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A helicopter flies above the High Roller observation wheel and other brightly lit landmarks on the Strip. (Photo: Courtesy Maverick Aviation Group).
Las Vegas is a bucket-list city, where adrenaline junkies can fulfill a half dozen lifelong dreams in a single weekend. Always wanted to soar in a helicopter? Jump out of a plane? Zoom around a NASCAR track? No problem. An ever-growing number of local outfits are springing up to give tourists that “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this” feeling. And most of the fun comes in bite-size chunks that have you back to your hotel in a matter of hours.
Sky’s No Limit
Aside from the workaday world of commercial airlines, few of us spend much time airborne. But the clear, wide-open skies above Nevada’s vast desert are a blank canvas for artists in flight.
Helicopter rides are a Vegas staple; hop aboard a Maverick Helicopter chopper for a short tour of the Strip (especially romantic at night, when the city glitters below) or a bird’s-eye sweep of the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. There’s nothing quite like that floating sensation as the craft lifts off like a giant dragonfly—any nervousness quickly turning to exhilaration.
Other helicopter companies include Papillon and Sundance (try a Grand Canyon picnic). A number of successful helicopter operations have been shuttling first-time tourists around for years, so this is the perfect time to cross the whirlybird off your life list.
Another way to see the Strip from high up: the Big Shot, X-Scream, and Insanity thrill rides that undulate along the Stratosphere’s 1,149-foot-tall tower (the country’s tallest freestanding observation tower). The most daring plummet straight down, bungee style, with SkyJump, the world’s highest controlled descent.
Stratosphere’s Insanity dangles riders 900 feet above the Strip and spins them at 40 mph.
Perhaps the single most pulse-racing thing I can imagine doing anyplace, ever, is Sky Combat Ace, a one-on-one ride-along with a professional pilot in a fighter plane. Thrill seekers blast through barrel rolls, combat drills, and other aerobatics—or just take a spin (upright) in a vintage plane with an open cockpit. Don’t try this after a few cocktails, folks.
Sky Combat Ace takes guests along on stunt-plane flights above the Nevada desert. (Photo: Courtesy Sky Combat Ace)
Test the Laws of Physics
You’re in a stock car revving a 600-hp engine, waiting for the flag to drop. And then you’re off, hitting the gas and shifting gears and letting your wheels grab the banked track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Soon you’re flying past the stands at over 100 mph—and you’ve never done anything like this before. Good thing there’s an instructor sitting next to you, telling you exactly what to do.
That’s what happens at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, one of several Vegas companies that let you put the pedal to the metal without worrying about traffic lights. Climb into the driver’s seat yourself or ride with a professional if your goal is to just experience the feeling of screaming around a track at 165 mph (none of the amateurs have gone quite that fast yet). Alternatively, Petty’s American Muscle Car Challenge lets guests drive a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, or Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.
It’s not just for NASCAR: You, too, can drive on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Another company, Dream Racing, also lets you drive exotic cars on the same NASCAR speedway. If Lady Luck shines on you, you’ll see fighter pilots training at nearby Nellis Air Force Base. Now that’s speed.
Believe it or not, the g-force in a racecar is nothing compared to what Las Vegas’ most extreme roller coasters feel like. The newest, El Loco, zooms, corkscrews, and reverse-rolls around the Adventuredome indoor amusement park at Circus Circus (also home to the double-loop Canyon Blaster). After rides like these, hit the casino’s midway and big top to take a break while you watch other people do scary-looking things for a change.
Those with tetchy nerves and/or necks could consider something a little less stressful, maybe a zip-line ride with a gentle stop at the end: the mighty SlotZilla on Fremont Street. A new upper “zoomline” segment—114 feet above the ground and 1,700 feet long—just opened in April. You can book advance tickets online or, for a spur-of-the-moment screamfest above the crowds, just look for the giant slot machine towering in the middle of the sidewalk.
One of the more notable Vegas crazes of late: high-powered gun ranges, where firearm fans (and the merely curious) have the chance to shoot munitions you can't get at home. Each of the half-dozen or so ranges in town has its own focus. Gun Garage’s just-opened 12-lane indoor range is just off the Strip, which means you can wake up late, head over for a quick afternoon ballistics volley and be back in time for happy hour. Other options, like the military-style Battlefield Vegas, are more involved.
The most intriguing new adrenaline-filled idea in town is Las Vegas: The Game. Basically, imagine a “Hangover”-style bachelor party—with your own friend as the bachelor. Working as an accomplice with Justin Oswald and Chad Hardy, the brains behind this operation, you can plan a night of complete surprises for your unsuspecting victim. Or the company will draw up a behind-the-scenes plan and keep you in the dark, too.
Possibilities range from hiring a stranger to test your friend's flirting resolve to playing along with a series of elaborate charades that build on each other for an entire night. The evening could include anything from a monkey to a showgirl—or both! You’re limited only by your tolerance for shock and how good a friend you are (and whether you still want to be invited to the wedding).