…and you’ve got an post-apocalypse double feature that none of us could have imagined witnessing during our lifetime.
Does that seem dramatic and exaggerated? Well, perhaps you should follow Vegas news more often. Sin City has indeed become a seedy, violent place to visit. Since the shaky reopening of the Strip, downtown and surrounding areas, the shootings, muggings, murders, suicides, protests, riots and brawls have become rather routine. Sounds like the perfect vacation spot, doesn’t it? Just bring your bulletproof vest and join in on the fun.
Grim business prognosis from 8NewsNow published 9/21/20
Sights like this were common just a few short months ago…
The seeds of chaos were planted in May
Las Vegas Metropolitan Captain James LaRochelle told ABC News on 6/24/20 that the department saw an increase in crime starting late the previous month.
“Three weeks ago, we had a really bad week, with 11 murders in 10 days. Some of those were domestic violence-related. Our gang murders are about 22% of our homicides, and our rate of solving those is a bit lower. At one point in April we had solved 100% of our murders, and now we’re at about 80%,” LaRochelle told the outlet. “We’re still slightly down in violent crime year-to-date, but lately we are seeing an uptick and it is a concern.”
Police chase on Las Vegas Boulevard, Labor Day weekend 9/5/20
When the first restrictions were rolled back and chains were cut from casino doors, I penned a series of articles detailing the efforts to lure tourists back. From new sanitation protocols to removal of parking fees, I assured readers that Vegas was ready and waiting for you. In retrospect, that was a foolishly optimistic stance.
Brawl at Encore 9/6/20 (Labor Day weekend)
Getting here is one tough battle
If you plan on visiting in the coming weeks or months, prepare for a very nerve-wracking experience. It begins at your local airport, where restrictions and measures will make everything from going through security to sitting at the gate and your actual flight anything but pleasant.
Chances are that you already had a rough time booking your trip, as airlines are bleeding cash and have slashed the number of daily flights into and out of the city. Along with limited options, expect an increased likelihood of delays and cancellations, too.
You’ll be required to wear a mask from the time you enter your departure point until you actually breathe Nevada air…it’s not a negotiable matter. You can say goodbye to having an in-flight cocktail to set the mood, and forget about even having a soft drink unless you buy a bottle at the pricey terminal newsstand. In an effort to minimize contact, flight attendants will mostly remain at the front and rear of the plane. You’ll get a cup of water and perhaps a bag of crackers…also known as “prison rations”.
You won’t know if the flight attendants and gate agents are smiling behind those masks. They certainly don’t want to be in an enclosed space with potentially infected passengers, but they’ve got to make a living. So shut up, avoid your neighbors, follow the lengthy list of rules, deal with the lack of in-flight amenities and sit still until the plane comes to a complete stop.
It may be a long time before McCarran International Airport is thriving again…
Things are beginning to look bleak
Once you disembark, the airport will provide a depressing first impression, with closed restaurants and bars, darkened slot machines and minimal available services. Due do decreased demand, you may deplane in a different terminal than usual, requiring a shuttle bus, tram or lengthy walk to pick up your baggage.
Most local UBER and LYFT drivers have given up servicing the airport, so anticipate a wait time of 30 minutes or so for a pickup. Tempers are short and I’ve witnessed multiple arguments in the terminals and at pick-up areas. Are you happy to be here yet?
When you arrive at the hotel, you’ll have your body temperature scanned by one of a variety of different methods, walk through a maze of stanchions to get to the few human beings behind the reception desk, or opt to check yourself in via an automated kiosk. The goal once again is to limit human contact in a city once known for its heightened hospitality. And keep that mask on at all times…unless you’re smoking, of course. Then it’s okay.
First class service is a thing of the past
After standing in line to pick up your room key, you’ll most likely stand in another line to use the elevator. Most resorts are restricting the number of persons allowed on each trip, yet they’ve closed off certain areas of the hotel to maximize efficiency during decreased occupancy. So you’re all going to the same floors in the same tower while being instructed to practice social distancing and not crowd into the elevators together. Did you follow that?
Take note that, just like the airlines, Vegas hotels and casinos are operating at a loss. They’ve cut their workforce tremendously, so services are minimal and not always offered in a pleasant manner. Those who remain employed are severely overworked and under a great deal of stress.
