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 are 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 brief 20-minute drive to Serenity’s base 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 a final safety briefing. 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 in 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. As 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 in the insulated totes might have been mentioned.

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.

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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Creepy Chills Lie Behind the Rose-colored Glass of “Lucky Dragon Hotel”


A surreal, eerie experience awaits those who check into the ill-fated casino resort…

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Two short years ago, the Lucky Dragon Casino Hotel was a beacon of hope for the troubled north end of Las Vegas Boulevard. With stalled projects like Fontainebleau and Echelon Place (the future Resorts World) as constant reminders and the SLS Las Vegas already stalling, this Asian-themed boutique hotel could very well have been a much-needed jump start.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Things looked even more promising when an early-December 2016 opening date got tossed out the window. To the surprise of just about everyone, Lucky Dragon‘s doors opened on November 19th, creating an avalanche of media hype, great PR…and once again, hope for this section of the Strip.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

The 203-room casino hotel offered three restaurants, a tea-garden lounge and quick-bite outlet as well as gambling that was designed to appeal to tourists from the Far East. Despite initial problems in getting the project financed and completed, Lucky Dragon was constructed around many Asian concepts of good fortune. Decor, lack of “unlucky” numeral four and feng shui were integral to Lucky Dragon’s design.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

By February of the following year, it was clear that luck had already begun to bleed away from the fledgling property. Media announcements hyped “improvements” to dining and gaming options. Dragon’s Alley food court was shut down to accommodate changes in the floor plan. High-end gaming was added to attract more cash flow.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                      Dragon’s Alley was an early victim of “improvements”…

Sadly, a month later Lucky Dragon‘s staff underwent a massive cut, with everyone from top managers to waiters being let go. As legal and financial troubles began to mount, live entertainment was added that summer as a new draw. Nevertheless, interest in the short-lived sensation had fallen away to essentially nothing.

By the time I finally got around to visiting the property last October, it was eerie, silent and virtually empty. Interestingly, the date was October 1st, 2017, the evening of the Las Vegas Massacre at Mandalay Bay‘s events center. So you can imagine that the entire night is burned into my memory…and this was a creepy way to start it off.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

As you can see from these photos, the casino and restaurants were nearly devoid of guests. What had gone wrong? Was it the unusual location in a sketchy neighborhood? Could the theme just be too targeted towards a specific demographic? Perhaps the place just sucked.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Walking around the casino building was such a downer that I quickly departed without even taking the skybridge over to the hotel tower (they’re two separate buildings, which could also be a factor in its failure).

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

By January of this year, the entire casino and restaurant operations were shut down, leaving the hotel and lobby lounge as the only survivors. How it has continued to function in its current state is anyone’s guess. Despite this, I’ve been itching to stay at the Dragon ever since…just out of morbid curiosity. After all, it could be quite a thrill, especially after just watching a full season of American Horror Story – Hotel.

Although this writer tends to fluctuate randomly between adventure (skydiving over the Vegas desert) and playing safe (no SAW Escape Room Experience for me, thank you) the idea of spending the night in a nearly-abandoned hotel sounded intriguing. So when an offer came up on Agoda.com for $24 a night with no resort fees, I swooped in like a vampire after a nubile virgin.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                   A view of the parking garage from the unattended valet area…

I arrived into town on the morning of June 14th, weary from lack of sleep and needing a nap before a function that evening. Phoning ahead to see what the soonest check-in time could be, the agent told me to come over now. There would be no additional fees for early arrival. Nice!

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

I headed straight over from the airport, found a parking spot in their convenient (and free) parking garage and made my way into the east structure. This is where things began to get ominous, as you can see from the photos.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

The former casino was dark, dreary and completely silent. Makeshift signs directed guests towards the opposite building via an enclosed skybridge. Access to restrooms and other areas was blocked off, not that anyone would want to explore, would they? (heh heh)…

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

       Reverse angle of the skybridge and casino (in the distance) from the hotel corridor…

At this point I’d encountered no one….not a single living soul. The silence was off-putting and in sharp contrast to the bright colors and modern decor that awaited me when I entered the lobby. A short walk past the concierge’s desk (which was actually manned) and I was facing the agent with whom I’d spoken on the phone.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

It was clear from the lack of patrons why a room was available at this hour. Aside from the back of a head near the reception desk (pictured above), I hadn’t passed a single guest.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Without a casino or any restaurants, the resort was likely to be slow…but completely dead? I’d never seen a Vegas hotel this devoid of activity and foot traffic. Even the Imperial Palace at its skeevy worst had always been packed with bargain travelers. So where was everyone?

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Behind me was the deserted Cha Garden, a lounge and bar that specializes in specialty teas. The western wall is a series of glass doors that open up to a splashing pool, waterfall and garden. The decor is modern, soothing and of course, very feng shui. A small breakfast and coffee are served here each morning, included with the resort fee.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

And speaking of that resort fee, the agent attempted to charge it to my credit card, despite the “resort-fee inclusive” offer I booked under. She claimed that there was no such offer to her knowledge but my printout proved otherwise. And then came a lengthy wait as the clerk took my paperwork to an unseen manager in the back.

