June 20, 2010
One of the absolute highlights of the trip was our helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. There are a few companies that do the trip and each have a few routes to choose from. We went with Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours and went on the Grand Kingdom Tour, a 50 minute tour that loops around to the North Rim and back. The company seemed to be rated the safest and all around best and we had no complaints. It was really windy while we were there and we were glad to have booked the first morning flight. I highly recommend this because as it gets windier during the day the flights will be rocking around more which will make you very nauseous and will be less safe. They actually stopped flying the few days we were there after noon because the wind was too strong.
They are real pros and the whole trip is really smooth. The airport you leave from is at the end of the little town when you leave the Grand Canyon South Rim, it is about a 15 minute drive from the El Tovar. When you get to the airport there are a few buildings, drive past the first it is for a different company, the Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours office is the second building just down the road. They have a large fleet of helicopters, which they constantly update for saftey and comfort. The check in process is smooth and quick they have a scale built right into the floor so they can privately right down your information to balance out the helicopter weight-wise. You can’t bring any bags with you because there is no x-ray screening, so bring your camera out of the bag and have it on you when they weigh you so they take it into account when balancing the chopper. There are two seats in the front next to the pilot and 4 behind, there are great views from everywhere, but you can pay a premium to sit in the front. They can’t guarantee it because sometimes the weights just won’t work, but they will try to balance it in your favor, and you don’t get charged unless you get to sit there.
After a short safety video they give you a safety belt and then line you up and lead you out to the helicopter. You get strapped in and given gigantic headphones to dull the loud noise from the propeller. Once you take off an automated recording starts in the headphones. As you lift off from the ground the song “It’s a Beautiful Day” blasts into your ears, and while cheesy immediately makes you feel excited for what’s about to come.
One of my most important suggestions for this trip is to embrace the cheese! The songs are cheesy and some of the narration is even cheesier, but you’re on a helicopter over one of the most beautiful natural places in the world, a little cheese is a lot of fun. For about five minutes after take off you fly over Kaibab National Forest, which is a beautiful site of thousands upon thousands of trees. Sometimes you can spot wildlife, but we had no such luck. The pilot will override the recording occasionally to point things out or update us on timing. As we approached the rim Space Odyssey 2001 began to play, and timed to perfection as we breached the edge of the canyon DUN DUH ringed out into our ears creating a really spectacular moment. When flying over the forest you aren’t that high in the air, but as soon as you reach the canyon you are all of a sudden over 1 mile in the air and it can be scary, but exciting.
As you board they take a picture of you in front of the helicopter, and then like the Kolb brothers before them they have them waiting for you to purchase when you get land. They’re pricey at 20 bucks, but a fun memory so we bought ours. Two last tips- don’t wear light colored clothing, the glass is reflective and light colors will show up in your pictures and remember that the propeller may be in your shot, it is too fast to get in the way of viewing with your eye, but the camera will capture it and you will have a big line down the middle of your shot. Bon Voyage!