South Point Casino 8/30/20
Are you the kind of person who likes to have your hotel room serviced on a daily basis? Most travelers do…it’s nice to have someone else fix the bed, replace the towels and wipe down sinks and countertops. Well, not in today’s Vegas. It’s now standard for housekeeping to only do their tasks when you completely check out.
Need towels or supplies? Leave a message with housekeeping, and if you’re lucky, what you requested may eventually be hanging from the knob outside your door. Is your trash can full? Bag it up and leave it in the hallway with everyone else’s. There’s no room service if you wish to have breakfast in bed or splurge on a midnight snack. Doesn’t this all sound lovely?
MGM Resorts recently announced the layoff of an additional 18,000 workers. That’s on top of the thousands that they’ve already let go. So yes, that associate you’re engaging with is happy to have a job, but that’s the extent of their joy. Don’t hint for an upgrade…they aren’t in the mood to hear about your birthday while they’re wondering if or when they’ll get the ax.
Popular hotels like The Palms, Rio, The Cromwell, Planet Hollywood, The Linq, Tropicana, Main Street Station, and Park MGM continue to remain dark. Others have reduced operating hours, closed restaurants and buffets (Wynn already shut down their buffet after re-opening it in June), scaled back gaming options, eliminated valet service, and closed pools, spas, salons, fitness facilities, player’s club lounges, and more. You’re still on the hook for the full price of resort fees, despite the removal of most amenities.
The once-popular Wynn Buffet during peak lunch period on Saturday 8/16/20
Low down and dirty
Maintenance at most Strip hotels, with the notable exceptions of Wynn and Westgate, has been downright disheartening. Common areas and guestrooms are receiving poor to indifferent upkeep, despite the PR crap they’ve been shoveling. Hotels may be promising “Clean and Safe” but the puddles of dried urine/vomit, dirty rooms, grungy common areas and filthy parking garages tell a different story. Once again, cost-cutting and workforce reduction are to blame.
Guests returning to Flamingo Hotel Casino during reopening week were greeted with filth and disarray…
Glitz and glamour have been replaced with crime, decay and neglect.
If you decide to venture out, know that Las Vegas Boulevard is a mess. As usual, outdoor escalators are out of commission despite months of opportunity to repair them during the shutdown. Sidewalks and overhead walkways are filthy, too. The homeless problem has grown, so you’ll be dodging a lot more beggars than in the past.
One place that doesn’t seem to be suffering economic loss is Fremont Street. Nevertheless, the nightly street party is a COVID-friendly petri dish of overcrowding, gang bangers, hot heads, and anti-maskers. Going there on a weekend evening is literally taking your life into your own hands.
Labor day Anarchy as crowds go “Mad Max”
Check out this shocking video from Friday night, 9/4/20 (Labor Day Weekend). Take note of the pair of Las Vegas Metro police officers at 00:11 to 00:17, strolling through the crowd without masks. Apparently it’s optional for them to wear face coverings but not for you. So why aren’t they stopping the violators they see in every direction?
Public video posted to Facebook by Martin Laursen has gone viral…
After a Labor Day weekend filled with violence and brawls, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Captain Patricia Spencer held a press conference at the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign on Tuesday 9/8/20. She declared “We understand that our neighboring states all have COVID restrictions and the residents are looking for places to go and be entertained and get out. However, we cannot tolerate the violence.”
“There were numerous fights that took place with large amounts of people in various Strip properties,” Spencer continued. “For those people who are coming here to have fun and take part in the festivities and the entertainment here, we welcome you. For those of you who are coming here to prey on the tourists or residents of this community, it will not be tolerated.”
Here’s another video from Labor Day weekend on Fremont Street, capturing the tail end of a confrontation between the crowd and law enforcement. Why would you subject yourself to this kind of atmosphere?
Public video posted to Facebook by Martin Laursen…
Despite thousands of empty hotel rooms, abandoned hotel towers, and a vacant new stadium, massive construction projects continue…
Room rates have been slashed, so people who couldn’t normally afford high-end hotels are taking advantage of once-in-a-lifetime bargains. What does that mean to you? The luxurious experience you may have once enjoyed has now gone “ghetto”.
Wynn Resorts Ltd. spokesman Michael Weaver said the company is increasing its room rates and investment in its security workforce and procedures after a fight broke out at Encore over the weekend. The company has no record of injuries from the incident.