Upon her return, I was advised that the manager had been unable to reach Agoda and that they’d make a decision later as to whether I’d be assessed the resort fee ($28 plus tax). Or so they thought it was up to them. I’m not a cheapskate, but a deal’s a deal.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

I was finally assigned room 318 (despite being the only guest, the check-in process took nearly fifteen minutes) and headed back to the elevator. The hotel’s third floor was bright, clean and cheerful. So was the king-bed accommodations. Linens and furniture were in great shape, the carpeting looked fresh and the walls were decorated in soft, soothing colors.

In-room amenities were sparse but sufficient. TV, ironing board (iron by request), dual closets, clock radio and a digital safe are standard, as were a writing desk and easy chair. Two tiny bottles of water were stocked next to an ice bucket. There was no in-room coffeemaker, but your daily java is available for free in the lobby during morning hours.

 

The bathroom was simple but spotless and sleek. I especially liked the inclusion of a pair of insignia-branded robes. There were no toiletries provided except for a small tube of basic shampoo and two bars of soap. The walk-in shower was large and had a stationary head at a generous level, often a problem for people of my height or higher.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Aside from the unnerving quiet, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the constant pink glow that flooded my quarters via the rose-colored glass. It gave a nauseating sensation of being captive inside a strange glass cage…a suffocating, queasy feeling that was compounded by the less-than-attractive view. So the curtains were drawn closed and remained that way for the duration of my visit.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

After a nap and shower it was time to attend a function at a nearby resort. Once again, not a sound to be heard or a soul to say hello while strolling through the premises. At least this time the lighting had been turned up inside the vacant casino. That evening when I returned, the common areas were still silent…except for two somewhat rough-looking guys who seemed to have wandered in just to peek around.

With nobody to monitor things of this nature, the entire casino tower and hotel corridors are basically a free-for-all. It might have been reassuring to encounter at least some type of security presence. So I definitely don’t recommend staying at Lucky Dragon if you’re a solo female…or anyone who’s easily spooked.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

When shuffling downstairs the next morning for some caffeine, there were actually other guests doing the same. I’d literally been here for over nine hours without seeing another patron. There was only a handful of guests, but all seemed pleasant, mannered and reserved…a bit surprising given the ludicrously-cheap rates.

The same agent was manning the reservation desk again. She advised me that management had been unable to reach the third-party booking site but wasn’t going to charge me the disputed resort fee. I let her know that I’d be showering and departing very soon, so the young lady kindly processed my check-out.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                                                               Taxi for one, please…

Without any crowds to speak of, it’s an easy in-out process at Lucky Dragon, which was a big plus to me. There are no long taxi lines, Uber/LYFT hordes or buses to maneuver around. The Sahara Avenue location just off the interstate makes it easy to get to and from the airport.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

There are plenty of reasons to stay at Lucky Dragon along with many downsides. I’ve already booked two future stays here but am almost certain it will be completely closed before year number two is up.

Attempts to make additional reservations on their website result in error messages, no matter what date combinations I entered. Also, a few third-party sites now offer this troubling type of message:

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

                                                            Lastminutetravel.com

The north end of Las Vegas Boulevard may or may not be undergoing a renaissance, depending on whom you ask, but it’s unlikely that Lucky Dragon Hotel Casino will be part of its rebirth. Despite all the excitement this little place once brought to the city, its future looks anything but rosy.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

If you’re curious, adventurous, unafraid and would like to try a stay at Lucky Dragon, give them a call at 702.889.8018. Or you might have more success than I did booking at their website. The address is 300 West Sahara Avenue, adjacent to the Golden Steer Steakhouse.

Lucky Dragon Hotel is currently the best lodging bargain in Las Vegas. It’s new, extremely comfortable and very, very strange. Give it a try! Just don’t wait too long…the flaming breath inside this weird, unlucky little dragon will most likely be extinguished very soon.

And one more failed north-Strip resort will sit amongst the others in the dark.

Lucky Dragon Hotel Vegas

Photos: Sammasseur, exterior shots by Greg C., American Horror Story: Hotel still from FX 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sin City Skydiving – The Ultimate Vegas High


That time when I took a flying leap for my birthday celebration…

This article previously appeared on another website…

 

Most of us have experienced the thrill of viewing Las Vegas from the air. But how many of you have seen that memorable skyline from a free-fall at 12,000 feet? I did just that on my 54th birthday at Sin City Skydiving a few weeks ago, and it truly was the ultimate Vegas thrill.

Before you say “No way in Hell!” –believe me– that this writer was once of that attitude. Friends have teased my lack of risk-taking and for always playing it safe. But when 2017 rolled around, I decided to make this my “Year of Adventure.”

Step number one was to take my first trip to Mexico…and a solo one at that. It was quite a saga, filled with mishaps, excitement…and lots of scratches to the bucket list. So January was a terrific start.

February is my birthday month, and I always celebrate it with festivities in and around Las Vegas. This time, my New Year’s resolution required a little more oomph than the ordinary nightclub-and-hangover debauchery. Not long after returning from Cancun, the idea to sky-dive hit me while sleeping. So I woke up, ran to my computer and did some research on skydiving services around the Las Vegas valley…at 3:30 in the morning.