Weaver said the changes are being made to ensure Wynn’s two Las Vegas properties, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, “maintain the guest experience standards for which (they) are known.” Las Vegas Review-Journal 9/8/20
Brawling at Wynn/Encore 9/6/20 (public photo posted to Facebook by Martin Laursen)
Vulgar, obnoxious, and violent behavior are prevalent around the clock. Both the police force and private security officers have their hands full dealing with anti-maskers, fights, street racing, protests, on-property marijuana use (prohibited by law) and additional crimes.
Downtown and the Strip saw their share of protests and riots this spring…
Why bother coming when there’s nothing to do but brawl?
If you can look past all of the above in hopes of “getting your Vegas on”, what’s left to do? Well, right now there are no nightclubs, day clubs or casino bars. There are a few scattered deejays, no karaoke and minimal live entertainment. Dancing is strictly prohibited (I’m not sure if you’re allowed to quietly hum the theme from “Footloose”, though). You might catch a lounge singer here and there, or perhaps some “Streetmosphere” performers at Venetian/Palazzo. That’s about it.
On and around Las Vegas Blvd 10 am on Tuesday 9/22/20. It’s a ghost town.
There are no production shows, no headliners, no topless revues, no singing gondoliers, and no magicians or comedians. Cirque du Soleil has gone bankrupt, Human Nature and Blue Man Group have left the building, and Wynn’sLe Reve has sunk to the bottom of the pool. Every single stripper joint is out of commission, and prostitution is still illegal here, too. I’ll ask again….are you having fun yet?
Update 9/23/20 – Nevada’s governor lifted restrictions on bars effective Monday 9/21/20. I ventured out the following evening for happy hour at a Palazzo eatery, then a nearby local tavern during the first Raiders home game. I was expecting a healthy turnout, yet both places were nearly empty. See below.
Entertainers bite the wrong hand
If you’ve followed this column for any length of time, you know that I have a soft spot for the entertainment community. I’ve hyped individual performers, new shows, revisions, special events, and pop-up appearances. Charity efforts, openings, profiles pieces, sexy celebrities, and passion projects have made up the bulk of Vegas Unfiltered Blog.
In an effort to assist the return of live entertainment, last week I contacted dozens of entertainers and requested that they record a 30-second video plea to Governor Sisolak to eliminate restrictions on live performances. I volunteered to gather and forward them to the Governor. After all, if movie theaters and water parks can reopen, why not production shows? But it would seem that many entertainers would rather eat their own tails than use their voices to make a difference.
In this age of selfies and TikTok videos, turning one’s phone into a tool for self-preservation should seem like a no-brainer. What I got instead was an avalanche of negativity, mockery, apathy and downright hostility from a number of entertainers. To say that I was shocked would be mild, especially after years of selflessly supporting them. I’m still reeling from the pain.
“You aren’t an entertainer…stay out of it”. “Are you crazy, suggesting that I go back to work? You’re telling me to put my life at risk!”. “I’m busy right now, let me think about it”. “I don’t appreciate being put in this position”. “I can’t take a political stance…it might jeopardize my job”. Oh, you mean the job that left you high and dry without unemployment compensation? The one that might never actually return while you sit on your ass getting fat? Yeah, that one.
Where am I going with this particular tangent? Well, the response I got was a punch to the throat, and quite indicative of the ugliness that has pervaded Sin City…and the nation as a whole. The amount of negativity around us is off the charts, but especially here, where there is little hope of things returning to normal anytime soon.
Considering all of the lost jobs, closed businesses and violence in the streets and neighborhoods, it’s completely understandable for people to feel this way. But would I recommended coming here for a vacation at this time? Absolutely not.
After recovering from the 10/1 mass shooting, 9/11 attacks, and 2008’s economic crisis, COVID-19 may be what finally causes Las Vegas to topple…
Consider sitting out the next couple of rounds
This city can no longer deliver any of the excesses that it’s famous for. Carefree revelry doesn’t have a place in a COVID-impacted society, and today’s Vegas offers nothing that you can’t get somewhere else. After spending the better part of a decade encouraging you to come here, I can no longer do that in good conscience.
Las Vegas isn’t worth your time, the inconvenience, the expense, or the risk to your health and safety. For now, it’s better for you to just stay home and wait it out.
Update 9/11/11 – in an effort to reduce the amount of violence on their properties, Wynn Resorts has filed an agressive and daring lawsuit. They’ve also vowed to increase their security force and have committed to raising room rates to discourage bad apples.
In a 9/9/20 interview with Las Vegas Review-Journal, CDC Consulting Vice-president Greg Mullen stated “Several of our higher-end profile clients say their high-end guests are done coming until this is under control. They’re scared to walk outside their rooms, and don’t feel safe on elevators or on the casino floors themselves. It’s a bad look. … You can really, severely, put a tarnish on Las Vegas.”
Vegas Unfiltered Blog will be taking an indefinite break. If and when there is a reason to put Sin City back on your to-do list, you might see this site return. Until then…stay safe, stay smart and be well.
Annual event makes Vegas the world capital of hot bodies once more…
The 53rd Mr. Olympia Fitness and Performance Weekend has come and gone, as have the enthusiasts who swarm Las Vegas each year. Physique, fitness and bodybuilding fans from around the world made the journey to Sin City, which is essentially the unofficial Mecca of Muscle.
The four-day event, taking place at Orleans Hotel Casino and Las Vegas Convention Center, was a hotbed of hot bodies, products and photo ops. Celebs, sponsors, news crews and supplement manufactures swarmed both venues, out-muscling one another for the chance to promote the latest in products, clothing and workout tips.
The big news was Phil Heath‘s seventh Mr. Olympia win, tying the record of Arnold Schwarzenegger. For those who couldn’t attend (or afford the pricey tickets), sponsor Amazon.com live-streamed the competition. Last year, surprise guest Dwayne Johnson had announced that CBS Sports would air the 2017 event in cooperation with his Seven Bucks Productions, but that seemed to be an unfulfilled promise.
Instead, Johnson returned to present this year’s trophy. Heath, a seven-time champion, will most likely return with hopes of an eighth win. That would tie him with Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman for the most Sandow statuettes.
If all that “competition talk” bores you, fear not. The daytime events at the Convention Center were much more freewheeling…with music, dancing, posing and twerking in the aisles. See for yourself in the video below:
Video highlights from the Olympia Fitness Expo…
Ageless physique pro Tobias Young showed me around Optimum Nutrition‘s mobile Gold Standard Zone, an interactive outdoor exhibit. Guests were invited to use computer technology to analyze their diets and map their macros. A “magic mirror” utilized artificial-intelligence cameras to study workout form and correct movements.
Tobias Young (left) at the Lift Yourself – Lift Others chin-up station…
Best yet, a pull-up station allowed attendees to challenge themselves for charity. Sponsored by the wonderful Amazon Smile, “Lift Yourself – Lift Others” arranges for donations to your charity of choice (this writer directs Amazon Smile donations towards Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary).
Inside, Optimum Nutrition was one of dozens of vendors unveiling new products, services and experiences. Recording star Flo Rida made his first appearance as CELSIUS HEAT Elite, Chief Ambassador. Celsius Heat is a new healthy alternative to conventional pre-workout drinks. Flo greeted fans with photo ops, autographs and full-size product giveaways.
In every direction, people were jumping, pumping, hopping and climbing. Experts were there to analyze technique, assess conditioning and offer advice. Several vendor booths awarded prizes for push-ups, power punches and other physical challenges.
On both sides of the massive South Hall, informative lectures vied with group classes and various sports for attendees’ attention. The large rear stage was home to scheduled competitions such as Flex Magazine‘s Bikini and Male Model Search, Classic Physique judging and Men’s/Women’s Physique Olympia.
Tt was the cameras that got the most intense workouts. Vendor reps were eager to show what their products could do. Of course that required a lot of shirt-lifting and flexing, right?
One of my personal favorites, IFBB Pro Matt Christianer, hammed it up with me for a pic and autograph. Matt can be seen on Netflix in the moving documentary The Perfect Physique. In it, Matt details his emotional journey of recovery from a traumatic auto accident. The newly-engaged Christianer underwent a hip replacement last year but is back in amazing form.
Vegas resident and former Chippendale Kris Davis at the MET-Rx booth…
Doing his best “Robert Irvine” at the FIT Crunch booth…
Mr. Olympia and the Fitness Expo both return to Las Vegas in 2018. Hotels fill up early, especially The Orleans and Westgate Las Vegas, so check out this planner to get up-to-date recommendations and rates.
Plenty of hopefuls will be eyeing the stage, yearning to take the title from Phil Heath and enter into the history books. If you don’t want to miss the showdown, mark your calendar now for the 54th Annual Mr. Olympia Fitness and Performance Weekend Sept. 13th through the 16th. I’ll see you there.