Sin City Skydiving

Narrowing it down to three finalists, I decided to go with Sin City Skydiving in Jean, Nevada. There were various reasons to select this company, including very positive reviews, a nicely-kept Facebook page, the convenient location of their office and the lowest overall price (the regular rate for a tandem jump is $249, but mine qualified for a seasonal special of $199).

The short drive (20 minutes) from Vegas to Jean is pleasant and scenic. Sin City Skydiving is very easy to find off of Interstate 15 at exit 12, near the grand old Gold Strike Casino.

Sin City Skydiving

As you might expect from such a risky undertaking, there are certain health requirements to meet…and LOTS of paperwork to fill out in advance. While it isn’t stated in the official literature, you should not be afraid of heights or prone to panic attacks, IMO.

Jumper Requirements:
All jumpers must be at least 18 years old with a photo ID, weigh 220 pounds or less and height/weight proportionate, be in good physical and mental health. You must be 100% Alcohol & Drug-Free — absolutely no alcohol or illegal drugs may be in your system when you arrive for your jump. Every jumper needs to bring a government-issued photo ID with them — NO EXCEPTIONS.

A free shuttle can be arranged to pick you up at your hotel if you wish. Jumpers must arrive at the office no less than 30 minutes prior to their jump time…this is to sign waivers, receive instruction and suit up. Jumpsuit and goggles are provided – it’s recommended that you dress for the temperature and are required to wear lace-up shoes (I wish I’d brought gloves, too). You’ll be put through a variety of physical maneuvers, shown an instructional video and given a one-on-one lecture on do’s/don’ts and an opportunity to ask questions.

Sin City Skydiving

From there, it’s just a short walk out to the runway and into the plane that will lift you high over the desert. The plane itself is very small, and you will be tethered to your instructor the whole way. He will be recording the entire experience via a high-def GoPro camera. You can purchase pictures and/or video to take home with you on a data DVD (I sprang for both for $99….after all, it IS a once-in-a-lifetime event…maybe).

Sin City Skydiving

My instructor Jake was very charismatic and made me feel at ease the entire time. A seasoned police officer, he now works full time at Sin City Skydiving, doing what he REALLY loves. His confidence and professionalism were quite reassuring…I never felt uncomfortable or in danger.

Sin City Skydiving

The ride to 12,000 feet was wonderfully scenic. As we climbed to the jump altitude, Jake pointed out the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Charleston, the shimmer of Lake Mead, an astonishing array of solar collectors…and of course, the beautiful Las Vegas skyline. Below us, I spotted the landing area we’d be heading for, along with Jean Airport itself, which now seemed so tiny.

Sin City Skydiving

Although the day was clear and sunny (February 23rd), it was surprisingly chilly…especially once the jump door was opened and I swung my legs outside. The cold air hit my face like a blast of ice (and stayed numb for several hours afterward).

Before I realized, we were already in free fall. It’s nearly impossible to explain the number of thoughts and emotions that crossed through my mind as we plunged towards the Earth. But one thing stood out: This was REALLY happening! From the whim of an idea to actuality in just a few short weeks, I was doing something I’d never have imagined trying before.

Sin City Skydiving

I’d kind of expected to have a shocking jolt to my body once the chute was pulled, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, I had to look up to confirm that we were now gliding. Jake gave me the straps to hold onto for awhile; then he steered us into spirals and swoops as we headed towards the landing spot.

The adrenaline rush was somewhat overwhelming….I may have shed an emotional tear or two, although the expression on my face looks more like terror in the photographs. It was actually a combination of the wind, cold and pressure…I was never once afraid.

Sin City Skydiving

As the ground drew closer, I spotted my friend, taking photos of us and the other tandem pair from our flight. Two crew members were near her, waiting to safely guide us into place and detach us from our chute when we arrived. The landing was amazingly smooth and peaceful…a sharp contrast to the jubilant pumping of my own heart.

Sin City Skydiving

The drive back to Sin City Skydiving was brief but exhilarating. My friend, who’d flown in from Pittsburgh to witness the jump and celebrate my birthday, was almost as giddy as me. Despite having little sleep in the hours leading up to that morning, I found myself unable to nap that afternoon or easily fall asleep in the evening. The imagery and adrenaline came back every time I closed my eyes…and I didn’t mind it one darn bit.

Sin City Skydiving

As a regular visitor, I’ve experienced many thrills, memorable moments and once-in-a-lifetime adventures during my stays. But nothing can surpass the thrill of leaping from a plane over the Mojave desert. Sin City Skydiving truly is the ultimate Las Vegas high.

Sin City Skydiving

Sin City Skydiving operates 365 days per year (weather permitting). Gratuities are accepted (this writer tipped 20%). Located at 23600 S. Las Vegas Blvd in Jean, Nevada. Call 702.300.8508 or toll-free 877.727.5867 for reservations or more information.

Photos: Sammasseur, Jake at Sin City Skydiving